Make no mistake, what is happening in Catalonia is a thuggish and ugly right-wing coup. The full mechanisms of Catalonian government, the police, the transport systems, and rest of the infrastructure has been seized by a militarized state that is transporting armed police and tanks and water cannons across the border. Yet it increasingly looks like a coup that is likely to fail. The widely shared films of crowds sending the Guardia Civil off to Catalonia, with football chants, and la Rojigualda’s being waved triumphantly reveal Spain to be an irrevocably divided ‘Kingdom’. And the tweety-pie boats! Has a military coup ever been so easy to mock on social media?
This coup has been launched in the first instance against the Catalonian political class, but it increasingly turning against its real enemy: the popular resistance on the street. The anti-capitalist and anti-fascist left across the different autonomous regions in Spain have for years been telling anyone who would listen that the old remnants of the Francoist state were never completely dismantled in the post-Dictatorship years. And, that those dark forces could easily rise again. Now we know they were right all along.
If the mainstream international press do not call it a coup – a situation in which armed guards will almost certainly arrest more politicians and polling officers intimidate voters and block ballot boxes – it is because the political balance in Catalonia is always over-simplified, dismissed as a ‘bourgeois’ revolution, a revolt of the rich periphery against an impoverished ‘PIGS’ state.
Add up the GDP sums and there is some sense in this simplification. But the real reason for this coup is that the referendum might just disrupt the old order, it might just disrupt the oligarchy that has remained in place in Spain following the 2008 crisis. The real threat to Spain is the forces in Catalonia that project concrete, workable, alternatives to a political and economic system that sustains a corrupt and bankrupt elite. The real threat to Spain is the mass movement that has gained momentum in its resistance to the coup.
It is the left independence movement in Catalonia that must take the credit for pushing and cajoling and ultimately forcing the centrists and a large section of the business and political elites to this decisive moment. Would there be any possibility of a referendum happening on Sunday without the shrewd agitation – inside and outside the Catalonian parliament – of the largest left party in the regional parliament, the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP)? It is the ten CUP MPs that have constantly harassed and embarrassed the centre into action. Indeed, official support for this referendum was initiated by CUP last year secured only after the Catalonian government finally agreed a deal in parliament.
Outside parliament, it is the broad front of the left independence movement that has organized and nurtured the possibility of an alternative politics in their communities. Most importantly, it is this movement that seeks independence on one condition: that the old oppressive order – the rule of elites – must go. This movement is not simply demanding a new ‘nation’ under the Senyera. It is not demanding that institutions of government, of law and of economy are reformed to establish some kind of new ‘Catalonian’ cultural sensibility. This movement is demanding that the old order and the old institutions must be replaced by ways of living and working that are not oppressive, are not crisis-ridden and do not sow the seeds of yet another right wing coup.
To get a sense of what the left wants, and what the fast-growing bulk of ordinary people in Catalonia want, there is a remarkable pamphlet published by CUP in recent weeks, titled ‘The Key that Opens the Lock’. The pamphlet collects essays from a diverse range of people on the pro-independence left to ask precisely what an independent Catalonia should look like. According to the current parliamentary leader of the group of CUP MPs in the Catalonian Parliament, Anna Gabriel:
“the referendum must also act as a prelude to a constitutional process that will attend to the other crises, those that have not been imposed with the same force, but that express themselves with just as, if not more, virulently. Free market capitalism that allows ever-more wealth to accumulate among ever-fewer people, that involves miserable working conditions and misery for those whose only options lie between unemployment and exploitation. Femicide and everyday violence, sexism, aggression and discrimination; corruption, bribes, buy-offs, lies and tax evasion; a long list of structural conditions that come from a particular economic system.”
That is what they mean when they say the referendum can only be the key that opens the lock. For those authors, this is not a hypothetical or abstract point. Most of them have been involved in developing a new model of political organising and acting in the large number towns and cities that have been implementing various forms of municipal socialism across Catalonia. In addition to Barcelona en Comu, the CUP has 14 mayors in councils across Catalonia that work on a model of participative democracy and act on the decisions of regularly held local popular assemblies. The same activists are, as I write this, establishing “Committees in Defense of the Referendum” in the neighborhoods, modeled on the Cuban “Committees in Defense of the Revolution” to provide an ongoing model of participative democracy that outlives the referendum and gives people a chance of building new institutions and new forms of organising.
If the referendum takes place on Sunday, it will be because the community-based left in the independence movement has seen it over the finishing line. But this movement will not be content with putting a cross on a reclaimed ballot paper. This counter-coup is planting the seeds of alternative ways of living, of working and of finding real independence.