Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism

Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

November 2, 2017
5 min read


David WhyteDavid Whyte is professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool and a writer for OpenDemocracy and Bella Caledonia


Ignasi BernatIgnasi Bernat is an academic sociologist and social movement activist based in Barcelona


  share     tweet  
A celebration of Catalan independence held in Barcelona. Photo: assemblea.cat

Not content with the public shows of violence that shocked the world, the Spanish government is now using totalitarian powers to jail the Catalan government en masse and suspend parliament, with the same 10,000 paramilitary police standing guard who dragged women out of polling stations by their hair.

It is the arcane offence of sedition that two civil society leaders, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, have been imprisoned for. The attorney general has also explicitly accused left wing members of the Catalonian parliament of ‘rebellion’. Some activists who resisted the police violence and defended themselves are now being charged with ‘hate crimes’ against the police.

The arbitrary imposition of this exceptional ‘legal’ response reflects the despotic nature of the ruling conservative party PP’s determination to maintain obedience to the Spanish state in its province of Catalonia at all costs. It also reflects the nervousness about the prospect that self-determination opens up new space for a genuinely different society. This, after all is a state that is born out of a unique moment of civil disobedience and that means something very significant indeed.

Power on the streets

Yes, the struggle for independence mobilised Catalonian nationalism, and yes, the decision to move to the referendum was only achieved with the support and leadership of the political and business elites in Catalonia. But this rebellion is by no means a narrow nationalist or apolitical struggle.

Indeed, the Catalonia movement is increasingly characterised by a popular mobilisation against nationalism: the explicitly nationalist authoritiarianism of the Spanish state.

In the last decade or so, the resistance to Madrid’s authoritarian nationalism has gathered momentum. Since the PP lost the election in 2004, its strategy has been to regain electoral appeal by deploying an ever more crude brand of Spanish nationalism. This has meant overt confrontation with the principle of Catalonian autonomy, and even resulted in some bizarre strategies by groups linked to the PP such as calls for a boycott of Catalonian produce. People now talk about ‘Catalanophobia’. Anyone who saw the crowds sending off the armed guards of the Spanish National police from their barracks across Spain last month with the chants ‘go get ’em’ will understand this is not an exaggeration.

In recent years, every single anti-austerity measure and every single attempt to develop progressive politics in Catalonia has been blocked by the courts in Madrid. It is the Madrid government that has brought this crisis to breaking point.

The centrality of this formal and parliamentary political resistance should not obscure the fact that the Catalonian declaration of independence was only made possible by a popular rebellion, by the power on the streets that physically prevented the state from disrupting the vote.

The Committees to Defend the Referendum that repelled the Spanish National Police and the Guardia Civil (paramilitary police) were based on a model of participative democracy that pre-dated and will outlive the referendum. Their power and reach across the neighbourhoods of Catalonia should not be underestimated. The struggle for self-determination in Catalonia means something significant and potentially revolutionary because it opens up new possibilities for a different political and economic settlement.

‘The opposite of nationalism’

First, it means the rejection of the authority of the king: the demand for independence seeks to establish a republic without a monarch. We are often told that, in the context of modern democracies like the UK, Denmark or Spain, the monarchy is merely a docile and harmless relic of a symbolic power. In the context of Spain, rejecting the monarchy means something very specific. It means that means Catalonia is washing its hands of a corrupt royal family that stood at Franco’s right hand.

Of course, this is a pressure point: the rejection of the authority of the king is a feature of the struggle that has brought the fascists onto the streets. In Valencia, the local fiesta on 9 October was marred with widespread violence by fascists against anyone demonstrating solidarity with Catalonia. In Zaragoza, a march for Spanish unity was led by the leader of the Falange, the heirs of Franco’s one-party state who have barely been seen in public for 40 years. In Barcelona, Spanish unionist marches have been followed by serious attacks against journalists, migrants, and left political activists.

Second, it means a new republican constitution, a new set of institutions and a new political settlement. Of course, this could easily mean the status quo. But equally it might not. During the weekend following the declaration of independence an international solidarity delegation met, hosted by the left independence party, the CUP, to demonstrate solidarity against the repression and to discuss exactly what this new republic should look like. This delegation included representatives from left organisations in Scotland, Belgium, Italy, Quebec, Wallmapu, England, Greece and Ireland.

The ‘Declaration of Barcelona’ that was discussed and agreed at this meeting is a remarkable document for an independence movement. The Declaration asserts that ‘the Catalan struggle does not merely seek the establishment of yet another nation state’. It goes further, distancing itself from nationalist struggles: ‘The Catalan struggle is the opposite of the recent rise of nationalism that has given momentum to extreme right-wing and fascist forces across Europe. The values that drive it are born out of solidarity and resistance to the diseased state of Spain and Europe.’

The left independence movement is seeking to build a participatory democracy that is not merely an expression of the right or desire to vote, but one that has at its core is a long term project for social transformation.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

David WhyteDavid Whyte is professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool and a writer for OpenDemocracy and Bella Caledonia


Ignasi BernatIgnasi Bernat is an academic sociologist and social movement activist based in Barcelona


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death