Greek Trotskyists Say:
Down With the War on Refugees!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Who Have Made It to Greece!
We print below a translation of a revised article from a March 2020 supplement of O Bolsevikos, publication of the Trotskyist Group of Greece, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). When our comrades first went to press on March 27, the coronavirus pandemic had recently broken out. Thousands of refugees in Greece have been imprisoned in detention camps under horrific conditions. Taking advantage of the situation presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, the New Democracy government passed legislation to requisition land for the construction of more detention centers.
The primary responsibility for the plight of the refugees lies with the U.S., the world’s predominant imperialist power. Through economic pillage and wars of depredation in the Near East and beyond, the U.S. imperialists have forced millions to flee their homelands. As the article states, “The majority of refugees detained in Greece’s concentration camps have fled the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.”
It is crucial for revolutionary Marxists in the U.S., as intransigent opponents of U.S. imperialism, to oppose on principle the European Union (EU). As the article “Fighting Centrist Bending to the European Union” in the English-language edition of the ICL’s theoretical journal Spartacist (No. 66, Spring 2020) explains:
“The EU is not a homogenous bloc united against the U.S., even though it functions as a bloc against the U.S. on particular political and economic issues. Its forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), was historically a Cold War instrument for the U.S. against the USSR, and the EU continues to act as an adjunct of NATO. The American ruling class uses the EU to maintain Germany within the U.S.’s orbit and to counter Russia. The U.S., Germany and France continue to collaborate in expanding the EU and NATO in tandem in East Europe and the Balkans. At the economic level, a large fraction of the surplus value extracted from the exploitation of workers in Europe is appropriated by American capitalists, directly and indirectly. The U.S. bourgeoisie has benefited politically and economically from the EU and overwhelmingly supports it.”
We say: Down with the EU! Down with NATO! All U.S. bases out of Greece! Down with U.S. imperialism!
The U.S. imperialists have been the main oppressor of Greece since the 1940s. American, German and French finance capital and the U.S.-dominated IMF have bled Greece dry and impoverished its working class. We demand the cancellation of the imperialist-imposed debt. Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, the same U.S. ruling class that pillages dependent and neocolonial countries across the globe launches savage attacks on workers at home, all in the pursuit of greater profits. The perspective of the ICL, of which the Spartacist League is the U.S. section, is to reforge the Fourth International to lead the proletariat in the struggle to shatter the imperialist order through a series of socialist revolutions internationally. In the U.S., that means a fight to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party to lead the struggle for the proletarian conquest of power and the overturn of American imperialism.
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When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened his country’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria on February 28, the racist anti-immigrant frenzy playing out in Greece over the past months was ratcheted up a few more notches. Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis dispatched army units and riot police to the Evros border region, where state forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to drive back migrants. While government spokesmen have dismissed Turkish claims that Greek police killed as many as four refugees and injured others, a video released in early March vividly displayed the intentions of the Greek state: footage showed a coast guard vessel firing into the sea near a refugee dinghy and attempting to capsize it as it approached the island of Lesbos. A four-year-old Syrian boy died the same week after the dinghy he was in capsized.
Erdogan’s actions had European Union (EU) officials racing toward the Greek-Turkish border. During a March 3 visit to the town of Kastanies in Evros with Mitsotakis, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “This border is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border…. I thank Greece for being our European aspida [shield] in these times.” At the same time, she announced new repressive measures intended to prevent refugees making it past Greece and into the imperialist countries, including by reinforcing Frontex [border guard set up by EU member states] with more boats, helicopters and aircraft. Responsibility for the plight of tens of thousands of refugees in Greece and for the appalling death toll in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas lies squarely with the imperialists who dominate the EU—the German, French and the now departed British—as well as with the Greek capitalists who act as their tools.
Around 3.7 million refugees currently reside at camps in Turkey, the bulk of them fleeing the slaughter in neighboring Syria. Under a March 2016 agreement between Turkey and the EU, immigrants arriving on the Greek islands would be deported back to Turkey, while Syrian refugees already in Turkey would be allowed to settle in EU member states on a one-for-one exchange basis. As we wrote at the time, the deal was “a blatant bribe by Merkel to get the refugees off her hands. Turkey was promised aid of six billion euros, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens visiting the EU and the reopening of Turkey’s frozen EU membership application” (O Bolsevikos No. 2, April 2017, reprinted in WV No. 1115, 28 July 2017). In threatening to annul the agreement by allowing a new mass influx of refugees into EU member states, Erdogan is attempting to pressure German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron & Co. to support Turkey’s operations in Syria. His act of opening the border came only days after more than 30 Turkish soldiers fighting alongside Syrian opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime were killed in a bombing by Syrian government forces in Idlib province.
