The comrades of Ezker Marxista and El Militante organised a speaking tour throughout the Basque Country between May 8 and May 14, with the presence of Gerry Rudy and Danny, both members of the IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party).
It was an exceptional campaign from various points of view.
1st) From the point of view of the situation in the Basque Country itself
The results in the regional parliamentary elections in the Basque Country on April 17 were a veritable political earthquake. The attempts to ban the party list of the Abertzale Left (Left Basque Nationalists) have been thwarted by the appearance in Parliament of EHAK (Communist Party of the Basque Land), a new political formation that had the support of Batasuna (the banned political group) and which received nine seats in the Basque Parliament.
If we analyse the results politically, those formations with roots in the left clearly made gains compared to the previous elections in 2001. The left, PSE-EE, EHAK, EB-IU and ARALAR, increased the vote by 40,353. On the other hand, the Spanish right wing and the Nationalist right wing suffered a serious setback, losing 268,487 votes. That meant that the right wing lost 9 seats in the new chamber. The increase in the left vote is even more significant if we take into account the fact that the latest census produced a fall in the population of 50,000 and that the level of abstention went up by 10%.
The increase in the PSOE vote (PSE-EE, the Socialist Party) with the fall of that of the Popular Party (PP) has pushed the Socialist Party into seeking a deal with all the political formations in the Spanish Parliament so as to reach an agreement over how to negotiate a peace process with ETA. The experience of the (Irish) Good Friday Agreement has an influence in the political life of the Basque Country.
2nd) And the situation in Ireland
During the week of the speaking tour we commemorated the 89th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly on May 12th 1916, after the Easter Uprising. The results of the recent General Election in Britain were also announced, with a result in the six counties that showed a divided and polarised scenario, something that provides an answer to those who have been praising the Good Friday Agreement.
The speaking tour was reviewed and advertised almost exclusively in the Basque language, either with advertisements of the meetings or with articles about them. Ibon Artola and Manu Odriozola published articles in the Gara, in the Hitza of the Tolosaldea region, with pictures of the meeting with the prisoners, and in Berria, which is the Basque language newspaper for the whole of the Basque Country. Also, articles and pictures covering every single meeting were published in Xirika. None of the newspapers in Spanish published or reviewed any of the meetings and they did not attend the press conference in Bilbao either.
In 1967 Gerry Ruddy was a founding member of the Republican group in Queen’s University in Belfast when all Republican organisations were still banned. He was also a founding member of People’s Democracy, a student group that fought for civil rights in 1968. He was also a member of NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association). He was very active in a whole series of campaigns in support of the hunger strikers. He used to be an executive member of the ITUC as well as General Secretary of the IRSP, now currently Political Secretary of the party.
Meeting at Leioa University in Bilbo
Throughout the campaign we have seen Gerry as a very creative man, able to vary every speech and give very interesting new elements at every meeting. He had a very modest approach, and he behaved as a true revolutionary. He insisted at every single meeting that he was not there to lecture people about what they should do, he had not travelled to the Basque Country to tell them what to do or to criticise other groups in Ireland. His aim was to give the audience knowledge about his own experiences and make these useful for the audience. Danny, who attended almost all of the meetings, showed his support for the process within the IRSP and the INLA, in moving from the armed struggle to the political struggle, after the clear message sent out by the Irish people in support of peace in their country.
During the week Gerry and Danny spoke at the state universities in the four Basque provinces: Leioa in Bilbao, Ibaeta Campus in San Sebastian, the History and Philology Faculty in Alava and the State University of Navarra. About 50 students attended these meetings to find out more about the situation in Ireland, especially in the six counties, and about the effects of the Good Friday Agreement.
There were also meetings in the Gaztextes (youth clubs), places occupied and run by the youth. In Kukutza, in the Racalde neighbourhood in Bilbao, an old factory that has been occupied and probably the biggest in the Basque Country, questions were asked about the approach to the trade union question and the drugs problem in working class districts.
They also spoke in Ibarra (Guipuzcoa), in the region of Tolosaldea, that has 28 towns, and in every single one of these there are prisoners or political exiles. This is clearly evidenced in the streets by the while flags with the Basque map in black with the slogan: Bring home the Basque Prisoners! (Euskal Presoak Euskal Herrira!)
