Pantelis Pouliopoulos

Communists and the Macedonian Question

Written: May 1940
Republished Spartakos No 30, 1991
Online Version: Pantelis Pouliopoulos Internet Archive, August 2003
English Translation/HTML Markup: Anthony Megremis, August 2003
Editors: Tassos Anastasiadis, D. Platanos [OKDE-Spartakos], additional notes by Zdravko of the Macedonian Language Archive
Proofread: Mike B., August 2003, Zdravko, October 2005


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 [Greek CP] nationalism not only facilitated its treacherous policy of class collaboration - "Popular Front”. (The same is true also for the Archive[A] with its provocative chauvinism on the Macedonian question and its shy popular frontist policy). It facilitates its capitulation to the Dictatorship; [the Metaxas dictatorship, since 1936] 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. [The Dodecanese islands of mainly Greek population were occupied by Italy]

We lack here now the documents on the history of our theory and our policy in the national question in general. We note some of it by memory.

The discussions in the German social-democracy (especially in Austrian Marxism, Bauer’sNationalities question”, Kautsky’s answer) was usually about general theory, what is called a nation etc. Bauer considered language as a criterion for a nation, Kautsky considered cultural elements (Kultur) and common historical experience[B]. Their common outcome: peaceful reform within the limits of the accomplished fact of the abuses of “our” national bourgeoisie.

The theory of bolshevism posed again the question of nationalities of the Russian empire on the basis of revolutionary marxism, the way that Marx had initially for Ireland. Lenin’s discussions with the “Bundists” and Rosa on the Polish question brought to light his correct positions and our tasks in the age of imperialism and the world socialist revolution. Stalin in one of his little brochures supported opportunistic views, which Lenin attacked as such. We do not keep unfortunately the exact elements of that polemic, which besides is of secondary historical significance on our subject. The Bundists[C] and all the opportunists in the Russian social-democracy supported Austrian-marxist views (of shy nationalism and pacifism). This is the first tendency that was opposed by the Russian marxists Lenin, Trotsky. Another was the mechanistic centrist one, which reduced itself into serving tzarism in the national question, in the name of the economic socialist ideal of centrally organised future economy (towards that direction attacked the anti-stalinist polemic of Lenin on the Georgian national question). The third one correctly combated, was Rosa’s view: There can’t be national liberation of enslaved nationalities under capitalism, and especially the Polish nationality in our age. Therefore we should only launch socialist revolutionary slogans for them, and not national ones.

The policy of Bolshevism on the national question was completed in the 2nd and 3rd Congresses of the C.I. with the positions on the colonial question, which is both a national and a land question. Our fundamental position on the relevant decisions is well known. We give some clarifications that perhaps are not present in everyone’s memory:

1) Lenin answered Rosa before the war: It is not foremost correct that achieving national state independence is impossible for enslaved nations under capitalism before the socialist revolution. For example, as it was, he said, with Norway, etc. Therefore with Poland too etc.

2) Of course only with the socialist revolution will the nationally oppressed find final and real national freedom. But it is wrong to keep political nihilism towards national revolutionary movements and not to seek to turn them into assisting allied elements of the general revolutionary movement for the overthrow of capitalist power throughout the world.

3) For the leadership of the national liberation movement (peasant majority of colonial peoples, backward or non-small nationalities in Europe) will struggle today the bourgeoisie and the newly-born proletariat. The bourgeoisie, even if it initially dominates (India, China), even when in the path of national liberation struggle, in the end, will come to terms with the oppressors or their rival candidate foreign oppressors. For this reason, our policy is: With the entire subjugated people for self-determination to breakaway - but independent political position against the treacherous one of the national-revolutionary purpose of the bourgeoisie - for proletarian power which solely is enough guarantee for victory against foreign national yoke. Struggle combination to shake off both national and social yoke. (Here Lenin and Trotsky faced the same opportunistic tendencies of the Indian right-wing communist leader Roy in the conferences of the C.I., especially the 2nd and 3rd ones).

