Communists and the Right of Self-Determination
for the Basque Country

By Daniel Bengoechea

The introduction right below was originally posted by the LRP in October 2011. It is an introduction to an article that was written five years prior to that by an independent contributor living in Valencia, Spain. It was published on the LRP website in Spanish and we have now translated it into English, taking certain liberties in the translation with the permission of the original author. Also the footnotes and editorial comments in brackets were added by the LRP in order to make the discussion a little more understandable to an English language audience.

By now much has happened in the Basque Region. Among other things, the ETA has broken the 2006 truce and declared a new unilateral ceasefire in 2010 and the independentista left has managed to participate in the last regional elections, becoming one of the most successful forces in terms of votes received and several mayoral elections, including Donostia (San Sebastian ), and the Junta (government) of the province of Guipúzcoa.[1] However, repression by the Spanish state (and also France) against the Basque territories has not abated. Leaders of the pro-independence nationalist left wing tried in the “Bateragune case,” Arnaldo Otegi, Rafa Diez, Sonia Jacinto Rodriguez and Miren Arkaitz Zabaleta, have all been recently sentenced to ten years in prison for simply trying to organize a united front for independence. Basque political prisoners now number more than seven hundred. The response to these facts has been mass demonstrations in Bilbao and the rest of the Basque region. The response has also included increased political activity by the pro-independence left, which threatens to gain the largest representation in the Spanish parliament in history in the elections of November 20. Within this scenario the article reproduced below remains fully relevant. The Spanish bourgeoisie continues its imperialist oppression of the oppressed nationalities (Basque and Catalan among others), social democracy and Stalinism continue to play their role of supporting the social-chauvinist Spanish bourgeoisie and the Basque independentista left, despite its long history of struggle, is still trapped in a popular frontist program that makes independence the only goal of the program, effectively abandoning the struggle for socialist revolution, the only way possible to obtain the desired self-determination.

Following the deaths of two political prisoners, Igor Angulo and Roberto Sainz, in the prisons of the Spanish state and the repression unleashed against public demonstrations supporting them, the nationalist left and the union LAB [the Basque Abertzale Left trade union –ed.] called to mobilize “those who want a democratic solution to the Basque nation.” As part of this movement they called a general strike in the Basque nation for March 9. Regarding the call for the one day strike and for demonstrations in response to the deaths of the two Basque political prisoners, to denounce the policy of imprisonment and demand a democratic solution to political conflict in the Basque nation, the response of most of Basque society was very solid.

The deaths of Igor Angulo and Roberto Sainz and the brutal police response, by which, with batons and billy clubs, they tried to prevent any tributes or memorial for them, again shows the true face of the bourgeois democratic state.

Then followed the prosecution of Arnaldo Otegi and the rest of the organizers of the general strike on March 9, the extension of the suspension of all activities by Batasuna [a Basque nationalist party- ed.] for the next two years, the closing of their offices, the prohibition of political action which had been called for the past January 21 in Baracaldo, and the collective judicial decision called “18/98” which ruled against fifty militants of the nationalist left. All these events are the result of pressure from the most reactionary sectors of the state apparatus. These heirs of Franco want to prevent at all costs any progress on democratic rights for the peoples oppressed by the Spanish state, raising the banner of the most rancid Spanish nationalism, and insisting on further increasing repressive measures.

PSOE’S Position

The leaders of the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party- ed. ] and the IU [United Left –ed.] partnership are unable, because of their anti-worker character, to proceed to an immediate cleansing of the state apparatus inherited from the Franco regime, or to eliminate the reactionary law regarding political parties, to end the policy of dispersion of the political prisoners[2] or to recognize the right of self-determination of peoples. Therefore, on these issues they only take half measures and make continual concessions to rightist pressure in all areas. The result of this is the brutal prison policy that allows that, even though more than one hundred political prisoners have already served their sentences under current legislation, they still remain in jail, subject to isolation, dispersion and de facto life imprisonment. These measures are designed to undermine the morale of political prisoners and allow the practice of torture to go unpunished, as demonstrated by persistent reports and testimonies. The PSOE and IU also have responsibility for the climate of social lynching, created with the help of all the media, which makes anyone who disagrees with their call for unity on the basis of pro-Spain great nation chauvinist thesis a “terrorist.” No one even thinks to discuss the constitution or defend the right to self-determination because it would mean a departure from belonging “to the democratic side” in order to go over “to the bloody side that gives cover and justification for terrorism.” Supporting itself in this climate, the government does not even need proof to stop nationalist leaders and accuse them of terrorism; in fact no one knows where the line is between crimes of criticism and terrorism. Regarding this issue, the “democratic intelligentsia” ignores it completely, since it has closed ranks with the Spanish chauvinist campaign in defense of the unity of Spain.

