Who are the Greek Trotskyists?

Submitted by Matthew on 1 August, 2012 - 2:26

Greece is one of the few countries where a main organiser, writer, and theoretician of the communist movement in its heroic early years then became directly the leader of the Trotskyist movement, and handed down writings which still inspire today.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), founded in 1918, was the only serious party of the left and of the labour movement. The first general secretary of the KKE, Pandelis Pouliopoulos, sided with the Left Opposition against Stalinism as early as 1927.

Another sizeable KKE opposition, the Archeo-Marxists, also oriented to the Left Opposition. Pouliopoulos and a section of the Archeo-Marxists united in 1934 to form the OKDE, Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece.

The Trotskyists suffered under the repression of the Metaxas dictatorship (from 1936) and the Nazi occupation of Greece (from 1941). They were also massacred by the now-Stalinist KKE.

In December 1944, in complicated conflict between the forces loyal to the Greek bourgeoisie, the Stalinists, dissident elements of the Stalinist-led resistance movement which had fought the Nazis, and the British army, a Stalinist leader claimed to have killed several hundred Trotskyists.

To the Stalinist leader, no doubt, “Trotskyist” signified any left-wing rebel. British prime minister Winston Churchill used the same terminology, telling the British Parliament that the British military intervention was to aid the proper Greek government against “Trotskyists”.

A more careful survey indicates that the Stalinists murdered 34 actual Trotskyists. Others fell to the German and Italian occupiers, or to the Metaxas government.

In July 1946, 34 delegates from three Trotskyist fragments remaining after the multiple repression united under the hopeful name KDKE (Party of Communist Internationalists of Greece, later to be replaced by the old name OKDE).

Michael Raptis, a prewar Greek Trotskyist (from 1929: Archeo-Marxist in 1982-9) who since 1937 had been abroad, in Switzerland then France, and since about 1944 had been a leading figure in European Trotskyism, came to and helped convene the conference.

But Raptis (who now mostly used the name Pablo) was in France, and played no special role in the Greek movement. In the views of many, including AWL, his codification of a perspective of more-or-less automatically-unfolding “world revolution”, which, unfortunately, deformingly, but inevitably, would be largely led by Stalinists for now, would hinder rather than help the Trotskyists. Raptis-Pablo would return to Greece in old age, after 1974, pick up on his old friendship with Pasok leader Andreas Papandreou (who had briefly been a Trotskyist in 1938-9), and be granted a state funeral when he died in 1996.

Cornelius Castoriadis, who had been in the Greek Trotskyist movement from 1942 to 1945, developed a critique of the Stalinist USSR as a system of class exploitation (which he at first called bureaucratic-collectivist, and then state-capitalist), with quarter-anarchist political conclusions; but he did that from within the French Trotskyist movement, after moving to France in December 1945, and all his subsequent political activity was in France. In Greece itself, Agis Stinas developed a similar view, and organised a small group linked with Castoriadis’s “Socialisme ou Barbarie” in France. Like the French group, it faded away in the 1960s. As far as I know, no Trotskyist in Greece identified more closely with the more developed “Third Camp” views of Max Shachtman, Hal Draper, and others.

In some European countries, such as France, extrapolations of Pablo’s perspective into a tactic of having the Trotskyists try to join the still very tightly-controlled mass Communist Parties as secret factions rallied many Trotskyists to the side of Cannon. In Greece, the Stalinist KKE, though still a major force in the working class, was itself illegal. The Trotskyists' "entry work" was in EDA, the tolerated "legal front" of the KKE, which by all accounts was much broader and looser than a Stalinist party, and not entirely under KKE control.

Within KDKE/OKDE, Christos Anastasiades broadly sympathised with Pablo and then Mandel, and Loukas Karliaftis with Cannon and Healy. In 1958, they split. In 1964 Karliaftis’s group rallied to the “International Committee”, which was now led by Gerry Healy and Pierre Lambert, since Cannon and his comrades had reunified in 1963 with the strand which had been led by Pablo and was now led by Ernest Mandel.