4) The catastrophic results of Stalinist policy in China (1925-27, 1936-40) have their main source in stalinist opportunism in the national-colonial question: Abandoning the independent position of the proletariat.

5) The possibility of the recent proletariat of the oppressed nationality in colonial and backward small nations to claim the leadership of the national liberation struggle is based on a) the general character of the era, b) the contribution of the metropolitan progressive proletariat, the proletariat of the oppressive nations.

6) The revolutionary proletariat of the oppressive nation by defending the right of self-determination of the oppressed nationality fulfills a vital condition a) for the internationalist education of the masses and their complete separation from the influence of the ideology of the ruling class, b) for the success of the building of socialism tomorrow. An English proletariat that will not demand now the national liberation of the Irish is not in a position to claim successfully its own social liberation from the English capitalist power - said Marx in the middle of the last century. Among the exploited masses, proletarians and peasants, of the oppressed nationality and the proletariat of the oppressing nation there exist feelings of suspicion consequently, nourished systematically by the ruling class, of hate and generally of alienation, enmity against their class siblings. An element of group psychology that hinders most seriously the unity of all the exploited in the struggle against the common national and social enemy, and, no two ways about it, will hinder their fraternisation tomorrow for the construction of socialism. This suspicion and alienation cannot be otherwise fought unless the proletariat and the peasantry of the oppressed nationality is PERSUADED NOW that the proletariat of the oppressing nation is truly, not only in words, in favour of its liberation, that now, even WITHIN THE BOURGEOIS REGIME it is ready to fight with them for its national liberation even for their state breakaway, if they so wish.

Bolshevism has given this FACTUAL internationalist education since the time of the tzar to the numerous oppressed nationalities of the Russian empire, and thus it won their trust towards the new dominant order - that is, towards their confederate, brotherly and willing co-operation in the task of decentralised socialist economic reconstruction. And it is well known that it was this co-operation that also gave them the broadest cultural autonomy any bourgeois or social-democrat theoritician of the national question could have ever imagined. Stalinist absolutism abolishes this precondition today and prepares for new terrible splitting explosions in great danger of what has been left from the conquests of October (the Ukraine today!).


On the Macedonian question, the various views on the historical and national question[1] were generally well put by comrades L., T. and Kr. Especially the immediate claims in the end of comrades’ L. and T. recommendations, sum up our views exactly. Their final general slogans only are abstract and therefore do not have the substantial characteristic of communist slogans, the specific form and immediate tangibility by the broad masses:

1) “Self-determination of the Macedonian nation even its breakaway” (of the state that is). 2) “A Balkan Federation of Socialist Soviet Republics”. These have to be our general slogans; yet it is inaccurate that the Archeiomarxist and KKE positions are “bundist” and “Austrian-marxist”. These two parties (the Archive always, the KKE from 1932 and afterwards) never fought really for even one (1) immediate demand of the Macedonians. They ignore simply and clearly their existence and say that the Greek bourgeoisie has cleared the matter with their double subjugating ethnic cleansing in Macedonia, that is, the Greek-Bulgarian “voluntary” exchange and the Greek-Turkish population exchange. They are therefore literally parties-agents of Greek nationalism. When did a Stalinist MP ever speak for a single, even unimportant immediate matter of the Macedonians in Parliament? And among all tragedies that constitute the so-called “Akronafplia fort” [where Pouliopoulos was imprisoned at the time], the most tragic one is Macedonians being locked up in here as stalinists. We hear that there’s also an Archeiomarxist of this most tragic kind.

In the critique of comrades L. and T. to the old KKE slogan (1924-1926) we need to make clarifications and supplements to avoid mistakes that don’t only have historical significance: It is correct that the slogan “United and Independent Macedonia- United and Independent Thrace” of the 7th Balkan Conference and the Special Conference of the KKE in 1924 was unfounded. [Pouliopoulos was the KKE G.S. then]

1) There is no such thing as a Thracian nation. The mixing of Turks and Greeks (the Bulgarians had always been a very small minority there) does not put today the national question there in this form (a “Thracian nation”, like in the time of the Doriean descent [One of the Greek tribes, arriving from the north 3000 years ago. They founded the city-state of Sparta. Thrace was inhabited by other nations at the time of the Doriean descent, who did not speak the Greek language] - this is obvious.

