Catalonia – the struggle against repression and need for a socialist alternative

Protest calling for rapper Pablo Hasé's release from jail (Photo: Jordiventura96/WikimediCommons)

Weeks of protests against the jailing of rapper Pablo Hasél have rocked Catalonia and other parts of the Spanish state, becoming a lightning rod for the anger of a generation whose lives have hit a dead end. These social explosions are just a taste of the revolutionary confrontations that lie ahead.

The Mossos (Catalan police) finally arrested Hasél on the 16th of February, after he had barricaded himself in the University of Lleida with supporters, refusing to comply with attempts by state forces to jail him after he was convicted under the hated Citizen Safety Law.

This anti-democratic edict, nicknamed the “gag” law, was enacted in 2015 by the government of Conservative Popular-Party leader Mariano Rajoy and left on the books by governments led by Pedro Sánchez and the so-called “Socialist Workers’ Party” (PSOE) which followed. The law grants widespread powers to the state to attack democratic rights to speak freely, assemble and protest.

Hasél was convicted of insulting the monarchy and the state forces and of “glorifying” terrorism using social media and faces two years in jail. The Twitter account and music of this revolutionary socialist rapper reflects a hatred of the capitalist establishment that has found a profound echo amongst wide layers of the youth.

Hasél rails against inequality in capitalist Spain, the corruption of the “gangster” monarchy and the brutality of the police. He castigates the capitalist establishment, including the leaders of PSOE and left party Unidos Podemos for the homelessness, evictions, poverty, and lack of free education in the country and imperialist adventures, like the war in Yemen.

His audience is a generation cast onto the scrap heap not merely by Covid-19 but by capitalism. The pandemic has pushed youth unemployment up to 40%, but it was already at 30% before the virus touched down. Four million are unemployed, with another 900,000 only saved from the sack by the ERTE furlough programme due to end this spring. Spanish capitalism can offer no hope to the youth and has increasingly instead turned to repression. Now the EU has signalled its support for attempts to crush Catalan national aspirations, by lifting the immunity of former Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont and other politicians who fled after the Spanish state moved to crush the independence referendum of 2017. (See https://www.socialistworld.net/2019/10/16/catalonia-draconian-prison-sentences-of-independence-leaders-provokes-mass-protests-and-strikes/)

One hundred people have been arrested since the Hasél protests began. One protester lost an eye to a rubber bullet and many more are injured. Social media is awash with videos of police brutality, even as the mainstream capitalist press and politicians decry the “violence” of the protesters. There is an urgent need for the protest movement to set up local committees and a national structure to coordinate its efforts, including how to defend demonstrations from attacks by the police and to raise a programme of demands that could recruit widespread support.

The trade union movement must also rise to repel this attack on democratic rights and connect with the youth on the protests to demonstrate that the organised working class can offer a way forward. If they do not, the trade unions – illegal under the Franco dictatorship – will pay a hefty price. Despite statues finally coming down, the legacy of the Franco dictatorship has never been dismantled in Spain. The 1978 constitution – shamefully supported by the Spanish Communist Party – continues many aspects of the Francoist state, all sealed by a monarchy now utterly exposed as rotten to the core. New far-right party Vox, as we’ve explained (https://www.socialistworld.net/2019/12/02/general-election-in-spain-fails-to-end-political-impasse/), has forced its way into national and regional parliaments because the left has tied itself to an establishment increasingly hated by broader and broader swathes of the masses.

These were the processes underlying the results of the Catalan elections, held on the 14th February after the president of the Generalitat was again deposed undemocratically by Madrid.

History was made in this election as parties that support independence for Catalonia obtained a majority for the first time. At the same time, PSOE – in the form of local affiliate the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) – almost doubled its seats, up to 33 from 17 and gaining 9%. PSOE has headed the Spanish government while the independence movement in Catalonia has continued to be brutally repressed. The CWI alone has been able to explain what is behind this contradiction.

The majority obtained for pro-independence parties shows that the issue of self-determination has not receded, and PSOE’s gains were not down to the base of this ex-social democratic party “returning home” or restabilising. Rather, as the state government party with the highest national profile, PSC/PSOE became the main party of those not won to independence, who are concerned that the economic impact of Catalonian independence would hurt the living standards of working-class Catalans. In this election, PSOE became the main establishment party, absorbing votes from new right-wing party Ciudadanos, which lost 80% of its voters and collapsed from 30 to just 6 seats (in the region which birthed it), and also some of the votes of the conservative PP, which now commands just 3 seats and 4% of the vote.

We saw a similar process in Scotland following the 2014 independence referendum when electoral support for the Tories was driven up following the referendum as No supporters were drawn temporarily around the most prominent unionist party. Unsurprisingly there is little loyalty to PSOE amongst workers. The party has delivered no significant material advances to the working class for decades.

A new force making a credible pledge to solve the problems confronting working-class people, including the national question, could quickly gather support. In Catalonia that force would have to adopt a correct position on the national question, supporting independence on a socialist basis and guaranteeing all language and culture rights to all. A socialist Catalonia could act as a beacon to the working class and youth throughout the Spanish state in a united struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist federation throughout the Spanish state. The working class could plan the economy democratically and could thereby reassure those who fear cuts to living standards that all of society’s wealth would be held by the working class, and economic links with other socialist states in the Iberian peninsula and the rest of Europe maintained within a socialist confederation.

Besides PSOE, every other party which linked its fate to the establishment suffered in this election. Capitalist commentators blame the low turnout on Covid-19 but if a credible mass political force promising to fight for workers had stood then the figures would be much higher.

Podemos, which had won the 2016 General Election in Catalonia, continued to wallow at just 7% of the vote to come 6th with 8 votes. There is disgust at the leaders of Podemos for shaking hands with the king at the Zarzuela palace and joining the government with PSOE instead of leading a movement to kick out the establishment. The words of several leaders of Podemos, who expressed support for the protests, have no force when they are a part of the government they denounce!

Similarly, right-wing Together for Catalonia (JxC) was able to advance because Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) had made concessions to PSOE in Madrid (despite the latter jailing one ERC leader and banning another from office!) while JxC mounted ferocious but insincere verbal attacks on Sánchez.

Far-right party, Vox, won its first seats in the Catalan parliament. At this stage, the party is mainly cannibalising the votes of other right-wing parties in the region but in the absence of a serious challenge to the establishment from the left, Vox could expand – even in Catalonia – out of the ranks of the ruined middle classes to gather support amongst a layer of desperate workers.

The potential for this confusing picture to polarise further along class lines can be seen by the results of left party, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which almost doubled its seats, going from 5 to 9. But there are also dangers. CUP has in the past been lured into a bloc that includes rightwing capitalist forces that support independence. If it repeats that mistake today, with class struggle sharpening, then it will be discredited and punished at least as harshly as Podemos.

CUP should take an independent position in defence of the interests of workers and use every platform it has won – its seats in the Spanish Cortes and in the Catalan parliament, its 23 mayors and its hundreds of councillors – to fight for a socialist programme that defends workers and refuses to sacrifice their needs for the needs of profit. Whatever the formal relationship between ERC and JxC, the new Catalan government that emerges will not do what is necessary to defend workers from the economic storm ahead, nor will it mount a serious struggle for independence. CUP must demonstrate that it will. 

CUP could be the nucleus around which a new party for the working class gathers. The far-right are poised to exploit every misstep, but with the correct strategy and a bold socialist programme that defies the demands of capitalism, the CUP could grow rapidly. The protests which have erupted demonstrate that the masses are rising, angry at the capitalism system which offers them no future. That anger must be fashioned by the left into an organisation that can smash the obstacles on the road to socialism.

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