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Catalan Elections: Rajoy stokes “Spanish unity” uproar ahead of December 20 elections.

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The September 27 Catalan regional election produced a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament, with 72 of the135 seats. This was clearly an electoral victory for the “Junts pel Si” - “Together for Yes”, an unholy alliance of the pro-EU, neoliberal Convergencia party, led by Arturo Mas, and the “anticapitalist”, anti-EU, Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, CUP. However, this parliamentary majority was elected by a minority of the electorate, albeit a large one, 47.8 percent.

In Barcelona, that figure was 41.63 percent. Thus, Mas’ claim, that this was a Yes vote in what he called a referendum on independence for Catalonia, hardly stands up to scrutiny. Nevertheless, it is equally plain that the stubborn refusal by Mariano Rajoy and the Partido Popular, PP, that rules in Madrid, to even consider allowing a referendum on independence, is itself a violation of elementary democratic principles, and one that is almost certain to increase, rather than decrease, Catalans' desire for independence.

Rajoy’s PP lost almost half its seats on September 27, while the right-wing populists of Citizens (Ciutadans/Ciudadanos) almost tripled their support to become the main anti-independence party in the assembly. The radical populists, linked to Spanish State Podemos, won more votes than the PP while the CUP also tripled its seats.
These results show the impact of two overlapping features of recent political developments; the continued rise in the importance of the national question and an increasing populist rejection of the two traditional Spanish state parties, the PP and the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español –PSOE/ Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, PSC).

On October 27, the Mas government published a draft resolution that “solemnly declared the beginning of the process of creating an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic” and, on November 9, the Catalan parliament adopted the resolution by 72 votes to 63. The principal obstacle to any rapid progress towards a declaration is that the CUP will not support Mas as the leader of an independence government because of his association with the austerity packages and corruption of previous governments.

Meanwhile, Rajoy is using the “threat” of a Catalan unilateral declaration of independence to rally support for the PP in the December 20 Spanish state general election. At a campaign rally in Andalusia, on October 29, he argued that:
“…What is happening in Catalonia is a result of …irresponsible decisions, decisions contrary to the evolution of events, contrary to our history, contrary to reason and common sense...”

On November 2, the Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, asserted that that “when you are faced with an uprising of this type you have to suppress it, you have to stop the law from being broken”. At the same time, the Spanish Finance Minister, Cristobal Montoro, has threatened to cut off financing to Catalonia.

Spain's prestigious daily, El País, spelt out its views in no uncertain terms in an editorial headlined "Firmness & Politics Against Insurgency". It denounced the “illegal and illegitimate act” and argued that, “It is time to use all of the instruments of state to put an end to this breakaway attempt. Legal, judicial, political and also institutional instruments. This country is facing its worst crisis since 1981 (Tejero's coup attempt, Ed) and it must not be forgotten that the 1978 Constitution establishes, among the limited functions of King Felipe VI as Head of State, the defence of the unity of Spain and the role of arbiter and moderator in politics."

Ciudadanos/Ciutadans, Citizens, the right wing populist party that is now running second to the PP in the national polls and has outdistanced Podemos, its radical populist rival (but which does not dare to call itself “left” or “socialist”) has given “firm support to the government in defence of the law and also in defence of having it obeyed”. Citizens emerged after 2005 from the campaign to annul or set aside key parts of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy that had been adopted in that year. That campaign was successful in that the reactionary Constitutional Court ruled against the key provisions of the Statute in 2010.

The PSOE, for all its supposed “left turn” since 2013, has fallen into line in undemocratic defence of Spanish state unity. Pedro Sánchez, the Party leader agreed to “work in a coordinated way in defence of the Constitution, national unity, national sovereignty and equality of all Spaniards”. Of course, the PSOE leader moderates the tone of Rajoy and the PP by calling for a “federal reform” of the Spanish state, yet he does not dare to refer to the Catalans as a nation for fear that would oblige him to respect their democratically expressed decisions.

The United Left (IU) and Podemos have refused to join in the chauvinist campaign against the Catalans’ right to self-determination although neither favours Catalan secession. Podemos' general secretary, Pablo Iglesias, and IU’s head of its list of candidates, Alberto Garzón, have made this clear.

Podemos is opposed to independence but its project is for Spain to become “a country of countries” which will “recognise diversity”, “build bridges” and “not be afraid of democracy”. IU also opposes any use of the law against the Catalan parliament, even while disagreeing with any unilateral declaration of independence as long as a majority of Catalans has not yet voted for it in a referendum. IU also calls for launching a constituent process that would restructure a third Spanish Republic as a multinational federation.

Under Franco, Catalonia, as one of the bastions of the Second Republic, was subjected to severe national oppression. For most of his rule, the use of Catalan was banned in schools. Though the Catalan government and parliament were restored in 1977, the right to self-determination, like that of the country’s other nationalities, was never conceded.

Nevertheless, Catalonia is, and has been for a long while, one of the most developed parts of Spain. With a population of 7.5 million it produces almost 20 per cent of Spain's economic output. Since the eruption of the crisis in 2008, Catalonia’s GDP has fallen by 6.7 percent, but this is less than Spain’s average, 7.5 percent, and much less than other regions such as Extremadura, 10 percent, Valencia and Andalusia, both 11percent and La Mancha, 12.7 percent.

The conservative Catalan nationalists keep up a constant theme that “Spain is robbing us” by reallocating resources to the country’s poorer regions. In fact, Catalonia has long been totally integrated into the Spanish market with its capitalists forming an important part of the country’s ruling class.

Another problem for the project of total independence is that Catalonia itself is a multi-national society, as a result of centuries of internal migration, and a large percentage of the region's workers, blue-collar workers, do not have Catalan as their mother tongue. The government of Catalonia’s most recent Survey on Language Uses in 2008, showed that 55 percent of the population use Spanish as their mother tongue; 31.6 percent Catalan and 3.8 percent both languages. Other languages make up the remaining 9.6 percent.

Yet, in an attempt to change this situation, Catalan nationalist regional governments effectively reversed the situation so that children in the first years of schooling are taught only in Catalan, not in their mother tongue if that is Spanish (Castilian). For the, rest of their compulsory education, Spanish is on a par with English. Such a system clearly discriminates against first language Spanish speakers. In a bilingual region such laws are clearly undemocratic.

The Catalan language's historic oppression does not make this reversal any better. This shows that nationalism, even the nationalism of a formerly oppressed people, has powerful reactionary components as against the internationalism of the working class, which is opposed to the artificial promotion of any national identity and all forms of privilege.

Whilst socialists should defend vigorously the right of the people of Catalonia to self-determination, up to and including complete state separation, and should also oppose all threats by the European Union to exclude an independent Catalonia from the EU and the Eurozone, they should not positively favour such a move. Dividing up the sphere of operation of the productive forces, including the working class itself, would be a reactionary step, not least for Catalans themselves.

In fact, the unity of the working class of all nationalities and languages is an enormous progressive step and needs to be expanded, not contracted. The unity of the working class in the Spanish state can best be preserved and deepened by workers in other parts of Spain coming out on the streets and at the ballot boxes against Rajoy, the PP, Citizens and all the right wing parties.

The struggle must also extend to other democratic demands; the abolition of the monarchy and the institutions inherited from Franco and the “compromise” of the Moncloa Pact and the 1978 Constitution. It must also tackle the terrible economic legacy of the 2008 crisis which still haunts the country, the austerity, the mass unemployment, the flight of young people abroad. Only a common struggle against economic hardship and for democratic rights can answer the divide and rule tactics of the bourgeois parties and the heirs of Franco.