The Basque Left, Politics and Armed Struggle.



In March 1993, Euskadiko Ezkerra [EE], {The Basque Left} which had originated in the armed nationalist group, ETA, united  with the Basque section of the Spanish Socialist Party [PSOE]. The attempt to combine socialism and radical nationalism had failed. In the Parliamentary elections held the following June ETA veterans stood as PSOE candidates.

EE’s project had begun as an attempt to combine armed struggle and political agitation. It had  tried to break from Basque nationalism’s tradition of racism and chauvinism, to identify with working class struggle, and to integrate the ethnically non Basque section of the population into the nation. After abandoning armed struggle, EE had tried to pursue those ideals by other means, first through mass political activity, then as a reforming parliamentary force. Over the years it moderated both its nationalist and socialist ideals, but the attempts to to radically transform Basque politics foundered, and EE was squeezed out of the political scene.


ETA was formed in 1959 by members of the youth wing of the Basque Nationalist Party [PNV]  who had become dissatisfied at the passivity of their parent group. ETA’s early ideology was a mixture of chauvinism and radicalism. In the 1960’s and 1970’s its actions transformed Basque politics.Its most spectacular achievement was the killing of Franco’s Prime Minister, Carrerro Blanco in December 1973. It suffered a series of splits throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, mainly over attitudes to armed struggle and towards involvement with ‘Spanish’ political forces, both in the Basque country and elsewhere in Spain.[1] The last years of the dictatorship saw a degree of liberalisation, which accelerated after Franco’s  death in November 1975. Some of ETA’s leaders realised that armed struggle alone would not be sufficient to end the Spanish ‘occupation’, but disagreement arose over the strategy to follow in these changed circumstances. The main tendency within ETA thought that both political and armed struggle were necessary. so it adopted the name ETA Politico-Miltar [ETA-PM]. The increasing tempo of liberalisation allowed, formerly inactive, moderate opposition forces, particularly the PNV and the PSOE, to re-emerge. Consequently, ETA-PM’s leaders, who saw themselves as the vanguard of both the national movement and the class struggle, decided they must launch a new political initiative. ETA-PM feared that the conservative PNV and the anti nationalist PSOE, both undeserving beneficiaries of ETA’s struggle, would divide the Basque people into antagonistic blocs. Eduardo Moreno Bergareche [Pertur] was the leading proponent of a plan for some of ETA-PM’s activists to withdraw from armed struggle and devote themselves to building a Marxist Leninist party, which would  combine nationalism and revolutionary socialism and complement the military tasks.[2] Pertur vanished in July 1976, allegedly kidnapped and murdered by those of his colleagues who opposed his plan. However, at its Seventh Assembly in September 1976, ETA-PM adopted his proposals.[3] ETA-PM believed that social and national liberation were two sides of the same coin, and that the new party would help to overcome the false polarisation between an unpatriotic socialism and a conservative nationalism.

ETA-PM,s leaders had no intention of abandoning armed struggle, but considered that ETA-PM, as the armed instrument of the working class, should operate under strict political control. They were sensitive to the allegation that by forming a political party they were diluting the purity of their cause. The existence of an armed wing would prevent a relapse into the reformism which had overtaken most communist parties. [4] ETA- PM would have to take bourgeois democracy into account, but as such a democracy was limited and seemed in 1976 to be reversible, the Basque people would continue to need both a revolutionary party and an armed wing, which could apply persuasion where the Spanish oligarchy was unwilling to listen to political arguments. The formula had little to do with reality as ETA-PM was predominantly middle class, its involvement in workers’ struggle had been minimal, and its marxism was derived from Mao Tse Tung and Che Guevara rather than Marx.

