Socialist Worker

Catalan elections show backing for independence but far right also advances

by David Karvala
Issue No. 2743

Protesting against the far right Vox party after the election

Protesting against the far right Vox party after the election (Pic: Khalid Ghali Bada on Twitter)


The elections to the Catalan parliament, held last Sunday, showed political instability with big changes in the fate of the parties. They also saw a worrying advance for the far right Vox party.

At the last Catalan elections in 2017, the populist and “centrist”—but rightward moving— Ciudadanos (Cs) party was the overall winner with over 25 percent of the votes. This time it collapsed to seventh place with less than 6 percent.

In 2017 the Socialist Party lost masses of votes to Cs, this time it was the official winner.

Meanwhile, the gradual disintegration in Catalunya of the Spanish conservative party, the PP, continued. In 2010 it was third, this time it came eighth.

En Comu Podem, the candidacy that includes the radical Podemos, more or less held its ground, coming sixth with eight seats.

Across the Spanish state, Podemos grew massively when it started in 2014 but a series of political retreats and top down manoeuvring led to it losing nearly half its support just between 2016 and 2019.

Its participation in the current government, led by the Labour-type PSOE, has worsened both tendencies. In Catalunya it never grew as much as in other areas so its fall now is smaller.

For better or worse, here it has always been more dependent on the remains of the Communist Party, which still has a layer of loyal activists on the ground.

Independence

Catalan politics today functions not only on the left-right axis, but also around the national question. Here the big news was that the pro-independence parties for the first time won more than 50 percent of the votes.

Within that, the centre-left ERC pro-independence overtook the centre-right that had dominated politics here for decades.

It obtained the same 33 seats as the Socialists but, unlike them, has a chance of winning majority support to form a government.

Another sign that independentism is mainly left wing is the more than doubling in seats— from four to nine—of the anti-capitalist CUP, with nearly 7 percent of the vote. This is a massive vote for a party that declares its support for struggles for radical social change.

However, its participation in institutional politics has taken its toll, revealing certain limitations and tensions inside the CUP.

Interview with Catalan political prisoner Jordi Cuixart - ‘The state does not tolerate being questioned’
Interview with Catalan political prisoner Jordi Cuixart - ‘The state does not tolerate being questioned’
  Read More

So in the new parliament there is a leftist majority and a—different—pro-independence majority.

The most likely outcome is a pro-independence coalition between ERC and the centre right, but this time led by ERC, and with the passive support at least of the CUP.

But there is still no real independent left strategy, nor analysis of what went wrong in the independence struggle.

So the whole independence movement continues to depend on the right wing that has no interest in the radical change that independence could and should bring. There’s no strategy of winning over those sectors of the working class that aren’t inspired by the national question as such.

There isn’t a left alternative combining broader political principles with an orientation on day to day workers’ struggles, where independence is one issue but not necessarily the key one.

Vox, the far right racist and populist party that has just entered the Catalan parliament, emerged as a split from the PP in 2014. But its real growth only started in 2018.

It is typical to say it grew in response to the Catalan independence struggle, or the refugee situation. It would be more correct to say that the fact that the mainstream parties portrayed these issues as “threats”—meant that Vox could present itself as a tougher response to these “dangers”.

It became the third party across the Spanish state in the general elections of November 2019, with over 15 percent.

All that turned them into a pole of attraction for fascists and neo-Nazis.

This included the remains of the PxC fascist party that had been defeated a few years before by Unity Against Fascism and Racism (UCFR). This is the sister organisation in Catalunya of Stand Up To Racism.

Fascist

Vox combines members who really want just a more extreme PP, with others open to a fully fascist strategy.

From the start of the election UCFR put into operation a #StopVOX campaign.

The Vox street campaign, organised by a historic neo-Nazi, was met by dozens of protests and tens of thousands of posters and stickers. Nevertheless Vox took 7.7 percent of the vote and 11 seats, coming ahead of both Cs and the PP.

Vox won only half the support it obtains across the Spanish state. But its parliamentary presence gives confidence to neo-Nazis. We have already seen an increase in fascist physical attacks in the course of the election campaign.

The urgent protests that took place in well over 30 towns and cities across Catalunya the evening after the elections were a magnificent response. Local UCFR groups—some of which had been formed only days before—rallied, at few hours’ notice, dozens or even hundreds of people.

Serious work will be needed to consolidate this urgent reaction into an organised movement.

David Karvala is a member of Marx21 and a leading activist in Unitat Contra el Feixisme i el Racisme (United Against Fascism and Racism).

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