Ireland: Basque Marxist speaks at meetings of socialist republicans

A Basque Marxist was on a speaking tour of the North of Ireland at the end of October. He spoke to audiences in Belfast, Strabane and Derry mainly composed of republican socialists, but not only. There was keen interest in seeing how the experience of the Basque situation could be applied to the North of Ireland, and vice versa. We make available here a report, originally published in The Plough, the journal of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. Recently three successful meetings were held on the Irish and Basque Peace Processes in Belfast, Strabane and Derry (25-27 October). The meetings were organised by the International Left Solidarity Committee, a group composed of republicans socialists and Marxists, dedicated to looking at issues of international significance for the working classes.

Ibon Artola, (Editor of Euskal Herria Sozialista, http://www.euskalherriasozialista.net/ ) gave a detailed examination of the current state of the struggle for Basque independence from a Marxist perspective and his analysis of the so-called Basque Peace process. For his Irish audiences Ibon gave a brief history of the Basque struggle.

From left to right - Fred Weston, Ibon Artola San Miguel and Gerry RuddyThe Basque Country is made up of seven provinces, Labourd, Basse Navarre, and Soule all located in an area governed by France, and Viscaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava and Navarre all under the control of Spain.

Following the overthrow of the Spanish Republic by a military coup led by Franco and supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany the ancient and unique Basque language was banned. The Spanish state refused funding for the Basque language and culture, workers were denied their right to use the language and even the graves of Basque martyrs were interfered with to replace the Basque language on tombstones with Spanish inscriptions. Also under the Franco dictatorship Communists, Socialists but also Basques, were executed for their resistance to the regime.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque  for "Basque Homeland and Freedom" ) was formed in 1959 originally as a cultural response to the dictatorship's attempts to impose Spanish language and cultural values on the Basque people. From painting slogans on walls and buildings, ETA eventually became an armed Basque nationalist  organisation.

Ibon pointed out that at the beginning of the 20th century there were those socialists who claimed that the rise of capitalism would solve the national question. The reality has been different. The Irish national question still has not been resolved. In Belgium national differences are once more coming to the fore. In essence capitalism is incapable of solving the national question. On the contrary Capitalism uses the national question and the existence of minorities to divide and thus weaken all sections of the working class regardless of their nationality. Imperialism wishes to impose itself on small countries and the fight to overcome this was essential.

The fall of the Franco dictatorship did not solve the national question in Spain. After the death of Franco a new constitution gave limited autonomy to three of the Spanish controlled Basque provinces called the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) while Navarre was not allowed to opt into the BAC but made into a separate autonomous region. By 1983 the BAC had limited autonomous powers including its own elected parliament, its own police force, its own school system and control over taxation. (It is worth noting that all of these except most notably the control over taxation have all been granted to the current Stormont administration.)

Theses changes while accepted and worked by the more conservative nationalists in the PNC Partido Nacionalista Vasco , a Christian-Democrat political party and which has been the dominant power in the BAC, was rejected by the Abertzale Left because it did not satisfy the national aspirations of many Basques, nor did they bring peace to the Basque Country.

Spain still exerts extensive influence over Basque life, some spheres of which, such as harbour authorities, customs, employment, the armed forces and foreign relations, remain entirely under jurisdiction of the central government. The central state apparatus, including politicians, police including the local Basque police, army and prisons, have continued to persecute members and sympathizers of the Abertzale movement and to obstruct Basques' attempts to construct their own political structures and to articulate and defend a national sovereignty project.

The Spanish and the Basque ruling class, in the form of the PNV, showed their reactionary nature by supporting the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. They also endorsed the electoral fraud perpetrated by the Mexican ruling class aided and abetted by USA Imperialism.

The rise of ETA and a broadening of its support base in the beginning was because of the failure of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) to do anything. It was not in their interests because the Basque bourgeoisie was and still is firmly bound with the Spanish bourgeoisie. This is similar to the way the Irish bourgeoisie despite its so-called formal freedom is intrinsically tied in with the British ruling class and also subservient to USA Imperialism.

Ibon pointed out that 65% of the population of Spain is in favour of a solution to the situation in the Basque country. In March 2006 ETA declared a ceasefire. Hopes were raised for a settlement and not only was there comparisons with the so-called Irish Peace Process but clergy involved in facilitating the IRA ceasefires became involved in delicate negotiations in the Basque Country. Sinn Fein leaders including Gerry Adams also visited the Basque Country encouraging militants to follow the Sinn Fein(P) example.

