Workers Vanguard No. 945

23 October 2009


For the Right of Self-Determination for the Basque People!

Free ETA Basque Nationalists Now!

France, Spain

We print below an article translated from Le Bolchévik No. 189 (September 2009), newspaper of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

PARIS, September 2—On August 19, Alberto Machain Beraza, Beraza Aitzol Etxaburu and Andoni Sarasola were arrested in Savoie [France] during a joint raid by French and Spanish cops. All three are suspected of belonging to the Basque pro-independence group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom, ETA) and of having provided it with weapons and explosives. Currently, 172 people are imprisoned in France as part of the crackdown on the Basque nationalist movement (Le Figaro, 1 September). The French government boasts of having, so far this year, handed over 15 other Basque nationalists to the Spanish police under [Prime Minister] José Luis Zapatero’s social-democratic government; they join the hundreds of political prisoners who are today rotting in Spanish jails. According to the Basque nationalist newspaper Gara (25 March 2008), in February 2008 there were 739 Basque nationalist prisoners in France and Spain, out of a population of some two million Basques [in both countries]. Such a high number has not been seen since 1969, during the dark years of Franco’s Spain. We demand: Free all the Basque nationalist activists now! Drop the charges against them!

These arrests take place only a few weeks after several bomb attacks, notably against barracks of the Spanish Guardia Civil in which two guards were killed; there were also attacks against the headquarters of the Socialist Party in Durango and tourist spots in Majorca, in which nobody was hurt. These attacks show that, contrary to claims by the French and Spanish cops, the ETA, which has been in existence for 50 years, is far from having been dismantled. The nationalist movement is fighting increasingly harsh national oppression. The political organization Batasuna, which is considered the ETA’s political arm, has been banned throughout Europe, and any organization suspected of being related to it, or simply not hostile to it, is regularly banned and barred from participating in Spain’s “democratic” elections.

The European Court of Human Rights recently granted its official support to these police-state measures, characterizing them as a “vital social need,” which is “necessary in a democracy” (El País, 1 July). It could not be clearer that capitalist democracy is nothing but a convenient parliamentary fig leaf for the dictatorship of the capitalist class over the workers and oppressed. “Human rights” means the right of the capitalist class to exploit the working class and send its cops against those they deem dangerous for their rule. Against the crackdown by the Spanish and French capitalist states, the workers movement must oppose the banning of nationalist organizations and struggle for the right of self-determination for the Basque people. This is the only antidote to the chauvinist poison dividing the working class between Basques and non-Basques, a split the Spanish bourgeoisie needs in order to continue to impose its system of capitalist oppression.

Following the recent arrests, the Spanish top cop, the social democrat Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, came to Paris on August 26 to meet Brice Hortefeux, the new French minister of police, to celebrate the collaboration between the police forces of the two countries. This collaboration was sealed in blood in the 1980s, under the social-democratic governments of François Mitterrand in France and Felipe González in Spain, with the setting up of the GAL [Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, Anti-Terrorist Liberation Groups] death squads. At least 27 alleged Basque nationalists were murdered by the GAL. Since then, this collaboration has continued to flourish, including a decade ago under the government of the Socialists Lionel Jospin and Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Communist Marie-George Buffet. Today the repression targets not only Basque nationalists but also undocumented workers from Africa who risked their lives to reach Spain and the rest of Europe. Measures are increasingly being adopted to deport immigrant workers, including those who have become legal residents. We demand, in Spain as well as in France: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Down with the deportations!

At the August 26 police summit, Rubalcaba particularly insisted that the persecution of the ETA is the “most important problem in Spain at this time” (see the video of his press conference at This is taking place as the economic crisis devastates Spain even more than most other European countries. Officially, there are nearly four million unemployed in Spain, one fifth of the labor force. Rubalcaba’s declaration is an example of how the Spanish bourgeoisie uses repression against the Basque people to scapegoat the Basques for the capitalist crisis and prevent any proletarian mobilization against the massive layoffs and the evictions of many heavily indebted families from their homes. It is a classic example of the divide-and-rule policies of the bourgeoisie. In Spain, as well as on the other side of the Pyrenees [mountains dividing Spain from France], it is necessary, in order to achieve the revolutionary unity of the proletariat, that the labor movement mobilize in defense of the Basque people and defend its right to self-determination, including the right to independence from Spain and/or France. However, the reformist left in Spain, which is totally dedicated to the defense of the interests of its own capitalist ruling class, is now openly or implicitly on the side of its own bourgeoisie and the social-democratic government against the Basque nationalists.

