SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 184 Dec/Jan 2014/15

Catalonia: another show of strength for independence

On 9 November, 2.3 million people voted in an unofficial ‘popular consultation’ on Catalan independence. Voters were asked two questions: should Catalonia be a state; and, if so, should it be independent. Eighty percent voted yes-yes, 1.8 million people. It was another huge show of strength for those fighting for an independent Catalonia (Catalunya).

It was also a protest against the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) Spanish government and its repeated attempts to deny the right of Catalans to vote. Now the PP is pushing for charges against Arthur Mas, president of Catalonia from the right-wing nationalist CIU party, for holding the unofficial poll. Unsurprisingly, these tactics are temporarily strengthening Mas’ support, and confirm to Catalans the undemocratic nature of the PP and the Spanish state’s constitution.

Negotiations between the two sides seem unlikely to be fruitful, raising the prospect of new early elections in Catalonia as a further step in the campaign for self-determination. The conflict, though led at this stage by different elements of the political elite, has a momentum of its own. What for both sides was a useful tool to divert attention away from austerity has forced a stand-off from which neither side can easily withdraw.

Around 37% voted in what was largely seen as a symbolic vote. The 80% yes-yes vote mainly represents a hardcore of supporters for independence, while 500,000 voted yes-no or no-no. Important sections of Catalan society that have showed support for independence recently did not turn out to vote. Many of these people have been won to the idea of independence as the crisis of capitalism has developed. Although the yes-yes vote was big it still represented a minority of the electorate. Nonetheless, it is clear that yes-yes could win a real vote.

While the PP is in power a legal referendum on independence will never be allowed. But the mass polarisation that followed the indyref in Scotland could erupt on a much higher scale in Catalonia due to the anger against undemocratic PP manoeuvres and the general desperation at continued hardship and austerity. It is likely that new elections will be called at some stage in Catalonia. Last time, the CIU actually lost support and seats. Those elections were held in the middle of mass struggle, including a general strike, and this pushed the debate to the left. Although, at present, there is a relatively low level of class struggle, the anger is still huge. The rise of Podemos, which emerged from the indignados movement, winning 1.25 million votes across the Spanish state in this year’s euro elections, has shown that this anger is being expressed electorally.

If the CIU goes ahead, it will attempt to form a coalition of all pro-independence forces in a united electoral list, including the left parties – the ICV-EUiA (Catalan allies of United Left), Podemos and CUP – seeking to turn it into a ‘single issue election’. The left should reject this. In fact, election tactics should form only one part of the left’s strategy as the real power for change rests in the mass mobilisation of people for independence and social change. This should be followed up by pushing the inactive trade union leaders and reopening a broader struggle on the streets.

Many who support independence also dream of a Catalonia without austerity and for a new type of society. The left could turn an election into a referendum against austerity, the corruption-riddled political elite in Madrid, and capitalism. This cannot be done with the go-it-alone attitude put forward by some pro-independence left forces. In Catalonia, it would be possible to pose the need for a socialist society as a start of a wider revolutionary movement across the Spanish state.

An independent Catalonia in Europe will solve none of the social questions facing Catalonia’s people if it is led by ERC-CIU capitalists. Key working-class sections of the Spanish-speaking population in Catalonia and the majority in the rest of the Spanish state will only be won to the banner of an independent Catalonia on the basis that it could help to solve their problems. This, in turn, would be a bulwark against the Spanish nationalist sentiment that the PP is attempting to create across Spain against independence.

Recent opinion polls putting Podemos in first place are a game-changer for the left. It will lead a section of Catalan society to believe that regime change in Madrid is possible, allowing for a real referendum in the near future. It raises the possibility of left, anti-capitalist victories in major municipal areas in the May 2015 elections.

The process of unity on the left is proceeding at different paces in different places. Any new formation must be led from below in open and democratic assemblies that take up key demands, such as the nationalisation of the banks and the right to self-determination, and which outline the need for a socialist society in favour of the 99%. That struggle must take place in the communities and workplaces, not merely as an electoral strategy. Such a situation poses the possibility of a workers’ government which solves the national question on the basis of workers’ democracy and a free and voluntary confederation of workers’ republics throughout the Iberian Peninsula, as part of an internationalist solution.

Rob MacDonald

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain)

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