Socialist Worker

What’s at stake in Catalonia’s election?

by Hector Sierra in Barcelona
Issue No. 2585

Mass protests drove the independence movement forward

Mass protests drove the independence movement forward (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Elections are set to take place for Catalonia’s parliament on 21 December.

The voting was called by Spanish president Mariano Rajoy following Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence from Spain two months ago.

On 1 October in defiance of assaults by Spanish cops some 90 percent of people voted for independence.

By means of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, Rajoy dismissed the elected Catalan government and unleashed a wave of repression.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled Catalonia and sought asylum in Brussels. Other senior members of the government and leading campaigners were imprisoned on charges of sedition and are still in jail.

Polarisation of Catalan society on the independence question remains, with the parties contesting the election sharply split into two blocks.

Unity

The defenders of the unity of the Spanish state are the conservative People's Party (PP), the Labour-type Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and Ciutadans (Citizens).

The PP, despite being the ruling party in the Madrid government, has become a marginal force in Catalonia, and is resorting to Islamophobic, anti-migrant rhetoric to appeal to the most reactionary sections of society.

Ciutadans is set to consolidate itself as the new focus for the Unionist right in Catalonia. Committed to full blown neoliberalism, the party is using some left-wing rhetoric to appeal to the Spanish-speaking working class areas in Barcelona and other cities.

The PSC is no better. It supported Rajoy's implementation of Article 155 and its leader Miquel Iceta has joined anti-independence demonstrations alongside fascist groups.

On the pro-independence side, three parties will contest the election. This will be in spite of pressure by Puigdemont’s right-wing party (PDeCAT) to have a single pro-independence list. They were trying to conceal the fact that as the independence movement has radicalised they've lost large swathes of voters to social democrats Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

Under the new name of JuntsxCatalunya (United for Catalonia), Puigdemont is running his campaign from Brussels.

ERC and the CUP, the anti-capitalist popular unity list, were right to reject this single list.

The movement needs to be radical over issues such as migrants rights

The movement needs to be radical over issues such as migrants' rights (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The class question at the heart of the independence struggle had to be present in the campaign, not diluted in a moderate programme designed to please Catalan right wingers. Calls to vote Puigdemont because he is still “the legitimate president of the Republic” have been rightly rejected too.

Puigdemont and his party are responsible for demoralising and demobilising the movement in the aftermath of the referendum, surrendering the initiative to the PP government.

Only Podemos has striven not to be identified with either side. Yet Podemos, from being the most popular party in Catalonia in the Spanish general elections in 2015 and 2016, has become all but irrelevant for most Catalans.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, in an election rally disgracefully accused the independence movement of “awakening the ghost of fascism”. Podemos put forward a bill in the Spanish parliament to reverse Article 155, but it didn't invite the pro-independence parties to be part of the bill because they were “partly to blame” for it.

Albano Dante-Fachín recently resigned from the leadership of Podemos in Catalonia following repeated attempts to sack him. His defence of the 1 October independence referendum, organised by ordinary people in defiance of the state's ban, increasingly put him at odds with the leadership in Madrid and their dismissive attitude towards the vote.

Despite insisting that he is not personally being pro-independence, he's encouraging his supporters to vote for the CUP or ERC, as the independence movement is “the most important blow struck at the Spanish state” and an opportunity to defeat Rajoy’s PP and end the 1978 post-dictatorship set-up.

Balanced

Polls suggest that the election will be very close with pro and anti-independence forces almost evenly balanced.

Has the mass protests and strikes seen throughout late September and October, the pro-independence parties and the left would have benefitted from that fighting mood.

But PDeCAT and ERC’s prompt acceptance of the election imposed by Rajoy has meant that for two months the focus of most campaigners has shifted to electoral politics and people's confidence has declined.

However, whatever the result of the election, this won't resolve the crisis that is shaking the Spanish state and the European Union. The movement needs a far-sighted vision.

Hundreds of activists from across the world gathered in Barcelona at the weekend before the election in the conference organised by #WithCatalonia to coordinate international solidarity.

Regardless of the election result, international campaigns against state repression and for the Catalans’ right to have their voices heard must continue.

In Catalonia the people's Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) are now a stronger and more coherent force than two months ago.

If the pro-independence parties win, the CDRs must be prepared to become an alternative power, one that can make sure that this time the Catalan government won't be allowed to back down from implementing the will of the majority.


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