Workers Vanguard No. 1172
20 March 2020
Greece: For the Full Separation of Church and State!
(Women and Revolution)
We print below a slightly adapted translation of an article from O Bolsevikos (No. 5, May 2019), publication of the Trotskyist Group of Greece, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). As this article makes clear, the reactionary Orthodox church is completely entrenched in Greek society, no matter which bourgeois party is in power, be it the so-called “progressive” Syriza, the conservative New Democracy or any other. A socialist revolution is likely the only way to achieve the separation of church and state.
Last July, New Democracy won a majority in parliament, taking control of the government from Syriza. Immediately, new prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with Archbishop Ieronymos to assure him that Syriza’s proposed changes to the constitution on the relationship between the church and the state would be dropped. The government has since done so. Soon after the 2019 elections, the metropolitan bishop of Thessaloniki, Anthimos, well known for his virulent diatribes against immigrants and homosexuals, was elected to be an honorary professor at the University of Thessaloniki Department of Theology. A few days later, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece established the first Sunday after Christmas as the “Day of the Unborn Child,” following a petition from a group called “Let Me Live.” Earlier this month, with the number of coronavirus cases in the country mounting, the church grotesquely denied any suggestion that worshippers could contract COVID-19 when taking “holy communion” from a shared chalice.
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Last February , only a few months before Greece’s general election and while government talks with representatives of the church were still in progress, [then-ruling party] Syriza put a bill before parliament to revise Article 3 of the constitution on “Relations of Church and State.” The draft legislation barely passed the initial phase of constitutional revision with a very slender majority of 151 deputies out of 300. The proposal retained the wording of Article 3, stating that the “prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ,” and amended it with the sole addition that “the Greek state is neutral in terms of religion.” The purpose of this amendment was to throw sand in people’s eyes in a country that has long identified being Greek with being Orthodox Christian.
In 1822, the provisional constitution that was approved by the First National Assembly of Epidaurus stipulated: “Every inhabitant of the Christian faith, whether a native or someone definitively settled in Greece, is Greek.” Today, the constitution opens with the preamble: “In the name of the Holy, Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity.” The London Economist described Greece as “the most theocratically governed democracy in Europe” (16 November 2018). The church plays a key role in every aspect of social life, from politics and education to sexual morality and the oppression of women, imposing in practice a semi-theocratic regime.
As then-Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin wrote in 1918, drawing on the experience of the newly established Soviet workers state that issued out of the 1917 October Revolution:
“The Church must be separated from the State. That means that the priests may remain, but should be maintained by those who wish to accept their poison from them or by those who are interested in their existence.... Let the believers, if they wish it, feed the holy fathers at their own expense....
“On the other hand, freedom of thought must be guaranteed. Hence the axiom that religion is a private affair. This does not mean that we should not struggle against it by freedom of argument. It means that the State should support no church organization. As regards this question, the program of the Bolshevik Communists has been carried out all over Russia. Priests of all creeds have been deprived of State subsidy.”
—Programme of the World
The above was written in 1918. Today, 101 years later—in bankrupt, capitalist Greece—Syriza hypocritically celebrates the agreement, presenting as subversive the statement that “the priests will no longer be regarded as civil servants”; [former] prime minister Alexis Tsipras characterized this deal as “historic.” What hypocrisy, since the same bill proposed that “the Greek state will pay an annual subsidy to the Church in an amount equivalent to the current cost of the salaries of active priests, which will be adjusted according to the salary changes of Greek civil servants.” Greece’s 10,000 priests, not to mention the already very large number of other church employees, would continue to be paid from the public purse. Meanwhile, there are around 7,000 doctors in the entire National Health Service, which is dysfunctional due to a lack of human resources (doctors, nursing staff, etc.) as well as a shortage of intensive care units and basic medical supplies. This “holy business” regarding church and state is an offense against impoverished working people.
