Winter in Catalonia

Don Qui­jote en la playa de Bar­ci­no, Augus­to Fer­rer-Dal­mau

Narrative Confusions

In Cat­alo­nia mor­bid symp­toms abound.1 The pop­u­la­tion lives through bit­ter divi­sion. The Cata­lan lead­er­ship is in prison. The left is divid­ed. On Decem­ber 21st, all polit­i­cal par­ties in the self-declared Cata­lan repub­lic will par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions forced on them by the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. In the con­fu­sion of the inter­reg­num of the Span­ish state, all actors strug­gle to find a nar­ra­tive form that might ele­vate their mis­sion of estab­lish­ing a new reg­num.2

It is no won­der the world strug­gles to dis­cern the nar­ra­tive form of the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence strug­gle. Offi­cial Euro­pean opin­ion, nev­er a good read­er, sees a moral­i­ty tale of the dan­gers of pop­ulism and nation­al­ism, in which a reluc­tant Span­ish hero is forced to put into place a rogue sep­a­ratist gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, unof­fi­cial opin­ion is ral­ly­ing to the Cata­lan cause, inter­pret­ing it in the reg­is­ter of a great epic of nation­al lib­er­a­tion and the strug­gle against Fran­co­ism. Hor­ri­fied and enthu­si­as­tic spec­ta­tors alike can­not but observe the Cata­lan seces­sion dra­ma through the lens­es of its key antag­o­nists: the gob­ier­no of Mar­i­ano Rajoy in Madrid and the inde­pen­den­tis­tas lead by Car­les Puigdemont’s now deposed gov­ern. But the very nature of an inter­reg­num is that gov­ern­ments can­not tru­ly rule, and that peo­ple do not wish to be ruled. In the inter­reg­num gen­res fail, and when the epic fails, the result is invari­ably tragi­com­ic. The great­est reflec­tion on that is Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote.3

A few years ago, a pro­fes­sor in Girona gave a series of lec­tures where he scan­dalous­ly argued that Don Quixote was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in Cata­lan before it was appro­pri­at­ed as the quin­tes­sen­tial work of Span­ish lit­er­a­ture.4 True or not, the book does pro­vide a use­ful alle­go­ry of the present Cata­lan lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, in which noble hearts draw on a hero­ic past to clash with an unheroic present. “Don Quixote,” wrote Marx, “long ago paid the penal­ty for wrong­ly imag­in­ing that knight errantry was com­pat­i­ble with all eco­nom­i­cal forms of soci­ety.”5 Now the knights and squires of Cata­lan inde­pen­dence are pay­ing the price for imag­in­ing that nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gles are com­pat­i­ble with all forms of soci­ety. To Quixote, the ideals and weapons of medieval romances seemed more sol­id than the upside-down world of ear­ly 1700th cen­tu­ry Spain, unpro­duc­tive and spec­u­la­tive due to the influx of cheap cap­i­tal in the form of colo­nial sil­ver.6 But the ideas and prac­tices of a world of small prin­ci­pal­i­ties failed spec­tac­u­lar­ly to com­pre­hend or undo the symp­toms of the cri­sis of a glob­al empire. So to say the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence move­ment is Quixot­ic is not to sug­gest it has noth­ing to strug­gle against, but that it does so with ideals that have become abstract and for­mal, divorced from their mate­r­i­al con­di­tions. Behind the epic nar­ra­tive of cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal resis­tance, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism is deeply lim­it­ed by the polit­i­cal econ­o­my, class com­po­si­tion and geopo­lit­i­cal inter­twine­ments of Cat­alo­nia.

The seces­sion cri­sis of this autumn does not spring pris­tine from Cata­lan nation­al­ism, nor from some ancient con­flict with Spain. The con­text with­out which it would be impos­si­ble is the wider cri­sis of the Span­ish state and the EU. The strate­gic and ide­o­log­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion of inde­pen­den­tism, though sin­gu­lar and irre­ducible, reveals that it responds to an inter­reg­num expe­ri­enced also, but dif­fer­ent­ly, in well-estab­lished nation-states. The strug­gle in Cat­alo­nia is over inde­pen­dence, but its key term is sov­er­eign­ty. As such, any assess­ment of the Cata­lan procès also has some­thing to say about a polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion that is emerg­ing across Europe in very dif­fer­ent, even opposed ver­sions such as Brex­it (Right-wing and anti-Euro­pean) and Syriza (Left-wing and Euro­peanist). These pol­i­tics can­not be described as dif­fer­ent exam­ples of the same species, say “pop­ulism,” but their shared invo­ca­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty does require a for now spec­u­la­tive expla­na­tion.

In Spain, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism is just one of sev­er­al con­flict­ing sov­er­eign­tist respons­es to the inter­reg­num, oth­ers being the patri­o­tism of Podemos and the Span­ish nation­al­ism of Rajoy. With its mas­sive civic engage­ment and its insti­tu­tion­al dis­obe­di­ence, Cat­alo­nia can be con­sid­ered one of the most advanced exam­ples of a renewed and so far unre­al­ized pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty that is gain­ing trac­tion across Europe in the cri­sis, from the estab­lish­ment and far right’s attempt to acti­vate nation­al­ism to rebuild legit­i­ma­cy and shift atten­tion from the social ques­tion, to the left’s attempt to use the demand for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty as a cor­ner­stone of its hege­mon­ic project in times of neolib­er­al­ism. Unlike move­ments in already exist­ing Euro­pean nation states - with the excep­tion of  Greece until July 2015 - the strug­gle for sov­er­eign­ty in Cat­alo­nia is dri­ven not just by polit­i­cal elites, but also by mass activ­i­ty. Yet like all move­ments for sov­er­eign­ty, the con­sti­tu­tion of effec­tive pop­u­lar pow­er becomes sec­ondary to the stag­ing of “social majori­ties” in elec­tions and ref­er­en­dums, and the solu­tions become depen­dent on the actions of elect­ed politi­cians, who are grant­ed the effec­tive pow­er of demo­bi­liza­tion. The Cata­lan autumn invites reflec­tion on the dif­fi­cul­ties and lim­i­ta­tions of the epic pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty in this inter­reg­num. It is a strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion that has pro­duced Quixotes else­where, both more trag­ic and more far­ci­cal than Puigde­mont, think of the fig­ures of Tsipras and Far­rage. But first and fore­most, the Cata­lan cri­sis is an effect, accel­er­a­tor, and per­haps ulti­mate­ly a decel­er­a­tor of the cri­sis of the Span­ish state, and this is where the focus must lie.

I write this as some­one who spent the Cata­lan autumn in Barcelona, alien­at­ed yet affect­ed, enraged and estranged. Every day police heli­copters cir­cling over­head stirred the blood of the city and tensed its tone. I saw one hun­dred mil­i­tary police in riot gear storm an elec­tion point and beat up vot­ers, as well as a friend who had trav­elled from Madrid to put his body on the line in the pro­tec­tion of the ref­er­en­dum. In that sit­u­a­tion, he was like so many oth­ers who inhab­it Cat­alo­nia and the Span­ish state: with­out a vote in either, and with a voice that speaks unin­vit­ed. My text emerges from this strange posi­tion, in hopes of estrang­ing us from the spec­ta­cle and from the urgen­cies of actions in order to focus on their con­di­tions. It is guid­ed by the words Wal­ter Ben­jamin chose to describe Brecht’s sub­ver­sion of the epic genre: “Instead of iden­ti­fy­ing with the char­ac­ters the audi­ence should be aston­ished at the cir­cum­stances under which they func­tion.”7 The first step is a defla­tion of the epic.

Poetry of the Past, Prose of the Present

For a peri­od, the favorite main­stream ref­er­ence for inde­pen­dence was Scot­land and Que­bec, two regions who undra­mat­i­cal­ly were con­ced­ed the right to self-deter­mi­na­tion in ref­er­en­dums in 1995 and 2014. Votar és nor­mal, vot­ing is nor­mal, as a slo­gan had it. But ref­er­ences to more epic, even insur­rec­tionary strug­gles of nation­al lib­er­a­tion have always been made in the Cata­lan con­text, and they are becom­ing more com­mon. In 2014, for instance, a flur­ry of exhi­bi­tions and pub­li­ca­tions cen­tered on the tri-cen­ten­ni­al of the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion of 1714. On the inde­pen­den­tist left 1934 is held dear­er, through parts of the nar­ra­tive tend to be down­played, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fact that the short-lived 1934 Cata­lan repub­lic was declared in the con­text of insur­rec­tions across the state, most sig­nif­i­cant­ly the two week com­mune of Asturias, and called for a fed­er­a­tion of Iber­ian republics.

It has by now become com­mon8 to sub­vert these solemn invo­ca­tions with an apt ref­er­ence to Marx’s dic­tum that all great world-his­toric facts and per­son­ages appear twice – first as tragedy, then as farce. The Octo­ber 2017 dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence, vague­ly for­mu­lat­ed and nev­er act­ed upon, stands in for the dead­ly repres­sion of the 1934 Cata­lan Repub­lic.9 Then, pres­i­dent Com­pa­nys was impris­oned by Ler­roux and exe­cut­ed by Fran­co. Now, in a toned-down reboot, Pres­i­dent Puigde­mont was chased to Brus­sels by Rajoy. And indeed, the farce becomes total when Rajoy, leader of a deeply author­i­tar­i­an par­ty mired in cor­rup­tion, sends thou­sands of police offi­cers, host­ed in a cruise ship cov­ered in Looney Toons char­ac­ters, to beat up vot­ers in Cat­alo­nia to ”restore legal­i­ty and democ­ra­cy.” Sim­i­lar­ly, Car­les Puigdemont’s twists and turns, his two-sec­ond dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence, his last-minute changes of heart, and his flight to Brus­sels have all been rich sources of satire - though his pos­si­ble 30-year sen­tence is not.

Some­times the cur­rent actors wear their masks so well that the rep­e­ti­tion main­tains its epic tenor and sense of world his­tor­i­cal appear­ance, whether in  the civ­il dis­obe­di­ence of mil­lions of vot­ers on Octo­ber 1st or the omi­nous warn­ings of Pablo Casa­do, press sec­re­tary for the Span­ish Par­tido Pop­u­lar (PP), that Puigde­mont “might end up like Com­pa­nys.” Descrip­tions of the Span­ish police as an “occu­py­ing army” – under­stand­able after the repres­sion of the ref­er­en­dum – and of the PP as “fas­cist” are wide­spread in Cat­alo­nia. While the sen­ti­ments these epi­thets con­vey depict the open­ing of a pro­found chasm, no one acts as if they gen­uine­ly believe them to be true. Rather, they large­ly seem to act as spir­its of the past con­jured up to cast cur­rent bat­tles as hero­ic. How­ev­er, they also sig­nal the virtue of Cata­lan nation­al­ism, which - right or left - has his­tor­i­cal­ly need­ed to con­sti­tute itself against post-impe­r­i­al and author­i­tar­i­an Span­ish con­ser­vatism, from Pri­mo de Rivera’s (1923-30) and Fran­cis­co Franco’s (1939-1975) dic­ta­tor­ships to the cur­rent con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment. This also explains why both the white left and bour­geois politi­cians have com­pared their strug­gle to black lib­er­a­tion with­out rais­ing many eye­brows local­ly. Back in 2013, Artur Mas – then Cata­lan pres­i­dent – com­pared the annu­al demon­stra­tion for Cata­lan inde­pen­dence with Mar­tin Luther King’s March on Wash­ing­ton. Appro­pri­ate­ly choos­ing a more rad­i­cal ref­er­ence than their unlike­ly and uneasy ally, lead­ers of the far-left assem­bly-based par­ty CUP (La Can­di­datu­ra d’Unitat Pop­u­lar) have invoked the exam­ple of Mal­colm X. And the inde­pen­dence movement’s choice of non-vio­lent resis­tance is often described as ”Gand­hi­an.”

Of course, Puigdemont’s Cat­alo­nia is noth­ing like the Guinea Bis­sau of Amil­car Cabral or the Alge­ria of Ben Bel­la, as acer­bical­ly not­ed by Madrid-based his­to­ri­an and soci­ol­o­gist Emmanuel Rodríguez.10 But, hyper­bol­ic appro­pri­a­tions notwith­stand­ing, the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence strug­gle does have one thing in com­mon with oth­er strug­gles of nation­al lib­er­a­tion: to suc­ceed it must pro­duce, as Frantz Fanon wrote, a manichean divi­sion along nation­al lines, strong enough to force a pos­i­tive answer to the ques­tion “yes or no to inde­pen­dence.” For Fanon, this is the labor of con­struct­ing a cohe­sive social major­i­ty out of every­day antag­o­nisms and local and episod­ic strug­gles. In anti-colo­nial lib­er­a­tion, the deci­sive ques­tion pos­es itself in the every­day inter­ac­tions between the col­o­niz­er and the col­o­nized, pro­vid­ing the affec­tive charge and exis­ten­tial neces­si­ties that need only find their polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tion.11 In Cat­alo­nia, the nation­al inde­pen­dence move­ment has weak roots in the every­day mate­r­i­al strug­gles of peo­ple. Behind the manichean clash­es of the Cata­lan autumn lies a mot­ley assem­blage of het­ero­ge­neous fac­tors.

First­ly, there is still strong his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry of, and trau­ma from, the fas­cist exter­mi­na­tion of the social rev­o­lu­tion in Cat­alo­nia and the sys­tem­at­ic attempt to repress and efface Cata­lan cul­ture dur­ing the fol­low­ing dic­ta­tor­ship. Such mem­o­ry of oppres­sion func­tions as an inter­pre­tive frame­work for cur­rent events, one which is espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful when Spain is gov­erned by the PP. As many Cata­lans will remind you, the PP is not a “nor­mal” con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty, but a Span­ish nation­al­ist par­ty co-found­ed by Fran­coist politi­cians in a new democ­ra­cy that failed to pros­e­cute those com­plic­it with the dic­ta­tor­ship. Sec­ond­ly, sup­port for inde­pen­dence is based on the com­mu­ni­ty pro­duced by Cata­lan insti­tu­tions and civ­il soci­ety, from Cata­lan TV to the Cata­lan-lan­guage pub­lic school sys­tem and an ever more dense fab­ric of cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tions.12 The strength of Cata­lan lan­guage and cul­ture, as well as its feel­ings of inse­cu­ri­ty in the face of Span­ish arro­gance and non-recog­ni­tion, gives the inde­pen­dence move­ment a strong ground in the cul­tur­al sec­tor.13 Third­ly, inde­pen­den­tism is an artic­u­la­tion of a desire for more demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol and account­abil­i­ty, in rela­tion to the wider cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy of the Span­ish state and eco­nom­ic mod­el since the onset of the hous­ing cri­sis in 2008. Final­ly, it is a reac­tion against the arro­gance and cor­rup­tion, as well as the cen­tral­iz­ing and author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies, of the PP, which has been rul­ing Spain since 2011.

Sup­port for inde­pen­dence has only approached a social major­i­ty begin­ning in 2012, after the onset of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and under the PP gov­ern­ment. This is of cru­cial sig­nif­i­cance. Because at their root, the most dynam­ic fac­tors of the move­ment, those griev­ances capa­ble of spurring a crit­i­cal mass into action, are not spe­cif­ic to Cat­alo­nia, but rather belong to the entire­ty of the cri­sis-rid­den Span­ish state. Thus, the cur­rent Cata­lan seces­sion cri­sis is a prod­uct of the cri­sis of the con­sti­tu­tion­al order of 1978, and inde­pen­den­tism is mere­ly one of the respons­es to this cri­sis. This too belies the invo­ca­tions of anti-colo­nial strug­gles. Such hyper­bole is deeply and sin­cere­ly felt, part­ly because the arro­gance of the PP gov­ern­ment has specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed Cat­alo­nia and tried to mobi­lize vot­ers around anti-Cata­lan Span­ish nation­al­ism, and part­ly because the insur­gent nation­hood of Cata­lans seems to open a way out of the dead­lock of the ossi­fied regime of the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion and towards a repub­lic, more social and demo­c­ra­t­ic than the cur­rent order.

