ON OCTOBER 27, the Catalan Parliament declared independence by 70 to 10, with 55 abstentions. The Spanish state responded by removing the Catalan First Minister and his government from office, dissolving the Parliament, and assuming control of the region’s government, police and media.
New elections have been called for December 21. Until then, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a senior minister from the ruling Partido Popular will rule as proconsul in Catalonia.
The refusal of the Spanish state to grant Catalans their democratic right to a referendum on independence means Mariano Rajoy’s government must bear the prime responsibility for the political crisis that has engulfed the country.
The arrest of Catalan nationalists, the threats to dissolve the autonomous government and the violent attempt to disrupt the referendum were not a defence of democracy, but a defence of the Spanish state’s monopoly over the national rights of its peoples.
As we go to press, the Madrid Director of Public Prosecutions has filed charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against the former Catalan government and the Speaker’s Committee of the Catalan Parliament. It seems Puigdemont and other officials have taken refuge in Brussels. This punitive measure was made possible by the political collapse of the Catalan nationalists and the failure of the Spanish labour movement to put a stop to Rajoy’s reckless criminalisation of the independence movement.
The declaration of independence by just over 50 per cent of the Catalan parliament was a futile adventure that gave Rajoy the pretext he needed to impose direct rule, whilst ensuring the Catalan population remains divided over national loyalties instead of united in defence of their common democratic rights.
It was a farcical end to the weeks of paralysis and uncertainty that followed the referendum on October 1, whose result immediately split the hitherto united separatist forces. The party of Carles Puigdemont, the PDeCAT, is a thoroughly neoliberal bourgeois party, which only recently converted to the separatist cause in an effort to extricate itself from the consequences of its austerity and inveterate corruption. Inevitably it came under sustained pressure from its own class not to make a unilateral declaration of independence.
Conversely the two main petty bourgeois nationalist parties, the Republic Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), pressed furiously for an immediate declaration.
Rajoy, sensing he had Puigdemont on the ropes, would offer no concession nor brook any formal external mediation. It is now clear that, behind the scenes, mediation was taking place, with the European Union urging Rajoy to hold back, giving the EU time to pressure Puigdemont.
Puigdemont’s flight signifies that his resistance to Madrid’s takeover will be effectively symbolic. If this remains the case and his party accepts participation in the December elections, this will likely split the separatist forces irrevocably. The petty bourgeois radicals of the CUP, who propped up Puigdemont’s austerity government, will feel particularly betrayed, not to say duped.
On the other hand, Catalans who opposed the undemocratic way the parliament called the referendum, and consequently boycotted it, and were alienated still further by the unilateral declaration of independence, will be tempted to rally behind the parties opposed to independence. If this translates into support for the Catalan sections of the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and the Socialists (PSOE), it will hand a victory to the most reactionary forces in Spain.
The hope for some separatists is that victory for the nationalists in the forthcoming referendum will act as a legal referendum, forcing Madrid and Brussels to yield. This hope is likely to prove a disappointment, since although the ERC and CUP are likely to gain at the expense of the PDeCAT, there has never been a majority for independence and the separatists will enter the elections full of recriminations and divided as never before.
Of course just as defeat will divide the separatists, so victory may divide the victors. It is possible that Rajoy, pressed on by the reactionary Francoist recidivists, may overplay his hand, prompting fresh resistance from the pro-independence movement.
The threats to jail Catalan ministers, barring them from the December elections show that the government is sorely tempted to resort to the argument of force, rather than risking the outcome of the force of argument.
If the Madrid government does not permit totally free and fair elections, and anyone must have doubts about the credentials of elections called by the Partido Popular’s proconsul, then the only appropriate response would be an active boycott and a general strike, to prevent Rajoy organising a coronation for the parties of Spanish imperialism.
Rajoy’s insistence that Catalans have no right to either decide whether to secede from Spain is a violation of the basic right of nations to self-determination. His assertion that this right is impossible under the 1978 Constitution may be formally true but that does not prevent it being pedantic sophistry.
