Is “Defending the Sovereign Rights of Greece” against Turkey and Macedonia Legitimate? Marxist Internationalism versus Bourgeois Social-Chauvinism
By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 12 November 2018, www.thecommunists.net
Preface of the Editorial Board: The following article is an edited excerpt from a chapter of a forthcoming book by Michael Pröbsting. The author analysis in this book changes in the modern system of imperialism. As an important component of these, he discusses the accelerating Great Power Rivalry, the decline of the U.S. and the rise of China and Russia as new imperialist powers. He criticizes the fundamental flaws in the analysis of various reformist and centrist left tendencies and answers their arguments. Furthermore, Michael Pröbsting elaborates the Marxist program of revolutionary defeatism in the struggle against imperialism and compares this with the positions of the left. The RCIT looks forward to publish this book as an important contribution to the theory and strategy of Marxism which shall help to defend it against its falsifiers and diluters.
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The Greek Communist Party KKE plays a key role in the European and world-wide Stalinist milieu. (1) Being one of the few orthodox Stalinist parties in Europe with a regular presence in parliament, it has become the initiator of the conferences called “International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties” which take pace annually since 1998. These conferences are attended by numerous Stalinist parties – from small groups to mass parties or even governing parties like the Communist parties of China, Cuba, South Africa, India, Russia, Laos, Vietnam, Syria, etc. The KKE is also the driving force in publishing the International Communist Review – the organ of this Stalinist loose alliance. (2)
It has also initiated various joint statements of Stalinist parties on important international events – among them also such which denounce the “so-called ‘Arab Spring’” and popular uprising of the Syrian people (“the so-called Syrian opposition funded and armed by the imperialist powers”. (3) In short, the KKE is not an irrelevant sect but an influential and representative force of the global Stalinist movement.
The KKE is a classic example of traditional Stalinism, i.e. national-centered reformism. (4) It condemns imperialism and monopoly capital – in general declarations. However, when it comes to its own bourgeois state and the chauvinism of its “own” bourgeoisie, the KKE swaps it internationalism with social-chauvinism. Internationalism is excellent – when it is directed against foreign enemies. However, it is rather an obstacle when the KKE has to deal with the holy “sovereign rights of Greece”.
It doesn’t matter for this issue that Greece is an advanced semi-colonial country which, in the 1990s, failed to become an imperialist state. (5) It is not relevant in this context because the KKE leadership itself denies the semi-colonial nature of Greece and (wrongly) emphasizes that is has become an imperialist state. (6)
Furthermore, it is also not relevant because the “enemies” against which the social-chauvinist KKE defends the “sovereign rights of Greece” are not imperialist powers attacking the country but rather its long-standing enemies and neighboring countries – in particular Turkey and Macedonia. These two latter countries are themselves semi-colonial states and Macedonia has experienced bullying and exploitative relations with Greece since it declared its independence in 1991. (7)
In fact, the bourgeois state of Greece has a long and disgraceful history of oppression and ethnic cleansing of national minorities on its territory. In fact, Athens has expelled hundreds of thousands of Turkish, Macedonian and other citizens from its territory since the 1920s. Marxists have always categorically opposed any form of Greek chauvinism against these minorities and defended their right of national self-determination. (8)
The KKE promises to “annihilate any foreign intruder who dares to attack Greece”
However, the Stalinist KKE is far away from such a communist anti-chauvinist position. In its program, adopted at a congress in 2013, it declared categorically that its program for “socialism” in Greece is inextricably linked with the defense of its present borders and the “sovereign rights of Greece”. “The struggle for the defence of the borders, the sovereign rights of Greece, from the standpoint of the working class and the popular strata is integral to the struggle for the overthrow of the power of capital.” (9)
This means nothing else than the defense of the capitalist state against any “enemy” as well as the defense of this state against the national rights of any oppressed minorities since this would endanger the chauvinist “sovereign rights of Greece”! In other words, the KKE’s “anti-imperialist” shell conceals a bourgeois social-chauvinist core.
