Workers Vanguard No. 1115
28 July 2017
Greek Trotskyists Say:
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
Syriza: Border Guard for Fortress Europe
The following article is translated and reprinted from O Bolsevikos [The Bolshevik] (No. 2, April 2017), publication of the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE), section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
The grim situation for thousands of refugees and immigrants in Greece worsened considerably during the winter. As temperatures across the country plummeted to as low as –14C [7°F] in January, images of desperate, traumatized people sheltered in nothing but flimsy, snow-covered tents, were broadcast around the world. Inevitably, there were deaths. In one week alone in January, three people died at the overcrowded Moria camp on the island of Lesbos. Two of those who perished—a 22-year-old Egyptian and a 45-year-old Syrian—were reported to have died after inhaling poisonous fumes. Two months earlier, a 66-year-old Iraqi woman and her six-year-old grandson were killed at the same camp by a gas cylinder explosion.
Responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the Syriza-ANEL government [Greece’s ruling regime led by the bourgeois Syriza party in coalition with the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks], as well as with the imperialist rulers of the European Union (EU). While [Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras hypocritically spouts off about “solidarity” and “democracy,” his government has locked up more than 15,000 immigrants on the islands, in squalid camps run by the army and guarded by the police, at the behest of [German chancellor Angela] Merkel, [France’s president at the time, François] Hollande, [British prime minister Theresa] May & Co. This is the same Syriza that in July 2015 overturned the massive “No” vote in the referendum on more EU austerity and today further bleeds working people to pay the European and American bankers.
The refugee crisis wracking Europe in recent years is a direct result of the wars and occupations carried out by the U.S. and European imperialists in Afghanistan, the Near East and Africa. The majority of those currently detained in Greek concentration camps have fled the war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Thousands more immigrants have died in the attempt to reach the gates of “Fortress Europe,” fleeing wars or the desperate poverty that is the lot of most in the neocolonial world. They were murdered by the imperialist governments that have militarily devastated their countries, ravaged their economies, robbed them of their livelihoods and then callously left them to die. Over the past decade, the U.S., France and Britain in particular have been involved in wars and/or occupations from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria and Libya.
A key factor enabling the imperialists to rampage even more freely throughout the world was the collapse of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92. Capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union was a catastrophe for the working people across the globe. For the imperialist powers, especially the dominant U.S., it meant they no longer felt constrained by the threat of Soviet military might and were therefore emboldened to carry out more wars of plunder against semicolonial countries. The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), of which the TOE is the Greek section, fought to the end to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. At the same time, we fought for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose criminal policy of conciliating imperialism fatally undermined the workers state.
Syriza: Lackey of the EU
The capitalist Tsipras government has been the willing accomplice of the imperialists in their crimes. During a visit to Greece in November 2016, former U.S. president Barack Obama noted, “Despite facing extraordinary economic hardships, Greece is one of five NATO Allies that spend 2 percent of GDP on defense,” and thanked “our Greek allies for our close cooperation at Souda Bay” (ekathimerini.com, 12 November 2016). Indeed, the Souda Bay base in Crete is a strategic facility for the imperialists, put at the disposal of NATO for attacks on targets in Syria, as well as for policing the Aegean Sea against boats with immigrants. We say: All imperialist military forces out of the Near East and Africa! Close down the Souda base and all other NATO bases in Greece now!
To counter the mass influx of refugees into Europe—which is only a tiny percentage of the world’s 60 million refugees—the EU has ramped up repressive measures to block entry and hasten deportations. In 2015, EU member states, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy, dispatched warships to the coast of Libya and elsewhere, ostensibly to deter “people smugglers.” The real purpose was to prevent refugees from reaching the shores of the EU. With the door closing on the Mediterranean routes, refugees fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries had little choice but to make the journey through the Balkans. In March 2016, a number of Balkan states closed their borders to refugees, cutting off the route from Greece into Northern Europe. A week later, the EU announced an agreement with Turkey, under which immigrants in Greece would be deported to Turkey in a one-for-one exchange for Syrian asylum-seekers currently in camps in Turkey.
The EU-Turkey agreement is a blatant bribe by Merkel to get the refugees off her hands. Turkey was promised aid of up to six billion euros, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens visiting the EU and the reopening of Turkey’s frozen EU membership application. Since then, the failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016 and Erdogan’s countercoup have caused the EU-Turkey agreement to stall, with Greece refusing to recognize Turkey as a “safe country” of origin. Meanwhile, Berlin has announced plans to begin returning asylum-seekers to Greece under the EU’s Dublin Regulation [which stipulates that EU member states can deport refugees to the first EU country that they entered]. The German workers movement should oppose such removals.
