Origins: Esquerra, the catalyst of the Catalan republican movement
Esquerra Republicana is a progressive party which defends the independence of the Catalan nation and social justice. Founded in 1931, throughout its history of more than 80 years, Esquerra has experienced very different fortunes in parallel to the recent history of Catalonia and the whole of the Catalan-speaking countries (Catalonia, Northern Catalonia [in France], the Valencian Country, the Balearic Islands and the Western Strip [in what is now the Aragon region]).
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 led to the appearance of the first democratic and republican progressive and federalist social movements. At the same time, cultural and literary movement of the early 19th century known as the Renaixement (Renaissance) also led to the development of national awareness much alike that spurred by European Romanticism. Politically, the federal republican Congress in 1883 and the establishment of the Bases of Manresa [calling for devolution] in 1892 were the first two Catalan political movements with a clearly nationalist design.
In March 1931, at the end of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) appeared as a confluence of nationalist and left-wing sectors aiming to form a common front against a Spanish state that defended interests contrary to those of the Catalan lower classes which had been stymied in the past. The new party presided by Francesc Macià resulted from the union of Estat Català, the Partit Republicà Català and the L’Opinió group, 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 trade union freedom, the right to strike, the defence of minimum wages, the eight-hour working day, compulsory holidays, insurance and retirement as well as vocational 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 Spain, and Macià negotiated home rule for Catalonia. Macià agreed to restore the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Catalan government institution 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).
During the Republic, from 1931 to 1939, ERC was the overwhelming majority party in Catalonia, winning all the elections. Francesc Macià died in 1933 and was succeeded by Lluís Companys as the President of the Generalitat Government of Catalonia. Companys proclaimed the Catalan State in 1934 in a context of involution by the Spanish right and the threat of a military coup. As a result, Companys was imprisoned and the Generalitat was abolished, until the victory of the Front d’Esquerres [left-wing party coalition] in 1936, when he was released from prison.