A Brief History of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya
Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), literally the Republican Left of Catalonia, was formed in the working-class Barcelona district of Sants in March 1931.
Francesc Macià’s Estat Català, Lluís Companys Partit Republicà Català and Joan Lluhí’s group Opinió amongst others joined forces to face the forthcoming municipal elections that would lead to the declaration of the Second Spanish Republic on April 14th 1931.
As a left-wing Catalanist party, the main principles were the recognition of Catalonia as well as the defence of individual human rights and the redistribution of wealth.
Until then, the main Catalanist party had been the conservative Lliga Regionalista so ERC’s social programme supported trades union rights including the right to strike, the minimum wage, 8-hour working days, statutory holidays, insurance, pensions and adult education.
Led by Francesc Macià, who had been unanimously elected party president, Esquerra Republicana won the municipal elections in Catalonia in April 1931 with with 3,219 councillors campared with the Lliga Regionalista’s tally of 1,014.
Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic in accordance with the Pact of San Sebastián signed by virtually all Spanish Repblican parties in August 1930.
However, he was persuaded by the Spanish Republican government to back down and accept a Catalan Statute of Autonomy and the restoration of the Generalitat because of fear of a violent reaction from Spain’s right and military.
During the first term of office on Christmas Day 1933, Francesc Macià died and was succeeded by Lluís Companys as President of the Generalitat.
In 1934, Companys declared the Catalan Republic once again but the declaration was quickly put down by the Spanish authorities and Companys was arrested and imprisoned in what is known as the Events of October 6th.
The speech Companys made from the balcony of the Palau de la Generalitat included the following:
“Catalans! The monarchist and fascist forces that recently betrayed the Republic, have achieved their objective and gained power. At this solemn hour, in the name of the People and the Parliament, the Government I preside assumes all faculties of power in Catalonia, I proclam the Catalan State of the Spanish Federal Republic, and to reestablish and strengthen our relationship with the leaders of the general protest against fascism, I invite them to establish a Provisional Government of the Republic in Catalonia, which they will find in our Catalan nation the most generous impulse of fraternity in the common desire to build a free and magnificent Federal Republic. Catalans! The time is grave and glorious. The spirit of President Macià, the restorer of the Generalitat, accompanies us. Everyone to their posts and Catalonia and the Republic in everyone’s heart. Long live Catalonia! Long live the Republic! Long live Freedom!”
In the Spanish General Elections of 1936, Esquerra Republicana was part of the Popular Front that won a clear majority and Lluís Companys was released from jail and reinstated as President of the Generalitat of Catalonia.
On July 17th 1936, the military uprising against the democratically-elected Second Republic began and the coup d’etat of July 18th was put down in just 48 hours in Catalonia.
The Spanish Civil War broke out, which would last for three years and would be a general rehearsal for World War II.
Throughout the Civil War, ERC retained the Presidency of the Generalitat along with the position of First Minister and the Ministry of Governance and from September 1936, the Ministry of Finance as well.
The Civil War ended in 1939 and General Francisco Franco Bahamonde began the dictatorship, which would last for 36 years.
Of more than 70,000 ERC party members, half went into exile and a quarter were imprisoned, executed or were killed in the war.
President Companys was captured by the Gestapo, handed over to the Spanish government and was executed him firing squad on Montjuïc in Barcelona on October 15th 1940, which makes him the only democratically elected President in Europe to have been executed.
In 1945, the ERC Congress met in exile in Toulouse and named the ex-Councillor Josep Tarradellas Secretary General of the party, a role which he occupied until 1954 when he became Presiedent of the Generalitat-in-exile substituting Josep Irla.
From 1939 onwards, ERC was also clandestinely active within Catalonia and formed part of the anti-Francoist resistance under Manuel Juliachs and Jaume Serra.
At the end of World War II, in view of a possible defeat of fascism by the allies, the ERC leadership decided to increase presence amongst the clandestine anti-Franco resistance, of which they had formed part since 1939.