Following a European Court of Human Rights ruling seven years ago against Greece for “inhuman and degrading treatment” of refugees, transfers were suspended. There are currently around 62,000 refugees stranded in Greece, living in hellish conditions and facing an uncertain future. The Greek workers movement must demand that the detainees be released immediately and given full citizenship rights in Greece—not only papers and the right to vote and to stand in elections, but also equal access to work, housing and education. No deportations! Close the detention camps!
EU: Enemy of Workers and Immigrants
There is no clearer evidence of the reactionary nature of the imperialist EU than the devastation wrought against the Greek working people and the callous treatment of desperate immigrants seeking refuge from war and starvation. The EU has its origins in the 1950s, as the West European imperialists sought to consolidate their alliance against the Soviet Union through improved economic cohesion. In that sense, the EU was the economic corollary of NATO. Today, the EU is an unstable trade bloc, dominated by German imperialism, through which the European capitalists seek to maximize their profits at the expense of the working class, from Germany to Greece, and to improve their competitiveness vis-à-vis their imperialist rivals in the U.S. and Japan. The euro is the instrument for domination by German imperialism of the weaker states of Europe. The ICL has opposed the EU and its predecessor organizations on principle from the beginning. We are for breaking up this imperialist cartel. This is why we welcome the vote for Brexit as a defeat for the British and other European bankers and bosses, and call for canceling the Greek debt and for Greece to get out of the EU and the euro.
Following Syriza’s treacherous reversal of the “No” vote in the July 2015 referendum, the TOE put forward a call for Greek workers and their allies to build workers action committees to repudiate Syriza’s betrayal and to fight to leave the EU and the euro, with demands addressing the immediate needs of the workers and oppressed, including immigrants. These demands necessarily go beyond what capitalism deems “possible” and express the need for a government that acts in the interest of the workers and is subordinated to them. We called for common class struggle between Greek, German and other European workers, united against all the EU imperialists (see “Enough!” O Bolsevikos No. 1, March 2016 [WV No. 1072, 7 August 2015]). Our program is for proletarian revolution to expropriate the capitalist exploiters and establish a Socialist United States of Europe.
For United-Front Workers Action to Stop the Fascists!
The destruction of the Greek economy by the EU and its accomplices in the Greek bourgeoisie has led to the increased pauperization of the working class and also of a significant section of the petty bourgeoisie. While working people have shown considerable willingness to struggle over a number of years, what has been sorely lacking is a revolutionary, internationalist leadership of the working class armed with a program—not for the dead end of pressuring the bosses’ parliament to act on behalf of the workers and oppressed, but rather for preparing the working class, at the head of all the downtrodden, to take power by revolutionary means and to begin the socialist reconstruction of society in its own interest. In the absence of such a leadership offering a revolutionary way out of the impasse, the despair engendered by the capitalist economic crisis is providing fertile breeding ground for fascists like Golden Dawn.
The refugee crisis has led to a rise in racist incidents and in attacks by the fascists. The official racism of the Syriza-ANEL government has given a green light to such attacks. In early February, immigrants protesting the appalling conditions at the Elliniko refugee camp near Athens gathered to prevent Minister of Immigration Giannis Mouzalas from entering the site. Mouzalas responded by saying: “They have rights, and we respect them. But they too ought to respect the laws of the state. Anyone who feels oppressed inside this facility can leave and be subject to the provisions of the law” (ekathimerini.com, 6 February). In Thessaloniki, Athens and other cities, racist parents have been mobilizing to prevent refugee children from going to school with their own children. In Perama, fascist thugs from Golden Dawn beat up teachers and parents at a primary school in order to prevent refugee children from attending the school.
Perama was once a stronghold of the KKE [Communist Party of Greece]. Today, ravaged by unemployment, it has witnessed numerous attacks by Golden Dawn. In September 2013, nine KKE members who were postering in the area were hospitalized after a brutal assault by some 50 fascists. On that occasion, the KKE called a protest demonstration, which was attended by thousands. But more often than not, the response of the KKE to the deadly danger posed by Golden Dawn has been criminal passivity and reliance on the capitalist state.