The proposal represented Syriza’s latest, failed attempt to gain some “left” credentials by pretending to be for the separation of church and state. It was above all a cover for an undisguised business deal to provide financial benefits to both church and state through the joint exploitation of church property. As outlined in the draft agreement, “the Greek state and the Church of Greece agree to set up a Fund for the Exploitation of Church Property” through which any revenue would be split 50-50. Allowing both the state and the church to earn money from property that until now has remained unused, this deal will also avoid complications like those that arose in the Vatopedi scandal [a 2008 real estate scandal involving hundreds of land swaps between a powerful monastery and the Greek government].
In Greece, the largest private landowner is the church, which is believed to own around 1.3 million acres throughout the country—in addition to its plethora of investments, including in construction and real estate, land rentals and especially the stock market. It is worth noting that to this day no one knows the exact amount of church property. This is no accident, since those holdings include some 10,000 distinct legal entities (cathedrals, temples, monasteries and religious institutions). This figure does not even take into account Mount Athos [a region of monasteries in northeastern Greece], which owns whole chunks of Greek territory and exists as a “state within a state.” We demand the expropriation of all church property!
Following pressure from—and disputes with—the church hierarchy, the [former] government presented a new proposal, just three months after its original one. In the new agreement that [then prime minister] Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos announced, Point 3 (of the draft agreement’s 15 points)—the one that ceased to recognize priests as civil servants—had “disappeared.” Furthermore, the draft still had to be endorsed by the church hierarchy, which could have potentially rejected it anew or proposed “improvements,” demonstrating once again the church’s strength and its control over the public and political life of the country.
It brings the relationship between church and state sharply into relief to consider the 1945 law under Archbishop of Athens and Regent of Greece Damaskinos that made the state officially responsible for the payment of priests. In 1945, the country was at the mercy of white terror carried out by the Security Battalions, which were rampaging and killing Communists, while the Greek Communist Party (KKE) had signed the shameful Varkiza Agreement under which the Communist-led Resistance forces agreed to disarm. An agreement between the church and state on priests’ salaries was a way for the bourgeoisie to take a further measure against the Communist danger.
As Marxists, we fight for the democratic right of equality for all, which requires religious beliefs to be viewed as a private matter. If someone wants to worship Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah, Satan, the 12 Olympian gods or Gandalf the White (from Tolkien’s stories), they should be able to do so without state interference—but also without any state funding. We oppose every form of persecution and oppression based on religious beliefs or non-beliefs, regardless of whether someone is an atheist or a follower of a religion other than Greek Orthodoxy. This includes Muslim immigrants, who are often victims of racist attacks and discrimination. We are also opposed to attempts by any state entities and/or the church to prevent the building of mosques and other places of worship for religious minorities. For the full separation of church and state!
A Recipe for Nationalist Reaction
Even before the formation of the Greek nation-state, the church created and perpetuated many myths about its role. They have been maintained to this day because their benefits outweigh the truth. One of the most widespread is the myth of “hidden schools.” This is the notion that education in Greek was persecuted under the Ottoman Empire and that the church had to undergo “danger” and “sacrifice” to protect the schooling of the people. The reality, however, was very different. Underground schools did not exist because there was no need for them; Greek schools were not forbidden under Ottoman rule. In fact, the Ottoman Empire strengthened the Orthodox church by giving it complete authority over the Greek-speaking population.
The attempt to equate national identity with religious consciousness laid the groundwork for the church to emerge as a protagonist in the preservation of the Greek nation through its supposed participation in the revolution of 1821 [the Greek War of Independence]. Such myths and popular beliefs provide another benefit to both the Greek capitalist state and the Orthodox church, namely the unity of the “nation” against the common enemy—the Turkish “heathen.” Religion and the state bolster each other by uniting the populace in unrelenting anti-Turkish chauvinism, which serves to stabilize and preserve the capitalist system.
In the 1930s, the main fascist organization of the time, the National Union (Hellas), which had considerable strength in northern Greece, organized a pogrom in Thessaloniki. The aim, as stated in its 1929 statutes, was “protecting religion...confronting all foreign propaganda and challenges to the territorial integrity of the nation as well as restoring the morale of the army.” As historian Maria Kavalas noted: “According to the estimations of the leaders of this organization, two of the obstacles to the realization of their goals were the Jews of Thessaloniki and the communists” (The Destruction of the Jews of Greece, 1941-44 ).
