‘This book is the child of doubt.’ So begins the book by first-time author Joan Coscubiela, offering some insight into the intellectual honesty of this historical and adroit Catalan trade union and communist leader.
And they are not idle words. To acknowledge the practical failure of the two fundamental principles of left-wing politics in the last fifty years can hardly be called insignificant. I am referring to not managing to integrate migrant workers in Catalonia under the ‘one people’ paradigm and the now questioned advisability of exercising the right to self-determination (‘perhaps it is not the wisest thing to do at this time’).
He defended both policies with a passion throughout his long political career, first as general secretary of the Comisiones Obreras union (1995-2008), then as a member of the Spanish parliament (2012-2015) and, finally, as a member of the Catalan parliament (2015-2017).
This is no small exercise in self-criticism by a man well-acquainted with political life in constitutional Spain since its very inception. At the same time, his biography serves as a useful inroad towards understanding the development of the present situation in Catalan society and the actions of its leading political figures from a historical perspective.
I recently spent quite some time carefully reading through the letter which Tarradellas wrote in 1981 about the risks which the ideology and attitude of Jordi Pujol (Catalan President 1980-2003) and its party Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) could pose to Catalonia.
Josep Tarradellas was one of the founders of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican left of Catalonia) in 1931 and the party leading the ongoing catalán secession movement.
He went on to become a Member of the Catalan Parliament and local Interior Minister in 1932, and then local Finance Minister four years later.
In 1954, he was appointed President of the Catalan Government-in-exile and then named President of the regional pre-autonomy government by Adolfo Suarez in 1977.
After 33 years in exile and aware of the complexity of Catalan society, his first words in the newly reinstated office of President of the Generalidad (Catalan government) proved revelatory of his political thinking and moral values: “Citizens of Catalonia, I am here at last!”, and not “Catalans, I am here at last!”.
This experienced statesman and authority on Catalan political history and its protagonists retired from office in 1980.
In 1981, he wrote a bitter letter to the population airing concerns which he himself admitted were “becoming almost morbid and had him more than worried” (paragraph 33 of the complete letter reproduced below).
Not so much a letter as a prophecy, his missive began with a criticism of Pujol – the president of the Government of Catalonia for the next 23 years- for refusing to permit the traditional “Viva España!” (and “Viva Cataluña!”) at the official handover ceremony the previous year (6).