Seen through the prism of Cata­lan his­to­ry, these fac­tors explain much of the inter­na­tion­al left wing fas­ci­na­tion with the Cata­lan fight and its readi­ness to nar­rate cur­rent events – messy, con­tra­dic­to­ry, far­ci­cal and divi­sive as they are – in an epic mode. In this lin­ear sto­ry, the Cata­lans are the col­lec­tive hero who, against all odds, has now arrived at the urgency of the final bat­tle. The sto­ry I want to tell here is more pro­fane, more bro­ken, more sur­pris­ing.

From Pragmatic Catalanism to Independentism

Out­side of Spain, a com­mon defence of the PP government’s unwill­ing­ness to nego­ti­ate Cata­lan sep­a­ratism ref­er­ences its eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal costs. Cat­alo­nia makes up about 20% of the Span­ish GDP (those 20% are the equiv­a­lent of South Africa’s GDP) and, with­out the region, the Span­ish debt-to-GDP ratio would sky­rock­et along with bor­row­ing costs.14 At the same time, the warn­ing goes, any con­ces­sion to Cat­alo­nia would reignite sep­a­ratist ambi­tions in the Basque Coun­try. How­ev­er, such expla­na­tions are beside the point, because the Span­ish block­ade goes back to before the growth of sep­a­ratism. It relates to the absolute refusal to grant Cat­alo­nia increased auton­o­my which, if con­ced­ed, would have cut sup­port for inde­pen­dence in Cat­alo­nia deci­sive­ly.

Since its incep­tion, Cata­lanism has been “a byword for mod­er­a­tion, cau­tion and incre­men­tal change.”15 As such, Cata­lanism was an expres­sion of the wider polit­i­cal cul­ture post-dic­ta­tor­ship Spain, dur­ing which a rapid­ly grow­ing mid­dle class dis­tanced itself not mere­ly from the years of fas­cism, but also from the social rev­o­lu­tion it exter­mi­nat­ed. It was a cul­ture that accept­ed both the vic­to­ry and the death of Fran­co, in order to let Spain enter into the new lib­er­al Euro­pean order. For decades after the tran­si­tion to con­sti­tu­tion­al monar­chy, Cata­lan nation-build­ing, his­tor­i­cal trau­ma and resent­ment were insuf­fi­cient to gath­er any­thing near a pro-inde­pen­dence major­i­ty. Quite the oppo­site in fact; in 1977 when the fear of Fran­co­ism was still strong – per­haps pre­cise­ly for that rea­son – only 5% of Cata­lans expressed a pref­er­ence for inde­pen­dence. The dom­i­nant artic­u­la­tion of nation­al­ism was “prag­mat­ic Cata­lanism” rather than inde­pen­den­tism. As not­ed by Kathryn Crameri, “one of the fac­tors that has tra­di­tion­al­ly unit­ed polit­i­cal and civ­il nation­al­ist groups in Cat­alo­nia is a reluc­tance to pur­sue the idea of a Cata­lan state.”16 In those years, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism was the minor­i­ty posi­tion of a rel­a­tive­ly weak left, par­tic­u­lar­ly the his­toric cen­ter-left par­ty of Com­pa­nys, Ezquer­ra Repub­li­cana de Catalun­ya (ERC), as well as the small armed lib­er­a­tion move­ment Ter­ra Lluire (“Free Land”). The lat­ter dis­solved in 1991, but alleged mem­bers of the orga­ni­za­tion were arrest­ed and pos­si­bly tor­tured dur­ing Oper­a­tion Garzón in the run-up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The cur­rent inde­pen­dence move­ment is root­ed in the break­down of prag­mat­ic Cata­lanist strate­gies dur­ing the 2000s. From 1980 to 2003, Cat­alo­nia was gov­erned by the cen­ter-right Cata­lanist par­ty Con­vergèn­cia i Unió (CiU) under the lead­er­ship of Jor­di Pujol. This par­ty, a broad coali­tion between lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tive and social Chris­t­ian democ­rats, was weld­ed under fear of the reemer­gence of Red Cat­alo­nia – in the late 1970s the com­bined vote of the social democ­rats and Com­mu­nists had been close to 50%. The project - aid­ed by state-wide elec­toral laws designed to pro­mote a two par­ty sys­tem and mar­gin­al­ize the com­mu­nist par­ty - suceed­ed. Dur­ing Pujol’s 23 years in office, the main oppo­si­tion par­ty was the non-nation­al­ist Cata­lan branch of the Span­ish social­ist par­ty, Par­tit dels Social­istes de Catalun­ya (PSC), allow­ing CiU to dom­i­nate Cata­lan nation­al­ism. The auton­o­my of Cat­alo­nia was occa­sion­al­ly expand­ed, and its insti­tu­tions were allowed to repro­duce and strength­en the imag­ined Cata­lan com­mu­ni­ty. The polit­i­cal elites of Madrid and Barcelona found peace­ful co-exis­tence in a tac­it pact of non-inter­fer­ence with­in each other’s spheres of influ­ence, influ­ence traf­fick­ing, and cor­rup­tion.

At the begin­ning of the mil­len­ni­um, the hege­mo­ny of CiU was strained by its sup­port for minor­i­ty PP gov­ern­ments in the Span­ish Cortes. Back­ing the main par­ty of Span­ish nation­al­ism was unpop­u­lar, but nonethe­less ground­ed in CiU’s prag­mat­ic tra­di­tion of seek­ing influ­ence in Madrid. At the same time, the Cata­lan econ­o­my was expe­ri­enc­ing a rel­a­tive decline, trans­form­ing net trans­fers to Madrid and poor­er regions of Spain into an issue of con­tention.17 These devel­op­ments cre­at­ed space for the surge of ERC. From this point onwards, com­pe­ti­tion between ERC and CiU over the nation­al­ist vote cre­at­ed a more live­ly debate over Catalonia’s future and brought the dis­cus­sion of inde­pen­dence back into the main­stream.

In 2003, the PSC, head­ing the first non-CiU region­al gov­ern­ment since the tran­si­tion, pro­posed a renew­al of Catalonia’s Statute of Auton­o­my, the Estatut, which had been in exis­tence since the tran­si­tion. The aim was to secure a gov­ern­ment alliance with ERC and stop the inde­pen­den­tist drift of Cata­lan pol­i­tics. But rather than damp­en inde­pen­den­tism, the attempt­ed reform end­ed up accel­er­at­ing it. After much debate and water­ing down, the Estatut was vot­ed through the Cata­lan and Span­ish par­lia­ments in 2005-2006 but was imme­di­ate­ly sus­pend­ed when the PP asked the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court to assess its legal­i­ty.19 With the Estatut caught in a legal lim­bo, the ques­tion of inde­pen­dence began per­co­lat­ing into the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, start­ing in 2006 with a demon­stra­tion of 200,000 orga­nized by the ERC-dom­i­nat­ed Platafor­ma pel Dret de Decidir (Plat­form for the Right to Decide). In 2009 and 2010, CUP were influ­en­tial in set­ting up ref­er­en­dums on inde­pen­dence in a num­ber of small munic­i­pal­i­ties, show­ing the movement’s increas­ing capac­i­ties.

When in 2010 the court final­ly reached an agree­ment to reject many ele­ments in the Estatut, a mil­lion Cata­lans came out in protest on the streets of Barcelona. Two years lat­er, after Artur Mas returned to Barcelona emp­ty-hand­ed and humil­i­at­ed from rene­go­ti­a­tions with Span­ish pre­mier Mar­i­ano Rajoy (PP), 1.5 mil­lion of Catalonia’s 7.5 mil­lion inhab­i­tants demon­strat­ed on Sep­tem­ber 11, Catalonia’s nation­al day. This time the demand was not for the imple­men­ta­tion of the Estatut, but some­thing much more rad­i­cal: a sov­er­eign Cata­lan state. The sta­tis­ti­cal record bears wit­ness to a tec­ton­ic shift. In June 2006, 13,6% of peo­ple in Cat­alo­nia expressed sup­port for inde­pen­dence, 31.3% for fed­er­al sta­tus, and 40.8% for remain­ing an autonomous com­mu­ni­ty. In 2010 and 2011, sup­port for inde­pen­dence went up from 20% to 28%, ris­ing rapid­ly to 44% in 2012 before peak­ing at 48.5% in 2013. Ref­er­en­dum-style polls, in which options beyond yes or no are absent, showed 57% sup­port for inde­pen­dence in 2012.20 Humil­i­at­ed by Rajoy and under increas­ing move­ment pres­sure, Mas moved the par­ty of Cata­lan prag­ma­tism towards inde­pen­den­tism.

​In 2005 it would have been fool­ish to pre­dict such a devel­op­ment. That year, bare­ly 1% told poll­sters that they fol­lowed the debate over the Estatut “with inter­est,” and though the “yes” won the Estatut ref­er­en­dum solid­ly with 74% sup­port, par­tic­i­pa­tion only reached 49%. But two inter­nal fac­tors raised Cata­lanism to a qual­i­ta­tive­ly new lev­el: the trans­for­ma­tion of CiU into a pro-inde­pen­dence plat­form and the acti­va­tion of Cata­lan civ­il soci­ety around an issue that had hith­er­to been dri­ven by polit­i­cal elites. It is no coin­ci­dence that the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of con­flict hap­pened after the onset of the worst eco­nom­ic cri­sis since the civ­il war. Hard­ly sui gener­is, the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence process is, in a sense, the cri­sis of the Span­ish state with Cata­lan char­ac­ter­is­tics. This cri­sis prompt­ed CiU to dis­place the blame for aus­ter­i­ty onto Madrid, hit the Cata­lan mid­dle class with an acute threat of declass­ing, and led to a gen­er­al cri­sis of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and legit­i­ma­cy for the whole post-1978 regime. But, as not­ed by Andrew Dowl­ing, for a move­ment aris­ing in such a severe eco­nom­ic cri­sis it was sur­pris­ing­ly mod­er­ate and con­tained remark­ably lit­tle cri­tique of the cur­rent eco­nom­ic order.21

Organic Crisis and the Discourse of Sovereignty

The insults and col­lab­o­ra­tion between the elites in Madrid and Barcelona flowed rel­a­tive­ly smooth­ly as long as eco­nom­ic growth cre­at­ed sur­plus­es large enough to secure social con­sen­sus and fill hun­gry bank accounts in Pana­ma and Andor­ra alike (a large num­ber of PP politi­cians went for the for­mer option, Pujol and his fam­i­ly for the lat­ter). This order came crash­ing down with the con­struc­tion and mort­gage bub­bles, which man­aged to  sur­prise a coun­try that had con­struct­ed more than twice as much real estate as Ger­many, Italy and France com­bined over the pre­ced­ing decade. By 2013, more than 350,000 house­holds had been evict­ed from their homes, while unem­ploy­ment rates rose sharply, leav­ing more than 50% of the youth job­less.22

Resis­tance to these devel­op­ments was impres­sive. First, the anti-evic­tion move­ment PAH (Platafor­ma de Afec­ta­dos por la Hipote­ca, found­ed in 2009) spread from Barcelona across the Span­ish state, resist­ing evic­tions and occu­py­ing bank branch­es, gain­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions from banks and push­ing region­al gov­ern­ments to intro­duce the above­men­tioned anti-evic­tion laws.23 PAH was huge­ly impor­tant in cre­at­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty and col­lec­tive lever­age between reg­u­lar and sub­prime mort­gage lenders, between declassed mid­dle class and work­ing class peo­ple, and between peo­ple with and with­out migrant back­grounds.24 Then on May 15th 2011, Spain saw the begin­ning of one of the most impres­sive of the square occu­pa­tion move­ments in Europe, the Movimien­to 15M, else­where known as the “indig­na­dos„ use­ful­ly ref­er­enc­ing that quin­tes­sen­tial mid­dle-class affect of indig­na­tion. In 2011, the 15M was esti­mat­ed to have up to 1.5 mil­lion very active par­tic­i­pants, with 8.5 mil­lion par­tic­i­pat­ing in some activ­i­ties, and 32 mil­lion out of Spain’s 47 mil­lion expressed sym­pa­thy with the move­ment.25 Such num­bers would have been impos­si­ble with­out the cri­sis of the mid­dle class and its mer­i­to­crat­ic hori­zon of expec­ta­tion, its invest­ment in exist­ing insti­tu­tions, and its sense of enti­tle­ment.26

The most rad­i­cal aspect of the move­ment was its mode of orga­ni­za­tion, its assem­blies, its con­ta­gious tech­nop­o­l­i­tics,27 and its process­es of com­po­si­tion embed­ded in sec­toral and every­day strug­gles, from the mar­eas (tides) in health care, edu­ca­tion, social ser­vices and oth­er sec­tors,28 to neigh­bor­hood assem­blies, and migrant sol­i­dar­i­ty net­works. As the gram­mar of class pol­i­tics had been liq­ui­dat­ed in the pre­vi­ous decades, the 15M politi­cized what was at hand, the dis­ap­point­ments and anx­i­eties of the chil­dren of the mer­i­to­crat­ic and indebt­ed mid­dle class that had been the back­bone of post-tran­si­tion democ­ra­cy. Tak­ing their start­ing point in the real­i­ty of declass­ing, the most impor­tant move­ments of the peri­od pro­duced an inter­face between the down­ward­ly mobile and those they met below, undo­ing many of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of mid­dle class sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly the weigh­ing of legal­i­ty, indi­vid­ual inde­pen­dence, and respectabil­i­ty over infor­mal­i­ty, mutu­al aid, and col­lec­tive strug­gle.

Nonethe­less, the move­ment system’s cen­ter of grav­i­ty lay with the mid­dle class, and this intro­duced a ten­sion between the rad­i­cal demo­c­ra­t­ic class prac­tices and the desire to regain lost class posi­tions or promis­es, through a rein­ven­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tive pol­i­tics. The lim­its of the pol­i­tics of sov­er­eign­ty are always the same: the pro­tag­o­nism of the cit­i­zen and the for­get­ting of the immi­grant, the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tive pol­i­tics, and the instru­men­tal­iza­tion or neglect of the con­struc­tion of pop­u­lar or class pow­er. The dom­i­nant demand of the 15M, “real democ­ra­cy now,” would come to play a major role in the con­struc­tion of projects of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty and cit­i­zen­ship, with its focus on the vot­er-cit­i­zen and elec­toral pol­i­tics, and its exhaust­ing cam­paign­ing cycles. Grad­u­al­ly, the con­tent the strug­gle was hol­lowed out, in order to build “social majori­ties,” “gov­ern for every­one,” and “include those that are miss­ing.”29 The roots of the “sov­er­eign­tism” in Cat­alo­nia, in Spain as else­where, lies in the cri­sis of the mid­dle class. Quixote put on plat­ed armor to regain through just deeds the class posi­tion and hon­or that was slip­ping away from his class, the hidal­gos priv­i­leged by the state of his time yet own­ing lit­tle real prop­er­ty. Today, the cri­sis of the mid­dle class is broad­en­ing  the con­stituen­cy for the dis­course of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty, which in the past was its hori­zon of a social, but not too social state, which would secure dig­ni­fied lives for its “pro­duc­tive” cit­i­zens. Per­haps because such a state has always been cir­cum­scribed by the Span­ish state in Cat­alo­nia, the call for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty is more enchant­i­ng there.

