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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 March 2006

Will ETA's strategy lead to Basque national rights?

THE BASQUE separatist group, ETA, has announced a "permanent ceasefire", ending its 38-year long armed campaign. ETA at the same time called on the Spanish and French governments to "seize the opportunities".

Niall Mulholland

For decades, ETA demanded independence for the Basque region, which covers northern Spain and south-west France. Can ETA achieve its long held aims? And, did its armed struggle bring nearer Basque national rights?

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuma), translated as 'Basque Homeland and Freedom', was established in 1959, under General Franco's right-wing dictatorship, when the Basque language was banned and Basques faced severe repression.

The death of Franco, in 1975, unleashed a revolutionary movement across Spain that terrified the ruling class. They were forced to concede to democratic demands from Spanish workers and to allow limited 'autonomous' rights to the Basques and other nationalities. ETA demanded more control for Basques over their own affairs.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the state used repressive methods against Basque people, including during the rule of the 'socialist' government of Felipe Gonzalez, which organised anti-ETA death squads.

Throughout these decades, ETA carried out a campaign of shootings and bombings. But recent years have seen the separatist group's activities at an all time low. Most Basques want the right to self-determination and oppose state repression. But they are weary of the armed campaign of ETA, which long ago proved unable to win their national aspirations and only helped divide the working class along national lines.

Socialists always opposed the individual terror methods of ETA. ETA attracted working class Basque youth, but, as socialists argued, their methods could not defeat the Spanish state. In fact, individual terrorism strengthened the state machine and the reactionary politicians.

Dead-end campaign

Disregarding attempts by ETA to enter negotiations, the right wing Popular Party government, elected in 1996, decided to try and smash ETA. It banned ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna. Since 1999, Spanish and French police carried out waves of arrests which are said to have hit ETA hard.

ETA's activities have waned, with the number of bombings falling in recent years. Terror tactics faced widespread revulsion after the Madrid bombings, on 11 May 2003, which killed hundreds of civilians. Although not responsible for the train bombing massacres, which were carried out by an Islamic terror group, ETA's methods of individual terror became even more unpopular.

Reaching a dead-end with its armed campaign, ETA hoped to emulate Sinn Fein's 'peace process' strategy in Northern Ireland. ETA's leadership calls for a "democratic process" for "political change".

After years of conflict, it is not surprising that a poll following ETA's ceasefire showed that 80% wanted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to talk to ETA. But the peace process may prove to be as protracted and as volatile as the Irish one.

Zapatero, leader of the 'socialist' PSOE, said the peace process will be "difficult". Right wing politicians demand that ETA must disarm before any talks.

Given the vital economic and territorial importance of the Basque Country to the Spanish ruling class, the PSOE administration will not concede the right to genuine self-determination and separation.

Zapatero said he will discuss "smaller issues", like the return of ETA prisoners to Basque jails. ETA will demand parole for its jailed members and, along with Basque nationalists, will call for more autonomy from central government in Madrid. But the prime minister will come under pressure from right wing politicians not to concede 'too much'.

The Zapatero government will only attempt a solution to the Basque national question within the confines of capitalism - but there is no long term solution on that basis. History shows that unless national rights and grievances are met, the Basque issue will re-erupt.


Only united working class action, in a struggle for socialism, can win real self-determination for the Basque people. Both the 'constitutional', pro-capitalist Basque nationalism of parties like the Basque National Party, and ETA's 'radical' nationalism have failed to win Basque national rights.

Socialists call for a socialist Basque country, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the region. This means building new mass parties of the working class that oppose the neo-liberal policies of Zapatero and the opposition Popular Party, and which fight for full democratic rights.

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