The headline result of the elections to the Catalan parliament is that pro-independence parties retained an overall parliamentary majority.
This is despite the suspension of Catalan democratic institutions under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, with political leaders in prison and others threatened with political trials.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s right wing Popular Party (PP), that has led this repression—with the active support of the Labour-type PSOE, and the Spanish right-wing populists of Ciudadanos—lost more than half of its already low level of support. It took only 4 percent of the vote and now has just three MPs.
But there are more negative aspects.
The Ciudadanos (Citizens) party won the highest number of votes of any single party. It did especially well in the working class Spanish-speaking areas around Barcelona that used to vote for the Communist Party or more recently the Socialists.
They also won votes from PP supporters who saw them as the best option for opposing independence.
When they started, Ciudadanos presented themselves as centre left, but opposed to independence and loyal toSpain. The centre left posture has now disappeared in favour of outright neoliberalism, but their Spanish nationalism is stronger than ever.
Some on the left wrongly label them as fascists, but as a relatively new right wing Spanish nationalist party they are undoubtedly a milieu within which the far right can operate.
The party linked to Podemos, Catalunya en Comu, known as “The Commons”, did badly.
Its former coalition won 11 MPs in the 2015 elections. Despite broadening the coalition, they have fallen to eight MPs.
The key reason for the loss of support is undoubtedly the refusal to take a stand on independence. Some members are in favour of independence, some rabidly against, while many prefer not to discuss the issue.
But after what is effectively a coup against Catalan democracy with Article 155, it is simply not acceptable to say you’re against the declaration of independence and also against 155, as if they were equally bad.
Puigdemont’s government didn’t only fall to repression, it also effectively refused to fight against that repression
As well as the battle between independence and Spanish nationalism, there is the battle among the pro-independence parties.
The biggest vote went to Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s Together For Catalonia (JxCat). It mainly stood independent candidates—including Jordi Sanchez, the former president of the mass pro-independence movement, ANC.
But in reality JxCat is a rebranding of Convergencia, the old party of Jordi Pujol, involved in years of cuts, privatisation and corruption.
The centre left party, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) was widely expected to overtake JxCat.
This didn’t happen, possibly because many independence supporters argue that the current task is to defend the republic whose president is Puigdemont.
This ignores the fact that Puigdemont’s government didn’t only fall to repression, it also effectively refused to fight against that repression.
The republic doesn’t really exist, it still has to be built, and Puigdemont’s party has already shown it prefers to avoid the battles that would be needed.
Finally, the anti-capitalist and pro-independence CUP did badly, falling from ten to only four MPs.
There was the shift to defend Puidgemont, but the loss of MPs was also a result of the CUP not having managed to retain enough of an independent profile as an anti-capitalist force.
It did stand its ground on key issues, but many people—especially in key working class areas—saw them as just part of the Catalan nationalist block, rather than as a class-based force that also supports independence.
The problem is that this perception is partly correct.
However, for a clearly anti-capitalist candidacy to win 4.5 percent of the votes and to have four MPs is no disaster.
In addition to its parliamentary role, the CUP can and should still play a key role in building the struggle on the streets and—maybe its greatest pending task—in the workplaces.
Rajoy has already said that although he called the elections, and pro-independence parties won a majority, he won’t let them act on the programmes that people voted for.
It remains to be seen whether JxCat and ERC will continue to fight for independence. But it is clear that their former method of achieving the break with the Spanish state through an administrative measure agreed with Madrid won’t work. It will require struggle from below.
That struggle will need international solidarity