2) Similarly, this slogan turns the Macedonian question in to a territorial one, and not the national question it is. Geographically, Macedonia is a territory which justifiably creates confusion among the Bulgarian nationalist “autonomists” and those demanding the freedom of the Macedonian nation. This nation is concrete in a certain only part of the geographical entity which is called “Macedonia”. Of course (and here the analysis of the recommendation of comrades L.- T. is most satisfactory) revolutionary policy does not regard the whole thing statistically-territorially, as the ethnologist and “socialist” lapdogs of the Balkan bourgeoisies do, but dynamically-revolutionary, and leaves after the revolution the definition of free national territories to the really free will of the interested parties in brotherhood. But the confusion that the bad formulation of our slogans inflicts upon the masses of the oppressing and the oppressed nations, can hinder instead of helping the purposes of our internationalist policy. And it has indeed helped them: without what amazing ease did the Greek proletarians accept the new super-chauvinistic policy of the KKE which succeeded that erroneous slogan! What a terrible chaos was created inside the heads of all fighters and how this hinders and will hinder their internationalist education by our Party!

But the error of those slogans is not Thrace (which as an unimportant matter it was, it had been missing from all KKE documents, even those of the 1st of December 1924- so irresistible was the power of reality!) nor the “unfounded” reality of the formulation of the Macedonian slogan. Those slogans were true opportunism and of the most original adventurist type. For those who are unfamiliar with the analyses of the first left opposition group of the KKE [meaning the Pouliopoulos’ “New Beginning” group, still members of the KKE in 1927] and later those of “Spartakos” [Pouliopoulos’ theoretical organ after his group’s expulsion from the KKE] on this most important of questions, some will be added here.

After the first (1923) and second (1924) Bulgarian defeats, and after the great German defeat of 1923 (autumn), the Stalinist bureaucracy then starting to stabilise and seriously undermine the International [the Zinoviev-Stalin adventurism period (1924-26)] centered its European policy around national revolutions (Radic, Slovenians, Czechs, Ukrainians, Macedonians etc). Spokesman Manuilsky, in the 5th congress (1924) said: The bomb we’re putting for the success of the European revolution is now: the national revolutions. The central question overshadowing all others in the 5th world congress was the national one. Then the KKE was also obliged to place the Macedonian question in the centre of its policy because -as Dimitrov and Kollarov announced in Moscow- “only thus will we defeat the Bulgarian guerillas, in alliance with us for the conquest of power in Bulgaria. The KKE must be prepared to make any sacrifice for the Bulgarian revolution, that is, the Balkan revolution”. After the opportunist leaders of the Bulgarian CP blighted the movement, they fell to adventurist self-deceit when they believed that, since with the force of the proletariat and the peasants they could not conquer power, they would do so with the contract of political alliance that they signed in May 1924 in Vienna with Alexandrov and Protogerov[D]. Within 6 months only, that shadowy alliance collapsed to reveal the extent of blindness of the Bulgarian party -stalinist under construction- leadership of Kollarov-Dimitrov. Alexandrov was murdered, and then Protogerov, and the Macedonian guerillas, after playing once again their bloody role against the communist workers and peasants of Bulgaria (slaughter after the Sveta-Nedelia[E] putsch, April 1925), fell in turn victims of the “eternal friendship” of the Serbian and Bulgarian bourgeoisies. The Macedonian movement as a distinct revolutionary organisation, was made illegal in Bulgaria too.

