Chris Harman


The roots of ETA

(20 March 2004)

From Socialist Worker, No.1893, 20 March 2004.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

SPAIN’S TORY government tried to blame ETA for the Madrid explosions as part of its attempt to hang on to power using Spanish nationalism in a completely reactionary manner. Under the Spanish republic established in 1931 Catalonia and the Basque country had their own governments. Franco’s fascists destroyed this independence when they overthrew the republic in the civil war of 1936-9.

Every public activity had to be in Spanish, not the local languages. People could be arrested just for using these in public. The repression deepened the sense of national feeling directed against the Spanish state, especially in the Basque country. When people gained the confidence to rebel openly against Francoism in the early 1970s, they raised slogans for national rights alongside anti-fascist slogans. In working class areas, nationalist demands often merged with anti-capitalist and socialist demands.

The main party which stood for Basque independence, the Basque National Party, was a conservative, Christian Democrat type party. In the 1960s a group of young activists split away to form a left wing anti-fascist guerrilla organisation, ETA. Its actions became a symbol of resistance not only in the Basque country, but right across the Spanish state.

But this feeling of unity against Franco turned into a feeling of betrayal in the Basque country after Franco died in 1975. Governmental power remained in the hands of ministers from his fascist movement for another five years.

The leaders of newly legalised Socialist and Communist parties agreed to collaborate with them in a new parliamentary constitution.


This decreed that the Basque country and Catalonia had to remain part of Spain. Some 65 percent of people in the Basque country refused to vote in the referendum on the constitution because they saw it as denying them the chance of real independence.

The Basque National Party decided to work within a constitution it disagreed with and has run the Basque regional government ever since. Sections of ETA kept up an armed struggle for independence. They retained the loose support of about 10 percent of Basques. But they isolated themselves completely from the left wing and workers’ movement in the rest of Spain.

Governments, Socialist and Tory alike, continually upped the level of repression. The greater the repression they faced, the more violent ETA’s methods became. But they never deliberately targeted masses of ordinary people as last week’s bombs did.

The Popular Party consciously upped the stakes by whipping up Spanish nationalism against the Basques. It denounced as treason and “terrorist” any approach to the Basque problem based on the right to self determination. Last weekend people began to see through its lies.

Last updated on 13 December 2009