On Sunday, November 9, over 2.3 million Catalans mobilised to vote in a “consultation” over their future status in Spain defying Rajoy’s government which had twice banned the vote. The vote was on two questions, the first asking if Catalonia should have a state of its own and then, if so, whether such a state should be independent. Of those who voted, 80% or 1.8 million said they wanted Catalonia to be an independent state (Yes-Yes), 10% voted for what is interpreted as a federal solution (Yes-No), and 4.5% voted against statehood.
The turnout was quite significant as the right-wing Spanish government of Rajoy first got the Constitutional Tribunal to challenge the vote and order its suspension. Then, when the Catalan government of bourgeois nationalist Artur Mas decided to organise an “informal consultation” Rajoy got the Council of State to also issue an order against it saying it would amount to fraud.
On the day of the vote itself two right-wing populist parties (UPyD and Vox) asked the state prosecutor to send in the police to prevent the vote and to arrest Catalan president Artur Mas. Now, the state prosecutor is preparing a separate case to start legal action against the organisers of the “alternative consultation” and all those who collaborated with it, including high school headmasters who allowed their buildings to be used for the vote.
The reaction of the Spanish government and its use of obscure unelected bodies to prevent the people of Catalonia from freely expressing their will reveals the rottenness of the Spanish regime which emerged from the compromise between Franco’s dictatorship and the leaders of the workers’ parties (Communist and Socialist) in 1978.
The denial of the right of self-determination for Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia was a key plank of that betrayal. At that time even, this basic democratic right, was seen as an integral part of the revolutionary struggle against the Franco regime and for genuine democracy, which was led by the workers’ organisations throughout the country. Instead of that, the betrayal of the leaders of the Left parties produced a Constitution which recognised the Spanish flag (which had been restored by Franco as he crushed the Second Republic), Franco’s monarchy, an amnesty law which meant impunity for the crimes of the dictatorship, and the sacred unity of Spain guaranteed by the Armed Forces.
The Council of State, which Rajoy resorted to in order to ban the “alternative consultation”, is full of relics from the dictatorship. Its president, José Manuel Romay Beccaría, was a Minister of Health under Franco and occupied other prominent positions in the regime. Amongst its permanent councilors is Landelino Lavilla who was the last minister of justice of the dictatorship.
The current economic and social crisis in Spain has led to a growing questioning of the whole edifice of bourgeois democracy and its more undemocratic aspects, which are a relic of Franco’s dictatorship and the particularly reactionary and backward nature of the Spanish ruling class from its inception. As part of this process, wide layers of society have started to question the Monarchy and all the institutions of the bourgeois state have been widely discredited. The assertion of the right of self-determination is a part of this. In Catalonia itself, about 70% of the population support what has become known as “the right to decide”, even though not all of them would vote for independence.
In the run up to the vote on November 9, there were all sorts of provocations on the part of the Spanish state. There were threats to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, to take legal action against the elected representatives of the Catalan government and even on the eve of the vote, a column of armoured vehicles was seen travelling to Barcelona (in what the Spanish government described as a “routine transfer”). Reflecting the fact that the military and the state apparatus were never purged after the end of Franco’s regime, in military and other reactionary circles there was agitation about the need to send the troops to Barcelona and to use the police to physically prevent the ballot boxes from being used. When Catalan left-wing politicians favourable to the November 9 vote went to Madrid to participate in a debate, the meeting was disrupted by nazi thugs.
To add insult to injury, all of these attacks against the exercise of a basic democratic right, the right to vote, were coming from a widely discredited government of a party mired in all sorts of corruption scandals. As a matter of fact, the right-wing PP government in Madrid has acted as the main recruiting sergeant to the ranks of those who favour Catalonia’s independence.
The Catalan government of the bourgeois nationalist CIU had established a joint front with those parties which supported the calling of the referendum, the Catalan Left Republican party ERC, the left-wing coalition (ICV-EUiA, which is approximately the Catalan partner of United Left) and the anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP. After the vote had been suspended by the Constitutional Tribunal the front was put under a lot of strain between those who wanted it to go ahead anyway and defy the ruling and the traditionally cowardly Catalan bourgeois which has always been mortally afraid of doing anything remotely illegal.
When finally an “alternative consultation” was announced, involving the Catalan government to a certain extent, but relying mainly on volunteers and “civil society” organisations, the mood deflated and many thought there was no point in further downgrading what was already originally a non-binding vote. It was the banning of this innocuous “alternative consultation” by the State which spurred many to turn out and vote. Since the ban was announced there were massive pots and pans protests every evening in many Catalan cities.
