Close the Camps – Full Citizenship
Rights for All Immigrants!
Down with Racist Fortress Europe!
Fire Ignites More Racist Repression
Migrants flee the Moria concentration camp after fire reduced it to ashes.
OCTOBER 28 – As flames engulfed the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on September 8, burning it to the ground, Europe’s “forgotten” crisis was made visible once more. In the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed over a million lives, when 35 camp residents tested positive for COVID-19, Greek authorities locked down the open-air prison with its nearly 13,000 migrant refugees. After protests against the lockdown, and pushed to the edge by spending many months and even years in the notoriously squalid camp, Europe’s largest, some camp residents set it ablaze. The desperate act of rebellion was fueled by years of humiliation and dehumanization, carried out under the racist immigration policies of the German-dominated European Union (EU) and its Greek border guards, who at times crammed up to 20,000 refugees into a facility meant to house only 3,000.
Greece’s right-wing New Democracy (ND) government, headed by
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a Harvard- and Stanford-educated former
banker and member of one of Greece’s oldest political
dynasties, refused to let the displaced refugees off the
island, except for a small number of children requiring urgent
medical care. Instead, the authorities moved 9,000 to a nearby
camp and 1,000 onto a passenger ferry, with hundreds more on
two additional naval vessels. Thousands were left homeless and
hungry after the fires, with many sleeping in the roads. Some
local residents attacked migrants fleeing the flames,
preventing them from passing through a nearby village.
Refugees held a protest near the town of Mytilene against the
construction of a new camp, for the right to leave the island
and calling for help from the German government. Their pleas
were met with tear gas and an insulting “promise” by German
interior minister Horst Seehofer to take in 100-150 of the
The Moria fire reduced the 3,000-capacity Moria refugee camp to ashes, leaving some 13,000 migrants stranded on Lesbos without shelter.
From early 2015 until last year, Greece was governed by the populist SYRIZA party, which despite its name (Coalition of the Radical Left) dutifully imposed the harsh austerity measures dictated by the European central bankers. With the population exhausted by privations, in July 2019 the rightist ND won a majority in the Greek Parliament on a national chauvinist, anti-immigrant program. It then spent the next year unleashing a brutal wave of anti-immigrant repression. Appealing to the electoral base of the fascist Golden Dawn (Chrysí Avgí), Mitsotakis undertook a program of kidnapping refugees in the dead of night. They were then abandoned in engineless and rudderless dinghies in the Aegean, while the kidnappers made sure to rob them of their belongings first. As of mid-August, at least 1,072 asylum seekers had been abandoned at sea since March 1, in at least 31 separate expulsions (New York Times, 14 August).
One Syrian refugee described the harrowing ordeal to Human Rights Watch:
“[T]hey [Greek police] put us in a military boat and pushed us [from the deck] to a small [inflatable] boat that doesn’t have an engine. They left us on this boat and took all our private stuff, our money, our IDs. We were on the boat and we were dizzy. We were vomiting. They [the Greek Coast Guard] didn’t tell us anything…. [W]e were in the middle of the sea. We called the Turkish Coast Guard. They came and took our boat.”
Moreover, the Greek Coast Guard has been
preventing migrants from even landing on Greek islands. One
refugee recounted how Greek officials stopped the boat she was
on, off the shores of Lesbos, removed its fuel and towed it
back to Turkish territorial waters. Other migrants were
intercepted at sea and transferred to flimsy life rafts off
the island of Samos, while in some instances refugees were
abandoned on the uninhabited island of Ciplak.
This is all part of the Greek government’s plan to crack down hard on refugees. In an interview with CNN Greece (2 June), Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi boasted that “the first step for us was to better guard the borders and already in the last quarter the flows [of migrants] have been reduced by more than 90% thanks to the great effort of the Armed Forces, the Police and the Coast Guard.” In January, the government announced plans to construct a “floating barrier” in the Aegean to keep migrants out. “The 2.7km-long netted barrier will be erected off Lesbos…. The bulwark will rise from pylons 50 meters above water and will be equipped with flashing lights to demarcate Greece’s sea borders” (The Guardian, 30 January).
But anti-migrant repression is not a novelty of New Democracy. The prior bourgeois “left” government of SYRIZA, headed by former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, for four years carried out the EU’s racist Dublin III regulation, which prevents refugees from leaving Greece and Italy for wealthier northern European countries. It was on Tsipras’ watch that squalid conditions on Lesbos, Chios, Samos and other migrant landing hotspots were allowed to fester, as he dutifully implemented Germany’s diktat to process asylum claims in Greece. Of course, many claims never got processed and some that did took years to move through the state bureaucracy, effectively stranding refugees on the islands.