By the 1960s, Greece was becoming a majority-urban society.

Today, four million of its eleven million people live in Athens alone. At the birth of the modern Greek state, in the 1820s, its capital, Athens, had been a village of 5000 people, and far more urban Greeks lived in Istanbul (then Constantinople, and home to 200,000 Greeks at that time) or Alexandria (with tens of thousands of Greeks then, and over 100,000 at the high point of its Greek population).

The CIA-backed military coup in Greece, in 1967, drove the Trotskyists underground again.

This period of military rule, however, also brought new elements into the movement. Many left-wing Greek students and young people ended up in London.

The Greek “International Committee” group came under the close influence of Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League and Workers’ Revolutionary Party. In 1975-6, soon after the fall of the dictatorship, Healy would organise the expulsion of Dimitri Toubanis (Sklavos), who for some years (replacing Karliaftis) had led the Greek group, and replace him with Savvas Michael, who was closer to Healy.

Michael remained loyal to Healy through the 1985 explosion and collapse of the WRP in Britain, but was eventually, in 1987, disowned by Healy for refusing to go along with the elderly and disoriented Healy’s enthusiasm for Gorbachev in the USSR.

Michael’s group, EEK, remains relatively intact. It retains some of the declamatory style of the old Healy movement, and seems to continue the habit which the Healy movement got into from 1970 to 1985, of demanding an all-out general strike, week in week out, as the universal answer. But it no longer refers to Healy’s ideas or writings as a model. It is now linked with Jorge Altamira’s Partido Obrera in Argentina (a group which has an “International Committee” background, but which, along with the French “International Committee” people, parted ways with Healy in the early 1970s).

EEK says it has about 200 members. It publishes a fortnightly paper. It does not participate in either of the two main left coalition in Greece, Syriza or Antarsya.

Another group of young Greeks in London, notably Panos Garganas and Maria Styllou, came under the influence of the International Socialists (later SWP), led by Tony Cliff. After 1974 they would launch the OSE, now called SEK.

Styllou describes the evolution like this: “I had moved to London and was at the London School of Economics. I first met members of the IS [forerunners of the SWP] in 1966... The 1967 events made me break from the reformists and the 1967-68 world events plus my relations with IS brought me to revolutionary politics. Then we started building the first Greek group in Britain...

“In 1974 when the Junta fell we all went back to Greece. We started building OSE... with around 15 people. We quickly moved to 50 members but we faced an upsurge and revival of Maoist politics.

“The first important victory that we got was during the last years of Pasok [government] in the late 1980s - years of deep crisis and scandals... This opened up an audience for us and new opportunities. We moved to a fortnightly paper. In 1993 when Pasok returned to government we moved to a weekly paper and started growing politically, in numbers and in influence...”

SEK is the most important group of the SWP’s international network outside Britain, and since the 1990s at latest has probably been the biggest of the would-be Trotskyist groups in Greece. In some ways it is senior to SWP: Garganas and Styllou, still leaders of SEK, were leading an organisation, amid political tumult, long before any of the current members of the SWP Central Committee did anything much in politics.

SEK is in the Antarsya coalition. Other Trotskyist groups in Greece say that the SEK suffers a rapid turnover of members, is erratic and opportunist in analysis and tactics, and achieves little in the way of solid revolutionary Marxist influence in the labour movement; but it is the only group able to sustain a weekly paper.

Yet another new element in the Greek Trotskyist left was Xekinima, launched in 1974, and initially as a faction within Pasok, the social-democratic party set up by Andreas Papandreou that same year. It was influenced and shaped by Militant in Britain (today Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal: as well as Xekinima, linked to the SP, there is today a small group in Greece, a faction in Synaspismos, linked to Socialist Appeal).

KKE, pursuing a diehard-Stalinist line, is still the strongest party of the Greek left, with the strongest base in the working class.