The Solution to All Our Problems

As the move­ments of 2011 swept the coun­try, harsh aus­ter­i­ty was being met­ed out by both nation­al and region­al gov­ern­ments. Aus­ter­i­ty was backed by repres­sive mea­sures cul­mi­nat­ing in the PP pass­ing the infa­mous Ley Mor­daza, a gag law enabling harsh pun­ish­ments of pro­test­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers of police bru­tal­i­ty, and racial­ized pop­u­la­tions alike.30 In Cat­alo­nia, the gov­ern­ing neolib­er­als of CiU, huge­ly unpop­u­lar for hav­ing presided over a failed eco­nom­ic mod­el, aus­ter­i­ty and repres­sion, began to point the fin­ger at Madrid. They start­ed ask­ing: would aus­ter­i­ty real­ly be nec­es­sary in Cat­alo­nia, if it was not a net-con­trib­u­tor to the rest of Spain and if the Span­ish bureau­cra­cy was as effi­cient as the Cata­lan one? In an Eng­lish-lan­guage anthol­o­gy of argu­ments for inde­pen­dence, Artur Mas wrote:

This is the new cen­tral issue in Cat­alo­nia. A Cat­alo­nia that suf­fers, like the rest of the coun­tries in Europe, the harsh con­se­quences of the finan­cial cri­sis, that suf­fers the con­se­quences of hav­ing to dras­ti­cal­ly reduce its pub­lic spend­ing to meet the deficit objec­tives that are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly, unjust­ly, and dis­loy­al­ly imposed by Spain, and that suf­fers the con­se­quences of hav­ing to shoul­der the return of a debt of mas­sive dimen­sions. It faces this dif­fi­cult and com­plex sit­u­a­tion with­out any of the tools that states have at their dis­pos­al, and with the grow­ing sen­sa­tion that the state that we helped to con­struct nei­ther pro­tects us, nor defends us, nor respects us.31

Mas wrote this after hav­ing imple­ment­ed harsh bud­get cuts in the Gen­er­al­i­tat and reg­u­lar­ly deploy­ing the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Cata­lan police, to tack­le pro­test­ers. Fis­cal sov­er­eign­ty became the mag­ic wand with which the Cata­lan elite tried to trans­form the cri­tique of the banks, the real estate bub­ble, Troi­ka-cuts, and their own neolib­er­al­ism into a cri­tique of Span­ish inef­fi­cien­cy and exploita­tion of Cat­alo­nia. True to the his­tor­i­cal con­cep­tion of the Cata­lan bour­geoisie, Mas’ CiU sug­gest­ed that back­ward Spain was pulling down Cat­alo­nia, always con­sid­ered more Euro­pean and devel­oped by the Cata­lan bour­geoisie. Adopt­ing a left-wing ver­sion of this nar­ra­tive, the Cata­lan left sug­gest­ed that it would be eas­i­er to achieve a social repub­lic in his­tor­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive Cat­alo­nia alone, rather than with catholic and con­ser­v­a­tive Spain. For the lat­ter, fore­most among them ERC and CUP, the cri­sis con­sti­tut­ed a his­toric oppor­tu­ni­ty to achieve old aims, while the neolib­er­al Cata­lan right, taint­ed by eco­nom­ic mis­man­age­ment and aus­ter­i­ty, embraced the quest for inde­pen­dence oppor­tunis­ti­cal­ly as a source of renewed legit­i­ma­cy. This uneasy alliance repeat­ed an age-old par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of Cata­lan pol­i­tics, an effect of the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of con­sen­sus and con­tes­ta­tion in a dom­i­nat­ed ter­ri­to­ry. Because of its sub­al­tern posi­tion with regards to the Span­ish bour­geoisie, sec­tions of the Cata­lan bour­geoisie have always sup­port­ed the cause of auton­o­my. And because it nev­er tru­ly rules, it can take up pro­gres­sive posi­tions and make alliances with pop­u­lar class­es and left-wing par­ties at rel­a­tive­ly low cost.32Cata­lanism is the his­tor­i­cal lan­guage of such class alliances, which are incon­ceiv­able in the Span­ish cap­i­tal.

In this way, social dis­con­tent, oppor­tunism, and thwart­ed desires for more auton­o­my mixed to fuel a broad inde­pen­dence alliance capa­ble of mobi­liz­ing mil­lions. This surge would have been unimag­in­able with­out the gen­er­al fer­vor of the spring of 2011 and the accel­er­at­ed cri­sis of the legit­i­ma­cy of all rul­ing polit­i­cal par­ties, as well as the intran­si­gence of the PP. In many ways, the polar­iza­tion was fuelled by the PP gov­ern­ment, which saw how a con­flict with Cat­alo­nia (in which it has few and faith­ful vot­ers) could posi­tion the par­ty as the defend­er of Span­ish uni­ty in the rest of the state, and pro­vide it with a win­ning card after years of cor­rup­tion scan­dals and aus­ter­i­ty. Acti­vat­ing stereo­types of Cata­lans as stingy, self­ish, and arro­gant, and spurred on by the anti-Cata­lanist par­ty Ciu­dadanos (found­ed in 2005), the PP ral­lied sup­port for their brand of author­i­tar­i­an Span­ish nation­al­ism. In this way, there was a total block­ade of an insti­tu­tion­al solu­tion to the Cata­lan ques­tion. The con­sti­tu­tion­al court blocked the prospect of any com­pro­mise with­in the con­sti­tu­tion, while the Span­ish gov­ern­ment reject­ed not only nego­ti­a­tion, but also the idea of the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment as an inter­locu­tor on the ques­tion. The sharp­en­ing of con­tra­dic­tions was active­ly pro­mot­ed.

As an effect of these devel­op­ments, a very large pro­por­tion of the Cata­lan mid­dle class changed its alle­giance from prag­ma­tism to inde­pen­den­tism. This sig­nif­i­cant­ly includ­ed a large sec­tion of the cul­tur­al elite, from aca­d­e­mics and intel­lec­tu­als to media pro­fes­sion­als.33 The pro­fes­sion­al mid­dle class was cru­cial to the for­ma­tion in 2012 of the biggest pro-inde­pen­dence civic asso­ci­a­tion Assem­blea Nacional Cata­lana (ANC) and the trans­for­ma­tion of the old Cata­lan cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tion Òmni­um into a pro-inde­pen­dence vehi­cle.34 From then on, the ques­tion of inde­pen­dence was no longer main­ly par­ty polit­i­cal, and civic asso­ci­a­tions gave inde­pen­den­tism an affec­tive and social expres­sion out­side the cal­cu­la­tions of par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics. How­ev­er, the inde­pen­den­tist left remained rel­a­tive­ly weak in par­lia­men­tary terms, with ERC win­ning 7% and 14% in the Cata­lan elec­tions of 2010 and 2012, and CUP enter­ing the Cata­lan par­lia­ment for the first time at 3% in 2012 (in both elec­tions CiU received 38-39% of the vote).

Mas was increas­ing­ly mov­ing con­trary to the inter­ests of a key con­stituen­cy of CiU, that of Cata­lan cap­i­tal, or at any rate the dom­i­nant larg­er enter­pris­es with­in it, who con­sid­er inde­pen­dence a dis­as­ter. Gain­ing no con­ces­sions from Madrid and hav­ing unleashed a strong move­ment, there was no turn­ing back. The only way to steer the move­ment was to raise the stakes. This process reached an ini­tial cul­mi­na­tion with the pure­ly con­sul­ta­tive inde­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on the 9th of Novem­ber 2014, in which “yes” received 81% on a mea­gre 39% turnout due to a boy­cott by anti-inde­pen­dence par­ties. Though sym­bol­ic and staffed by vol­un­teers, the ref­er­en­dum was declared uncon­sti­tu­tion­al and thus ille­gal, and Mas was charged with per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice, mis­use of pub­lic funds, and abuse of pow­er, risk­ing a ten-year ban from polit­i­cal office. (Even­tu­al­ly he was banned for two years and fined 36,500 euros). The prag­mat­ic main­stream lib­er­al had gone rogue, and once more the con­sti­tu­tion was wield­ed as a baton against Cata­lan ambi­tions.

Constitutional Contradictions

The impe­tus of the inde­pen­dence move­ment was the eco­nom­ic cri­sis, but the fault­line it revealed and expand­ed was a con­tra­dic­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion­al arrange­ment of the Span­ish state. It is often said against the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion that it – and par­tic­u­lar­ly its def­i­n­i­tion of Spain as a uni­tary rather than fed­er­al state – marks its con­ti­nu­ity with the fas­cist regime. And indeed, Fran­coists were still in con­trol of both mil­i­tary and army as it was writ­ten. How­ev­er, this nar­ra­tive is only one half of the sto­ry: that of vic­tim­hood. The oth­er side of the sto­ry is that the Fran­coists accept­ed the con­sti­tu­tion under fear of com­mu­nist, anar­chist, and nation­al­ist insur­gen­cies. The prob­lem is not that the con­sti­tu­tion was imposed by fas­cists, as many argue, but rather that it was a com­pro­mise with peo­ple one should not have to com­pro­mise with. As such, the con­sti­tu­tion is insuf­fi­cient­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic and fed­er­al to accom­mo­date the plu­ral­i­ty of Spain, and not author­i­tar­i­an and cen­tral­ist enough to repress it.35

Pre­sid­ing over the con­sti­tu­tion­al com­pro­mise was the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ty and its promise of mem­ber­ship. For the Fran­coist oli­garchy and cap­i­tal, democ­ra­cy was an accept­able price to pay for access to Euro­pean mar­kets, while the social­ist trade unions and left saw the EU (then EC) as a guar­an­tor of demo­c­ra­t­ic and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and a way to mar­gin­al­ize the com­mu­nist par­ty. From 1978 until 2010 Cata­lan auton­o­my seemed to be grad­u­al­ly expand­ing, with no clear end-point in sight. From 1986, EU-mem­ber­ship gave many Cata­lans who mis­trust­ed Madrid the con­fi­dence that their minor­i­ty rights were guar­an­teed, and that the nation state would be grad­u­al­ly erod­ed in favor of a Europe of regions. With the Cata­lan econ­o­my and cul­tur­al devel­op­ment pro­gress­ing, sup­port for inde­pen­dence was low. Cat­alo­nia now shared a hori­zon of “mod­ern­iza­tion” with the rest of Spain: Euro­peaniza­tion. The ques­tion of sov­er­eign­ty with­in the Span­ish state was par­tial­ly dif­fused by a trans­mis­sion of sov­er­eign­ty to the Euro­pean lev­el.

For many years, the con­sti­tu­tion­al com­pro­mise gave the con­tra­dic­tion room to move, but its grant­i­ng of nation-build­ing capac­i­ties to region­al gov­ern­ments was bound to run into con­flict with its own insis­tence on the “indis­sol­u­ble uni­ty of the Span­ish Nation.”36 With the onset of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis, the stum­bling blocks for com­pro­mise were no longer prin­ci­pal­ly ide­o­log­i­cal, but also eco­nom­ic, piv­ot­ing on the ques­tion of eco­nom­ic sov­er­eign­ty. Thus, in 2010 the con­sti­tu­tion­al court’s deci­sion end­ed three decades of slow­ly incre­ment­ing Cata­lan auton­o­my and brought the con­tra­dic­tion to a head. Today, we are expe­ri­enc­ing inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion­al con­tra­dic­tion between the accom­mo­da­tion of Cata­lan nation build­ing, and the pro­hi­bi­tion of Cata­lan nation­hood. In the back­ground of all this looms the var­i­ous crises of the EU, which has result­ed not so much in dis­il­lu­sion­ment and dis­af­fec­tion as in the anx­i­ety that comes when a ref­er­ence point and hori­zon is desta­bi­lized.

How­ev­er, in stress­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al char­ac­ter of the prob­lem, it is easy to lose track of con­tin­gency and thus of pol­i­tics prop­er. Con­sti­tu­tion­al law is always a high­ly politi­cized mat­ter, and in Spain more so than else­where in Europe. In a 2014-15 World Eco­nom­ic Forum sur­vey, Spaniards expressed extreme­ly low opin­ions about the inde­pen­dence of their judi­cia­ry, leav­ing Spain couched between Tan­za­nia and Mex­i­co at num­ber 97 in a glob­al index.37 Fur­ther, as hous­ing activists in Spain tire­less­ly point out, the con­sti­tu­tion­al court’s fer­vour is high­ly selec­tive, knock­ing down region­al anti-evic­tion laws in Cat­alo­nia and Navar­ra, while com­plete­ly ignor­ing Arti­cle 47 of the con­sti­tu­tion which guar­an­tees all Span­ish cit­i­zens the right to ade­quate and dig­ni­fied hous­ing, through the use of pub­lic works and rental con­trols. Even more to the point, the Basque coun­try enjoys some of the autonomies denied Cat­alo­nia, includ­ing fis­cal auton­o­my – sim­ply because no one has dared chal­lenge the Basque auton­o­my statutes, per­haps out of fear of reignit­ing the con­flict there. Final­ly, the prob­lem is clear­ly one of the polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the Cortes Gen­erales, the Span­ish con­gress, as con­sti­tu­tion­al changes are eas­i­er to make in Spain than in many coun­tries. Thus, as late as in 2011, the required two-thirds par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty made a “bal­anced bud­get” amend­ment under Troi­ka pres­sure, with­out bring­ing it to a ref­er­en­dum.

The above explains why the ques­tion of a con­stituent process and con­sti­tu­tion­al reform has been alive in all of the Span­ish state since the onset of the cri­sis, but also why the assault on la cas­ta has tak­en prece­dence over the con­sti­tu­tion­al ques­tion out­side of Cat­alo­nia.38 In the cross-class alliance of the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence move­ment, on the oth­er hand, the prob­lem of con­sti­tu­tion­al change has become a project for a Cata­lan con­sti­tu­tion. The prob­lem of the cas­ta has become the prob­lem of the polit­i­cal elite in Madrid.

Paths Not Taken

Rather than being the nat­ur­al and organ­ic result of a “thou­sand years of Cata­lan lan­guage and his­to­ry” and “self-gov­ern­ment,” as stat­ed in the epic lan­guage of the 2017 dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence, the cur­rent move­ment for Cata­lan sov­er­eign­ty is the prod­uct of a per­fect storm: advanced Cata­lan nation build­ing, Span­ish state nation­al­ism, a deep cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy, con­sti­tu­tion­al block­ade, and an uncom­pro­mis­ing and dia­logue-resis­tant cen­tral gov­ern­ment, with the weak­ened EU inca­pable to to act as a sta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor.39 The con­junc­tion of these fac­tors amount to an organ­ic cri­sis in the rela­tion­ship between Cat­alo­nia and the Span­ish cen­tral state, which can only be resolved through either insur­gent or repres­sive force – or by con­sti­tu­tion­al reform, requir­ing a his­toric shift in the com­po­si­tion of the Cortes. But in 2014, there appeared to be a pos­si­ble path beyond the bina­ry of the “inde­pen­dence” or “repres­sion” of Cat­alo­nia. The fore­most actors capa­ble of open­ing that path were Podemos and its munic­i­pal­ist allies.40

When Podemos emerged in 2014 (it’s easy to for­get how young it is), it styled itself as the polit­i­cal super­struc­ture of the orga­nized net­works of the 15M and the broad­er move­ment ecol­o­gy that had risen from strug­gles against evic­tions, unem­ploy­ment, aus­ter­i­ty, and cor­rup­tion. Ini­tial­ly, Podemos was itself a net­work that let local “cir­cles” main­tain a high degree of local­ly embed­ded ini­tia­tive. But the aim of its founders was always to give pop­ulist direc­tion to one par­tic­u­lar and influ­en­tial demand of the 15M, that of real democ­ra­cy now, which they con­strued as a project of reestab­lish­ing mean­ing­ful pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, build­ing on the famous pop­ulist hypothe­ses of Ernesto Laclau. Podemos, par­tic­u­lar­ly after its trans­for­ma­tion into an “elec­toral war machine” at the Vistale­gre assem­bly in the autumn of 2014, moved away from the focus on the messy labor of com­pos­ing and orga­niz­ing peo­ple, towards a media-based strat­e­gy of dis­cur­sive artic­u­la­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the peo­ple. In effect, Podemos large­ly cut ties with the organ­ic pro­duc­tion of prac­tices, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and “good sense” in order to reach out to the cov­et­ed apo­lit­i­cal but indig­nant mid­dle class of which social majori­ties are sup­posed to be made.