Historically, fascist movements are extraparliamentary mobilizations of the enraged petty bourgeoisie, lumpenproletariat and even a section of backward workers, who have been ruined by capitalist economic crisis and who embrace murderous, right-wing nationalism; their purpose is to physically destroy the workers movement and carry out racist pogroms and mass murder. The capitalist rulers hold the fascist shock troops in reserve so that they can be unleashed at times of social crisis against any prospect of revolutionary struggle by the working class. What’s necessary to stop the fascists in their tracks is to build united-front mobilizations centered on the social power of the trade unions and encompassing all of the fascists’ intended victims—immigrants and refugees, Roma, gay people, national and ethnic minorities and others. A massive show of force by the workers and oppressed every time the fascist vermin raise their heads would soon send them running back to their holes and would also imbue the workers with a sense of their own power. It is necessary to build integrated workers defense guards based on the unions to defend working-class and immigrant neighborhoods against the fascist gangs.
Instead, the KKE has been calling simply to “condemn and isolate Golden Dawn” (Rizospastis, 28 January) as if it were a question of taking an individual stand rather than mobilizing the working class and the oppressed in mass action. At bottom, the KKE’s poisonous Greek nationalism and populism, with which it seeks to compete with Golden Dawn for votes among the most backward elements in society, are an obstacle to waging an effective fight against fascism.
Greek Left’s Backhanded Support to the EU
The KKE formally opposes the EU, but this position is contradicted by its criminal refusal to call for a “No” vote in the July 2015 referendum. The KKE’s opposition to the EU flows not from championing what is in the interest of the international (including the Greek) working class, but from what it deems to be in the national interest of Greece, i.e., the Greek capitalists. Thus, in a series of theses on the immigration/refugee question, published in Rizospastis on 6 March 2016, the KKE’s main concern is “aggressiveness and provocativeness on the part of Turkey, as was apparent from its actions in recent days, which dispute Greece’s sovereign rights in the Aegean Sea.” The real issue for the Greek nationalists of the KKE is the defense of Greece’s borders against Turkey. The KKE lyingly claims that this could be done “from the point of view of the interests of the working class and popular layers” (Kommounistiki Epitheorisi [Communist Review] No. 3, 2016 [TOE translation]), when in fact it pits Greek workers, united with their own bourgeoisie, against their Turkish class brothers.
In the same theses in Rizospastis, the KKE calls on the Syriza government to “withdraw its support for the EU decisions, which together with the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin Regulations, condemn thousands of refugees to being trapped in Greece against their will.” The KKE demands: “Immediate, safe transfer of refugees—immigrants from the first reception countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, as well as from the Greek islands, to their final destination countries, under the responsibility of the UN and EU.” This touching faith in the willingness and ability of the imperialist EU and UN to provide asylum to millions of refugees, bypassing Greece or with safe passage out of Greece, echoes the Syriza government’s complaint that the country is becoming a “warehouse of souls,” burdened by too many refugees—and echoes Antarsya’s calls to “open the borders” (except, for the KKE, the Greek borders).
Antarsya is a coalition of diverse organizations, ranging from the New Left Current (NAR), which originated in the 1989 split from the KKE/KNE [KKE youth group], to the social-democratic Socialist Workers Party (SEK), the fake-Trotskyist OKDE-Spartakos, Maoists and ecologists. It has acted as a “left” pressure group on the bourgeois-populist Syriza, including by participating in the “national unity” demonstrations called by Tsipras at the time of the negotiations with the EU over the Third Memorandum [which imposed further austerity on Greece]. Following Syriza’s capitulation to the EU, Antarsya switched to tailing mainly after Popular Unity—[Panagiotis] Lafazanis’s bourgeois-populist splinter from Syriza. What all of the groups within Antarsya share is a maximum program of reforms within a capitalist framework and anti-communism expressed in virulent hostility to the former Soviet Union. The SEK’s international hailed capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, with the British SWP [Socialist Workers Party] declaring in August 1991: “Communism has collapsed…a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker, 31 August 1991). The SEK and its cothinkers, who fought for counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, must take their share of responsibility for the post-Soviet world, in which the imperialists have been hugely fortified in their ability to wreak havoc around the globe. It is the imperialists’ destruction of entire societies which underpins the current refugee crisis.
Today Antarsya postures as “left” defenders of immigrants and refugees. In fact, their liberal call to “open the borders of European countries” to refugees (“Solidarity with the Struggles of Refugees,” Antarsya, 11 May 2016) serves to promote fatuous illusions in the good offices of Greek capitalism under the “left” Syriza government and in the “humanitarian” facade of the EU. The idea that the same European capitalists who have caused the drowning of thousands of immigrants in the Mediterranean and imprisoned or deported those who have made it to the shores of Fortress Europe can be forced to act out of humanitarian concern is beyond delusional.