Time was not on ETA-PM’s side. In June 1976 the King appointed Adolfo Suarez, a former director of the Movimiento [successor to the Falange] as Prime Minister. Suarez rapidly set about dismantling the apparatus of the corporate State, and cobbled together a new party, the UCD, from reforming elements in the old regime and conservative Christian Democrats, and prepared for parliamentary elections. An amnesty for the regime’s political opponents was an essential part of that strategy. In the Basque country, the moderate parties would have laid themselves open to the charge of treachery if they had agreed to contest elections while ETA’s heroes remained in prison. Yet, the Spanish Right, especially in the army, were reluctant to release members of an organisation practising armed struggle. At meetings from December 1976 onwards, Suarez’s emissaries demanded a truce in exchange for freeing the prisoners. ETA-PM agreed, but ETA-M, a more populist group which had split from it in 1974, refused.[5] The disagreement marked a hardening of the division between ETA’s rival branches, but ETA-PM’s leaders saw it as a temporary measure, partially justified by their group’s military weakness due to heavy losses, not a radical change of direction.                                                

The party Pertur had argued for, Euskadi Iraultzaraka Alderdia [EIA] {Party of the Basque Revolution} was launched at a rally in the mining town of Gallarta, Vizcaya, in April 1977.[6] The location was significant as the first general strike had begun in Gallarta, so it had socialist rather than nationalist associations. EIA was faced with the work of organising to contest the parliamentary elections which were held in June 1977. Its resources were pitifully inadequate for the tasks it faced.

Most of its militants were in prison or exile. It had very few politically competent members and many of those would remain in the military wing. EIA compensated for its political and numerical weakness by a non sectarian attitude towards other political forces. It was to be open to both former members of ETA and those who had never belonged to it. It was hoped that ETA-M would also agree to support EIA, but the ETA-M leaders, did not accept their rivals marxist ideology and, although in favour of the creation of a radical Basque party, insisted that the political and military organisations should remain separate.[7]EIA was tolerated but not yet legal and therefore unable to present its own  platform, fought the elections as part of an electoral alliance, Euskadiko Ezkerra, in partnership with the Movimiento Comunista de España [MCE], which had itself originated in ETA in 1966, but had since embraced Maoism and Spanish patriotism. The composition of EE demonstrated the failure of ETA-PM’s project of creating a party which was both socialist and nationalist. Most nationalists regarded an alliance with the ‘Spanish’ MCE as treachery. ETA-M boycotted the elections, while some of the milieu which ETA-PM/ EIA wished to attract voted for more conservative nationalist parties. The alliance was, indeed, an uneasy one which was soon to disintegrate. The MCE’s attraction was that in the ten years since it had split from ETA it had built up a considerable presence in working class and industrial struggle, something ETA-PM had quite failed to do. ETA-PM/ EIA leadership believed that the Basque revolutionary movement would need a platform in the bourgeois parliament, as well as mass organisations, trade unions, and of course its armed wing.  In the 1977 elections EE received more than 60,000 votes, 8% of the total, and had both a Congressman and Senator elected in the province of Guipuzcoa. Its support was much less strong in Vizcaya, derisory in Alava, while it did not stand in Navarre. There had been heavy abstention throughout the Basque country, partly due to the abstention call by ETA-M, yet EIA’s leaders were pleased with their limited success, and considered that their rivals in ETA-M had been wrong to boycott the elections.

Neither of EIA’s successful candidates had been members of ETA-PM. Senator Bandrés, a lawyer and a political moderate, was well known as a defender of political prisoners. Immensely popular, unassuming and respected he, was to prove his party’s best asset. His adherence to a nominally Marxist Leninist party might appear absurd, but in the absence of a Christian Democratic party, EIA seemed the best vehicle of reform available. EE’s Congressman was Francisco Letamendía [Ortzi] a prolific historical and political writer who, in the early seventies, had been a member of ETA-VI, a Left split from ETA. The adoption of such candidates showed ETA-PM/EIA’s desire that the party would expand beyond its original nucleus of ETA-PM members.

PART TWO: 1977 TO 1982: EIA TO EE

Both supporters and opponents realised that EIA’s appeal lay in its claim to be ETA’s heir and that the support of ex prisoners, particularly those sentenced at the Burgos trial in 1970, was the visible expression of that legitimacy. The people who voted for Basque heroes, ignoring their professed Marxist Leninism, showed a greater understanding of EIA’s nature than its own leadership did. The party was never to break out of its base in nationalist areas. EIA was committed to building a Marxist Leninist party which would lead the working class. Yet its members were predominantly of lower middle class, ethnically Basque, origin and their activity in ETA had consisted of armed struggle, not social agitation and propaganda.            