The United Left and the Pseudo-Revolutionary Left

IU’s performance regarding the Basque nation is further proof that this reformist organization is in the service of the capitalists. How else can one explain that the IU put more effort into demanding that the ETA abandon its weapons, than to such questions as the right to self-determination, immigration, or accident rates and job insecurity? In particular, any of these topics are more relevant to the working class of the Spanish state than victimless ETA attacks during the last three years against bourgeois politicians and members of the past security forces. What happens is that like the true reformists they are, IU is cowed and unable to distance itself from the Spanish offensive against the Basque nation, helping therefore to legitimize a government as reactionary as that of Zapatero [former PSOE prime minister – ed.] and a monarchic regime which does not respect the right of nations to decide their fate before the workers. Llamazares [a leader of IU – ed.] waved an electoral banner during the last national elections over the question of the right of self-determination for the Basques and sided openly with the policy of the PSOE, supporting the rejection of the Ibarretxe plan in the parliament of Madrid.[3] In this regard, Llamazares has been clear: “We must say at this point what side we are on.” He is greatly mistaken if he thinks this fever of Great Spanish chauvinism will benefit IU. With it, only the reaction wins.

Regarding the centrist left, they are accomplices of the IU’s reactionary policies. Instead of denouncing the anti-worker politics of this organization, they are dedicated to becoming its left counselors. The Militant, as much as the Revolutionary Workers’ Party, instead of defending a genuinely socialist policy of class independence, limits themselves to “demanding that IU break their agreements with the right, Basque or Spanish.”[4] Such a political line can only get its supporters isolated from the masses of workers and activists who support self-determination in the Basque nation, and cause authentic socialist ideas to have little influence in the whole Spanish state. On the other hand, the left-centrist positions reveal their fear of the violence of the oppressed. These pseudo-Trotskyists, unlike Trotsky, are incapable of understanding the universal lessons of history which show that violence is one of the many forms of social and political intervention, and its validity is given by its integration into a dialectical and totalizing conception.

No Hope in the Basque Bourgeoisie

For its part the minority tripartite (PNV-EA-IU) Ibarretxe government could only be constituted thanks to the votes received by EHAK. (4) The PNV has also received support to move forward with their budgets in the Basque chamber (of parliament?) from the PSOE. The facts have proven repeatedly that democratic rights for the Basque country are not going to get a place at a negotiating table with the Basque bourgeoisie. The PNV has made it quite clear in the language of the billy club, through the suppression of acts of homage to Igor Angulo and Roberto Sainz. In addition, the regional autonomous government-IU PNV-EA, like successive central governments, is not only attacking democratic rights but also is pursuing a brutal policy of privatization, wage cuts and closures, with accidents that are produced daily. In short, the Ibarretxe government is also the rule of capital, in this case the representative of the bourgeoisie of the Basque country, and is therefore unable to defend the rights of the Basque people. The struggle for the territorial unification of the Basque country and for the right of self-determination and the struggle for socialism, are one and the same struggle against oppressive, centralized capitalism and against regional capitalists. The Basque bourgeoisie and their representatives, like any other bourgeoisie, prefer to given up on national independence if it might threaten the stability of capitalist rule through its effect on the proletariat. In fact, at this stage of the process of capital accumulation in the Basque country, the Basque bourgeoisie itself – as shown by the BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Basque-based bank) – is closely intertwined with multinational capital. Its investments in Latin America show that it has become multinational, and the imperialist national state which it projects abroad has become the Spanish state, so that fractions such as the Basque bourgeoisie have lost all interest in the national liberation of the Basque country.