Likewise, it was under SYRIZA that the hated “third memorandum” (with the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund) of banker-imposed austerity was adopted, further pushing Greece’s already suffering masses deeper into poverty. Tsipras vowed to “rip up” the previous two memoranda, only to then impose SYRIZA’s own austerity measures after a phony July 2015 referendum in which “NAI” (yes) meant austerity and “OXI” (no) meant austerity. In contrast to the bulk of the Greek left (minus the Greek Communist Party, KKE) which followed Tsipras in voting “no” in this “bait-and-switch” ploy, the League for the Fourth International opposed all sides in the fraudulent referendum and called on the workers to take action to block further austerity.1 Now Mitsotakis and New Democracy are pushing labor “reforms” to “free up” Greece’s domestic market to foreign investment and further appease the eurobankers, continuing the work of his “leftist” predecessor.
The 26,000+ refugees currently languishing in Greek detention camps have fled devastation and privation in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia wrought by imperialism, as did the millions who tried to enter Europe in 2015 and 2016. Many of the migrants currently on Lesbos are fleeing Afghanistan, a country blighted by decades of U.S.-imperialist occupation, under a “war on terror” that has been waged by three consecutive American presidents, Republican and Democratic. Moreover, many of the Taliban jihadists that U.S. forces have been fighting since 2001 go back to the mujahedin financed, trained and armed by the CIA (under its “Operation Cyclone”) to fight a holy war in the 1980s against a Soviet-backed Afghan reform government.
Whether SYRIZA or New Democracy, “left”- or right-wing, capitalist governments serve the interests of capital. In this epoch of decaying imperialism, amid the proliferating wars following the counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union, millions have been forced to flee their devastated homelands. As a result, after the flood of one million Syrian refugees in 2016, the borders of racist Fortress Europe have been beefed up to keep refugees out, while the eurobankers continue to impose austerity to shore up the profits of the shaky German banks. Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 33% from 2007, at the start of the world capitalist economic crisis, to the end of 2018 (Macropolis, 6 March 2019). Now, due to shutdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic, it fell another 15% in the first half of 2020.
Thousands of displaced migrants and refugees protest outside the town of Mytilene on Lesbos, September 11.
More than 400,000 people have emigrated from Greece over the last decade, half of them youth. Now with the official unemployment rate at 18% (the highest in the European Union) and youth unemployment a stratospheric 38%, plus a coronavirus slump in tourism, the crisis over the refugees crammed into the overcrowded detention camps has come to a head. With a rightist government and outright fascists cooperating in immigrant-bashing rhetoric and actions, the League for the Fourth International calls to shut down the concentration camps, free all migrants and allow them the same freedom of travel as everyone else while demanding asylum for refugees and full citizenship rights for all immigrants. We also call for workers action against racist attacks on immigrants. And for those refugees fleeing the devastation caused by imperialism who want to move on to northern and western Europe, we say: let them in!
These are not easy demands to raise in the present reactionary political climate. Class-conscious workers and fighters for the oppressed must stress that the same reactionary anti-immigrant forces are also mortal enemies of the Greek working class. Along with a push to expel refugees, the ND government is seeking to enact unrelenting austerity and anti-union labor “reforms.” The Greek proletariat, although diminished by the draconian cuts, has the power to defeat racist repression and bust the union-busters. Port workers of Piraeus (and Thessaloniki) along with transportation and refinery workers, healthcare, education and tourism workers have the power to bring Greece’s economy to a screeching halt, as is shown every time ferry workers strike. But to win requires going beyond the borders of a nation of 11 million people.
The key is forging the nucleus of a genuinely Leninist-Trotskyist workers party to lead the struggle for socialist revolution in Greece and Turkey, the Balkans, and all of Europe and the Near East.
Mobilize Workers to Defend Immigrants and Refugees
What has been the response of the Greek left to the events in Moria? The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the largest remaining mass Stalinist party in the capitalist world, with tens of thousands of supporters and its own trade union federation (PAME), called to “close Moria, no new camps,” to “release the refugees and immigrants from Lesbos” and to transfer refugees and migrants to safe facilities in mainland Greece “to facilitate by any means their transition to other European countries, for which they emigrated” (Rizospastis, 10 September). But what if other European countries don’t let them in, what if they want to stay in Greece? In the absence of a call for asylum for refugees and full citizenship rights for all immigrants, demands that genuine Marxists – Trotskyists – have championed for decades, the reformist KKE’s position amounts to a barely disguised chauvinist call to get the refugees out of Greece.