There can be no progressive immigration policy under capitalism, and it is not the business of communists to propose policy alternatives. Our aim is to organize the social power of the proletariat to smash this capitalist system and establish workers rule. To foster the unity, solidarity and fighting capacity of our class, we seek to mobilize the workers movement in defense of immigrants, including by championing full citizenship rights for all who make it to the country. We oppose all deportations, roundups and racist immigration quotas and call to close the detention center hellholes. We call to organize the unorganized: immigrant workers must be brought into the unions with full rights and protections. This is key to the unity of the working class in Greece, a crucial component of which is made up of hundreds of thousands of Albanian and other immigrants, many of whom arrived over 20 years ago and whose children have been growing up here.
In contrast, the liberals’ and reformists’ calls for “open borders” under capitalism are both utopian and reactionary. Calling on the capitalists to open their borders is tantamount to calling on them to eliminate the capitalist state and thus the capitalist system itself. No capitalist ruling class will ever voluntarily relinquish control over its territory. The modern nation-state arose as the vehicle for the development of capitalism and will remain the foundation of capitalism until the whole system is brought down by a series of workers revolutions.
Applied to small or neocolonial countries, the consequences of “open borders” can be reactionary, for example in facilitating imperialist economic penetration. On a sufficiently large scale, mass immigration is incompatible with the right of national self-determination. An example is that of Israel/Palestine. The imperialist states closed their borders first to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and then to survivors of the death camps. Hundreds of thousands of European Jews were forced to go to Palestine. This mass influx resulted in the Palestinian Arab population being displaced and expelled from their homeland.
Moreover, behind Antarsya’s rhetoric of “open borders” in Europe is a glorification of the Schengen Agreement allowing for passport-free travel within the EU in order to nurture illusions in European integration and to conceal the true nature of the EU. Thus, groups like the United Secretariat (USec—to which OKDE-Spartakos in Antarsya is affiliated) and others for years promoted the myth that the EU could become some kind of superstate, standing above nation-states, imbued with the power to erase national borders. As Lenin wrote in August 1915, a united Europe under capitalism is “either impossible or reactionary,” and the EU is now coming apart at the seams.
The fundamental concern of European capitalists is the free movement of capital among EU member states. In that context, the movement of labor is manipulated to suit the needs of competing capitalists in the EU countries. The much-vaunted passport-free internal borders of the EU were never an obstacle to the capitalist rulers tightening up border controls at will (e.g., in the name of the racist “war on terror”) and carrying out mass deportations of those considered “undesirable,” such as the thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma deported from France.
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 advance of humanity and serves only to fuel illusions in the reformability of a potentially “humane” capitalist system.
But such reformist illusions are exactly what animate Antarsya and the likes of SEK. Of a piece with the call for “open borders” is the demand by SEK and its United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA) to “Jail the neo-Nazi killers of Golden Dawn.” Such calls sow deadly illusions that the capitalist state will act to restrain the fascists. In early February, following a murderous attack against Pakistani immigrant worker Zisan Elahi, KEERFA issued a statement declaring: “The police have not bothered to arrest the gang that has been carrying out beatings for months in the same area. What are they waiting for?” (KEERFA, 3 February [TOE translation]). It may come as a surprise to SEK/KEERFA, but the capitalist state exists to protect the interests of the exploiters. When the normal workings of the capitalist state are not sufficient to keep the working class subjugated, the bourgeoisie will resort to its fascist attack dogs.
It is well known that the Greek police force is infested with Golden Dawn supporters and that the fascists enjoy support also among the officer corps [in the military]. The trial against Golden Dawn members for “running a criminal organization,” which began a year and a half after the murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013, has dragged on for another two years. Golden Dawn leader Michaloliakos is free, as is Giorgos Roupakias, who is accused of Fyssas’s murder. On January 28, thousands of these Nazi-loving scum were able to hold a race-hate rally in Athens to commemorate Imia [a 1996 military stand-off between Greece and Turkey over the disputed Imia islets in the Aegean]. We are opposed to calls to ban the fascists: not only do they sow illusions that the capitalist state can “take care of” the fascist thugs of the capitalist class, but such bans are invariably used against the left and the workers movement. The working class can rely only on its own strength and organization.
There is an enormous disparity in the country right now between the tasks facing the working class and the wretched opportunism of the leadership on offer. What is needed is the construction of a revolutionary vanguard party like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks to fight for workers power. Such a party will act as a Leninist tribune of the people, reacting against any manifestation of exploitation and oppression. It will be forged through the struggle against capitalist ruin and fascist reaction. Such a party cannot be a “national” party, but must form part of an international revolutionary party, with sections in each country. It is the perspective of the TOE to fight for such a party as part of a reforged Fourth International.