Sunday, January 16, 2011

Some thoughts on the Spain-ETA negotiations (or lack of them)

The contention points between the Basque and Spanish Nationalists are:


The right of self-determination, or more precisely who is the subject of this right: for the Spaniards it is "the Spanish people" or "nation", which is essentially made up of Castilians (some 15 million) and assimilated (some 18 million or more). These more or less genuine Spaniards (extended Castilians) are therefore more than 70% of all people with Spanish ID card, so fat chance of minor nations like Basques, Catalans or Galicians influencing the Spanish policies to any large extent by democratic means. Catalans do weight more but Basque numbers are almost anecdotal.

To support this idea of the Spanish nation being the subject of the right of self-determination and self-rule, Spaniards have adhered to the Jacobin or neo-absolutist doctrine of nation and nationalism, as something creating top-down from the state and not bottom-up from the people.

On the other hand the Basque Nationalists are aware that the Basque people has no future within either Spain or France, which only reduce more and more our self rule and our cultural autonomy, so critical for the survival of the old language.

Therefore they claim that a distinct subject of the right is the Basque People, which is quite clearly defined by language, culture, identity and history.

This is surely the main point of contention and the fundamental underlying reason behind all wars since immemorial times. However in the last century-plus the definition of the Basque People as a nation in the frame of modern nationalism (nation-state, nations as subjects of rights and sovereignty) has become more clear.


This is a more complex subject. When Basque Nationalism was formed as such in Biscay and Navarre the idea was clear: there were 7 historical provinces, four under Spain and three under France. This is arguable, as many other lands were once culturally and politically Basque, such as Gascony, La Rioja, parts of Aragon, or all the border area up to Burgos and Santander cities. However this wider understanding was only brought to attention deep in the 20th century (Auñamendi Encyclopedia, Krutwig's Vasconia) and these areas did not keep a Basque identity in most cases anyhow.

When, in the 2nd Spanish Republic, all four southern provinces voted to become a unified autonomous entity, the people in Navarre voted in favor clearly but the vote was indirect and many delegates were bought by the Spanish Nationalists, rigging the vote in fact against the union with Western Basques. However, for other reasons (talibanism vs. secularism), the Basque autonomy was not constituted until 1936, already in the midst of the war against Fascism, and therefore only Biscay and small nearby territories were in fact included, all the rest being invaded by the fascist hordes since early on.

When the word territoriality arises it means the (free) union of at least the four southern provinces, overcoming the division that exists now and the apartheid against Basque speakers in Navarre (of all places!)

Of course, a practical solution implies allowing Navarrese to choose freely. This is something agreed by everyone in principle but in practice Navarrese are still to vote whether they want to join or not their Basque brethren (and it's about 32 years since it was promised in the Spanish constitution of 1978).

Considering it all

These are the two contentious elements that clash in the so-called Basque conflict (some prefer to call it the Spanish problem, emphasizing that wrong is on that side).

Will they be solved by means of negotiation? I seriously doubt it. Because Spain is not going to make any concessions other than cosmetic ones, unless it has its hand clearly forced, something that seems beyond what ETA can achieve.

In this sense it is a very different case from that of Ireland: on one side the imperialist nation's attitude is different: England/Britain was relatively uninterested in that backwater province and had already conceded to Irish independence almost a century before, and also it has a recent history of being more dialogging and flexible with its dependencies.

Meanwhile Spain is within the Jacobin paradigm, which is nothing but Louis XIV without formal monarchy and with increased centralism under rationalist pretexts. It is not such an advanced Jacobinism as the one of France but the tendency is clearly the same one. What this means is: we won't get out unless we are clearly forced to get out. The most clear cases are the Algerian war and the Portuguese resistance to decolonization (Spain did that too but its colonies were much smaller).

So it's hard to see how these different stands can coalesce into a unified solution that satisfies all parties. For Madrid the objective is probably to make just cosmetic concessions but never conceding in the right of self-determination, it is not clear what Basque Nationalists can obtain in exchange to effectively renouncing to that pillar.

In fact a reason why Spain may not want ETA to end at this point is that without this conflict, the converge of the various Basque sensibilities around a single national project, forcing self-determination maybe by democratic and nonviolent unilateral means, can become a reality.

This may also be the reason why the Nationalist Left is betting so hard for a negotiation: they hope to get to the next step: unilateral self-determination soon after a peace has been agreed between ETA and Spain.

This is probably what we are all missing, the realization that the low level violence that ETA can exert is really of little if any use anymore in the process of obtaining self-rule. This is of course arguable but it seems to be why Spain is playing so hard against the Peace Process and why ETA and the Nationalist Left is playing so strong and disciplined in favor of Peace.

