One of the most important aspects of the current struggle between Catalonia and the central Spanish government in Madrid is, I believe, being overlooked. It is the battle of ideas between the dark ages of monarchism and hierarchical control of the people by a distant elite and the establishment of a progressive enlightened republic in Catalonia owned and shaped by the people and fit for their life in the 21st century.
It is not the first time the people of Catalonia have explored the potential of such a republic, but the fifth. On four previous occasions a Catalan republic has been proclaimed; in 1641, 1873, 1931 and 1934. We know that on the last occasion the republic was brutally put down by Franco’s fascist forces with the assistance of Hitler, Mussolini and, less overtly, of Britain and other western governments. Shamefully, one of those was the Irish government.
There are parallels between the Catalan experience and the Irish experience.
In 1916 a serious attempt was made to establish The Irish Republic with an armed revolution directed against British rule followed by the War of Independence which brought about negotiations in 1921. Unfortunately for the Irish people, those negotiations were led by proto-fascists on the Irish side who, following a civil war in which their side was supported by the British, established a counter-revolutionary government in 1922. We in Ireland have lived with the consequences of that for 95 years. Five years of seeking to build a modern republic, and ninety-five years of seeking to destroy that dream. But the struggle is not over.
I arrived in Girona last week on a short visit, excited by the prospect of observing the preparations for the Catalan Referendum, and wanting to get some sense of the mood of the people. In my backpack I had a book I wanted to revisit; ‘Labour in Ireland: (Labour in Irish History & The Reconquest of Ireland)’ by James Connolly, a principal architect of the 1916 revolution, a socialist-republican who was executed for his part in that great enterprise in which my paternal grandparents were also involved. By night I read his people’s history of my country, by day I watched part of the Catalan people’s history playing out.
There was no doubt of a defiant mood about the place. The Catalan flag was visible everywhere in Girona — on buildings, draped across the shoulders of students on the street, in shop-windows, attached to cars. Large banners supporting the referendum and ‘Democràcia!’ were strung from balconies. Posters proclaimed ‘república no monarquia’ — ‘republic not monarchy’, or ‘Hola república’ — ‘Hello republic’, or announced an assembly of young people of Girona to ‘flirt with a decent future’, or invited people to join the ‘struggle for the Catalan republic’.
I have never seen such a well-organised street-level use of propaganda, and it matched the freely-expressed opinions of a range of people I spoke to, from workers to students to small-business owners, all with the exception of one being firmly fixed on their right to vote regardless of it being for ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to independence, the one exception explaining her reluctance as being based on having family in Madrid.
But of course there is a precedent for that use of street-propaganda, and it is in the similar use of posters and flags during the 1931–39 struggle for the republic and against fascism. That struggle seems to be playing out again.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, leads the Partido Popular which has direct links back to the People’s Alliance party founded in 1976 by former Francoist minister Manuel Fraga. The PP is a member of the European People’s Party in the EU, as is Ireland’s ruling party Fine Gael which had its roots in the Irish fascist Blueshirt movement in the 1930s which avidly supported Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.
In Girona, I was conscious of those historical facts, and envious of the more advanced position of the Left in Catalonia than in Ireland. Like Spain, Ireland has been savagely assaulted by the austerity-gang led from Brussels, aided and abetted by the corporatist-kleptocratic political class in each country.
In Spain, that provoked a reaction, first the Indignados movement, later Podemos, now the Municipalities movement and its call for the feminisation of politics.
In Ireland, the people largely caved in and suffered egregious cuts in living standards until the attempt, encouraged by the EU, to privatise the provision of water began. That led to the Right2Water campaign that brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and forced the government to stall the plan, although that struggle hasn’t yet been decisively won. It remains to be seen if that Right2Water movement can be harnessed as a political movement, and meanwhile parties of the Left in Ireland refuse to cooperate fully to end the corporatist regime despite the obvious signs of real suffering endured by at least 25% of the people.
Back in Ireland, I have followed events in Catalonia via social media. Rajoy’s inner fascist has emerged, his authoritarianism knowing no bounds, even of basic common sense. He can hardly have imagined that his attempts to subdue the people of Catalonia would succeed. He has provided the pro-independence-referendum side with PR they couldn’t have dreamed of. He must be an idiot. They want Democràcia! He wants to deny them that.
And what of the Catalan Republic? We are a day or so away from knowing what the result of the referendum will be. And the referendum is not about the creation of a republic, but of independence. But it is hard to see, in the event of a ‘Yes’ outcome to that, the people of Catalonia not opting for a republic in preference to a monarchy. Freedom, Equality and Solidarity surely trumps rule from afar by a self-perpetuating ‘elite’.
Catalonia and Ireland have both flirted in the past with the republic as the preferred form of government, in both cases having that interrupted by fascist coups before the republic could be properly established.
I am hoping that Catalonia will give Ireland the lead when the referendum result is announced, and that we on the Left in Ireland — republicans and socialists — can follow that lead, can get beyond petty differences, and can organise to give the same option to the people of Ireland.
They desperately need it.