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(en) Turkey, DAF Meydan #41 - Interview with Anarchist Union CNT on Catalonia Referandum (tr) [machine translation]
Sun, 26 Nov 2017 09:24:57 +0200
We have interviewed CNT Foreign Relations Secratary Miguel Perez about CNT's general
strike, oppression, attacks and political developments following the Catalonia Referandum.
---- - What does Puigdemont's last speech mean? Everyone was expecting more radical
speech, especially afterwards the police attack to the Catalan people during the
referandum process. Is this a part of strategy? ---- As you know, the situation changes in
Catalonia by the hour. It's very difficult to keep pace with events, even for comrades on
the ground. So, by the time this interview goes to press, I'm sure any answer will be
outdated!. ---- However, yes, Puigdemont gave a speech, kind of declaring independence but
putting it immediately on hold, to allow for "negotiations". To be honest, it wasn't clear
to anyone what he meant and, in any case, the prospect of the central government engaging
in meaningful negotiations was non-existent. To all regards, his was an attempt to buy
time, though it obviously led to nowhere. So, I don't think it was part of a strategy, but
rather a tacit recognition of his lack of choices.
On the one hand, the Catalan government has no way to enforce a single sided declaration
of independence. This would immediately prompt the central government to suspend the local
parliament (which is very likely to happen as of tomorrow, 28-10-2017, anyway) and use the
police or the army to crack down on the independentist movement. But any declaration of
independence is always going to be single sided, as the central government is NEVER going
to agree to that.
On the other hand, he's in a government coalition with some leftist hardcore
independentist parties, which are pushing for that declaration to happen and threaten to
withdraw their support and bring down the local government otherwise. There's also a lot
of people (tens of thousands) all the time in the streets, in rallies and demonstrations,
demanding independence, adding pressure on Puigdemont and his government, calling them
traitors (with reason).
He's the prototypical right-wing moderate nationalist politician, who stirs up people's
mobilisation to serve his own ends and interests, and then finds himself trapped by that
same mobilisation. I bet he now just wants to hide in a dark place and cuddle!
But the solution is at hand. The central government is about to step in with even more
repression, which will allow Puigdemont to say that he tried hard to have a negotiated
solution, but to no avail.
What will happen after this weekend is anyone's guess, but it doesn't look well.
- Before the referandum, we have witnessed many protest for the independence of Catalonia.
What about the counter-protests of nationalists? Who had organised these protests? Did
Catalan people really join these marches? What is the affect of these protests?
There's always been a large part of the Catalan people who wanted independence, but this
has by no means been unanimous. Even within nationalists, not all of them wanted
independence. For instance, Puigdemont's party, which has been ruling Catalonia on and off
for the last 40 years, never had any declared independentist aims. It was rather
comfortable making dealings with the Madrid government to achieve other goals within the
framework of the Spanish constitution and regime. So, yeah, it's likely many Catalans do
not support independence, though it's clear the vast majority do, by now. Even if they
didn't before the 1st of October, police repression may have done a great deal to convince
them of the need to break away from Spain!
The main problem is in the rest of Spain. The country's unity has long been a rallying
banner for the far right, and we are already seeing many people leaning more to the right
as a reaction to the Catalan drive for independence. This can give new breath to fascist
groups, which were until now fairly small (though far too big to my liking!). They are
already staging rallies and demonstrations of their own, or taking part in larger rallies
for Spain's unity, where they're been worryingly well received by those attending.
This drive to the (far) right is in consonance with the calls for more repression that
many "democratic" forces are issuing these days, which does not fare well for any
dissidence. It's a truly worrying perspective.
Giving the developments in Turkey over the last few years, I'm sure you can relate to the
threat we're facing here, even when there also are, no doubt, huge differences.
- How does CNT's perspective on Catalonia Referandum? As anarchists, how do we understand
the position of Catalonia; as freedom of the people or as a declaration of a new state?
In any situation of social upheaval and mobilisation, like the one going on in Catalonia
at the moment, there are always many agendas at play. Right now, for most people on the
street, the main issue is creating a new independent state. There's no hiding it. It's a
purely nationalist agenda.
