This is the last in our series on the rise of the New Left in Europe.*
THE NEW LEFT AND THE NATIONALIST MOVEMENTS IN SCOTLAND AND CATALONIA
PART 2 - CATALONIA (SPAIN)
by Stephen Morgan
147) The Catalan separatist movement represents a major threat to Spanish capitalism and the Spanish state. The current efforts by the Spanish ruling class to suppress the movement by the use of repressive legal and constitutional measures, could easily inflame the situation and potentially send it spiraling out of control.
148) The Spanish ruling class has not lost the heritage of its fascist past and its attempts to suppress the independence movement will awaken memories of the way in which the rights of the Catalan people and their culture and language, were trampled on by the former Franco dictatorship. The Catalan people also have a rich revolutionary history going back to the Civil War, and the Catalan workers played a leading role in the armed resistance to fascism.
149) Furthermore, the Catalan working class is the most powerful and politically advanced section of the working class in Spain and has always been a hotbed of socialist, communist, anarchist and Trotskyist ideas. Consequently, there is an inherent potential in this situation for this crisis to go beyond simple independence and grow over into a revolutionary challenge to capitalism. The representatives of Spanish capitalism will have to be very careful on how they proceed.
150) In truth, the Spanish ruling class is in a state of panic over the independence movement. It cannot afford to loose Catalonia. It is the industrial powerhouse of the Spanish economy. Catalonia accounts for nearly 30% of Spanish industrial output and 25% of its exports. If Catalonia seceded, it would be a body blow for the Spanish capitalist class.
151) Furthermore, if Catalonia broke away, the ruling class fears that this could also reignite the strong separatist movement in the Basque country, and encourage demands for independence in Galicia as well. The Spanish state could literally disintegrate, leaving just a rump of the country based on Castile and Andalusia.
152) The independence movement in Catalonia has grown out of the longstanding animosity between the Catalans and the Castilian-dominated government in Madrid, and the centuries-old suppression of their language and culture. But, the reasons for its current growth can also be found in the same factors which gave rise to the development of the New Left in the rest of Spain.
153) The crisis of capitalism severely affected the region and, like the rest of Spain, it suffered from economic hardship, compounded by the austerity measures carried out by the central government in Madrid. Added to this is the anger against the betrayals of the socialist, PSOE leaders, who were seen as jointly responsible for the economic and social problems in Catalonia, together with the right-wing PP.
154) Similarly to the Labour Party in Scotland, PSOE has suffered a severe decline in support in Catalonia, as a result of its right-wing policies and opposition to independence. In the general elections of 2008 and 2011 its share of the vote in Catalonia plunged from 45% to 28%. In the elections for the Catalan regional parliament its support has fallen even further — from 27% in the 2006 to 13% in 2015. Like the British Labour Party's in Scotland, PSOE is seen by many as a representative of the Spanish ruling class working in alliance with the ruling, right-wing party, the PP. The state of the PP also mirrors its Tory counterparts in Scotland, having never received more than a derisory vote in Catalonia. In the regional Catalan election in 2015, it could only muster a measly 8% of the vote.
155) However, the independence movement in Catalonia is much more complex than in Scotland and the role of the left is far more convoluted. Unlike Scotland, the main nationalist party currently heading the pro-independence movement is a center-right party, the CDS, which has an electoral alliance with the center-left, Republican Left of Catalonia Party (ER) called “Junts pel Sí”(Together for Yes). The Junts pel Sí was the main winner of the independence-regional elections in 2015, getting 39.5% of the vote and winning 62 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament. Its strength underlines the strong middle class character of the nationalist movement in Catalonia. The CDS vote is strongest in small towns and villages in the rural and coastal areas and less in urban concentrations. Its policy of “independence first, social justice later” has undermined its support among Catalan workers, while it scored nearly 40% in the regional elections, in the 2015 elections for the Barcelona city council, it got only 22% of the vote.
156) In the recent period, the left has begun to make some impressive gains. The CUP is the most left-wing of the nationalist parties in Catalonia and on a regional level it has grown from 3.5% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015, just behind Podemos, which had 9% regionally. That would put the combined vote of the “far-left” at about 17% in Catalonia as a whole.
157) In 2015, the left also captured control of the Catalan capital, Barcelona, winning the mayoral position through a left alliance called Barcelona en Comú, which included Podemos. Barcelona en Comú captured 25% of the vote and the more left-wing and stridently nationalist CUP won 7.5%, giving the left a combined vote of 32% in the city and throwing the CDS out of power there.