EIA and ETA-PM worked in harmony in the period following the election. In September it was announced that the ‘revolutionary tax’ would no longer be extorted from businessmen, and in October an ETA-PM spokesman announced that, as the masses had now become the main protagonists of struggle, the armed wing would play a secondary part, helping out the mass organisations in case of difficulty.[8] The truce observed during the elections was maintained for several months giving the impression that ETA-PM had disbanded. In reality, its inactivity was a consequence of the heavy losses it had suffered at the hands of the police over the past few years. In December 1977 ETA-PM action groups seized explosives and guns, and resumed the robberies which provided the resources needed for both legal and illegal work. In November 1978 it was announced that the collection of the ‘revolutionary tax’ would resume.[9] Those actions were necessary to maintain the organisation’s infrastructure, but the main objectives of the armed struggle remained unclear. ETA-PM’s uncertainty about what kind of armed activity to carry out was not shared by ETA-M which was killing policemen, informers and political opponents at a much greater rate than had occurred under Franco. The partnership between ETA-PM and EIA was eventually to prove unviable. Even the most ‘sensible’ terrorism became a horrible embarrassment to EIA, so relations were tense from 1980 onwards. The notion that the Spanish State, which had killed hundreds of thousand of people in order to crush democracy, would yield to the actions of an armed minority was always naïve.


However, EIA’s main immediate problem was the growing disagreement between those such as its General Secretary, Mario Onaindía[10], a former seminarist and perhaps the outstanding figure of the Burgos trial, who was moving towards an acceptance of the parliamentary system, and its Congressman, Letamendí, who continued to advocate rejection of the system. During 1978, Parliament worked out a new constitution which would allow for regional autonomy. Letamendía resigned from Congress in November having already left EIA and given his allegiance to Herri Batasuna [HB], an electoral front inspired by ETA-M, which had now realised that electoral abstention had been a mistake.[11] Letamendía’s defection was one of many, as former EIA supporters followed his example. HB was a much broader political front than EE, and although unquestioningly loyal to ETA-M, won firm support in social milieux which had once been bulwarks of the PNV. In a referendum to approve the Constitution, held on 6 December, the PNV called for abstention while EE, ETA-M and ETA-PM urged rejection. ETA-PM’s armed commandos seized cinemas and radio stations in order to read out statements opposing the Constitution, although EE had free access to the media!11 A majority of voters in the Basque country abstained, just over 30% voted in favour while more than 10% voted against. Those figures were to be one of the main bases of the radical nationalist claim that, as a majority of Basques had rejected the Constitution, subsequent political measures were illegitimate.

