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Finally, about six months after the elections of 21 December, 2017, the Catalan parliament has invested Quim Torra as the 131st president of Catalonia. This article deals with some of the debates there have been and the challenges we are now facing.
This shouldn’t have happened
If the Spanish government had respected the referendum and the unionist parties had run a campaign of “vote no”— instead of “there’ll be no vote” — we would have had an unquestionable result… that would certainly have been “Yes” to independence, with a smaller majority but less abstention. (That’s why they boycotted the referendum instead of campaigning for “No”.)
If article 155 had not been applied, suspending the government; if the scarcely independent judicial system had not sent the government to prison or exile; in short, if democracy had been respected… In that case, Carles Puigdemont would now still be president, and the Spanish and Catalan governments would be negotiating the terms of independence in a civilised manner. And we would not have had the 21 December elections or all this investiture debate.
But that didn’t happen. They repressed the referendum and beat up people who wanted to vote, they applied article 155, they imposed new elections… and they lost again.
The courts, acting on demands put by the PP, prevented the investiture of Carles Puigdemont, of Jordi Sánchez, of Jordi Turull… and finally Puigdemont proposed Quim Torra.
None of the parties that have backed these attacks on democracy can give lessons now about the election of Quim Torra. We have ended up here because of the forces that have been opposed not only to independence but to the very right to decide.
The Catalanist right makes more promises that it can’t fulfil
But the elections were held, and all the parties decided to participate, so they must accept the political debate about the results. To be more exact, the Catalanist right can’t insist on its sacred right to govern, when not even they defended it at key moments.
Artur Mas backed off at a key moment, when the Spanish State put obstacles before the referendum planned for 9 November 2014.
Puigdemont is much better than Artur Mas, of course (the people who branded the anti-capitalist left as traitors and agents of Spanish Intelligence for refusing to vote for Mas as President will have forgotten all that, we assume). However, at key moments — like October 10, to give just one example — Puigdemont also backed down.
What should make us believe that Torra will stand firm at a crucial moment?
This is not a moral or individual issue, but a question of class. As we said two months ago: “The vacillations of the leaders of Convergència (Pedecat, etc) at crucial moments reflect the interests of the class they want to represent, the Catalan bourgeoisie”. Puigdemont, Torra, and other politicians like them want independence, they want to break with the Spanish state… but above all, they want to maintain their idea of order. That is why Torra insulted the 15 May movement (“that group of fools of the indignados”) over the protest that surrounded the Catalan parliament on 15 June 2011. He said “this wouldn’t even happen in Uzbekistain (sic)… it is intolerable, democratically speaking” and compared the protest to the military coup of 23 February 1981.
The Spanish State has made it clear that a calm and negotiated solution is impossible, so the only solution possible is through mobilisation. But the Catalanist right does not want this type of mobilisation, and that won’t change, however many promises they make or commitments they sign; it is in their class nature.
It’s not just the tweets
As we know, a prominent theme in the debate has been Quim Torra’s tweets, with copious insults against “the Spaniards”. He has deleted the tweets and has apologised. Indeed, like the former Spanish king, Torra said “I’m very sorry, I made a mistake. It won’t happen again”.
But it’s not just some tweets. One or two tweets could be explained as the result of a fit of rage, but a series of writings over many years mean something else. It is a whole vision of the world, which combines biological concepts of ethnicity with other reactionary ideas of all kinds. (There are links to some of the articles at the end.)
Some people have tried to relativise the matter, insisting that his words were aimed against the Spanish State, not against the Spanish people, but it is clear that many of these messages were directed against the Spanish-speaking population of Catalonia. A great success of the majority of the sovereignty movement has been its rejection of ethnicist visions. The view that every person who lives or works in Catalonia is Catalan is widely held. The writings and tweets by Torra that have caused the uproar do not reflect this vision at all.
Apart from being morally objectionable, this vision is disastrous for the independence project. You can not build an independent Catalonia against the Spanish-speaking part of the population. In Estonia, thanks to the collapse of the USSR, they achieved independence without much support from the country’s Russian-speaking population, but conflicts over the issue continue now, almost 30 years later.
The views that Torra defends go in the opposite direction to what we need, which is dialogue and mutual understanding, based on the shared interests of all the working people of Catalonia, regardless of their principle language, be it Catalan, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi, Amazigh…
The hypocrisy of the Spanish centralist right
That said, some of the people who denounce Quim Torra’s statements take hypocrisy to new limits. We’re talking about Albert Rivera of “Ciutadans”, a party that has for years been collaborating with fascists in many ways: in an electoral coalition; with candidates and leaders from the far-right within Cs; in joint demonstrations; going hand in hand with neonazis to tear down yellow ribbons and flags (symbols of the campaign to free the political prisoners)… We’re talking about Xavier Garcia Albiol of the PP, criticised by the Council of Europe for promoting xenophobia and a leader of a party that refuses to condemn Francoism. And tragically, even the Catalan Socialist Party has called demonstrations alongside 14 far-right organizations.
These parties have no moral right to criticise Quim Torra’s objectionable declarations.
But the movements and the people who have been fighting against racism for years do have the right to question them. In fact, we have a duty to do so, and even more so those of us who defend independence. If we do not denounce arguments based on “race” when presented by a Catalanist, we are guilty of the same hypocrisy as the Spanish right.
Will we have a far-right government?
Torra has shown he has many reactionary ideas, but these take the form of press articles and tweets, with no visible attempt to put them into practice. To equate these statements with Nazism, as some Twitterers have done, is a dangerous trivialisation. (See the declaration by Unitat Contra el Feixisme i el Racisme.)
