Catalonia: A Democratic Opportunity

✑ MIREIA VEHÍ & ALBERT NOGUERA | 2,642 words
╱ Catalonia Special 
‟Spain cannot be reformed from the centre. A separate country is an opportunity to cope with unfettered capitalism.

"The regime's parties, in the hands of the EU" have dismantled "social rights, through labour reforms, gag laws, attacks on the Catalan language". Independence of Catalonia would provide a chance to cope with "unfettered capitalism". However, independence alone would not be enough. A struggle would revolve around the "constitutional process". A struggle for a Catalan constitution in the interest of the working class. A struggle against "certain Catalan economic elites who intend to implement a constitutional process from a conservative base". And a struggle against the European Union itself.

Both authors are members of the CUP (Candidatura de Unidad Popular), the self-proclaimed Catalan anticapitalist movement which has played an important role in the Catalan independence movement. In the 2015 regional (Catalan) elections the CUP won over three hundred thousand votes and ten of the 135 seats of the Catalan parliament. Mireia Vehí is a sociologist and member of the Catalan parliament. Albert Noguera is a jurist and professor at the University of Valencia.

Originally published as a chapter in a book by the CUP titled "To the Referendum", published in September, 2017.

Also in this week's Catalonia Special: Part one by the Catalan leftist sociologist Vicenç Navarro (critical of the independence movement) and part three by the U.S. economist Mark Weisbrot (on how the economic failures of the EU fueled the independence movement).

A Constitutional Process is a collective political exercise for breaking away from Spain, consisting of discussing, creating and founding the legal and political bases of a new country: the Constitution. Spain and everything that makes it up (the political, legal, institutional, social and even symbolic structures) has legitimacy insofar as is is the Constitutional Power; the people endorse and sustain it.

The difference between Constitutional Power and constitutional reform lies in the fact that while the former involves a break with the old order, the latter implies merely adapting the legal situation into a new political-social reality, guaranteeing the legal continuity of the former state.

Unlike Italy in 1947 or Portugal in 1976, a constitutional break with the previous dictatorial regime never occurred in Spain. The so-called Spanish constitutional process of 1978 was nothing more than a pact between the Francoist political and economic elite and the anti-Francoist parties and unions, reflected in the 1978 Constitution. This agreement consisted in the fact that the Francoists were committed to fulfilling the democratic side of the new Constitution (political pluralism, social rights, etc.) and the anti-Francoists were committed to accepting the undemocratic side of the constitution's content (the monarchy, free market economy, the role of the army in maintaining "national unity", etc.).

The Spanish constitutional system is, then, a mixed system that combines democratic factors with anti-democratic elements. Part of the current constitutional framework is the legacy of a transition that did not break with the economic and political structures of Francoism.

Although for years the two sides of the Constitution coexisted in harmony, the last decade and a half have started to create an imbalance between them. The regime's parties, in the hands of the EU, both strengthen its undemocratic side and undermine the democratic side of the Constitution (by dismantling social rights, through labour reforms, gag laws, attacks on the Catalan language, etc.). This breaks the founding pact of 1978, ushering in the beginning of a period of working class struggles and ungovernability by Spain, in which a process begins to partially revoke the 1978 Constitution.

A partial process in the sense that the '78 regime has lost some of the legitimacy needed to maintain itself. Popular movements in defence of social rights, such as 15-M, and the appearance of new parties and candidacies standing "for change", are an expression of the political outburst that shows the logic of revoking the constitution and, although they did not have enough votes to start a formal constitutional process, they have led to a certain symbolic break with the Regime.

The independence process in the Principality of Catalonia, which has a long tradition, is also the result of the context of revoking the constitution. There are basically two factors that are driving the process forward:

On the one hand, the Catalan elites have made a strategic change in focus from regionalism to the independence movement, as a result of a change in Catalonia's economic model. The substitution of the industrial-economic model for a speculative-real estate-financial model involves a loss of political and purchasing power across the Catalan industrial bourgeoisie, especially when sharing up the spoils within the State. This means that, at the beginning of the process, the bourgeoisie played the independence card as a way to exert pressure and to try to get new tax breaks and political powers from Spain. Although it should be noted that the State is not only unwilling to negotiate, but also wants further centralisation. The possibility of constituting a separate state as a tool to reorganise local capitalism, is the only option left to the middle classes to restart the process of extended wealth accumulation. From this moment onwards they were openly committed, not without internal contradictions, to civil disobedience and a national breakaway.

But, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the independence process would not have grassroots support that it does, if it were not also the result of a reaction of large swathes of Catalan society against the increasingly undemocratic side of the Constitution, and the weakening of its democratic values. This relates to a broad range of factors such as how, despite everything, the PP continues to achieve majorities in Madrid. It relates too to the realisation that Spain cannot be reformed from the centre, and the perception that creating a separate country is an opportunity to cope with current unfettered capitalism. And the possibility of achieving a new legal framework that guarantees essential rights to dignity that are not guaranteed by Spain. For these sectors of society, the current class struggle in the Principality of Catalonia relates to the possibility of defining a foundational pact that does not simply reflect the interests of the elites, and instead takes the form of a national struggle, insofar as a constitutional process will only be possible through breaking away as a nation.

The variety of factors driving the independence process explains the range of participants and interests that are in favour of Catalan sovereignty, and the historical function that each one gives to the constitutional process. It would be simplistic to deny the existence of certain Catalan economic elites, who intend to implement a constitutional process from a conservative base, as a way to legitimise the foundational framework of a new country that maintains current relationships between political power and economics. It would be equally simplistic to deny that the independence process has become, in itself, a way to delegitimise the '78 regime and, for this reason, it offers a democratic opportunity to the working classes, both in Spain and in Catalonia.


The Catalan constitutional process as a democratic opportunity for Spain: constitutional Focalism and redefining federalism

The events of recent years have shown that there is not, currently, sufficient political or social consensus to force through the '78 regime from the centre with just one constitutional state process from Madrid. A basic rule for political strategy is that, when faced with the impossibility of a complete change, the remaining option is to look for cracks in any point of the system, to find partial changes that are already visible or in sight, and to encourage these cracks to widen until the cumulative effects lead to a break.

It is indisputable that a break from the constitution in Catalonia, where there is a political and social consensus between the groups who would carry it out, would lead to significant instability in the regime, as it would attack one of the founding principles of the 1978 regime (that of the unity of Spain). The focus of said instability would then be on other people in Spain, such as Euskal Herria, and this would reactivate new demands in other regions that would not be accepted by Spain, and might prove to be too much for it.

The only strategy available to put the '78 regime in check is not one of "constitutional centralism" but one of "constitutional Focalism" (Focalism is a revolutionary theory inspired by the book Guerilla Warfare by Ernesto Che Guevara, according to which it is not always necessary to wait for the right conditions in central power to start a revolution. Rather, only a small focal point is needed in a rural area to start guerilla warfare and to make the revolution expand cumulatively throughout the country, ultimately forcing the regime to fall). This strategy forces the Spanish left to move from a conservative perspective to a transformational view of federalism.

Most of the time the starting point is a conservative perception of federalism that is only able to understand it as a measure for "including the opposite." That is to say that federalism is conceived as a means of territorial organisation, built from the centre to the periphery, and that in terms of the goal of national unity, since, supposedly, it allows one to achieve, to a greater degree than the current autonomous communities, a legitimate, pleasant and stable working structure for the different peoples within a united country. Federalism in Spain acts as a life buoy for the regime.

We believe the time has come to understand federalism in its transformational sense, and this means understanding it not merely as a means of distribution of political power within the borders of a state, but rather in recognition of the right to constitutional self-determination for different peoples, to subsequently maintain relationships of solidarity, equality and cooperation as free, sovereign and independent peoples.

In this way, the Catalan independence process is opening up a democratic opportunity, or creating a sliver of instability, to pave the way to overthrowing the '78 regime and to build a genuine transformational federalism.


The constitutional process as a democratic opportunity in Catalonia: the combination of cross-society mobilisation and the class struggle

Although the pro-independence left is trying to implement a transformational constitutional process that serves not only to act as a valid foundation for the new Republic, but also as a way to redefine a system of economic, political and patriarchal relations. It is not assured that, within the constitutional process, there is the capacity to make a fundamental agreement guaranteeing rights and freedoms that is agreeable to the interests of the working class.

Achieving this means knowing how to combine, simultaneously, the impetus and participation of gatherings with a cross-societal reach, to act against the repression and attacks of Spain against constitutional institutions and their representatives. The class struggle within the constitutional process must stand up to elites who wish to give independence a conservative slant. In this secondary struggle, what tools do we have at our disposal to anchor the content of the new Constitution to the left?