Once the Constitution had been approved, Suarez called elections to a new parliament in March 1979, and for municipal elections the following month. This time Euskadiko Ezkerra would not be the only representative of radical nationalism. In the parliamentary elections Herri Batasuna received nearly twice the votes obtained by EE and nearly three times as many in the municipal elections. HB had a markedly more populist tone than did EE and, unhampered by its rivals Marxist- Leninist baggage, obtained support from rural areas, traditional Catholics and conservative nationalists unhappy at the PNV’s willingness to abandon the demand for independence in favour of regional autonomy. EE had lost a considerable part of what had seemed its natural constituency, and the social profile of its supporters emerged as young, urban, educated and often of mixed Basque/ Spanish origin.12 Letamendía was again elected to Congress, this time for  HB, in spite of the coalition’s declaration that its candidates would not attend parliament. Onaindía became an EE congressman, while Bandrés retained his seat in the Senate. ETA-PM had by then recovered its military capacity, but still lacked clear targets, partly because of a wish to differentiate itself from what it saw as ETA-M’s indiscriminate violence. Pertur’s formula had stipulated that the armed wing  should intervene when the mass struggle reached an impasse. In 1979 this took the form of kidnapping and shooting managers of companies involved in industrial disputes. Although such actions were generally repudiated by the workers involved in disputes, an armed group had to be seen to act and, if ETA-PM had left the field clear for ETA-M, HB would have been the beneficiary. At its Constituent Congress in June 1979 EIA adopted a structure based on a classic communist model. The party was to be based on the working class, have a marxist doctrine, womens and youth groups and a wide range of activities.[12] As EIA was to make few inroads into the traditional bases of the PSOE and the Communist Party, those plans were to come to nothing. In contrast, the ETA-PM/ EIA partnership was working well, providing the party with financial resources and demonstrating its legitimacy as the heir to ETA’s tradition. EE had attracted votes from many people in Basque society who felt the PNV was archaic and socially reactionary and that ETA-M's violence was counter productive. EIA was slow to recognise its own nature as a party of moderate reform. The Constitution adopted in1978 had left the way clear for regional autonomy, which after protracted bargaining led in July 1979, to agreement on an autonomy Statute, creating an autonomous Basque community and a Basque parliament. The Statute was enthusiastically accepted by both the PNV and EIA, although Navarre, regarded as the cradle of the Basque people, was excluded, but it was rejected by HB. The Statute was confirmed in a referendum held in October, when although more than 41% of the electorate abstained, only 3% voted against. EIA had moved another step away from radical nationalism and was now in the contradictory position of supporting a Statute based on the Constitution which it had rejected. Most of its members in Navarre left the party, which was hardly surprising in view of the province’s exclusion from the autonomous community.

There was still great conflict between the Spanish government and the nationalist community over both the speed and extent of the transfer of government functions. ETA-PM contributed to that struggle with a judicious use of violence, designed to encourage the government to speed up the autonomy process. It planted bombs in administrative buildings and continued to demand an amnesty for the Basque prisoners who were once again filling the jails. [13]In July 1979 an ETA-PM commando seriously wounded Gabriel Cisneros, a Union de Centro Democrático party [UCD] Senator and a reputed hard line centralist, during an attempt to kidnap him.Non nationalists might see such actions as indistinguishable from attacks by ETA-M, but they were part of a strategy which it was hoped, while not trying to substitute for the mass movement, would encourage the UCD to take a more positive attitude. Unfortunately, Senator Bandrés was left in the embarrassing position of being an associate of people who had shot a colleague.Later in the same month, when ETA-PM bombs in Madrid railway stations and airport killed five people and injured more than a hundred, Bandrés and Onaindía demanded that ETA-PM should apologise. This was done and the campaign called off, but so far EIA’s criticism was to specific actions of ETA-PM rather than to the groups continuing existence. A more successful example of the strategy of armed struggle occurred in November, when ETA-PM kidnapped Javier Ruperez, a UCD Congressman, in a successful attempt to get ETA-PM prisoners released.Apart from fund raising robberies, it was almost the last example of harmony in the EIA/ ETA-PM partnership.

The first Basque parliament, elected in March 1980, gave the PNV 25 out of 60 seats. HB had 11, EE 6 and the ‘Spanish’ parties a total of 18. In practice that produced a PNV government, as the HB members did not attend. With nearly 10% of the votes EE seemed to have established a constituency, distinct from both the PNV and HB, and to have a platform to voice its proposals for socialism and nationalism. However, EE remained much stronger in more ethnically Basque Guipuzcoa than in the other provinces.  More alarmingly, the elections were a triumph for the PNV and would allow it to direct the local administration. EE was able to act as a voice of modernity, but had no ability to influence events.

