A Catalan republic: fact or farce?

To be an independent republic—or not? That choice will face voters if the referendum planned by the Catalan regional government for the 1st of October is allowed to take place by the Spanish government.

Most Irish republicans would probably support a Catalan break with Spain. “A free, independent republic” has a comfortably familiar ring to it. Closer inspection of the choice, however, may lead to another conclusion . . .

Protagonists of this confrontation are the Spanish State, ruled by the People’s Party (PP)—associates of Fine Gael in the EU Parliament’s Conservative Group—and the regional government of Catalunya. The latter is ruled by the neo-liberal Democratic Party of Catalunya (DPC), in coalition with the nominally socialist ERC (Republican Left of Catalunya).

The backdrop to this referendum is the present recession, which has fomented agitation throughout Spain. The PP responds with increased repression and restrictions on citizens’ participation in the democratic process. In cahoots with Spain’s “deep state,” the country’s major economic and financial powers, it controls Spain.

Their control over major communications media diverts a public with bullshit yarns about a fantasy Spain—such bunkum as the idea that Spain’s economy led the economic recuperation of the euro zone!

Spain’s industrial profits outstrip the EU average, but labour’s share reaches the inequality levels of the worst years of the Franco dictatorship, establishing a record for the euro zone. Last year, 1 per cent of Spanish top earners owned a quarter of the wealth of Spain; 20 per cent of the poorest owned 0.1 per cent of it.

The diversion most touted by the Spanish media now is the conflict between the PP-ruled Spanish State and a Catalan majority that wants to modify—not break—its link with Spain. Both main protagonists, the PP and the DPC, are doctrinaire neo-liberal nationalist parties. Though separated by opposed loyalties, Spanish and Catalan, they co-operate in the Spanish parliament to support “labour reforms” that weaken trade unions, thus facilitating falling wages, decreasing full-time employment, and fiscal reforms that lead to the accumulation of megaprofits.

Major cuts in social expenditure (health, education, etc.) are grist to their mill. Both parties are immersed in major corruption cases that show these soul brothers to be two sides of the same coin.

Both use the national question to mobilise their supporters. Support for the PP is rooted in identification with “defence of the (always threatened) unity of Spain.” Francoist political culture, touchstone of conservative Spaniards, denies the multinational nature of Spanish society. Thus Catalunya’s “independista” government has replaced a defunct ETA as Spain’s “necessary” bogeyman, national unity being best assured by some internal threat.

Mutatis mutandis, DPC ideologues identify Spain as the source of all Catalunya’s ills. PP Spain was never popular in Catalunya; left-led forces there always espoused a plurinational vision of a socialist Spain, where nations decide their relations with Madrid—a vision at odds with the Spanish State’s rigid centralist ideology.

Among the rights guaranteed by sovereignty is the right to secede from the centre. This guarantees a fraternal unity, unlike that imposed by the order that has historically dominated Spain.

“Sovereignty”—the right to decide—must not be confused with“secession” or “independence,” two terms often conflated in Irish republican discourse. Sovereignty, not secessionism, is in the DNA of the Catalan left that has mainly governed Catalunya since Franco’s death and fights continuing efforts of Spanish centralists to erode their country’s sovereignty.

Most recently, the Catalan Autonomic Statute was formulated by a tripartite left Catalan government, modified by the Catalan parliament but stripped by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2006 of elements deemed essential by Catalans to express their sovereignty and identity. The ensuing anger sparked huge independence demonstrations, involving millions of citizens.

Scenting an electoral opportunity, the bourgeois CDC nationalists mutated overnight into full-blown independistas. These ideological forerunners of the present ruling DPC were thus enabled to form a coalition government with the also independista ERC in a government dedicated to the establishment of an independent Catalan republic.

Leopards can’t hide their spots, however. DPC deputies in the Spanish parliament still support the present corrupt PP regime; they refused last June to vote for censure of the latter, so contributing to its permanence.

Such opportunist manoeuvring enables the DPC to hide its enormous corruption, ignored by complicit Catalan media. Like the Spanish PP, the DPC steals vast sums of public money for personal and organisational benefit. Protesters against this scandal are lambasted by the Catalan political and media establishment as traitors, anti-Catalans, turncoats etc. and denied the levels of media access of their accusers.

Credible referendums engage a plurality of media that give access to all options to be decided. Access to the Catalan media, however, is controlled by a DPC-controlled Generalitat (autonomous government) that only permits expression of its own secessionist stance. The voice of left “soberanistas,” a major political force in Catalunya, is silenced; and demands for the democratic right to decide are presented by hostile Spanish media and politicians simply as demands for secession.

The DPC presents independence as the only solution to the province’s enormous social problem. Catalunya “boasts” the highest infantile poverty rate of any EU-15 country, and the highest levels of job precariousness and social spending cuts, all results of implementing DPC policies. Similar cuts are supported in the Spanish parliament by DPC deputies, who simultaneously call for an independent Catalunya.

Cuts in social expenditure in Catalunya, exceeding those of most of Spain’s other autonomous regions, warn working people of the danger posed to their interests by the present “independista” rulers of Catalunya.

The ERC—the DPC’s partners in the present Catalan government—must no longer allow the independence issue to put its social agenda on the back burner. Collaboration with emerging Catalan and Spanish progressive forces that demand a redefinition of Spain and full acceptance of plurinationalism is the left way forward. Alliance with such forces accords more with the ERC’s socialist ideals than playing second fiddle to a DPC whose goal is a neo-liberal Catalan republic underpinned by a subservient Catalan working class.

Such a leftist coalition offers the only realistic option: a sovereign socialist Catalunya.