Catalan elections set for inconclusive result

16 December 2017

By KD Tait

CAMPAIGNING IS well underway in Catalonia for elections to the regional parliament on 21 December. Turnout is likely to be high at around 82 per cent, but the second election in two years is likely to deliver a similar finely balanced result between nationalists and unionists.

The central issue will once again be independence or remaining part of Spain. However, because of the serious repression unleashed by Madrid over the past two months, the main bourgeois nationalist parties favouring secession have been forced to trim their sails in order to take part.

Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont’s centre-right Partit Demòcrata Català, PDECAT, and its centre-left coalition partner, Esquerra Republicana, ERC, have both distanced themselves from the unilateral declaration of independence without actually renouncing it, claiming they are seeking “bilateral negotiations with the (Spanish) State and the EU”. Opinion polls suggest the result, between pro and anti-independence parties, will once again be close, as it was in all four of the previous iterations; two regional elections and two referendums.

At the moment, pro-independence parties seem to be on course to win a narrow majority of seats again. The election system is a proportional one with party lists, but these are divided into the four provinces that make up Catalonia. These are not equal in terms of numbers of voters; the province of Barcelona, the most populous and working class, which is opposed to independence, has 14 fewer deputies than it should have based on the size of its population. The three other regions; Girona, Lleida and Tarragona, with smaller cities and towns and a much larger rural demographic, are overrepresented. Therefore, in the 2015 regional elections, separatist parties won 53 per cent of the deputies but only 48 per cent of the total vote.

Rajoy’s oppression

The Madrid government’s repression against voters during the October 1 independence referendum was a violation of the fundamental democratic right of a nation to self-determination, as was the refusal of the European Union, and all its member governments, to protest against it. The Catalan government itself hesitated for two weeks, pleading with Madrid and Brussels to negotiate. Then, in a state of desperation, and egged on by the far left Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP, they issued the declaration of independence on October 27. The CUP’s ten seats gave them power over two much larger pro-independence parties, in the Junts pel Sí, Together for Yes, coalition, because their votes in parliament were essential to a separatist majority.

The objection to the declaration, for consistent democrats as well as socialists, is not that it was “unilateral”, that is, made without the consent of the Madrid parliament and Constitutional Court. The right to self-determination means the free expression of the will of the nation seeking secession, with or without the consent of the state from which they wish to separate. The democratic flaw of the Catalan nationalists’ decision was that the referendum, like both the previous one and the regional elections, did not show that they had the support of a clear majority of Catalans, for the reasons stated above. There has never been a clear and unequivocal majority vote for secession.

The nationalists, led by the CUP, hoped that Rajoy’s intransigence and inevitable repression would swing a big majority of Catalans over to them but this was an utterly manipulative and adventurist tactic. And one bound to end in disaster.

Despite the hundreds of thousands taking part in street demonstrations, it was the failure of Catalonia’s workers to respond to Rajoy’s repression with a massive general strike involving factory workers, civil servants, transport workers, that led to Puigdemont’s car crash and Rajoy’s triumph. Only paralysing the country with a general strike could have answered Rajoy’s attempt to take over the province. A “state” with no police force or bureaucracy at its disposal and no majority support from its workers is no state at all and its independent existence is a fiction. Only a hopeless petty bourgeois could think differently.

The rapid implementation of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, dissolving the Catalan government and legislature, called the bluff of the bourgeois nationalists of Junts pel Sí and the so-called Marxists, anarchists and even “Trotskyist” groups active in the CUP.

After the High Court charged the Catalan ministers with sedition and rebellion and Carles Puigdemont and four cabinet ministers fled to Belgium and appealed for asylum, resistance to Rajoy proved ineffective. Despite initial mass demonstrations and road blockades, the province was soon being run by top civil servants sent from Madrid. The Catalan police, the divided and demoralised Mossos d’Esquadra, obeyed the orders of the Spanish state.

Puigedemont, on his arrival in Brussels, pathetically appealed to the European Union to intervene and mediate between Madrid and Barcelona. But the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, preoccupied with another nationalist mess across the English Channel, curtly ruled out any EU intervention, even sending observers to the December 21 elections, saying, “It will create more chaos in the EU… We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved in that”. Puigedemont replied that an independent Catalonia would imitate Brexit, but then backed down yet again and affirmed his pro-EU credentials.

The Spanish government has, however, abandoned its attempt to get a European extradition warrant for Puigdemont and his ministers after the Belgian courts ruled that the charges they faced were not crimes in Belgium and the ministers faced a threat to their right to a fair trial if extradited. Madrid thus dropped its efforts on 14 December, though not the charges in Spain’s courts.