This becomes evident at any occasion when the alleged “sovereign rights of Greece” are at risk – at least when such risk exists according to the hysterical bourgeois media. We will demonstrate this with two recent examples. During a period of tensions between Greece and Turkey in 2018, the Greek fascists accused the KKE that they would, in case of a war with Turkey, not defend their country. In response, the KKE voiced its indignation. Its General Secretary, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, literally said at a public rally in Thessaloniki: “We communists will, as we have always done in our century-long history, stand in the front row defending our territorial integrity and our sovereign rights. We are doing this so that any foreign intruder who dares to attack Greece will be annihilated.” (10)
We see that the KKE has no problems in praising Marxism-Leninism and the principles of anti-imperialist internationalism. However, when the “territorial integrity and sovereign rights” of its homeland are (supposedly) endangered by Turkey, the KKE leadership transforms in a split second into ferocious chauvinists who are ready to annihilate its neighbors.
The speech of the KKE leader was not a rhetorical gaffe since the party reprinted it approvingly in its press as the quote above demonstrates. This is also confirmed by the fact that the party repeated this social-chauvinist line in programmatic theses which it published for an international conference in April 2018.
“Particularly in our region, the sharpening of the situation between Greece and Turkey with the involvement of other countries as well is possible. The questioning of the borders and sovereign rights of Greece on the part of the Turkish bourgeois class is integrated in the framework of its competitive relations with the Greek bourgeois class in the region. The Greek bourgeois class actively participates in the imperialist plans, interventions, competition and wars, guided by its aim to strategically enhance its position in the wider region. It bears responsibilities for the possible entanglement of the country in a war. The Programme of the Party has determined our position concerning the imperialist war and the line of our activity, where it is notes that: “The struggle for the defence of the borders, the sovereign rights of Greece, from the standpoint of the working class and the popular strata is integral to the struggle for the overthrow of the power of capital. It does not have any relation with the defence of the plans of one or the other imperialist pole and the profitability of one or the other monopoly group. In the instance of Greece's involvement in an imperialist war, either in a defensive or aggressive war, the Party must lead the independent organization of the workers'-people's struggle in all its forms, so as to lead to the complete defeat of the bourgeois class, both the domestic one and the foreign invader, and link it in practice with the conquest of power.” (11)
All the talk about opposition “against imperialist wars” and for “the conquest of power” is empty rhetoric in order to conceal its social-patriotic capitulation to Greek chauvinism. The KKE is a long way from conquering power. This has been proven once more by it utter failure to increase its influence – not to speak about taking power – during the pre-revolutionary crisis in Greece in the last decade. In fact, after 35 general strikes and numerous ferocious class struggles, the KKE receives fewer votes at elections than it did before!
While conquering power is an uncertain possibility in the distant future, the tensions with Turkey or with Macedonia, and the chauvinist propaganda of Greece’s public opinion, take place today. And today, in such conflicts, the KKE promises to defend the “territorial integrity and sovereign rights” of the Greek capitalist state against any “foreign invader”.
Authentic communists must not lend support either to Greece or to Turkey. Both are capitalist semi-colonial states dominated by a reactionary bourgeoisie which are collaborating with imperialist powers like the U.S., the EU and Russia. None of them is “the lesser evil”. The Leninist program of revolutionary defeatism is fully applicable in such a case, as our comrades in Occupied Palestine stated already some time ago:
“To reiterate, in a case of war just between Turkey and Greece the RCIT calls for revolutionary defeatism on both sides. This means socialists must not support the war efforts in each country and stand for the defeat of “their” state. Naturally, the involvement of imperialist powers on each side (not excluded given the close relationships both countries have with Great Powers) could alter the character of the war. As a general principle we state that the RCIT opposes both US, EU as well as Russian imperialism.” (12)
The KKE denies the national rights of Macedonia
The KKE displayed the same disgusting chauvinism when Macedonia held its referendum about the change of its official name. We do not discuss the issue of this referendum at this point and refer readers to the statement of the Trotskyist comrades of the Greek OKDE which we published (with a brief preface) on our website. (13) What is of interest here is the position and the arguments of the KKE.
In a recently published official statement, the KKE criticizes the agreement between the Greek and Macedonian governments not only because of its pro-NATO content (which revolutionaries naturally also reject) but also because it supposedly opened the door for “Macedonian irredentism“!