In accordance with the conclusions by the Study Group on the Constitutional Process, which were approved by the Parliament of Catalonia on 27 July, 2016, the process is split into three stages. In each one, social movements and the left have different strategic tools at their disposal.
First, there is a preliminary participatory stage that must have a Constitutional Social Forum as its main body, with representatives from organised civil associations and political parties. The Constitutional Social Forum (Fòrum Social Constituent, or FSC) has to debate and formulate a set of questions on the content of the future constitution, which must be answered by the population themselves through a participatory citizen-led process. The result of citizen participation will be a binding mandate for members of the Constitutional Assembly (AC), who will have to incorporate the ideas into the text of the constitution.

We consider this to be a fundamental stage, in which decentralised debates must take place throughout the country, and in which the FSC cannot be controlled by political parties. Rather, it must be made up of a majority of delegates from societal organisations and the general public, since this is the only way to ensure that the issues that arise from the FSC are not determined by the interests and agenda of power, but instead respond to the interests and collective agenda of citizens, which in most cases, is a very different agenda. While the traditional topics and subjects in politics (institutions and political parties) are, by nature, part of the status quo, the organic topics and subjects in politics (as discussed in spaces for citizen organisation) are, by nature, problematic for the status quo.

At the same time, we believe that the participatory process that determines the result of the binding questions for the AC, must be a multi-way discourse in which everyone can participate individually and on equal terms. This means that results can acquire the broadest possible consensus and legitimacy among society.

Secondly, there will be a stage involving constitutional elections to form an AC, which be tasked with drafting the Constitution. For this stage, two important tools will be required. On the one hand, there must be a consensus among the left, in organisational structures for left-wing independence such as Esquerres per la independència or similar, on a basic programme for the content of the Constitution. This means it can later be defended jointly by members of the assembly across different political forces within the AC.

And on the other hand, it will be necessary, from within social movements, to carry out mass demonstrations on key issues while the AC is in session. The AC will be able to approve progressive content by means of popular struggles across society, which will provide a sufficiently strong force to be able to allow the divisions across the left within the AC to impose their will on the conservatives. A victory in the class struggle in society will have a direct impact on the potential for imposing the will of the people on the class struggle in institutional terms.

And, thirdly, there will be a final stage for the popular ratification of the constitution, by a referendum. We believe that being able to vote on the Constitution, section by section, has the advantage of avoiding blackmail from certain sectors. Voting for the Constitution as a whole involves the danger of focusing the referendum not on how it should be, which is as a process of reflection, discussion and deliberation on the content of the constitution, looking at the arguments for and against each option, but instead it runs the risk of being used to demonstrate the massive popular sup- port behind the pro-independence project against the  external enemy . The content of the Constitution would be secondary, while a "No" vote would be simplified and turned into a "No to the independence process". Voting on the text section by section would allow citizens to ratify the process, while allowing them to state whether they think the AC has correctly interpreted the popular will in certain sections or certain Articles of the Constitution.

Putting all of these tools in place could help anchor the content of the new Constitution to the left; despite everything, we are aware of how difficult this is. Even in the process of creating a nation with a progressive Constitution, we would have to reconsider the capacity for exercising sovereignty as part of a constitutional process in a country that is currently within the European Union. The majority of competences and decisions regarding financial, commercial, economic and migratory policy are undertaken by the EU. Aspects such as payment for external debt and the imposition of austerity measures have a great impact on the potential to exercise sovereignty over most aspects of citizens  lives.

However, the mere expression of a constitutional process fundamentally changes the conception of the constitutional framework and the basis for its legitimacy. On the one hand, it is the result of an exercise of constitutional power, leaving behind the current social contract (which some had never signed) and the interests of the political, social and economic elites. It becomes a far-reaching political question, debated, worked on, shared and decided on by the majority of society. On the other hand, simple logic indicates that, if there were to be a constitutional process, the result would be a constitution that, from the outset, would be written from the perspective of people from different social classes and with conflicting class interests. And this does not mean, in fact, that there are any more guarantees, but instead that it will be drawn up in a much less conservative political context than the Constitution following the Spanish Transition, with all of the rattling of sabres in the back- ground.

Therefore, despite being aware of the limitations imposed by the process of European integration and membership of the economic area, as well as the potential for neoliberal sectors within the AC who will have to be confronted, a constitutional process in Catalonia is a historic opportunity to put an end to the 1978 regime and move towards more democratic legal and political frameworks, in which we can continue to fight for greater social justice.


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