In an intense cycle of elec­tions, Euro­pean in 2014, munic­i­pal and region­al in 2015, nation­al in 2015 and 2016, this pri­or­i­ty amount­ed to a near total demo­bi­liza­tion of non-elec­toral grass­roots activ­i­ty in Podemos. In tak­ing this turn, Podemos diverged from its Boli­var­i­an inspi­ra­tions and chose the project of tak­ing over sov­er­eign­ty, instead of the project of build­ing a con­stituent force capa­ble of impos­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion, and giv­ing con­tent and force to the pop­u­lar in pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty.41

Podemos was always uneasy about Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism. Born in Madrid, the par­ty strug­gles to inte­grate Cata­lan pol­i­tics, with its cross-class alliances and ques­tion­ing of the priv­i­lege of state-wide pol­i­tics, with­in its wider strat­e­gy. Fur­ther, Podemos’ pop­ulist insis­tence on the recon­struc­tion of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty in Spain sits uneasi­ly with the Cata­lan affir­ma­tion of the very same polit­i­cal prin­ci­ple on the scale of Cat­alo­nia. The Cata­lan sec­tion of the Par­ty, Podem, was its most pro­le­tar­i­an, draw­ing in large num­bers of over­whelm­ing­ly Span­ish par­tic­i­pants from Barcelona’s indus­tri­al and post-indus­tri­al impov­er­ished periph­ery, the Baix Llo­bre­gat and Val­lès Ori­en­tales.42

Podemos’ attempt to resolve these ten­sions has been to pro­pose the trans­for­ma­tion of Spain into a fed­er­al pluri­na­tion­al state, anoth­er deriva­tion from the Latin Amer­i­can Pink Tide. But since Podemos is not organ­i­cal­ly pro­duc­ing this idea as a con­stituent demand from below, it remains an abstract solu­tion. And the unease remains, as fed­er­al­ism and pluri­na­tion­al­ism entail a frag­men­ta­tion of Podemos’ sta­tist idea of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty. This large­ly explains Podemos’ strong affir­ma­tion of the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion against the 2017 uni­lat­er­al Cata­lan dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence - though the par­ty con­tin­ues to defend the right to decide. In 2014, there were hopes that Podemos could achieve what Syriza was on the cusp of achiev­ing: over­tak­ing social democ­ra­cy (embod­ied in the Par­tido Social­ista Obrero Español, PSOE) and tak­ing gov­ern­ment pow­er. How­ev­er, even in the most opti­mistic pro­jec­tions, the two-thirds major­i­ty need­ed for con­sti­tu­tion­al reform remained out of reach. The real hope was, per­haps, as a cur­rent MP for en Comú Podem told me in 2014, when he was part of cre­at­ing Barcelona en Comú, that the irrup­tion of Podemos would accel­er­ate the cri­sis of the Span­ish state and force a con­stituent process.43

Anoth­er great hope emerg­ing in 2014 was that munic­i­pal­ist plat­forms might devel­op forms of sit­u­at­ed pol­i­tics that could cohere a social pol­i­tics on a local scale, with­out regards to the nation­al ques­tion. Fore­most among these plat­forms was Guanyem Barcelona (from Decem­ber 2014 Barcelona en Comú). Start­ing from the activist lay­ers of PAH and 15M, Guanyem invit­ed oth­er for­ma­tions like the CUP, the Cata­lan Greens, and Podem, to join a so-called con­flu­en­cia. Unlike the CUP-dom­i­nat­ed munic­i­pal­ism of rur­al and small-town Cat­alo­nia, this munic­i­pal­ism took its start­ing point in the het­ero­gene­ity of the urban pop­u­la­tions, attempt­ing to build up a pop­u­lar alliance trans­ver­sal to Cata­lans and non-Cata­lans. This is an essen­tial approach to class pol­i­tics in a city that, over the last 50 years, has import­ed a large part of its work­ing class from poor­er Span­ish regions, Moroc­co, Latin Amer­i­ca, West Africa, Pak­istan and Bangladesh. In 2012, 36.6% of the Cata­lan pop­u­la­tion had been born out­side of Cat­alo­nia (18.6% out­side Spain, and 18% in the rest of Spain44), with num­bers much high­er in Barcelona.45

Where Podemos’ idea of the rein­ven­tion of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty went through the state, the project of the comuns – and sis­ter-projects in many Span­ish cities includ­ing Madrid – was to root demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions in local pop­u­lar pow­er; we might there­fore speak of a local­ly root­ed matri­o­tism as opposed to Podemos’ pop­ulist patri­o­tism. The munic­i­pal­ist move­ments even­tu­al­ly took over pow­er in many cities, among them four of the five biggest in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valen­cia and Zaragoza), and estab­lished a net­work of “cities of change” aim­ing for an incip­i­ent fed­er­al­ism from below. In terms of the nation­al ques­tion, els comuns, rep­re­sent­ed on the Cata­lan lev­el by first En Comú Podem then Catalun­ya en Comú, have stood stri­dent­ly for the Cata­lan right to self-deter­mi­na­tion, with­out active­ly cam­paign­ing for or against inde­pen­dence – a dif­fi­cult and prin­ci­pled posi­tion that has earned them titles both as trai­tors against Cat­alo­nia and crim­i­nal sup­port­ers of seces­sion­ism.46 In the state-wide elec­tions of Decem­ber 2015 and June 2016, En Comú Podem won in Cat­alo­nia with 24,7% and 24,5%, as the only regions tak­en by the left besides the Basque Coun­try. Apart from doing well in Madrid, Podemos and its var­i­ous alliances did much bet­ter and super­seded PSOE in most regions where Spanish/Castillian nation­al­ism is chal­lenged by region­al iden­ti­ties, such as Navar­ra, Gali­cia, Asturias, and the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with Podemos’ and Barcelona en Comú’s impres­sive ris­es, the polar­iza­tion was deep­en­ing. The split between the inde­pen­den­tist and non-inde­pen­den­tist left, which has brought much bit­ter­ness, go back to two events in Novem­ber 2014. First, there were the images of CUP-leader David Fer­nàn­dez embrac­ing Artur Mas after the 9N ref­er­en­dum. Then there was CUP’s refusal to enter into the Barcelona en Comú con­flu­en­cia, despite hav­ing tak­en part in the process that shaped its code of ethics. To non-inde­pen­den­tists, these were seri­ous signs that CUP was pri­or­i­tiz­ing the nation­al ques­tion over the social one.

On May 24th 2015, Barcelona en Comú won a stun­ning vic­to­ry in the munic­i­pal elec­tions. The CiU may­or Javier Trias, a gen­tle­man from the posh neigh­bor­hood of Sant Ger­vasi, was replaced with the hous­ing rights activist Ada Colau, who became the first female may­or in the his­to­ry of the city. The vote showed a clear class polar­iza­tion, with CiU tak­ing the rich­est dis­tricts, and the Comuns tak­ing the rest, win­ning with the largest mar­gins in poor­er neigh­bor­hoods. The advance of the comuns shook inde­pen­den­tism. Polls sug­gest­ed that a hypo­thet­i­cal “Cat­alo­nia en Comú” par­ty could come close to dis­plac­ing CiU  as the largest par­ty in the Cata­lan elec­tions. The coun­ter­move came quick­ly: Òmni­um and ANC, CiU, ERC and CUP attempt­ed to set up a com­mon elec­toral front “with­out politi­cians” to deci­sive­ly make the upcom­ing elec­tion a plebiscite on the nation­al ques­tion. In the end, Artur Mas refused to accept the face­less list, opt­ing for a nar­row­er alliance with ERC.47 In one blow, the pres­i­dent deci­sive­ly weak­ened and effec­tive­ly side­lined the social agen­da of Barcelona en Comú on the Cata­lan lev­el, and the Comuns refrained from launch­ing a last-minute can­di­da­ture, their space tak­en by a small­er alliance, Catalun­ya Sí Que es Pot (CSQP), which includ­ed Podem. By only unit­ing the main­stream inde­pen­den­tist par­ties under his lead­er­ship, ​Mas attempt­ed to mar­gin­al­ize the CUP with­in the inde­pen­dece bloc, to under­mine the auton­o­my of the ERC, and to avoid a con­flu­ence of par­ties and civ­il soci­ety which would have weak­ened his hand vis-a-vis ANC and Òmni­um  and his promi­nence over­all.

On Sep­tem­ber 27 2015, the CiU-ERC plat­form Junts Pel Sí (JxSí), won the elec­tions to the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment. Win­ning a major­i­ty of man­dates but los­ing the pop­u­lar vote, the elec­tion clar­i­fied noth­ing. The inde­pen­dence plebiscite was tak­en to be a vic­to­ry with argu­men­ta­tive sleights of hand: first, the inde­pen­dence bloc rede­fined “major­i­ty” in terms of seats rather than the pop­u­lar vote, sec­ond it rea­soned that since the Podemos coali­tion CSQP was nei­ther for nor against inde­pen­dence, the yes side had a clear major­i­ty among the par­ties tak­ing a posi­tion.

Despite Mas’ maneu­vers, the JxSí gov­ern­ment could only come into being with the votes of the CUP, and this was to be the undo­ing of both Mas and the mod­er­ates in CiU. In Jan­u­ary 2015 a gov­ern­ment was final­ly formed. After much inter­nal tur­moil and a mirac­u­lous 1515 to 1515 assem­bly vote, the CUP sup­port­ed a neolib­er­al-led Cata­lan gov­ern­ment and its aus­ter­i­ty bud­get. In return, the CUP received guar­an­tees that a ref­er­en­dum would be held with­in 18 months, and secured the replace­ment of the taint­ed Mas by a tru­ly believ­ing Quixote, Car­les Puigde­mont: a CiU mem­ber and the pres­i­dent of Munic­i­pal­i­ties for Inde­pen­dence, who had cut his nation­al­ist teeth cam­paign­ing for those arrest­ed in the 1992 Oper­a­tion Garzón.

Podemos’ momen­tum stalled. In Decem­ber 2015 they entered the Span­ish Con­gress in third place, fail­ing to over­take PSOE. In the re-elec­tions of June 2016, Podemos failed to grow its vote, despite an elec­toral alliance with Izquier­da Uni­da. The Cata­lan process pressed on. The prospect of con­sti­tu­tion­al reform reced­ed, and the win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty for an inde­pen­den­tist rup­ture nar­rowed as the Cata­lan econ­o­my exit­ed the worst of the cri­sis years.

For the inde­pen­dence move­ment, the time for push­ing the polar­iza­tion to the point of a deci­sion was approach­ing. The manichean phase would have to be tra­versed, Podemos and els comuns forced to take sides, and their projects side­lined.

Three Declarations of Independence

Cat­alo­nia has declared inde­pen­dence three times. Not just his­tor­i­cal­ly (1714, 1934 and 2017), but also this year. The first dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence hap­pened this sum­mer, if only implic­it­ly. In June, the Cata­lan par­lia­ment set a date for a uni­lat­er­al ref­er­en­dum, and in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber it signed the Law of Tran­si­tion­al Jurispru­dence, which would guide the tran­si­tion until the cre­ation of a Cata­lan con­sti­tu­tion in the case of a yes in the ref­er­en­dum. Know­ing that both the ref­er­en­dum and the tran­si­tion­al law would be deemed ille­gal and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al by the Span­ish state, the Cata­lan par­lia­ment had cho­sen the path of insti­tu­tion­al and civ­il dis­obe­di­ence. On a hot Sep­tem­ber day, about one mil­lion came out for the annu­al nation­al day demon­stra­tion. While the Span­ish gov­ern­ment threat­ened repres­sive mea­sures against these “ille­gal­i­ties,” the act of the Cata­lan par­lia­ment had already negat­ed the con­sti­tu­tion­al foun­da­tion upon which their act could be con­sid­ered ille­gal. When the foun­da­tion of exist­ing law is reject­ed in the name of a new legal­i­ty, there can be no legal medi­a­tion but only a clash of legit­i­ma­cies, which can only be resolved by diplo­ma­cy or the use of force. This force was acti­vat­ed in the name of Span­ish legal­i­ty, on Sep­tem­ber 20. Four­teen Cata­lan offi­cials were detained by the Span­ish police for orga­niz­ing the ref­er­en­dum, while civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions were raid­ed and thou­sands of bal­lots were seized and destroyed. The autumn was begin­ning.

The sec­ond dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence hap­pened with the ref­er­en­dum of Octo­ber 1st. Here, tens of thou­sands of Cata­lans occu­pied and spend the night at elec­tion points to keep them open for vot­ing. Despite the vio­lent deploy­ment of 17,000 offi­cers of the mil­i­tary police Guardia Civ­il, some 2.3 mil­lion vot­ers man­aged to vote.48 With the ref­er­en­dum, the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment skill­ful­ly man­aged to weaponize democ­ra­cy to polar­ize the con­flict and force a deci­sion. (As we saw, inde­pen­dence has only held major­i­ty sup­port in polls that exclude a third, fed­er­al, option). Know­ing that the ref­er­en­dum would inevitably be repressed by the uncom­pro­mis­ing and author­i­tar­i­an PP gov­ern­ment, Puigde­mont set the stage for a ret­ro­spec­tive legit­i­ma­tion of the Cata­lan cause. The vio­lent actions of the Guardia Civ­il made the point Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tists have often failed to make con­vinc­ing­ly: Spain and Cat­alo­nia are only held togeth­er by the threat or actu­al­i­ty of vio­lence. On its side, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment, backed by Ciu­dadanos and PSOE, weaponized the emp­ty sig­ni­fi­er “democ­ra­cy” in defence of repres­sion: since the con­sti­tu­tion is the legal ground of Span­ish democ­ra­cy, and the ref­er­en­dum is against the con­sti­tu­tion, cops beat­ing vot­ers would only be con­sid­ered a defense of democ­ra­cy.

The threat and real­i­ty of repres­sion brought about some­thing the inde­pen­dence move­ment had so far not pro­duced: an orga­nized inde­pen­dence strug­gle beyond spec­tac­u­lar man­i­fes­ta­tions and civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple start­ed orga­niz­ing them­selves into Com­mit­tees in Defense of the Ref­er­en­dum (CDR, lat­er CDB, or neigh­bor­hood defence com­mit­tees). Built on polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al griev­ances rather than every­day antag­o­nisms, the Cata­lan move­ment need­ed the Span­ish repres­sion to crys­tal­lize into a dis­obe­di­ent mass move­ment, so famil­iar from nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gles. On a num­ber of occa­sions, fire­fight­ers, farm­ers and reg­u­lar cit­i­zens engaged in mil­i­tant action, shut­ting down pub­lic infra­struc­ture and block­ing the bor­ders with France and Aragon. While the bru­tal­i­ty of the Guardia Civ­il cer­tain­ly increased the inde­pen­den­tist ranks, it is easy to mis­take the defence of the ref­er­en­dum as pure out­pour­ings of sup­port for inde­pen­dence. In real­i­ty, the CDRs – espe­cial­ly in Barcelona – count­ed a large num­ber of non-inde­pen­den­tists (includ­ing many from the orbit of Podem and els comuns), mobi­lized by dis­gust at the repres­sion. In short, the com­mon denom­i­na­tor of this mass move­ment was not so much the desire for inde­pen­dence but the com­mit­ment to democ­ra­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties against state repres­sion.49

Many, includ­ing Podem and Comuns, who had been nei­ther seduced nor con­vinced by the inde­pen­den­tist dis­course, were forced by the repres­sion to take sides in favor of the ref­er­en­dum. The repres­sion also induced many unions with no posi­tion on the inde­pen­dence ques­tion to join the pow­er­ful gen­er­al work stop­page on Octo­ber 3rd.50 How­ev­er, true to their strate­gies and visions of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, they con­tin­ued to reject a Uni­lat­er­al Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence (DIU). Yet the ten­u­ous pos­si­bil­i­ty of a pro-demo­c­ra­t­ic front against Rajoy with­in all of the Span­ish state was reced­ing. The Cata­lan move­ment – read­ing all events through its increas­ing­ly Manichean spec­ta­cles – pushed on with its project of forc­ing a deci­sion. ”To live is to take sides,” as a CUP slo­gan put it. Colau and Igle­sias were left in a strange and increas­ing­ly unsus­tain­able non-place, attacked by Cata­lan and Span­ish nation­al­ists alike and with­out a fea­si­ble short- or mid-term solu­tion to the seces­sion cri­sis.

Both DUI and 155

With the move­ment press­ing on and the Span­ish gov­ern­ment reject­ing all calls for dia­logue, a hand-wring­ing Puigde­mont came clos­er to declar­ing inde­pen­dence, one tac­ti­cal pirou­ette at a time. Rajoy stood ready to pick up his baton of states­man­ship: the revo­ca­tion of Cata­lan auton­o­my and local democ­ra­cy through the unprece­dent­ed invo­ca­tion of the Span­ish constitution’s arti­cle 155. In the last week of Octo­ber both became real. The Cata­lan Repub­lic was declared on Fri­day, took the week­end off, and was gone by Mon­day morn­ing, except in the hearts of mil­lions of Cata­lans, one of them a sup­pli­cant in Brus­sels.

When Igle­sias and Colau stood for the right to decide, they took the side of not only the 43-51% of reg­is­tered Cata­lan vot­ers sup­port­ing inde­pen­dence in var­i­ous polls, but also on the side of the 82% of Cata­lans and 57% of Span­ish vot­ers sup­port­ing a ref­er­en­dum pacta­do, a mutu­al­ly-agreed and legal­ly-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum.51 After the ref­er­en­dum and still speak­ing to this major­i­ty, their slo­gan became “nei­ther DUI nor 155.” But the major­i­ty itself was slip­ping apart, the cen­ter nar­row­ing, espe­cial­ly when both the DUI and 155 became real­i­ty.

