Spanish state deadlines and threats met with Catalan government vacillations

Monday morning, October 16 at 10 am was the first deadline the Spanish government had given the Catalan government to clarify whether it had declared independence or not. That summons sent last week, was part of the legal requirements to implement article 155, suspending Catalan autonomy. Once again, Catalan president Puigdemont gave another inconclusive answer.

On Tuesday, October 10, Catalan president Puigdemont, in a very unclear way, declared a Catalan republic and then suspended the declaration. The following day the Spanish government sent him a written "requerimiento" (summons). In it, Rajoy was giving Puigdemont two deadlines:

- by Monday October 16 at 10 am, the Catalan government had to notify in no uncertain terms if it had declared independence and whether his statement to the Catalan parliament meant a declaration of independence, regardless of whether it is in force or not. The answer had to be yes or no. Any other answer would be interpreted as a yes (!!).

- then, if the answer were in the affirmative, the Catalan government would be instructed, according to article 155 of the Constitution, to reverse such declaration, to cease any actions tending towards declaring independence and to restore Spanish legality in full, by October 19, 10 am.

The meaning of this ultimatum by the Spanish state was clearly a threat to use article 155 which allows for the state's intervention in Catalan autonomy.

Last week’s decision of the Catalan president to fudge the issue and call for negotiations was taken under enormous pressure from the Catalan capitalists, the EU and an important section of the leaders of Puigdemont's own party PDECAT.

However, his decision came under strong criticism from the more radical left wing of the movement.  The CUP demanded an immediate declaration of independence and threatened to withdraw from the Catalan parliament. If they were to act on that threat it would leave Puigdemont with no parliamentary majority. Even within Puigdemont’s own PDECAT there were voices questioning his “strategy”. The decision has already created a split within the National Catalan Assembly (ANC) with its secretariat demanding a prompt declaration of independence while its secretary maintains a more conciliatory position towards Puigdemont.

Amongst the ranks of the independence movement, in the last few days there has been a growing insistence on the need for rank and file organisation and accountability and the need to rely on the organised people rather than having any faith on the EU, international mediators, etc. There is also growing discontent with the pressures exercised by former Catalan president Artur Mas (who was removed as a result of pressure from the CUP), the Catalan bourgeois and others.

The CUP and Endavant-OSAN both have made strong statements along these lines. The spokesperson of CUP-linked youth organisation Arran, Mar Ampurdanés penned a sharp article with the headline "Now more street [mobilisation], Now more Committees for the Defence of the Republic" arguing for the CDRs to be strengthened and developed and for them to have their own political line for the mobilisation of the people outside of the institutions.

At the same time, the judicial and repressive offensive of the Spanish state continues unabated. Today, the leaders of both the ANC and Omnium (Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart), as well as the major of the Catalan police Mossos, Trapero, have been summonsed to the National Audience (which deals with crimes against the state) in Madrid to be questioned again in the inquiry about "sedition" over the events of September 20 (when tens of thousands attempted to block the actions of the Civil Guard in arresting Catalan government officials and searching Catalan government buildings), which marked the beginning of mass civil disobedience. They could be arrested pending trial or given hefty bail conditions.

Among the options which the Rajoy government is considering in implementing article 155 (with full support from the PSOE, which has been promised a "parliamentary commission for the reform of the Constitution" which will end up in nothing), are the removal of the Catalan government to be replaced by either a technocratic government, direct rule by a Minister of the Spanish government, or an unelected multi-party government. These would rule Catalonia for six months and then there would be elections. New Catalan elections would be prepared by the illegalisation of one or several of the pro-independence parties to be on the safe side. The demand for the illegalisation of parties “which have in their program a Catalan Republic” has been voiced not only by the rabid Spanish nationalist Ciudadanos, but now also by the leader of the Catalan PP Albiol.

In reality, Puigdemont had very few options in today’s response. Either to betray the movement altogether and end his political career as a traitor or to stand his ground and be removed by the Spanish state, maybe even jailed. In the first case it is not ruled out that the movement would go beyond him and refuse to accept the decision, opening up a struggle for a Catalan Republic under a more left-wing leadership. In the second case, state repression would certainly be met with fierce resistance and could spark an even more radical mass movement, including another countrywide stoppage, strikes and the further development of the CDRs.

