Catalan elections: The stubborn Catalan groundhog day

17 February, 2021 · News> Europe> Spain

December 2017: the Spanish bourgeoisie wanted to turn the page of the indepence process with these new Catalan elections. It was a matter on the one hand of invoking the conservative instincts of the same petty bourgeoisie that had been scared of armed conflict. On the other of binding the workers en masse -with workers being half of the population, the vast majority of them Spanish speakers- using as a lure the opportunity to show by voting for Ciudadanos, the party that claimed to represent Spanish constitutional nationalism, a rejection of the cultural oppression, racist exclusion and brutal denial that Catalan nationalism continually exudes against workers. To keep it short: it didn’t work as planned

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How to get out of the eternal "groundhog day" of Catalan elections (22/12/2017)
Catalan Elections

January 2021: Three years later Sánchez re-tries the move with his own candidate: Salvador Illa, the Minister of Health who until a few hours before had played the role of gatekeeper of the public health policies which have turned Covid into a daily slaughter. To top off the nonsense, government and judiciary forced the regional government’s hand by preventing it from delaying the electoral ceremony, even though pandemic figures were in a very bad shape.

The result: a record abstention in working-class neighborhoods and districts that did not prevent regrettable scenes. Those who tested positive for Covid had their own voting time, from seven to eight o’clock in the evening. The lines at the polling stations, with those in charge of the tables dressed in protective costumes, in the context of what is no less than the main ceremony of a state civic religion, inevitably recalled the ritual visits of lepers and scrofulous peasants before medieval sovereigns. Democracy cures as Raúl Alfonsín used to say.

Electoral results

The PSC-PSOE only managed to partially inherit the electoral support obtained in its day by Operation Arrimadas. Vox took a good bite out of it. And abstention handed for the first time more than 50% of the votes to the pro-independence bloc, which on the other hand obtained a large absolute majority in seats and became led by ERC, the historic party of the Catalan separatist petty bourgeoisie, now pro-independence.

The ERC candidate, Pere Aragonès, brought the Catalan election night to a close by inviting En Comú Podem to join the broad way opened by the new independentist majority in order to obtain amnesty for imprisoned leaders and negotiate a referendum on self-determination. In his speech he invited one more guest: the EU governments and bureaucracy, which he called on to get involved.

Only the rigid slogans of the Spanish government and the Madrid council chambers can continue to pretend that the electoral result is still open, that Illa is the winner and that a PSOE-ERC government would still be possible. Aragonès feels that he has the upper hand with the central government depending on his votes in the national parliament while he also has control of the regional parliament assured by a supermajority. In reality, from the global point of view we are facing a new groundhog day.

The conflict and the groundhog

The president of the Catalan government presented, as it could not be otherwise, the referendum as the way to solve the conflict between Catalonia and Spain. The reality: as it was predictable, the speed up of the economic crisis has revived and will revive again and again the revolt of the pro-independence petty bourgeoisie. Election magic is not going to change that. Nor is it an exclusively Catalan phenomenon. Quite the contrary, one only needs to look at the composition of the Spanish parliament in order to see that throughout Spain the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie has an undeniable tendency to express itself as a territorial issue.

The result is a permanent crisis of the political apparatus of the Spanish bourgeoisie that Sánchez is weathering, in the midst of the worst capitalist crisis in history, through absurd alliances which further discredit his own speeches: he passes the general state budgets with ERC and PNV’s help, he passes the European funds… with the passive support of Vox and with Sánchez praising Abascal’s (PP) sense of state.

Needing to redirect the territorial rebellion and at the same time dependent on its parliamentary expressions in order to pass its budgets, the Spanish bourgeoisie barely manages to strengthen its institutional parties (PP and PSOE), but it cannot get out of this groundhog day. Operation Illa is the last example of the shortness of their ambitions and the inadequacy of their achievements. Ahead lie new episodes of institutional crisis and new fractures in the state.


Appendix: The origin of the Catalan crisis

There are no doubts today about the fact that the Catalan bourgeoisie is part of the Spanish bourgeoisie. But the Catalan bourgeoisie is not the one in command of the main structures of the Spanish state in Catalonia (the “Generalitat”), but rather its cousins of the petty bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie. These have been trying for a long time (remember Pujol and Banca Catalana, or the origins of “Omnium” during Francoism) to constitute themselves as a national bourgeoisie apart from the others, leading a nourished and well distributed petty bourgeoisie throughout the territory. The failure of Banca Catalana and the incorporation of Banco de Sabadell to the Spanish bourgeoisie for its own growth needs, marked until the 2008 crisis the limits of the “radicality” and scope of such an alliance.

The project however brought three decades of happiness and “social peace” to the three protagonists of this: the Spanish bourgeoisie -with its Catalan branch included- the medium-sized industrial bourgeoisie and the nationalist petty bourgeoisie. The “social contract” meant, internally, an active policy of denial of the working class, highly ethnified by the effect of the massive post-war migrations, which was denied its basic cultural rights (such as education in their mother tongue) and to which the social elevator was ostentatiously closed because it was reserved, through linguistic policy, cultural exclusion and the surname-based discrimination, for the children of the Catalan-speaking petty bourgeoisie. This petty bourgeoisie, mostly from rural areas, through an electoral law that doubled the value of their votes compared to those of the industrial provinces, ensured almost 30 years of nationalist hegemony in the Catalan Parliament.

Economic crisis and budgetary austerity did not produce a divorce between the Catalan and Spanish bourgeoisie; on the contrary, they led the process hand in hand. But the crisis precipitated profound social and political changes. The middle, industrial bourgeoisie, the one closest to a “classic” bourgeoisie, has been disappearing as such, its companies being absorbed by funds and financial groups. The political effect was immediate: the political expressions of the petty bourgeoisie and the interests of the Catalan political apparatus as such no longer felt the “moderating effect” of the industrial capitalists.

At the same time, the petty bourgeoisie began to divorce itself from the apparatus of the Generalitat, which now denied it rents and cut basic services. The alienating veil of “cultural superiority” and social differentiation braided for years by nationalist identity politics threatened to be torn, bringing the middle classes of “inner Catalonia” closer to a working class they had been invited to despise and whose more timid awakening was feared by all.

The result is well known. The Pujolist Generalitat (Artur Mas) sought new rents to distribute but to get them it had to confront a central government made croupier of a negative-sum game by austerity: each new rent redistribution meant less for everyone. So Mas raised the stakes again and again until he threatened independence… and set in motion a process “as if” he really wanted it… until he found that the social base of the petty bourgeoisie really wanted it… In its illusion, the Catalan petty bourgeoisie thinks that by endowing itself with its own state it will be able to opt for more state revenues, better options for accumulation and greater social control.

This is far from an attractive project for workers: endangering their lives in order to provide a state for a desperate petty bourgeoisie that has not made a single gesture of being the bearer of anything other than “sacrifices” for the workers. Ignored by the workers at the key moments of the challenge to the state, the result of the massive pro-independence agitation has been a year and a half of extenuating political impotence while waiting for an imperialist ally that never quite arrived.

What does independentism want and where does it come from? (in Spanish), 2/21/2019

Appendix: Workers, the dichotomy between nationalisms and the Catalan elections

In the current phase of the class movement, we workers do not yet exist as an independent political subject. The whole “independenc process” has been, again and again, taking advantage of this absence and trying to bring us under one flag or another. For now without any decisive success. That failure of both sides to achieve a patriotic framing has been all-important. The only option that the independence movement had to escalate the conflict was to show that capacity of framing and to rally an imperialism adverse to the Franco-German axis (Great Britain? USA?) to its cause, forcing the Spanish state to accept defeat or to start a war. Their model, as it has been said many times, was the Slovenian or Croatian model. That is to say, accepting the nationalist framing in one or the other side would have probably led us to the sacrifice on the altars of both homelands.

The mobilization and pressure to get the workers to vote in these [2017] elections has been the only notable success of the Spanish bourgeoisie. To achieve this their political representatives needed to break an old taboo which was part of the “Catalan consensus”, that is to say of the “social contract” between the Spanish bourgeoisie and the Catalan petty bourgeoisie: to denounce the cultural and linguistic oppression suffered by the great majority of the workers. It was a risky bet: the coincidence between class and language is too close for it not to be hazardous. In exchange, they have not obtained a framing as the strike of October 3 would have meant for the independence movement. The vote by definition demands so little commitment that it is secret and, on the other hand, we have not exactly seen great demonstrations of enthusiasm in the streets.

There is no doubt that many workers voted for Ciutadans yesterday as a way of showing their weariness towards the denial that the pro-independence Catalan petty bourgeoisie makes of Spanish-speaking workers -who are the vast majority in the areas of high industrial concentration- and which has been exacerbated throughout the independence process. But in this rabid denial, the linguistic and cultural aspects are only the tip of the iceberg. The “national” or linguistic division, the “identities” and “belongings”, are nothing more than another way to exclude us and try to divide us by generating a stupid sense of superiority in that increasingly desperate petty bourgeoisie. Substantively, this disregard, this permanent attack, is no different from what Ciutadans and all the other parties advocate in their economic programs and execute wherever they govern. It is not a question of languages or homelands, it is a question of class.

How to get out of the “groundhog day” of the Catalan elections (in Spanish), (22/12/2017)

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