Repression against Catalan independence referendum provokes mass mobilisation

The decision of the Catalan Parliament to convene an independence referendum on October 1st has been received with repressive measures by the Spanish state. These measures are increasing in intensity as the days go by, and reveal the profoundly undemocratic nature of the 1978 Constitution which was imposed in an agreement between the old Franco regime and the leaders of the workers’ parties in order to bring to an end the revolutionary crisis engulfing the country.

It is clear that the Spanish state and the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy cannot allow the referendum to go ahead. They have taken the necessary repressive measures to make sure it does not take place. So far they have suspended the validity of the law calling for the referendum, started criminal proceedings against the speakers of the Catalan Parliament for allowing that law to be discussed, indicted over 700 local mayors who have said they will collaborate in the organisation of the referendum (and threatened them with arrest if they don’t turn up), banned official publicity about the referendum, banned the broadcasting of such publicity and the broadcasting of any information regarding the organisation of the referendum, used  the police to seize referendum posters from print shops, seized posters and buckets of glue from activists fly-posting for the referendum, closed down the official referendum website, blocked access to mirror sites hosted abroad, intervened in the day to day running of the Catalan government finances, suspended referendum solidarity meetings outside Catalonia (in Madrid, Vitoria and Gijón), etc. They will also attempt to prevent the distribution of polling cards, call up letters for election agents, the opening of polling stations, the distribution of ballot boxes, etc.

[Read also the below eyewitness account from earlier today]

What all of this proves is the undemocratic nature of the 1978 regime, which was based on the imposition of Franco’s Monarchy, the impunity of the crimes of the Franco regime and the principle of the indivisible unity of Spain guaranteed by the Armed Forces. Even posing the question of self-determination is a major threat to the whole edifice.

These repressive measures, however, risk provoking a massive movement in Catalonia which could go beyond the original intentions of the Catalan bourgeois nationalists who decided to go down the route of a unilateral referendum for their own narrow political calculations.

Yesterday and today, however, mark a turning point in both the campaign of repression and the people's’ mobilisation in response to it. In Terrassa, yesterday morning, the Civil Guard entered the premises of private mail company UNIPOST and seized 45,000 letters which were to be sent to call up polling station officials. The search was conducted without a warrant and in the process they also violated the privacy of the post. Hundreds gathered in protest. Later on a judge produced a court order to ex post facto legalise the search and seizure of mail. The protesters prevented the court secretary from delivering the order and the Civil Guard from leaving the premises for hours. Finally, the Catalan police was used to physically remove the protesters and allow the Civil Guard out with the 45,000 seized pieces of mail. These actions have severely dented the authority and legitimacy of the Catalan police (Mossos d’Esquadra) in the eyes of the pro-referendum movement and strengthened the idea that only mass mobilisation can guarantee the outcome of this struggle.

Later on in the day, the seizure of posters in Reus, Tarragona, after days of provocations on the part of the police against activists fly-posting for the referendum, brought about 1000 people out onto the streets at 11pm, shouting slogans, demonstrating. They picketed the hotel where the riot police (drafted in to town ahead of the referendum) are staying and covered the whole town with referendum posters.

This morning, the Spanish state upped the ante, by conducting early morning arrests of 9 high ranking officials of the Catalan government and entering the premises of Catalan government ministries (Conselleries). They are looking for proof of use of public funds for the organisation of the referendum (purchasing ballot boxes, sending out election agent call up letters, etc), and information which could lead to the seizure of the ballot boxes.

The arrests this morning, however, could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. At short notice thousands have gathered outside the Conselleria d’Economia (the Catalan Finance Ministry) to protest the arrests and searches, and have blockaded the Civil Guard inside. The mood is an extremely angry one and there are shouts of “general strike”. Officials and members of the Workers’ Commissions union (CCOO) have left their headquarters and blockaded the road outside, joining in the protests.

This latest move is correctly seen as a de facto suspension of Catalan self-rule, but one which has been implemented without even going through the legal formalities of consulting the Spanish parliament (where yesterday the government lost a vote on a motion of support for its actions).

While support for outright  independence was until now just below 50%, support for the holding of a referendum has been for some time around 70 to 80%. The suppression of this basic democratic right is being met with mass civil disobedience and is already turning many who would not normally support independence into YES voters.

The mood has now completely changed. The holding of the referendum against all odds and the YES vote is seen by many as a gesture of rejection of the whole regime, the rotten Rajoy government and the whole edifice of the 1978 Spanish state.

The campaign of the anti-capitalist, pro-independence party CUP in fact is centered on the slogan “let’s break the regime”, and the left-wing nationalist ERC has distributed tens of thousands of posters with the slogan “Hello Republic”. Clearly, a growing number of people identify independence as a progressive break with the reactionary status quo. CUP leaders have made direct and clear appeals to the leaders of Podemos and United Left to take up this opportunity to bring down Rajoy and the whole of the 1978 regime.

A meeting in Madrid on Sunday was organised along these lines. The meeting had originally been closed down by the judge and had to be held in a different venue. At short notice, 100 people packed the small theatre and another 500 followed the meeting from outside. There were speakers from the Catalan left nationalist ERC, the Catalan anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP, but also significantly a few leading figures of the left-wing of IU and Podemos.

