After the elections of 1977, the forces of the patriotic left refused to participate in the process of building a new Spanish constitution, as they deemed it impossible that this could lead to an appropriate recognition of the nation. In particular, ETA rejected a series of constitutional proposals which it considered to have been imposed by the armed forces: the monarchist reform, the adoption of the capitalist system, the lack of freedom of opinion and expression, the continuation of Francoism without Franco, the denial of the right for the peaceful self-determination of nations, the anti-terrorist law, the division of Euskadi (Navarre and the Basque provinces), the mandatory nature of the Spanish language, the intention to make the Basque language disappear, and the general lack of national freedoms. Consequently, ETA decided to oppose the constitution with all its forces.

At the end of 1977, the political organisations created around KAS, and some independent ones (such as the Basque Socialist Convergence (ESB), EAE-ANV or EIA), formed what was called the Altsasuko Mahaia (Table of Alsasua), in order to face possible local elections and support the creation of a statute of autonomy for the four Basque provinces. It further committed itself to fight for a free, united and Basque-speaking Euskadi. In April 1978, the parties ESB, EAE-ANV, the Socialist Revolutionary Popular Party (HASI) and the Party for the Revolution of Patriotic Workers (LAIA), the majority of the independent mayors, and other independent people created the Herri Batasuna (HB) coalition. Its strategic objectives were to achieve the independence of the country from the left, and to implement the KAS alternative. A new version of the KAS alternative was published, enumerating five essential conditions to be negotiated in order for ETA to give up the armed struggle: amnesty for all Basque prisoners; the legalisation of pro-Basque-independence parties; the withdrawal of the Spanish police force from Hegoalde (the southern Basque country, formed by the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre); Madrid’s acceptance of the right to self-determination and the inclusion of Navarre within the new autonomy statute; and an improvement of basic living conditions for the working classes. Within this framework, the abertzale left had thus created a consistent political body that united independence and socialism as a political project, with the new KAS alternative as a tactical claim and the fight against reform as a line of intervention.

When the constituent process was about to be concluded, there was some contact between the government and ETA, but ETA did not consider this as real and serious negotiation proposals. Besides, those negotiations were not part of its plan: the KAS alternative was seen as a minimum condition that the state had to approve, in order for the transition to make a break with the previous regime. ETA considered that it was not a time for negotiation, but for total armed action and mass action. Moreover, it was clear for them that the objective of those contacts was not to solve the conflict, but solely to buy time in order for the constitution to be approved.

In April 1978, the Basque nationalist forces eventually rejected the new constitution as it denied national rights and defined the function of the armed forces as the defence of national unity.33 Whereas Herri Batasuna34 took position against it, the EAJ-PNV and other minority parties promoted active abstention. As a result, the referendum held on 6th December 1978 revealed that the constitution was only supported by 34.9 % of the electorate in the Basque Country; in none of the four provinces did the support reach 50%.35 The Spanish constitution was supposed to be the basis of the new Spanish state, but it was not supported in the Basque Country.

Conclusions: unfinished business

33 Article 2 of the constitution states that: “La Constitución se fundamenta en la indisoluble unidad de la Nación Española…” (The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation). Article 8 further states that: “Las fuerzas armadas …tienen como misión garantizar la soberanía e independencia de España, defender su integridad territorial y el ordenamiento constitucional” (The mission of the armed forces … is to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain and to defend its territorial integrity and the constitutional order).
34 At the following elections for the Spanish parliament, Herri Batasuna obtained 172,110 votes, and it decided not to participate in the parliament. It also obtained 211,000 votes at the local elections, becoming the second largest force in the country, with more than 280 councillors. The political and institutional will of the patriotic left had, thus, taken a concrete form.
35 In Navarre, active abstention reached 33.42 % and 12.63% voted against the constitution. In Gipuzkoa, active abstention reached 56.55% and 12.15% voted against. In Bizkaia, active abstention reached 56.6% and 9.48% voted against, and in Araba, active abstention reached 40.7% and 11.37% voted against. By comparison, in the whole of Spain, 87.79% voted in favour and 7.91% opposed it, while abstention reached 32.33%.