First Pere Puig, and then Joan Rodriguez-Papasseit were sent back to the interior, where they were involved in the Consell de la Democràcia Catalana in the Consell de Forces Democràtiques.
In 1952, Heribert Barrera returned to Catalonia and assumed effective leadership of the party.
For the Diada of 1964, ERC and other groups organised one of the first demonstrations since the beginning of the dictatorship and throughout the next decade, ERC was involved in the Consell Català del Moviment Europeu, the Secretariat de la Democràcia Social Catalana, the Coordinadora de Forces Polítiques, the Assemblea de Catalunya, the Consell de Forces Polítiques and other coordinated resistance to the Franco regime.
When Franco died in 1975, ERC held its 8th National Congress and Heribert Barrera was confirmed as leader.
For the elections to the Corts Constituents in 1977, ERC stood in coalition because, as a republican party, it was stil illegal.
At the 9th National Congress in 1977, Heribert Barrera was elected general secretary and Josep Tarradellas returned from exile in October to become President of the Generalitat.In the debate over the Spanish Constitution, ERC was the only Catalan party to defend republican ideals and the right to self-determination for Catalonia.
Consequently, the party was in favour of voting No in the 1978 referendum on the Constitution. Esquerra Republicana also opposed the new Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia because it didn’t include minimum guarantees for self-government.
However, they campaigned in favour of a Yes vote because the alternative would have been nothing at all.
In the Autonomic Elections of 1980, ERC won 14 seats out of a possible 135 and Heribert Barrera became President of the Catalan Parliament.
The 1980s was a period of decline for the party, and in the 1984 elections, ERC only won five seats. Two years later, in the 1986 general elections failed to win any representation at the Cortes in Madrid.
The late 1980s were when Esquerra Republicana laid the foundations for its current position as the most stable pro-independence party in Catalan politics.
In 1987, Esquerra drafted the manifesto of the Crida Nacional – the National Call, which was signed by around 100 Catalan public figures led by Àngel Colom and Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira.
The manifesto proposed ERC as central force behind the new pro-independence generation that had grown disappointed with the transition to democracy.
The entrance of new blood gave a breath of life to the party and ERC won 6 seats in the 1988 elections to the Parliament of Catalonia.
At the 16th National Congress in Lleida in 1989, a new leadership was elected and independence was defined as the party’s main objective. As a result, the Front Nacional de Catalunya, the historic organisation founded in exile in the 1940s, joined ERC.
A year later the pro-independence terrorist group Terra Lliure lay down its arms and most of its members joined along with many members of the Catalunya LLiure coalition. At this point, ERC was undoubtedly the party of the pro-independence left.
The result in the Autonomic Elections of 1992 placed ERC as the third political force in Catalonia, after CiU and PSC, with 210,000 and 11 seats and for the first time since the end of the transition a pro-independence party had won a decent slice of the vote.
At the 18th National Congress in 1992, the party’s statutes were reformed and ERC was now established in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and French Catalonia.
The first article stated the party’s aim of territorial unity and independence for the Catalan people by creating a new European state and ERC confirmed itself as a left-wing party centred on environmental issues and human rights.
In the General Elections of 1993 regained a presence in Madrid with Pilar Rahola winning a single seat and the leaders of Nacionalistes d’Esquerra, Jordi Carbonell and Avel·lí Artís i Gener joined ERC the same year.
The Municipal Elections of May 1995 proved a watershed with ERC winning more than 550 council seats and control of 32 town councils and in the Autonomic Elections were also very positive with 305,000 votes and 13 deputies in the Catalan Parliament.
The good results led to 100 members of the Assemblea d’Unitat Popular, the heir to Moviment de Defensa de la Terra, joining Esquerra Republicana but in 1996, after an internal crisis General Secretary Àngel Colom and Pilar Rahola left the part to form the Partit per la Independència.