It is in this context that the November 9 vote should be analysed. Since the vote had been declared illegal it is difficult to work out how many people had been called to participate in it (Spanish citizens living in Catalonia over the age of 16, foreigners living in Catalonia, and people living abroad whose last Spanish address was in Catalonia) and therefore to work out turnout in percentage terms. We know that 2.3 million voted, and that is probably around one third of those who had been called to vote. The Spanish paper El País, which was belligerent against the vote, calculated the turnout at 37%.
To establish a comparison we can look at the number of people who turned out to vote in the recent European elections in Catalonia (2.5 million). In the most recent Catalan elections in 2012 the turnout was 3.6 million, of which just over 2 million voted for the parties which backed the vote on November 9.
Further analysis of the votes reveals that the turnout and the yes-yes vote was higher in the more strongly Catalan speaking areas of the interior as opposed to the industrial belt around Barcelona, which contains a higher proportion of working class, Spanish speaking Catalans. The highest turnout was in the rural county of Priorat, with 63% and 91% for a yes-yes vote, sharing the highest percentage of yes-yes votes with other rural counties like Pla de l’Estany, Berguedà and Garrotxa. Meanwhile, the turnout was lower in counties such as the industrial working class Baix Llobregat (29%), but also in the Barcelonès (32%), Tarragonès (26%). The yes-yes vote was significantly lower in industrial counties like Baix Llobregat (72), Barcelonès (76), Vallès Occidental (77) and Tarragonès (77).
It is important to note that there was a significant number of people who went to vote, as a way of expressing their defiance against the Rajoy government, but voted for a federal solution or against statehood. In solidly working class areas this was noticeable. In Badia del Vallès, with a long tradition of working class struggle and a strong anti-evictions movement, 15% voted No and 16% Yes-No. In the working class town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, outside Barcelona, 11% voted No, 18% Yes-No and nearly 7% spoilt their ballot. The working class towns of Barberà del Vallès, Cornellà de Llobregat and Viladecans, all had over 19% voting for a federal solution, between 8 and 10% voting No, and around 5% spoiling their ballots (usually by writing a message against the Catalan and Spanish governments, against corruption or against cuts).
It was the constant provocations coming from Madrid plus the lack of any real alternative which in the end pushed a significant section of Catalan workers and youth who had mobilised to fall behind the pro-referendum campaign, though many of them did so with an uneasy feeling.
Overall, despite the fact that the vote mobilised mainly those in favour of independence, 232,000 voted for a federal solution (10%), 104,000 voted against statehood (4.5%) and 71,000 spoilt their ballot (3%).
The vote and the feeling of grievances against the Spanish government was not mainly seen as a question of national identity but rather it was built around economic and social issues. If you look at the detailed opinion polls carried out by the Catalan government’s Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió what emerges is a widespread feeling of alienation from all political parties. The latest one was conducted in October 2014, in the middle of the conflict about the calling of the November 9 vote. When asked about what is the main problem facing Catalonia, 40% cited unemployment and casualisation of labour, 17% dissatisfaction with politics, 17% the economy and only in fourth place 12.2% cited the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. When they were then asked which was the party which they thought could best solve that problem, a massive 42% said “none”, and the first party mentioned was ERC with only 14%. On top of this, 84% said they were dissatisfied with “the way our democracy works” and on a scale of 0 to 10 politicians were rated at an average of just 2.6.
It is for this reason that the main slogans of the “Ara és l’hora” (Now is the time) campaign for independence were around issues of opposition to cuts and austerity measures, rejection of corruption, more democracy, better social social services, etc., and there were very few references to Catalonia’s national identity mentioned as the reasons for a yes vote.
Catalonia has witnessed a long wave of very radical and massive social protests going back perhaps ten years: in defence of state education and against cuts, in defence of healthcare and against its privatisation, as part of the 15M indignados movement, against police repression, as part of the two Spanish-wide general strikes, the huge rank and file resistance against evictions and home repossessions, etc. According to the same CEO opinion poll, Catalans consider themselves left-wing (3.9 in a scale of 0 to 10)
Many of these struggles have been waged against the government of Artur Mas of the CIU which has been at the forefront of implementing cuts and austerity measures, sometimes even harsher than those of the right-wing PP government in Madrid. As a matter of fact, the Catalan budget of this current government was originally agreed between the CIU and the PP, representing the interests of the ruling class (Catalan and Spanish) in making the workers’ pay for the crisis of capitalism.
This has always been the policy of the Catalan bourgeoisie, to reach deals with their Spanish class brothers and sisters on how to best exploit workers at home and abroad. Their defence of national rights ends where their class interests are threatened. The main representatives of the Catalan nationalist bourgeois in the 1930s sided with Franco against the Republic even if that meant the smashing of Catalan national rights.
