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Interview: the ongoing struggle in Catalonia

By: 
Kevin Taghabon

December 29, 2017

Despite severe repression against Catalonia’s October referendum in favour of independence, pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in regional elections on December 21. Socialist.ca spoke with David Karvala, an activist in Barcelona and a member of Marx21.net, about Catalonia’s ongoing struggle for self-determination against the repression of the Spanish state.

What are the faultlines developing in capital? Has there been significant credible threats of capital flight? Are there divisions here that the left and the independence movement is exploiting?

There is a myth that the Catalan bourgeoisie is behind the independence movement. This myth is defended by many on the Spanish and European left, but the facts don’t sustain it. In reality Catalan big business, like Spanish big business, is strongly against not only Independence but also the right to decide. That's why thousands of businesses moved their official headquarters from Barcelona to other parts of the Spanish state at the height of the struggles in September and October. This was something that the right wing PP government explicitly promoted.

It is true that many small and medium business people are pro independence, but not the ruling class as such. The ruling class is quite united on this issue; big business, the courts, the heads of the army and the police, all the big media networks... are on the same side.

Catalan culture has long been oppressed by the colonial state in Spain, from the banning of Catalan on the telephone and in the printing press after their inventions, to the banning of teaching or speaking Catalan in public under Franco. Madrid's currently ruling right wing People's Party came out of a party founded by several members of Franco's cabinet. Do you see the repression of the current independence movement as a continuation of this trajectory? Perhaps a nostalgia for Francoism during the dire economic situation in Spain today?

It's typical to say that what's happened here with the police violence and the repression is because the PP are the inheritors of Francoism, but I think this is wrong. Those links are there, of course, but every ruling class has specific characteristics, whether it's the Jacobinism of the French ruling class, the elements of the aristocracy in the British ruling class, or whatever. But what makes them behave as they do is the fact that they are the bourgeoisie; the ruling class of a capitalist state. What we've seen in Catalonia over the last few months is the bourgeoisie in action when it's interests are at stake. Nobody in a country without this specific historic element of Francoism should think their ruling class would behave fundamentally any better.

El Pais journalist John Carlin says he was fired for ideological reasons from the outlet where he has written for two decades for writing an article critical of the Spanish state in the Times of London. Do you see similar, perhaps less high-profile incidents or trends like this? Is there fear of repression or discrimination for political speech, including and beyond of the cartoonish attempts to ban yellow, and how does this affect the climate in civil society--Churches, the press, universities, workplaces, etc?

This repression has been going on for years. Before it affected the Basque struggle, with newspapers being closed down and journalists being imprisoned and even tortured. More recently, like in most of Europe, there’s been a clampdown on Muslim people. Now it's the turn of the Catalan struggle. So there are the cases of the journalists like you mention.

Also a number of councillors have been taken to court for political crimes. One of them was dragged to the special anti-terrorist court in Madrid for having said “you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs” The prosecutor asked him if this meant he was in favour of violence.

The latest aspect is the use of the laws against hate crimes to repress protests against the police. Two councillors in a town near Tarragona are being tried for hate crimes for having signed a manifesto criticising the police violence on October 1. They're saying the people who protest against the paramilitary police being billeted in their towns are guilty of hate crimes, as if they were racists or fascists. We should remember that they hardly ever prosecute fascists under these laws. So the repression is serious, but by and large it is counterproductive; it leads more people to conclude that the only answer is independence.

What are the goals of the independence movement should they succeed? What does a Catalan Republic look like? There are surely those on the left who do not conflate independence and self-determination with progress. What are the goals of left independence supporters and organizations?

The independence movement is very diverse. There is a right wing sector that basically wants to change the frontiers, the flag and the official language and not much else. However, a large part of the movement sees the fight for independence as part of a fight for more social justice and democracy. We’ve already seen hints of this. The pro-independence government that was in office for the last few years introduced laws against sexual harassment, against fracking, against house evictions, against energy poverty, against bullfighting… all of these laws were overturned by the courts in Madrid.

Some people do exaggerate the changes that independence could bring but I think it's clear that the opportunities for change will be there. There is a broad consensus that independence should be associated with a Constituent Process; this would be an opportunity for raising questions about what type of society we want and it would be different in many ways from the society we're living under now.

What significance do you attribute to the December 21st vote which narrowly was won by pro-independence parties? If Madrid refuses to engage in good faith, do you anticipate more elections? More mobilization? An increase in enthusiasm and antagonism, or demobilization?

It's difficult to predict what will happen. One thing is clear: Madrid has no interest in negotiating on the fundamental question which is Catalonia’s right to decide its future. This means that the main strategy until now of the moderate pro-independence parties — forcing Spain to negotiate, with the help of the European Union — will not work. The EU has already shown that it supports the Spanish government. So the formation of a pro independence government in itself can’t solve the problem.

The left will need to look for ways of strengthening the movement from below; and this has to be on a mass basis, it's not enough just to mobilise the radical left. In this, one key element will be the CDRs, the Committees to Defend the Republic. These are neighbourhood assemblies that emerged around the referendum and were a key organising force in protecting the electoral colleges on October 1. They continue to exist, some of them involving hundreds of people in a given area.

So our best option for change are the CDRs, broadening them to involve the organised working class. Only with this counter power do we have any chance of breaking from the Spanish state. The idea of change from above agreed with Madrid is impossible.

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