Catalan elections: Instability for the right, opportunities for the left

New panorama, which threatens a situation of practical "ungovernability"

The elections in Catalonia on 25 November have even further upset its unstable political equilibrium. The election results open up an unstable panorama, which threatens a state of practical "ungovernability". The new parliament, of 164 seats (with 68 necessary for an overall majority) is composed as follows (with seats won or lost in brackets):

CiU [right-wing nationalist governing party] 50 (-12)

ERC [Republican ’Left’] 21(+11)

PSC [Socialist Party] 20(-8)

PPC [ruling Spanish Popular Party] 19(+1)

ICV-EUiA [coalition between United Left and ICV – a left-wing ecologist party, to the right of IU] 13(+3)

Ciutadans [smaller anti-independence party] 9 (+6)

CUP [anti-capitalist, pro-independence alliance] 3 (+3)

SI [smaller pro-independence party] 0 (-3)

Disaster for CiU, shift to the left

The most striking element in these results is the dramatic disaster of the attempts by the right-wing Catalan government party, CiU, to capitalise on the pro-sovereignty atmosphere which has recently exploded onto the surface, by calling early elections. This disaster could provoke the political demise of President Artur Mas, and could put the unity of the CiU project into question. Even before the elections, the internal contradictions within this coalition were evident, and now they will be even further accentuated. Duran I Lleida (leader of the UDC wing of the coalition) has from the beginning shown his distaste for the pro-sovereignty turn which Mas made following the 11 September pro-independence demonstration. His sector of the coalition has never dreamed of defending a pro-independence position, and will have no problem in advocating steps back from the hardened nationalistic rhetoric which Mas employed around the campaign. However, Mas himself will be obliged to give the impression of persevering with the process he has set in motion, as this is the only way he can see to try to avoid political suicide through his brutal cuts policies. It remains to be seen whether they will manage to paper over these contradictions for another period. It cannot be excluded that the CiU coalition breaks up in the medium term.

Another important feature of the results is a certain shift to the left, with the rise of ERC (to replace PSOE for the first time as second political force in terms of seats), the rise in votes for ICV/IU and the entry of the CUP into parliament. The working people are in pursuit of an alternative to the neo-liberal policies which are deepening the crisis, and these results show the growing conviction that such an alternative must come from the left, which can ultimately only be offered by a mass workers’ party.

The growth of Ciutatans, from 3 to 9 seats on the basis of a loss of votes by both the CiU and PP.

Other factors which determined the results were:

A very high level of participation (almost 70%): Such high participation in elections mainly favours the forces of the left.

The militant anti-cuts sentiments led to a hammering of the anti-austerity parties: CiU and the PP. CiU haemorrhaged votes, mostly in the direction of the ERC, Ciutatans and the PP itself, which in turn lost many votes to Ciutatans. The bill passed to the PP for its austerity policies was somewhat limited by the increased mobilisation of the Spanish nationalist vote, in response to the strengthening of the national question as a central feature in the elections.

National question a key factor

The national question was fundamental in these elections, as both the CiU government and the PP posed the elections from the point of view of a clash between “Catalonia and Spain”. It seems that the certain polarisation this provoked, led to a certain softening of the blow to the PP, because of the mobilisation of its Spanish nationalist base. However, the CIE on the other hand, seems itself to have been castigated by nationalist voters, paying a price for its opportunist attempts to ride the wave of rising pro-independence sentiments. However, despite the strength of these sentiments, the total increase in votes for pro-sovereignty parties was only slight, which indicates to what extent the social and class issues of cuts and austerity cut across attempts to polarise the debate along national lines. The “movement” of votes from right to left, with the openly right-wing majority of CiU and PP losing out to forces to the left of the spectrum (ERC, Ciutatans). Then in turn, the so called “left of centre” lost ground to its left with the rise of ICV-IU and the CUP.

The situation following the 25 November id one of great instability which threatens a state of practical ungovernability in Catalonia, and poses the question of new elections in the medium term. The new increasingly unstable character of the government will bring potential new opportunities to the left and workers movements in its struggles to do away with pro-austerity governments and encounter a pro-working class solution to the crisis.

CiU is obliged to make deals with ERC, PSC or the PP, and fast, as its budget for 2013 (which will include austerity measures equivalent to the combined austerity measures of the last 2 years,) must soon be approved. However, there is no easy pact on the cards, with each possible variant potentially doing severe damage to any new coalition/pact’s components.