The meeting expressed full support for the October 1st referendum, not only as a clear stance in defence of democratic rights, but also as a way of striking a blow against the 1978 regime. The CUP representative stated that “the working class of Madrid and the working class of Barcelona are united not because they are both Spanish, but rather, because they are both working class”.

Alberto Arregui, from the Federal Committee of United Left, said that “this is our struggle, not just yours”, and stressed that one could not be neutral using the argument that this was “a struggle between two bourgeoisies”. He used also Connolly’s quote “if you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain”, to point out the need to unite the struggle for national freedom with the struggle for socialism.

At the end of the rally, those present sang l’Estaca, the Catalan song of the resistance against Franco. It talks of “me pulling from here, and you pulling from there, so that we together bring down the stake we are all tied to”. This is the real spirit of internationalism and solidarity. The Catalan challenge has thrown the regime into crisis, and rather than watching events unfold, the Spanish left should take advantage to create a revolutionary crisis throughout the country.

Unfortunately, so far, Podemos and United Left (IU) have had an extremely timid (cowardly even) position of abstract support for self-determination for Catalonia but opposition to the October 1st referendum (as “it has no guarantees”). Catalan people can see that in practice this means NO support for self-determination, as it is clear to everyone that Rajoy (and beyond him the Spanish ruling class) is determined not to concede a referendum.

They have now taken a clear stance in defence of democratic rights and against the state’s repression (though they have not yet made any clear statement of support for the referendum itself), and called for an Assembly of Members of Parliament and Mayors which will take place on Saturday in Zaragoza. The idea is reminiscent of the Assembly of Parliamentarians convened by Catalan national bourgeois politician Cambó in 1917. Mobilising institutional support against Rajoy is not a bad idea in itself. However, in 1917 the initiative was accompanied by a call for a revolutionary general strike issued by the trade unions!

Furthermore, the political line of this appeal is self-defeating, as the idea is to issue a manifesto calling on the Rajoy government to negotiate with Catalonia and convene a legal mutually agreed referendum. Instead of using this crisis to push for the overthrow of the regime, they want to find a negotiated settlement to an issue which only has a revolutionary solution.

Elected representatives themselves cannot resolve this situation. IU and Podemos should really be calling for mass demonstrations in every town and city across Spain in defence of the referendum, for democratic rights and against the government and the regime.

Despite the opposition to the October 1st referendum on the part of Podemos and IU leaders (“if I were a Catalan I would not vote on October 1st” they said), the ranks of their organisations in Catalonia, in an internal vote, have voted clearly in favour of participation. In direct opposition to the national leadership of Podemos, the Catalan general secretary of the organisation, Albano Dante-Fachin, has come out clearly in support of the referendum, and has been backed by two thirds of the members.

There were always three different factors which were to determine the outcome of the October 1st challenge. One was how far the Spanish state was prepared to go to suppress the referendum. We now know the answer. They will stop at nothing. Two was how far the Catalan government, led by bourgeois nationalists, was prepared to go in breaking the law. In reality what they wished was to go as far as they could and then back down and say “we have tried”. We have already seen signs of their lack of resolve (they have allowed the Catalan police to be used to repress the referendum, they have complied with the summons given to local mayors and they have even appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court whose rulings they had already declared they didn’t recognise). At the same time, they cannot back down before a certain degree of repression is exercised, as then they would be completely discredited amongst their own ranks. But there was a third unknown element, which was how much this situation would provoke a mass movement from below. We have now seen the first signs of that. The next hours and days will be crucial. It is not ruled out that the Spanish state repression will provoke a massive movement, which is already acquiring certain insurrectional features, which goes much further than what the Catalan bourgeois leaders expected nor wished for. Therein lies the only progressive solution to this crisis. Increasingly the people are coming to the realisation that the October 1st referendum will only happen if they themselves make it happen through mass mobilisation and mass civil disobedience.

Referendum Defence Committees should be set up in every town, city, neighbourhood, school, university and workplace, to take up all the concrete tasks of organising the referendum and defending it against repression. Above all, the role of the working class is crucial in this.

The duty of the leadership of United Left and Podemos across Spain is to organise practical solidarity in defence of democratic rights, through mass mobilisations in every town and city. The only way to cut across the poison of bourgeois nationalism (Spanish and Catalan) is to show to the Catalan people that the Spanish workers and their organisations are on their side and not that of the reactionary Spanish ruling class trampling on their rights.

The duty of the leadership of the CUP is to go further in the direction they have already taken, to stress that only mass mobilisation can guarantee the outcome of this struggle and to dispel any illusions people might have in the leaders of the Catalan bourgeois party PDeCAT. A common front in defence of the right of self-determination (and its exercise in the October 1st referendum) and at the same time in opposition to capitalist austerity, home evictions and cuts, would command today an overwhelming majority in Catalonia and would become a powerful point of attraction for the rest of Spain.

The struggle for a Catalan Republic is a progressive one, which in the conditions of Spain has revolutionary implications, as it can only be achieved through a mass mobilisation of the workers and youth and a clear break with the 1978 regime.

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