Polls sug­gest there are majori­ties against both the DUI (58%) and arti­cle 155 (56%), but the over­lap between these groups is only about 20%.52 On the polit­i­cal ter­rain, Igle­sias’ and Colau’s major­i­ty has slipped away for now, and their space of maneu­ver has been severe­ly lim­it­ed by polar­iza­tion. Despite the arrests of a large num­ber of Cata­lan politi­cians and the impend­ing crim­i­nal­iza­tion of the CUP, the inde­pen­dence bloc has com­mit­ted to run in the enforced region­al elec­tions on Decem­ber 21. The par­ties of the short-lived pro-demo­c­ra­t­ic front are inter­nal­ly divid­ed and with­out ini­tia­tive. The rad­i­cal inde­pen­den­tist left affirms: the ini­tia­tive for pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty is now with the streets. But “the streets” refers to the inde­pen­dence move­ment, rather than the pop­u­lar class­es. These are, as we will see, split by the nation­al ques­tion, rather than unit­ed around the social ques­tion. Such is the effect of the dou­ble nation­al­ist weaponiza­tion of democ­ra­cy.

Catalonia Divided

The peace­ful sedi­tion of the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment and the Span­ish government’s vio­lent repres­sion of it pro­duced a polar­iza­tion pre­vi­ous­ly unknown to most peo­ple in their every­day lives but pal­pa­ble in a minu­ti­ae of dai­ly inter­ac­tions. Even one sim­ple, neu­tral state­ment of fact – “so they declared inde­pen­dence” – was met with anx­ious neu­tral­i­ty from my fel­low shop­pers on Octo­ber 27th. Many do not dare to state their col­ors in pub­lic. A friend of mine – not an inde­pen­den­tist – has received death threats from Span­ish union­ists for crit­i­ciz­ing the Span­ish repres­sion of the ref­er­en­dum in the inter­na­tion­al media. Span­ish nation­al­ists are embold­ened across the coun­try, and fas­cist street vio­lence is increas­ing. Fam­i­ly rela­tions are strained or worse. A com­ment on a friend’s Face­book-thread, which res­onat­ed with many, stat­ed: “The worst thing you can say to many inde­pen­den­tists is I feel I can not express my opin­ion. They get angry imme­di­ate­ly. Yes, I am scared.”53 The polit­i­cal con­flict between the Cata­lan gov­ern and the Span­ish gob­ier­no has carved a gash in soci­ety where there had hith­er­to most­ly been dis­agree­ments.

Con­trary to the claims of lib­er­al Euro­pean opin­ion, the forces of Cata­lan inde­pen­dence do not express nation­al­ist-chau­vin­ist sen­ti­ments in the way that the offi­cial Brex­it cam­paign did. In its offi­cial dis­course, Cata­lan nation­al­ism is not exclu­sive – and across the polit­i­cal spec­trum you hear def­i­n­i­tions of “Cata­lans” as mean­ing “all speak­ers of Cata­lan” or even “all inhab­i­tants of Cat­alo­nia.” Defin­ing Cat­alo­nia as a “land of immi­gra­tion,” pro-inde­pen­dence demog­ra­ph­er Andreu Domin­go draws com­par­isons to the Amer­i­can Dream: “A Cata­lan is who­ev­er lives and works in Cat­alo­nia, and wants to be one.” Of course, such state­ments not only roman­ti­cize America’s his­to­ry, they also betray the real­i­ty of what the Barcelona migrant street ven­dors union calls “the colo­nial and racist Cat­alo­nia that excludes us, chas­es us and pun­ish­es us for hav­ing anoth­er skin colour, anoth­er lan­guage, anoth­er reli­gion, anoth­er way of think­ing.”54 But it does express the main­stream mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism of Cata­lan iden­ti­ty. In fact, the only major exer­cise in right-pop­ulist xeno­pho­bia in Cat­alo­nia was car­ried out by the ex-may­or of Badalona, the only PP offi­cial to take office in a large Cata­lan town. Cata­lan iden­ti­ty is rarely con­sid­ered exclu­sive, with polls sug­gest­ing that three-fourths of the Cata­lan pop­u­la­tion feel both Span­ish and Cata­lan, and only 19% feel­ing only Cata­lan.55 How­ev­er, even if the cri­tiques of euro­peanist lib­er­al­ism fail to their tar­get when it comes to Cata­lan nation­al­ism, so does the left’s descrip­tion of the move­ment as a pop­u­lar and bot­tom-up.

In fact, the strongest pre­dic­tors of pro-inde­pen­dence atti­tudes are Cata­lan fam­i­ly and class. In a break­down of a June 2017 poll made by the pub­lic polling com­pa­ny of Cat­alo­nia, CEO, Kiko Llan­eras shows that only 29% of those that earn 900-1200€  per month sup­port inde­pen­dence, a num­ber which ris­es to between 53% and 55% in the cat­e­gories of those that earn between 1800 and 4000€.56 Among those that report trou­ble with pay­ing their rent, inde­pen­dence also receives 29% sup­port, while 51% of those that “live com­fort­ably” want a Cata­lan state. Fam­i­ly ties to Cat­alo­nia are an even stronger pre­dic­tor. 12% of those born in oth­er parts of Spain, 25% of those born abroad, and 29% of those born by non-Cata­lan par­ents sup­port inde­pen­dence. Pro-inde­pen­dence majori­ties are only found among those who have two Cata­lan-born par­ents (62%), with the high­est sup­port (75%) among those whose par­ents and grand­par­ents were all born in Cat­alo­nia. The image becomes even clear­er when we look at the inter­sec­tion between fam­i­ly roots and income:

As we see, among those with Cata­lan fam­i­ly-back­ground, sup­port for inde­pen­dence grows with income, while pro-inde­pen­dence sup­port is low­est among those that were born in the rest of Spain earn­ing less than 900€.57 Apart from the “troi­ka of repression”(PP, PSC and Ciu­dadanos), the only par­ty seek­ing to rep­re­sent this cat­e­go­ry of tra­di­tion­al social demo­c­ra­t­ic and com­mu­nist vot­ers is Podem/Catalunya en Comú.

To out­siders, the most appar­ent divi­sions cre­at­ed in Cata­lan soci­ety are between ordi­nary Cata­lans and big com­pa­nies mov­ing their oper­a­tions to the rest of Spain, and between a pro­gres­sive, repub­li­can inde­pen­dence move­ment and local Span­ish nation­al­ists, among whom a vocal minor­i­ty swears by Fran­coist flags and Hitler-salutes. But the demo­graph­i­cal­ly most sig­nif­i­cant divi­sions to be not­ed are between Cata­lans and non-Cata­lans, and between the work­ing and mid­dle class­es.

Just as the “lex­it” (left-exit) cam­paign in Britain had to ignore the inter­ests of the large Euro­pean immi­grant sec­tion of the work­ing class, so too has Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism found its project of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty run into con­tra­dic­tions with the ques­tion of class-com­po­si­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly when we con­sid­er the pop­u­lar class­es in their het­ero­gene­ity. Far from the civ­il-war reen­act­ment dreams of many inter­na­tion­al left wing spec­ta­tors, Cat­alo­nia has seen indeli­ble  set­backs for the projects of sol­i­dar­i­ty devel­oped in dif­fer­ent ways by the PAH, 15M, and Barcelona en Comú. As we have seen, the roots of the inde­pen­dence process are not social griev­ances so  much as polit­i­cal ones. In oth­er words, the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence strug­gle is not the politi­ciza­tion and expres­sion of social prob­lems, but the social­iza­tion of polit­i­cal prob­lems. For this to hap­pen, social prob­lems nec­es­sar­i­ly became sub­sumed and mis­rep­re­sent­ed in the inde­pen­dence process, and the cross-class project of Cata­lan inde­pen­dence was sold as a solu­tion to the prob­lems of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the cri­sis of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It is no sur­prise that mor­bid symp­toms abound.

You Cannot Live on Catalanism

The attempt to (re)establish sov­er­eign­ty directs atten­tion to the com­mand­ing heights of gov­ern­ment and the the­ater of bour­geois pol­i­tics. All eyes turn to the par­ties that might trans­form inter­reg­num into reg­num, and the restive ener­gies of the moment start to work for (or on) their cho­sen leader. The Cata­lan move­ment found Puigde­mont as its leader, and it is not sur­pris­ing where he led it. But the inter­reg­num is char­ac­ter­ized by ungovern­abil­i­ty it cre­ates a crack in polit­i­cal time, an open­ing for rad­i­cal change. This open­ing depends entire­ly on people’s will­ing­ness to take risks, the strength of their ties of sol­i­dar­i­ty, and the urgency of their col­lec­tive needs and desires. In the move­ment of the CDRs, these appeared to be strong. But since the movement’s aim was nation­al sov­er­eign­ty rather than pop­u­lar auton­o­my, ini­tia­tive lay with the gov­ern­ment. And the gov­ern­ment put down arms with­out resis­tance. The rea­sons range from the weak­ness of the claim of sov­er­eign­ty, its lack of allies, and the com­po­si­tion of the move­ment itself.

For all the invo­ca­tions of sov­er­eign­ty, all the ref­er­en­dum achieved was a spec­tac­u­lar show of opin­ion and will. Inde­pen­dence requires a gov­ern­ment to have con­trol over its ter­ri­to­ry and a capac­i­ty to defend it – or be under the pro­tec­tion of pow­er­ful nations. Of these con­di­tions, only one was ful­filled in Cat­alo­nia. In the ref­er­en­dum, 2.3 mil­lion bal­lots were cast despite the total mobi­liza­tion of the Guardia Civ­il. Spain was very far from exer­cis­ing effec­tive con­trol over Cat­alo­nia. This could have been the start­ing point for a broad­er des­ti­tu­tion of Span­ish sov­er­eign­ty in Cat­alo­nia, as Cata­lanism is very strong with­in pub­lic insti­tu­tions, and as civ­il soci­ety and social move­ments in Cat­alo­nia are extreme­ly well orga­nized for con­tem­po­rary stan­dards. In the­o­ry, Arti­cle 155 could have been resist­ed through mass dis­obe­di­ence both in the streets and in the insti­tu­tions. But Cat­alo­nia did not pos­sess the capac­i­ty to defend itself. While unable to con­trol the ter­ri­to­ry, Spain would have been able to arrest the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment or ren­der it inop­er­a­tive. On the basis of pop­u­lar auton­o­my, Cat­alo­nia might have been able to des­ti­tute Span­ish sov­er­eign­ty, with­out con­sti­tut­ing its own. But with­out dar­ing to pass through a phase of unde­cid­abil­i­ty, the Cata­lan project of sov­er­eign­ty could not real­ize its own major­i­ty, and even­tu­al­ly it sub­mit­ted itself to exist­ing legal­i­ty.

For Puigde­mont, such a course was nev­er planned for, both because of his fear of a rup­ture in legal­i­ty, and because he believed the EU would come to his res­cue. Through­out Octo­ber, Puigde­mont naive­ly or disin­gen­u­ous­ly implored the EU to medi­ate talks with Rajoy. To do so would have required the EU to rec­og­nize the issues to be diplo­mat­ic rather than inter­nal to Span­ish juris­dic­tion, de fac­to rec­og­niz­ing Cat­alo­nia as a pro­to-state actor. This is a treat­ment the EU has been hap­py to extend to seces­sion­ist regions in its periph­ery such as Mon­tene­gro, Koso­vo, and Slove­nia (so hap­py indeed that it greets poten­tial mem­ber­ship coun­tries with strict cri­te­ria for the sup­port of minor­i­ty rights and democ­ra­cy – the EU Trea­tise arti­cle 7 and the Copen­hagen Cri­te­ria). But to think that the EU would treat Cat­alo­nia sim­i­lar­ly – against the expressed inter­ests of an EU-mem­ber coun­try with pow­ers of veto – is wish­ful think­ing. If the EU did not respect the results of the Jan­u­ary 2015 elec­tion and the July ref­er­en­dum in Greece, why would it act oth­er­wise in response to the Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum? Indeed long before the ref­er­en­dum, the EU com­mis­sion clear­ly sig­nalled that Cat­alo­nia would have to reap­ply for mem­ber­ship to the EU and the euro. The ECB insist­ed that while inde­pen­dent Cat­alo­nia could con­tin­ue with the euro, its loss of for­mal mem­ber­ship would also bar Cata­lan banks from access to cen­tral bank liq­uid­i­ty, result­ing in large banks and com­pa­nies relo­cat­ing their juridi­cal head­quar­ters (if not their oper­a­tions) out­side Cat­alo­nia.

In Cat­alo­nia as else­where, ”sov­er­eign­ty” has become an emp­ty sig­ni­fi­er of the solu­tion to the uncer­tain­ty of the inter­reg­num, an affir­ma­tion of the need to “take back con­trol.” The sig­ni­fi­er will remain emp­ty as long as it is a pro­jec­tion-sur­face and catch-all solu­tion rather than a polit­i­cal­ly, social­ly, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble plan for the estab­lish­ment of sov­er­eign­ty. The Cata­lans can­not live on Cata­lanism,58 and the lim­its of the inde­pen­dence process have to be found in the way Cat­alo­nia makes its liv­ing, pro­found­ly inte­grat­ed as it is with Euro­pean mar­kets and glob­al migra­tion flows. And the sov­er­eign­ty of small states is pro­found­ly cir­cum­scribed by glob­al finance cap­i­tal and the EU – even if you detach your­self to join its exter­nal periph­ery. How to dis­en­tan­gle one­self from the EU and glob­al finance, and how to sur­vive out­side, but with­in the sphere of inter­est of a qua­si-empire and on the mar­gins of glob­al flow of financ­ing? Such ques­tions have remained firm­ly off the agen­da of the main­stream mid­dle class inde­pen­dence move­ment. Even now, after the EU has firm­ly affirmed Rajoy’s pre­rog­a­tive to “restore con­sti­tu­tion­al order” in Cat­alo­nia, there are mes­sages cir­cu­lat­ing in the CDR What­sApp groups say­ing that if the inde­pen­dence bloc wins the next region­al elec­tions, the EU will step in on Catalonia’s side. The inabil­i­ty to raise these the ques­tions and the per­sis­tence of the hope that the EU will come to the res­cue sug­gest the dis­avow­al of an awk­ward truth: the costs, par­tic­u­lar­ly to the mid­dle class, of a clash with the EU. Both the truth and its dis­avow­al sug­gest the lim­its of the class base of the inde­pen­dence move­ment; the mid­dle class turns out to be both its con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty and its con­di­tion of impos­si­bil­i­ty.

The pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty do not always nar­rate its strug­gle in the epic mode, but when it does, it tends to become Quixot­ic. To the spec­ta­tor, the result is invari­ably far­ci­cal, but only the cyn­ic observ­er laughs with­out cry­ing. Ele­vat­ed prin­ci­ples armed only with a weak yet embold­en­ing weapons – majori­ties, pub­lic opin­ion – clash with a hard, cold real­i­ty. Dra­mat­ic speech­es, tense nego­ti­a­tions, and tac­ti­cal antics are fol­lowed by capit­u­la­tion, retreat, or rout. Some believe that the unbacked force of demo­c­ra­t­ic man­dates might sway mighty EU, oth­ers that the benev­o­lence of the EU will save them from the state, and oth­ers again that the state can eas­i­ly dis­ci­pline glob­al cap­i­tal. The left tends to be more mate­ri­al­ist, but it rarely gets to be the hero.