However, the People's Party (PP) in Spain began arguing that the Spanish ruling class was granting too many concessions to ETA. Its leader Rajoy called on the government to continue, "fighting terrorism" and reject negotiations. Zapatero, the Spanish prime Minister in fact stepped up repression. Despite the calls from left Nationalists for round table talks there was little movement from the Spanish Government. ETA militants were still being harassed and detained and there was no movement on the issue of the prisoners. It is the policy of the Spanish government to imprison political prisoners at least 600 kilometres from their homes and some as far as the Salto del Negro  prison in the Canary Islands . So prisoners' families often travel hundreds of kilometres to prisons to visit them, either in Spain or France. This has resulted in a great financial burden being placed on many families. Many have been killed in road accidents travelling the long distances.

Much to the astonishment of his Irish audiences Ibon pointed out that the oppression included political prisoners not being released as planned, with some having their sentences increased. Following the Barajas bombing when ETA attacked an airport the Spanish Government banned the Basque left nationalist youth organisation Segi, declaring it to be a terrorist organisation because both Segi and ETA have the same stated goals of independence and socialism. ETA had bombed the airport in an attempt to put pressure on the Spanish government. This had the adverse effect and resulted in a series of repressive measures by the Spanish ruling class including a widespread propaganda campaign aimed at undermining ETA. Batasuna leader Ortegui summed up the new departure of Batasuna when he said "How can we have a peace process with bombs going off?"

There are some on the left, as Ibon pointed out, who argue that the problem in the Basque Country is "terrorism". They do so from the safety of their well-paid parliamentary jobs without any understanding of national oppression. The Basque problem is the interference of the Spanish government in the affairs of the Basque Country.

Ibon pointed to the example of Russia prior to the 1917 October. There had existed a group called the Narodniks. The Narodniks believed the peasantry was the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy and they regarded the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, but instead that history could only be made by heroes, outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution. They hoped that their acts of violence would lead to spontaneous uprisings and social upheaval. Despite their assassination of the Tsar, for which Lenin's brother was executed, no such uprisings took place. Instead it was the building of a revolutionary party with mass support that eventually saw off feudal Russia.

There are also some militant youth who have launched attacks against the offices of Spanish trade unions. Ibon pointed out the importance of winning over the Spanish and French working classes to support and solidarity with the Basque people and therefore it is wrong to antagonise them by attacks on the organisations that the workers regard as theirs. It is of the greatest importance that these young people are won over to genuine Marxist politics. As revolutionaries we cannot turn our backs on the militant youth.

Ibon then went on to point out something that should be a salutary lesson for Irish republicans. Every September there is a demonstration in favour of the prisoners. This year it was banned with little explanation. Basque policemen were sent to deal with the demonstration and over 100 people were injured. Having Basques in the police force ‑ or Catholics in the PSNI ‑ is no victory when these same forces are used to protect the status quo.

The PNV defend their own interests which are the interests of the ruling Class. They may talk about independence but the bottom line is that the PNV in the Basque Country, have no interest in independence for the Basque country. They share the same interests as the Spanish ruling classes have. Only the working class can solve the national questions, whether it's in the Basque country, Ireland, the Balkans or anywhere else.

During the Russian revolution the Bolsheviks managed to overthrow the old order, despite Russia being a country with dozens of different nationalities.

When Ibon Artola had finished his presentation in all three venues there were discussions and questions and answer sessions. Naturally some of these questions focussed on the issue of prisoners, their actual conditions in jail and if they had any input into the Basque Peace Process. Other questions included if the prisoners or their organisations had tried to use the denial of human rights and torture used by the Spanish government to take Spain to European courts. It was pointed out that those who tried to see comparisons between the peace processes in Ireland and the Basque Country failed to see that the Republican struggle in Ireland had been defeated and that in accepting both the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement republicans settled for less than the Basque Country had achieved years ago.

A prominent feature of the meeting was that unlike many other meetings on international issues organised by other groups the audience at these meetings were overwhelmingly working class and had an instinctive grasp of the class issues thrown up by the struggle in the Basque Country.

[Originally published in The Plough, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, (Web site http://www.theplough.netfirms.com/ ) Vol. 4- No 24, Saturday, 3rd November 2007]