In this Gaztxetxe, Danny and Gerry had a discussion with a big delegation of the Association of the Families of the Basque Prisoners, ETXERAT. A curious incident occurred at this meeting. It was revealed that an uncle of Danny’s, also member of the IRSP, had visited the same place and had signed a poster in support of the prisoners twelve years ago. Among the delegation there was a representative of the Basque prisoners in the French prisons, and another of the prisoners in the Spanish jails. They described the problems the families have to face in travelling hundreds of miles every week to visit their relatives, and then for only a mere 40 minutes. They told us of the case of a woman that had travelled to Paris with her 4 year-old son and when she got there they told her to go back because her husband was not in that prison and they did not tell her where he was.
The policy of dispersion has meant that since 1988, 17 prisoners’ relatives have actually been killed in road accidents. They also explained the terrible conditions of the exiles, and how it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get recognition, even for a short period, as a political refugee. They are used by different governments as bargaining chips and they sometimes disappear for months on end without their families being informed of where they are or whether they are dead or alive.
Meeting with the Association of
the Families of the Basque Prisoners
They explained to us the situation the group of about 200 women prisoners are facing, that are presently suffering sexist tortures, such as the case of Amaia Uriza who was raped with the use of a gun. They also told of the situation being faced by mothers in prison with their children. Some of them have been in isolation for three years with the only their children for company. The most immediate demands of this group are for an end to the dispersion policy and bringing all the Basque prisoners close to home, for the release of those who have served three quarters of their sentences, as the law actually establishes and also of those prisoners who are terminally ill. The Association gave the comrades lots of material, such as flags, handkerchiefs (like those used by the Plaza de Mayo mothers in Argentina) and an oil lamp that is a symbol taken from Picasso’s Guernica (the light that awaits those who are to return home). Danny, who has been in prison 4 times, said that this repression against the [Basque] prisoners is similar to what is done in Ireland, and its only purpose in to break their spirit.
Gerry and Danny expressed their support and solidarity for the political prisoners, and they insisted that they should play a key role in the solution to the conflict, on the one hand because to keep up their morale they need to raise their political level inside the prisons, and on the other because the fact that they are prisoners gives them a greater authority within the movement as a whole. Gerry produced the Ta Power document, which had a big influence inside the IRSP and the INLA, as an example of this. At the end there was an exchange of gifts between the families and the IRSP comrades, with the latter giving the Starry Plough, the flag of the Irish Citizens’ Army, which Lenin had described as the first red army in the world – a blue flag with seven stars in the shape of a plough, a constellation that symbolises the union of labour and the socialist future of humanity.
In the same Ibarre Gaztetxe a meeting took place with 35 people attending. This meeting was organised by the Asamblea de Jovenes (Youth Assembly) and the Tolosa Gaztetxe. Several books were sold worth €33.6 and a collection raised €90.30 towards the costs of the campaign.
On the 12th a meeting was held in Vitoria in the Sala Luis de Ajuria where 45 people took part, and on the 13th another meeting was held in the Gaztetxe in Burlada, which is situated in the old cinema in a working class neighbourhood of Pamplona in Navarra, where 35 youth attended. Here the questions asked were mainly about the validity of the “armed struggle”. The concrete question was about how are we to achieve through political means what was not achieved with arms, and whether it should not be a combination of both forms of struggle to achieve national liberation.
Gerry explained that four shipments of arms in Ireland had not been enough to achieve national liberation. However, with revolutionary ideas, winning the majority of the workers to the ideas of Marxism it would be possible to achieve it. The important point is that politics should always be put first in every situation, and he insisted over and over again that this was one of the lessons that was repeatedly raised in the Ta Power document. “The rich always betray the poor.” He repeated this sentence at every meeting as a way of emphasising that only the working class can lead the struggle to victory.
Gerry stressed the need to spread news about the situation the Basque prisoners are facing and to support their campaign to bring them closer to home. This is a democratic right, which all progressive groups should be involved in, even those who have political differences. This is what the IRSP is doing in Ireland, where there are more than 40 political prisoners that were not granted such rights after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, even though such rights were achieved after the hunger strike and death of 10 prisoners under the Thatcher government.
