Catalonia after the storm: Tomás Ibáñez

El Roto

The debate among anarchists around the Catalan independence movement continues unabated.  From a distance, as always, it is difficult to follow events, to grasp all that is at stake, to draw reasonably clear conclusions.  It is however our conviction that the events are important (not only to understand what is going on, but also to understand the position of anarchists with regards to a mass movement of national self-determination) enough to justify our ongoing concern to present, in translation, some of the protagonists in this controversy.

We share below an essay by Tomás Ibáñez, published earlier this month, on the 1st of December, in response to an essay by Santiago López Petit, and which follows earlier interventions by him on the anarchists in the Catalan referendum.

We can only leave to more informed readers or participants in the events, the judgement of where the truth lies.

And we close with a brief note by Octavio Alberola, added here as a kind of coda to Ibáñez’s essay.

Catalonia after the storm

Tomás Ibáñez (alasbarricadas)

Everything that is constructed from below is good … unless it rises upon pedestals prepared from above …

With the electoral campaign about to begin [it will end with the vote of the 21st of December] and we return to contemplate the insufferable spectacle of the competition between political parties to reap the maximum number of votes, perhaps it is a good moment to assess the intense period of confrontation between the government and the Spanish State, on the one hand, and the candidate to be a Catalan State, on the other; a confrontation in which were involved many revolutionary groups, along with anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who thought that it was necessary to take sides, that it was essential to be where the people were, and that the choice had to be made to struggle.

Today, the question does not consist in knowing if it made sense to collaborate, from an anarchist perspective, with a project whose ultimate goal was the creation of a State, nor whether it was coherent to participate in the contest led by Catalan nationalism.  Now, it is much more a matter of knowing if the part of the anarchist movement that involved itself in this battle will weigh the pros and cons of its course, or if, on the contrary, it will elaborate an account that will allow it to justify its participation in the conflict, in search of the confirmation that finally it did what was most appropriate in a situation that was undoubtedly complex.

What is certain is that the principal arguments of this account are already shaping up and pointing to a mythification of certain events, greatly magnifying them.  If it were only a matter disparities between different subjective evaluations of these events, the issue would not be worrying.  Its relevance lies in when we deceive ourselves about how the path that we followed was, as a consequence of which we engender a series of blind spots that cloud our perception of how, and where to, continue moving forward.

This account picks up on the unquestionable fact that the Catalan defiance presented some facets capable of motivating the participation of those who show discomfort with the existing status quo.  In effect, the conflict set off in Catalonia mobilised those who desired to move towards a more just and more free society, with tints of participatory democracy, accompanied by a few ant-capitalist brushstrokes, and who were opposed, to mention only a few problems:

    • to the regime of 78, to the shameful pacts of the transition, to the monarchy, to the bi-partisan monopolisation of political power, and to the sacralisation of the constitution.
    • to the right-wing and authoritarian government of a Popular Party, corrupt and set on cutting social rights and freedoms.
    • to police repression and the violence of its interventions
    • to the obstacles to the free self-determination of peoples

Who threw themselves into the struggle are right in signaling the plurality of the aspects that justified their participation.  Nevertheless, they would deceive themselves if they do not recognise, at the same time, that the reins of the battle against the Spanish State were completely in the hands of the Catalan government and their nationalist associates (the ANC and Ómnium Cultural), with the unique objective of forcing negotiation for a new division of power, and to obtain, in the future, the recognition of the Catalan State.

They would also deceive themselves if they did not realise that the politically, and not only socially, transversal character of the Catalan conflict responded in large measure to the absolutely necessary imperative that the architects and leaders of the onslaught against the Spanish State had of constructing the only weapon capable of conferring upon them a certain capacity of resistance before their powerful adversary, namely, the magnitude of popular support in the streets, where it was vital to gather together as many parts of the society as possible and, therefore, also, many disparate sensibilities.

The justificatory account that is beginning to appear rests considerably on the mythification of the days of the 1st and 3rd of October, and a passage through the over-valorisation of the capacity of popular self-organisation that was evident around the defense of the ballot boxes.

The 1st of October was without a doubt a considerable success, not only because of the enormous affluence of voters, at a number impossible to verify, but because a mockery was made of all of the obstacles raised by the government.  Nevertheless, we mislead ourselves when we ignore that if so many people went to the polls, it was also because they were asked to do so by the highest political authorities of the country, from the entire Catalan government, to the mayor of Barcelona, along with more than 80% of all the mayors of Catalonia.

It is entirely true that the prohibitions of the Spanish government were disobeyed, but it is also no less true that the instructions of another government and of many institutional authorities were obeyed.

The mythification of the 1st of October also basis itself on the magnification of the capacity of self-organisation of the people in defense of the voting ballots, forgetting that in parallel to the praiseworthy displays of self-organisation, that this defense also relied upon, throughout the whole of the Catalan territory, the disciplined intervention of thousands of activists of political parties and organisations committed to independence (from the ERC to the CUP, and from the ANC to Ómnium Cultural).  To place the emphasis on the unquestionable examples of self-organisation should not completely occlude the verticality of one organisation that counted on people trained for years to comply scrupulously and with discipline in the demonstrations of the 11th of September to the instructions received from the leaderships of the independentist organisations.  [The reference is to the ANC and its role in the organisation of the Catalan National Day parades in recent years, on the 11th of September].

We already know, even if only by direct experience, that disobedience against authority, confrontation with the police and the collective struggle against repression solicit intense and unforgettable sensations that weave strong bonds of solidarity and affectivity between strangers that suddenly merge into a “we” charged with political meaning and combative energy.  This is a part of the most precious legacy of struggles and amply justifies the enthusiasm with which we value them.  However, it should not serve as an excuse to deceive ourselves.  Although it amounted to a resounding failure for the Spanish State, the 1st of October does not mark a before and an after,  and does not gather together the conditions necessary to pass into history as one of the most emblematic acts of spontaneous popular resistance; and we fool ourselves if we do believe so.

The 3rd of October was also a memorable day in which the country was paralysed and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets.  Nevertheless, if we do not want to mislead ourselves and mythify this event, we must admit that the general strike, however much the “alternative” labour unions [largely anarchist and/or independentist, in opposition to the labour unions of “power”, the CCOO and UGT] encouraged it with efficiency and enthusiasm, it would never have had the success that it had without the convocation, by the Mesa por la democracia [“Committee for democracy”] (comprised of the majority labour unions, a part of the business world, and the large independentist organisations), to “stop the country”, and because the government supported the stoppage of the country, closing its different agencies and assuring the strikers that they would not be docked a day’s pay.

Th constant and multitudinous capacity of mobilisation demonstrated by broad segments of the Catalan population in the months of September and October has given rise to the thesis that the government feared losing control of the situation.  It is certain that fear played an important role in the erratic behaviour of the government during these months, but it was not the fear of an eventual loss of control promoted by the more radical elements involved in the mobilisations that explains that multiple renunciations of the Catalan authorities, but rather the progressive awareness that they could not outmaneuver their adversary and that this latter had sufficient resources of power to seriously penalise them.

A third dimension that certain libertarian groups, some of them involved in the Comités de Defensa de la República, are mythifying has to do with the perspective of building a republic from below.

Perhaps because I lived for decades in a republic (the French), perhaps because my progenitors never fought for a republic, but to build libertarian communism, and had to confront republican institutions, I fail to see the necessity of placing under the republican umbrella the effort to construct a society that tends to make disappear domination, oppression and exploitation.

I cannot understand the reason why we should turn to conventional schema that only seem to allow distinguishing between monarchy, on the one hand, and republic, on the other.  It is well to repeat that to struggle against monarchy does not imply to struggle for a republic, and that our struggle need not be tied to a juridical-political form of society, but to the social model that we advocate (anti-capitalist and belligerent with regard to any form of domination).  The objective should not be expressed in terms of “constructing a republic from below”, but in terms of “constructing a radically free and autonomous society“.

For this reason it seems interesting to me to take up the expression used by Santiago López Petit in a recent article published in El Critic (in Castilian here), when he states: “From a logic of State (and from the desire for a State), it will never be possible to change a society”, but insisting, for my part, that society will also not be changed by any “desire for a republic”.

Of course, after the storm that has shaken Catalonia during these last months, we should not allow it to be followed by dead calm.  It is necessary to work so that the accumulated energies are not lost, the complicities established do not dissipate, and so that the shared hopes do not whither.  It is not a matter of beginning again from scratch, but of using what has been done to pursue another “doing” that avoids the activist diaspora.  To mend forces is not an easy task, but to achieve it, it is fundamental to reconsider the mistakes made and, above all, to not mislead ourselves by magnifying the more spectacular moments of struggles and overvaluing some of their more positive aspects.