Refugees seeking to leave Turkey are now trapped in a no man’s land, driven away from both borders. Predictably, in Greece, anti-Turkish chauvinism is being whipped up by nationalists of every stripe. Today, there is tear gas and shots in the air being fired back and forth between Greek and Turkish border guards, but the potential exists for an escalation in the conflict between these two reactionary capitalist regimes. As proletarian internationalists, we seek to win over the working class in this country to oppose Greek nationalism and anti-Turkish chauvinism. Our enemy is the Greek capitalist class, not Turkish workers. We say: not a penny, not a person for the bourgeois army!
Erdogan’s refugee gambit comes after a series of reactionary developments that have worsened the already unbearable conditions for tens of thousands of refugees trapped on the Greek islands, where they are forced to stay under the Turkey-EU agreement, as well as for thousands more on the mainland. On February 4, driven beyond endurance by conditions in the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos, around two thousand migrants took to the streets to demand their freedom. As a crowd of some 300 refugees sought to march toward the city of Mytilene, a phalanx of riot police fired tear gas, suffocating children and babies.
Moria, described as a “living hell” by refugees and volunteer health workers, is the legacy of Syriza, a capitalist party that came to power in 2015 with the treacherous backing of the whole gamut of reformist left groups. The camp stands as a searing indictment of racist Greek capitalism and its barbarous imperialist godfathers in the EU. Built to house around 3,000 refugees, it is today overflowing with 20,000 inhabitants, many of whom have not so much as a tent for shelter. The camp has no electricity and only scant water supplies; sanitary conditions are appalling. Not surprisingly, many already traumatized refugees suffer severe physical and mental health problems. A great number, including unaccompanied children, are self-harming or suicidal. The workers movement must demand the immediate closing of Moria and all of Greece’s refugee concentration camps and inscribe on its banners the call: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants and refugees who have made it into this country! No deportations!
In a speech to parliament in November last year, Prime Minister Mitsotakis intoned that “Greece is not a fenceless vine” and promised to “decongest the islands” in the eastern Aegean by speeding up deportations of asylum seekers to Turkey. In January, the government announced plans to erect a 2.7 km floating barrier in the sea off Lesbos to deter refugee boats. To facilitate the implementation of its anti-immigrant agenda, the ruling New Democracy (ND) party ordered the building of “closed centers” (i.e., prisons) to replace the camps. Whereas until now refugees have been able to leave the camps and given access to essential services, under ND’s plan all refugees will be locked up until deported.
Attempts to start construction of the prisons provoked a reaction from island residents. On January 22, thousands of islanders took part in a reactionary mobilization called by the regional administration, i.e., the local representatives of the capitalist state. The main slogans of the mobilization were “we want our islands back” and “we want our lives back.” Representing the interests of petty-bourgeois hotel owners and the like, who want the refugees removed from the islands, the protests—especially on Lesbos—have been awash with Greek flags. Increasing local hostility toward refugees on the islands has come with an increase in racist attacks. Some islanders have sought to prevent refugee boats from landing, while gangs of vigilantes have roamed the streets looking to beat up refugees, NGO volunteers and islanders sympathetic to the migrants. In response to efforts to block the building project, the government dispatched MAT riot police to Lesbos and Chios, where they clashed violently with residents (but did not come out on top).
Following the protests in Lesbos, the government announced that it was instead planning to detain the refugees on uninhabited Aegean islands. Such moves recall the savage history of Acronauplia, Makronisos and other island prisons in which thousands of Greek Communist Party (KKE) members and Trotskyists, as well as Macedonian national freedom fighters were detained and tortured by Greek governments. This included under the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-41), then following the Civil War (1946-49) and again under the military junta (1967-74).
EU: Enemy of Workers
The EU is an unstable consortium of capitalist states whose purpose is to maximize the exploitation of the working class in each country, as well as for the imperialist powers to economically dominate and subjugate the weaker countries such as Greece, including through its financial instrument, the euro. The working people of this country know this only too well, having endured more than a decade of attacks dictated by the German and French banks and imposed by the bourgeois governments of PASOK, ND and Syriza. There is no clearer evidence of the reactionary nature of the EU than the devastation wrought against the Greek working people and the callous treatment of desperate migrants seeking refuge from war and starvation. Down with the EU and the euro! Greece out now! Cancel the debt! For a Socialist United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis!
What the bourgeois politicians and media call the “refugee crisis” is the result of the endless wars and occupations, grinding poverty, famine and brutal repression of working people and oppressed minorities that constitute the normal workings of capitalism. The majority of refugees detained in Greece’s concentration camps have fled the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. In the Near East and Africa, whole countries have been reduced to rubble by wars carried out by the U.S., British and French imperialists in particular, impelling millions to seek asylum elsewhere.
