Workers Hammer No. 242
For a socialist federation of the Balkans!
Greece: chauvinist frenzy over Macedonia
The following is a translation of an article that appeared in O Bolsevikos (no 4, April 2018), newspaper of our comrades in the Trotskyist Group of Greece. On 17 June, the governments of Greece and Macedonia signed an agreement that the latter will change its name to Severna Makedonija (the Republic of North Macedonia). The agreement must still be ratified in a plebiscite in Macedonia as well as by the parliaments of each country.
APRIL 17 — On 21 January in Salonika and 4 February in Athens, hundreds of thousands took part in chauvinist demonstrations demanding no use of the term “Macedonia” by the Republic of Macedonia in its name. Participants in those reactionary demonstrations included [bourgeois parties] New Democracy, PASOK, ANEL and hordes of the faithful organised by the [Greek Orthodox] church, as well as retired officers and paramilitary organisations. Spearheading the mob were the fascists of Golden Dawn. In Salonika the fascists screeched “The city belongs to the nationalists” before attacking the social centre “Sxoleio”, frequented by anarchists, setting fire to the “Libertatia” squat and vandalising the Holocaust memorial.
Metropolitan [Bishop] Anthimos, speaking inside his church in Salonika, called for support to the demonstrations and intoned: “Wherever Macedonia is, Greece is too and wherever Greece is, Macedonia is too.” This is the same bishop who in 2014 threatened to mobilise youth in Salonika to destroy street signs that commemorate famous Turks from the city. The Orthodox church is a central pillar of the Greek state, a bastion of Greek chauvinism and all-sided reaction. A key demand for the workers movement in Greece is for full separation of church and state.
Greek-chauvinist hysteria over the use of the term “Macedonia” previously erupted after the Republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1991 amid the imperialist-instigated break-up of the deformed workers state in Yugoslavia — a capitalist counterrevolution that was both driven by and gave rise to a nationalist blood-bath. The following year in Greece, enormous demonstrations of up to a million people broke out, with banners declaring: Macedonia is Greek. The Greek ruling class and its Orthodox church insist that the very name Macedonia is exclusively Greek property dating back to antiquity and that “Macedonian” is no more than a “geographical” designation of the citizens in Greece’s northern province of the same name. With Athens intransigent, for almost three decades the Macedonian Republic has been referred to in international bodies as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greek chauvinists contemptuously refer to the neighbouring country only as “Skopje” [its capital].
The installation in May 2017 of a new government in Macedonia, with a coalition led by Zoran Zaev’s Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia replacing the right-wing nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, has been seized on by the US and European imperialists, and by Syriza, as an opportunity to pressure Macedonia into a compromise over the naming issue. The imperialists, with the support of Syriza, seek to clear a path for the country’s membership of NATO and the EU, which Greece has hitherto vetoed. One of the US imperialists’ chief aims is to undermine Russia’s influence in Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans. As Marxist revolutionaries we oppose on principle both the blood-soaked NATO military alliance and the imperialist EU. NATO out of the Balkans! Close down Souda Base and all the other US bases in Greece! Down with the EU and the euro! Greece out now!
The government of Macedonia has already made concessions by changing the name of its international airport and its main highway to remove references to Alexander the Great. But that is not enough to placate the arrogant Greek chauvinists, who demand that the Republic of Macedonia change its constitution to remove articles that describe the nationality and language of the Slavic population of Macedonia as “Macedonian”, as well as the article that says that “the Republic takes an interest in the situation and the rights of those in neighbouring countries who belong to the Macedonian people as well as expatriate Macedonians” (“The Constitution of FYROM abounds with irredentist references”, Kathimerini, 24 January).
For self-determination of Greece’s Macedonian minority!
Greek chauvinists insist that any use by the Republic of the term “Macedonia” or references to Macedonians in Greece imply irredentist claims on Greek territory. Macedonia is a tiny country, with a population of only two million, one quarter of whom are ethnic Albanians. But Greece is also a Balkan country, with national questions of its own. The Greek capitalist state is the only one in the Balkans which does not recognise the existence of any national minorities within its borders. Ethnic Macedonians are officially referred to as “Slavophone Greeks” while the Turks of Western Thrace (as well as Pomaks and Roma, who speak other languages) are called “Greek Muslims”. In reality, despite decades of ethnic cleansing and forced Hellenisation, there continues to exist a Macedonian population concentrated near the border with the Republic of Macedonia.