The day after is in the mind of all: free elections (first in a decade or so) and the constitution of a genuine de-facto Basque state through votes is a realistic possibility. Spain can always throw the tanks in or get a lot of politicians imprisoned or whatever but it'd lack the pretext of ETA's violence and hence any legitimacy to impede Basque self determination at all levels.

But it'd be easier if it just sabotages the peace process and manages to keep ETA as pretext for such imposition. And that's probably what they are trying to do.

Appendix: some recent news and interview with Ortzi:

Gara mentions today how the Basque political majority is pulling the cords to get a legalization as soon as possible and ending this state of exception in my country. This is something supported by 70% of Basque citizens according to an Spanish poll.

Sare Antifaxista mentions, citing Ezker Abertzalea, that  Batasuna, EA and Alternatiba (a breakup faction of EA) have signed an agreement to collaborate in the long run to achieve the independence of the Basque Country. It is notable that the breakaway faction of Batasuna, Aralar, is absent from this agreement, probably on differences on what happens in Navarre, where Aralar is stronger and has capitalized largely its origins within the Nationalist Left - petty disputes in any case.

On a different dimension, it is notable that Spain-wide unions are aligning themselves with the Basque unions in the call for a strike on January 27th. Galician CUT and Spain-wide CGT had already adhered to this call, ignored by the institutionalist unions UGT and CC.OO., who prefer to talk rather than fight. Now it has been known that important sectors of the Catalan worker unions (CGT, CNT, SO, all them of State-wide implementation, and COS, a union of the Catalan Countries) have called general strike for the 27th.

This is the eve of the cabinet meeting when the demolition of the pensions will be agreed. It is important to notice that the leadership of this call belongs to the Basque workers' unions' overwhelming majority (ELA and LAB, along with sectorial and smaller unions). The impact of this extension beyond the Basque Country is still unknown but it is important to notice that the small and divided anarchosyndicalist unions are joining forces (along with COS, a current within CC.OO.) in order to overcome the lack of action by the institutionalist unions. As far as I can tell CGT state-wide and CUT in Galicia are also calling for that strike but I would not be surprised if other unions still add up.

If the small unions show themselves able to cause some impact, as I believe is likely, we may be witnessing that day an important change in the class conflict in Spain overall, as the institutional unions will be effectively pushed off the scenario after that.

Besides there is also in Gara today an interview with historical activist and intellectual Francisco Letamendia Ortzi (pictured at the left), with some points of particular interest (in my understanding):
  • Basque bourgeoisie has always been pro-Spanish. This probably can be tracked to the invasion of La Rioja by Castile, in which the aristocrats supported the invader because it was better for their class interests, instead of the rather popularly constituted Basque state in which they are just appointed managers. Then in the Carlist Wars, the bourgeoisie takes the anti-Basque stand too. Recently also they have favored the interests of Spain because those are their own, with nationalist bourgeois being always from marginal sectors within that class.
  • Spanish Nationalism is playing extremely hard because they fear that Catalonia and the Basque Country may declare independence unilaterally some day soon, specially in a scenario of peace and democratic normality. So they try to divide the peripheral nationalists as much as they can.
  • In the North, he mentions that Basque Nationalism has a political ceiling of some 20%, similar to that of Corsica. However it is clearly the force driving the Country: all social organization emanating from it or otherwise converging with it, attracting many politicians and other actors who do not define themselves as Basque Nationalist (though generally do favor a distinct Basque administration). 
  • The Basque Worker movement has a lot of potential, as it has grown without state support of any kind, what allowed it to be independent and really answer to the needs and demands of the Working Class, unlike the mainstream Spanish unions. 
In this sense, Ortzi mentions something with broader global implications that I must agree with: Postfordism ended three years ago.

This Postfordism is the same as Toyotism or in Marx' posthumous language "the real subsumption of Work into Capital". Marx did not talk much of this phase, one he could only foresee vaguely: the apogee of Capitalism, which is already over. But he considered even less what could happen after it, other than the generic idea of overproduction crisis, which is the general tendency of Capitalism.

People still seem perplex about this: they seem to think this crisis is just another nuisance recession. But they are very wrong: this is a structural crisis regardless of technical recession figures: markets are gone and are being destroyed as we speak by wakening of state and private worker expenditure. So there's nobody to sell to... and there won't be. 

The closing sentence defines very much what is happening in the late decadent residual Capitalism:

There is some sort of hierarchy of capitalist nodes: big financial groups are on top, just below them stand multinational corporations, then large companies, then middle and small companies... The top nodes exploit the others and they end up exploiting and blackmailing even the states, and of course also the citizens and the workers... This means that the struggle against Capitalism is a struggle for sovereignty, because those financial trusts are demolishing the basis of sovereignty of stateless peoples, of course, but also of sovereign states.

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