But by mobilising hundreds of thousands of people, getting them to organise meetings in
their neighbourhoods, attend rallies, etc., other issues are coming to the fore, as well.
For example, it's OK to complain about police violence on referendum day, but most
activists don't forget that the Catalan leaders of today ordered a similar repression
against the Indignados movement in 2011. So by no means nationalist leaders keep a tight
control on the people, once you get them out on the streets. There's a constant tension
between strictly nationalist aims and other social and economic issues creeping forward,
that is mostly regulated by events on the ground.
We, in CNT, see this as a chance to put our message across, encourage people to organise
by themselves and go beyond strictly nationalist issues. Our position, as stated in our
congress agreements, renewed in December 2015, is that we stand for people's
self-determination across the whole world (obviously, in Catalonia too). But we understand
self-determination not as state building, but as self-management, that is, it must include
issues like workers control of production and consumption, a direct democracy from the
bottom up in a confederation, etc. On that respect, we're neither concerned nor worried by
the creation of a new state, but our concern is to advance the cause for self-management
of the working class.
I know it's a fine line we have to walk here. We're trying to avoid playing into the hands
of nationalist politicians, while being out in the streets with the people, for instance,
against repression, and putting our message across. We've been criticised for it and there
has been (and is) a lot of debate within our ranks about how to best do it. It's only
normal that at difficult times we hesitate on the way forward. I'm confident that CNT's
internal mechanisms for debate and collective decision making will allow us to steer the
best course we can think of.
But consider this: there have been hundreds of events (demonstrations, rallies, the
referendum itself...) to support independence, and CNT has neither called to take part in
them nor supported them in any way. Instead, our comrades have been extremely active on
the ground (where we have the means, which are far less that we would like or need),
addressing meetings, talking at rallies, putting out leaflets and posters, explaining our
point of view and stressing the need to go beyond just a demand for independence. I don't
think anyone can say we have just given in to the nationalists!
- We know the attraction of anarchist movement on Catalan independence movement in
history. How is the situation now, what is the affect of anarchist movement in Catalonia now?
The anarchist and libertarian movement has, by no means, the influence and presence that
it once had in Catalonia. Back in the days, when nationalist politicians wanted to stir
the people into action to support their aims (as they are doing now), they had to go
through the anarchists and the CNT, who might decide to support them or not. It made sense
then to discuss the relationship between anarchism and nationalism on practical terms and
in particular situations.
Large as it can be, when compared to other parts of the world, the anarchist movement in
Catalonia is much smaller than it was in the 1930s and its ability to determine events is
negligible. Same with the CNT. Saying otherwise would be fanciful. The best we can hope
for is to influence matters, when there are large mobilisations, putting our message
across. This we are trying to do, as explained.
In this context, having arguments about whether one libertarian organisation's positions
are playing into the hands of the nationalists is wishful thinking. Nationalists are going
to play their hand anyway, because they don't need us to get the people out in the streets
anymore. Once they have put the wheels in motion, all we can do is trying to put our
message across and take matters beyond their intended original goals. Which is no small
task, considering our means, by the way. We can either do that, or stay away altogether
and watch events unfold passively. This is the only real option. As a revolutionary
organisation, CNT has decided not to shy away from the challenge.
All that said, my understanding is that there are different attitudes towards independence
among the anarchists. While groups like Embat share a similar analysis to ours (with
countless differences, no doubt), others have taken a decided anarcho-nationalist position
and support independence outright. The fact is that we have found common ground with some
anarchist organisations, to the extent that they featured in our call for the general
strike in Catalonia on the 3rd of October and in our joint propaganda.
- As CNT, you have organised a general strike for supporting the Catalan people against
the fascist reactions. Did the strike reach its aim in Catalonia and Spain?
The strike was only to take place in Catalonia on the 3rd of October, while many other
solidarity rallies were called for, across Spain, for that evening. It was organised
together with many other smaller unions, some closer to the nationalists, some more
libertarian-leaning, so it was a joint initiative.