It was not that long ago that Albanian immigrants in Greece were forced to be baptized as Christians in order to be accepted in society. The church, along with the ultra-Orthodox, fascist Golden Dawn, was also in the forefront of the reactionary demonstrations over Macedonia last winter (see O Bolsevikos No. 4, April 2018, reprinted as “Greece: Chauvinist Frenzy over Macedonia,” WV No. 1142, 19 October 2018).
Capitalism and Religion
Due to its deep roots in society, religion constitutes one of the basic pillars of Greek capitalism and promotes every kind of obscurantism, backwardness and social reaction in order to instill respect for the authority of the ruling class. Hostile to the struggles of working people, the Orthodox church has acted, and continues to act, in full harmony with every state regime against proletarian liberation and against the “danger” of communism. There are multiple examples of this in modern Greek history: the church hierarchy’s identification with the Nazi occupiers during World War II and later with the military Junta is well known, not to mention the reactionary role it played throughout the Civil War.
Under the Nazi occupation, virtually all bishops hastened to declare their fealty to the conquerors. In April 1941, a day before the occupiers arrived in Athens, the representatives of Mount Athos rushed to send a letter “To His Excellency, the Great Chancellor of the glorious German State Herr Adolf Hitler of Berlin,” requesting that their estates and rights be preserved and that they be placed under Hitler’s protection. The church “proved itself a more valuable collaborator for the occupiers than the first two Greek governments under occupation” (G. Psalidas, Collaboration and Disobedience: The Policy of the Greek Church During the Occupation (1941-1944), as quoted in “Occupation, Dictatorship and the Archbishop,” Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών [Newspaper of the Editors], 26 September 2016).
Some lower members of the clergy sided with the Resistance, but among the higher clergy only two bishops joined the National Liberation Front [the EAM, a coalition founded and dominated by the KKE]. They were then denounced and defrocked. Though the reactionary Orthodox church made clear which side it was on, the KKE/EAM continued to embrace it.
The nationalist policy of the KKE was carried out under the banner of the popular front, a framework for collaboration with the bourgeoisie that was adopted in 1935 by the Comintern [the Communist International, then under the misleadership of Stalin and Dimitrov]. This political alliance with the bourgeoisie inevitably led the KKE to embrace the church. Orthodox priests were welcomed into the EAM, and some fought as part of the Greek People’s Liberation Army [ELAS, the military arm of the EAM], where they could freely propagate their misogyny and reactionary worldview.
Under the leadership of the Stalinist KKE, the enormous social power of the working class at the head of the insurrectionary peasants and heroic fighters was not mobilized to get rid of the capitalist system of exploitation. It was instead used to reinforce bourgeois nationalism with its accompanying social backwardness. The KKE has a long history of collaborating with the Orthodox church and its clergy.
More recently, the KKE claimed to be against the proposed deal, stating that it “has nothing to do with the full separation of Church-state” (“Agreement between the Government–Church,” Rizospastis, 8 November 2018). Yet, in a meeting with representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, KKE general secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas “repeated the [party’s] position for guaranteeing the salaries and the insurance rights of the clergy in order to ensure a dignified life for them and their families” (www.902.gr, 14 February 2019). That proves that the KKE’s call for the separation of church and state is nothing but hot air. Such active collaboration broadens the authority of the church among KKE members and the working class, thereby reinforcing obscurantism and retrograde ideas instead of combating them.
The KKE’s policy is in stark contrast to V.I. Lenin’s fight as a leader of the Bolshevik Party: “So far as the party of the socialist proletariat is concerned, religion is not a private affair. Our Party is an association of class-conscious, advanced fighters for the emancipation of the working class. Such an association cannot and must not be indifferent to lack of class-consciousness, ignorance or obscurantism in the shape of religious beliefs” (“Socialism and Religion,” December 1905).