“The agreement between the governments of Greece and FYROM was achieved by the overt intervention of the USA, of NATO and the EU, bears their seal and has been signed on the premises of the deadlines and agendas that these organizations have determined, in order for the euroatlantic integration to advance in the Western Balkans. This objective derives clearly from the text of the agreement. It is not by chance that the first to greet this agreement were the State Department, NATO and the EU. That is why the whole process focused on the issue of the name of the neighboring country, while a series of critical issues, such as countering irredentism, making necessary changes in the Constitution of the neighboring country, not only are postponed to an uncertain future, but also the situation becomes more complicated with the acceptance by the Greek government of positions regarding “Macedonian citizens” and “Macedonian language”, positions that constitute the essence of irredentism. Consequently, it is an agreement that cannot guarantee a solution in favor of the Greek people, of the people of the neighboring country nor of the peoples of the region.” (14)
Nothing could be more absurd! The Greek state has a long history of brutal oppression of the Macedonian people which resulted in the expulsion of nearly all of them. Today, only a small minority of Macedonians continue to live in northern Greece. Macedonia is a small and poor country, exploited by foreign capitalist monopolies (among them not a few from Greece). Greece has a long and disgraceful tradition of anti-Macedonian chauvinism. (For example the biggest demonstrations in the country’s history took place in 1992 and 1994 in protest against the fact that the independent republic Macedonia dared to choose the name “Macedonia” in its official designation!)
Irrespective of this chauvinist tradition, or rather because of it, the KKE joins the Greek nationalist mainstream and accuses Macedonia of “irredentism” (instead of accusing the Greek state for its unbearable chauvinism)! It even accuses the reformist SYRIZA government of making concessions to “Macedonian irredentism” because it accepts talking about “Macedonian citizens” and a “Macedonian language”!
This statement reflects, once more, that the KKE fully supports the most reactionary lies which Greek chauvinism has disseminated throughout its whole history and which simply deny the existence (not to speak about the rights) of the Macedonian nation!
This is also confirmed by a recently published article in its theoretical journal which states: “A real solution means guarantees of the elimination of irredentism, nationalism, [territorial] claims, ensuring the inviolability of the borders, which means changes now, not in the near future, to the Constitution of the FYROM.” The KKE insists that any name adopted by the Republic “must have a strictly geographical definition.”
Furthermore, the KKE repeats, with no shame, the classic Greek chauvinist myth denying the national existence of other Balkan peoples: “A historically formed ‘Macedonian’ nation, ‘Macedonian’ ethnicity, ‘Macedonian’ language, which form the basis of irredentism and raise questions of the existence of a minority, claims and defense of its rights etc., do not exist.” (15)
Lenin used to say about Russian communists who failed to consistently oppose chauvinism: “Scratch some Communists and you will find Great Russian chauvinists.” (16) It is obvious that it is not necessary to scratch at all in order to see the unrestrained reactionary Greek chauvinism of the KKE leadership!
In summary, the Greek KKE is an excellent example for our analysis of Stalinism as a bourgeois reformist trend. When it comes to imperialism and war, the Stalinist might refer to the Marxist classics and recite one or another quote of Lenin on imperialism. But in essence, they follow a reactionary social-chauvinist line and defend the capitalist state of Greece and its present borders against any “foreign invader”. They are not defeatist against their own bourgeoisie. They are only defeatist against the international working class and the oppressed peoples! (17)
(1) For the RCIT’s assessment of the KKE see e.g. RKOB: Perspectives on the Greek Revolution, 10.11.2011, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/greece-revolution-or-tragedy/; Michael Pröbsting: Greece: For a Workers' Government! Critical electoral support for SYRIZA and KKE! Workers: Organize and prepare yourselves for the struggle for power! 6.6.2012, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/greece-for-a-workers-government/; Michael Pröbsting: After SYRIZA’s victory in the Greek elections: The question of a Workers Government and the revolutionary way forward, June 2012, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/after-the-greek-elections/; Michael Pröbsting: Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony. The Contradictory Development of Greek Capitalism, Its Failed Attempts to Become a Minor Imperialist Power, and Its Present Situation as an Advanced Semi-Colonial Country with Some Specific Features (chapter IV.4 Excurse: The KKE and the Class Character of Greece), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/greece-semi-colony/
(2) See their website: https://www.iccr.gr/en/home/
