Independence Movements and All Peoples’ Right of Self Determination – The Case of Catalonia

Catalonia’s Independence Referendum – held on October 1, 2017 in defiance of the Spanish state’s ban and violent suppression – focused international attention (for awhile) upon key democratic issues.

Vital debates have flared up over issues core to our 21st century understanding of “real democracy” – issues like

  • Where is the line that demarcates democracy and totalitarianism?
  • Upon what foundation rests the legitimacy of the democratic nation-state? Is it (as affirmed in the UN International Bill of Human Rights) the degree to which it upholds the will and furthers the welfare – that is, the life, liberty and security – of its constituency?
  • Should decision-making power reside with those impacted by the decisions or with distant authorities?

Polls taken prior to the referendum period showed 40% of Catalans to support independence, with the vast majority of Catalans wanting at least the right to decide – that is, the right of Catalonia’s semi-autonomous regional government to freely hold an independence referendum. And yet:

“It is not often that a plebiscite is banned in a democracy but that is exactly what happened in the case of the… Catalan independence referendum in Spain… held on Oct. 1.”
Bruno Roeber and Aicha El Hammar, September 26, 2017, What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum 


The Spanish government’s attempted suppression of Catalonia’s independence referendum by brute force has raised urgent questions for fellow EU members about Spain’s adherence to democratic norms, 42 years after the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, did everything he could to derail a referendum that the courts had deemed illegal, but his pleas and threats were not persuasive. That is democracy. Rajoy’s subsequent choice to employ physical force to impose his will on civilians exercising a basic democratic right carried a chill echo of Spain’s past and a dire warning for the future. That is dictatorship.

Madrid’s pugnacious stance, while widely condemned as a gross and shameful over-reaction, has nevertheless sent a problematic message to would-be secessionists everywhere.

It is that peaceful campaigns in line with the UN charter’s universal right to self-determination, campaigns that eschew violence and rely on conventional political means, are ultimately doomed to fail.
Simon Tisdall, 2 October 2017, Ripples from Catalan referendum could extend beyond Spain

On the Feasibility of Catalonia attaining its Independence – Within the Current System

How attainable is the goal of Catalonia’s Independence Movement? Within the current geopolitical context, what hopes have the Catalan People – or any of the world’s peoples – for the meaningful realization of their democratic right of self determination?

“In practice, a declaration of independence seems unworkable… Foreign governments and international institutions would deem the declaration invalid, turning Catalonia into a pariah state within Europe.”
Stephen Burgen, 3 October 2017, Thousands protest and strike over Catalonia referendum violence The Guardian

Spokesperson for the Peoples Unity List (CUP), Quim Arrufat, examines the feasibility of attaining Catalonia’s independence through available legal channels, and concludes:

“It is almost impossible.
“So as long as you operate inside the system,
you will be ruled by laws agreed to by the Francoists.”
Quim Arrufat, derived from Dick Nichols and Denis Rogatyuk, August 26, 2017, Showdown in Catalonia, Green Left Weekly

Indeed. Neoliberal apologists anticipate a “continuation of the status quo” for the foreseeable future, as Ryan Barnes, Senior International Trade Specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, explains:

“Given the formidable political obstacles faced,
independence movements, despite rising in public favour,
are not likely to gain their sought-for independence.”

Ryan Barnes, January 10, 2013, ‘Evolution of Basque and Catalan Nationalism’ 

Democracy Anyone?

So. This is our situation – despite the fact that the nations of the world have all agreed upon, and legally pledged their commitments to uphold, the right of all peoples to self determination:

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

“All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, PART 1, Article 1
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, PART 1, Article 1

The Human Face of Self Determination
What would the Catalan People Do for Themselves were they to achieve their Independence?

So, let us enquire. What exactly would independence – or recognition of the Catalan people’s right of self determination – mean, in practical terms, for the Catalan community? How would Catalans futher their own interests – if they were free to do so?

We’ll answer this question by taking note of particular Catalonian legislations that the Spanish state has blocked (as reported by Dick Nichols and Denis Rogatyuk) by “using the Constitutional Court to suspend laws passed by the Catalan parliament. Leaving aside those related to the independence process, Madrid has used the court to block Catalan legislation on: energy poverty (stopping energy companies from cutting off gas and electricity to households too poor to pay their power bills); fracking (banned by Catalonia); gender equality (apparently not a “regional issue”); a vacant property tax (to force banks and real estate companies to make housing available); shopping hours (more restrictive in Catalonia); and the powers of the Catalan ombudsman to investigate human rights violations.”