The EIA/ ETA-PM partnership came under serious strain in June 1980, when EIA made muted criticisms after ETA-PM bombs killed two people in Mediterranean tourist resorts. EIA was finding an armed wing both unnecessary and embarrassing, and began the difficult task of persuading ETA-PM to disband. As late as June 1980 EIA leaders were arrested on the suspicion that they were responsible for ETA-PM’s actions.21 That assumption would have been justified if the formula adopted when EIA was established still applied. Colonel Tejero’s failed military coup on 23 February 1981, provoked partly by alarm at ETA’s activity, had a sobering effect on EIA, which abandoned support for armed struggle, however sensitive and measured. By that time EIA was represented in both the Madrid and Basque parliaments, and had little need for either an armed wing or a vanguard party. In September 1981 it was announced that EE should be transformed from an electoral alliance into a party, through a merger with a faction of the Basque section of the Communist Party in March 1982. EE did not thereby acquire a working class base, as the its new partners were similar to those elsewhere in Spain who were deserting the Communist party for the PSOE, moderate politics or private life. Most of them had joined in the 1970’s, were well educated and usually in professional occupations. For them, the merger with EIA was a move to the right. The workers who formed the core of the Communist Party in the Basque Country shared the PSOE’s hostility to nationalism Few Communist Party voters transferred their allegiance to EE. The liquidation of armed struggle went hand in hand with the abandonment of the aspirations to build a vanguard party, as EIA’s leaders, supported by some of their comrades in ETA-PM, moved to liquidate the armed group, which finally dissolved in September 1982.


The victory of the Socialist Party in the General Election of October 1982 marked the end of the period of transition to parliamentary democracy. It was now implausible to argue, as HB did, that little had changed since Franco’s death. In that election EE got more than 100,000 votes, slightly less than half that received by HB, but enough to make it a substantial force. By that time the dream of a revolution which would establish an independent, socialist, Euskadi had been abandoned and EE had become a modern, reforming liberal party although it continued to describe itself as socialist. EE thought that a modern nationalist party was necessary, because the PNV was socially conservative, tied to an archaic view of Basque society, and had a very ambivalent attitude to those of immigrant origin. The PSOE, having reluctantly accepted Basque autonomy, opportunistically played on the fears of immigrants rather than working to create harmony. HB’s unthinking radicalism and support for ETA-M acted as a destabilising force. It was necessary to unite progressive forces from both nationalist and non nationalist origins. EE saw itself as a “partido bisagra” [hinge party]. Although only the fourth largest political force in Euskadi it was well placed to pressure and persuade, particularly in the Basque parliament. Where the PSOE and PNV were continually tempted to set one section of the population against another, EE thought that a unified Euskadi, where all of its inhabitants had equal rights, had yet to be built. EE saw itself as the voice of enlightenment. Supporters of the other parties could be won over from a defence of sectional interests and patronage, to an understanding of the common good. For example, the Basque language, Euskara, should not be used as a political football. The private Basque schools, the Ikastolas, which taught in Euskara, should be united with the existing State system, thereby avoiding the growth of separate schools serving distinct communities.



The election of a Socialist government in October 1982 did little to soften conflict in the Basque country. The PNV remained dominant in the Basque parliament and was locked in constant dispute with the central government over the powers the autonomous government should have. EE thought both the PNV and PSOE  were fairly content with that situation, as each had a distinct voting constituency. The PSOE was slow to transfer power to an institution where the PNV was dominant, while the PNV, which considered that only its own supporters were real Basques, was content to operate a system of local patronage. In the elections to the second Basque parliament in February 1984 EE’s vote fell very slightly compared to 1980, and again 6 EE candidates were elected, but more importantly that vote continued to be based in Guipuzcoa, the most nationalist of the Basque provinces, an indication that the merger with the nationalist faction of the Communist Party [PCE] had brought it very few supporters. As the HB representatives boycotted the Parliament, the PNV still had a de facto majority so EE’s efforts to construct a modern Basque nation went  unheeded.

EE’s rapid evolution to political moderation was evident at its second conference in 1985. Although the conference documents continued to speak in terms of a class based party, they admitted that most members were prepared to do little more than pay a subscription and that, when they did attend meetings, were happier discussing generalities than projects for action. EE now bore little resemblance to the party established at ETA PM’s Sixth Assembly in 1976. Not only was there no link to an armed group, but there was a complete commitment to a parliamentary system. Electoral politics was no longer one sphere of activity among others, but the only one. EE had no organised trade union presence, cultural activities, nor youth or womens’ groups. The attempt to mobilise supporters in demonstrations or campaigns, such as that against the atomic power station at Lemoniz, near Bilbao, had been abandoned. The party had no publications directed at the general population, and very few theoretical or sectorial publications for its own activists. The contrast with its original aspirations could hardly have been more striking.