Possible new government scenarios:

CiU and ERC: this seems the most likely perspective, although it World force both forces into an uncomfortable position. CiU would see itself pushed further than it would like to go in the direction of a referendum on the independence of Catalonia, and ERC forced into signing its name to brutal austerity measures, which in turn could mean its downfall. ERC has already ruled out a full coalition pact, and the scenario of a pact on policies, while formally remaining outside government seems the most likely.

CiU and PSC: while this could mean a more stable pact as far as the ruling class is concerned, such a coalition would mean the final nail in the coffin of PSOE, whose path to government in Madrid has always passed through Catalonia, one of its historical strongholds. It is also under pressure to distance itself from corruption allegations which have recently hit it, which makes a close relationship with CiU leaders suspected of corruption more complicated.

CiU+PPC: This would in reality be the most natural pact, due to both parties’ character as unambiguous defenders of austerity and the dictatorship of the markets, revealing a deep base of agreement between both parties which both are at pains to hide. However, after the spectacle of national confrontation which they both mounted during the campaign, a pact between them, at least in the short term, can be ruled out.

A government based on “variable geometry”, pacts on an issue by issue basis, was the option chosen by CiU following the 2010 elections. This option, of pacts on austerity policies with the PP running alongside pacts on national sovereignty questions with the ERC is gaining momentum, given CiU’s difficulties to find a stable partner.

New perspective for left and class struggle

These election results and new political panorama imply a change in the perspectives of the struggles of the working class. The entry of the anti-capitalist, pro-independence CUP into parliament on its first attempt with over 200,000 votes is the best news following a parliamentary election for many years, and has led to a buoyant mood among activists in the workers’ and social movements. If CUP deputies act in a consequent manner based on their electoral discourse, this force could become a key reference for those who struggle on the streets and in workplaces. The use of parliament as a platform to popularise the struggles which take place outside is a crucial method, which has allowed the CWI to develop important work in a number of countries. Imagine if the key struggles currently underway, such as the battle against new fees for medical treatment received a serious impulse not only from the streets, but from the platform of parliament. This would allow struggles to gather much more momentum and have a wider and deeper impact.

In a certain sense, the rise of the CUP represents a partial filling of the space left to the left of the IU because of its weakness in policy and orientation over the last period (including its 7 years in the Catalan government until 2010), as well as a certain punishment for its increasingly meagre profile as part of its coalition with ICV, an “eco-socialist” formation to its right. The IU has many strengths which indicate an objective capacity to fill the massive political vacuum opened up by the crisis of capitalism: it has a strong base throughout the Spanish state, and in all important workers and social movements. However, its leaders, as well as the coalition it has maintained with ICV, as pushed it somewhat to right, to its detriment. A reflection of this is that now, whereas important sections of the base of the IU are posing the question of moving towards greater unity with the CUP, ICV is also proposing a left front, but on the basis of looking rightwards (towards the ERC and PSC)!

The two main organisations which can put up a frontal opposition to austerity, based on the daily struggles of workers and youth in Catalonia are the IU and CUP. We think that a united front of these forces (open to the involvement of other left organisations) would have a massive potential. The “eco-socialist” ICV could also play a potential role, but with agreement based on programme, rather than organisational weight. Such a programme should include the non-payment of the debt and nationalisation of the banks, a frontal opposition to austerity and the fight for massive public investment to eliminate mass unemployment, as well as internationalist solidarity in a struggle for a socialist confederation of working people throughout Europe.

Genuine left unity should not be based merely on agreements made from the top down, or a distribution of power and positions. A united front should also be based on a process from below, with a process of debate and discussion between left and workers activists, in daily contact in the class struggle and its different fields – strike committees, local assemblies, trade unions, and in various left formations including the IU, CUP, Socialismo Revolucionario etc. Such a united front would also have to emphasise the need for new layers of workers and youth activists to become involved in political struggle behind it banner.

The actions of both CUP and IU in the next period will be crucial for the perspectives of such a movement. On the basis of a united front, the newly-won authority of the CUP, and the historic traditions and state-wide base of the IU could be brought together and have a powerful impact. This would also pose the question of a united struggle based on the defence of the right to self-determination, in action as well as in words, a development which could push the IU on a state-wide level towards a clearer position in this regard.

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December 2012