For over fifty years now, since Stalinism began to fray around 1956, it has suffered a series of splits, Maoist, Eurocommunist, and other, generating a large variety of groups which shape the political field within which the Greek Trotskyist groups operate.

There are ten groups in the Antarsya coalition (founded 2009) and thirteen in the Syriza coalition (founded 2004). Most of those 23 groups have some historical connection to a split from the KKE, and are shaped to some degree by elements of KKE tradition. In addition there are Maoist groups outside both Syriza and Antarsya, such as KKE-ML and ML-KKE, likewise with KKE roots.

The biggest of the post-KKE groups are Synaspismos, the leading faction in Syriza, originating from the “Eurocommunist” current; and New Left Current, the leading faction in Antarsya, originating in a 1989 split against KKE’s participation in a bourgeois coalition government, and politically eclectic (though “Trotskisant” enough that it will talk about “transitional programme”).

Back in 1940, Pandelis Pouliopoulos wrote: “The composition of a revolutionary proletarian party in Greece is impossible without the struggle against nationalism in general and particularly on the Macedonian question. The KKE’s nationalism not only facilitated its treacherous policy of class collaboration — ‘Popular Front’... it will express itself unavoidably also during the war, with social-patriotic positions in other fields too, for example the national question of the people of Dodecanese, Cyprus...”

Left nationalism, expressed as anti-EUism, has long been axiomatic for the KKE, if only because USSR foreign policy dictated opposition to the EU.

Pasok, when it was founded in 1974, made “national independence” one of its four slogans, meaning opposition to the EU and to NATO. That did not stop Pasok governments taking part in the EU and NATO! But there were strong pumps infusing the Greek left with nationalism.

Both Stalinism and, to some degree, the early Pasok were informed by a picture of the world as divided into two camps, originating in Stalinist ideology of the late 1940s. Some countries and nations are in the “imperialist camp”, led by the USA. Others are in the “anti-imperialist” or “progressive” camp. They are defined as such by hostility to the USA and, in the original version, friendliness to the USSR.

The picture defines it as desirable to side with the “anti-imperialist” camp, and to separate Greece from groupings like the EU so as to transfer it to that “anti-imperialist” camp.

The SWP-Britain tradition to which SEK and DEA subscribe contained, for a while, elements of a radical rejection of the “two-camps” picture and advocacy of a working-class “third camp”. It defined the Stalinist USSR as imperialist. Since about 1987 the SWP-Britain and its offshoots have gone over wholesale to a new version of the “two-camps” scheme. The “anti-imperialist” camp, in their view of recent decades, is defined by forces militantly against the USA, more or less regardless of what they are for: the chief exemplars are Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah, etc. (“We are all Hezbollah!”)

Thus the infusion into Greek Trotskyism of SWP-Britain influence has not, at least in recent decades, helped to dispel the old influences.

In Greece there has been much grist for nationalist mills, in two distinct senses.

For centuries Greece was subjugated by the Ottoman Empire. An independent Greece was created in the 1820s, but under heavy informal domination by Britain and an imposed monarchy of foreign origin. Its area was originally only a small fraction of today’s Greece. Greece has had repeated conflicts about border areas, and even today some people in Greece will not call ex-Yugoslav Macedonia “Macedonia”, for fear of prejudicing the Greek claim that Macedonia is part of Greece. (They call it “Skopje” instead).

After World War One Greece was manipulated into war against Turkey as a proxy by Britain and other powers. The war resulted in massacre and mass expulsion for the Greeks of Smyrna (now Izmir), and large forced population movements of Greeks and Turks.

The British army intervened heavily in Greece at the end of and after World War Two to suppress the Stalinist-led movement which had resisted the Nazi occupation. The CIA had a hand in the 1967 military coup.

Britain held on to Cyprus until 1960, and resisted the demands for the unification of the island, which has a large Greek majority, with Greece. In 1974 the Greek military junta carried out a coup to try to force unification of the island with Greece. Turkey invaded Cyprus and created a separate “Turkish Cypriot” state. The junta fell.