If a nation feels itself oppressed within a multinational state its right to secede (self determination is a right or it is nothing) must be accepted without reservations or coercion. Of course having a right does not oblige one to use it, since a right is not a duty. As Lenin famously pointed out the right to divorce does not mean an obligation to do so.
Socialists should be in favour of the widest possible unity of the working class and opposed to any measures which fragment or degrade the productive forces we wish to take control of, and put to the service of human need, not private profit.
For these reasons we are generally not in favour of splitting up large states or federations into smaller ones, with the growth in nationalist prejudice between workers inherent in such processes. For socialists small is not beautiful; nevertheless separation is a lesser evil than a unity that can only be maintained by force or fraud.
Therefore the Spanish government’s attempt to prevent the referendum was a violation of an elementary democratic right, whether or not one agrees with secession or the methods used to call the referendum. By these actions, Madrid has forfeited the right to any say in how Catalans decide their future.
Does this means that socialists at the moment support total independence for Catalonia? No. Not unless and until the people of the province have a free, unhindered vote. The referendum - thanks to the undemocratic inclinations of both Rajoy and Puigdemont - saw only 43 per cent vote. This does not means that those who abstained were opposed to independence but the result is clearly far from a mandate to force people into independence.
If new elections give a clear majority to separatist parties, or if resistance to Rajoy’s repression draws the Catalan working class into a general mobilisation under the call for independence, then it would be the duty of socialists across Spain and Europe to do everything in our power to help them achieve their goals. It must be noted however, that hitherto, the Catalan labour movement has given little indication of widespread support for independence.
Plainly the imposition of article 155 is an affront to democracy. If Rajoy, the Senate, the High Court and King Felipe VI win an outright victory in Catalonia this will be a severe blow not just for the region’s citizens but for progressive forces throughout Spain.
It is the duty of socialists in the rest of Spain to obstruct its implementation, to demand the release of the two Jordis, an end to the persecution of pro-independence politicians, and the restoration of the Generalitat’s autonomy, which should convene new elections to the Catalan parliament under its own authority.
Podemos leaders have denounced Rajoy’s coup. Good. Now the CCOO and UGT union federations should come out clearly against Rajoy’s constitutional coup and arrests of Catalan leaders. Left-wingers in the PSOE should break from the treacherous Pedro Sánchez who says he has chosen to “defend the Constitution” and support the Catalans’ right to self-determination.
If, on the other hand, as seems possible, there is no mass opposition to Rajoy’s suppression of Catalan autonomy, and the far from certain promise that December elections go ahead without bans and proscriptions, socialists in Catalonia should nevertheless prepare to contest them.
The working class of Catalonia, despite the fact they should be fighting to stop Rajoy’s coup alongside the partisans of independence, should place no confidence in Carles Puigdemont, the ERC or the nationalist “anticapitalists” of the CUP. Working class and leftwing voters should give critical support to Catalunya en Comù, the party led by Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau, which did not participate in the referendum but which has consistently denounced Rajoy’s repression.
Socialists should unite around a platform defending democratic and national rights; a socialist programme to address the needs of the people by taxing and expropriating the rich; and a constituent assembly to create a constitution based on the democratic federation of socialist republics in Spain.
With such a programme, socialists can supersede the nationalist divisions and rally a class opposition to both Rajoy and Puigdemont.
In the rest of Spain, Podemos Unidos should urge the leftwing of the PSOE to break with the party’s social chauvinist leadership and help found a new working class, socialist party that can lead the struggle to oust Rajoy’s government and demand elections to a sovereign Constituent Assembly.
Within this socialists should fight not only for the right to self determination up to and including secession but also for the abolition of the Bourbon monarchy, the Senate, and unelected judiciary.
Across Europe, workers and youth, socialist and labour parties, should condemn the actions of Rajoy and the European Union’s leaders’ shameful support for them, and organise demonstrations in support of Catalans’ democratic rights.