Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 2


Do The Workers Have A Country?

José Iriarte ‘Bikilia’,
Do The Workers Have A Country?,
Notebooks For Study and Research Series, Amsterdam, 1992, pp. 43, £2.50

FEW writers on the national question can match the practical involvement of ‘Bikilia’ in a movement where ethnic differences present great difficulties for Socialists. The author was a member of ETA, the Basque nationalist organisation formed by middle-class Basque radicals opposed to what they saw as a Spanish invasion.

In the late 1960s, ETA enjoyed great prestige, but it was trapped in the blind alley of individual armed struggle, based upon Third World models. ‘Bikilia’, a leader of ETA’s Workers Front, was part of the leadership which transformed ETA from a movement advocating guerrilla war to one carrying out serious work in the clandestine labour movement amongst both Basque and ‘Spanish’ workers. The movement enjoyed considerable success, as in 1973, after considerable internal struggle, ETA-VI joined the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and the proportion of Trotskyists in the Basque population was greater than anywhere else in the world.

The present pamphlet is not an account of that process, but a study of Marxist theories of the national question. Where ‘Bikilia’ draws on his own and his comrades’ experiences, he is if anything too critical. Lenin is defended against fashionable and ignorant criticisms which take no account of the constraints produced by imperialist invasion. However, an attempt to overcome what he sees as the inadequacies of Marxist orthodoxy on the national question leads him to examine the contribution of Otto Bauer. (Predictably, Rosa Luxemburg’s contribution is dismissed as ‘economistic’ and ‘hyperworkerist’.)

Although he criticises aspects of Bauer, and doubts that his nostrum of separating politics from culture would work, ‘Bikilia’ accepts Bauer’s claim that nations are generally the product of an extremely long evolution, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. Although he realises that Austro-Marxist theories served to maintain the Social Democratic Party and the Habsburg Empire on which it was based, he sees no need to junk the Bauer-Stalin picture of nations as a community of culture. In fact, the most successful nationalisms (Basque, Irish and now Baltic) flourish where a community of culture is absent.

A postscript describing the effects of the disintegration of the Stalinist system gives no guidance in understanding those events. Given the author’s openmindedness and wealth of experience, that says a lot about the tradition from which it comes.

John Sullivan

Updated by ETOL: 20.9.2011