Some of these changes were a consequence of financial stringency after the dissolution of ETA-PM, but most reflected the change to electoralism. The changes in ideology and organisation certainly fitted EE's social composition better than the Marxist Leninism, which had been a scarcely understood and exotic import. EE’s leaders believed that Euskadi had yet to be constructed and that both the PSOE and the PNV, content with their distinct social bases, were obstacles to that task. The false division between social and national questions which ETA had deplored in the past still existed. EE was determined to remedy that, although it now saw electoral politics as the appropriate means to so so. That vision gave EE a particularly moral, earnest flavour as the party of reason and principle, distinct both from the vulgar careerism of mainstream politics and from HB’s radicalism. EE, although it might have reached an electoral ceiling, did have a definite constituency and was an influence on the other parties.

Unfortunately for EE, Basque politics were about to become more complicated by developments within the PNV. Carlos Garaikoetxea the President [Lehendakari] of the Basque Autonomous Community’s wish to create a unified Euskadi brought him into conflict with his party’s provincialism and patronage networks. In 1984, when the PNV removed him from office at the cost of a split in the party, Garaikoetxea, having tried and failed to modernise the PNV, formed his own party, Eusko Alkartasuna [EA]. EE was no longer the only modernising force in the nationalist camp. In the election for the third Basque parliament in November 1986 EE, benefiting from the split suffered by the PNV, got nearly 11% of the vote, and had 9 MP’s elected [the number of parliamentarians increasing from 60 t0 75]. Of more immediate importance was the PNV’s loss of a working majority as it obtained only 17 seats, while EA got 14. An agreement between the PNV and EA was impossible as the split had taken place with great bitterness and even violence, so the PNV formed a coalition government with the PSOE in February 1987. EE would have liked to have been included and saw Bandrés as the ideal compromise leader in a grand coalition. As both the PNV and PSOE became less intransigent, they attracted votes from those who would once have voted for EE. The PNV, in particular, became more and more alarmed at ETA-M’s violence and consequently more hostile to HB. In late 1987, Ardanza, who had succeeded Garaikoetxea as Lehendakari persuaded all of the parties except HB to sign an agreement [the Ajuria Enea pact] at the seat of the Basque government, rejecting violence. It was a crucial development which demonstrated a marked change in the PNV’s hitherto ambiguous relationship to radical nationalism. EE’s desire to reconcile nationalists and their opponents now became mainstream rather than distinctive, while its social policies became more moderate. At its third congress in May 1988 there was no oposition to the abandonment of socialism nor to theses which stressed individual rather than collective concerns. Kepa Aulestia, a former ETA-PM leader, associated with more nationalist positions replaced Onaindía as General Secretary. In the 1989 elections to the Spanish parliament EE once more had two candidates elected on a vote that differed little from that obtained in 1986. In addition to its representation in the Basque and Spanish parliaments, scores of party members were municipal councillors, mainly in Guipuzcoa. It seemed that, although the party’s strength had peaked, it had established a definite if limited political space.

Such optimism proved unjustified. The results of the October 1990 elections for the Basque parliament were a disaster for EE and clearly marked the end of the party’s ambitions. Its vote fell by a third to 78,000 and it was left with only six MPs. In addition the vote was still concentrated in Guipuzcoa, the most nationalist province: the hope of wining support from the non nationalist left had finally gone, and with it the project of uniting the national and social causes.  EE, far from becoming a ‘hinge’ which would combine social reform and moderate nationalism, in the process of building the Basque nation, became seriously divided. Its vote was derived from a social base which did not reflect either its original Marxist Leninist ideology or the social democracy which it now proclaimed, so those who wished to continue in politics had to choose between social democracy and nationalism.