While the KKE’s programmatic statement (www.kke.gr) claims that it is “guided by the revolutionary worldview of Marxism-Leninism,” in practice it fears losing the votes of “believers.” With its popular-frontist program, the KKE is an obstacle to advancing working-class consciousness. By compromising with one of the pillars of Greek capitalism it ties the working class to religious backwardness.
In his struggle against opportunists in the workers movement, Lenin wrote:
“To people with a slapdash attitude towards Marxism, to people who cannot or will not think, this history is a skein of meaningless Marxist contradictions and waverings, a hodge-podge of ‘consistent’ atheism and ‘sops’ to religion, ‘unprincipled’ wavering between a r-r-revolutionary war on God and a cowardly desire to ‘play up to’ religious workers, a fear of scaring them away, etc., etc.”
—“The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” (May 1909)
Examples of the reactionary role of the church abound. The firm support of the church for the Junta’s “Greece for Greek Christians” is well known. Following the fall of the Junta, Seraphim was elected archbishop from 1974 to 1998. His proven anti-communism and participation in the National Republican Greek League [EDES, which collaborated with the Nazis and the British occupiers and clashed with the Communists] were important factors in his election.
The role of the church is no less reactionary in times of peace. In the 1950s, the Christian mystic Nikos Kazantzakis was the object of a fierce church campaign calling for his excommunication. The Holy Synod demanded that the government ban his works The Last Temptation of Christ, Christ Recrucified and Captain Michalis. Subsequently, in 1988, when the film The Last Temptation of Christ by award-winning director Martin Scorsese was screened in Athens, there were riots outside the theaters. According to the newspaper Τα Νέα [The News] at the time: “The demonstrators arrived at ‘the scene of the crime’ [the Embassy cinema in Kolonaki where the film was showing] brandishing classic crosses and chanting slogans such as ‘Away with the antichrist,’ ‘The people demand the burning of the film,’ ‘Greece means Orthodoxy’ and similar slogans” (14 October 1988). With Resolution 17155/1988, the film was banned “temporarily” by the Athens Court of First Instance. To this day, the film has never been shown on a state channel in Greece.
In 2000, the book M to the Power of N by Mimis Androulakis, which portrays Jesus as a philanderer who finds it hard to resist Mary Magdalene, was greeted with violent reaction. Fanatics staged public burnings of the book in the squares of Thessaloniki, denounced Androulakis as the “antichrist” and demanded his prosecution. The Thessaloniki Court of First Instance temporarily banned distribution of the book in central Macedonia, giving as its motivation the need to ease the climate of tension that had been created in the wider region of Thessaloniki.
The separation of church and state was a historic demand of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the period when the progressive capitalist class sought to overthrow feudal social relations. But in the imperialist epoch, when the capitalist class has long ceased to play any progressive role at all, even in countries where the formal separation of church and state exists, religious ideology is an immense force shaping the laws and customs of society.
The Family, Sexual Morality and Women’s Oppression
The Orthodox church upholds the patriarchal family in the form of the father, the virgin wife (Mary) and the infant Jesus. This myth constitutes a fanciful reflection of the real, earthly family. It is also a fundamental tool for promoting the institution of the family, which is the main source of women’s oppression.
As early as the 19th century, Friedrich Engels explained how women’s oppression was tied to the class system and the family. The family is one leg of a tripod of oppressive institutions (together with the state and organized religion) propping up the system of exploitation—three key parts of the legal and political superstructure of class society, as Marx defined it. While the family is crucial for the ruling class to determine inheritance of property and power, it serves a different purpose among the toilers—as a vehicle for raising a new generation of labor to be exploited. The patriarchal family is the cradle for the indoctrination of obedience and deference to authority.
The family and religion are central to the suffocating “morality” and codes of behavior imposed by capitalist society to produce disciplined workers. As the principal caregivers of babies and infants, parents—and especially the mother, who bears the primary burden of bringing up children—instill primary values and feelings of guilt as well. Sexual repression teaches children to feel shame for their bodies and to suppress their natural curiosity. Religion reinforces this guilt over sexuality, deeming masturbation “sinful” and “murder” (because it kills “potential” children).
