On 9 November, 2.3million people voted in an unofficial “popular consultation” on Catalan independence. Voters were asked 2 questions: if Catalonia should be a state, and then if so, should it be independent. Of these voters, 80% voted “yes-yes”. This represented 1.8 million people, which was another huge show of strength for those fighting for an independent Catalonia.
It was also show of disobedience of the right-wing PP Spanish government and their repeated legal attempts to deny the right of Catalans to vote, even in a symbolic manner. Now the PP are attempting to go one stage further and are pushing for charges against Arthur Mas, President of Catalonia from the right-wing nationalist CIU party for even holding these unofficial. Some even speculate that they will attempt to ban him from public office. Unsurprisingly, these tactics are temporarily strengthening Mas’ support. They are also confirming to the Catalonian masses the undemocratic nature not just of the PP but the whole constitution of the Spanish state.
Negotiations between the two sides seem unlikely to be fruitful at present and the prospects of new early Catalan elections as a further step in the campaign for self-determination. The conflict, though at this stage still led by different elements of the political elite, now has a momentum of its own. What for both was initially a useful tool to divert attention away from austerity has now forced a stand off from which neither side can easily withdraw. Key to the next stage of this struggle is a united working class struggle for national and democratic rights linked to the struggle to end austerity.
Around 37% voted in what was largely seen as a symbolic vote. The 80% yes vote mainly represents a hardcore of supporters for independence. However, others also voted in the consultation. 500,000 people who voted “yes- no” or “no-no”. The vast majority of Catalans – over 80% in some polls - want to exercise their democratic right to decide, even those opposed to full independence.
Many important sections of Catalan society that have been showing support for independence in recent opinion polls did not turn out to vote in these elections. Many of these people have been won to the idea of independence as the crises of capitalism has developed. Although the support for a “yes-yes” vote was big it still represented a minority of the electorate. However, it is clear a “yes-yes” vote could win a real vote.
It is clear though that while the PP are in power a legal referendum on independence will never be allowed. A Scotland type scenario could not be permitted by the PP. But the mass polarisation that followed the vote in Scotland could erupt on a much higher scale with or without a vote due to the anger against un-democratic PP manoeuvres and general desperation at continued hardship and austerity.
It is likely that at some stage new Catalan elections will be called. But Mas and Ciu will not be anxious to go to the polls as last time they did so, hoping to capitalise on the pro-independence wave, they support and seats. These previous elections were held in the middle of mass struggle which contained a general strike and this pushed the elections and the debate to the left. It is likely they think this time could be different as there is a relatively low level of class struggle on the streets. However, the anger is still huge and the rise of Podemos has shown that this anger is being expressed at present through voting intentions.
Some argue that the calling of elections and a firm victory for pro independence parties should be followed by a simple declaration of independence. While such a stance would not be acceptable to Catalan capitalism, the situation is becoming more and more radicalised, with the previously impossible seeming more and more possible. If CiU go for new elections they will attempt to form a coalition of all pro-independence forces in a united electoral list. They would seek to legitimise the vote as a “single issue election”. The parties of capitalism will try to draw in the parties of the left – ICV-EUiA (Catalan allies of United Left), Podemos and CUP - who support the right to self determination into such a coalition or at least attempt to limit their clear working class voice.
The left should not only reject any inclusion in a united national list but also should reject the notion of a single issue election. In fact, the tactics of elections should form only one part of the left’s strategy as the real power for change rests in mass movements and the mobilisation of people for independence and social change. This in turn should be followed up by pushing the inactive trade union leaders and re-opening a broader struggle on the streets.
Many who support an independent Catalonia today do so not just for the democratic right to be a nation state but also dream of a Catalonia without austerity and for a new type of society. In any forthcoming elections the left could use and turn such an election into a referendum on capitalism and austerity itself, as the CWI has struggled to do in elections in recent Ireland and the referendum in Scotland. In this environment in Catalonia, it would be possible to clearly pose the need for a socialist society as a start of a wider revolutionary movement across the Spanish state.
Therefore, the idea of a socialist Catalonia is not only to be seen as an academic possibility for after independence but is something that must be presence in the day to day struggle. The linking of the different struggles is key to success of independence and also to the fight against capitalist austerity.
United struggle for self-determination and socialism
The PP and political elite in Madrid are riddled with corruption. Their blocking of democratic rights in Catalonia is connected to this process. Therefore, tying the struggle for national rights in Cataluña and the struggle to end the PP government, their austerity, the failed 1978 regime and capitalism itself is an important aspect of the struggle in Catalonia. This cannot be done with a simple “go it alone“ attitude which some pro-independence Left forces portray. The working class needs to be united!
The debate needs to be taken out of the hands of the capitalist parties such as CIU and ERC. This can only happen if a class position is fully adopted by the movement and a clear alternative posed. An independent Catalonia in Europe will solve nothing on the social questions facing Catalonia’s people if it is led by ERC-CIU. Therefore, policies that pull the debate towards the left are critical.
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 this basis that it could help to solve their problems. This in turn will be a bulwark against the Spanish nationalist sentiment that the PP are attempting to create against Catalonian independence across Spain. The recent opinion polls putting Podemos in first place is a game-changer for the left. It will also lead a section of Catalan society to believe that a regime change in Madrid is possible and that a more progressive regime could allow for a real referendum in the near future. Alongside this, such a situation also poses the possibility of a workers’ government which solves the national question once and for all 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. .
In the May 2015 elections, it is presumed that a left anti-capitalist victory will be possible in many major municipal areas. This presents a huge historical opportunity. The process of unity and coming together of the left is proceeding at different paces in different places. The key factors are that any new formation must be led from below in open and democratic assemblies that then take up key demands, such as nationalisation of the banks, the right to self determination and broadly outlining the need for a socialist society in favour of the 99%. It is also key that the struggle for these things takes place in the communities and workplaces and is not merely an electoral strategy.