The general strike called by Catalan trade unions alters the dynamics of the independence movement in Spain’s north-eastern region. While historically the independence movement was largely seen as spearheaded by the Catalonian middle-class bourgeoisie, the general strike marks the shift towards a strong movement that now has the active participation of the working class population of Catalonia.
The left-wing parties in Spain and Catalonia should come together to force the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to engage in an open political dialogue on the Catalan national question.
The general strike in Catalonia on Tuesday, 3 October, had brought the region to a grinding halt. The strike in which several thousand people participated was called in protest against the brutal police action during the Catalonian referendum on the October 1. The Spanish government’s repressive action in Catalonia and the refusal by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from the right-wing Popular Party (PP) to engage in a political dialogue has been widely condemned by the Left and the Democrats.
The referendum which saw a turnout of about 40 per cent witnessed two million Catalans voting in favour of the region breaking away from Spain and forming an independent republic. The referendum was convened by the Catalan government but banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court and is the culmination of an unprecedented five-year confrontation between Catalan and Spanish institutions. In a recent decision, the Constitutional Court suspended a session of the Catalan parliament scheduled for Monday in which the declaration of unilateral independence was expected.
The constitution of the country considers Spain as ‘one indivisible state’. The illegality of the referendum under the constitution is a question which major left parties in Spain like Podemos and Izquierda Unida have been grappling with. This dilemma, that explains their lack of open support for the referendum, has to do with legality and democracy. Boaventura de Sousa Santos writes that the left position should be grounded on the following assumptions:
“First, the relationship between law and democracy is dialectical and not mechanical. Much of what we consider democratic legality in a given historical moment started as illegality, as an aspiration to a better and broader democracy. Second, the rightist governments, above all those led by the neoliberal Right, have no democratic legitimacy when they declare themselves as strict defenders of legality because their practices consist in often systematic violations of the law.”
Terming the act of disobedience as a political statement, Santos further says that the third assumption would be that “civil and political disobedience is an inalienable patrimony of the Left. Without it, for example, the movement of the Indignados and the public turmoil it provoked a few years ago would not have been possible.”
The left in the Spain should not hide behind the question of legality or the Spanish national sentiment fanned by Rajoy and PP. The referendum should be seen as a political statement and an act of disobedience by the Catalans exercising their right to sovereignty.
The major left party in Catalonia, Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) has openly backed the referendum and the independence movement. The political mistake CUP committed was that it did not try to build an alliance with the left-wing groups — like PODEM and Catalunya en Comú. This would have redrawn the political map of the Catalan national question taking it away from the local right forces.
Also, Josep Maria Antentas says the Left-wing supporters of the independence in Catalonia “rounded out this focus on nation and state with a stagist perspective that calls for independence first and reformed economic and social policies later. But this approach ignores the fact that whoever controls the transition process determines what comes later.”
The CUP holds just 10 of 135 seats in Catalonia’s regional parliament, but without them, President Carles Puigdemont would have no majority to continue with his separatist course. This gives CUP leverage to shape the political process in Catalonia towards anti-neoliberal and socialist policies.
The unity of left parties on the Catalan national question – be it autonomy or secession or any other arrangement – can redraw the political landscape both in Catalonia and Spain. Despite the efforts to fan Spanish national sentiment against Catalans by the ruling class, the left has the privilege of being in a position to play a unique role in the ongoing political debate.
The Catalans would not need the local forces on the Right, which historically have always colluded with the Spanish government and has its politics flowing from Francoist politics.
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