Saturday, 21 October 2017

Catalan Independence and Spain’s progressives

Written by Farid Erkizia Bakht

Today, Madrid announced that it will seize control of Catalonia’s government which is set to respond with a unilateral declaration of independence. What will the New Spanish Left do and do they have the power do so?

For weeks, Europe has been talking about Catalonia. Yet, with honourable exceptions, the supposedly progressive Left and Green mainstream leaders in Europe have been very quiet. Despite the fact that Raül Romeva, the de facto Foreign Minister of Catalonia, was a long time Green-Left politician. Or the radical leftwing CUP is at at the forefront of Independence politics demanding independence. The soft-Left ERC has been and continues to champion the cause of separation from Spain.

This does not smell of racism or fascism which emanates from the likes of the Northern League in Italy. Anything but. While the Hard Right forces of the wealthy Italian North base their case on ‘narrow nationalism’ to separate to create an exclusive, inward looking Lombardic state (in tune with its rightwing Austrian neighbour), the Catalan left-wing independence movement promote a non-ethnic, progressive and inclusive vision. CUP holds far greater sway over the streets and popular mobilisation than its 10 MPs (in a 135 seat Parlament) suggest. 

Their vision is a feminist, socialist, Green Catalonia and municipal participatory democracy. The grassroots movements and the political party CUP have been developing the ‘social and solidarity economy’ for two decades. They acknowledge they would have to compromise in the early years of a republic. Yet, along with the resources of a diversified prosperous economy, there exists the possibility of real social progress in this part of Iberia.

As UK Professor David Whyte and writer Ignasi Bernat explain: much of Europe’s Left un-derestimate “the commitment to the neighbourhood, rather than the nation.' It is this commitment that ensured high level of involvement from women’s collectives, migrant solidarity groups, independent trade unions, autonomists, anarchists and the social centres. Recent events have unmasked the ugly face of narrow nationalism, emanating less from Catalonia but from the Spanish Deep State.

The pro-independence Catalan forces are, of course, a mix of right and left. The Right wing remnants of the old Convergencia party (PDC ) are traditionally supporters of the status quo - stay in Spain and reap the financial benefits of crony capitalism. Yet this decade they have had to shift towards independence or risk losing relevance in a rapidly shifting Catalan scenario. In other words, with the exception of the CUP, the political parties have had to follow not lead the popular movements.

Artur Más was replaced by pro-independence Carles Puigdemont (as President) on the insistence of the CUP.

Podemos and its sister concern in Barcelona -CSQP (Catalonia Yes We Can) play a critical role. While CUP act as kingmaker for the Independence alliance, the forces allied to Podemos are critical for ‘the unity of Spain’.

They cling to the honourable hope that they can reform Spain (by overturning the system) and create a structure suitable for all provinces (and nations) while keeping the state intact.

Unfortunately, this graph shows them (UP) lacking the support necessary to bring about this change (in purple).

Can the 1978 Constitution be changed?

Yes, it can. But. The Left would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to bring about deep decentralisation. It is not going to happen. Unless two things occur over the long-term:

a) Podemos maintains & grows over the next two decades

b) the aged supporters of PP & PSOE die off to reduce their vote bank!


Supporting Catalan or Basque independence is a vote loser in much of the rest of Spain. Thus, the Podemos network maintain the moral high ground but can make ambiguous messages in a delicate balancing act. The paradox is that the strongest support for Podemos & its allies lie mainly in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

They hold out a promise of constitutional reform (even though they are unlikely to attain power on their own), and support the right to have referenda yet in reality reject secession.

Progressive Spaces?

The Basque & Catalan Independence Left say that if only Podemos supported their independence then they could actually implement progressive policies in the new republics, north of the Ebro River.

For example, if Ada Colau’s votes shifted to independence, then the overall Catalan Left (including Podem En Comun, ERC & CUP) and the reduces centre right PDC would be able to steer a Catalan Republic to the soft Left.

But what would happen to the Rest of Spain?

Would it turn more inward and become an embittered Right wing amputated Spain? There would likely be turmoil as the Deep State tries to clamp down. On the other hand, the loss of Catalonia (and inevitably soon after, the Basques) would kick-start regional groups in Galicia, Andalusia & Valencia demanding a structural overhaul of the utterly corrupt political system.

Much would depend then on how the new states north of the Ebro react and support change to their South, which are the bulk of its commercial customers after all.

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a supporter of the Ecosocialist Network @Liquid_Borders

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