The effects of the crisis within the Greek Orthodox Church and the position of the Marxists

Further to our previous articles, we publish an Editorial Statement of the Greek Marxist Tendency, Marxistiki Foni, on the meaning of the severe crisis that has shaken the Greek Orthodox Church and how this relates to the future class battles that are being prepared in Greece.

Editorial Statement of the Greek Marxist Tendency, Marxistiki Foni

The effects of the crisis within the Greek Orthodox Church are of decisive importance for Greek society. In order to investigate the social roots of this crisis we have essentially to connect it with the nature of Greek capitalism. The function and the morals of the institutions in the country are a mirror of the Greek ruling class. The interests of the carefully handpicked cadres of these institutions are the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Specifically, the hierarchy of the Church, having an important financial, political and social role, is an organic part of the bourgeois state. The informer, the priest and the judge, together with the police officer were always the traditional stalwarts of the state. It must be highlighted therefore that in this recent period what we witnessed was not the exposure of a rotten “parallel state”, but the exposure of the decay that nests in the very heart of the bourgeois state.

Transformation of social consciousness

The crisis within the Church highlights a change in social consciousness towards the institutions and the traditional ideas of the bourgeoisie. The statistics published every day in the press are significant: 48% of the public supports the separation of the Church from the state, while only 35% has the opposite opinion (“Eleftherotypia”, 23/2/2005). Another remarkable element that reveals the extent of this change is amongst the voters of New Democracy (the Conservatives who are in the government). An incredible 44% supports the division of state from Church! Even more revealing is research published in the “Sunday Eleftherotypia” on March 6, 2005, which shows that 73% of the public are of the opinion that “the condition of the Church will influence their relations with it”. 36% go even further and estimate that “the shock of these scandals will change views regarding the religious faith of the people itself”, while 50.6% believe that the Church is no longer in a position to talk in the name of social values!

A critical question for the bourgeoisie is that the crisis has broken out on the eve of a brutal attack on all fronts against the working class. This reduced reliability of the basic bourgeois institutions will inevitably influence the balance of forces between the classes in the battles that are about to open, and make conditions more favourable for the working class movement. Finally, we should not forget that Christodoulos himself, who enjoyed a great popularity, was for the bourgeoisie a “golden political asset” for the future, when individuals that are popular on a “national” level will be required in order to play the role of Trojan horse in the class struggle. After these latest scandals no one can seriously argue that Christodoulos or any other Church agent can play such a critical role in the future.

The Greek bourgeoisie and the division between the Church and the State

The Greek bourgeoisie for 100 years now has proved that it does not have the will to carry out the division between the Church and the state. The reason is that they came onto the stage of history in a period when capitalism had already entered its imperialist decay. Therefore, the Greek bourgeoisie from its first steps turned to reactionary solutions in order to assert itself over the Greek proletariat. This meant that the reactionary Greek Church hierarchy was its natural ally. On their part, this hierarchy in exchange for the bourgeoisie’s material support, always blessed all its reactionary measures (repression of movements, coup d’etats, persecution of militants, etc.)

We have witnessed many times over the last five years how favourable the bourgeoisie is towards the Church. We saw this in the diffident attitude of the “brethren” towards the Simitis government, in the threats and the defiance of Christodoulos. We marvelled at its shamelessness when the leader of the party of Capital (today’s Prime Minister, Karamanlis) signed, as a “good Christian”, in favour of a referendum on the question of the new identity cards (supporting the Church’s demand that the religion of a person should be stated in the new identity cards). The most recent example was the draft law of the Ministry of Education which places the University Faculties of Theology (which are part of the State University education) under the full control of the Church hierarchy and the Archbishop personally!

Undoubtedly within the camp of the bourgeois politicians and intellectuals the numbers of those that are talking about the division between the state and the Church have increased. This is natural under the hue and cry within society over the scandals. However, what the dominant current within the bourgeoisie has attempted to do (and this is shown clearly by the attitude of the government) is a hurried cleaning up of the Church’s image and of Christodoulos himself, without damaging the relations between the State the Church. The bourgeois realise that in the event of a sharpened class struggle, they will face intense social isolation. That is when the traditional influence of Greek Orthodoxy, even if it has been seriously damaged, will be extremely useful. Consequently the only force in society that can impose the radical separation between the state and the Church is the working class.

What does the separation between the Church and the state mean for the Marxists?

The Marxists support decisively every measure that leads to the radical separation between the state and the Church and undermines the social role of the reactionary Church hierarchy. These measures could be the following:

  • Immediate disengagement of the Church from activities that have to do with social duties or the exercise of social rights (marriage, declaration of children, divorce, funerals, etc.)
  • Abolition of all forms of religious teaching in public institutions (religious education in schools, in the army), removal of every religious symbol from public buildings or religious rites in public or state activities (such as religious oath-takings)
  • Stop the payment of priests’ wages by the state, and every other state subsidy of the Church.
  • Nationalisation of the wealth of the Church and use it in order to realise social policies. In a period of tightening of the belt for the working class, the wealth of the Church is a provocation. Just the cathedral of Corfu alone possesses 450 million Euros (1,600 billion old Greek drachmas – “Traffic” newspaper, February 2, 2005). It has been revealed that in the year 2000 the Church owned 70 billion drachmas just in the form of shares in the stock market, while it also continues to own a big part of the share of the National Bank of Greece. According to rough calculations, the total wealth of the Church is greater than the property of the state itself! (Source: website of “Eleftherotypia”).

However, the Marxists do not approach the question of the division between the Church and the state as if it were an institutional divorce without any social meaning. The Marxists raise this demand in connection with the tasks of the socialist transformation of society. This is because as the divisions within the framework of capitalism become deeper, the survival of this exploitative system will always give the Church hierarchy a wide social base. This is built upon the miserable existence of the masses themselves, which the Church exploits to claim for itself financial power and political authority.