The Struggle for Catalonian Independence and Art

82 years after the Asturias Revolt, and 78 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War Republican unrest is now mobilized enough again that politicians in Catalonia believe that independence from Madrid is a possibility. Spain has always had a special place in my heart and thus I’ve been closely following the events in Catalonia regarding their movement for independence. As a populist movement not only does it’s development lend itself to new forms of art, which I will briefly talk about below, but it also allowed President Maduro of Venezuela to troll Prime Minister Rajoy with the phrase, “Who’s the Dictator Now?” after Rajoy was critical Maduro’s response to U.S. backed attempts to destabilize the country and to bolster indigenous people’s attempts to create their own national governments, like in Kurdish Iraq. Massive Social Mobilization Across Catalonia These photos show the millions of participants in the protests that were part of the huelga general (general strike) called for by all the Catalan trade unions. According to the Catalan government the general strike was the largest economic paralyzation in the history of Catalonia. Reports I’ve read state how one of the many chants that  reverberated in dozens of cities across Catalonia, was “The streets will always be ours!” The reason for this stems from the fact that people were upset with Spanish state repression and police violence against the #CatalanReferendum, in which 90% of the voters voted for independence from Spain. Their claim that the streets belong to them reflects the fact that police from outside the region had to be brought in to control it.

Workers Against the State While the police were celebrated by small crowds in other regions for the oppression they would bring to their neighbors, Catalonian farmers blocked the ports to prevent more police officers from coming in, to prevent police vehicles from coming in and to otherwise hamper the movement of those that were already brought off shore to “reign in” the movement. The Huelga General, or General Strike, called by the Catalan unions is supposed to be the largest in history and has paralyzed commerce throughout the region.

The State Against Workers and Democracy 

“The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” – Leon Trotsky

Not all social services workers were willing to fight for the status quo, here we see firefighters that are attempting to keep the police from preventing people from going to polling stations. Other powerful photos of what’s going on there depict ballot boxes connected by chains to large concrete blocks to prevent police from confiscating them. Reports from all outlets depict greater  90% of those that voted wanted independence.

Is History Repeating Itself?

Let’s clean them out! – 2017 Comrade Lenin is Cleaning the World of Scum – 1917

100 Years on from the Russian Revolution and it is still inspiring people around the world trying to get free from oppression and exploitation. While reading some Spanish language news media, I came across the above poster on the right and was tinkled pink (or is tinkled red more appropriate here?) as it is a variation of the famous Lenin poster that I placed on the right. While the forces driving Catalonian independence are nationalist and not anti-capitalist – the region’s history as a Libertarian Communist/Radical Republican stronghold during the Civil War are well documented.

Or is History Adapting to the Conditions of the Present?

While I found myself resonating with the Escombrem Los! image and the illustration above to the left as it combines a famous photo by Robert Capa called Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936  with a depiction of the current suppression – this is one of the examples where historically powerfully iconography is repackaged in a way that’s not really appropriate. The anti-monarchic sentiment may be the same and there is similar dissatisfaction with the government on it’s spending choices – it’s not an international revolutionary movement.

The Future is Unwritten, But Has Certain Limits Brexit, massive youth unemployment and brain drain to Germany, growing nationalist movements – the hopes for a united European Union is starting to unravel. Just like the Catalonian independence movement is not likely to become a clarion even for those disaffected with the neoliberal world order nor is it that Catalonia will again be a testing ground for new weapons. And yet these historical images are still being used by those on the ground now as a reference for understanding the present.

While this is to be expected, it’s worth recalling Karl Marx’s famous quote on the subject: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

A More Appropriate Art of Protest

While there are certainly groups within the Catalan nationalist movement that wish to make the referendum for nationhood similarly a vote for socialism, this is a vocal but small group.

Because of this, I believe, a more appropriate aesthetic is less that which pulls from a revolutionary tradition and more one that sees it as solely a transfer of powers. It’s a lot less sexy, but a lot more accurate. It’s also a lot more dangerous, as continuing the state in this regard will not necessarily ameliorate the anxieties expressed in such social mobilization and opens up the way for new ones.

The Return of Fascistic Unity

Embed from Getty Images

Regardless of one’s position on Catalan independence, it’s worth noting the strong similarities with those against it and those that wish to make the United State a white ethno-state. It’s said that a picture says a thousands words, so notice the swastika tattoos on this anti-independence Catalan demonstrator at a National Unity rally in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day on September 1.

The struggles in the street over symbols, history and power will continue so long as profound dissatisfaction with the distribution of political and economic power continues. However, reliance upon old verities such as nationhood or race that once made people feel secure will not provide a genuine out for such problems. I hope that the electoral aspirations of the Catalonians are achieved, but also feel that should independence happen the hopes that they have will soon be lost given what will be their diminished power in the current world order.

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