The Nationalist Left

Regarding the ETA and the nationalist left there are several things we want to say. As Marxists, we should state that no social movement defines its political character by the forms of struggle which it adopts or by the means of action it employs but primarily by the strategy for power which they show in their program and their political project. On the other hand, with the prevailing ideological confusion and cowardice of the vast majority of the Left, we must clarify to the conscious workers that we are not afraid of violence which comes as a response to oppression. As communists, we are not pacifists, liberal democrats nor nationalists, and we judge political organizations and states not by the means they use, but by the social interests they represent and the purposes they pursue. Consequently, our disagreements with the whole MLNV (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional Vasco – Basque National Liberation Movement) are related to their political strategy and not to the use of violence as a method of struggle. It is true that individual actions, as experience has shown, in many cases serve to strengthen the most reactionary sector of the state apparatus and justify their actions against the working class and youth. However, the main MLNV error is not the use of individual violence as a method of struggle, but the fact that the MLNV pretends that the Basque proletariat understands and accepts that in order to liberate themselves as a class from exploitation that subordinates the whole of the bourgeoisie based in the Basque country, it is necessary first to collaborate with the latter and act as their “auxiliary” in the bourgeois democratic task of politically freeing Euskal Herria (Basque Country) from the Spanish state. Consequently, the political instrument the MLNV advocates in order to achieve national self-determination of the Basque country is a popular front in the entire period.

The problem with this strategy is that under capitalism it is illusory to believe that they will achieve self-determination for the Basque country. The particularly reactionary character of the Spanish bourgeoisie, the army and the state apparatus – unchanged from the time of the dictatorship – is a decisive factor. But there are others no less momentous. The most important is that the Spanish bourgeoisie cannot afford to question the unity of the Spanish market, much less in times like these where it fights to the death for any small piece of the market in the world arena. Nor does the Basque bourgeoisie want to lose the large share of participation which their products and industries have in the Spanish economy. Finally, the French state and the European Union don’t support similar initiatives for fear of its impact on France and the example it sets for other nationalities in Europe. It is impossible, on the basis of capitalism, to achieve the territorial unity of the Basque country or a decent satisfaction of the democratic rights which have been fought for for decades. Only the working class with a revolutionary socialist program can fulfill those rights, and that is impossible to achieve in a dialogue with the PNV-EA, or even worse, by considering the Basque bourgeoisie a strategic ally for this purpose.

ETA’s truce

As we write these lines, ETA has decided to declare a permanent ceasefire starting March 24, 2006. The aim of this decision according to them is “to promote a democratic process in the Basque country to build a new framework which recognizes the rights that belong to us as a people and ensures the future possibility of development of all political options.” Probably, this truce opens the door to negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government. However it does not affect our characterization of the MNLV, as this is based on an analysis of its political strategy (which remains unchanged after the truce) and not in the methods used to implement it. Again we repeat that national self-determination will not be achieved under capitalism. Given the MNLV’s Popular Front strategy, the most the Basque proletariat will get from future negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government will be mere cosmetic changes to the current system of capitalist exploitation.

Our Strategy and the Legitimate Right of the Basques
to Self-Determination

From our perspective, the Basque proletariat can only achieve national self-determination of the Basque country by its own self-determination as a class, a condition that can only be accomplished through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, at least in the area defined by the Spanish and French states. Consequently, according to the theoretical perspective bequeathed by Lenin, the Basque communists, Spanish and French, should fight simultaneously within the labor movement in their respective countries under this strategy. Then, in order for a revolutionary internationalist policy to develop in The Basque country, it must address wage-workers both in the oppressor and the oppressed nation.

For their part, the revolutionaries from other parts of the Spanish state must actively propagandize among the workers for the right to self-determination of the Basque country. Failure to do so would be denying reality: a conflict that has more than a century behind it. As part of this, the Basque struggle for freedom was an essential component of the struggle against Franco, the Spanish constitution was passed by less than a third of the Basques, the polls have indicated over and over that in the Basque country an indisputable majority of citizens want the Basques themselves to decide their future, the working class is structured mainly in Basque nationalist trade unions (ELA and LAB) and the political forces which demand that state authorities respect the free will of the Basques, represent a clear social and political majority. The reformist left and the “democratic intelligentsia” can hide that fact, but real revolutionaries cannot deny it. In response to the ignorance of those “democratic intellectuals” who try to deny the existence of a Basque nation by arguing that Basque nationalism emerged in the late nineteenth century, we would like to mention here that until 1830 the customs of the Spanish market were at the Ebro River, and its trade with The Basque country was as foreign as trade with the English and French. The Basques did not pay taxes to the Spanish treasury, either, and minted their own currency. The borders were moved to the coast just after the successive victories of the Spanish bourgeoisie in the civil wars of 1833-39 and 1872-76. This allowed the Spanish bourgeoisie finance the industrialization of the Peninsula through the massive export of iron from Biscay to England. So if Basque nationalism had no sense of existence before the end of the nineteenth century, its structure as organic thought is the answer to this loss of autonomy discussed in the previous lines.