The Greek Orthodox church imbues in society the notion that women are instruments of evil, temptation and deceit. That’s why religion does not allow women to enter “holy” places such as Mount Athos; menstruating women cannot receive communion or kiss the icons of saints because religion deems them unclean. Adultery was not abolished as a criminal offense until 1982—naturally against the opposition of the church, which maintained that this would shake the foundations of the family and marriage. An unbaptized child, according to the church, is prone to disease and demonic possession. Abortion is considered murder. We demand: Free abortion on demand for all women of all ages as part of quality health care for all!
The church stands against the most basic democratic rights, spewing poison against civil partnerships and against gay and trans people. Archbishop Amvrosios, raging against homosexuals, wrote: “THE SCUM OF SOCIETY ARE RAISING THEIR HEADS! Tell it like it is, SPIT AT THEM!” (9 December 2015). For such outbursts, he was given a suspended sentence of seven months by the three-member Criminal Court of Aigion. Amvrosios appealed to the Supreme Court, proclaiming: “For God and for our faith I will even go to jail! I thank God for the honor he has done me!”
Homosexuality, a part of life and sexual education in ancient Greece (at least for men), was banned and criminalized with the advent of the Christian faith. Religion and the family both serve to instill social discipline and to promote a “morality” prohibiting anything that deviates from what is defined as the norm, i.e., marriage and heterosexual sex for the purpose of reproduction and the heterosexual family. State and church out of our bedrooms! Full democratic rights for gay and trans people! For their right to adopt!
In a country ravaged by economic crisis and memorandums, i.e., diktats imposed by U.S. imperialism and the German imperialist-dominated European Union—and with high unemployment, limited job opportunities and dysfunctional childcare facilities—an increasing number of women have been “returning” to the home and taking on a greater burden of housework and childcare. Women constitute the largest proportion of the long-term unemployed. Poverty and lack of work have forced a huge part of the population back into the patriarchal family; in addition, they have to seek food and clothing from church organizations in order to survive. As a direct result, the institutions of the family and the church have been strengthened.
The full emancipation of women can only be achieved on the basis of a classless society in which the productive and economic forces are made to serve humanity rather than filling the pockets of the capitalist class. With the working class in power, we will be able to build a new society that is based not on private property but on socialized property, aiming to eradicate the material basis for the oppression of women (domestic slavery). In addition, consensual sexual relations will be a purely private matter. Religion will necessarily diminish since it will be supported neither by the state nor by human suffering, which is a key reason for its existence. Following socialist revolution, religion, the bourgeois family and the state will be consigned to the museum of ancient history. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!
The woman question also highlights why we Trotskyists insisted on the defense of the Soviet Union, East Germany (DDR) and the other deformed workers states of East Europe against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution and why we still insist today on the defense of the remaining deformed workers states: Cuba, China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam. As Engels explained in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), the primary condition for the emancipation of women is their inclusion in public industry and thereby in public life.
Despite the fact that the DDR was bureaucratically deformed by a Stalinist ruling caste from its inception, it constituted the most equal society for women that has existed since the advent of class society. Women enjoyed many benefits, such as state-supported childcare facilities, public laundries, nursery schools and infant care facilities, full rights to abortion, access to a wide range of skilled trades and professions and a high degree of economic equality with their male colleagues. At the end of the 1980s, more than 95 percent of women were either working or participating in educational programs, a more advanced status than in capitalist societies today.
However, as Stalinists, the Honecker regime in the DDR glorified the “socialist family” as the germ cell of the state in society. Stalinist rule did not replace the family; there was still the “second shift” for working women, who were also responsible for housework and caring for children. Only when the family is gradually replaced by collectivized forms of child-rearing can the age-old division of labor between men and women in the family be overcome. We stand for replacing the family so that women can advance to full emancipation.
