Socialist Party
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7 October 2015


Pro-independence parties win 'referendum' elections

Danny Byrne, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

Catalan elections on 27 September revealed a society virtually split down the middle on the question of independence from the Spanish state.

These elections were billed as a "referendum" on Catalan independence by Catalan President, Artur Mas. This call was made in the context of the Spanish state government's repeated refusal to allow for an official independence referendum, despite the growing mass movement over the last few years.

The two biggest parties formally in favour of independence - CDC, the right-wing nationalist party of Mas himself, and the ERC (Republican Left, a 'centre-left' nationalist party) - formed a joint list called Junts pel Si (together for yes), fronted by both politicians and prominent members of civil society.

Votes for this list - as well as votes for the radical left pro-independence party, CUP - were to be taken as yes votes. On the other hand, votes for the array of anti-independence parties were to be taken as no votes, with another broad left list, Catalunya si que es pot (CSQP - Catalonia yes we can, involving Podemos and the Catalan branches of United Left) caught somewhere in between.

Yes/No polarisation

This laid the basis for a polarised campaign. Voter turnout was 77%, 10% higher than the last Catalan elections, reflecting this polarisation and a sense of urgency among people to pronounce themselves on the question of independence.

Rural Catalonia delivered a massive pro-independence majority in almost every area. On the other hand, Catalonia's urban centres, including the capital Barcelona, all fell short of 50% for the pro-independence parties.

For the first time since the beginning of the current movement for independence, an element of polarisation linked to people's origins - established Catalan comm-unities or communities of families from other parts of the Spanish state - was visible, and to an extent played on, mostly by the 'no' parties. There was also an element of generational polarisation, with a large majority of young people in favour of independence.

Junts pel Si won 39.5% of the votes and 62 seats - just short of the 64 seats needed for an overall majority - while CUP won 8.2% and ten seats. The yes side thus won enough seats for an overall majority in parliament, although slightly under 50% of total votes cast.

In reality, the main parties within the Junts pel Si list, while winning the elections, won fewer seats than they had done standing separately in the 2012 elections. The growth of the CUP - which tripled its number of seats - represents an important change in the situation, a radicalisation and shift to the left within an important section of pro-independence voters.

On the no side, the ruling Spanish People's Party (PP) suffered a terrible defeat, winning only 8.9% of the votes. It had stood arch-racist reactionary, Xavier Albiol, as its candidate for President of Catalonia, in an attempt to shore up its support base among traditional right-wing voters, but even this had no effect.

The party which 'won' the elections on the no side was Ciutadans, the new right-wing populist party, which tripled its seats becoming the second biggest party in the Catalan parliament.

Artur Mas and Junts pel Si have announced a plan to form a government dedicated to executing a "process" through which Catalonia will obtain independence from Spain, allegedly in 18 months' time.

However, whether this majority will be reflected in a new Catalan government following these elections is much less clear and straightforward.

A joint 'yes' government would mean the anti-capitalist CUP doing a deal with the austerity-mongers of CDC and Mas, who implemented brutal measures in the first years of the crisis, even beyond those implemented by the Madrid government.

Another option would be the CUP, in opposition, voting to allow Mas to form a minority government and supporting the so-called process towards independence from outside.


The results for CSQP were more disappointing. They won eleven MPs, less than the results of the various component parts in the 2012 elections.

In the polarised atmosphere, their position was interpreted by the majority as a no position. This was added to by the fact that Podemos' leaders such as Iglesias and Errejon personally argued clearly for a no position.

This adds to the general troubles of Podemos on an all-Spain basis, seen to be generally in decline and falling in the polls, having moved further to the right.

Within the yes camp, vastly different political and class forces are represented. This has deep implications, not only for the class struggle on social and economic issues, but for democratic rights and for self-determination.

A cross-class yes camp based on the current balance of forces is neither desirable nor viable, and can only result in the betrayal of both the workers' cause and the struggle for self-determination.

Within a cross-class yes or indeed no campaign, the unemployed, exploited workers, oppressed women and minorities and the devastated middle classes, are expected to share political interests and ambitions with those responsible for their suffering and the crisis ravaging Catalan and Spanish society.

Workers and youth - overwhelmingly against austerity and for democratic rights - on either side have far more in common with each other than with the pro-capitalist politicians on either side. The way forward lies in independent working class unity and struggle, for an alternative to capitalism, national oppression and state repression.

Class struggle

However, it is not only social and economic issues which make a cross-class movement for self-determination unviable. Class contradictions and conflicts are fundamental to the question of how democratic rights, including national rights, can be won in the first place.

The Catalan capitalist class has always been opposed to independence from Spain, and remains so. Throughout the election campaign, Catalan big businesses and banks joined their Spanish counterparts in coming out with threats and blackmail against independence, reminiscent of 'project fear' during the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

The working class, youth and poor in Catalonia must therefore draw the conclusion that only their own forces can be relied upon in the fight for democratic rights and self-determination. This means taking control of the movement out of the hands of political representatives of capitalism, such as Artur Mas.

This requires the working class to be organised, united, and play an independent role, rather than trailing the bourgeois leadership of one side or the other.

Socialismo Revolucionario (SR, CWI in the Spanish state) called for a united left list in the elections, standing on the basis of a programme to break with capitalism as the only way to achieve the democratic right of self-determination for Catalonia.

However, a united working class movement - also necessary on an all-Spain basis to struggle for the fall of the Rajoy government - cannot unite simply on the basis of ignoring or abstaining from the national debate. The disappointing results for CSQP in these elections highlight the consequences of such an approach.

As a starting point, SR argues that, as with all of the burning issues facing the working class movement, the national question is currently unsolvable on the basis of the crisis-ridden capitalist system.

Real democracy and a dignified life for the people can only be achieved by tearing out the roots of the system - the capitalist ownership and control of the wealth of the peninsula's nations. This means fighting for a socialist alternative of democratic public ownership of the wealth.


On the basis of a socialist programme to break with capitalism in Spain, a socialist Catalonia could be established, with full control over its own affairs, based on real workers' democracy in the economy and in politics. This would guarantee full rights, including language rights, the right of dual citizenship and freedom of movement to all minorities.

The common ownership and democratic control of the banks and key sectors of the economy would allow for the territorial boundaries of the Spanish state - until now held together by force and profits - to be determined on an equal and voluntary basis.

A revolutionary congress of Iberian peoples could be formed to discuss and determine the future of each nation and the peninsula as a whole.

Such a revolutionary change would also, of course, go far beyond the borders of the Spanish state. Within a socialist Europe and world, Catalonia and the other national peoples of the peninsula could take their place in a truly united nations.