(3) See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the „Left“. The bleeding Syrian Revolution and the recent Escalation of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry between the US and Russia – A Marxist Critique of Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism, 21 April 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syria-great-power-rivalry-and-the-failure-of-the-left/; An informative overview of the Islamophobic views of large sectors of the Greek reformist and centrist left is provided in Kostas Kousiantas and Pantelis Afthinos: The Syrian revolution and the failure of the “anti-imperialist” left, 22 October 2018, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article5756
(4) The RCIT and its predecessor organization have analysed Stalinism – a fester on the workers movement – on numerous occasions. See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Cuba’s Revolution Sold Out? The Road from Revolution to the Restoration of Capitalism, August 2013, RCIT Books, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/cuba-s-revolution-sold-out/. See also LRCI: The Degenerated Revolution: The Origin and Nature of the Stalinist States, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/stalinism-and-the-degeneration-of-the-revolution/
(5) See on this Michael Pröbsting: Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony (see chapter III and IV), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/greece-semi-colony/
(6) Such the KKE states in its program, adopted in 2013: “Capitalism in Greece is in the imperialist stage of its development, in an intermediate position in the international imperialist system, with strong uneven dependencies on the USA and the EU. (…) The participation of Greece in NATO, the economic-political and political-military dependencies on the EU and the USA limit the room of the Greek bourgeoisie to manoeuvre independently, as all the alliance relations of capital are governed by competition, unevenness and consequently the advantageous position of the strongest; they are formed as relations of uneven interdependence.” (Programme of the KKE, adopted in 2013, http://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/Programme-of-the-KKE/)
Likewise, Aleka Parariga, the KKE General Secretary at that time, wrote: „The basic position of opportunism in Greece is that the country is under German occupation, that it is being transformed or has been transformed into a colony and is being plundered primarily by Mrs. Merkel, the creditors. The triad of the representatives of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF which supervise and determine the management of the internal or external debt, the fiscal deficits is seen as the main enemy apart from Germany itself. They accuse the bourgeois class of the country and the governmental parties as being treacherous, unpatriotic, subordinate and subservient towards Germany, the creditors or the bankers.
Those who talk of subordination and occupation do not acknowledge the export of capital from Greece (a characteristic feature of capitalism in the imperialist stage), which was significant before the crisis and continues undiminished in the conditions of the crisis. The export of capital is being carried out for productive investments in other countries and of course in European banks until conditions are formed so that they can re-enter the process of ensuring the maximum possible profit. They see a shortage of capital and not over-accumulation.
They do not see the issue of over-accumulation because they will be forced to admit the character of the capitalist economic crisis, something which blows to smithereens their pro-monopoly political proposal. The bourgeois parties as well as the opportunists, despite the various differences they have, support the safeguarding of the competitiveness of the domestic monopolies which inevitably brings the reactionary restructurings to the forefront, ensuring cheaper labour power, intensification of state intimidation, repression and anti-communism, and at the same time particularly focus on expanding Greek capital in the wider region (the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea area). This is amongst other things a vicious circle which leads to a new and deeper crisis cycle.
Lenin and his work on imperialism adds that the comparison cannot be made between developed capitalist countries and backward capitalist countries but between capital exports, an issue which opportunists everywhere do not want and do not dare to acknowledge because their view regarding the occupation of Greece, that Greece is a colony, is refuted by this criterion alone. (…)
Consequently the position of the KKE that Greece belongs to the imperialist system, is organically incorporated and plays an active role in the war as an ally of the leading players is absolutely vindicated. This is the choice in the interests of the bourgeoisie that has twice invited British and US imperialism to smash the armed people with military forces, weapons and direct military operations.” (Aleka Parariga (KKE General Secretary): The Position of Greece within International Capitalism, Article for "El Machete," the Theoretical and Political Review of the CP of Mexico, http://mltoday.com/the-position-of-greece-within-international-capitalism)
For the RCIT critique of the KKE’s analysis of Greek capitalism see chapter IV.4 Excurse: The KKE and the Class Character of Greece in our book Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony mentioned above.
