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Kontxi Arana, code name “Rita”, was a fighter of the Basque armed organisation ETA and also of the Sandinista movement. A ceremony of homage to her memory on 22nd April was also the occasion of an antifascist conference with representatives from a number of European countries.
The event took place in Gernika, the SW Basque town infamously bombed by German and Italian Nazi and Fascist squadrons during the Spanish Civil/ Ant-Fascist War, the act which inspired the Catalan painter Picasso´s famous piece on the event (which he called by its Spanish name, “Guernica” (sic)). The venue was the disused Astra factory, formerly manufacturer of handguns.
The Origins and Nature of Fascism
The day-long anti-fascist conference began with a talk on the origins and basic nature of fascism by Iñaki Gil de San Vincente, Marxist theoretician and veteran of the Basque Left Patriotic Movement from which leadership of however he has broken for a number of years.
Speaking in Castillian, he declared the essential nature of fascism to be authoritarianism, deriving from the development of the bourgeois family. The central authority figure in that family, later reproduced in other social classes including the working class is the Father, represented in capitalist society by the employer and the Church.
It is an authority to which all are required to submit: patriarchical, homophobic and intolerant of criticism or deviation.
De San Vincente spoke at length about this development and about early descriptions of fascism, for example by Clara Zetkin and Lukacs and described it as a production of capitalism and imperialism and therefore represented today most clearly in the actions of US Imperialism and the NATO over which it exercises hegemony.
The speaker also highlighted the development of NATO and its recruitment of Nazis as well as the development of its Vatican route for Nazis to leave Europe and enter Latin American countries where they would form fascist centres.
This talk was followed by a representative of Ezkerraldea Antifaxistako (Antifascist Left) who, speaking mostly in Castilian, outlined the history of the development of fascism in the Spanish state following the military-fascist uprising and the four decades of dictatorship, and how the organisation he represented responded to that.
The final speaker of the morning session was from Mugimendu Socialistako (the Socialist Movement – organisation with a large membership, according to a participant) who spoke entirely in Euskera (Basque language). Although simultaneous translation was provided into Castilian (Spanish), the volume of such was too low to be understood by many.
According to a participant, the content of that speaker´s contribution was similar to that of the previous speaker, although he mentioned the existence of Frente Obrero (Workers´Front), a Basque organisation which, despite its name, is a fascist organisation. The existence of that latter group appeared to be news to many present.
These talks were followed by a break and, upon resumption, there were some contributions from the floor and some responses from the panel, after which all repaired to the green outside the Astra building to where the ceremony of respect to the memory of Kontxi “Rita” Arana was to take place.
Kontxi Arana: A leading Basque liberation fighter who also joined the Sandinistas in the liberation struggle of Nicaragua
A Basque woman of the independent Patriotic Left movement blew the traditional cow or bull horn to summon attention, while the speaker in the Basque language introduced the program and speakers along with a short history of this internationalist anti-imperialist and anti-fascist fighter.
Kontxi Arana was an active member of the Basque armed liberation organisation ETA who avoided capture while on operations in the Spanish State but was arrested in the French state and exiled to an island, from which she and others escaped. Sometime later she surfaced in Nicaragua, where she had joined the Sandinista armed liberation movement.
Around the end of the 1990s, the leadership of the Basque Patriotic Left asked some exiles to return to the Basque Country to help push the pacification process and release of prisoners but the Spanish State refused to play, though they did not arrest Kontxi (however according to reports arrangements were not well organised to support her).
The homage to her memory
A man formerly of the official patriotic Left movement spoke in Spanish about the need for internationalist solidarity, through which however mistakes can be made (e.g. in supporting corrupt leadership) which however does not alter the importance of such solidarity, without which the revolution cannot advance.
This was followed by a man from Dublin Republicans Against Fascism who briefy explained in Castilian (Spanish) the history behind Christy Moore´s “Viva La Quince Brigada“, which the Dubliner then sang in its original English.