For 30 years after the end of the Franco regime, the CiU was content with reaching deals with social-democratic governments carrying out cuts and with right-wing governments carrying out the same policies, as long as they got a nice cut out of it. The Spanish ruling class is marred in all sorts of corruption scandals, but so is the Catalan ruling class as was their main political representative Jordi Pujol, who ruled Catalonia for over 20 years. As one of the founders of Podemos, Íñigo Errejón said, “the Spanish establishment and the Catalan establishment are united by their love for their common fatherlands, Andorra and Switzerland” (where they keep their secret bank accounts).
When the current pro-referendum movement began, the government of Artur Mas was on the ropes, facing huge movements against its right-wing austerity policies and a series of corruption scandals marring the reputation of his own party. He decided to ride the pro-independence wave in order to regain popularity in a coldly calculated manoeuvre. His success cannot be put down to his cunning or political astuteness, but rather to the fact that the parties to his left went along with it, played down the class issues on social and economic questions in exchange for a single issue united front on the question of calling a referendum on self-determination.
The left coalition ICV-EUiA were a key component of such a pact which meant lending credibility to an extremely discredited bourgeois government. Unfortunately, the comrades from the CUP, which had been amongst the best fighters against cuts, corruption and repression and had used the Catalan parliamentary tribune very effectively to denounce CiU, also fell for it. The main representatives of both left parties appeared in joint press conferences and photo opportunities with Artur Mas and his public service privatising and slashing ministers. This was done under the pretext of the common struggle for the “right to decide”. Instead, they should have offered an uncompromising left criticism of the hypocrisy of the CiU and Artur Mas, which pretended to be in favour of self-determination and posed as adversaries of the hated Rajoy government while agreeing with it on all the fundamental issues.
On November 9, Catalan president Mas did not miss the opportunity to embrace David Fernandez, the main spokesperson for the Popular Unity Candidature (CUP), who had been one of the most vocal critics of capitalism in the Catalan chamber.
This explains why a left leaning Catalonia, having witnessed some of the biggest and most militant mass mobilisations against cuts and austerity in the recent period, now became dominated by the debate over the right of self-determination which has allowed those co-responsible for the cuts and austerity to present themselves, albeit uneasily, as being at the head of opposition against Rajoy’s PP.
Credit is due to those who didn’t join the chorus, like Ada Colau, the former spokesperson for the anti-evictions campaign PAH and now head of the list for the Barcelona municipal elections Guanyem (Let’s win) based on rank and file activists from the many anti-austerity campaigns. Throughout this debate she has been clear in defending the “right to decide” while never allowing herself to be used by Mas and CiU to whitewash their image and always being very clear that the right to decide in her view extends to the right to decide over home repossessions, austerity cuts, etc., not just on the political arrangement between Catalonia and Spain.
What comes next? The Spanish and international ruling class are clearly worried about the crisis of the regime in Spain, threatened by the meteoric rise of Podemos and the growing pro-independence mood in Catalonia, which are two sides of the same phenomena.
In Catalonia, the main beneficiaries of the combination of mass discontent with the regime and the lack of a left-wing alternative have not been the bourgeois nationalist CiU, riven with divisions between its pro-independence wing and its more moderate federal wing. The Catalan Republican Left party, which has been seen as being more consistent in its defence of independence, according to opinion polls would come first if early elections were called. For this reason CiU is putting pressure on for early elections to be called with the character of a plebiscite on independence, so that there would be one single list of all those supporting it, thus preventing an electoral debacle for the party of Artur Mas. ERC, having supported the cuts and repressive measures of CiU, is not keen on this idea as they calculate that they would win the election and are advocating a “government of national unity” after the election, with the aim of declaring independence.
A new factor in Catalonia is the irruption of Podemos on the scene, with opinion polls putting it in third place. This is a party which has openly defended the right of self-determination while at the same time making no concessions to the Catalan bourgeois nationalists and concentrating on the social, economic and democratic issues. Its growth shows the potential for a class based alternative which would defend the basic democratic and national rights of the Catalan people while at the same time attacking the rule of the capitalists regardless of their nationality.
The idea that the only way forward for Catalonia is the break with Spain could now be cut across by the perspective of the rise of Podemos to power. The extreme weakness of the PP and the PSOE, both staunchly opposed to the democratic rights of the Catalan people, and the fact that opinion polls now put Podemos as the first party in voting intentions would strengthen the feeling that the solution to the problems of working people in Catalonia lies in the common struggle with their class brothers and sisters across the whole of the Spanish state.