The origins: Esquerra, the catalyst of Catalan republican movement
Esquerra Republicana is a left-wing party which defends the independence of the Catalan nation and social justice. Founded in 1931, throughout its more than 80 years of history it has experienced very different fortunes in parallel to the recent history of Catalonia and the whole of the Catalan Lands, or Països Catalans (Catalonia, Northern Catalonia, Valencia Region, Balearic Islands and the Western Strip).
The origins of Esquerra Republicana lie in the republican and federal movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The way in which Catalan society transformed in the 19th century as a result of the Industrial Revolution caused the appearance of the first democratic and republican progressist and federalist social movements. At the same time, the Renaissance cultural and literary movement of the early 19th century started the development of a national awareness closely followed by European Romanticism. Politically, the federal republican Congress in 1883 and the establishment of the Bases of Manresa in 1892 were the first two Catalan political movements with clearly nationalist intentions.
In March 1931, at the end of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) appeared as a confluence of the nationalist and left-wing sectors aiming to form a common front against a Spanish state contrary to the interests of the Catalan popular classes and blocked in the past. The new party presided by Francesc Macià resulted from the union of Estat Català, the Partit Republicà Català and the group Opinió, and played a central role in the establishment of the Republic in Catalonia and Spain.
The most important elements of the ideas behind the new party were the recognition of Catalonia as a nation, the defence of people’s individual rights and the redistribution of wealth, whereas the social programme defended full union freedom, the right to strikes, the defence of minimum salaries, the eight-hour working day, compulsory holidays, insurance and retirements as well as professional training centres.
In the municipal elections of April 1931, ERC was victorious in Catalonia and Francesc Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic. The republican forces won throughout the state, with which Macià negotiated the new self-government of Catalonia. Macià agreed to restore the Generalitat de Catalunya, the name of the institution of Catalan government suppressed in 1714, and the Catalan Statute of Autonomy was approved, which included some of the institutions of self-government lost by Catalonia in the War of Succession (1705-1714).
In the years of the Republic (1931-1939), ERC was overwhelmingly the majority party in Catalonia and won all of the elections that were held. Francesc Macià died in 1933 and was succeeded by Lluís Companys as the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, or Government of Catalonia. Companys proclaimed the Catalan State in 1934 in a context of involution of the Spanish right wing and risk of a military coup. As a result, Companys was imprisoned and the Generalitat was abolished, until the victory of the Front d’Esquerres in 1936 brought him out of prison.