The Sanchos of Radical Independentism

While pub­lic opin­ion in Cat­alo­nia lies fur­ther to the left than in almost any part of Europe, it is split over the nation­al ques­tion, and the rad­i­cal inde­pen­den­tist left is left to play the San­cho Pan­za to JxSí´s Don Quixote. Out of weak­ness, San­cho tries to pro­vide the pop­u­lar side to the greater project of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. It gives Quixote irrev­er­ent coun­cil and tries to “push him,” while all the while prepar­ing to take his place. When Puigde­mont looked ready to fold on Octo­ber 26th, shouts of “trai­tor” rang out among those assem­bled at the Arc de Tri­omf, ready to pro­tect the gov­ern in case of a Span­ish police inter­ven­tion. But his course of action came as no sur­prise to the Cata­lan left. As many point­ed out, Puigdemont’s capit­u­la­tion, his fear of rup­ture, and his illu­sions about the EU tes­ti­fy to his pol­i­tics and con­stituen­cy. Some left­ists uncov­ered one par­tic­u­lar­ly apt pas­sage from Marx’s 18th Bru­maire:

“If the peace­ful demon­stra­tion was meant seri­ous­ly, then it was fol­ly not to fore­see that it would be giv­en a war­like recep­tion. If a real strug­gle was intend­ed, then it was a queer idea to lay down the weapons with which it would have to be waged. But the rev­o­lu­tion­ary threats of the pet­ty bour­geois and their demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are mere attempts to intim­i­date the antag­o­nist. And when they have run into a blind alley, when they have suf­fi­cient­ly com­pro­mised them­selves to make it nec­es­sary to acti­vate their threats, then this is done in an ambigu­ous fash­ion that avoids noth­ing so much as the means to the end and tries to find excus­es for suc­cumb­ing. The blar­ing over­ture that announced the con­test dies away in a pusil­lan­i­mous snarl as soon as the strug­gle has to begin, the actors cease to take them­selves au sorieux, and the action col­laps­es com­plete­ly, like a pricked bub­ble.”

But why would the Cata­lanist left ally itself with their local bour­geoisie if they knew that it would sell out? For Marx, such tac­ti­cal alliances exist­ed to be bro­ken, because he believed the pop­u­lar move­ment could even­tu­al­ly be vic­to­ri­ous with­out it. The Cata­lan move­ment, how­ev­er, shorn of pet­ty bour­geois and bour­geois lead­ers and their class con­stituen­cies, would be severe­ly weak­ened. As we have seen, the pop­u­lar class­es in Cat­alo­nia are not mere­ly split on the nation­al ques­tion, but also over­whelm­ing­ly against it. Many have fam­i­ly in the rest of Spain, many speak Span­ish but not Cata­lan, and many sim­ply don’t desire or suc­ceed in find­ing a place in the affec­tive and imag­ined com­mu­ni­ty of Cata­lans. Whether or not these quo­tid­i­an inter­ests are artic­u­lat­ed in the lan­guage of Span­ish nation­al­ism or in the trans­ver­sal lan­guage of els comuns, these are not peo­ple who can be eas­i­ly won for Cata­lan inde­pen­dence. If a pro-inde­pen­dence plat­form had been orga­nized along class rather than nation­al lines, it is rea­son­able to expect that the anti-cap­i­tal­ists of the CUP would have done that, instead of ally­ing them­selves with the tra­di­tion­al par­ty of Cata­lan cap­i­tal. The inde­pen­den­tist left could not build the social major­i­ty need­ed for a rup­ture with­out ally­ing them­selves with large seg­ments of the Cata­lan mid­dle and upper class­es. Like their polit­i­cal lead­er­ship, we can imag­ine that these class­es fell more eas­i­ly vic­tim to threats of cap­i­tal flight and loss of EU mem­ber­ship. Fur­ther, CUP’s strat­e­gy of win­ning inde­pen­dence through open strug­gle pre­sup­posed that many mid­dle class Cata­lans could be rad­i­cal­ized through the expe­ri­ence of open strug­gle and lessons of bour­geois politi­cians sell­ing out. So far, with polls giv­ing CUP 6-8% of the vote (a repeat of, or set­back from, the 2015 elec­tions), the idea that the mid­dle class might risk its rel­a­tive com­fort for the birth of the repub­lic seems deci­sive­ly dis­proven, for entire­ly unsur­pris­ing rea­sons.

The cross class-alliance stood in the way of devel­op­ing a con­sis­tent socio-eco­nom­ic vision that would draw in peo­ple and that might mobi­lize around the con­crete polit­i­cal con­tent of a ”social repub­lic,” but not around the epic nar­ra­tive of Cata­lan nation­al inde­pen­dence. The aim of forc­ing a social polar­iza­tion through polit­i­cal action was to estab­lish the con­di­tions of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty and left hege­mo­ny, but the project itself under­mined an essen­tial con­di­tion for pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty and left hege­mo­ny: the polit­i­cal class com­po­si­tion of Cat­alo­nia’s het­ero­ge­neous pro­le­tari­at. Might it be, para­phras­ing Marx, that San­cho has been so infect­ed by his long years of asso­ci­a­tion with Don Quixote that he fails to notice that this “task” of his, this “voca­tion,” is noth­ing but the result of his faith in weighty polit­i­cal treaties on nation­al sov­er­eign­ty?

Giv­en the his­tor­i­cal romance of rad­i­cal Cat­alo­nia and the expe­ri­ence of the recent Greek strug­gle against the EU, it is under­stand­able that many on the inter­na­tion­al left have come to believe Sancho’s ver­sion of the epic nar­ra­tive: that the seces­sion cri­sis would open towards the con­struc­tion of a social, anti-cap­i­tal­ist, rad­i­cal­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic Cata­lan repub­lic.  But “pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty” with­out pop­u­lar pow­er is mere­ly sov­er­eign­ty, and by divid­ing the pop­u­lar class­es around the nation­al ques­tion, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism and the Span­ish reac­tion were under­min­ing the con­di­tions of pop­u­lar pow­er in the strug­gle over sov­er­eign­ty. The polit­i­cal left and civ­il soci­ety would have been strong in this new state, but unless you strong­ly believe the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal and the pow­er of the state and cul­ture, it is hard to see how even an ERC-CUP gov­ern­ment in Cat­alo­nia could have for­ti­fied a social repub­lic in the face of EU and Span­ish attacks, and against the mate­r­i­al inter­ests of the largest con­stituen­cy for inde­pen­dence: the Cata­lan mid­dle class. It seems more like­ly that the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment would mere­ly have wrest­ed the right to imple­ment the dic­tats of the EU and finance cap­i­tal from Madrid, the right to make sac­ri­fices in the name of the Cata­lan rather than Span­ish peo­ple. And even if Cata­lan inde­pen­dence held the recog­ni­tion of the EU and a sol­id major­i­ty in Cat­alo­nia, the weak­en­ing of the con­di­tions of class pow­er casts asper­sions on the inde­pen­dence project. If estrang­ing our­selves from Sancho’s vision feels like a sus­pen­sion of hope, it is only because hope in the first place was based on a sus­pen­sion of doubt.

Winter in Catalonia

At the time of writ­ing, spokesper­sons for PDe­CAT and ERC are admit­ting – after hav­ing declared a repub­lic – that there isn’t a “social major­i­ty for inde­pen­dence.” Instead they say that a major­i­ty will have to be estab­lished through the region­al elec­tions of Decem­ber 21.59 Anoth­er proxy-ref­er­en­dum, after two ref­er­en­dums and a proxy-ref­er­en­dum. Cata­lan pol­i­tics has trans­formed itself into Ground­hog Day, direct­ed by Arman­do Ian­nuc­ci of In the Thick of It. Had this strug­gle been root­ed in the every­day exploita­tion and oppres­sion of peo­ple, its fall would have elicit­ed no snick­er. Instead, the Quixot­ic pathos of the mis­sion jarred with its mun­dane caus­es, ren­der­ing both strug­gle and defeat far­ci­cal.

And the like­li­hood of a social major­i­ty seems far off, with polls sug­gest­ing the pro-inde­pen­dence bloc will strug­gle to reach its cur­rent vote-share of 47%. With a huge vote increase, the neolib­er­al anti-cata­lanist Ciu­dadanos is set to become the biggest par­ty, while Catalun­ya en Comú is like­ly to hold the man­dates required for either side to form a gov­ern­ment. The Comuns impu­dent­ly point out ERC, PSC, CUP and Comuns will form a sol­id left-wing major­i­ty, but in the cur­rent atmos­phere, this is lit­tle more than an illus­tra­tion of the non-align­ment of the social and the nation­al ques­tion. It is not unlike­ly that new elec­tions will have to be called, and that Cuidadanos will con­tin­ue to grow.

Beneath this farce, a demo­c­ra­t­ic tragedy is play­ing out. Many Cata­lan politi­cians are cur­rent­ly impris­oned our on bail, while hun­dreds of may­ors – includ­ing Ada Colau – face charges for hav­ing facil­i­tat­ed the ref­er­en­dum. Cata­lan insti­tu­tions are under direct gov­ern­ment from PP politi­cians and bureau­crats who have nev­er won elec­tions in Cat­alo­nia. The pop­u­lar class­es and the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion are split. The organ­ic cri­sis of Spain has man­i­fest­ed itself as a cri­sis of Cata­lan soci­ety.

The events of the Cata­lan autumn have strength­ened Rajoy’s project of clos­ing the inter­reg­num. In the Span­ish state, the uni­lat­er­al process to build a nation state has iso­lat­ed the Cata­lan strug­gle, instead of build­ing an alliance with the Span­ish left on a fed­er­al­ist and anti-PP line. The PP, scan­dal­ized and weak­ened before the process, has been able to con­sol­i­date its hege­mon­ic project based on author­i­tar­i­an cen­tral­ism and Span­ish nation­al­ism. In Cat­alo­nia itself, the manichean con­flict has cut many of the forms of sol­i­dar­i­ty and class com­po­si­tion that had risen in the cri­sis and sub­mit­ted the autonomous pop­u­lar ini­tia­tive to a lead­er­ship that was bound to demor­al­ize it.

Slow­ly, the eco­nom­ic con­di­tions for a new order are com­ing into being. The neg­a­tive GDP-growth aver­age of 2008-2014 has turned into seem­ing­ly sol­id 3% fig­ures in 2015-2017, though much of this is based on a return to the unsus­tain­able pre-cri­sis econ­o­my based on tourism and debt-financed con­struc­tion. Span­ish unem­ploy­ment fig­ures are down to 17% from the 2012-13 peak of 26%, but this cov­ers the fact that most new jobs are more pre­car­i­ous and worse-paid than the jobs destroyed in the cri­sis. Pover­ty wages and food banks remain com­mon. The new reg­num will be built on weak­er foun­da­tions than the past, and its polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic reserves will be lim­it­ed. The mid­dle class is indebt­ed and poor­er, its chil­dren more pre­car­i­ous, and promis­es of mer­i­toc­ra­cy and progress still in sus­pense. The cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy is not over, and new cor­rup­tion scan­dals con­tin­ue to emerge, some involv­ing pay­ments to an “M. Rajoy.” The prin­ci­pal bro­kers of the past con­sti­tu­tion­al com­pro­mise, the EU and the king, have been forced to take sides in the cur­rent con­flict, their posi­tions as medi­a­tors deci­sive­ly weak­ened.

In Cat­alo­nia there is no doubt that the sit­u­a­tion will remain con­flict­ual in the short and medi­um term. Cata­lan auton­o­my remains sus­pend­ed, many essen­tial funds frozen, and court cas­es against politi­cians under prepa­ra­tion. The con­tra­dic­tion between the pro­hi­bi­tion of Cata­lan nation build­ing and the pro­hi­bi­tion of Cata­lan self-deter­mi­na­tion remains and has only been inten­si­fied. Of the three com­pet­ing answers, none is cur­rent­ly fea­si­ble. Nei­ther author­i­tar­i­an Span­ish cen­tral­ism, nor inde­pen­dence, nor con­sti­tu­tion­al reform.

Though feared by many Cata­lans, the re-emer­gence of Fran­co-style cen­tral­ism is unlike­ly. A full reasser­tion of Span­ish cen­tral­ism would require much force and risk pro­vok­ing a Cata­lan insur­rec­tion. It is much more like­ly that Rajoy will stay con­tent with keep­ing the Cata­lan ghost at hand, main­tain­ing a con­stant, low-key state of excep­tion in Cat­alo­nia. Not just because Spain is a democ­ra­cy today, but also because the Span­ish state has learned from Francoism’s failed efforts that region­al nation­al­ism can­not be bro­ken, but, at best, man­aged for polit­i­cal gain. Such a strat­e­gy is read­i­ly avail­able to the Span­ish state, devel­oped through thir­ty years of repres­sion in the Basque Coun­try. Today we see the begin­nings of such a sit­u­a­tion, and in light of the EU’s sup­port for the appli­ca­tion of Arti­cle 155, there can be no hopes that it will play a mod­er­at­ing and medi­at­ing role.

Con­trary to the epic nar­ra­tives of the sin­gu­lar resis­tance and oppres­sion of Cat­alo­nia, the best read­ing is not that the EU is allow­ing Rajoy to be “Fran­coist.” Rajoy’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism, sup­port­ed by PSOE and Ciu­dadanos, can be large­ly under­stood as a part of a wider ten­den­cy to resort to the use of force and polit­i­cal impo­si­tion in response to the chal­lenges of the inter­reg­num, par­tic­u­lar­ly their loss of social con­sen­sus and polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy. Also CiU under Mas became noto­ri­ous for using the Cata­lan police against pro­test­ers in the ear­ly cri­sis years. Even the EU itself is increas­ing­ly try­ing to sta­bi­lize itself by force and by wield­ing “the rule of law” against the expres­sion of democ­ra­cy (apart from vio­lent crack­downs of protest, such as the unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic instal­la­tion of the tech­no­crat­ic gov­ern­ments of Papademos and Mon­ti in Greece and Italy, and the han­dling of the Greek cri­sis in gen­er­al). This is not to deny the speci­fici­ty of the treat­ment of Cat­alo­nia or the con­tin­ued pres­ence of Fran­coist val­ues, impuls­es and indi­vid­u­als in the PP. But as the epic stays focused on those phe­nom­e­na, it los­es sight not mere­ly of the broad­er pic­ture, but also of poten­tial sol­i­dar­i­ties, alliances, and shared fronts beyond Cat­alo­nia.

Any re-open­ing of the path towards inde­pen­dence would require a move­ment will­ing to use its capac­i­ty to ren­der Cat­alo­nia ungovern­able – a move unthink­able under bour­geois lead­er­ship, and minori­tar­i­an with­out it. While main­tain­ing it as strate­gic hori­zon, even the hard-lin­ers of CUP have put this per­spec­tive off the agen­da by accept­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Decem­ber 21st elec­tions despite their claims that they are ille­git­i­mate. And the need­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al changes are blocked, as the par­ties of the 155 have cre­at­ed a rein­forced con­sen­sus around Span­ish union­ism. If fed­er­al­ism were to become pos­si­ble, it would not be because Podemos sug­gest it, but because a move­ment enforces costs and insta­bil­i­ty in which con­sti­tu­tion­al change will become the less­er evil for the Span­ish state – and a way to demo­bi­lize deci­sive sec­tions of the Cata­lan sup­port for inde­pen­dence.

Could a pro-demo­c­ra­t­ic alliance between CUP, Comuns, and Podem final­ly arise in resis­tance to the repres­sion and the like­ly per­ma­nence of the lim­i­ta­tion of sig­nif­i­cant parts of Cata­lan auton­o­my? And could it find allies in the rest of Spain, espe­cial­ly now that PP fig­ures have start­ed to threat­en oth­er autonomous com­mu­ni­ties with Arti­cle 155?60 In the bit­ter win­ter now upon us, the ques­tion of alliance seems entire­ly untime­ly. Unavoid­ably so, because time is work­ing for Rajoy’s reign. Soci­ety seems to have retreat­ed behind its start­ing point, and any trans­for­ma­tive pol­i­tics will require the elab­o­ra­tion of a new point of depar­ture.

Vamos a aplicar el artícu­lo 15M, says an image cir­cu­lat­ing in Barcelona. It reminds us of the spring of 2011, rich in the poet­ry of the future. What remains of this moment beyond nos­tal­gic attach­ment is pro­sa­ic, but indis­pens­able. It is the net­works and col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence of build­ing and undo­ing pow­er trans­ver­sal­ly, between or beyond iden­ti­ties and mem­ber­ships. The expe­ri­ences live on in the cities, and in the most open forms of Cata­lanism, vil­i­fied or pushed aside in the manichean autumn. The win­ter of Rajoy’s reg­num depends on the undo­ing of trans­ver­sal­i­ty and com­po­si­tion, the repres­sion of those gov­ern­ments that cre­ate space for dis­obe­di­ence.