When the ETA criminally plants bombs in restaurants and other tourist spots, it potentially targets everybody. (Tourism is a cornerstone of the country’s economy and provides a significant portion of jobs.) On 30 December 2006, at the Madrid airport, two young immigrants from Ecuador were killed during an attack for which the ETA claimed responsibility. By unleashing violence between peoples, the ETA fuels the nationalist fears and hatreds on all sides and helps the Spanish reformists unite the non-Basque working class behind the Spanish bourgeoisie. The Basque nationalists simply want a separate Basque national state, free from the Spanish and French oppressors—a bourgeois state that defends the specific interests of the Basque bourgeoisie abroad—and in the Basque region itself, against the workers, whether Basque or of non-Basque origin.

The kidnapping and execution of cops, bourgeois politicians and capitalist bosses are not crimes against the working class, but are futile actions flowing from the nationalist perspective of the ETA. They are counterposed to the strategy of mobilizing the oppressed masses (in particular, the Spanish and Catalan masses) and to the perspective of socialist revolution on both sides of the Pyrenees. As Marxist-Leninists, we are opposed to the petty-bourgeois strategy of individual terrorism in the fight against capitalist oppression. Our starting point is the historical interests of the proletariat, which under capitalism, because of its relationship to the means of production, is the only class having the social power to overthrow the capitalist system. Nevertheless, when the oppressed act against the bourgeoisie and its state, we defend them against capitalist repression.

The labor movement must defend the Basque nationalists against repression, while opposing their ideology. With its crackdown in the Basque country, the bourgeoisie aims to divide the entire multiethnic workers movement. In a region where polarization along nationalist lines can mobilize tens of thousands of people in demonstrations either for or against Basque national rights, the struggle by the proletarian vanguard must include an active fight against national oppression. Without this crucial element, the historical power of nationalist ideology, the tremendous weight of brutal national oppression and the social-chauvinism of the French and Spanish left combine to push Basque workers into the arms of the Basque nationalists, who are currently the main force in the unions in the region (see our article on the Basque question in Le Bolchévik No. 146, Summer 1998).

The French reformist left considers, first of all, that the Basque question is an exclusively Spanish problem. The left thereby implicitly defends the unity and indivisibility of the French capitalist republic—despite the fact that, in the European Union elections a few months ago, some 10,000 votes went to the nationalist slates in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques [the region that includes the French Basque country]. Lutte Ouvrière (LO) equates the terror carried out by the social democratic-led capitalist government in Spain with attacks by the ETA: “The policy of the ETA, which in fact considers all Spaniards, including workers, as enemies, is obviously criminal. But they are not the only ones sowing confusion within the Spanish working class. The Spanish left, whose sole ambition is to form a government to manage the interests of the bourgeoisie and which continues to align itself with a right wing still strongly influenced by Francoism, leads to the same consequences” (Lutte de Classe, April 2007). The reformists of LO are well known for capitulating to the “antiterrorist” campaigns of the bourgeoisie, particularly in their refusal to oppose Vigipirate, the racist police mobilization in French train stations and airports.

As for the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party, NPA) of Olivier Besancenot and Alain Krivine, to our knowledge it has yet to take a position on the Basque question. Its previous incarnation, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), published an article in Rouge (1 February 2007) stating: “The other Basque left groups must convince the abertzale [nationalist] left that the ETA must lay down its arms, not because the Spanish state demands it as a condition for resuming talks, but because this is indispensable to building a democratic alliance for national self-determination, which is the only thing that will allow a transformation of today’s majority sentiment of the Basque society into a mobilization of the citizenry.” In fact, even though they occasionally demand freedom for some Basque activists, they want to disarm the Basque activists in the name of capitalist “democracy,” which is the oppressor of the Basques. Thirty-six years ago, Krivine’s Spanish comrades liquidated their organization in the Basque region into a branch of Basque nationalism, which originated in the political orbit of the ETA. Today, they capitulate directly to the post-Francoist Spanish capitalist state.

The workers struggles of the 1930s and 1970s in Spain showed that the solution to the national question in Spain is inextricably linked to the struggle for workers power throughout the peninsula. We fight to build a Leninist proletarian vanguard party which would defend the right of self-determination of the Basques, on both sides of the Pyrenees. Only such a party will be able to unite Basques and Catalans with the workers throughout Spain and, beyond the Pyrenees, France in a common struggle for workers revolution, which in Spain will sweep away the legacy of Francoism by overthrowing the Spanish bourgeoisie, including its Basque and Catalan components, and establishing a workers government. Down with the witchhunt against the Basque nationalists! For Trotskyist parties in Spain and France, part of a reforged Fourth International!