The Socialist 30 March 2006 |
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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
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
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
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
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'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
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
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.