The Greek capitalist class has been a willing accomplice to the imperialists in their crimes. The Souda Bay military base in Crete is a strategic facility placed at the disposal of the imperialists for attacks on targets in Syria and elsewhere, as well as for policing the Aegean against refugee boats. Close down Souda and all NATO bases in Greece now! All imperialist forces out of the Balkans and the Near East!
In the epoch of imperialism, which Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin called “the highest stage of capitalism,” the ruling classes of a tiny handful of powerful states—the U.S., Germany and Japan pre-eminent among them—lord it over the rest of the world, mainly through economic means, appropriating for themselves the lion’s share of the profits produced through the blood and sweat of the toiling masses worldwide. The misery created by imperialism will only be ended through a series of revolutions, in which the proletariat, led by a revolutionary vanguard party created for that purpose, seizes power from the rapacious bourgeoisie and reconstructs society on a socialist basis to serve the interests of the toilers.
For Class Struggle
to Defend Immigrants!
The official racism of ND and Syriza governments has encouraged fascists like Golden Dawn to launch murderous attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers. The presence of Golden Dawn in Lesbos gives the lie to the notion that the trial of its leadership has done away with these race-terrorists. While the capitalists sometimes need to tug on the leash of their fascist guard dogs, they will always keep them in reserve to use when “normal” police and military measures are insufficient to stop an insurgent working class that is threatening bourgeois property. The fascists thrive on the dire economic conditions that have resulted from EU-dictated devastation of the country, especially among the ruined petty bourgeoisie. Today, they target immigrants and leftists, but their ultimate aim is to smash the organized workers movement. Mass mobilizations, centered on the social power of the working class—including its important immigrant component—can and must sweep Golden Dawn and its ilk off the streets. No illusions in the capitalist state! For trade union/minority mobilizations to stop the fascists!
In order to maintain themselves in power, the Greek capitalists exploit the division of the working class along national, racial and gender lines. The Greek proletariat must be mobilized in defense of immigrants and refugees. In their quest to divide working people and to promote “national unity” by inciting national chauvinism, the capitalists are aided and abetted by the current misleaders of the working class like the trade-union bureaucrats at the head of the GSEE [General Confederation of Workers of Greece] and the ADEDY [Confederation of Public Servants], who are wedded to the capitalist system. They have barely lifted a finger to defend their own members, much less mobilize in defense of refugees. For more than a decade, the bourgeoisie has gotten away with attack after attack on the livelihoods of workers. In large measure, this is due to the union bureaucrats—including those in the KKE’s PAME union front—who would rather see their own members starve than wage effective class struggle. Such struggle could threaten the EU, which they support, and highlight the need to overthrow the whole rotten capitalist system, which they uphold. A new, class-struggle leadership of the trade unions needs to be built in political opposition to the current sellout bureaucracy. This task is inextricably tied to the forging of a revolutionary workers party, one that must act as a “tribune of the people,” championing the cause of all of the oppressed.
“Open the Borders”:
A Liberal, Utopian Response
The building of such a party is not the purpose of reformist organizations like those in the Antarsya popular-frontist coalition, made up of various fake Trotskyists, ex-Stalinists and Maoists, which tailed after the Syriza government. For many years, Antarsya has presented itself as “left” defenders of immigrants and refugees. In reality, with their call to “open the borders” to refugees, they promote illusions in the Greek bourgeoisie and in the “humanitarian” face of the imperialists in the EU.
The reformists’ call for “open borders” is utopian and reactionary. The notion that the capitalists could open their borders is equivalent to the conception that they could eliminate the capitalist state and thus the capitalist system itself. No capitalist ruling class willingly relinquishes control over its borders, and individual states in the EU have not done so. The individual bourgeoisies assert their own rule, although in the weaker countries their rule is curtailed by the imperialists.
Furthermore, “open borders” in the weaker, oppressed countries can facilitate imperialist capital penetration and eliminate their national sovereignty. This has been amply demonstrated by the rape of Greece by German imperialism especially. Only with the advent of a global, classless communist society and the withering away of the state will there be no borders. To argue otherwise is to deny the very necessity of socialist revolution for the further advancement of humanity, serving only to fuel illusions in the reformability of capitalism into a potentially “humane” system.