Afterword: The Valences of National Sovereignty

As befits epic the­atre, we take leave of our heroes with­out con­clu­sion, with­out cathar­sis, with­out a for-ever-after. What remains, on the request of sev­er­al read­ers, is a reflec­tion on the fail­ure of the epic of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. The aim is not in order to crit­i­cize or defend actions and strate­gies, but to ask in what sense Marx’s quip about Don Quixote applies not only to the Cata­lan strug­gle for sov­er­eign­ty, but also to the pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty else­where in Europe today.

The Cata­lan autumn is the prod­uct of a sin­gu­lar con­junc­ture, in which the ten­sions of the com­pet­ing sub­al­tern Cata­lan nation­al­ism and dom­i­nant Span­ish nation­alisms, the con­tra­dic­tions of the con­sti­tu­tion, and the var­i­ous crises of the Span­ish state and the EU all cul­mi­nat­ed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. The inter­reg­num objec­tive­ly posed the prob­lem of a recon­sti­tu­tion of the state, which gave rise to a vari­ety of prac­tices cen­tred on the strat­e­gy of estab­lish­ing or reaf­firm­ing nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. In Cat­alo­nia, the strat­e­gy nat­u­ral­ly adopt­ed an epic reg­is­ter, which is close­ly inter­twined with nation-for­ma­tion, not so much as an option­al pro­pa­gan­da tool, but as an expres­sion of a strug­gle grap­pling with “the whole of its age and nation­al cir­cum­stances.”61 Thus, the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence move­ment tried to sub­sume all polit­i­cal ques­tions to the nation­al ques­tion, or post­pone them until inde­pen­dence was achieved. This genre of pol­i­tics, with its affec­tive and sub­jec­tive reg­is­ter – the mix of sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, pathos and focused com­mit­ment, the com­bi­na­tion of urgency with a spir­it of per­se­ver­ance – and its unwill­ing­ness to com­pose, its strate­gic dis­re­gard for trans­ver­sal­i­ty, indeed its mono­ma­nia,62 has long been polit­i­cal­ly use­ful to nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gles, invok­ing and coher­ing a col­lec­tive sub­ject, con­jur­ing up the hero­ic courage need­ed in order to solve the prob­lem of one’s age. But not all ages are hero­ic ages. The Cata­lan deba­cle is Quixot­ic in a very pre­cise way: the nar­ra­tive the hero told about him­self failed, to both trag­ic and com­ic effect. The con­di­tions seemed to cry out for such hero­ism, but ruth­less­ly pun­ished it.

As Althuss­er points out, ”the pos­si­bil­i­ties and lim­its of the nation’s real­iza­tion depend upon a whole series of fac­tors … which in some sense pre­struc­ture the aleato­ry space in which the nation will be able to take shape.”63 Objec­tive­ly, many of the fac­tors that made pre­vi­ous wagers on strug­gles for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty time­ly (a mul­ti­po­lar world sys­tem, the fea­si­bil­i­ty of guer­ril­la strug­gles or civ­il war, the rel­a­tive eco­nom­ic self-suf­fi­cien­cy of pop­u­la­tions in main­ly agri­cul­tur­al economies, the cap­i­tal­ist need to pro­duce inte­grat­ed nation­al mar­kets where there were none, etc.) are not present. For these rea­sons, the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment came to rely on the most for­mal and ide­al means of the epic of nation­al lib­er­a­tion: the demands for self-deter­mi­na­tion, a repub­lic, and nation­al sov­er­eign­ty, and the weapons of majori­ties, ref­er­en­da, and rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy. With this armory, the good­will of the ene­my or its impe­r­i­al mas­ters became a con­di­tion of lib­er­a­tion.

Sub­jec­tive­ly, the con­di­tions for nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gle are also poor. Hero­ism has become a rar­i­ty in a world where very few, even among the most indig­nant, most unem­ployed, and most aus­ter­i­ty-strick­en, would be will­ing to fol­low lead­ers to the point of risk­ing every­thing for the nation­al cause. The mid­dle class from which the inde­pen­dence move­ment finds its lead­er­ship and core con­stituen­cy, has much more to lose than its chains, even if for many this is not prop­er­ty but mere­ly aspi­ra­tion, a belief in mer­i­toc­ra­cy, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of self-real­iza­tion through wage labor, and a hori­zon of home own­er­ship. These sub­jec­tive and objec­tive con­di­tions bring to mind the point made by Györ­gi Lukács, and dis­tilled by Fredric Jame­son, that a “renewed epic can­not come into being until the world itself has been trans­fig­ured, regen­er­at­ed…”64

In its most rad­i­cal moments, the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence strug­gle has seemed close to epic: from the civ­il dis­obe­di­ence of more than two mil­lion vot­ers, over the self-orga­nized local defense com­mit­tees and strikes to demon­stra­tions that habit­u­al­ly count hun­dreds of thou­sands. If the Cata­lan strug­gle arrived at the thresh­old of the epic, it was because it built on the trans­fig­u­ra­tion of the world that was begun neg­a­tive­ly by the crises, and pos­i­tive­ly by the social move­ments and moved social­i­ty of 2011. The inde­pen­dence move­ment, by its very def­i­n­i­tion and by the intran­si­gence of the Rajoy gov­ern­ment and the con­sti­tu­tion­al court, had to pur­sue an epic nar­ra­tive towards manichean strug­gle. Sim­i­lar­ly to Podemos’ project for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty, the inde­pen­dence move­ment drew ener­gy from the con­stituent pow­ers of the 2011 move­ments, and enjoyed the polit­i­cal space cre­at­ed by their des­tituent pow­er. Sell­ing them­selves as com­pe­tent and just reform­ers of the state, Podemos’ rise con­tributed to the par­tial demo­bi­liza­tion par­tial insti­tu­tion­al turn of the move­ments. In Cat­alo­nia, the epic strug­gle con­tin­ued mass mobi­liza­tions and action, but in a way that split many of the net­works and sol­i­dar­i­ties of 2011, under­min­ing the trans­ver­sal­i­ty and class char­ac­ter of that cycle. Where Podemos aimed to run the state, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism want­ed to found one in con­ti­nu­ity with the Cata­lan Gen­er­al­i­tat. In either case, the attempt to built nation­al sov­er­eign­ty was pri­or­i­tized to the detri­ment of what we can vague­ly term pop­u­lar pow­er. This wager on the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal and the trans­for­ma­to­ry capac­i­ties of gov­ern­ment did not come nat­u­ral­ly to the assem­bly based CUP or Podemos.65 Rather, the ori­en­ta­tion towards the insti­tu­tions respond­ed to a clam­our from the largest demo­graph­ic to demand change in the cri­sis: the indig­nant mid­dle class.

The Cata­lan pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty are not unique in rely­ing on a most­ly mid­dle class base. In fact, it seems the pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty both pre- and post-cri­sis, both right- and left, find its ener­gy from a par­tic­u­lar mid­dle class expe­ri­ence: the fear of declass­ing, the loss of secu­ri­ty, the defence of rights, a sense of loss of con­trol. In North­ern Europe, indig­nant nos­tal­gia, espe­cial­ly in provin­cial areas, has been a fer­tile ground for the nativist and xeno­pho­bic par­ties since before the cri­sis, and for the wel­fare chau­vin­ist turn of Dan­ish social democ­ra­cy. In Spain and Cat­alo­nia, the expe­ri­ence of mass sol­i­dar­i­ty of the 15M has allowed Podemos and Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism to orga­nize the mid­dle class around more pro­gres­sive, but com­pet­ing visions of nation­al, pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty.

The con­cept of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty only exists polit­i­cal­ly in sin­gu­lar con­stel­la­tions with oth­er con­cerns, ori­en­ta­tions and con­di­tions, and there­fore we can­not mean­ing­ful­ly talk of one ide­ol­o­gy, as lib­er­al crit­ics of “pop­ulism” do (though their gen­er­al­ized con­tempt reveal one com­mon fea­ture: every­where, the con­cept of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty has not come onto the agen­da in Europe today as an ide­ol­o­gy of the cur­rent order, as much as a demand from insur­gent par­ties and move­ments). Cer­tain­ly, the con­cept of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty does have its own abstract oper­a­tiv­i­ty and appeal, which pro­duce dif­fer­ent but com­pa­ra­ble effects in the dif­fer­ent con­texts it is deployed in. The notion of sov­er­eign­ty offers the state as an order­ly, par­lia­men­tary short­cut to change, appeal­ing to those whose polit­i­cal desires rarely ven­ture beyond a wish for good gov­ern­ment and gov­er­nance. The nation­al binds sov­er­eign­ty to a com­mu­ni­ty that is sen­ti­men­tal and pro­duced by state and ide­o­log­i­cal insti­tu­tions (the school, the media, etc.). Imag­in­ing the pro­duc­tive econ­o­my as a com­mon nation­al house­hold, the con­cept of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty at most offers a cri­tique of the sup­pos­ed­ly “unpro­duc­tive”: finan­cial cap­i­tal, tax-dodgers, and/or migrants and the unem­ployed.66 The pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty might pro­vide for elec­toral suc­cess, but they con­tribute to the clo­sure of strate­gic reflec­tions on the mul­ti­ple cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism and the state.

The clam­or for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty requires a belief in a good state, not as a prod­uct of strug­gle, but as an out­come of elec­tions. Nation­al sov­er­eign­ty is the spon­ta­neous polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of the cri­sis of the mid­dle class, the clam­or of those who used to live com­fort­ably, in the for­get­ting of the strug­gles that won the rel­a­tive­ly com­fort, as an always insuf­fi­cient con­ces­sion. Those who speak of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty might take it to mean pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty, but it mys­ti­fies the fact that if such sov­er­eign­ty were to be pos­si­ble at all, it would be based in autonomous class pow­er. Even nation­al sov­er­eign­ty would only be pos­si­ble on the base of mass sup­port – in opin­ion and in orga­nized prac­tice – for a rup­ture with (or with­in) the EU and with inter­na­tion­al finance.

If all this is not on the agen­da, it is not so much an afflic­tion of con­scious­ness, as a lim­i­ta­tion of con­tem­po­rary social real­i­ty in Europe. In this peri­od of con­stant low-inten­si­ty cri­sis and decom­po­si­tion of the mid­dle class, its expec­ta­tions and attach­ments will con­tin­ue to be repro­duced under threat of declass­ing, in a state of anx­i­ety. Indig­na­tion and the demand for good gov­er­nance and gov­ern­ment will per­sist, and so will the chal­lenge of politi­ciz­ing them dif­fer­ent­ly than the forces of reac­tion. Autonomous coun­ter­pow­er can­not be built on mid­dle class sub­jec­tiv­i­ties, but it can only grow into mass orga­ni­za­tion through the trans­for­ma­tion of the mid­dle class. Some of the tools lay scat­tered in the dust of the bat­tle of Catalun­ya: the “per­verse gov­er­nance” of the cities, and the trans­ver­sal orga­niz­ing of 2011.


  1. This arti­cle exists thanks to Car­los Del­c­los’ insis­tence I could write it and thanks to ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Manuela Zech­n­er dur­ing the month of casero­ladas. It has been improved by sug­ges­tions from Car­los Del­c­los, Oscar Reyes, Andreas Mul­vad, Adrià Rodríguez and Tim Sav­age, and edi­to­r­i­al work by Evan Calder Williams and Ben Mabie. 

  2.  Long ago, Aris­to­tle sug­gest­ed that prax­is has a nar­ra­tive struc­ture, which helps the sub­ject appre­hend the con­di­tions of its actions and inscribe them into a mean­ing­ful, tem­po­ral sequence. Daniel Hart­ley, The Pol­i­tics of Style (Lon­don: Brill, 2017), p. 170.  

  3. To be pre­cise, Quixote much like Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism until recent­ly, was not try­ing to live out an epic prop­er, but a romance, a more minor hero­ic genre. The romance, espe­cial­ly in the form of the picaresque, is the genre of valiant losers, while the epic is the genre of history’s win­ners, most par­a­dig­mat­i­cal­ly of founders of nations and states. The fail­ure of an epic wager, of course, is even more tragi­com­ic than the fail­ure of a romance. See Fredric Jameson’s dis­cus­sion of David Quint’s Empire and Epic, in Valences of the Dialec­tic (New York: Ver­so, 2009). Thanks to Daniel Hart­ley for draw­ing my atten­tion to that pas­sage.  

  4. “‘El Quixot és la tra­duc­ció d’una obra cata­lana, d’en Joan Miquel Ser­vent’.” Insti­tut Nova Història. 

  5. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal: A Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, vol. 1 (Har­mondsworth : Pen­guin in asso­ci­a­tion with New Left Review, 1990), p 176. 

  6.  The cri­sis of ear­ly 17th Cen­tu­ry Spain had one impor­tant sim­i­lar­i­ty with that of today: it had its root in the fail­ure of a glob­al­ly inte­grat­ed spec­u­la­tive econ­o­my in what was pre­sumed to epit­o­mize “real” val­ue (then sil­ver, now real estate). “The cri­sis of con­scious­ness was just as acute as the fac­tu­al cri­sis,” writes the Annales his­to­ri­an Pierre Vilar. The secure foun­da­tion under polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic thought hav­ing slipped, it was hard to come up with real­is­tic solu­tions. This unpro­duc­tive econ­o­my pro­duced a num­ber of social ills, from declass­ing to ban­dit­ry to a ver­i­ta­ble fren­zy of epics and romances cel­e­brat­ing the pur­suits of a more hero­ic past. Pierre Vilar, “The Age of Quixote,” in New Left Review, I/68, July-August 1971.  

  7. Wal­ter Ben­jamin, “What is Epic The­atre?”, in Illu­mi­na­tions (New York : Schock­en Books, 2013). Ben­jamin quotes Brecht: “We have been asked: Will a work­er under­stand this? Will he be able to do with­out his accus­tomed intox­i­cant: his men­tal par­tic­i­pa­tion in some­one else’s upris­ing, the rise of oth­ers - the illu­sion that whips him up for a few hours and leaves him all the more exhaust­ed, filled with vague mem­o­ries and even vaguer hopes?” 

  8. A sim­ple google-search for “Catalun­ya farsa trage­dia” reveals well more than a dozen texts with that phrase.  

  9.  Marx described the farce of bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies fight­ing the lim­it­ed bat­tle of their time sur­round­ed by the hero­ic phras­es and cos­tumes bor­rowed from 1789. What was once the poet­ry of the future, was now a poet­ry of the past. Apart from the bla­tant mis­match between the con­tent and the form of the strug­gle, there is the dis­junc­ture between a past ele­vat­ed and pil­laged for its rad­i­cal­ism, and a present which is decid­ed­ly less rad­i­cal.  

  10. Emmanuel Rodríguez, “1934-2017. Vis­ca la Repúbli­ca, o cuan­do el prob­le­ma es la izquier­da,” in Ctxt. http://ctxt.es/es/20171025/Firmas/15861/republica-izquierda-espana-catalunya-historia.htm  

  11. Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth  

  12.  Par­tic­i­pa­tion in asso­ci­a­tions grew from 28% of the pop­u­la­tion in 1980 to 46% in 2006. Parea, Eva (ed): Informe sobre l’estat de la democrà­cia a Catalun­ya 2007. URL: www.fbofill.cat/sites/default/files/482.pdf  

  13.  Of course, most immi­grants in Cat­alo­nia are famil­iar with such lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al non-recog­ni­tion and pres­sures for “inte­gra­tion,” espe­cial­ly in rela­tion to the dom­i­nant cul­ture in Cat­alo­nia.  

  14. It’s impor­tant to nuance these two points, that are often used to make unhelp­ful com­par­isons with the sep­a­ratism in rich North­ern Ital­ian regions such as Lom­bardy. First­ly, the rel­a­tive­ly eco­nom­ic weight of Cat­alo­nia has declined over the last three decades, with the region slip­ping from hav­ing the sec­ond high­est GRD (gross region­al prod­uct) in Spain to fourth place. Also, eco­nom­ic nation­al­ism has declined in impor­tance in the Cata­lan inde­pen­dence move­ment over recent years, with Puigde­mont reject­ing the slo­gan that Espanya ens Roba (Spain robs us), and his coali­tion, JxSí promis­ing to make sub­stan­tial trans­fers of mon­ey to Spain over a num­ber of years to smoothen the sep­a­ra­tion. 

