Workers Vanguard No. 1143
2 November 2018
For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!
Greece: Chauvinist Frenzy over Macedonia
The following is the second part of an article translated from O Bolsevikos (April 2018), newspaper of our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece. The introduction to Part One (WV No. 1142, 19 October) addressed the concerted drive by the U.S. and European imperialists to force Macedonia to change its name in order to be considered for membership in the European Union and NATO. On October 19, the Macedonian parliament voted to approve the name change, a first step in the process of renaming the country.
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 Communist Party of Greece (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 Sixth 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 against fascism, i.e., coalitions of class collaboration with the “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie. With the adoption of the popular-front policy, the Stalinized Communist parties, including the KKE, went over decisively to the defense of the bourgeois order just as the Social Democracy had done over WWI, pledging to defend every inch of national soil.
During the [1946-49] Civil War, Macedonians constituted at least 25 percent of the Democratic Army of Greece (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 [Yugoslav Communist Party leader] 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, 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 Neighboring People but ‘Our Own’ Bourgeoisie,” OKDE-Spartakos, EEK, OEN and ORMA write: “Political organizations 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, i.e., 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 by the Great Powers in their own interests. 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 recognize 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 Trotskyist Group of Greece, as the Greek section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is fighting to build a revolutionary workers party, modeled on the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, to finally achieve that aim.