According to the logic of that political opportunism towards the Macedonian revolutionary committee, our slogan should not explicitly express our position of principle, but should demand an independent Macedonia (and Thrace). This why, when the extremist-Zinovievist phase of the rising Stalinist bureaucracy was followed by the opportunist-Bukharinist one after the final ruin of the Balkan movement, Batulescu, representative of the International, was sent to Greece to say suddenly “withdraw the slogan” when the C.C. of the Party had to defend publicly in court [Pouliopoulos, among others, as the Party’s G.S.] the matter of proletarian internationalism and the Party’s honour. And the C.C. with its position saved the honour of the struggling proletariat and the KKE[F], sending to hell that ludicrous apparitor of Stalin, but Manuilsy’s “bomb” had been proven to be a bomb not in the foundations of European capitalism, but of European communism. Indeed, within one year, the entire fiery literature of 1924 on the national question had been transferred to the sorrowful archives of the stalinised International.

In the 3rd congress of the KKE (March 1927) the Stalinist representative of the C.I. Remmele (after defeating Trotskyism and the first opposition group of the KKE with slander, ended up in the concentration camps of Turkestan and finally, the firing squad) essentially withdrew the slogan. Typically though, he endorsed it against our opposition for reasons of internal prestige of the bureaucracy, taking advantage of the general faith of the Party in Lenin’s International and the Party’s ignorance of the left opposition movement, only then emerging out of the Russian borders.


1. Whoever refutes the existence, unresolved until today, of a national Macedonian question in Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian Macedonia, is without a doubt a lapdog of the bourgeoisie.

2. Whoever refutes the historical liberation movement of the Macedonians, is either ignorant and must learn the history of that movement and its national heroes, or is again a lapdog of one of the three oppressing bourgeoisies.

3. This movement until now has been drowned in blood and treason, or has suffered a ruinous for the interests of the Macedonian workers and peasants, exploitation by the (Bulgarian especially) Balkan bourgeoisie.

4. This movement can find again a new development under new favourable historic conditions - social, economic (ruthless exploitation of the working Macedonian masses by the conquering national bourgeoisies, land questions, etc), political (internal crises in the Balkan states, war) and cultural conditions.

5. Whoever refutes this possibility is blind or turns a blind eye, if he’s not a lapdog of the nationalist subjugators of the much-afflicted Macedonian people.

6. Communists do not undertake to “create” national movements where they do not exist in the first place, a chimerical task. They support such movements where they exist.

7. Communists, faced with a beaten down or betrayed national liberation movement or with ethnic cleansing and subjugating acts of their national bourgeoisie don’t close their eyes and don’t become worshippers of the “done deed”. They will not deny the reality of the national oppression of a nation and its desire (in the heart and mind of every Macedonian worker) to shake off the national yoke one day. Communists make these liberating desires of the Macedonian people their own, and declare loudly from now its right for self-determination, even breakaway, if they so wish. They defend daily every immediate national demand, economic, political, cultural, and thus they prepare now tomorrow’s revolutionary alliance of the social revolutionary movement of the proletariat with the national revolutionary movement of the Macedonians against the common enemy: the Balkan bourgeoisie.

P. Pouliopoulos

Akronafplia, May 1940

1 For statistical and ethnological facts see the “Discussion Bulletin of EOKDE and KDEE” [EOKDE being the group of Pouliopoulos, and KDEE being another opposition group, considering their unification while in prison at the time.] No.1 February 1940, in the articles on the Macedonian question of comrades L., T. and Kr. The textbooks of comrade Makedonas, which we’ll discuss in detail, contain some historical facts on the bloody revolutionary struggles of the Macedonians and the national heroes who were loved so much by this people in its much-afflicted recent history.

Editors/Translator’s notes:

[A] Archive of Marxism: the main publishing organ of another opposition group, the Archeiomarxists named after it. They became the Greek section of the LO, a decision which Pouliopoulos fiercely contested in his “Communism and Archeiomarxism” analysis. The Archeiomarxists split with Trotsky in 1933.