At the same time, the Greek wealthy classes have long had large international operations. They made up a large part of the elite of the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul), of the bourgeoisie of Alexandria, in Egypt, and of the magnates of the world shipping industry. Greece has the largest merchant fleet in the world.

Thus Greece has been both a mistreated nation, and the nation of a bourgeoisie with international ambitions.

The people of Greece were reluctant to enter the European Union (1981) and the eurozone (2001). The current big majorities in Greece for keeping the euro can be explained from the fact that until the current crisis Greek bourgeois society did, however, do relatively well out of the EU. Income and wage and productivity differentials between Greece and Northern Europe narrowed. Between 1979 and 2007 Greek GNP per head increased from 38% of the Netherlands’ to 54%.

That Greek people with some knowledge of history are doubtful about a return to the drachma is understandable. Greece spent 95 years of the 180 between independence and entry to the euro in 2001 in default, with five separate defaults.

Capitalist productive forces have made national barriers in Europe outdated, and socialism must go beyond capitalism in that respect, not fall behind it. Nevertheless, there must be many people in Greece who see rejection of demands for Greece to hive itself off and erect high economic barriers around itself, not as enlightened understanding of that Marxist thesis, but as regrettable timidity, typical of the Syriza leadership.

All this sets the scene for Maoists and others to agitate about “anti-imperialist struggle”, and for elements in Antarsya to complain about how the EU has blighted Greece’s national development.

That structures a differentiation among Greek Trotskyists. Some groups take part in and orient to Syriza, and reject the demand for Greece to quit the euro and the EU. Others take part in Antarsya, and champion that demand.

The old OKDE has divided into OKDE, publishing Ergatiki Pali, and OKDE-Spartakos, publishing Spartakos. Both groups consider themselves in broad terms to be instructed by the theories of Ernest Mandel.

OKDE-Spartakos is the group officially recognised by the main international network of those who look to Mandel’s ideas, the Fourth International centred round activists in the French NPA. It is in the Antarsya coalition, and, despite muttering about NAR’s tendencies to left nationalism, goes along with NAR’s and Antarsya’s prioritising of Greek exit from the EU as the immediate demand deemed to separate Antarsya, as revolutionaries, from Syriza, as reformists.

OKDE is the larger group by some margin, though still not big enough to publish Ergatiki Pali more than monthly. It has separated from the Fourth International network, objecting in 2005 to “deliberate ambiguity on whether the objective is to build up 4th International sections or anti-capitalist parties. In fact, many sections (or however they can be called) are slipping into very dangerous alliances, which end up in centrist parties or even alliances with social-liberal advocates of neo-liberalism... a member of the Brazilian section [became] a minister of the Cabinet in a government that the International itself considers neoliberal... the recent dissolution of the Portuguese section into a current inside the Left Block will lead to the destruction of a historic base of 4th internationalism in Europe... The platform of Respect [in Britain], which our comrades energetically participate in, is on the borderline of a petit bourgeois platform...”

In line with this emphasis, OKDE prides itself on having — and seems in fact to have — a more rigorous orientation to grass-roots working-class organisation, and stricter standards of Bolshevik party-building, than other would-be Trotskyist groups in Greece.

Like EEK, it stands outside both Syriza and Antarsya. But it makes Greek exit from the EU a leading demand as much as Antarsya does.

EEK has more complex position. It denounces Antarsya on the European question: “the line for an exit from the EU and abandonment of the euro, without the alternative of the United Socialist States of Europe, was indistinguishable from the line of the KKE.

“The call for a break with the euro and a return to a (devalued) drachma, within the capitalist framework, both in the case of the KKE and Antarsya, collided completely with the will of the vast majority of the Greek people, which is hostile to the EU because of its austerity measures that destroyed its living standards but nevertheless it sees a return to a devalued drachma as the culmination of the current catastrophe”.

