Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Catalonia played a leading role in the Regenerationist movement in Spanish politics from the late 19th century onwards. Differences arose among the parties of the left, with positions ranging from outright rejection of Catalan autonomy to enthusiasm depending on whether they were branches of a Spanish party, like the Socialists, or essentially Catalan, such as the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC).
In 1898, the loss of Spain’s last colonies in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico opened a deep crisis. As Regeneracionismo spread across the country, the Catalan regionalists decided to protect their own interests by fighting the centralism of what they saw as decadent Spain. Early successes included the Solidaritat Catalana candidacy in the elections of 1907 and the creation of the first attempt at self-government, the Mancomunitat de Catalunya (1914–1925).
The Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923–1930) relegated Catalan culture to a folkloric role and left Catalonia without even the limited self-government of the mancomunitat. However, the ERC victory in the April 1931 municipal elections in Barcelona inspired its leader, Francesc Macià, to make a public declaration for a Catalan republic in an Iberian confederation.
The negotiations with the republican-socialist government of the Spanish second republic (1931–1939) brought a less (but still) radical status for Catalonia: its autonomy, unique in Spain at the time. In late 1933, Macià’s successor, Lluís Companys, was proclaimed president of the Generalitat de Catalunya (the governing body) and tried to introduce some important social reforms, especially concerning rural leases. This led to conflict with the central Spanish government. The generalitat was suspended and its ministers imprisoned after they supported the failed attempt to create an independent Catalonia within the revolutionary events of October 1934. The popular front electoral victory in February 1936 returned self-government to Catalonia, only for it to be lost again after the defeat of the republic in the Spanish civil war in 1939.
Franco’s dictatorship (1939–1976) saw the abolition of the generalitat, and the persecution of the Catalan language and culture. The generalitat was restored in November 1977 by the first democratic government in Spain, led by Adolfo Suárez, even before the adoption of a democratic constitution, which was finally approved in December 1978. The restoration was designed to calm the popular Catalan claims, reflected in the June 1977 electoral results, and to give a democratic legitimacy to Spain’s new political reality. The generalitat was ruled from 1980 to 2003 by Jordi Pujol, a conservative Catalanist politician who developed a strategy of giving parliamentary support to the Spanish governments in return for more powers for Catalonia.
The victory of the Socialist Party, led by Pasqual Maragall, in the 2003 Catalan elections gave Catalonia its first progressive government since the second republic in coalition with the ERC and the Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV), the Catalan Greens. Maragall pushed for the drafting of a new constitution for Catalonia, approved by the Catalan population in 2006. This new estatut d’autonomia defined Catalonia as a nation, establishing a deeper level of self-government.
The ultra-conservative Partido Popular, in opposition at the time, pursued a constitutional challenge to the 2006 estatut as a part of its anti-Catalanism strategy. The verdict of the constitutional court was delivered four years later, in July 2010, and annulled the core articles of the estatut. A massive demonstration took place in Barcelona a few days later and support for full independence, which had been marginal until then, skyrocketed, as subsequent demonstrations have shown. Around 1.2 million people participated in a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona in September 2012, and the following year a human chain crowded along the 400 kilometres of the Catalan coast. Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants.
These rallies were organised by the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya (ANC), independently of any political party. But the Catalan parties adapted to the new mood quickly, with a significant shift towards the independentism of the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, led by Pujol’s successor, Artur Mas, president of the generalitat since November 2010. In the 2012 elections, the parties that supported a Catalan independence referendum received 80 per cent of the vote. In December 2013 they agreed on a referendum for 9 November 2014. Although rejected by the central government, the demands for a vote on independence will not be going away any time soon.
The only Catalan party with parliamentary representation that has always backed independence, the ERC suffered a heavy defeat in the 2010 Catalan elections due to the chaotic image presented during the two tripartite governments (2003–2010). Oriol Junqueras, a Catalan historian recently turned politician, was elected ERC president in September 2011 to reorganise the party. His simple message is focused on securing Catalan independence and improving the Catalan economy and social situation. The ERC won the second highest number of MPs in the 2012 elections. From this powerful position, it bargained with the Catalan government, supporting its austerity measures in exchange for an undertaking to go ahead with the referendum.
The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) lost control of the government in November 2011. Its socialist credentials were left in tatters after May 2010, when the Rodríguez Zapatero administration applied harsh social expenditure cuts to comply with the conditions for the secretive economic bailout by the troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission. In relation to the Catalan question, relations between the PSOE and its Catalan wing, the PSC, have become increasingly fraught, with the PSC voting against the PSOE party line for the first time in its history in 2013 in support of a resolution for Catalonia’s ‘right to decide’ presented in the Spanish parliament.
The then PSOE general secretary Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba declared in April that ‘the right to decide doesn’t exist’. Instead the PSOE is clinging to the ‘Granada declaration’ agreed with the PSC last year, which proposes a federal system while maintaining the roles of national institutions. The PSOE leaders have done little to elaborate on what this constitutional reform would entail. They have argued that a national consensus is needed to establish federalism, but the Partido Popular (in government since November 2011 with an absolute majority in parliament) is resolutely opposed. The federalist option does not enjoy majority support among either the Spanish or Catalan populations.
Meanwhile, the pro-referendum faction of the PSC has been removed from leadership positions, and some abandoned the party altogether. Both the PSC and the PSOE suffered serious defeats in the European elections in May and their general secretaries resigned. On the basis of the statements made by the candidates for the succession, a change of the Socialist position on the Catalan issue seems unlikely.
The decomposition of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in the early 1980s saw many former members realigning themselves with the green and feminist agenda in Spain – as in other parts of Europe. The ICV, the Catalan outcome of this process, represented the leftist option in the Catalan Parliament until 2012. It supported the Catalan right to decide as soon as its popularity became clear and forced its equivalent party in Spain, the IU, to adopt this position in the Spanish parliament. The ICV and IU have never made a clear statement for or against Catalan independence but are firm supporters of a referendum.
On 15 May 2011, a large and spontaneous popular movement occupied the most important squares in Spain. This massive expression of discontent finally found two political forces that shared its anti-capitalist aspirations: the Candidatures d’Unitat Popular (CUP) in Catalonia, which until 2012 operated only in the municipal sphere; and Podemos in Spain, created a few weeks before the May 2014 European elections.
The CUP, with three MPs in the Catalan parliament, has become, with the ICV, the main force against social inequality, and proposes the independence of the Països Catalans (Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands), as a way to improve the social situation of the region. Thanks to the charisma and parliamentary work of its leaders, David Fernández and Quim Arrufat, the CUP is a key player in all aspects of the independence campaign, from the National Pact for the Right to Decide to the call for the referendum. The presence of the CUP is helping to widen the Catalan political spectrum, giving it a leftist colour.
Podemos, the fourth political party in terms of European MPs in the last elections, declared its support for the Catalan referendum to be held on 9 November, in spite of its position against Catalonia’s independence.
Jaume Muñoz Jofre is a visiting researcher at the London School of Economics. Thanks to Professor Paul Preston for his insight on this article.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#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
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
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
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going