[B]Pouliopoulos here, obviously writing from memory, reverses their respective positions: In his complex theory, Otto Bauer suggests as a definition: “A nation is the sum of people connected by a commonness of destiny, through a commonness of character”. In this framework - which here we only present schematically -, he considers common language as “the means by which common culture acts, the tool by which cultural commonness was created and preserved, as an external regulation of the form of social co-operation of the individuals that make up a community and which they propagate unremittingly”, even if one must take into consideration that “language is not only the means of transmitting cultural goods, but is of its own a cultural one” (Otto Bauer “The question of nationalities and social-demoracy”). It is in that point where one of Karl Kautsky’s criticisms is centered: “We do not understand why Bauer refuses to recognise the link, or more precisely the strongest of links that hold together the nation’s unity and which is obvious: Language. (...) The powerful role of language in social life can help us understand to a great part the power of national sentiment. On the contrary, commonness of national character, which no one knows well what looks like and which in practice does not affect perceptibly our collective life, it does not explain anything (...) It is only by taking into account the significance of language for the state that we can understand fully the power of rule of nationalities in modern politics” (Karl Kautsky “Nationality and Internationality” article of criticism to Bauer). [D. Platanos]

[C] Bundists (Bund: General Jewish Workers’ Union of Russia, Lithuania and Poland): A workers’ organisation of social-democracy, which professed the cultural peculiarities with which it justified the separate organisation of workers of different nationalities. The bundists found a theoretical stand in Austrian-marxism (Karl Renner and, mainly, Otto Bauer), who - wanting to answer the problems which principally Austria-Hungary posed - elaborated a theory on the national question, revolving around cultural elements and concluding in adopting cultural autonomy for the nationalities within the limits of a unified state, independent of territorial borders. [D. Platanos]

[D] Todor Alexandrov and Aleksandar Protogerov: After the Neigy treaty 27/11/1919 they reconstructed the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO) for the defence of the Bulgarian minority in Macedonia. Next, demanding autonomy of the Greek and Serbian Macedonia as a transitional stage for their annexation by Bulgaria. In 1921, with the help of the military, they made a coup d’ etat, killing Aleksandar Stabolinsky, the leader of the agrarian party, and Yurukov, founder of the “Macedonian Federalist Organisation”. They supported the dictatorship of Tsankov, and along with the military they drowned in blood the workers and peasants revolution of the 12th of September 1923. In 1924, after disagreeing with government policy, Alexandrov signed a treaty with the 3rd International as a representative of the internal MRO that he would co-operate with the Bulgarian CP to topple the capitalist government. Since this agreement left no impression to the other guerillas, he was forced to withdraw his signature from the treaty, and was soon assassinated. [D. Platanos, first names and correction by Zdravko].

The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) is the most important national liberation organization of the Slavic population in Macedonia against the Turks established in 1893. The Macedonian historiography insists that the VMRO's leaders had ethnic Macedonian feelings, but according to the historical documents it is clear that they have ethnic Bulgarian feelings (but don't make the implication: if they had ethnic Bulgarian feelings than the slavic population had that feeling too). After the World War 1, Alexandrov and Protogerov reestablished the VMRO as clear right-wing organization (the original VMRO wasn't right-wing and had a lot of left-wingers in it). Because the Macedonian population was inclinating a lot towards the VMRO (one of the reasons being the influental force of this name), the Comintern wanted to establish a VMRO organization under its influence. It wanted to unite all pro-Macedonian revolutionaries, Alexanrov's VMRO too, but Alexandrov (after strong reaction of the Bulgarian establishment and other leading VMRO members) has rejected the idea. So, the Comintern sponsored organization was established without the right wing of the Macedonian revolutionaries, as VMRO (united). [Zdravko]

[E] The Bulgarian CP, on Easter Day, blew up a church were they believed that top members of the Tsankov government would be. The coup failed and a brutal attack and massacres were launched against peasant and worker followers of the CP. [D. Platanos]

[F] In the 24th of August, 1925, P. Pouliopoulos, with 23 others, was taken to court accused on attempting to “rend Macedonia and Thrace”. His amazing 5-hour long defence is historical. The trial was adjourned. In the 22nd of February 1926, the trial of the so-called “autonomists” continued. The court ceased both trial and prosecution, but instead of letting them go, they were led to exile in Anafis, Amorgos and Folegandros. [D. Platanos]

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