The homage event concluded with red carnations being laid by members of the audience in front of a portrait of Kontxi “Rita” Arana. Two ex-political prisoners played the ´txistu´ (Basque three-hole flute), one of them also beating a rhythm on a small drum (´tamborina´). A young woman stepped forward and danced the ´aurresku´, a traditional honour dance.
This dance was traditionally danced by a male, then by male dancers, then by male and female dancers until today, when it may be performed by any of those combinations or by a lone female, as in this case, and often enough in ordinary clothing as was the case on this occasion, though she did wear dancing shoes laced to the ankles.
The musicians then played the air of The Internationale, which most could be heard singing in Euskera, followed by Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”), the Basque national resistance song, similar to the Soldiers’ Song/ Amhrán na bhFiann of Ireland in content. Many had raised clenched fists as the songs were sung.
Suddenly, a wild high-pitched yodelling cry rang out from a female throat, the Irrintzi, traditional Basque battle-cry which probably echoed around the mountains in olden days.
All the audience then repaired to the Astra building where a hot meal was served to all on long tables with a bottle of wine to share among each group of several people (those present had purchased tickets to the event either in advance or upon attendance).
Afternoon session: Presentations from Turkish, Irish and Catalan antifascists.
The afternoon session started a little late as people straggled in. The chairperson, speaking in Euskera, introduced the theme of the session which was for antifascists from Turkey, Ireland and Catalonia to describe the situation with regard to fascism in their countries and how it was being confronted.
Two people from the Turkish-based revolutionary organisation Anti-Imperialist Front presented their contribution while using a video of images, some subtitled in Castilian but where not, spoken by the woman in English while her comrade translated simultaneously into Castilian.
Overall, the presentation was about the development of state fascism in Turkey and the failed military coup of 2016. The DHKP/C organisation had resisted this on the streets but a major struggle with the Erdogan government took place in trials and in the jails.
Through hunger strikes and physical resistance in the jails, hundreds of martyrs had lost their lives, said the speaker but had remained undefeated. Also martyred had been members of the Group Yorum music group which has played revolutionary songs heard by millions.
Another struggle was carried out through public hunger strikes by elderly relatives seeking the uncovering of mass graves in the bodies of fighters, their sons, had been thrown by the Turkish military.
As a result two mass graves had been eventually disinterred, permitting the remains of fighters of the DHKP/C and of the PKK (Kurdish patriotic socialist organisation) to be returned to their families for respectful re-burial.
The Turkish speakers concluded by stating the necessity for anti-fascism to be anti-imperialist and calling for internationalist solidarity and victory to peoples’ struggles.
The next speaker was from Dublin Republicans Against Fascism, explaining that eight centuries of occupation of his country by England has ensured that the dominant struggle had been one of national liberation and that all armed struggles since 1798 had been led by Republicans of various kinds: 1801, 1848, 1867, 1882 and 1916.
The Irish State that came into being after the War of Independence in 1921 had been a client of the UK, conceding over one-fifth of its national territory as a direct colony. The armed forces of the State had formally executed over 80 of the IRA and instituted a wave of repression including kidnappings, torture, murders including of prisoners.
In keeping with the rise of fascism across 1930s Europe, Ireland saw the Blueshirt movement, led by former police chief Eoin O’Duffy. The Republican movement and socialists fought these on the streets, the speaker said.
The Dubliner recounted briefly the history of Irish Republicans and socialists going to fight Franco in the Spanish state and the Irish diaspora fighting the British fascists, the Blackshirts, in British cities and in defence of Eastern European Jews in famous Battle of Capel Street in the East End of London against over 7,000 police.
He went on to recount some more recent successful physical attacks by joint Republican groups against fascist organisations, the Pegida group in 2016 and even more recently the National Party. Recently too, Republican ex-prisoners had released a video stating the opposition of Republicanism to fascism with a growing list of signatures.