Known as PI, the party didn’t last long and dissolved when Pilar Rahola failed to win a seat on the Ajuntament de Barcelona in the 1999 Municipal Elections.
In the Autonomic Elections of 2003, although CiU won most seats, Artur Mas was unable to form a government and after the Pact of Tinell, a coalition between Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya-Ciutadans pel Canvi (PSC-CpC), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds-Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (ICV-EUiA) formed a left-wing Catalanist government, which became known as the Tripartit.
It was during this legislature that the proposed new Catalan Statute of Autonomy was drafted.
However, the resulting document was so watered down when it went before Spanish Congress that Esquerra Republicana campaigned for a No vote in the referendum of 2006.
This led to the party being expelled from the coalition but following the 2007 elections the Tripartit reformed again, when José Montilla replaced Pasqual Maragall as President.
At the party conference of 2008, Joan Puicercós was elected ERC President and Joan Ridao General Secretary and at the time, ERC had 10 deputies in the Catalan Parliament, 3 in the Congress in Madrid, 1 MEP and 1 regidor on the Ajuntament de Barcelona.
However, the unpopularity of the Tripartit under Montilla led to a severe decline the party’s support and the General Elections of 2008 supposed a drop from 8 deputies in 2004 to just 3. In the Autonomic Elections of 2006, the party lost a quarter of its voters and in the Municipals around a fifth.
For the Autonomic Elections of 2010, ERC started a pre-campaign under the slogan “Catalunya Decideix” – “Catalonia Decides” that began in January and finished in October.
The aim was to get the opinion of 100,000 on what conditions should be set for forming part of the government after the elections but this did little to improve the party’s popularity.
Following very poor results in the Municipal Elections of 2011, the party leadership resigned and Secretary General Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira left the party.
On September 17th 2011 at the 26th National Congress, ERC elected Oriol Junqueras as President and Marta Rovira as General Secretary and Esquerra Republicana remained solidly pro-independence but moved from a more radical left-wing position to become basically a social democrat party.
The new leadership was quickly able to turn round the negative election results and in the Spanish General Elections of November 2011, in coalition with Reagrupament Esquerra won three seats in Congress, where group leader Alfred Bosch and deputies Joan Tardà and Teresa Jordà have all been very vocal throughout the legislature.
As a result of the massive pro-independence demonstration of September 11th, Esquerra Republicana’s position was definitely consolidated and in the Autonomic Elections of November 2012, which were called as a result of the demonstration, ERC became the second political force in Catalonia with 21 seats in the Catalan Parliament, relegating PSC to third place.
Oriol Junqueras became Leader of the Opposition but came to an agreement with Artur Mas in order to allow CiU to form a stable government.
The party established itself as the stable pro-independence partner of the CiU government and its popularity has solidly increased.
In the European Election of May 2014, with 23.6% of the votes, Esquerra Republicana was the most voted party in Catalonia for the first time since the Second Republic.
Following, the unofficial vote on Catalan independence of November 9th 2014, Oriol Junqueras disagreed with Artur Mas on how the independence process should continue.
The two leaders finally reached an agreement that elections to the Parliament of Catalonia should be brought forward to September 27th 2015 and that they should act as a proxy referendum on independence.
Esquerra were theoretically supporting CiU once again but there was still a lot of tension between the two parties and following the Municipal Elections of May 2014, the slightly disappointing results, particularly in Barcelona, which was won by Podemos-backed Barcelona in Comú, made it clear the ERC had lost some of their monopoly on the pro-independence left-wing vote.
On July 14th 2015, Oriol Junqueras and Artur Mas reached an agreement on a single electoral list for CDC and ERC for the plebiscitary election on September 27th 2014.
The Junts pel Sí candidacy was officially presented on July 20th and was made up of a combination of ERC, CDC, other parties and independent candidates and won 62 seats out of 135 in the elections.