Further to these serious policy matters of conflict, CUP spokesperson, Quim Arrufat, notes, “There are important points on our agenda that a majority of the population agrees with [that] would never be allowed in the Spanish state but would be allowed in a Catalan Republic, agreed to by other parties and the majority of the population.” Arrufat assures that most Catalans share common views upon such key issues as 1) whether Catalonia needs an army, or to be involved in NATO (no to both, according to Arrufat); 2) whether migrants should be permitted access to the public health system (contrary to Spanish policy, Arrufat attests that all Catalonians recognize the right of migrants to health care); 3) whether to facilitate the expansion and further development of Catalonia’s well-established cooperative model of worker and worker-owner cooperatives, or as Arrufat puts it, whether to further “the idea of building a mixed economic system based on a very strong public sector… a social economy based on the cooperative system” with, for example, “energy in public hands” (an economic model that is already popularly embraced, well-developed and successful in Catalonia).

Derived from Dick Nichols and Denis Rogatyuk, August 26, 2017, Showdown in Catalonia, Green Left Weekly

Catalonia’s independence movement – both on the streets and inside the regional government – is a broadly united front of numerous elements (including the parties alluded to below as CUP, JPS and CSQEP) – each pursuing their own, sometimes variant, policies. As such:

“In December 2016, the CUP joined JPS in rejecting the budget amendments of all other parties but submitted its own €760 million set of amendments. These would set up eleven special funds to finance a guaranteed minimum income, increased public housing, improved public education, stimulation of the cooperative economy, and the struggle against climate change and gender violence. However, the CUP’s budget amendments—like those of CSQEP—clash with the debt reduction strategy of the JPS government, which aims to have an independent Catalonia as free of debt as possible and whose budget does not violate Spanish and European debt reduction targets (or the instincts of the more conservative parts of the PDECat voting base).”
Dick Nichols, January 17, 2017, Catalonia versus the Spanish state: the battleground in 2017, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Perhaps CUP, JPS, and the Catalons generally, who are interested in furthering the immediate and long-term security and well-being of their community might well take note of the stunning results of the French Public Debt Audit: please see The French are Right! Tear Up Public Debt. In any case, the reader gets the idea about what independence – or self determination – would mean, in practical terms, for the Catalan people.

On the Feasibility of Catalonia attaining its Independence – Outside the Current System

“Surely no one believes the cause of Catalan independence will fade away after Sunday’s bloody confrontations that left hundreds injured. Rajoy’s actions may have ensured, on the contrary, that the campaign enters a new, more radical phase… Looked at in this broader context, the upheavals in Catalonia are part of a… multifaceted fracturing of the authority and legitimacy of the traditional, all-powerful, uniform nation state, and of the control exercised by mainstream centre-left and centre-right political parties.

“Catalonia’s brave and battered voters are in the vanguard of a new movement towards a Europe where identity is being radically redefined. If leaders and governments such as Rajoy’s remain stubbornly inflexible and refuse to bend, they risk being broken.”
Simon Tisdall, 2 October 2017, Ripples from Catalan referendum could extend beyond Spain

“Trends show that Catalan society and politics has experienced a broad leftward shift at the same time as the independence movement has grown to be the biggest mass movement in Europe.”
Dick Nichols, January 17, 2017, Catalonia versus the Spanish state: the battleground in 2017, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

“The unjustified, disproportionate and irresponsible violence of the Spanish state
has not only failed to stop Catalans’ desire to vote …
but has helped to clarify all the doubts we had to resolve…”
Carles Puigdemont


The political push for Catalan autonomy has existed since the 20th century and accelerated with the establishment of democracy in the 1970s, but a full-blown Catalan independence movement evolved after the fallout from the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Local Catalan political parties began to actively agitate for independence on the back of a failing national economy and a sense that the region was paying more in taxes than it was getting back in benefits.

“Spain convinced Catalans to become independent. They created this situation,” said Marc Gafarot, a political analyst at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs.

Bruno Roeber and Aicha El Hammar, September 26, 2017, What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum ABC News


So where is the democratic option for change?

The opportunity to build something different lies in Catalonia, where a majority exists based on the mix of people’s movements, nationalist movements and many other forces: this majority delegitimises the rule of Spanish state institutions.

We see here the opening of an historical opportunity, a chance for a decisive battle, that could be won or lost — it depends on whether we are active enough, able to build our own specific agenda within the independence process and able to create enough majorities for change.