The Macedonian population has been subjected to systematic discrimination and horrific oppression at the hands of the Greek state. They have been forced to change their names and the names of their villages; their language and culture is prohibited; Macedonian rights activists are persecuted. The hostility of the Greek bourgeoisie towards Macedonians is fuelled by the central role that they played in the Communist-led forces during the [1946-49] Civil War. In 1982, the first PASOK government allowed the return from exile of Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) fighters of Greek origin, while Macedonians who fought with the Communists remained stripped of Greek citizenship and continue even today to be denied visas to visit families in Greece. Even to suggest the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece is enough to unleash a furious chauvinist backlash. Not surprisingly, a climate of fear reigns in the Macedonian areas.
As an integral part of our struggle to forge the nucleus of an internationalist, Leninist workers party in Greece, the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE) fights to break the working class from Greek chauvinism in order to fight for proletarian revolution. We fight for the right of the Macedonian minority to self-determination, which means the right of ethnic Macedonians to separate and form their own state or to unite with the existing state of Macedonia. We oppose all discrimination against the various national minorities that live within the borders of Greece — Turks, Arvanites, Vlachs, Pomaks and others — as well as ethnic groups like Roma and fight for their full democratic rights.
In 1992, the chauvinist backlash over Macedonia was whipped up by Greece’s ruling circles against a backdrop of intense working-class struggles against austerity and union-busting. Today also, after a decade of desperate struggles by the working masses against the attacks of the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie — carried out now by the “left” government of the capitalist Syriza party — Greek nationalism is wielded by those hostile to the interests of the working class, to weaken and divide it and to derail its struggles.
Nationalism is poison for the proletariat and directly counterposed to what is so urgently needed today — internationalist solidarity and common class struggle by workers against their bosses throughout the EU. It is not only in poorer countries like Greece and Ireland that workers have suffered from EU austerity. In the most powerful European country, Germany, workers’ living standards have also been ground down to boost the bosses’ profits. It is in the direct interest of Greek workers to oppose the attempts of the capitalists and their hangers-on to whip up chauvinism against their Macedonian, Turkish or German class brothers and sisters.
The working class in Greece will not be able to fight for its own interests and for a victorious proletarian revolution unless it breaks with nationalism — a bourgeois ideology which acts to chain the working people to their exploiters in the so-called “national” interest. Workers have no interests in common with the bosses. It is the task of Leninists to combat Greek chauvinism among the workers and to educate them in the spirit of genuine internationalism, just as our German comrades combat the EU’s crushing of Greek working people at the behest of the German and other imperialist monopolies. A party capable of leading the working class to power at the head of all the oppressed, to expropriate the capitalists and rebuild society in the interests of the working people, must act as “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects” (VI Lenin, What is to be done? ). In the Balkans, national antagonisms have repeatedly produced rivers of blood but, led by a party modelled on Lenin’s Bolsheviks, the struggle against national oppression can also act as a motor force for proletarian revolution.
It was the chauvinist agitation around Macedonia in 1992 — in which Syriza’s predecessors in Synaspismos played a full role — that enabled the fascists of Golden Dawn to emerge from their rat holes. Today, in the absence of a working-class leadership that offers a revolutionary way out of the impasse in the country, the despair engendered by the capitalist economic crisis is providing fertile ground for the fascists to grow. That Golden Dawn was able to march unhindered at the head of more than a hundred thousand reactionaries in Athens is due to the treachery of the reformist leadership of the working class, especially of the KKE [Communist Party of Greece] which has the numbers and influence in the working class to lead a counter-offensive but which instead issues liberal calls to “isolate” the fascists and preaches reliance on the capitalist state. It is urgently necessary to build united-front mobilisations, centred on the social power of the organised working class, to stop Golden Dawn and their ilk before it is too late.