He gave a brief historical account of the Republican tradition, that goes right back to the French Revolution, and has an internationalist tradition against British rule in Ireland. The first duty of a revolutionary is to resist the occupation of Ireland and therefore there is a long-standing anti-imperialist tradition.
The IRSP are followers of James Connolly, founder of the ICA (Irish Citizen’s Army) that in 1916 organised the Eastern Uprising. He also explained the role of the working class in the struggle for socialism and the national liberation of Ireland.
Meeting at the History and Philology Faculty in Gazteiz
Since 1975, Gerry explained, they have been struggling against British imperialism. Three INLA prisoners had died during the hunger strike in 1981, together with seven of the Provisional IRA. Forty others died during the struggle and at one point they had 600 members in jail. Their leaders and volunteers were assassinated and isolated; their sympathisers were jailed and tortured. He also explained that in their movement the most experienced leaders, such as Seamus Costello and Ta Power and a few others, had been assassinated, something that reveals how imperialism feared their ideas. However, they also made mistakes during the struggle and these have been analysed in an honest manner, as honest revolutionaries should.
Gerry made an appraisal of the Good Friday Agreement seven years after its signing. He posed the question, was it a victory or a defeat? The IRSP stated from the very beginning that they were against the Agreement, firstly, because of the way in which it had been negotiated, without giving real information within the Republican movement and then selling the agreement as a great victory when it was not.
The Agreement institutionalises sectarianism. It is a guarantee for the Unionists that do not want the reunification of Ireland. It maintains and reinforces British rule over this part of the island and does not deal with the social and economic problems.
Gerry explained in every meeting that more barriers have been raised between the communities after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement than during the war. Those barriers do not divide the rich. They share the same golf courses and middle class neighbourhoods. Those barriers separate a Catholic unemployed working class father of five from a Protestant working class father of five. What the Agreement achieves is the division of the working class. Gerry defended the demand for a Socialist Ireland and a Socialist Federation of the peoples of Europe to smash capitalism and to finally achieve the national liberation of Ireland. The struggle for national democratic rights and the struggle for socialism are the same struggle.
Gerry insisted that if those who had signed the Good Friday Agreement had explained that it was a compromise with imperialism because there was a burning desire for peace and that at that moment no better agreement was going to be achieved, and then they had followed this with an explanation of the need to draw lessons and that the movement now needed to prepare for the future, they would have gained authority within the movement. On the contrary, by presenting it as a victory when in reality it was a defeat and by not drawing the necessary lessons, they did no real favour to the movement and to the struggle for the liberation of Ireland.
He explained that although the IRSP had not supported the Agreement, it had called on the INLA to declare an indefinite ceasefire accepting the fact that the Irish people had declared support for peace, and had taken steps to reorientate the ex-combatants and prisoners of the INLA towards the political struggle.
He also explained that we have to state things as they are, and not as we want them to be. What will free the people are ideas and this is one of the fundamental lessons of their struggle. Revolutionaries without arms are still revolutionaries; arms that are not carried by revolutionaries are useless. At the same time, Gerry, in drawing the lessons from the Ta Power document, said that those involved in the armed struggle tend to despise those who are stronger in the political field and this drags the organisation down the road of a militarisation that loses sight of the more general aspects of the struggle and into mistakes such as the development of local chiefs and feuds with the lack of internal democracy. Counterposed to this what is needed is the political education of all the members and activists, together with a correct policy and a struggle against internal feuding and elitism within the organisation and also to promote full internal democracy. These are some of the preconditions for the development of a truly revolutionary organisation that can lead our class to victory.
For the comrades of Ezker Marxista and El Militante, who bid our farewell to the comrades in Bilbao with a dinner imbued with solidarity, the speaking tour and the debates we had were an extraordinary experience. We are enormously grateful to the IRSP comrades for their visit and also to the Committee for a Marxist International that put us in touch with the comrades and made this visit possible, thus helping us to build and develop a Marxist revolutionary tendency in the Basque Country.