OKDE-Spartakos, affiliated with the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI, formerly United Secretariat) of the late Ernest Mandel, calls for “joint labor struggles” of locals and immigrants, as well as international mobilizations. In a statement on the Moria fire, they call for “free movement and integration of refugees and migrants, without limits,” for “open borders and documents for all, their integration into the cities in commandeered buildings with decent living conditions,” to “repeal the Greece-EU-Turkey agreement” and “jobs for the whole working class.” Calls for local and international labor action are correct and necessary, yet the Mandelites, too, fail to call for full citizenship rights while their utopian reformist call for “open borders” fosters illusions that the capitalist state – which cannot exist without borders – would somehow magically disappear.
Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers Party (SEK), affiliated with the British Socialist Workers Party, heirs of the anti-Trotskyist renegade Tony Cliff, called for “asylum and shelter for all,” to close the camps and “connect the labor demands with the demand for asylum and housing for refugees” and, of course, “open borders so that refugees are welcomed here and throughout Europe.” A similar position is put forward by the EEK (Revolutionary Workers Party), once allied with Jorge Altamira of the Argentine Partido Obrero (which expelled him last year). After pious vows to “stand by the refugees, in order to meet all their demands and live with dignity and freedom,” the EEK calls for: “Opening the borders to the freedom of movement of refugees and at the same time welfare measures for health, housing and work” (Nea Prooptiki, 9 September). While saying that such measures are “incompatible with the government of enemies of people’s lives,” – i.e., with New Democracy – it says nothing about revolution to overthrow the capitalist state.
Standing notably to the right of much of the Greek left is the Trotskyist Group of Greece (T.O.E.), of the ex-Trotskyist International Communist League (ICL) led by the Spartacist League/U.S. The T.O.E.’s last published article dates from March 2020, of which a “revised” translated version was published in Workers Vanguard (29 May), which in turn is the last the world has heard from the SL/U.S. The WV article titled “Down with the War on Refugees!” has as its main demand: “Full Citizenship Rights for All Who Have Made It to Greece!” An interesting and telling call, as the article pointedly does not call for asylum for refugees, and raises no demands on behalf of the refugees trying to enter Greece. We have earlier polemicized against these “‘Communists’ Who Oppose Calls for Asylum for Syrian Refugees,”2 but here their line is shown in stark relief.
The T.O.E./ICL reported that Mitsotakis had “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,” and that a video 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.” So does the ICL call to let those refugees braving gas, grenades and gunfire into Greece? It does not. Or does the ICL denounce the brutal chauvinist repression being unleashed against refugees just as they reach Greek territorial waters? It does not. Do these pseudo-Trotskyists even bother to denounce the Greek government’s kidnapping of refugees “who have made it to Greece” to push them into the sea? They do not.
The ICL (which went along with Tsipras’ referendum ploy in 20153 ) once again denounced calls for abolition of the racist Dublin III accord, suggesting – in one of their trademark straw-man arguments – that opposition to a “particular EU regulation” amounts to “tacit support to the EU.” Yet they themselves admit that Dublin III means “thousands of refugees languish in concentration camps in Greece and elsewhere, set up at the behest of German imperialism.” And since their article admits that areas of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria from which refugees have fled “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,” does the ICL demand that the U.S., Britain or France admit these victims of imperialist slaughter? It does not. Instead it claims that any “call to ‘open borders’ to refugees” will “promote illusions in the Greek bourgeoisie and in the ‘humanitarian’ face of the imperialists in the EU.”
But if you look carefully, it turns out that the T.O.E. had some trouble with the chauvinist line of the ICL, even after four years of spouting it. Alerted by the reference to a “revised” version of the article, we took a look at the Greek version on the ICL web site. There we read a footnote saying:
“* In the previous version we wrote: ‘As Marxists, our prospect is to mobilize the multinational working class in the fight against all the racist laws of the capitalists on immigration.’ The above proposal contradicts our line in the rest of the article, implying an open border position in relation to the bourgeois state….”