Behind Antarsya’s rhetoric of “freedom of movement for refugees and immigrants in all European countries” (“Stop the Anti-Refugee Policies and the Fascist Threat,” Antarsya of Lesbos, 21 February) is a glorification of the Schengen Agreement, which supposedly allows “freedom of movement” inside the EU, and the illusion of European integration. In fact, the fundamental concern of the imperialists in the EU is the free movement of capital as well as of foreign workers whose labor they exploit. “Freedom of movement” promotes the myth that the EU could become a kind of “superstate,” standing above nation-states and imbued with the power to erase national borders. As Lenin declared in August 1915, “a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.” He explained:
“Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists…but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe.”
—“On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” (August 1915)
There can be no progressive immigration policy under capitalism, and it is not the job of communists to propose alternative policies to the bourgeoisie. Our goal is to mobilize the social power of the proletariat to overthrow the capitalist system and to establish workers power.
Antarsya calls for the “abolition of the racist Dublin Accord” (“Let Them In! Open Borders in Greece and Europe for Refugees!” 5 March). The Dublin III Regulation stipulates that member states can deport refugees to the first EU country they entered, which then decides whether to detain or deport them. In practice, this means that thousands of refugees languish in concentration camps in Greece and elsewhere, set up at the behest of German imperialism.
By choosing particular EU regulations to oppose, Antarsya propagates the imperialist myth that the EU is a “superstate” that transcends the borders of member states. In the reformist framework of a “social Europe,” they give tacit support to the EU, suggesting that without Dublin III the EU would be less oppressive. The genuine Leninists of the ICL and its Greek section, the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE), oppose on principle the EU as a whole and call for proletarian internationalist struggle to break up this oppressive conglomerate.
KKE: Capitulating to
In a March 3 statement, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the KKE demands: “To close all the hot spots on the Aegean islands and not to create new ones, neither closed nor open” (“On the Developments in the Refugee Situation and Government Measures,” kke.gr). The KKE presents this call as concern for refugees who are “uprooted by the wars and interventions launched by the US, NATO and the EU, with the support of all the Greek governments, in the interests of Greek capital.” In fact, the KKE’s position, dovetailing with the reactionary protests on the islands, is to get the refugees out of Greece. The same statement demands the “immediate release of refugees from the islands and fast-track procedures to be implemented for them to go to their countries of destination.” The KKE denounces what it calls “the dangerous cosmopolitanism of the ‘open borders’ theory.” But since the KKE also calls on “the EU and UN to organize asylum procedures now, within Turkey and at the border with Greece and at the border with Syria,” its position amounts to “open the borders” (except the Greek ones!).
The KKE’s touching faith in the willingness of the Greek capitalists, as well as of the imperialists of the EU and UN, to provide aid to millions of refugees, bypassing Greece or with safe passage out of Greece, sows illusions that the imperialists, who have the blood of millions of victims on their hands, can be pressured into acting humanely in the interests of refugees and immigrants.
The KKE’s posturing as uncompromising opponents of the EU was exposed as completely hollow when it called for casting spoiled ballots in the 5 July 2015 referendum on EU-dictated austerity measures against the Greek working people. This treacherous position could have handed victory to the “yes” side and given the Syriza government a mandate for further attacks, while the overwhelming “no” vote was a resounding message to the imperialist parasites of the EU. With its calls to “Cancel the Dublin Regulations,” the KKE shows that it shares with Antarsya the reformist notion that the EU is some kind of European “superstate” rather than a series of treaties between the participating nation-states.
The KKE, which organizes significant numbers of proletarians in its ranks, is the main obstacle to the creation of a genuine revolutionary vanguard party. It imbues the working class with Greek nationalism, providing valuable aid to the bourgeoisie in dividing the working class and diverting the proletariat from understanding who its true enemy is. Thus, in its March 3 statement, the KKE wrings its hands over the “necessary guarding of the border at Evros” and “the aggressive stance of the Turkish bourgeoisie at the expense of the sovereign rights of other countries and the breach of agreements which determine borders such as the  Lausanne Agreement.” As always, the fundamental issue for the KKE is defending the Greek borders against Turkey, supporting bloody imperialist treaties, and tying Greek workers to their own bourgeoisie while pitting them against their class brothers in Turkey. Additionally, its call on ND “to ‘get tough’ with the EU and NATO” is an attempt to pressure the government to more vigorously defend the interests and territorial integrity of the capitalist homeland.
For the Reforging of
the Fourth International
The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is vital for the proletarian vanguard. We seek to build an international revolutionary workers party like the Bolshevik Party led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. As Marxists, our perspective is to mobilize the multiracial working class in struggle against racial oppression and discrimination, which are endemic to the capitalist system. The fight for full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it here is part of the struggle to sweep away the brutal rule of capitalism through a series of socialist revolutions around the globe. This is the only road to building classless, egalitarian societies based on abundance where everyone will be able to live free from tyranny.