In January 1991 EE entered an all nationalist coalition in the autonomous government with the PNV and Garaikoetxea’s EA, thereby freeing the PNV from the need to collaborate with the PSOE. The non party education minister J.R. Recalde an advocate of a unified school system, and the main originator of the theory that the Basque nation had to be built by eventually uniting the different communities.30 In agreeing to that measure EE abandoned one of its main strategies for uniting social and national issues. Bandrés and Onaindía were opposed to the support of traditional nationalism but others, including most of the MPs, aware that EE votes came predominantly from a nationalist milieu, moved towards an alliance with Garaikoetxea. The electoral logic was brutally simple, but given the cultural background of the contestants, the rival options had to be presented in moral and philosophical terms. At EE’s Fourth Congress in February 1991 two organised factions were represented. The least nationalist one, Renovación Democrática, won by the narrowest of majorities and appointed their candidate Jon Larrinaga as General Secretary. The outgoing General Secretary, Kepa Aulestia, supported the nationalist faction, Auñamendi, so the stage was set for a split.

Any possibility of maintaining the delicate balance between EE’s nationalist and social democratic factions was destroyed by developments elsewhere. Garaikoetxea’s EA had also lost votes in the 1990 election and,  been reduced to a rump outside Guipuzcoa. In an attempt to mark out a distinct position EA, heartened by the proliferation of separatist  States emerging from the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, began in the summer of 1991 to co-operate with HB in proposing resolutions in town councils supporting Basque independence.The move broke HB’s isolation and by destroying the consensus created by the Ajuria Enea pact in 1987, threw a lifeline to ETA-M. Ardanza, the Lehendakari, responded by expelling EA from the coalition government, and in September 1991 formed a tripartite government of the PNV, EE and PSOE.33 Auñmendi members had originally opposed EA’s initiative because it endangered the stand against political violence which EE had taken over the past decade. However, if the project of a ‘hinge’ party which would combine nationalism and social reform was dead those wishing to build a modern nationalist party had little alternative but to ally with EA. That line was taken by five out of six of EE’s MP,s who refused to support the new coalition and were expelled by EE’s ladership. In November they and their sympathisers formed Euskal Ezkerra [EUE] which tried to unite the centre left nationalist forces and opened discreet talks with HB. The intention was not to placate ETA. Rather, it was thought that ETA was slowly being defeated and that, while HB would not survive ETA’s demise, it did represent an important strand of nationalist opinion. The supporters of EUE, EA and HB could come together to struggle, peacefully, for an independent Euskadi. Failure to converge with HB’s milieu would condemn EUE, whose stronghold was in Guipuzcoa, to being a one province party.

Following the split, EE held its Fifth Congress in February 1992. The party had lost almost half of its members and five of its six MPs in the autonomous parliament, and it was clear that those who had departed came from the areas where EE’s vote had been strongest. Consequently, EE’s leadership began to consider uniting with the PSOE. By that time the PSOE had little except the name in common with the historic party. It was rigidly centralised and tightly controlled and most of its activists were either elected representatives or party functionaries. In government it had implemented a neo liberal economic programme which greatly reduced workers’ rights. It was strongly in favour of NATO and internally was troubled by recurrent corruption scandals. There were opposing currents within the party, but those were based on personal cliques rather than clear political divisions. The GAL murder squads had flourished ander the PSOE government, although the full extent of that was not clear in January 1993, when after protracted bargaining, EE published its proposals for a merger.

The climate of optimism among nationalists weakened as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated amid bloodshed. The EE-PSOE merger took place shortly before the Parliamentiary elections of June 1993. The PSOE vote in the Basque country was greater than had been expected, which might have been due to the merger with EE. EUE, the nationalist tendency before the split, stood as part of an electoral alliance with Garaikoetxea’s EA, which got few votes outside Guipuzcoa.The demise of EE had surprisingly little impact on other political forces.The members of both wings of the former EE seemed happy in their new political homes. Those now in the PSOE made little impact on that party, and their pacifism on Basque politics did not lead them to oppose Spain’s involvement in foreign wars.Some occupied positions in the political institutions and in the party machinery. Onaindía became a Euro MP, but many were burnt out. The PSOE’s highly bureaucratic structures did not allow for the social mobilisation which had been one of the features of EIA’s project, but that had been long since abandoned. The PSOE continues to suffer internal tensions due to the conflict between its free market policies and its working class, base, but former EE members are not prominent in such disputes. EUE members accepted at that time that they would fuse with EA, with whom they had no real political or social differences, but the electoral alliance was never translated into a merger and some of EUE’s members became sympathetic to the PNV.


