THE RIGHT WING Madrid government of Mariano Rajoy has responded to the Catalan separatists’ declaration of independence by beginning the process of invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would suspend Catalan autonomy and dissolve its parliament. This involves asking the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to confirm whether he has declared Catalonia’s independence or not. If he says “yes”, the measures of suspension would go into effect. If he says “no”, the separatist movement will be thrown into confusion with the left-nationalist CUP threatening to withdraw their support for Puigdemont’s minority government.
The confusion comes because Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence but then immediately ‘suspended’ its implementation “for a few weeks” to allow negotiations with Madrid. This move came after a week of vacillation in which this political representative of the Catalan bourgeoisie was subjected to intense pressure from the banks and big industrialists as well as behind the scenes intervention from the European Union.
It is plain that the great majority of Catalonia’s capitalists are opposed to independence. The principal bosses’ organisation, the Foment del Treball, denounced the Barcelona government for having “crossed the frontiers of illegality” thus opening Catalonia to “national and international discredit and, who knows, to economic insolvency”. Two dozen companies, including most of the region’s biggest firms, have either moved their HQ’s out of the province or announced their readiness to do so and the European Council President, Donald Tusk, warned Puigdemont to “respect … the constitutional order”.
Rajoy now scents blood. He wants to ensure Puigdemont’s adventure ends in ignominious submission to the authority of Madrid, Monarchy and Constitution. If he does not climb down, Rajoy will attempt to settle the question by installing a virtual dictatorship over Catalonia. That is why 20,000 police were sent to the province in the run up to the referendum. Of course, this is also a gamble but Rajoy has already called up the forces of Spanish chauvinism to soften the ground.
A victory for Rajoy would open the door to a general offensive against the other democratic and social rights despised by the Partido Popular. Victory in Catalonia would probably be sealed with a victor’s election to give himself an absolute parliamentary majority that will then be used as a sledgehammer against the entire working class.
Only generalised direct action by workers and youth in Catalonia, and eventually across the rest of Spain, can stop Franco’s heirs from carrying out their long held wish to make an example of the Catalans and violate the democratic rights of the working class across Spain in the process.
The whole country is at a crossroads where the question of revolution or counterrevolution is no hyperbole. If Rajoy succeeds in forcing the Catalan nationalists to surrender through intimidation or force, it will be an unprecedented setback for Spain’s 40-year old democracy. The gravity of the situation at hand demands an appropriate response from the Catalan labour and social movements: an all out and indefinite general strike to seize the initiative and the power from the warring bourgeois factions and deliver it into the hands of the organised working class.
The immediate objectives of such a general strike should be:
An end to the invocation of Article 155 and any interference by Madrid with the existing state of autonomyWithdrawal of all the central government’s police, military and paramilitary units from CataloniaExtension of the Referendum Defence Committees into instruments of the working class as a whole, both pro- and anti-independence. These should elect delegates to local and national leaderships.An appeal to the labour movements outside Catalonia to abandon their passivity and spread the action across the country on the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all.
Across the rest of Spain, the issue posed by Rajoy’s constitutional coup d’etat is not Catalonia’s immediate separation but its people’s right to full autonomy and self-determination.
Though the workers and youth of Spain should defend Puigdemont against the PP’s dire threats, (including the despicable suggestion that he might suffer the same fate as the historic Catalan nationalist leader Luis Companys, murdered by Franco in 1940) his weakness has shown that his thoroughly bourgeois and neoliberal PDeCAT party cannot lead a successful defence of democratic rights. Only the working class has the common interest and collective power to do this.
The PSOE’s leader, Sanchez, has shamefully supported Rajoy at every stage of the crisis and Podemos, which does support the right to a referendum and opposes invoking Article 155, continues to call for dialogue: a pacifist utopian solution.
A storm of Spanish chauvinism has been spawned by the conflict between the nationalist camps, even allowing the fascists to emerge from the sewers. It will not be stopped from steamrolling Catalonia if the mass movement continues to hang on to the coat tails of the pro-independence Catalan small bourgeoisie.
What it needs to do is forge the unity of workers, young people, the unemployed and pensioners across Spain to defend democratic rights by driving Rajoy and the PP from power. Such mass unity was last seen during the 15M movement against austerity, when workers and young people occupied squares in Madrid, Barcelona and many other cities in every part of the country. The replacement of mass direct action by Podemos’ electoralism has seen the erosion of this spontaneous unity. There is now an acute crisis of leadership within the progressive, all-Spanish progressive forces who have, in effect, abandoned the terrain of struggle to ‘radical’ left nationalists, who see separatism as the only way forward.
Outside Catalonia, the duty and responsibility rests with socialists in Podemos, the left wing of the PSOE and rank and file militants of the CCOO and UGT to go beyond impotent appeals for negotiations and instead go into the streets and organise within workplaces, educational institutions and working class estates for mass action to frustrate the government offensive before it goes any further.
Working class power
The governments of the European Union, who have tacitly or overtly endorsed Rajoy’s fraudulent “legality” and police repression, are the enemies of Spain’s workers and their democratic rights. Their support for Rajoy’s actions exposes their contempt for democracy and is an indication of what they would do to their own working classes if they could get away with it. When democratic and national rights are at stake, the capitalists, whether pro or anti independence, only look out for their own interests.
It is to the labour and trade union movements, workers’ parties and radical youth of Europe that Catalan workers should appeal, and who have the obligation to come to their aid.
Against the national chauvinism and separatism pitting Catalan workers against workers in the rest of the country, socialists should fight for a workers’ government, composed of delegates elected from assemblies formed in working class areas, the trade unions, and workplace, school and university committees, and protected by the defence committees.
A workers’ government in Catalonia and Spain should call elections to sovereign constituent assemblies whose task is to sweep away the undemocratic paraphernalia of the 1978 constitution, including the Bourbon Monarchy, the Senate and the High Court, to end austerity and unemployment by placing banks, industry and the capitalists’ wealth under democratic control, and settle the national question through a free association of peoples in a socialist federation of the Iberian peninsula.