Fascism does not consist only of unpleasant attitudes; it is a political movement that seeks to put an end to the (limited) democracy that we now have and completely destroy the labour movement. (For the same reason, it is a grave error to argue that the current state repression means that we now live under fascism; see “Why the Spanish State is not fascist”.)
To think that ideas in themselves constitute a political force reflects philosophical idealism. This appears often, as in the argument: “we have decided that we want a republic, so this exists”. In the same way: “Torra has made reactionary comments, so we have a far-right presidency.”
Someone has even compared the situation with Hungary, governed by Viktor Orbán and his xenophobic FIDESZ party — which started as a group of young liberal professionals, a sort of 1989 version of Facebookers. The comparison shows the great difference between these two situations. Orbán’s far-right populist party has an absolute majority in parliament; the second biggest party are the fascists of Jobbik.
In contrast, the Catalan sovereignty movement is mostly progressive. Of the three pro sovereignty parties, CUP is anti-capitalist; ERC is social democratic but in general much firmer against racism than many European “socialist parties”; and even Puigdemont’s Junts Per Catalunya includes progressives and antiracists. (This underlines the folly of having chosen — from among all these people — Quim Torra as President.) Even if Torra wanted to apply xenophobic policies, he would come up against a lot of internal opposition.
In fact, this balance of forces within the movement, and especially the widespread rejection of his reactionary statements, means that he will have to show much more sensitivity on questions of racism than the Catalanist right used to do when it governed for 23 years. (In addition, this very interesting article points out one possibility: “Maybe [Torra] has changed… all of us have been changed a bit by the independence process”.)
We will have to remain vigilant and insistent on these issues. But under no circumstances should we go on the defensive, thinking that the Catalan government is far-right.
An important factor to achieve Catalonia’s democratic rights will be international solidarity. All the experience so far indicates that this solidarity will come almost exclusively from the left and progressive social movements.
We started late, but now we have been talking about this for months with people from all over Europe and the world. A key task has been to explain that the great majority of the sovereignty movement is progressive; internationalist and antiracist.
The investiture of Torra represents a serious setback in this task. His reactionary comments have been widely disseminated — the Spanish State has exploited them to the full — and we will have to face up to the questions that will be raised. We have no choice but to tell the truth; the whole truth, recognising that he made some horrible statements, but that they do not represent the movement as a whole and that many of the criticisms that have been made reflect hypocrisy, not genuine antiracism.
A constituent process from below
Let’s get back to basics. The Catalanist right has shown that at the crucial moment it will back off in the struggle for independence. And the struggle for a different society isn’t even on its agenda. In other words, with the right, we’re not going anywhere.
This investiture has been an error. They could hardly have found a less appropriate candidate. Despite this, ERC voted in favour, in their very own Stockholm syndrome with the Catalanist right.
The CUP-Crida Constituent made a declaration stating that it “does not support the investiture and maintains the four abstentions”… but everyone knew that these abstentions meant allowing the investiture. In the CUP’s internal debate — the party/movement works hard to maintain internal democracy — a significant minority defended a “no” to the investiture of Torra, but the abstention was agreed by a majority.
In fact, the decision has a certain logic, from the point of view of the CUP. They have insisted for 6 months that they would vote in favour of the investiture of Puigdemont. In the end, he chose Quim Torra, who politically is not so different.
A small detail is that in the investiture debate Xavi Domènech, of the Commons (the left alliance in Catalonia that includes Podemos), criticised the CUP and ERC for not having proposed their own left candidate, hinting that the Commons would have voted in favour. Natalia Sánchez of the CUP responded in a tweet, saying that he’d had 6 months to propose that and hadn’t done so. It is obvious that the left should come closer together, and that means doing real joint work on shared principles, not exchanging declarations for the consumption of the media and the social networks.
In any case, the main point is not who should be president. There is little chance of moving forward through the institutions, whether it’s with Puigdemont, Torra or whoever. On the one hand, because of the vacillations of the two main pro independence parties. On the other, because of the pressure on Catalan institutions from the Spanish State, which will continue. The latest declaration by the Moncloa (dated 12/05/18) says that “this Government will be watching the candidate’s actions and his possible Government very carefully. Any illegality will be dealt with and any violation of our constitutional framework will be responded to.”
What is the alternative? If we want independence to achieve social change, we have to go down a different road. It must be that of mobilisation, with proposals such as the constituent process, debating and fighting for the changes we want in a republic. This strategy won’t appeal to the Catalanist right, of course. But it does offer the chance of involving working people from far beyond the current independence movement.
Instead of trying to maintain the bloc with the Catalanist right, it implies working to form a new majority based on the working class; that is to say, rebuilding from below, as we wrote two months ago. It is not an easy or quick option, but the easy solutions of “magical independentism” have been shown not to work; they have led us to the investiture of a president who is anything but magical. The people who have struggled for years or months for the right to decide and those who defended the polling stations on 1 October deserve more. All the working people of Catalonia deserve more.
PS: Some of the quotes, and links to the articles
On the Almogàvars (soldiers of the Catalan conquests): “And don’t let the usual do gooder lefties start criticising a conquest that was faithful to all you would expect of a conquest — and of revenge.”
Quim Torra, Fa 700 anys, a Atenes, 29/04/2011
On the 15-M: “that group of fools of the indignados are taking us straight to the fifth world.” (Meaning the “third world”, but worse.)
Quim Torra, Un dia de fúria i de vergonya, 16/06/11
On the Badia brothers (far-right Catalanists of the 1930s, for whom Catalan fascists now organise memorial events): “We must thank them for their struggle, because now we know that it was our struggle. That’s where we are now, still having to ask our country to remember its best men.”
Quim Torra, Cal que els agraïm la seva lluita, perquè ara sabem que era la nostra, 25/04/11