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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 October 2019

Catalonia: Draconian prison sentences of independence leaders provokes mass protests and strikes

The attempt to crush the aspirations of the majority of Catalans for self-determination by the Spanish state - now headed by the Psoe-led government of prime minister Pedro Sánchez - has not succeeded but instead has ignited widespread anger.
Mass protests condemning the brutal jail sentences meted out to elected representatives of pro-Catalonia independence parties culminated in a general strike on 18 October.
In order to try and dampen-down the movement the establishment media has focussed on outbreaks of disorder after the peaceful mass protests have ended, while downplaying violence perpetrated by the police and some small right-wing groups.
The following article, written by Tony Saunois before the general strike, analyses the current struggle, the role of the working class, and what demands and movement are needed for Catalan independence to happen.
Catalonia's general strike in defence on the independence vote, 3.10.17, photo Robert Bonet/CC

Catalonia's general strike in defence on the independence vote, 3.10.17, photo Robert Bonet/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Following a month-long trial, the Supreme Court of the Spanish state pronounced brutal prison sentences on nine leaders of the Catalan independence movement.

In total, prison sentences of over 100 years have been imposed on these former Catalan government ministers. At the same time, a renewed European arrest warrant has been issued for the former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile, in Belgium.

These draconian sentences handed down by the Supreme Court, coupled with the recent arrest of members of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), are a statement from the Spanish ruling class that they will not tolerate the idea of an independent Catalonia or secession from any part of the Spanish state.

In the light of this latest attack, it is urgent to draw the lessons from the experience of the revolutionary upheavals which took place in Catalonia in 2017 (see: - 'Catalonia two years on from the independence referendum').

Laws inherited from Franco

Following the announcement of these sentences by the court, imposed by the regime of 1978 inherited from the Franco era, mass protests and strikes have erupted throughout Catalonia.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Barcelona and other towns and cities. Tens of thousands occupied the 'El Prat' airport at Barcelona. At least 100 flights were cancelled.

The metro workers in Barcelona and other workers in the public sector took unofficial strike action in protest at the draconian sentences.

Spain's Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, also the EU's foreign policy chief-elect, was whistling in the wind when he declared that the verdict could "serve as a means to bring Catalonia's deeply divided society back together".

The Catalan police, Mossos, and others carried out brutal repression and attacks on the demonstrators especially at El Prat airport.

This repression has further enraged the people of Catalonia. It is likely to reignite the mass movements which had declined following the defeat of the 2017 movement.

Rather than bring charges of 'violent rebellion', the state prosecuted the independence leaders variously with 'sedition', the 'misuse of public funds' and 'disobedience'.

However, the viciousness of the sentences passed, against pro-capitalist nationalists, who when in government had introduced austerity measures against the working class and people of Catalonia, illustrates the ruthlessness of the Spanish state and capitalist class.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has bowed before this pressure and treacherously declared that his government "respected the court's decision", which he alleged met all the requirements of "due process, transparency and separation of powers".

Sánchez and Psoe are determined to demonstrate their reliability to the Spanish ruling class in the run up to the general election which is scheduled for 10 November. Psoe's election slogans, "For government" and "For Spain" make it crystal clear where it stands.

In a further act of betrayal of the movement, Pablo Iglesias, radical leader of the left populist Podemos declared that "everyone must respect the law and accept the sentences". In other words, accept the dictates of the Supreme Court bequeathed from the Francoist constitution of 1978!

This was a continuation of Iglesias's previous position of maintaining 'equidistance' between the pro-independence movement and the Spanish state during the movement which erupted in 2017, simply urging negotiations and agreement to be reached by both sides.

What these leaders of the 'left' fear more than anything is the independent revolutionary movement of the masses and the threat that this potentially could pose for capitalism.

The brutal sentences handed out by the Supreme Court are not because they fear the pro-capitalist Catalan nationalist leaders.

What they fear is the potential revolutionary movements of the working class, and all those oppressed by capitalism, striving for Catalan independence, which could endanger the ruling class and their system.

If the struggle for an independent Catalonia were linked together with a struggle to break with capitalism and establish an independent socialist Catalonia, it would set example for the working class throughout the Spanish state.

Workers could be roused to come together with the Catalan workers in a united struggle against capitalism throughout the Spanish state for a socialist alternative.

The false idea of a 'progressive' capitalist European Union was clearly exposed during the revolutionary events which developed in 2017. The EU refused to condemn the Spanish government and its use of brutal repression.

This same EU has remained silent on the issue of human rights abuses by the Spanish state and has not condemned the vicious sentences announced by the Supreme Court.

The mass movement which has erupted in protest against the sentences and the struggle of the Catalan masses will undoubtedly arouse the sympathy and support of workers and socialists across Europe.

This has been graphically shown at recent rallies for Scottish independence. The struggles in Catalonia will possibly give a certain boost for those supporting independence for Scotland.

They fear mass movements

Yet, like their counterparts in Catalonia, the Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership of Nicola Sturgeon fears the mass movement of workers and youth. In 2017, and still today, it urged "negotiation" and an attempt to secure an agreement between the Catalonia and Spanish government.

What was needed, however, was the mass mobilisation by the working class and youth, on an independent class programme, and for full democratic rights. Not placing confidence in the pro-capitalist Catalan nationalists - which unfortunately the leadership of the ERC (Republican Catalan Left) did in 2017 and subsequently.

It is necessary to draw the lessons of the movement in Catalonia and the struggles of the working class and youth throughout the Spanish State, and to take up a struggle for:

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In The Socialist 23 October 2019:

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