Juan-José López Burniol, 17-24 December 2022
On 17 August 1930, representatives of the Spanish republican parties and the Catalan nationalist parties met at the premises of the Republican Union in San Sebastián to join forces. They were all present: Lerroux and Azaña, for the Republican Alliance; Albornoz and Galarza, for the Radical Socialist Party; Alcalá-Zamora and Maura, for the Republican Liberal Right; Carrasco, for Acció Catalana; Mallol, for Acció Republicana; Aiguader, for Estat Català, and Indalecio Prieto and Fernando de los Ríos as individuals, since the PSOE had not wanted to join until the outcome of the meeting was known. Felipe Sánchez-Román and Eduardo Ortega y Gasset attended as guests.
Agreement was soon reached on a plan to proclaim the Republic, including a general strike and the need for the collaboration of socialists and CNT members. But the discussion with the Catalans was tough. Catalonia,” said Aiguader, “is more interested in her national freedom than in the Republic”. Maura asked for clarification, which Carrasco gave him by affirming that the mere proclamation of the Republic would mean de facto the most absolute independence for Catalonia. “So,” Albornoz replied, “you are thinking of taking advantage of the revolution to proclaim independence”.
The debate raged until Lerroux and Alcalá-Zamora – who, according to him, “guided the discussion towards concord” – satisfied the Catalans at the cost of leaving the commitments made to the interpretation of those present, which was the subject of many subsequent discussions, “as there was no written clarification of the meeting”, although Prieto did draw up a summary, according to Josep Contreras.
In reality – according to Contreras – “the concession was due to the fact that neither the Catalan nationalists had sufficient strength to consider formulas close to independence, nor could the Spanish Republicans do without Catalonia in the process of eroding the monarchy”. But the vagueness of the conclusions led to the emergence of disparate interpretations. The Republicans insisted on the authority of the future constituent Cortes to approve or reject the Statute of Catalonia, while the Catalan nationalists upheld the popular right to self-determination.
The agreement between socialists, pro-independence and republicans was stable and long-lasting.
During September and October, Alcalá-Zamora and Azaña met with representatives of the PSOE and UGT, including Besteiro, Cordero and Saborit, and it was agreed that both parties would support a revolutionary republican movement. And finally, on 20 October, a joint meeting of the executive committees of the PSOE and the UGT was held, at which it was decided to join the San Sebastian pact and to participate in the future provisional government of the Republic with three ministers. The resolution was passed by eight votes to six. Largo Caballero, De los Ríos, Ovejero, Santiago, Gana, Henche, Cordero and Carrillo voted in favour; Besteiro, Saborit, Anastasio de Gracia, Lucio Martínez, Aníbal Sánchez and Trifón Gómez voted against. Largo Caballero, De los Ríos and Prieto were appointed to the revolutionary committee and later to the government. The dice was cast.
On 12 December the garrison of Jaca revolted, but it was quickly overrun by forces loyal to the government; and at 2 p.m. on the afternoon of the 14th, after being convicted in a summary trial, Captains Galán and García Hernández were shot. Events then moved quickly and, after the elections won by the Popular Front, the Republic was proclaimed on 14 April.
I remember this in order to bear in mind two facts that are useful for understanding the present and envisaging the future: 1) The San Sebastián Pact generated a powerful and lasting coalition which, despite its internal conflicts, held firm throughout the Second Republic and the Civil War. 2) What united this coalition of interests was only opposition to a common enemy (the Restoration regime, including the monarchy), since the objectives of its members were diverse and even opposed.
I closed my last piece by recalling two facts from our recent history: “1) The San Sebastián Pact generated a powerful and lasting coalition which, despite its internal conflicts, remained firm throughout the Second Republic and the Civil War. 2) What united this coalition of interests was only opposition to a common enemy (the Restoration regime, including the monarchy), since the objectives of its members were diverse and even opposed”.
And I begin this new text with two ideas: 1) The coalition that today sustains the government is so resilient that, despite its internal conflicts, it will complete the current legislature and may repeat itself after the next general election. 2) What unites this coalition of interests is only opposition to a common enemy (the “fascist” right), since the objectives of its members are diverse and even opposed. In other words, the current government is an executive compacted more by what it repudiates than by what it wants.
How was this coalition formed? It is well known. Pedro Sánchez (or was it Pablo Iglesias?) forged an alliance to oust Rajoy through a no confidence vote, which Rajoy allowed to prosper with his usual passivity. And, after two general elections were called, given the impossibility of forming a government after the first, Sánchez ended up agreeing with Podemos on a coalition government supported by the pro-independence parties and other regional powers, not without having denied it beforehand. According to Rubalcaba, it would be a “Frankenstein government” to be mended from a wide range of scraps, like Mary Shelley’s monster; a government with the support of the pro-independence parties, “who want to break that” which the socialists want to govern: the Spanish nation.
Time has shown that Rubalcaba’s diagnosis was wrong: it has not been an ephemeral government and, moreover, it has ample possibilities of lasting for another legislature. For what reasons?
1) It is a legitimate government, so the absurd attacks on its legitimacy, far from damaging it, have consolidated it. It will be good or bad, but it is legitimate.
2) It is a government that has got its social policies right: it has raised the minimum wage, created the minimum living income, reduced precariousness in the labour market, implemented measures to fight the energy crisis and inflation that have benefited the most needy citizens…
3) It is a government that has emerged at a time of deep crisis, which has been rejected by the establishment (including the old socialist guard), which considers it responsible for passing the costs of the crisis on to the lower and lower-middle classes.
4) It is a government backed by a new “indignant” generation of young Spaniards, sentimentally alienated from the transition, battered by the crisis, and which has seen an obscene inequality grow that clogs the social lift.
This alliance can remain in power after the elections and “will bring out everything it has in it”.
This does not prevent this government from giving in to pro-independence demands to ensure its parliamentary support under the pretext of the “deflation” of Catalonia, and also practising a deliberate “colonisation” of the institutions (especially the judiciary and the TC), to which the PP’s unacceptable filibustering has contributed.
Pedro Sánchez has been decisive in all this because of his great capacity for a certain type of political action (courage, perseverance, risk-taking, versatility and lack of prejudice), and because of his ideological elasticity, which gives him a lightness and agility for pacts that always ensure a short-term solution. So much so that the old PSOE has disappeared and “now they rule” with other ideas.
In short, this coalition is stronger than its opponents would like and may remain in power after the next elections. And then it will “bring out – as the folkloric women used to say – everything it has in it”: the right to self-determination?; the Canadian way?, the Scottish way?, the liquidation of the ’78 regime?, a confederal Republic as a goal…? God knows. But, in any case, it is a coalition in good health.