KKE: once again in the service of the bourgeoisie
The reaction of the Stalinist KKE to the renewed bourgeois campaign over Macedonia has been its customary capitulation to Greek nationalism. In a 5 February statement “regarding the developments with FYROM [!]”, the KKE distances itself from the right-wing “Macedonia is Greece” crowd, calling “upon the people to isolate those nationalist, fascist powers that exploit their legitimate concern in order to sow the poison of nationalism and homeland mongering” (kke.gr) and claims that in 1992 the party “stood against the dominant nationalist trend that all the other political parties were cultivating”. But this is just window-dressing for the KKE’s own brand of nationalist populism.
In an article in its theoretical journal Kommounistiki Epitheorisi (no 2, 2018), the KKE tries to outdo even the chauvinism of [Greek prime minister] Tsipras: “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”.
In the same article, parroting the worst Greek chauvinists, the KKE declares baldly that: “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 defence of its rights etc, do not exist.” The Macedonian people, however, have fought long and hard to exist as a nation with their own language and culture, regardless of the opinions of chauvinist Greek Stalinists. The KKE would never question the pedigree of the Greek nation. One could observe that for centuries under the Byzantines and the Ottomans, Greeks mainly referred to themselves as “Romans” and the development of a national consciousness in Greece, as elsewhere in the Balkans, began only in the late 18th century amid the decay of the Ottoman empire.
The borders of capitalist Greece, which the KKE regards as sacrosanct and inviolable, largely reflect the amount of land that the Greek bourgeoisie was able to grab in the Second Balkan War in 1913 as Greece and Serbia fought Bulgaria to divide up the strategic province of Macedonia. At that time, the peasant population of the territories seized by Greece was mainly Macedonian-speaking, while in Salonika, the largest ethnic group was the Ladino-speaking Jewish population. The founding cadre of what was to become Greek Communism emerged from this rich, cosmopolitan environment.
Today’s KKE upholds imperialist treaties such as that of Bucharest in 1913, which ended the Second Balkan War and put the seal on Greece’s annexations in Epirus and Macedonia (including Salonika). But especially in the Balkans, with its patchwork of nationalities, state boundaries do not at all correspond to the geographical extent of the various nations. The annexations by the bourgeois powers are inevitably followed by mass expulsions (“ethnic cleansing”) and/or forcible assimilation of national minorities. The KKE’s defence of the status quo in the Balkans is a flat denial of the right of self-determination.
Our programme on the national question is that of Lenin’s Bolshevik party. In tsarist Russia — that “prison house of peoples” — the Bolsheviks were champions of the national rights of all the peoples oppressed by the dominant Great Russian chauvinism. Lenin’s party fought for the equality of all nations and for the right of all nations to self-determination, ie their right to separate. By demonstrating in practice, not just in words, that they would wage a fight to the death against Great Russian chauvinism, the Bolsheviks were able to mobilise the yearning of the oppressed peoples for national freedom as a mighty force for the October Revolution, winning the proletarian and peasant masses to the fight, alongside their Great Russian class brothers, for the overthrow of all the bourgeois and landlord exploiters.
While the KKE’s grovelling to its “own” bourgeoisie is amply demonstrated in its grotesque appeals to 100-year-old imperialist treaties in order to defend the territorial integrity of capitalist Greece, Lenin was quite explicit what the position of genuine communists should be:
“In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat [ie communist] of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist. This is an absolute demand, even where the chance of secession being possible and ‘practicable’ before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand.
“It is our duty to teach the workers to be ‘indifferent’ to national distinctions [not “discriminations” as the KKE translates it]. There is no doubt about that. But it must not be the indifference of the annexationists. A member of an oppressor nation must be ‘indifferent’ to whether small nations belong to his state or to a neighbouring state or to themselves, according to where their sympathies lie: without such ‘indifference’ he is not a Social-Democrat. To be an internationalist Social-Democrat one must not think only of one’s own nation, but place above it the interests of all nations, their common liberty and equality. Everyone accepts this in ‘theory’ but displays an annexationist indifference in practice. There is the root of the evil.”
— “The discussion on self-determination summed up” (July 1916)
Macedonia: litmus test for revolutionaries in Greece
The victory of the workers and peasants in the October Revolution of 1917 inspired the founding, one year later, of the Socialist Workers Party (SEKE) — later to become the KKE. For most of its history, the KKE has charted a course of opportunist zigzags and open betrayals on the Macedonian national question. While there was from the very beginning a pronounced nationalist bulge among sections of the KKE, nevertheless, in its early years the party suffered severe repression at the hands of the Greek bourgeoisie for defending national rights for the Macedonians. In 1924, under pressure from the Comintern, the KKE adopted the call for a united, independent Macedonia and a united, independent Thrace, a position which was to lead to deep divisions within the party and to haunt it thereafter.