It is of course possible that, behind the scenes, the EU leaders were embarrassed by Rajoy’s mounting resort to arrests and charges of sedition and rebellion, culled from the dictator Franco’s legal code, and urged him to go easy before the election. In any case, Rajoy opted to allow the pro-independence leaders, including the exiled Puigdemont, to stand for election. Thus far, he remains in Brussels and continues to campaign for the post of President, though there are rumours he may return before the poll.

Whilst six former cabinet ministers have been released on bail of €100,000, the former vice-president, Oriel Junqueras, head of the Esquerra Republicana, ER, remains in prison, along with the “two Jordis”; Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium Cultural, a Catalan civil society organisation, and Jordi Sanchez, president of Catalan National Assembly, plus Joaquin Forn, former interior minister.

However, despite a certain relaxation in tensions, the elections are obviously taking place under the grossly undemocratic threat that, if the Catalans vote for a majority of parties pledged to independence, then Article 155 will remain in place, suspending Catalan autonomy and preventing the formation of a government unless and until it explicitly recognises the sovereignty of the Spanish constitution. Thus, Rajoy’s attitude to the elections is straightforward; “heads I win; tails you lose.”

If, as seems possible, the pro-independence parties win a majority again, Rajoy will carry on with Madrid rule and the arrests and trials. If, however, the right wing parties, Ciutadans and PP and their lackey the PSC, win, and form a coalition, then doubtless a charade of prolonged negotiations on limited improvements to Catalonia’s autonomy will unfold. So, too, will the nationalist demonstrations. In addition, Rajoy, who has no majority in the present Cortes, may go for an early Spanish general election, hoping to win an absolute majority whilst the population is still fired up with Spanish chauvinism. He will hope that PSOE and Podemos will suffer heavy defeats and the demoralised and divided workers and youth of the Spanish state will put up little resistance.

The Far Left and Catalonia

The majority of so-called Trotskyists in Catalonia, and their international co-thinkers, have capitulated to Catalan nationalism and are active in the CUP. Amongst them is a group linked to the International Marxist Tendency (Grantites) who changed their position into support for independence under the impact of the “mass movement” of 2017, adopting the slogan of a Catalan Socialist Republic. Then there are the supporters of the International Socialist Tendency (Cliffites), around the paper En Lucha, the IST has stated;

“The decision is up to the people of Catalonia, but we hope they vote yes, just as we supported a Yes vote in Scotland. States like Britain and Spain are not an instrument of progress, but rather weapons in the hands of our enemies, both against their own populations and against those around the world exploited by British or Spanish multinationals. The independence of Catalonia would be an important blow against an imperial state.”

The Committee for a Workers’ International is also enthusiastic for petty bourgeois Catalan nationalism, proclaiming “within national independence movements are often contained an ‘immature Bolshevism’.” This is a position reminiscent of the “unconscious Trotskyism” with which their predecessors hailed the Algerian, Syrian, Cuban and Vietnamese anti-imperialist struggles of the 1960s. As a result, the CWI sets itself the task of winning “the mass of the working class to support independence”. What they do not realise is that winning the workers to nationalism by no means sets them on the path to Bolshevism, quite the opposite.

The groups linked to the politics of Nahuel Moreno, that is, the Corriente Roja, the section of the International Workers’ League, and Lucha Internacional of International Workers’ Unity, UIT-CI, are also working within the CUP and support secession as does Revolta Global-Esquerra anticapitalist, which has links with the Izquierda anticapitalista and the Fourth International. The Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International, a split away from Morenoism in the 1980s, with a sizeable section, the PTS, in Argentina, is more cautious and is not in the CUP but nevertheless it also talks of the need to “fight for the political leadership of this struggle for Catalan independence”.

Many of these international currents have a long record of opportunist accommodation to petty bourgeois nationalism, for example over Quebec and Scotland. In the case of the British-based groups, most have also joined the crusade for Brexit on the grounds that breaking up big imperialist states into small ones would be progressive and would advance social demands.

All these positions are in direct contradiction to the line taken by the founders of Bolshevism and Trotskyism. Lenin, a trenchant defender of the right to self-determination of all oppressed nations, always pointed out that the right to divorce did not imply a duty to seek divorce and that, “For a Marxist, of course, all other things being equal, big states are always preferable to small ones because they allow the greatest development of the productive forces under capitalism and therefore the growth of the working class and the organisation of its movement, trade union and political.”