So the simple statement by the T.O.E. calling to mobilize workers to fight against all racist capitalist immigration laws was slapped down by the ICL leadership! “Although we oppose racist laws,” the footnote piously claims, the ICL’s empty “opposition” is limited to “those who have arrived in the country.” So while the KKE wants to quickly hustle refugees out of Greece, the ICL wouldn’t even let them in!! Different brands, same social-chauvinism.4
As we have noted before, “back when the Spartacist League stood for revolutionary Trotskyism,” its call for full citizenship rights for everyone who made it here was a call for equal rights for all, and “went together with calls for asylum for refugees, from Haiti, Central America, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.”5 Now the ex-Trotskyist ICL has turned this inclusionary call into a policy of exclusion of those who haven’t “made it here.” The LFI explains, as did the then-revolutionary ICL, that borders cannot be abolished under capitalism or even in the period after a revolution (which will have to defend itself against counterrevolution) but only in a stateless, classless socialist society with abundance for all. Until we get there, we indeed seek to mobilize workers against all racist, capitalist immigration laws, and when the desperate victims of imperialist depredation are at the door, we say “let them in.”
Bring Out Workers Power to Stop Fascist Attacks!
Despite heavy attack by the banks and capitalist rulers, Greek workers are fighting back. On September 24, five maritime unions held a 24-hour strike for a “new collective labor contract, wage increases and better benefits for unemployed sailors” (ekathimerini.com, 21 September). That same week, aviation workers went on strike against “unfair income deductions,” grounding 58 domestic flights. On October 15, public employees held a 24-hour strike for better pay for health and education workers and more hiring during the pandemic. In June, hospital workers flooded the streets of Athens in a 24-hour strike, and back in February, public sector workers and transport workers went on strike against a pension bill that “privatizes social security and pushes thousands of young workers to seek private insurance” (Greek Reporter, 18 February).
These labor actions must be linked up with the struggle against racist, anti-immigrant repression and nationalist chauvinism. The recent court ruling against former Golden Dawn MPs for “leading a criminal organization” and “participating in a criminal organization” was widely hailed by leftists of different tendencies. Golden Dawn leaders, including its “neo”-Nazi founder Nikolaos Michaloliakos, were sentenced to 13 years in prison. The verdict was a culmination of a years-long trial that started with the brutal murder of Greek anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013 by Golden Dawn member Giorgos Roupakias. Rouopakias was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, while 15 others were found convicted as accomplices. Another five fascists were convicted of attempted murder of three Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and four more were found guilty of assaulting members of the KKE’s PAME trade union in 2013.
Criminal murderers they certainly are, and fascist organizations are a deadly threat to all the oppressed. But while the ND government for its own reasons may go after Golden Dawn, which lost all its parliamentary deputies in last year’s election, the bourgeoisie will keep the fascists in reserve. Other racist ultra-rightist groups have appeared, including Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution), which already has ten members of parliament. Moreover, charges of leading and participating in a “criminal organization” are conspiracy laws that can and will be used against the left and labor, as RICO (Racketeer-Influenced Criminal Organization) laws have been against unions in the United States. Such broad and vaguely worded laws would doubtless be wielded against workers defense guards. The working class must bring out its own power to defeat the fascist threat, not look to the capitalist state.
The coronavirus pandemic and the unfolding global economic depression have accelerated the decay of imperialist capitalism. Today, a class-struggle fight against xenophobic and fascist reaction Greece urgently needed. Yet the Greek pseudo-left, and particularly the Stalinist-reformist KKE, have mired their supporters in the morass of bourgeois politics for decades, and continue to do so. To combat the ever-increasing repression against refugees and immigrants, and the continued attacks on the working class, the most urgent task is the formation of a genuinely Leninist-Trotskyist workers party that can lead the struggle for international socialist revolution to do away with capitalist barbarism once and for all. ■
- 1. See “Greek Workers: Defeat the Bankers’ Diktat, Occupy the Banks and Ports!” and “What Road for Greece: Perpetual Debt Peonage or Workers Revolution?” in The Internationalist No. 41, September-October 2015).
- 2. See our article “Strange Encounters with the ICL,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016.
- 3. See “The ICL on Greece: Goodbye Trotsky, Hello Minimum Program,” in The Internationalist No. 41.
- 4. As we have previously reported, at a meeting of the ICL leadership last year, two members who had been involved in the work of the T.O.E. were ousted on accusations of “racist” conduct. See “Spartacist League Declares Bankruptcy,” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020.
- 5. See Spartacist League vs. Refugees ,” The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017.