The resemblance between the trajectory of ETA-PM/ EIA/EE and that of the Official IRA/ Workers Party in Ireland is, at first sight, considerable. Both political tendencies began by advocating a strategy of combining armed struggle and political activity. Both found that formula increasingly difficult to sustain and eventually dissolved their armed wings. Both the Workers’ Party and EIA/EE had considerable success as dynamic modernising forces in countries where older political parties were archaic and sectarian. Both operated in the shadow of larger armed organisations. The time scale of both projects, from conception to failure, overlapped considerably. However, if the formal trajectory was strikingly similar, the social and political context was very different. EIA/EE had neither the advantages nor disadvantages of the Irish party’s working class base. The much more plebian Workers Party’ was perennially short of resources, which made it more difficult to discontinue armed expropriations. A social democratic faction who split from it in 1992 alleged that the Official IRA was being kept in existence in order to fund the party. EIA had originally depended on financial subsidies from ETA-PM’s, robberies, ransoms and the ‘revolutionary tax’ but once grandiose plans for a mass activist party were abandoned, its economic needs were amply catered for by Spain’s generous subsidies to political parties through payments to elected officials.

In 1976 ETA-PM’s leadership had, rightly, feared that the nationalist and socialist causes would diverge and that politicians would play on sectional interests. They could hardly have foreseen that some of the beneficiaries of that process would come from its own ranks. Once violence was renounced there was no serious obstacle to becoming integrated into conventional politics. With the abandonment of mass activity, and the consequent loss of idealism, EE’s leaders became semi-professional polticians, with the result that it was HB which responded to protest movements concerned with issues such as militarism and ecology. In 1993 the PNV was much less obsessed with ethnic identity and was now more hostile to ETA-M and HB. The peace pact signed by all Basque parties exept HB had formed a bridge between nationalists and their opponents. The implementation of the powers conceded under the statute of autonomy had removed large areas of disagreement. As Basque politics no longer needed a ‘hinge’ party, the hinge itself split into nationalist and social democratic components. Having failed in its attempt to create a modern nation, EE’s final division into, mainly, Guipuzcoan and Vizcayan fragments was a demonstration of failure to overcome traditional provincialism. The socialist beliefs of the early EIA can be seen as a case of mistaken identity. Neither their background, social composition, nor intellectual training equipped ETA’s heirs to lead a working class movement. Their subsequent incarnation as EE was less bizarre, but a changed political climate made it redundant.

John Sullivan:   An earlier version of this article was published in ACIS, The Journal of the Association for Contemporary Iberian Studies, Volume 8 No. 1, Spring 1995.

[1] John Sullivan, ETA and Basque Nationalism: The Fight for Euskadi 1890-1986, Routledge, 1988 (1988) passim.

[2] ETA-PM internal document, Otsagabia, in Documentos, Vol 18 pp.107- 27

[3] For the controversy surrounding Pertur’s disapearance see Cambio 16, 2-8 August 1976, Egin 20, 22, 24 and 28 January 1978.

[4] Otsagabia p.120

[5]  Hautsi,No. 15, July 1977

6 Punto y Hora, 15 April 1977

7  Natxo Arregui, Memorias del KAS 1975-78, passim

8 Egin, 1 October 1977

[9] Egin, 1 and 2 November 1978

[10] Egin, 13 and 17 November 1978

[11] Egin, 30 October 1978

[12] Congreso EIA: Resoluciones [1978] passim.

[13] Egin, 15 and 16 June 1979.