In short, we understand that revolutionaries should not view The Basque country as a place where only independence is struggled for, but where, as in the rest of the world, workers must fight for their rights, immigrants for their legality, women for their equality and the exploited in conjunction with these for their liberation from economic power, whether Spanish, Basque or whatever nationality. Obviously, the critique of nationalism has to be first and foremost of Spanish nationalism. There is no other way to achieve unity of Basque and Spanish workers than on the basis of the right to self-determination. We defend the right of peoples to self-determination because we do not give up the struggle for socialism, which is only possible if based on a free union of peoples. This thinking was based on three interconnected issues that are central to the Marxist theory of national self-determination and its dialectical relationship with proletarian internationalism. They are:

The national liberation of the oppressed nation eliminates national divisions and antagonisms, and allows the working class of both countries to unite against their common enemy, capitalism.

The oppression of another nation helps to reinforce the ideological domain of the bourgeoisie over the working class of the oppressor nation. In the words of Lenin: “Every nation that oppresses another forges the chains that oppress herself.”

That the emancipation of the oppressed nation weakens the economic, political, ideological and military bases of the ruling classes in the oppressor nation, contributing to the revolutionary struggle of the working class in that country.

These three statements make it more than clear that the support for the right to self-determination of oppressed peoples is compatible with proletarian internationalism.

From our perspective we demand the recognition of all the democratic rights of political prisoners, including their immediate coming together and release. Also recognition of the democratic right of the Basques to decide their sovereignty in both the Spanish state as in the French and the practical realization of this right through a plebiscite where only Basques vote. The minimum condition for channeling the democratic process is that all Basques participate in it without any pressure. Therefore, to complete the democratic process a general amnesty is essential, allowing the release of all prisoners and the return of all those who fled. Our proposal for Basque workers is the creation of a federation of workers’ state based on free association of all the territories that so wish, and on the recognition of the right to self-determination as well as a state structure which makes it possible to develop an economic and social policy oriented to meeting the social needs of the majority of the population.

Obviously, all these claims can only be achieved through political struggle of the organized Spanish, French, and Basque workers. In that sense the day of strikes and mobilization of March 9 was a step forward. However, it is necessary that the actions involve wider layers of the working class and youth and others in the Spanish state, calling for unity in action of workers’ political organizations and unions. It is also necessary to raise in particular the link between the struggle for democratic rights and the struggle for demands in the interests of workers and youth, against the anti-worker policies of the central government led by the PSOE and the PNV-led regional government. In that sense, the current struggles of French workers and students against de Villepin’s anti-worker policies mark the way forward.

No More Repression of Democratic Rights of Oppressed Nationalisties.

Amnesty for All Political Prisoners


1. In addition to a central parliament and President, Basque Country is organized into three provinces, each with their own local government “juntas.”

2. Spain’s policy on political prisoners dictates that they are imprisoned in institutions far away from each other and where they would normally be jailed, so as to be kept away from each other and their families.

3. The Ibarretxe Plan was a proposal by Juan Jose Ibarretxe to alter the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country proposing a free association of the Basque Country with Spain on an equal footing. According to Wikipedia, “It was inspired by Puerto Rico’s status within the United States, also the sovereignty-association approach of the Parti Québécois regarding Canada…” However despite the plan’s limitations it was considered too radical and was rejected by the Spanish Parliament.

4. Quote was extracted from the Spanish language statement entitled “Communique of Ezker Marxist and Ikasle Sindakatua” (LRP translation of title). The statement was posted by the International Militant Tendency.