For this reason he has, once again, attempted to fudge the issue in order to win some time and also put the blame for repression on the other side. His letter in response to Rajoy’s summons talks of the October 1 referendum and how “more than two million Catalans entrusted the [Catalan] Parliament with the mandate to declare independence”, but then does not explain what the Catalan Parliament did with such a mandate. Then he adds that “the priority of my government is to seek with utmost intensity dialogue”. The letter ends with two petitions he makes to Rajoy: “an end to repression against the Catalan people and government,” and secondly “to arrange at the earliest possible opportunity a meeting which would allow us to explore some first agreements”. It is worth noting that the actual declaration of the Catalan Republic (which was signed by pro-independence MPs after the formal session of the Catalan parliament in a separate room) is not amongst the documents appended to the letter.

As was to be expected, the letter has been quickly answered by Spanish premier Rajoy with another letter in which he “regrets that you have chosen not to answer the summons of October 11” and reminds him that he still has time to comply before the second deadline expires. The letter, written in a very curt tone tells him that the European Union institutions have sided with Madrid on this matter. Finally, the letter ends with yet another threat: “it is still in your hands to open a new period or normalcy and institutional loyalty which everyone is demanding from you. Otherwise, you will be the only one responsible for the application of the Constitution”. Translated into plain language this means “comply or be crushed”. Hardly the language of someone who wants to negotiate!

The three key elements in this equation are:

- the will of the Spanish state to prevent the right of self-determination from being exercised (as it would undermine the whole of the 1978 regime)

- the inconsistency of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois politicians at the head of the Catalan government in pursuing decisively the goal of an independent Republic (though they have been pushed much further than they had anticipated by the movement of the masses and state repression)

- the irruption of the masses on the scene which can push the crisis onto a different plane.

The last factor is the crucial one. The irruption of the masses on the scene on September 20 and the days leading up to it was an important factor in challenging state repression. The irruption of the masses on October 1, occupying polling stations and defending them against the police, was a crucial element in allowing the celebration of the referendum itself. The irruption of the masses on October 3rd, during the Catalan-wide stoppage, was decisive in pushing the bourgeois and petty bourgeois politicians of the ruling coalition in Catalonia towards making some sort of declaration of independence. But as soon as that pressure subsided, the pressure of the capitalist EU and the Catalan capitalists and bankers started to dominate, leading to the inconclusive declaration on October 10.

The only way forward is for the mass movement to become organised independently of the Catalan government and to adopt its own agenda. A first important step in that direction was the national gathering of Committees for the Defence of the Referendum (the rank and file neighbourhood bodies created in the last few weeks which in many places played a key role in defending polling stations during the October 1st referendum). On Saturday, over 200 representatives from 91 CDRs met in Sabadell to discuss what further steps to take in the event of the application of article 155. They issued a short statement explaining that they had decided to coordinate and called for mass mobilisations to oppose any further repression by the Spanish state (such as the implementation of article 155 or the arrest of any of those summonsed by the National Audience).

We have explained before that in our opinion the creation of a Catalan republic, in the context of the Spanish 1978 regime, is a revolutionary task which cannot be carried out by the weak and wavering bourgeois politicians of the PDECAT (which don’t even have the support of the Catalan bourgeois). Only if the struggle for a Catalan Republic is linked to the struggle to put an end to capitalist austerity measures can the necessary forces be gathered to achieve it. That means that the comrades from the CUP, the anti-capitalist wing of the movement, must put this question at the centre of their agitation and patiently struggle to conquer the majority of the movement to this point of view. A Catalan Republic with a clear program of reversing the brutal cuts and austerity measures implemented in the last decade (by the PP and PDECAT alike) would become a very attractive proposition for those layers of the Spanish speaking Catalan working class which have not yet been won over and would also arouse sympathy amongst Spanish workers in the rest of the Spanish state.

As a matter of fact both the 2015 municipal elections and the results of two Spanish parliamentary elections in Catalonia in 2015 and 2016, showed that there is in Catalonia and in all its major cities a majority which rejects capitalist austerity and would be prepared to support a bold program of breaking with it. A successful struggle for a Catalan Republic can only take place along these lines. A growing section of the ranks of the independence movement is starting to draw important lessons from the experience of the last few weeks. One is that “only the people saves the people”, the strength of the mass mobilisation of working people as the only power which can defy state repression. Two, that there can be no trust in “international mediators” nor the capitalist EU to help the Catalan people exercise their right of self-determination. Three, a growing mistrust in the leaders of the PDECAT, starting by those which are further to the right and closer to the Catalan bourgeoisie. These are positive developments which need to be furthered and deepened.

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