  15.  Andrew Dowl­ing, “Account­ing for the turn towards seces­sion in Cat­alo­nia,” Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Iber­ian Stud­ies, Vol­ume 27, Num­bers 2-3, 2014. p. 220.  

  16.  Kathryn Crameri, “Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Civ­il Coun­ter­pow­er: The Com­plex Dynam­ics of the Cata­lan Inde­pen­dence Move­ment,” Nation­al­ism and Eth­nic Pol­i­tics, Vol­ume 21, 2015 - Issue 1., 108  

  17. Dowl­ing, 2014, 228.  

  18.  The draft pre­am­ble bold­ly defined Cat­alo­nia as a “nation,” which was con­sid­ered unpalat­able in the Cortes. Instead, the agreed pre­am­ble stat­ed that the Estatut rec­og­nizes that the Cata­lan par­lia­ment has defined Cat­alo­nia as a nation by an ample major­i­ty.  

  19.  The Estatut was also chal­lenged by Defen­sor del Pueblo (the Span­ish ombuds­man) and oth­er autonomous com­mu­ni­ties. Dowl­ing 2014, 226.  

  20.  https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independentismo_catal%C3%A1n#Encuestas_y_sondeos  

  21. Dowl­ing 2014  

  22.  For a dis­cern­ing eco­nom­ic analy­sis of the Span­ish cri­sis and its caus­es, see Isidro López & Emmanuel Rodríguez, “The Span­ish Mod­el,” New Left Review, 69, May-June 2011.  

  23.  See Melis­sa Gar­cia Lamar­ca, “From Occu­py­ing Plazas to Recu­per­at­ing Hous­ing: Insur­gent Prac­tices in Spain,” Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Urban and Region­al Research, vol. 41, issue 1, Jan­u­ary 2017  

  24.  Colau & Ale­many, Mort­gaged Lives, Joaap 2014.  

  25. “Has­ta 8,5 mil­lones de españoles apoy­an el Movimien­to 15-M,” El País, August 3 2011.  https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2011/08/03/actualidad/1312388649_737959.html  

  26.  In a tech­ni­cal sense, most of the “mid­dle class” is pro­le­tar­i­an, as it does not con­trol the means of repro­duc­tion, a predica­ment that is most­ly dealt with through wage labor. How­ev­er, through edu­ca­tion and mer­i­toc­ra­cy it expects to be paid well enough to even­tu­al­ly mit­i­gate or exit from that con­di­tion through home­own­er­ship, entre­pre­neur­ship, and oth­er forms of invest­ment. Mid­dle class thus prin­ci­pal­ly names a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and a set of strate­gies of life, which may be more or less in sync with eco­nom­ic real­i­ties.  

  27.  Javier Toret (ed): Tec­nopolíti­ca y 15M, Uni­ver­si­tat Ober­ta de Catalun­ya.  

  28.  List of mar­eas: https://15mpedia.org/wiki/Lista_de_mareas  

  29.  Emmanuel Rodríguez, La políti­ca en el oca­so de la clase media - El ciclo 15m-Podemos. 2017. Traf­i­cantes de Sueños.  

  30.  “The ten most repres­sive points of Spain’s gag law,” The Local. https://www.thelocal.es/20150701/the-ten-most-repressive-aspects-of-spains-new-gag-law  

  31.  Mas, in What’s up with Cat­alo­nia?: The caus­es which impel them to the sep­a­ra­tion,  ed. Liz Cas­tro (Ash­field, Mass. : Cat­alo­nia Press, 2013), 11.  

  32.  As point­ed out by Ronald Fras­er, “Spain on the Brink,” New Left Review, I/96, March-April 1976.  

  33. Crameri, 2014  

  34. The heads of ANC and Òminum - the two Jordis, Sànchez and Cuixart - became the first polit­i­cal pris­on­ers in the cur­rent seces­sion cri­sis when they were arrest­ed this Octo­ber 16th, charged with orga­niz­ing peace­ful but civi­cal­ly dis­obe­di­ent demon­stra­tions. 

  35.  In a long term per­spec­tive, Cata­lan inde­pen­den­tism can be under­stood as a fail­ure of Span­ish nation-build­ing, as point­ed out by Luke Sto­bard. “Cat­alo­nia: Past and Future,” Jacobin, Octo­ber 10 2017. In the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry France, like Spain was a mul­ti­lin­gual state. But where­as the French state was capa­ble of sub­sum­ing or mar­gin­al­iz­ing local lan­guages with its expand­ing wealth and pow­er (indus­tri­al­iza­tion, colo­nial­ism, and reforms forced by rev­o­lu­tions), the declin­ing and increas­ing­ly back­ward Span­ish Empire was unable to build a mod­ern, lin­guis­ti­cal­ly homo­ge­neous nation state. See also Ronald Fras­er, “Penin­su­lar Mytholo­gies,” in New Left Review, 55, Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 2015.  

  36.  Arti­cle 2 states: “The Con­sti­tu­tion is based on the indis­sol­u­ble uni­ty of the Span­ish Nation, the com­mon and indi­vis­i­ble home­land of all Spaniards; it rec­og­nizes and guar­an­tees the right to self-gov­ern­min­dex­ent of the nation­al­i­ties and regions of which it is com­posed and the sol­i­dar­i­ty among them all.”  

  37.  The Glob­al Com­pet­i­tive­ness Report, 2014-2015. p.411 http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2014-15.pdf  

  38. Pre­vi­ous­ly refer­ring to peo­ple of “good stock,” i.e., the aris­toc­ra­cy, cas­ta is now used more exten­sive­ly, most cen­tral­ly in the dis­course of Podemos, to refer to the busi­ness and polit­i­cal elites, some­times tak­en to include trade union lead­er­ships, invok­ing ideas of cor­rup­tion, influ­ence ped­dling, and clan­nish clo­sure. 

  39. The pre­am­ble states: “The Cata­lan nation, its lan­guage and its cul­ture have a thou­sand years of his­to­ry. For cen­turies, Cat­alo­nia has been endowed with and enjoyed its own insti­tu­tions that have exer­cised self-gov­ern­ment in full, with the Gen­er­al­i­tat as the great­est expres­sion of the his­tor­i­cal rights of Cat­alo­nia. Par­lia­men­tarism has been, dur­ing peri­ods of free­dom, the col­umn on which these insti­tu­tions have been sus­tained, chan­neled through the Cata­lan Par­lia­ments and crys­tal­lized in the Con­sti­tu­tions of Cat­alo­nia. Cat­alo­nia restores today its full sov­er­eign­ty, lost and longed for, after decades of try­ing, hon­est­ly and legal­ly, insti­tu­tion­al coex­is­tence with the peo­ple of the Iber­ian Penin­su­la.” 

  40. This dossier pro­vides an excel­lent selec­tion from the debate over inde­pen­dence on the left in Spain and Cat­alo­nia. “The Cata­lan nation­al strug­gle and the left in the Span­ish state,” Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Social­ist Renew­al. http://links.org.au/catalan-national-struggle-left-Spanish-state 

  41. Emmanuel Rodríguez, La políti­ca en el oca­so de la clase media - El ciclo 15m-Podemos.  

  42.  Emanuel Rodríguez, “Podem-Podemos o la opor­tu­nidad per­di­da en la rup­tura cata­lana” in Ctxt, Novem­ber 8 2017.  

  43.  In a sim­i­lar vein, Raúl Sánchez Cedil­lo sug­gests that the “least bad” of pos­si­ble gov­ern­ments would nei­ther be active nor pas­sive, but fol­low a “per­verse gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty” whose “strate­gic action does not aspire to gov­ern social imbal­ances, but to pre­pare the most favor­able con­di­tions for con­stituent process­es to tra­verse soci­ety.” “Rajoy­na­to, munic­i­pal­is­mos, sis­tema de con­trapoderes,” in Trans­ver­sal, Sep­tem­ber 2017. http://transversal.at/transversal/0916/sanchezcedillo/1505647019  

  44.  Andreu Domin­go, “Cat­alo­nia, land of immi­gra­tion,” in What’s up with Cat­alo­nia?: The caus­es which impel them to the sep­a­ra­tion. Cas­tro (ed). p. 40  

  45. About 363.121, or 22.6%, of the res­i­dents of Barcelona have been born out­side of Spain. The num­ber of reg­is­tered non-Span­ish cit­i­zens liv­ing in Barcelona was 262.233 in Jan­u­ary 2015, or 16.3% of the pop­u­la­tion. These are peo­ple who could not vote in the inde­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum nor in Span­ish gen­er­al elec­tions. http://www.bcn.cat/estadistica/angles/dades/inf/pobest/pobest15/part1/t11.htm. On that theme Fàti­ma Aatar wrote “Many migrant and racial­ized peo­ple saw the con­struc­tion of the Cata­lan Repub­lic as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get rid of the Law that chained them. How­ev­er, the first sur­prise came when the elec­toral cen­sus for the ref­er­en­dum did not incor­po­rate res­i­dents. That is, those peo­ple not nation­al­ized by the Span­ish Immi­gra­tion Law could not exer­cise their (non)right to vote in the ref­er­en­dum. But the big sur­prise was man­i­fest­ed by the Tran­si­tion­al Law pre­sent­ed to Par­lia­ment, which did not incor­po­rate migrants. We can say that dur­ing the draft­ing of the Tran­si­tion­al Law they made a copy-paste of the Span­ish Immi­gra­tion Law chang­ing “Span­ish nation­al­i­ty” by “Cata­lan nation­al­i­ty,” so that who­ev­er obtains Cata­lan nation­al­i­ty will be the one who pre­vi­ous­ly had the Span­ish.” Fàti­ma Aatar, “Des­obe­dièn­cia?”, La Direc­ta, Sep­tem­ber 29 2017.  

  46.  Know­ing that their pro-inde­pen­dence major­i­ty isn’t secure, many inde­pen­den­tists con­sid­er any par­ty that doesn’t open­ly cam­paign for inde­pen­dence as de fac­to anti-inde­pen­den­tist. The Span­ish union­ists, equal­ly unsure they would win, con­sid­er a ref­er­en­dum an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al open­ing of the door to seces­sion.  

  47.  Roger Palà, “Set dies de juli­ol que hau­rien pogut can­viar-ho tot: de la ‘llista sense pres­i­dent’ a Junts pel Sí,” El Crit­ic, Sep­tem­ber 25 2015.  

  48.  The coop­er­a­tive Cata­lan media plat­form La Direc­ta pro­duced a pow­er­ful doc­u­men­tary on Octo­ber 1st, detail­ing the police vio­lence and the courage of the vot­ers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=K6i69o2ANJg  

  49. A sym­bol­ic pho­to to mark that brief moment, was that of CUP’s David Fer­nàn­dez and comuns’ Xavier Domènech hand in hand at a demon­stra­tion in Plaça Catalun­ya.  

  50.  “CCOO y UGT lla­man a par­tic­i­par en el paro gen­er­al en Catalun­ya.” El Per­iódi­co, Octo­ber 2 2017, http://www.elperiodico.com/es/economia/20171002/paro-general-cataluna-referendum-ugt-ccoo-6325781  

  51. “El apoyo a la inde­pen­den­cia baja has­ta el 33% en Cataluña,” El Mun­do, Octo­ber 30 2017. http://www.elmundo.es/cataluna/2017/10/30/59f63942468aeb755c8b4678.html  

  52.  La Van­guardia, Novem­ber 6 2017.  

  53.  This unease at cri­tique reveals a cer­tain inse­cu­ri­ty of the nation­al­ist project, very far from Marx’s ide­al pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who “con­stant­ly crit­i­cize them­selves, con­stant­ly inter­rupt them­selves in their own course, return to the appar­ent­ly accom­plished, in order to begin anew.” Marx, 18th Bru­maire.  

  54.  The street vendor’s let­ter in crit­i­cal sup­port of the inde­pen­dence move­ment is worth read­ing in full. For back­ground on the move­ment, see Car­los Del­c­los, “The Street Syn­di­cate: Re-orga­niz­ing Infor­mal Work,” Roar Mag­a­zine.  

  55.  “La may­oría de cata­lanes es favor­able a que se con­vo­quen elec­ciones,” El País, Octo­ber 30 2017.  

  56.  “El apoyo a la inde­pen­den­cia tiene raíces económi­cas y de ori­gen social,” El País, Sep­tem­ber 28 2017.  

  57.  BBC Mun­do made a short but telling por­trait of the inhab­i­tants of the poor Ciu­tat Merid­i­ana neigh­bour­hood in Barcelona.  

  58.  My ref­er­ence here is to Marx’s com­ment in Cap­i­tal that, “the Mid­dle Ages could not live on Catholi­cism, nor could the ancient world on pol­i­tics.” Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, p.176  

  59.  “Min­u­to a min­u­to - la cri­sis Cata­lana,” El Diario, Novem­ber 14 2017.   

  60. Enric Juliana, ‘Coer­ción Para Todos’, La Van­guardia, 23.10.17. 

  61.  Hegel him­self already pro­posed that the epic world had been replaced by a “world of prose,” as the orga­ni­za­tion of life as a total­i­ty of expe­ri­ence was replaced by mid­dle-class indi­vid­u­al­ism. Hegel, Lec­tures on Aes­thet­ics. Part 3, Sec­tion 3. Fredric Jame­son, Marx­ism and Form: 20th-Cen­tu­ry Dialec­ti­cal The­o­ries of Lit­er­a­ture (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1974), 352.  

  62.  At some point, it seemed fit­ting to end this windy text with Cer­vantes’ reflec­tion on the fail­ure of epic (and picaresque) hero­ism as a form of prac­tice. As an iron­ic gift to Bilbeny’s Cata­lan Quixote, the unfor­tu­nate hero’s end is sym­bol­i­cal­ly set on the beach­es of Barcelona. There, Quixote was final­ly forced to cease his knight  errantry, when he is chal­lenged by a dis­guised knight. Con­vinced that this anachro­nis­tic duel is a joke, local dig­ni­taries joy­ful­ly abide to the cha­rade, and wit­ness to Quixote’s solemn oath that he will give up his errantry if defeat­ed. Our hero is duly defeat­ed. Pre­vi­ous­ly, friends, fam­i­ly and oth­ers who refused to be enrolled in Quixote’s nar­ra­tive had failed to stop it. The masked knight who suc­ceed­ed was none oth­er than Quixote’s friend San­són Car­ras­co, who entered his nar­ra­tive in order to tear him from it.

    The les­son from Quixote’s end, as I take it, is a les­son about how epic nar­ra­tive total­izes its world, and refus­es any cri­tique from out­side. The epic hero com­mits him­self obses­sive­ly to his sin­gu­lar pur­suit, and if real­i­ty fails to accept his ideals this only demon­strates to him the urgency of his mis­sion. The hero enlists every­one who is not an ene­my as a helper – or reduces them to spec­ta­tors. Any­one who tries to sow doubt and dis­suade is an obsta­cle. Quixote might be ide­al­ist, but it would be cyn­i­cal to blame his ide­al­ism. Quixote might have lacked mate­ri­al­ist analy­sis, but so did the world he strug­gled against. Quixote’s fail­ure was a fail­ure of the epic genre itself, of its mono­ma­nia, its unwill­ing­ness to com­pose, its strate­gic dis­re­gard for trans­ver­sal­i­ty. Had Quixote pur­sued what Marx describes as his ”love for human­i­ty” in a less epic mode, he would have made com­mon cause with – rather than posed as the sav­iour of – the wretched of the earth. Engag­ing in strug­gle with oth­ers, his analy­sis would have been more mate­ri­al­ist and his mis­sion less lone­ly.  

  63.  Althuss­er, Machi­avel­li and Us (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2011), 11.  

  64.  Jame­son, Marx­ism and Form, 178. Lukács, The­o­ry of the Nov­el (Cam­bridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 152.  

  65.  After the dis­ap­point­ing 2016 elec­tion, Podemos’ Pablo Igle­sias, who anec­do­tal­ly was an orga­niz­er of sol­i­dar­i­ty trav­els to Chi­a­pas in the ear­ly 2000s, reaf­firmed the need to con­struct social coun­ter­pow­ers.  

  66.  A use­ful rule of thumb to dis­tin­guish right and left-wing pol­i­tics of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty is the fol­low­ing: for the left, the cul­prit is only finance cap­i­tal and tax dodgers, for the right it is only the unem­ployed and migrants, and for the extreme right it all of those.  

Author of the article

is a postdoctoral researcher and member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint.