What about the Catalan anarchists?

It doesn’t seem like violent state repression of the Catalan independence referendum is that great an idea. If I were an undecided resident, I can’t fathom desiring to remain a part of Spain after the events of the past weekend.

In an area steeped in the romantic ideals of early 20th century anticapitalist movements, I found myself wondering how contemporary Catalan anarchists perceived the independence movement. It’s certainly not intuitive that they would support the secession from one state and the creation of another. Thankfully Crimethinc has it covered:

Anarchists hadn’t thought about what to do in relation to this movement until the referendum was approaching and the Spanish state began to crack down on civil liberties. Faced with the censorship imposed by the state, a large number of anarchist groups from different parts of Barcelona, who have already been organized in their own neighborhood assemblies and social centers, decided to give support to the local independentista movements.

Within the anarchist movement, there are people who support the referendum itself, and also people who don’t. Independentist people are demanding basic democratic rights and civil liberties, such as the right to vote, and some anarchists believe that anarchists should be out there with them. There are also people involved in the independence movement who we lost track of years ago when the political parties like CUP and Podemos that gained momentum after the 15M movement in 2011 institutionalized the energy from the streets. Now, with the referendum, people are returning to the streets, so we decided it was an important moment for us to be out there too. But this has created a good deal of debate within and between anarchist collectives, because we are definitely not coming from the same place politically as many of the independentistas.

For us, it has been really complicated. For me personally, sure, I hold contradictory positions all the time, like supporting certain reformist campaigns or engaging with single issue movements… but to defend a democratic process towards national dependence… it’s very hard to figure out where I stand. Many of the comrades in our neighborhood are trying to figure it out too.

Many of us went home yesterday very annoyed, because we had a lot of differences with what was happening. About two weeks ago, the anarchist collective here in my neighborhood had a discussion about whether or not to defend the process of national “self-determination.” There were many people close to us, with whom we share a lot of political affinity, who said it was better to struggle against the institutions of a Catalan state because it would be a smaller state. Many people also supported the process in hopes of destabilizing the Spanish state, because at the moment the Spanish state is very weakened. It’s a moment that could tip either way.

Personally, I don’t like either of the options. We can’t lose track of where we stand as anarchists. I think we should be supporting people in the streets, but I truly believe the worst thing that could happen to us would be if a Catalan state gained independence. In the end, it’s just a way to legitimize the social and political exclusions that exist today to believe that we’d have more control over them in a smaller state. But it’s hard for people to see a Catalan state as something other than their own, especially after struggling for years to achieve it.

I too have mixed thoughts. I’m totally all for a group of people leaving their nation-state if they so choose. But is what follows going to be better? Of course, as someone who doesn’t reside in the area, my opinion is completely irrelevant. However, in cases like this, one should always be cognizant of the odious themes of nationalism, and its associated bigotries of xenophobia and racism.

Catalonia, Kurdistan, Rojava, Scotland, Palestine, the Donbass, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Chiapas – these are only a few of many examples of unease within sovereign countries that are decades, if not centuries in the making. Many of these are bound to come to a head sooner than later. Though each situation is contextually different and related to their geopolitical particulars, they are associated thematically with the ongoing death spasms of neoliberalism, and the very real possibility of fracturing nation-states on the horizon. As to what comes next, and whether or not it will be for the better, who can say?



  1. Siobhan says

    Spain’s civil liberties have always been quite weak, the Spanish state is quite fond of suppressing activists. It’s not a given that a nationalist movement would have better rights in general, since they’re usually premised on rights for an ethnic group. But yeah, Spain continues to be a hotbed of anarchist philosophy because the Franco era only ever became more polite, not less brutal.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the ongoing death spasms of neoliberalism…

    Eh what? With the possible exception of the TPP getting aborted, last time I looked neolibs were gaining ground globally.

    • says

      We probably look in different places. Briefly, I’m referring to Brexit, Trump (though he appears to be embracing globalism to Bannon’s dismay), and the rise of xenophobic nationalist movements in Europe.

  3. says

    Complicated matters are complicated, eh?
    I can understand the catch-22 they’re caught in.
    I think throwing your lot in with people like Puigdemont is delusional. It strikes me a lot like those people who were voting for a “Lexit”, a left leaning British exit from the EU and who got the worst crack down on social welfare and civil liberties in ages. And even if they got their nice social policies, it will be on the basis of being no longer supporting other suffering communities in the rest of Spain. A lot of Catalan resentment stems from “having to pay for those people.
    But of course nothing in this justifies the re-emergence of Franco era police state practises.
    About two years or so ago my husband and I were talking about what would happen if Catalunya simply declared independence and he was like “yeah, I mean, what would Spain do? Send the army and shoot them down? This is the 21st century in western Europe!”. I’m afraid that’s exactly what they will do.