158) However, the situation with the left in Catalonia is complicated, particularly over the independence issue. The position of Podemos and its left allies in Catalonia is ambiguous on independence, stating that it supports Catalonia’s right to self-determination and a referendum on separation, but argues that Catalonia should stay part of the Spanish state. As a result it loses support among both pro and anti-independence workers and youth. Workers opposed to independence are suspicious of Podemos' vagueness and equivocation on the issue. They give the impression that it is just hedging their bets and their support for a referendum looks pro-separatist. Similarly, workers and youth in favour of independence are reluctant to support it because of the same ambiguity on independence and its argument that Catalonia should remain part of Spain.
159) But, what really undermines Podemos' ability to gain support from left-wing, pro-independence workers, as well as from those opposing separation, is not so much its ambiguous position on independence, but its ambiguous position on socialism. It doesn't call for a socialist Catalonia, and it argues for Catalonia to remain inside a capitalist Spain. Thus, by not putting forward the need to overthrow capitalism throughout the Iberian Peninsular and create a federation of independent, socialist states, it allows workers and youth to fall into the hands of both petty-bourgeois nationalists and petty-bourgeois unionist parties.
160) Consequently, while it has grown in support in Catalonia, it has not gained more than 9% of the vote, substantially less than 18-28% it has achieved in the rest of Spain. As it continues to shift to the right, its support will start to decline in Catalonia. Anti-independence workers who might have voted for Podemos will shift their support to the clearly anti-separatist Ciudadanos party, while left-wing pro-independence workers and youth will switch their allegiance to the more radical, left nationalist CUP. And there is ample evidence that this is already happening.
161) There are considerable differences in the political programme of the CUP and Podemos.. The CUP is far to the left of Podemos and arguably one of the most progressive socialist groups, not only in Catalonia, but in the whole of Spain. It is the party closest to adopting a correct programme for both socialism and Catalan independence. The CUP stands for the right of self-determination for Catalonia and the creation of a Catalan state which is “independent, socialist, environmentally sustainable and free from the domination of the patriarchy." It is unambiguously committed to socialism and calls for a "planned economy based on solidarity, aimed towards fulfilling the needs of the people". They are in favour of the nationalization of public utilities, including transport and communication, and the nationalization of the banks. It also advocates the right of immediate recall for all officials and its MPs refuse to take more than an average worker's wage.
162) However, it is also influenced by anarchist ideas, describing its ideology as libertarian socialist. This is reflected in its policies such as decentralized democracy with political power located at the municipality level, and government policy to be decided by popular referendum and mass assemblies.
163) It has refused to go into alliance with both Podemos and the center-right, nationalist CDS, and while voting with it in favor of independence in the Catalan parliament, it refuses to support its right-wing leader, Artur Mas, for reelection as President of Catalonia because of the austerity measures he has carried out in the region as the head of the governing party.
164) The close vote over independence shows that not only is Catalonia split over the issue, but that many workers are opposed to it. The victory of a left coalition in Barcelona not clearly committed to independence suggests that maybe the majority of workers in Catalonia do not want separatism. Another reason for that is that a big section of the Catalan working class comes from other parts of Spain, and migrated there from poorer areas in search of jobs.
165) Added to this is an unusual twist in events represented by the sudden rise of the new, populist, Ciudadanos party (Cs) Citizen party – a center party implacably opposed to independence. Analysis of the elections in Barcelona show that Ciudadanos did particularly well in the so-called “red-belt” of working class suburbs surrounding Barcelona.
166) Ciudadanos is another new anomaly on the Spanish and Catalan political scene. It presents itself as a moderate, progressive, reform orientated, but free-market party. It is a sort of center party duplicate of Podemos and gives the impression of also being anti-Establishment, but without left-wing policies. It was set up in 2006 and originally worked just in Catalonia. In 2010, it managed to only win 3% of the vote in the region, but in the elections for the Catalan parliament in 2015, its vote soared to 18%, making it the second largest party in the region. In the Barcelona city council elections its vote rose to 11%, making it the third largest party in the capital.
167) The rise in support for Ciudadanos, especially in working class areas, suggests that anti-independence workers didn't want to vote for either the national, ruling right-wing PP nor the traitors of PSOE. However, they didn't want to vote for Podemos because of its ambiguous stance on independence. Consequently, the only alternative seemed for many to be voting for the clearly, anti-independence party, Ciudadanos.
168) The situation in Catalonia is clearly very complicated, and what makes it worse is that at each different level of elections — national, regional or municipality — both the names and composition of the party electoral coalitions change. What will happen in the future depends on multiple factors and the volatility of Spanish politics, shown by the spectacular and unforeseen rise of both Podemos and Ciudadanos, means one has to be cautious about making definitive predictions. This is even more the case in Catalonia given the explosive nature of the independence movement.