Likewise, in 1931, Trotsky wrote: “Are the workers and peasants of the various parts of Spain interested in the economic dismemberment of Spain? In no case. That is why, to identify the decisive struggle for the right to self-determination with propaganda for separatism, means to accomplish a fatal work.”

Thus, it is today’s Trotskyists who have adapted to the CUP that are “unconscious” of Bolshevism and Trotskyism.

Erecting a state border between the Catalan and Spanish workers, or between the Scottish and English workers, injures internationalism and, far from bringing the socialist revolution closer, actively postpones it by poisoning the workers with nationalism. It also opens the way to subsequent calls to make sacrifices for “their” new fatherland.


Our criticism of the Catalan government is not that they attempted to give Catalans the right to exercise their self-determination: in that they were justified. However, they were wrong to force the decision through the Catalan parliament in such a way as to override the wishes of those deputies who supported the right to a referendum but wished to debate how it could be made effective. Declaring independence after such a vote, knowing the likely consequences, was an act of criminal irresponsibility vis-a-vis the workers and youth of the province and the country. It shows what a disastrous blind alley bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists can and will lead them into.

Movements such as the Catalan nationalist movement, its “civic nationalist” comrades in Scotland, or the right wing Northern Italian separatists, express the class interest of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the more developed regions within major imperialist countries, who want to take a greater share of the wealth extracted from exploiting the working class. Despite any rhetorical concessions to “social” values, they all ultimately seek the same path: mini states who survive by seeking direct relationships with international capitalist blocks and the European Union by offering themselves as low-tax havens free of labour market regulation and other protective legislation.

The idea of economic independence in today’s world economy is a reactionary illusion. This is actually revealed as a deception by the insistence of Scottish and Catalan separatists that they would join the European Union, that is, the single market, outside of which they know that their economies would be subject to crushing competition. The left, on the other hand, who insist that mini-state independence would be a catalyst for anticapitalist nationalisation, the breakup of the surrounding imperialist states and the growth of internationalist and socialist consciousness, are simply providing a left utopia to win students and petty bourgeois radicals into defending a new, “social” fatherland, whose isolation and social decline will be blamed on the “foreign” bosses and “backward” workers.

So, what should the workers and youth of Barcelona do on December 21? Clearly, boycotting the election would be a totally ineffective tactic since all the parties, pro- and anti-separatist, are taking part and the turnout is likely to set records. Of course, it takes place under conditions of the grossest violation of democracy imaginable in a “free country” but this is likely to make it a means for the population to express its wishes via the secret ballot.

We believe that socialists in Catalonia should stick to a class line of opposing Rajoy and all the parties that have supported his denial of the right to self-determination, including the wretched Catalan Socialists (PSC). We also believe they should reject the pro-independence parties, Puigemont’s Junts per Catalunya, United for Catalonia, the ERC and the CUP.

That leaves Catalunya en Comu-Podem, CeC-P, an alliance around the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, plus the Catalan branch of Podemos and Catalan representatives of the United Left, Communists plus Greens. Its programme is anti-austerity and it draws on the movements since the Idignados upheaval in 2010-11, a mix of left socialist and populist elements.

In itself, socialists have no reason to endorse this programme, but CeC-P has taken the most correct line in the present crisis; opposing Rajoy’s denial of a referendum and supporting the right to hold one but, at the same time, opposing secession unless there is a clear majority. A critical vote for them will to some degree allow the creation of a rallying point for those who are determined to resist Rajoy’s repression alongside the separatists but also to expose and oppose the neoliberal policies of the two main parties in that camp. At the same time, it could rally forces against the CUP’s undemocratic nationalistic adventurism.

Beyond these immediate tasks, the key question is to build a revolutionary socialist party in both Catalonia and Spain, armed with a programme for overthrowing Rajoy, the monarchy and the entire 1978 constitution. Its democratic slogans should be centred around the call for constituent assemblies in the autonomous regions, and at the level of the Spanish state, that can create a multinational federal socialist republic in Spain as part of a socialist united states of Europe.

To defend the right to self-determination and open up the struggle against austerity, reactionary neoliberal conservatism, against militarism and to solve the catastrophic ecological and refugee crises is not just a Catalan or Spanish task but a Europe-wide one. Only the European working class can solve such problems, not the nationalists, and not the German or French imperialists manoeuvring to secure primacy. To do that, the working class must be united, with a class-consciousness that exposes and counters national chauvinism with working class internationalism. This means creating a united international party that overrides national concerns and prejudices, with united revolutionary socialist goals, on its banner must be written clearly – A United Socialist States of Europe.

Tags:  • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter