In all this great mess called the Procès, the Catalan independence "process", we can only be certain of three things: that no one really knows exactly what's happened, that no one knows what's happening and that no one knows what's going to happen. As such, it would be a good idea to turn to two great historical figures and ask how they'd see it: Clausewitz and Gandhi. If I choose this pair it's because I believe that one of the problems of the pro-union side is that they've not read Clausewitz well, and the great problem of the pro-independence side is that it's read Gandhi very badly.
Carl von Clausewitz was one of the great thinkers of the 19th century, however disagreeable his topic: war. Clausewitz's genius consisted of scientifically considering the phenomenon. This had to be done: war is inseparable from humankind, it even predates it. (Biology and archaeology show that hominids, whether neanderthals or chimpanzees, went to and go to war). Before Clausewitz, nobody had systematically responded to the great questions: what is war? Why do we go to war? And, above all: how do you win a war? (You don't have to be a military fanatic to read Clausewitz. The trick is to swap the word "war" for "conflict", and you can apply his theories to the office, family relationships, or even the ongoing tussle any pet owner has with their cat or dog).
Clausewitz, then, was the first to give a definitive response to the question "how do you win a war?": you win a war by destroying the enemy's army. Full stop. It's not about conquering the enemy capital, nor their natural resources, nor any other matter: the only sure-fire way to win a war is to destroy the enemy's armed forces. In a conflict like the one in Catalonia which is fortunately peaceful, we have to understand that the soldiers would be the voters. That's why I was saying that Spanish nationalism has never read Clausewitz: if the Procés is political and not military, the victories and defeats are political. As such, how can it claim that the independence movement is defeated if it won the last election, and with an absolute majority?
Among the public, Gandhi is better known than Clausewitz. Everyone knows that he was the founder of "non-violence" as a political practice. I have to admit that I've never liked him that much: Gandhi is one of those figures who are so, so, so good that, in the end, you'd turn on them. Few people know of his eccentricities: his wife was on the edge of death due to the rigorous vegetarian diet he imposed on her. And he never admitted the limits of his pacifist doctrine, useless as it is against barbarians: when, in 1938, he was asked what German Jews, suppressed by Hitler, should do, he replied that they should denounce their situation internationally. How? By collective suicide (!). After the war, when the genocide was revealed, Gandhi didn't correct himself. Quite the opposite. He maintained that the Holocaust showed the correctness of his proposal, because that way the death of the Jews would at least have had a point (!!!).
But that doesn't diminish his achievements. And it would be very interesting to ask them both, Clausewitz and Gandhi, or the great master of war and the great master of peace, for their opinion on the procés today. And the most astonishing thing is that they'd probably both have agreed on both the diagnosis of the situation and on the strategy to follow. Let's have a look.
Gandhi would look down on the large-scale Diades, the Catalan national days of every 11th September as useless ceremonies, folksy and self-satisfied. The great shows of strength of the independence movement are, in fact, contrary to the Gandhian spirit. Why? Because nothing ever happens. What's more, even when over a million people take part, the day after every 11th September, there's always some voice who decides to declare that "the separatist movement is finished" and act as if nothing happened. No. Gandhi's theory was satyagraha, which could be translated as "holding firm to truth". Satyagraha implies a non-violent fight which defeats the enemy without hate and without injuring them. (Did I misread that? Without hate and without harm. What a great moral and political invention!) The Gandhian praxis is active, not reactive. In other words, it's not a reaction against the adversary's actions, rather it looks to draw a reaction from the Power. More than that, it forces this Power to react one way or another: to use violence that's beneath it, or to accept the collective will it's confronted with. The only great proactive event the Procés has seen was the 1st October referendum, and there's one observable fact: the day after that, nobody dared declare that "the separatist movement is finished".
Most likely, Gandhi would have asked independence supporters: are you prepared to see the satyagraha through to the very end? In other words, to accept that the enemy might cause havoc among the population, very painfully so. Clausewitz's question, on the other hand, would be: do you have enough room for manoeuvre? In other words, enough people prepared to enact the satyagraha.
Clausewitz develops the concept of "centres of gravity". In other words, the enemy's most sensitive point, which you should direct your hits against to dislodge them or get them to surrender. Again, Spanish nationalism misread Clausewitz: it believed that the independence movement's "centre of gravity" was its leaders. Wrong. Imprisoning them only led to them winning votes. But what's the centre of gravity of the Spanish nationalist movement in Catalonia. Doubtlessly its institutions.
Gandhi wouldn't have hesitated over how to proceed: he'd have sent tens of thousands of volunteers, peaceful and disarmed, to surround the buildings of the main bodies of the Spanish state in Catalonia. Hundreds of thousands, if necessary. Or more. With him at their head. And he'd have presented an ultimatum: either the government calls a referendum or the crowds will peacefully occupy the buildings. That would give the Spanish government a dilemma as foreseeable as it would be unsolvable. They would only have two options: to shoot, causing a horrible bloodbath, or renounce control of the territory and grant it de facto independence. In either case it would lose. And in reality it's very doubtful that Madrid would open fire: in 21st century Europe, blood is politically unjustifiable. Not even all the Spanish nationalist fury could justify a massacre of defenceless members of the public who, at the end of the day, weren't even calling for independence, only the chance to vote on it. To vote!
But the fact is that Catalonia's leaders did none of that. Neither before nor after the 1st October. What's more: such an action wasn't even on their intellectual, strategic or emotional horizon. And the great question is why not.
The first idea that comes to mind is that the Catalan upper classes have been traditionally faint-hearted... and that they wanted to keep up the tradition. But that's not the case: the fact, irrefutable, is that the political leaders of the 1st October are in prison or in exile. The second explanation is more straightforward: that they didn't even consider it because, in reality, the political leaders were not like their base. But there's a third explanation that's even more convincing: that they didn't consider it because they were like their base.
It's possible that what Clausewitz called the "culminating point" has already happened: imagine if, on 3rd October, instead of a general strike there had been a national satyagraha action. Catalan history could have turned out differently. However, Gandhi's troops were millions of Indians with nothing to lose; the independence movement is made up of the Catalan middle class, with its mortgage, two kids and a subscription to the newspaper Ara. (Or La Vanguardia still!) People like that, people very proud that at none of their rallies is a single piece of paper thrown away not in a bin, would they be prepared to place themselves in front of an eighty-tonne tank?. The independence movement has shown it's very good in organising crowds. Handing out brightly-coloured t-shirts and carrying out large-scale chants. But a Republic isn't won through performances.
When I think of the majority of the independence movement, an anecdote from the 20s comes to mind. Shortly after the triumph of the Russian revolution, a group of German communists went to the USSR. Their instructor told Lenin: "yesterday, our German comrades did an exercise which consisted of assaulting and taking over a train station. Everything went very well: they occupied the key points of the platform, they took over the carriages and the locomotive with admirable discipline and perfect execution. But it seems to me they haven't grasped the revolutionary spirit". Lenin asked him why. The instructor replied: "Because, before entering the station, they queued up, in a perfect line, to buy their tickets".