For the state and organized religion to be able to promote submission among the masses, they have to begin “catechizing” very early on. And that’s exactly what they do. Far from being able to exercise “free will,” human beings—especially the working class and the poor—have their personal choices constrained by law, the economy and the prejudices of class society. Moreover, as Lenin wrote: “Never has the idea of God ‘linked the individual with society’: it has always tied the oppressed classes hand and foot with faith in the divinity of the oppressors” (“Letter to Maxim Gorky,” November 1913).
When children are young, it is the parents who decide if their children will receive religious indoctrination. At least initially, such indoctrination is imposed upon children against their subjective desires. And while the initial push to conform to bourgeois morality comes from the family, conformity is then reinforced in school. In the Greek constitution, Article 16, Paragraph 2 states: “Education constitutes a fundamental state objective and aims at...the development of national and religious consciousness.” True to this goal, the state continues indoctrination where parents have left off, imposing religious prejudices and superstitions on young children through morning prayer, rites, holy icons in every classroom, religious instruction from primary to secondary school, etc.
For a child to opt out of a school’s religious curriculum would require very solid consciousness on the part of the parents, who would in turn face social prejudice and potential stigmatization of themselves and their child. Consequently, a large majority of children undergo religious catechism for 12 years even if they are not given religious instruction at home. Religion classes are not the sole source of such indoctrination. The teaching of history also peddles the myths and beliefs of Orthodoxy, such as those mentioned above—e.g., the 1821 national liberation struggle and the supposed leading role of the church.
As Trotskyists, we are opposed to religious education and to the presence of priests in schools. We are also opposed to public funding of theological schools and university departments devoted to producing the next preachers of bigotry. We are against religion being dictated in schools or interfering in the politics of public life. That is the true meaning of the separation of church and state.
Marxism and Religion: Longstanding Enemies
The Marxist attitude toward organized religion is defined by the fact that we are dialectical materialists, that is, resolute atheists. As Lenin said:
“The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism...a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion....
“Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organisation, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class....
“The deepest root of religion today is the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparently complete helplessness in face of the blind forces of capitalism, which every day and every hour inflicts upon ordinary working people the most horrible suffering and the most savage torment, a thousand times more severe than those inflicted by extraordinary events, such as wars, earthquakes, etc. ‘Fear made the gods’.”
—“The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” (May 1909)
At a certain point in history, religion served a particular purpose. As hunter-gatherers wholly dependent on a cruel and ever-changing nature that could not be understood, people devised a system of explanations for natural occurrences as part of the cultural and social fabric of the primitive communist band. With the advent of private property and the exploitation of labor, religion became institutionalized as a key prop of the new ruling class, serving as a means both of oppression and of escape for the oppressed. Noting that “man makes religion, religion does not make man,” Karl Marx explained:
“Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
—“A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844)
As Marxists, we know that in a class-divided society, religion exists as a comforting illusion for the tangible and often terrible suffering of real life. Thus, religion cannot simply be abolished by decree or solely through propaganda, education or a “war against religion.” As Lenin explained in “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion”: “No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way.”
The Marxist program aims at the eradication of religion, not by force of arms or law, but through scientific mastery over nature. This is not a recipe for tolerating ignorance or superstition. On the contrary, it is an obligation to actively refute religion and expose it as an obstacle to the satisfaction of human needs.
It is necessary to overthrow capitalism through a series of proletarian revolutions internationally that will lay the basis for a global, socialist world, which would be immeasurably more economically productive than the most advanced capitalist countries of today. This perspective requires the building of national sections of a Leninist-Trotskyist international party that can lead the working class at the head of all the oppressed. Its cadres, especially women, will be the most advanced fighters, including in defense of science and in opposition to religious superstition.
The Trotskyist Group of Greece, section of the International Communist League, is dedicated to liberating the oppressed from the yoke of religion. As was written in the Spartacist pamphlet Enlightenment Rationalism and the Origins of Marxism (March 1988):
“In order to win over a new generation to the struggle for socialism, based on a materialist conception of society, socialists must ceaselessly combat religion and other forms of idealism which look to the supernatural, explaining that freedom from oppression lies in this world, not another.”