Beginning in 1923-24 the Soviet Communist Party and state underwent a qualitative bureaucratic degeneration, a political (but not social) counterrevolution. The victory of a conservative nationalist bureaucracy, ruling in its own narrow interest as a parasitic excrescence on the workers state, took programmatic shape in December 1924 as Stalin promulgated the absurd idea that the USSR could build socialism on its own, without revolutions in other countries. The Stalinist degeneration was to have a disastrous effect on the young parties of the Communist International, including the KKE. Over the next decade and more, as the Trotskyists fought relentlessly to uphold the banner of Leninist internationalism, the Stalinist bureaucracy zigzagged between outright conciliation of the various imperialist powers and heedless adventurism bound for defeat, transforming the Comintern from a party seeking international workers revolution into one acting as a tool of Kremlin diplomacy.
Today the KKE denies the very existence of a Macedonian nation, language or minority. The KKE’s own past speaks against its present. In 1924, a KKE congress adopted a resolution which said:
“The ruling bourgeoisie, exploiting workers and sucking the blood of the peasants subordinates whole nations to its exploitation and oppression, while it prattles hypocritically and with ulterior motives about protecting small nations. The ruling capitalists of the dominant nation politically oppress the national minorities and deprive them of any rights (language, school, religion etc). It implements the policy of forcible national assimilation in order, in this way, to stifle the resistance of the oppressed nationalities and thereby ensure their unbridled exploitation.
“The Communist Party is the only party which carries out a relentless struggle against the violence, political oppression and economic exploitation of other peoples. Fighting against the bourgeoisie, the KKE supports all genuine revolutionary struggles of these peoples against their national oppression and proclaims the right of self-determination of all nations up to their separation and formation of their own independent state.”
— Official documents, vol 1
But the KKE was soon to abandon any principled position on Macedonian self-determination and to embrace Greek chauvinism. In 1935, at its 6th Party Congress, the KKE carried out an about-face on the national question, dropping its demand for independence for Macedonia and replacing it with a call only for full equality for the national minorities in Greece. Completely distorting Lenin, in subsequent resolutions, when the KKE spoke of self-determination, it meant that the Macedonian minority had to be incorporated into the Greek state. This turn by the KKE was closely tied to the popular front, ie coalitions of class collaboration with the “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie, against fascism. With the adoption of the popular-front policy, the Stalinised Communist parties, including the KKE, went over decisively to the defence of the bourgeois order just as the Social Democracy had done over WWI, pledging to defend every inch of national soil.
During the Civil War, Macedonians constituted at least 25 per cent of the DSE but the KKE, in the name of “national unity” had buried any call for self-determination. A major factor in winning Macedonian support for the DSE’s struggle was the social revolution that had taken place in Yugoslavia. There the Macedonian fighters had formed their own headquarters, which was staffed by Macedonian officers and which used the Macedonian language and flag. The creation of an autonomous Macedonian Republic inside the Yugoslav federation exercised a strong attraction on the Slavs in Greece. The Yugoslavs’ campaign for a united Macedonia was met with hostility from the KKE.
At the time of Tito’s split with Stalin, the KKE made an effort at reconciliation with the Macedonians in order to undermine their support for Tito. In January 1949 the KKE pledged that with: “the victory of the DSE and of the people’s revolution, the Macedonian people will find their full national restoration as they themselves wish” (Resolution of the Fifth Plenum of the CC of the KKE, 30-31 January 1949, www.rizospastis.gr). However, following defeat in the Civil War, the KKE again repudiated the right of national self-determination. Party spokesman Vasilis Bartziotas announced in October 1949: “Today the situation has changed.... We have to return to the slogan for national equality which was put forth by the  Sixth Congress of the KKE.” (See “Greece 1940s: a revolution betrayed”, Spartacist [English-language edition] no 64, Summer 2014.)
