As the crisis in Catalonia rumbles on, with Spanish state repression meeting mass and increasingly militant resistance from the people, David Jamieson spoke to Barcelona based Scottish activist Jenny Morrison about the background to and nature of the dramatic political developments in the country.
David Jamieson: Can you give us a quick background to the crisis in Barcelona and Catalonia? How did we get to this point?
Jenny Morrison: The immediate roots of the current situation lie in the emergence of movements after the economic crisis of 2008 which question the validity of the ’78 regime – that is the constitutional settlement of the Spanish transition to democracy following the death of Franco. The Transition Pact involved the re-establishment of the autonomous Catalan government repressed under the dictatorship but also wrote into the Spanish Constitution that Spain is ‘indivisible’ effectively prohibiting claims by any of Spain’s historic nationalities to independence.
However, following the financial crisis a surge in criticism of the existing political system and demands for real democracy combined with frustration at Spain blocking increased autonomy for Catalonia to create a mass movement for independence. The political repression we’ve seen this week follows years of the Spanish government refusing to sanction a referendum or engage in any dialogue regarding independence despite the fact that the Catalan government has a pro-independence majority.
DJ: In Scotland we are used to a very different strategy from the state – one of allowing a referendum (at least in 2014) and believing in the state’s capacity to win. What is it about the Spanish/Catalonian situation that leads the Spanish state to a more overtly repressive strategy?
JM: The transition in Spain was infamously controlled by the ‘reformist’ forces of the dictatorship resulting in what is often termed a low intensity democracy where basic political and civil rights were granted but the individuals and state bodies of the Franco regime remained intact.
Many feel the current Conservative People’s Party (PP) government maintain a particularly authoritarian bent out of step even with other European conservative parties. This is not limited to the Catalan situation as the response of the PP to the ever deepening general crisis of the Spanish state was to pass the ‘gag law’1 limiting freedom of assembly and spech in an attempt to limit protest.
But I think the attitude of the Spanish state right now is also driven in part by the knowledge that they have lost control of the Catalan situation and a Yes vote is very possible. While polling still suggests a no vote is in the lead, the vote is likely to be very close in a way the British state assumed the Scottish vote never would be.
DJ: What is the mood on the street right now? What popular actions are underway?
JM: There’s a huge amount of solidarity and optimism on the street at the moment. Many people are saying that the Spanish state may have just signed its own death warrant, although its also true that the road ahead will not be easy. This week there’s been mass protests, students have occupied their university, the reposting of pro-indy propaganda torn down by the police as well as the nightly ‘casserolada’. Every night at 10pm thousands of people take to their balcony to drum a pot filling the air with noise in a really evocative way of showing solidarity.
DJ: Could you also speculate on why the generalised crisis of neo-liberalism and the global political polarisation keeps throwing up these situations – national questions in long established states but with popular left and working class sentiments and militant actions?
JM: The 2008 crisis and government responses to it exposed the brutality of neoliberal ideology. Yet there was a limited organised political response in part at least because across Europe the traditional parties of social democracy had remade themselves in a neoliberal image and the power of the trade unions was greatly reduced after decades of neoliberal onslaught. The decline of traditional social democracy often also ruptured old national allegiances which were based at least in part on solidarity around the welfare state etc. In such circumstances the national question can offer a vehicle for left wing demands, even popular revolt as we’re currently seeing in Barcelona.
But the national framing of left wing demands is not without a lot of contradictions. It’s worth noting that both the Catalan right and left are split on the national question, but it is the pro-independence Catalan right that tends to lead the nationalist bloc.
Large sections of the working class tend to oppose independence, while the traditional centre of Catalan radicalism Barcelona has among the lowest levels of support for independence across Catalonia. If the left is to gain in Barcelona it still needs to win key arguments across the working class.
DJ: What are the strategic perspectives for the movement in Catalonia? How can this movement win? Even if the Spanish state has blundered its reaction – does that mean an easy road ahead for the Catalonian movement?
JM: The road ahead is far from straightforward. If a vote is able to go ahead on 1 October then turnout is going to be key. As it currently stands many no supporters will not vote meaning the vote may get a large majority for yes but on a low turnout in which case it will lack popular legitimacy.
The call for a general strike from the CGT – General Confederation of Labour – offers a possible way forward that could disrupt the Spanish state’s insistence that everything should continue as normal. If the labour movement can pull behind independence it may also be able to shape the movement towards the left.
Jenny Morrison is co-author with Cat Boyd of Scottish Independence: A feminist response
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