In the days leading to the independence referendum on the 1st of October, the central
government had been building up a massive police presence across Catalonia to stop it from
happening. As was anticipated, the repression on the day was widespread. Many of us could
tell in advance that this would in turn lead to more protests and a period of civil
disobedience, which was indeed the case. As such, it was only natural for us to call for a
general strike, as the tool of choice for the unions and the working class in general, to
protest, but also to disrupt police operations.
The shared perception is that the strike was a success. Many people stopped working for
the day and tens of thousands joined the different rallies. In many towns, pickets blocked
the roads to prevent police reinforcements from getting in or from moving around, getting
As for CNT, we would have liked to be able to do more and have a larger presence across
Catalonia. While some unions, that have a strong local presence, were incredibly active
and successful, others were not so much, as their numbers are smaller, they are less
active, or both. But altogether it was well worth it. Having CNT pickets in towns with
banners reading "for liberties and rights! Bring down the regime!", or comrades addressing
thousands strong rallies with our distinctive message can only be viewed as positive.
One thing worth mentioning, is that this was the first time in some 40 years, that a
general strike was organised by alternative unions, without the two mainstream business
unions being involved. That's a change of paradigm for you, right there. On this respect,
it was a resounding success.
I also have to mention the solidarity that many comrades across the globe have shown,
organising pickets or rallies in Spanish embassies, putting up our statements, etc. As you
might know, CNT is in the process of creating a new international, together with our
sister organisations, FAU, USI, FORA, IWW, etc. This has already strengthened our ties
(and it shows, there were more than 50 events on the 3rd across the globe!), while many
other organisations, including DAF, have expressed their solidarity in many different
ways. We can't be thankful enough to all of you.
- Another referandum had occured in Basur(South) Kurdistan. And Iraq is getting control of
the cities of Kurdistan one by one. Turkey and Iran are also supporting this situation.
How do we understand all of these events, if we want to read the Kurdistan and Catalonia
referandum together? Is it something like a wave in whole world?
Yes, and there was also a referendum in Scotland which might be repeated soon after the
vote on Brexit!
Has the dead bell for the nation state been told? I'm afraid not. If you look at these
events, they aim at creating new states, as is the case in Basur. Barzani's project for an
independent oligarchic petrol state is similar in many ways to the Catalan leaders' idea
of statehood. Different flag and language, same old structures and economy. Maybe there's
a global trend towards breaking lager states into smaller ones, I don't know, but this
wouldn't necessarily be a positive development.
Some anarchists argue for independence saying that the smaller the state, the easier it is
to fight against it. Sure! That's why San Marino and Monaco (or the Vatican City, for that
matter) are long stablished libertarian communist societies. Jokes aside, it's difficult
to see how smaller states that are the outcome of a long communal struggle for
independence are going to be less homogeneous and easier to crack than larger colonialist
Instead, what I find extremely compelling are the examples of society building from below
that we have in Rojava and many other Kurdish communities. Specially since, in accordance
with democratic confederalism, they do away with the notion of the nation state. I think
these examples provide a clue to the whole situation and are an inspiration to all.
Because what we see globally is a breaking down of the tacit pact that has kept
"democratic" societies going on for decades. As the economic crisis ravaged many societies
across the world, from 2007 onwards, and it became obvious that the elites (political and
economic, this including business unions) could no longer guarantee the expected level of
income to the working class, waves of unrest swept across the world. In some places, this
meant the rise of xenophobic fascist politicians, in some others, massive protest
movements. Mix this with countless local factors and some years later you have certain
local elites at the forefront if independentist movements.
Is this another case of "change everything, so everything stays the same"? I don't know,
it doesn't really matter. What matters is if this energy can be harnessed towards deep
revolutionary change, beyond the original plans of the politicians.
We can only find the answer to this question by pushing in that direction.
Thanks for the answers. We salute the struggle of CNT.
Thank you to Meydan Newspaper for letting us explain our views.
This interview was published in the 41. volume of Meydan Newspaper
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