If not, we will end up with a neoliberal Catalonia…

The Basque Country has a special status within Spain while Catalonia does not: constitutionally Catalonia is the same as, say, [the autonomous community of] Murcia. … Because of the economic compact between the Basque Country and the Spanish state, the Basque government collects taxes and then makes an agreement every year as to how much they will transfer for Spanish state purposes (for the armed forces, counter-terrorism etc). That gives them a lot of bargaining power.

The companies of the Basque Country are not based in Madrid, they stay in the Basque country, because their taxes pay for services there, acting as an economic multiplier. In Catalonia, taxes go to Madrid for the building of the Spanish state, as has been the case for more than 200 years.

Over the past 20 years the Spanish state has not seen any need to support the Catalan bourgeois and has let it decline. All savings and credit unions, which once formed a very strong regional financial network for the Catalan bourgeoisie, have disappeared from Catalonia.

For example, all investment by the state goes to Madrid or to the south — we have the same railway lines as 100 years ago. Many things that workers wouldn’t normally care about, but the bourgeoisie does, have been disregarded by the decision-making centres of the Spanish state.

Now, seeing their social and political support bases and activists demonstrating for independence, this bourgeoisie has no other alternative but to say: “Let’s take this decision to be independent, otherwise in 20 years we will be the same as the bourgeoisie of Murcia”, namely with an economy fuelled by speculation and with no real productive capacity. The Catalan bourgeoisie has seen an end to their cooperation with the Spanish state, provoked by the actions of that state.

Quim Arrufat, derived from Dick Nichols and Denis Rogatyuk, August 26, 2017, Showdown in Catalonia, Green Left Weekly

The Earth Holocracy Proposal

The Earth Holocracy Proposal is encapsulated in its Statement of Global Solidarity for Local Self Determination. It is a proposal for the grassroots establishment of a genuinely democratic system, a decentralized participatory democracy, a municipal confederalism. Its vision and strategies are game-changers that validate and render the goals of independence and secessionist movements world-wide attainable. The proposal facilitates the political empowerment of local communities – offering its Local Community Declaration of Rights to this purpose. It does so in the interests of attaining not only economic justice and real democracy – worthy goals in themselves indeed, but also in order to open the possibility for the people of the world, self-organized in their local communities, to implement the “sustainability revolution” in time, that is, in time for the current generation of humanity to pass on a living earth and a good life to future generations.

The proposal’s Local Community Declaration of Rights is designed for the political empowerment of place-based communities everywhere. The proposal’s fore-mentioned Statement of Global Solidarity for Local Self Determination is designed for building the effective unity of the world’s local communities in global solidarity. Where Indigenous Peoples have found themselves a minority in their own traditional lands and territories, the proposal’s strategy for achieving as meaningful a recognition of their formidable democratic rights as possible, is based upon the proposal’s Local Community Declaration on the Rights of the Local Indigenous People (wherein the people are entrusted with the job of realizing an authentically democratic system).

The Right of all Peoples to Self Determination

That the Catalan people are indeed “a people”, and are, therefore, entitled to freely exercise the right of all peoples to self determination, is without question, as clarified below:


Catalonia, located in northeastern Spain, is a semi-autonomous region with its own local parliament.

Catalans… have been part of a distinct entity since the 11th century and have their own language and traditions.

Catalonia has been a part of Spain since the 15th century. Its language and culture have remained over the centuries despite the region’s closer integration into the Spanish nation-state. The region was first given formal limited autonomy in the early 20th century. Catalan identity was brutally repressed under the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, who banned locals from speaking the regional language and giving children traditional Catalonian names. The pro-independence sentiment, however, remained strong in Catalonia.

After the death of Franco and the introduction of a democratic government, Catalonia’s unique identity and culture has been formalized and flourishes in modern democratic Spain. There are regional elections for parliament with an executive and local government and Catalan is the official language by law.

Bruno Roeber and Aicha El Hammar, September 26, 2017, What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum

Global Solidarity for Local Self Determination

The Earth Holocracy Proposal’s Statement of Global Solidarity for Local Self Determination encapsulates the proposal’s vision for a mutually-empowering “movement of movements” – a mass social movement to accomplish the imperative: to achieve sustainability and establish a genuinely democratic, decentralized system – from the grassroots.

It’s time to “flip the pyramid” – time for the people – the 99% – to unite in a mutually-empowering solidarity – effectively decentralizing power and wealth and liberating all peoples everywhere from the crushing domination of the neoliberal hegemony, the mere 1%.

Please contribute to this Vital Conversation by laving a Comment below. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

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