SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 165 February 2013

Opportunities for the left in Catalonia

THE ELECTIONS in Catalonia on 25 November further destabilised the political situation. The most striking element was the loss of seats for the Convergence and Unity party (CiU), the right-wing nationalist ruling party of the Catalan government. It failed completely to capitalise on the pro-sovereignty mood which has exploded onto the surface – and which was the reason the CiU called early elections.

The CiU is still the main party, with 50 seats, but its loss of twelve seats has forced it into a deal with the ‘social democratic’ republican ERC, which increased its number of seats to 21, from eleven. This, however, puts both parties into an uncomfortable position. The CiU is, itself, a coalition and is being pushed further than it would like to go on the independence of Catalonia, agreeing to hold a referendum on the issue before 2015 as a price for the ERC’s support. The ERC risks being linked with brutal austerity measures which could, in turn, mean its downfall. It has attempted to mitigate this by ruling out a full coalition pact, instead agreeing to back CiU policies without taking positions in the Catalan government.

This precarious balancing act could provoke the political demise of CiU leader, Artur Mas, and threatens the unity of the CiU coalition. Even before the elections, its internal contradictions were evident. From the beginning, Duran i Lleida (leader of the Democratic Union of Catalonia wing of the coalition) showed his distaste for the pro-sovereignty turn which Mas made following last September’s massive pro-independence demonstration. The UDC distanced itself from the hardened nationalistic rhetoric which Mas employed during the election campaign, with Lleida even stating he would vote No in a referendum on independence!

Mas will be obliged to give the impression, at least, of persevering with the process he has set in motion. It is the only way he can see to try to avoid the political consequences of his brutal cuts policies. It remains to be seen whether the CiU manages to paper over these contradictions for another period.

Another important feature of the results was a certain shift to the left – on the back of a very high turnout, almost 70% – with the rise of ERC, increased votes for ICV/EUiA (Initiative for Catalonia Greens/United and Alternative Left), and the entry of Popular Unity Candidates (CUP) into parliament. The EUiA is linked to the United Left (IU).

The ERC beat the nominally social-democratic Socialist Party of Catalonia into second place for the first time. Working-class people are looking for an alternative to the neo-liberal policies which are deepening the crisis. These results show that the growing conviction is that such an alternative must come from the left. Ultimately, that can only be offered by a mass workers’ party.

The militant anti-cuts sentiments led to a hammering of the pro-austerity parties: CiU and the Popular Party of Catalonia (PPC). CiU haemorrhaged votes, mostly in the direction of the ERC, Ciutatans (Citizens) and the PPC. At the same time, the PPC lost many votes to Ciutatans, which won nine seats compared to its previous three.

The national question was fundamental in these elections, as both the CiU and the Partido Popular national government party posed the issues from the point of view of a clash between ‘Catalonia and Spain’. The polarisation this provoked led to a certain softening of the blow to the PP, because of the mobilisation of its Spanish nationalist base, while the CiU paid a price for its opportunist attempts to ride the pro-independence wave.

In the end, however, the total increase in votes for pro-sovereignty parties was only slight, which indicates the extent to which the social and class issues of austerity cut across attempts to polarise the debate along national lines. This can be seen in the shift of votes from right to left, with the openly right-wing majority of CiU and PP losing out to forces on the left of the spectrum (ERC and Ciutatans). Then, in turn, the so called ‘left-of-centre’ lost ground further to its left, with the rise of the ICV/EUiA and the CUP.

The political volatility following the election threatens a state of practical ungovernability in Catalonia, and poses the question of new elections in the medium term. The increasingly unstable character of the government will bring potential new opportunities to the left and workers’ movement in its struggles to do away with pro-austerity administrations and develop a pro-working class solution to the crisis. The entry of the anti-capitalist, pro-independence CUP into parliament on its first attempt, with over 200,000 votes, is the best news following a parliamentary election for many years, and has led to a buoyant mood among activists in the workers’ and social movements. Already, since the elections, CUP’s support in opinion polls has doubled.

If CUP deputies act in accordance with what they said during the election campaign, they could become a key reference point for those in struggle. If the key struggles currently underway, such as the battle against new fees for medical treatment, received a serious impulse not only in the workplaces and on the streets, but from the platform of parliament, this would allow the struggles to gather much more momentum and have a wider and deeper impact.

In a certain sense, the rise of the CUP represents a partial filling of the space to the left of the EUiA, which has opened up because of the EUiA’s weakness in policy and orientation in the recent past, including its seven years in the Catalan government until 2010. It is also a certain punishment for its decreasing profile in its coalition with ICV, an ‘eco-socialist’ formation to its right.

Yet the IU has many strengths which mean that it still has the potential to fill the massive political vacuum opened up by the crisis of capitalism. It has a strong base throughout the Spanish state and is present in all the important workers’ and social movements. The EUiA’s leaders and its coalition with the ICV, however, have pushed it towards the right, to its detriment. Rank-and-file members of the EUiA are posing the question of greater unity with the CUP. The ICV, on the other hand, is looking rightwards, towards links with the ERC and PSC.

The two main organisations best placed to organise opposition to austerity, based on the daily struggles of workers and youth in Catalonia, are the EUiA and CUP. A united front of these forces, open to the involvement of other left organisations, would have massive potential. The ICV could also play a role, provided that agreement can be reached on programme. Such a programme should include the non-payment of the debt, nationalisation of the banks, united opposition to austerity, the fight for massive public investment to eliminate mass unemployment, international solidarity in the struggle, and for a socialist confederation of working-class people throughout Europe.

Genuine left unity should not be based merely on agreements made from the top down, or a distribution of power and positions. A united front should also be based on a process from below, with debate and discussion between left and worker activists in daily contact in the class struggle and its different fields – in strike committees, local assemblies, trade unions, and various left formations. It would have to emphasise the need to mobilise behind its banner new layers of workers and youth activists in the political struggle.

The actions of both the CUP and EUiA in the next period will be crucial for the development of such a movement. On the basis of a united front, the newly-won authority of the CUP and the historic traditions and state-wide base of the IU could be brought together and have a powerful impact. This would also pose the question of a united struggle based on the defence of the right to self-determination, in action as well as words, a development which could push the IU on a state-wide level towards a clearer position in this regard.

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI)


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