(7) On the RCIT’s analysis of Turkey as an advanced semi-colony see: Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries (Chapter V), RCIT Books, Vienna 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism (Chapter 9), RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/; TEK YOL DEVRIM! Action Program for Turkey by Sınıf Savaşı (Section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency in Turkey), October 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/program-turkey/; On Macedonia see RCIT: Macedonia: Stop the Police Violence! Support the National Self-Determination of the Albanian Minority! For a Workers and Peasants Government! For a Socialist Federation of the Balkan People! 8.5.2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/macedonia-statement/; see also chapter II.3 Excurse: Greek Chauvinism and the Macedonian Question in our book Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony mentioned above.
(8) See on this Michael Pröbsting: Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony (see chapter II.3 Excurse: Greek Chauvinism and the Macedonian Question as well as chapter V.3 The Struggle against Greek Chauvinism: The Macedonian Question), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/greece-semi-colony/. As we show in this book, Leon Trotsky and the Greek Trotskyists always took a consistent internationalist position on this issue. They opposed Greek chauvinism and defended the rights of the national minorities. For example, Trotsky advised the Greek Marxists concerning the Macedonian question: “We merely say that if the Macedonians want it, we will then side with them, that they should be allowed to decide, and we will also support their decision. What disturbs me is not so much the question of the Macedonian peasants, but rather whether there isn't a touch of chauvinist poison in Greek workers. That is very dangerous. For us, who are for a Balkan federation of soviet states, it is all the same if Macedonia belongs to this federation as an autonomous whole or part of another state. However, if the Macedonians are oppressed by the bourgeois government, or feel that they are oppressed, we must give them support.” (Leon Trotsky: A Discussion on Greece (Spring 1932), In: Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement (1929-33), Pathfinder, New York 1979, pp. 129-130)
Pantelis Pouliopoulos, the first General Secretary of the KKE and historic leader of Greek Trotskyism in the 1920s and 1930s, also stated categorically: “Whoever refutes the existence, unresolved until today, of a national Macedonian question in Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian Macedonia, is without a doubt a lapdog of the bourgeoisie. Whoever refutes the historical liberation movement of the Macedonians, is either ignorant and must learn the history of that movement and its national heroes, or is again a lapdog of one of the three oppressing bourgeoisies.” (Pantelis Pouliopoulos: Communists and the Macedonian Question [May 1940], Republished in Spartakos No. 30, 1991, https://www.marxists.org/archive/pouliop/works/1940/05/commac.htm)
(9) Programme of the KKE, adopted at the 19th Congress of the KKE, 11-14 April 2013, http://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/Programme-of-the-KKE/
(10) Quoted in Nikos Mottas: Was werden die griechischen Kommunisten im Falle eines Krieges tun?; in: Einheit und Widerspruch (Theoretisches und Diskussionsorgan der Partei der Arbeit Österreichs), Heft 6, Juni 2018, p. 117, http://parteiderarbeit.at/?page_id=1915 (our translation)
(11) The danger of the imperialist war and the stance of the Communists, Theses of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) at the 12th International Conference “V.I. Lenin and the Contemporary World”, 20.04.2018, https://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/THESES-OF-THE-COMMUNIST-PARTY-OF-GREECE-KKE-AT-THE-12TH-INTERNATIONAL-CONFERENCE-V.I-LENIN-AND-THE-CONTEMPORARY-WORLD/
(12) See on this, in addition to our book on capitalist Greece mentioned above, e.g. Max Bonham: On the Escalating Greek-Turkish Tensions, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel/Occupied Palestine), 30 April 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/escalating-greek-turkish-tensions/
(13) OKDE: Prespa Agreement – Referendum in neighboring Macedonia, 24.9.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/forum/okde-greece-referendum-in-neighboring-macedonia/
(14) KKE: On the agreement between Greece-FYROM, 14/6/2018, Press Office of the CC of the KKE, http://www.solidnet.org/article/CP-of-Greece-On-the-agreement-between-Greece-FYROM/
(15) Kommounistiki Epitheorisi (No. 2, 2018), quoted in SL: For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans! Greece: Chauvinist Frenzy over Macedonia, Part One, Workers Vanguard No. 1142, 19 October 2018, https://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/1142/macedonia.html
(16) V. I. Lenin: Speech Closing The Debate On The Party Programme, Eight Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) March 18-23, 1919, in: LCW Vol. 29, p. 194, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/rcp8th/04.htm
(17) RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States. Resolution of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 8 September 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-on-revolutionary-defeatism-in-imperialist-states/