Many of the reformist groups in and around the coalition Antarsya claim to oppose Greek chauvinism and to uphold the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece. However, they balk at the right of self-determination. In a common statement titled “The enemy is not the neighbouring people but ‘our own’ bourgeoisie”, OKDE-Spartakos, EEK, OEN and ORMA write: “Political organisations blocked the Nazis’ path and made propaganda against the nationalist demonstrations, advancing the right of self-determination of the Republic of Macedonia”, by which they mean the right of the Republic to choose its own name. This declaration makes a mockery of the right of self-determination, ie the right to independent statehood. The Republic of Macedonia was autonomous within the Yugoslav deformed workers state and had been formally independent since the capitalist counterrevolution in 1991. The Slavic population there does not need more “self-determination” (it’s a different matter for the Albanians). The real issue, which the opportunists of OKDE-Spartakos, EEK et al refuse to countenance, is the right of the Macedonians in Greece to freely choose their own destiny.
The first Greek supporters of Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition — the Archeiomarxists — were opposed to independence for the Macedonian minority. In discussions with the Archeiomarxists in 1932, Trotsky castigated his supporters for this chauvinist line. Responding to their argument that Aegean Macedonia was “90 percent Greeks”, Trotsky replied: “Our first task is to take an attitude of total skepticism toward these [government] figures.” On the question of independence, Trotsky said:
“I’m not certain whether it is correct to reject this slogan. We cannot say we are opposed to it because the population will be against it. The population must be asked for its opinion on this. The ‘Bulgarians’ represent an oppressed layer....
“It’s not our task to organize nationalist uprisings. 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.”
— “A discussion on Greece”, Spring 1932
He went on to point to the crux of the matter for Marxists in Greece:
“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.”
For a socialist federation of the Balkans
For more than a century, Macedonia has been the “apple of discord” of the Balkans, a strategic region hotly contested since the collapse of the Ottoman empire by Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, who partitioned this multiethnic province among themselves before WWI. An equitable resolution of the Macedonian national question is closely bound up with the struggle for a socialist federation of the Balkans.
In the 1870s, Serbian socialists first put forward a proposal for a Balkan federation, a proposal that was adopted by the Second International as the only means for defusing national tensions in the peninsula that were being continually stirred in their own interests by the Great Powers. Following the slaughter of WWI that was sparked by Balkan tensions, the Communist International insisted that the local bourgeoisies were incapable of transcending national antagonisms and that a Balkan federation would only come about as a result of proletarian revolution.
The victory of Tito’s partisan army in WWII over the Axis forces, the Serbian monarchist Chetniks and the Croatian fascist Ustasha, led to the smashing of the capitalist state in Yugoslavia and the creation of a workers state. On the basis of workers power, decades of bloody national conflict among the South Slavs and others were brought to an end. This was a remarkable achievement which pointed to the possibilities inherent in proletarian power for resolving the national questions. However, Yugoslavia was deformed from the outset by the Stalinist bureaucracy of Tito which did not fight for the international extension of the revolution, but rather ruled on the basis of the utterly false Stalinist perspective of “socialism in one country”.
The Yugoslav version of that anti-Marxist dogma was “market socialism”, a series of reforms that allowed competition between enterprises and pitted the more developed regions of Yugoslavia, such as Slovenia, against less developed areas such as Kosovo and Macedonia, setting nationality against nationality and unleashing the centrifugal forces that would eventually devour the deformed workers state in an orgy of nationalist bloodletting.
With the postwar creation of deformed workers states in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania, the call for a Balkan socialist federation acquired renewed currency. Within the framework of a peninsular federation, the thorny Macedonian question could have been easily resolved. But Tito’s Yugoslavia, Dimitrov’s Bulgaria and the KKE in Greece (not to mention Stalin in the Kremlin) each pursued their own version of “socialism in one country” in which calls for a socialist federation of the Balkans were raised and dropped according to the opportunist appetites of the Stalinists, each exploiting the Macedonian question for their own interests.
As genuine Marxists we recognise that the conflicting national claims of the various Balkan peoples can only be equitably resolved through the proletarian overthrow of all the capitalist regimes of the region and the forging of a socialist federation of the Balkans, including Greece, as part of a Socialist United States of Europe. The TOE, as the Greek section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is fighting to build a revolutionary workers party, modelled on the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, to finally achieve that aim.