Of course, whether anarchist or not, every person is free to put a slip of paper in a ballot, if s/he so desires.  However, the last thing that we need in these times is for anarchists to also join in, even if only indirectly, in the current Catalan electoral contest, thinking that this is the way to keep alive the hope for a revolutionary change, or, more prosaically, believing that this is the way to move towards the end of the regime of 78.  López Petit laments in his text, cited above, that instead of accepting to participate in imposed elections, that the political parties should have ignored “the possibility of sabotage with massive and organised abstention.”  This is, to my understanding, the option that libertarian groups should adopt, and carry in practice, in the face of the 21st of December.

Abstention is insufficient …

To not participate in this new electoral snare is the least that Catalan libertarians should do; but it seems to me to be insufficient to overcome the tensions created between them by the decision of some to “take sides” in the conflict between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism over the question of self-determination.

I believe that in addition to continuing to maintain ourselves coherent, in the refusal to vote in the elections called by the state institutions, the libertarians should take advantage of the occasion, of the institutional independentist fiasco, to open up a broad debate around this experience and current social struggles; with the aim of sharing this experience with all of those segments of Catalan society who have felt cheated by the behaviour of the independentist parties in accepting to enter again into the institutional/constitutional fold.  A debate to see how not to waste “the accumulated energies” and not allow the “established complicities” to fade, no “the shared hopes” to whither”.

This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Catalonia after the storm: Tomás Ibáñez

  1. eric d. meyer says:

    As an outsider, I don’t see how abstention from voting accomplished anything. The Spanish government performed a classically totalitarian gesture by declaring a state of emergency under Article 155 (Agamben’s state of exception) and attempting to crush the Catalan separatists. When that didn’t work, Spain attempted to coerce Catalonians into ratifying Spanish rule by calling for a vote designed to make Catalonians willingly submit to Spanish rule by plebiscite. That didn’t work either. The current vote shows Catalonians support independence, even if only by a slim majority (but that’s democracy). And even if there are right-wing nationalist elements among the independistas, it’s hard not to believe they should be supported against the Spanish government’s totalitarian gesture. Will self-styled anarchists stand by now if Spain decides upon a display of force to enforce its sovereign monopoly on violence over its dissident region? I cannot say what I’d do, I’m an American, and I spend my spare time opposing American foreign policy when I can in book reviews and elsewhere. I oppose political violence, whether statist or anarchist. And I don’t think anybody wants another Spanish Civil War, considering how the last one worked out. But it appears that Spanish and Catalonian citizens, whether democrats republicans libertarians anarchists anarcho-syndicalists or whatever, are being forced to make a choice between two lesser evils. And it looks like the righteous choice is to stand for Catalonian independence against Spanish sovereignty and the rule of superior violence, whether by voting or otherwise, even if, in the long term, Catalonia might be better off as part of a different Spain. Not Rajoy’s Spain, not Franco’s Spain, but a Spain that respects Catalonian desires for independence. And if Spain doesn’t respect those desires, maybe somebody has to stand up for them, despite the odds? And maybe work to free the Catalan politicians jailed by Spain? And maybe worry about your anarchist revolution later? So I think, but I’d be glad to stand corrected, if I’m wrong…

  2. Julius Gavroche says:

    Abstention for anarchists has never been taken for passivity before politics or society. And therefore, in defending an active abstention in Catalonia, anarchists do seek to continue to act and to offer examples of other ways of struggling for autonomy, outside a nationalist framework.

    The Spanish government’s totalitarian gesture has been preceded by many such gestures by the regional Catalan government. The Catalan government’s crackdown, in recent years, on the 15M movement, anarchist collectives, occupations, etc., are but a series of examples of such authoritarianism. (See:;

    The vote does suggest that most Catalans support independence. But by the most narrow of margins. You write: “but that’s democracy”. But is that not precisely the problem of democracy, when conceived of within the framework of sovereign, and in this instance, State power? Why should almost half of the population simply embrace a new State, a new State that they do not want? Will then this new State impose itself on the large “minority”? The questions-debate lead to a violent political dead-end.

    Perhaps then instead of seeking the “righteous choice”, we should instead seek to make those choices that extend the spaces of autonomy, for everyone. Contrary to what you state, there are not only two choices before the Spanish and the Catalans. And to believe so, is to confine political possibility to the prison cell of State authority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.