On a good day, Antarsya groups such as SEK and NAR do in fact advocate the United Socialist States of Europe, and explain that they call for an “anti-capitalist” exit from the EU. The slippage to advocating Greek exit from the EU as a good thing in itself, and perhaps even inherently anti-capitalist, results from a core nationalist myth which EEK shares: that the EU as such is somehow qualitatively more “imperialist” or “capitalist” than its member states. EEK advocates “workers fighting to smash the imperialist EU to establish the United Socialist States of Europe”.

As if the unarmed, relatively lightweight EU bureaucracy in Brussels were the key “imperialist” institution to be smashed, and once the economic links and treaties between the capitalist states of Europe were broken and replaced by nationalist barriers, those states would be benign!

As a focus on breaking up “the imperialist EU” makes more socialist sense than directing workers in California, say, to focus on smashing up the federal links of the imperialist USA, in order later to reassemble the severed states as a United Socialist States of North America.

There are three Trotskyist groups which are inside Syriza, or orient to it, and which explicitly reject the demand for Greek exit from the euro, counterposing a drive to Europeanise the workers’ struggle.

One is Xekinima, the group linked to the Socialist Party in England, which seems to be fairly small, publishing only a monthly paper and not claiming any great impact in the trade unions. It quit Syriza in 2011, apparently on a misjudged view that Syriza’s support was waning. Now it seems to be reorienting to Syriza, focusing its agitation on the demand that Syriza adopt “a socialist programme”. (The model must be Militant’s agitation, year in year out until the late 1980s, for “Labour to power on a socialist programme”).

The two socialist groups actually in Syriza derive from splinters from SEK. The larger one, DEA, is a regroupment of two ex-SEK splinters.

The splinters were generated by would-be “party-building” contortions adopted by SEK under pressure from the SWP-Britain in 1993 and 2001. In the early 1990s the future DEA activists complained of “overoptimistic analysis of the period (decade of wars and revolutions, the 30s in slow motion)... organisational adventurism... indifference to the formation of members... political confusion”. In 2001, of “revival of the ‘things will automatically turn to the left’ outlook... [a tendency to] underestimate the centrality of the working-class movement... diffusion into the ‘movement’...”

In some ways it is paradoxical that DEA today finds itself integrated into Syriza, and hailing the possibilities for Syriza to move further left, while SEK is with Antarsya, bemoaning the 17 June election result as a shift of voters from the militant left to a supposedly hopelessly rightward-moving Syriza.

DEA is linked to the ISO-USA, and still reckons itself to be politically “in the tradition of” the SWP and the IS. It publishes a fortnightly paper and may have about 300 members.

The smaller one, Kokkino, came from a split in DEA over tactical issues, but now includes activists from different backgrounds, does not consider itself to be in the SWP “tradition”, and has observer status with the Fourth International. It has 50 to 100 members and publishes a more-or-less monthly magazine. AWL members visiting Greece found what Kokkino members said acute and instructive.

Neither KKE, nor the reformist Synaspismos leadership of Syriza, is capable of leading the Greek working class to victory out of the great turbulence into which it is now flung.

The sudden rise of Syriza shows that working-class political allegiances have become fluid and malleable. There is scope for a Trotskyist-inspired revolutionary party to win hegemony.

That will not be achieved by the seven or so current Trotskyist groups all beavering away separately, making smaller gains here or slightly larger gains there.

The basic ideas of historical Trotskyism are vital. They need to be given force by a Trotskyist regroupment which also works out clear answers to the new questions posed by current issues. The axial questions now are:

• how to relate to the existing workers’ movement (unions, Syriza, KKE, neighbourhood groupings)

• how to develop forms of local workers’ self-organisation which can approximate the role of soviets (workers’ councils), and:

• how to integrate a Greek working-class strategy into a European (at least) working-class strategy capable of tackling the European and global scale of the capitalist crisis and capitalist strategies.

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