In conclusion, the speaker said that Ireland’s history made it difficult for fascism to advance in Ireland (except in the Loyalist areas) but as long as capitalism exists so too does the danger of fascism, particularly if the progressive forces do not fight effectively against the attacks of Capital on working people.
The representative of the Anti-Repression Platform of Catalonia, speaking in Castilian (Spanish), explained their organisation had come into existence after the repression of the Independence Referendum in 2017 and the subsequent frame-ups and allegations of terrorism against the Committees for the Defence of the Republic.
The speaker alluded to the jailing of the revolutionary socialist rapper Pablo Hasel and comrades who were charged with terrorism merely for expressing and organising solidarity for those being repressed.
“Don’t try to frighten us with threats of a fascist party getting into government”, he said in a reference to the growth of the Spanish fascist party Vox, because we have had a fascist government in the Spanish state since 1939!” (The year that the military-fascist forces defeated the Second Republic and founded four decades of dictatorship).
The Catalan went on to denounce the social-democratic party PSOE (currently in coalition government with Podemos Unitas), pointing out that it has had more political prisoners in jail and fatal victims than any other party in Spanish government (he was probably including the sponsoring the GAL terrorists of the 1980s).
“There has not been a year in which there were no political prisoners in the Spanish state”, he went on to say but also denounced the current Catalan Government, led by the allegedly pro-independence and leftist ERC party and its repression of socialists and independence activists.
He pointed out that fascists would make no distinction between communists and anarchists and asked “so then why should we?” He declared that all who resist repression now, regardless of before, are welcome to take part in their organisation.
Prisoners on hunger-strike
The chairperson of the panel thanked the speakers and drew together elements from each of their presentations.
He went on to announce the declared intention of a small group of Basque political prisoners to embark on a hunger strike and to outline solidarity events being organised. The prisoners concerned are in the non-compliance minority of Basque political prisoners with a regime that forbids them referring to themselves as political prisoners.
The prison authorities intended to make the prisoners share a cell with other political prisoners who are however in compliance, intending to undermine the resistance of the small group and also posing the danger of conflicts within the cell. (A few days later news came that the hunger-striking prisoners had won their demands).
The conference in its organisation and content of contributions drew anti-fascism together with imperialism and internationalist solidarity, all from an anti-capitalist perspective. It also drew connections between solidarity with political prisoners and resistance to repression.
All of the Basque organisations represented are in opposition to the trajectory of the leadership of what had been the Basque Left Patriotic movement, now represented by the EH Bildu party led by Otegi (with daily newspaper GARA, its trade union organisation LAB) and many of the older people were ex-supporters of that leadership.
That included some prominent ones such as Inaki Gil de San Vincente and the speakers and organisers of the conference and of the homage to the memory of Kontxi “Rita” Arana. The younger participants might have included ex-members or had come into political consciousness in opposition to that leadership.
Taken together, they are what many call ‘dissidents’ though some reject that term, saying that they are in fact sticking to the original line of independence and socialism and that it is the official leadership and their followers who have deviated. Their numbers are comparatively small at the moment but they are growing.
Speaking at the Conference:
Inaki Gil de San Vincente:
Socialist Movement (Socialist Councils) of the Basque Country: LANGILE KAZETA (gedar.eus)
Antifascist Left: Ezkerraldea Antifaxistasta
Anti-Imperialist Front (Turkey): https://anti-imperialistfront.org/
Dublin Republicans Against Fascism: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100067893558778
Anti-Repression Platform of Barcelona: https://twitter.com/antirepreBCN
Plataforma Antirepressiva de Barcelona | Barcelona | Facebook
More to come later
Others in Ireland:
Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee: https://www.facebook.com/dublinbasque
Anti-Fascist Action: https://www.facebook.com/afaireland/
Republicans Against Fascism: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100090617432158
There are also other local antifascist groups and organisations that include antifascist activity in their programs