Why can’t the Left see the Basques?

– Diarmuid Breatnach, personal capacity

What is that makes the struggle of the Basques invisible to the Irish non-Republican revolutionary Left?

Dublin Basques

Despite revolutionary socialist idealogues stating the right of nations to self-determination and the duty of socialists to offer solidarity, most of the non-Republican Irish Left have ignored the Basques. With political, social and cultural organisations banned and their activists arrested and often tortured and then jailed for long prison terms (765 convicted political prisoners), the pro-independence Basque Left movement is entitled to socialist and anti-imperialist solidarity.

Basques. With political, social and cultural organisations banned and their activists arrested and often tortured and then jailed for long prison terms (765 convicted political prisoners), the pro-independence Basque Left movement is entitled to socialist and anti-imperialist solidarity.
Main body:

For many years most Irish people have viewed the Basque national movement with a kind of gut empathy – or at least sympathy. But that has not been true in general of the Irish Left. It has been from Irish Republicans, left or not, pro-GFA or otherwise, as well as individual socialists and anarchists, that the Basques have received any active support.


Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky have clearly stated the right of nations to self-determination, including those under the hegemony of colonial or imperialist powers, and the international solidarity duty of revolutionary socialists. In response, revolutionary socialists in Ireland have given general and in certain instances specific support to the struggles of the people of oppressed nations such as the Vietnamese, South Africans, Palestinians and various nations of Latin and Central America. But for some reason they seem blind to the Basques.

Can it be that they are unaware of the claim of the Basques to self-determination, fought for in arms in medieval times, developed ideologically and culturally during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, semi-ceded by the Republican Government of Spain, fought for in arms again during the Civil War, yet again against the Franco regime and again afterwards? Surely not.

Nor can socialists deny the cultural distinctiveness of the Basques from their neighbours, as the Basques are in possession of what could be the oldest surviving European language, Euskara, along with cultural forms and even musical instruments of their own.

f the claim to nationhood and self-determination is not spurious, why do the socialists not support the struggles of the Basques? Perhaps, although they may concede the rights of the Basques to nationhood, they do so only in the abstract, as they view the objectives of the Basque struggle as anti-socialist? Such might have been the case, for example, with some of the emerging (or re-emerging) nations and ethnic groups in Eastern Europe.


But the Basque Pro-Independence Left movement, of which Herri Batasuna and ETA (both banned in Spain) were a part, which continues to struggle in a myriad of organisational forms and initiatives, is far from anti-socialist. Their Mayday demonstrations are held on May 1st, unlike most of ours, and their numbers on the streets put ours to shame. One of the groups organising contingents on those demonstrations is the Basque trade union LAB, a union that has 17% of the union members in the Southern part (that under Spanish state rule) and which, along with another Basque union, ELA, has over 57% of the union membership of that region (despite competition by older, Spanish state-wide unions like Comisiones Obreras and UGT). LAB recently adopted the slogan: “Make them pay for the crisis!” and calls for struggle and resistance, including general strike.

The Pro-Independence Basques proclaim socialist principles and call for international solidarity. They actively support the cause of the Palestinians and the Guatemalan workers to a degree far above that to be seen in Ireland. They supported the struggle of the Irish anti-imperialists against Britain (despite a history of British connections with their own movement and the support of British socialists during the Spanish Civil War).

The Left-Nationalist Basque movement, despite the banning of four of its political parties, two newspapers, two popular organisations, repression of its activities, torture of its detained supporters, jailing of hundreds, dispersion and persecution of its political prisoners – despite all of that, enjoys the support of most Left Basques (including anarchists), has wide popular support which finds expression in a myriad of political-social organisations and, when its candidates are permitted to stand, of from 15%–20% of the southern Basque electorate.


Irish socialists may say that the Basque Left under Spanish rule should join forces with the Left in Spain (by which they mean Izquierda Unida or United Left) and fight for socialism together (presumably those in the French part should join with th French left). A united front of struggle might be more effective, but where is the offer from Izquierda Unida? They call the Basques to join them in anti-capitalist demonstrations in Madrid (dangerous for the Basques) but do not go north to join the often much bigger demonstrations in the Basque Country.

And where and when do they fight (as distinct from enunciating abstract principles) for the right of the Basques to self-determination? When do they even fight in solidarity with the Basques to protest against the torture and repression, in support of even the human rights of prisoners? They offer nothing to the Left Basques and the latter have wider active support and more developed organs of struggle than do their alleged comrades in the rest of the Spanish state (even in Catalonia, with its own claim to nationhood and militant left). Indeed, the Basques have much to teach the Spanish revolutionaries.

On the other hand, the Basque movement does enjoy cordial relations and collaborates with revolutionary organisations that are not part of Izquierda Unida in Spain and in Catalonia (and indeed further abroad).

The Irish anarchist movement, from an anti-nationalist and anti-state position may say that they owe nothing to a movement that intends to set up a centralist system which anarchists would not view as a step forward. But where does that leave their Basque anarchist comrades? And could they not bring themselves to even support the struggles of the Basque people against repression? Or the rights of the 765 Basque political prisoners (traditionally an area of activity for Anarchists)?


Some revolutionary socialists may be in opposition to some of the actions undertaken by armed elements of the Basque left-nationalist movement. But Irish socialists in the past have not allowed the ‘necklacing’ of members of their communities by South African black militants to prevent them from supporting that people’s struggles. Nor have they abandoned their solidarity with the Palestinians when they did not support various hijackings and bombings carried out by some Palestinian groups. Quite rightly, too – for the principle of solidarity to a people in struggle overrides the actions of a few which can never negate the principle itself. One does not have to support all the actions by those in struggle in order to show solidarity to the struggle. And if the Basques should come to see themselves as isolated in the face of intensifying repression, is that not more likely to encourage some of them towards military actions?

The behaviour of the Irish Left on the Basque question is reminiscent of that of the British Left with regard to Irish struggles against British imperialism. It is reminiscent, yes, but the behaviour of the Irish Left has been worse.

The people of the Basque Country, divided between the Spanish and French states, are a people with a claim to nationhood, who are claiming it, who struggle for self-determination, whose most militant popular movement is strongly to the left and who are being subjected to a degree of repression that exceeds that to be seen in any other state of the old European Union. All this is happening two hours’ flight away from Dublin. It is happening where Irish socialists could visit easily, where Irish support could make a difference in putting pressure on Spain and France to lift their repression, and from where the Irish socialist and republican movements could learn much to their benefit.

NB: This article, slightly amended, was first published in Red Banner some months ago and is reprinted with their kind permission.

Keep up to date on Basque struggle news at: http://www.irishbasquecommittees.blogspot.com

Listen to Basque Info at http://www.feilefm.com on line on Tuesdays from 6.30-7pm and Wednesdays 12-12.30pm

Website under construction.


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