169) If the economy continues to improve, the independence movement could decline, though there isn't always a direct correlation between economic developments and separatism. In certain circumstance political factors can play a more important role. However, if we look at the recent growth of the independence movement, support for separatism stood at only 10% before the economic crash of 2007. Then, under the influence of the following recession and budget crisis, it rocketed to 48% today. Therefore, it could also gradually decline if the economic problems also diminish.
170) Furthermore, if the ruling nationalist CDS continues to implement austerity measures in Catalonia, and more of the corruption scandals surrounding it come to light, its support could fall. In these circumstances, a section of the CDS could split away and form a new center-left party and create a new coalition with existing CDS junior coalition partners – the center-left, ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) and MES (Left Movement).
171) Some of the CDS vote may also pass to the CUP and it might also be helped by a shift to right by Podemos, taking some of its vote from its more left-wing supporters. But whether the CUP could become a mass party at this stage is questionable. There would probably need to be a revolutionary crisis and an extreme radicalization of the independence movement for the CUP to become a mass force..
172) Anti-independence, PSOE is still the third largest party in Catalonia, and were it to refuse to enter a new coalition with the PP at the national level, and take a stronger more left, anti-austerity position, it might regain some of the support it has lost in Catalonia. However, it looks unlikely that PSOE would form a coalition with Podemos and the Communist Party, like the PS in Portugal.
173) On the other hand, it is possible that PSOE would make an alliance with Ciudadanos. Support for Ciudadanos seems likely to grow both in Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Should PSOE enter an alliance with Ciudadanos that would strengthen the anti-independence movement. Much will depend on the outcome of the general election in 2015.
174) The other perspective is for the independence movement to continue to simmer or even increase in intensity. Despite recent improvements in the economy, mass unemployment and widespread poverty will continue to fuel the independence movement, and if there is a new world economic recession, it might even escalate. A lot will also depend on whether the ruling class continues with its heavy-handed approach toward the independence movement. If the Spanish constitutional court begins dismissing elected members of the Catalan parliament that could provoke a major backlash. Therefore, there are sufficient factors to indicate that the independence movement is unlikely to go away in the near future.
National Question Summary
175) While the the National Question is, at the moment, most developed in Scotland and Catalonia, it has the potential to become a major issue in many other European countries. In Britain, there is the potential for an independence movement to develop at some stage in Wales, as well as the possibility of the reemergence of problems in Northern Ireland. The Basque and Catalan issues in Spain also spill over into minority enclaves in France, where there is also the issue of Corsican independence and a potential separatist movement among the Bretons in the north east. Belgium has come close to disintegration on a number of occasions in the recent period with the strong separatist movement among the majority Flemish population. In Cyprus, there is the continuing division of Greeks and Turks, and Eastern Europe is a maze of overlapping minority populations inhabiting regions of each others countries. The question of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, and the many unresolved issues in former Yugoslavia are also potential flashpoints.
176) There is even the potential for the break up of Italy and Germany, at some point, through separatist movements in Northern Italy and Bavaria – both of which are not based on different ethnic groups, but peoples occupying a territory with strong cultural and historical identities. Indeed, as a harbinger of such potential processes, the Bavarian CSU, the longstanding coalition party of the ruling bourgeois CDU party in the rest of Germany, made the unprecedented step of splitting away from the alliance over the refugee crisis.
177) The current separatists movements are all comprised of indigenous national, ethnic and linguistic minorities within unified states, but which occupy their own clear historical territories. However, there is also the huge Roma population of 12 million people spread across Europe who have no geographic home, and, of course, the non-indigenous minorities like Arabs and Berbers from Algeria and Morocco mostly in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and the Turkish population in Germany, as well as Asians and the black population in Britain, all of whom have arrived in the post war period and who are intermixed with the local populations and occupy no clear territorial regions.
178) The creation of unified nation states was a prerequisite for the development of capitalism. Solving the National Question was one of its central tasks, but clearly this hasn't happened. In times of boom, independence movements tend to recede, but in times of economic recession, they can reemerge with a force which can accelerate the break up of states and intensify the crisis of capitalism. However, they can be a doubled-edge sword, because they have the potential to divide the working class, if they are lead by petty-bourgeois nationalists.
179) Lack of clarity on this issue by the new left groups can undermine their support among oppressed minorities, exacerbate divisions among workers and hinder the development of the socialist movement. The left must put forward a clear policy for the right to self-determination for all peoples, national minorities and ethnic or religious groups, but at the same time campaign for the greatest possible unity of the working class. They should stand for maximum independence within the context of an international socialist alternative. However it is formulated in different countries, the basis of the demand must be an economic federation between independent socialist states based on a democratically-run planned economy.
*We will be posting the series in its entirety at the top of the blog in a day or so.