Der Aufbruch der Massen – The Awakening of the Popular Masses

aus dem zweiten Kapitel Seite 27 – 33 der englischen Auszüge
The first revolutionary impetus
In March 1917, thirty two months after the declaration of war, the most prodigious revolution of our century broke out in Petrograd, and then spread like lightening across the immense country. Like all true great popular uprisings, no party, no individual, nobody had decided it, provoked it, proclaimed it or led it. Completely spontaneous, it was the fruit of the maturation of history and caught all the “chiefs”, of every political nuance, completely unawares.

The Tsarist edifice crumbled to dust. The republican and socialist bourgeois parties formed a provisional govern- ment with the principal objective of convoking a constituent assembly. But it did not possess any real power. The real power could be found in the hands of the soviets, those councils elected by the workers, the soldiers, the sailors, the peasants, in the regiments, on the ships, in the factories, the mines, the ports, the neighbourhoods, the villages, true democratic organs of the revolution- ary people. Their members, elected and revocable at any moment, had to be accountable to their electors, were responsible to them and depended on them directly.

This social organisation, which subjected representatives to the permanent control of their constituents, realised for the first time in contemporary history true democracy on the scale of the whole of society. Neither bosses, nor theoreticians, nor parties, nor any authority had imagined or foreseen it. It was the work of the masses, inspired by their class instinct. In the country in revolution there were meetings, assemblies and councils every day. The masses enthusiastically debated every question. Their critical spirit, their intellectual and organisational capacities flabbergasted the “wise men”, politicians, “specialists” and “professional revolutionaries”.

On 7 November the Second All Russian Congress of the Soviets abolished the provisional government and seized power. The Bolsheviks formed the first Soviet government, then called the Council of People’s Commissars, with Lenin and Trotsky at its head. After a brief interval, a powerful revolutionary jolt responded in echo to the first proletarian revolution. The world war was transformed into a war of peoples against their governments. In Germany and in Austria-Hungary centuries old thrones collapsed like a house of cards. Everywhere, in Europe as in America, there were revolutionary uprisings, massive economic and political strikes, factory and land occupations.

The masses occupied centre stage and turned the world upside down. The white armies, organised, armed, financed and thrown against revolutionary Russia by the French and British imperialists, and the associates of Denikin, Yudenich, Kolchak, Wrangel and the others, were torn to pieces in the first battles with the insurgent people. The direct military intervention of the imperialists met the same fate. All these armies, no matter how well equipped, were defeated, not only by the heroic resistance of the Russian workers and peasants, but also thanks to the echo which revolutionary slogans found amongst their own soldiers. The mutiny of the French Black Sea fleet and the fraternisation of its crew with the workers of Odessa is well known. As for the Greek soldiers, those sons of the people that Venizelos had sent to the Ukraine to be killed for the interests of the Tsar and the Russian, French and British imperialists, they broke ranks during the first confrontation with the partisans of Grigoriev, who had called on them to fraternise beforehand, and they seized the first opportunity to hastily cover, in record time, the distance between Nikolayev and Rumania.

The soldiers who had taken part in this expedition told us about the arguments exchanged on this
occasion and the appeals of the partisans before the attack:
“Why have you come here?”
Then the Greek officers responded:
“Our country has sent us”.
“To do what? To defend what? The interests of the Tsar, the capitalists and the Russian
landlords? The interests of the British and French imperialists? Your duty is to make war against
those who have sent you here. Join us!”
“Our duty is what is fixed by our country. And we speak the language of Leonidas(1).”
“And we speak that of the oppressed and exploited of the whole world, that of the Greek soldiers, workers and peasants.”

The impetuous partisan attack dispersed the army. In the flight and the disorder, the officers removed their braid. They knew that officers would not so easily slip through the hands of the partisans. In contrast, the soldiers were welcomed with open arms. And these soldiers told us of all the enthusiasm and passion of that people in revolution. Another episode, recounted by the soldiers of Görlitz, made us quiver with emotion. There, sold- iers and male and female workers fraternally mixed together took over the streets. Red flags flew everywhere. It was joyful. Spartacist soldiers, sailors and workers came to find them in their barracks, spoke to them of revolution, of socialism, of the fraternisation of peoples, of workers’ power. Finally, they called on them to go against the orders of their officers and elect their own representatives.

Everything, at that time, gave the impression that the days of the old world were numbered. Labouring humanity lived the greatest moments of its history. In March 1919 the Founding Congress of the Communist International was held in Moscow. It was the third international union of workers’ political organisations. The decision for the found- ation was taken during the war, at Zimmerwald and Kienthal. Few parties took part in this congress. Most of the congress participants represented minorities of parties or secessionist groups.

But, in the revolutionary tempest which swept Europe, in the ferment, the general boiling over and under the pressure of their worker members, many among the old socialist parties adhered to the Communist International and were therefore represented at its Second Congress one year later.

The founding congress of the Communist Party of Greece and the General Confederation of Workers

The founding congress of the Confederation
took place on 21 October 1918, and that of the Communist Party (under the name Socialist Workers’ Party) on 4 November, in a time ruled by terror and martial law. Venizelos not only authorised them but granted them every possible facility. Obviously this was not out of an interest in the political and union organisation of the workers in the country, but because he hoped to use them for his own ends.
The promises made to the peoples by the three “Big Powers” during the Second World War had already been made by governments during the First. We knew the “14 Points” of Wilson:
freedom, democracy, self-determination, protection of minorities, etc. But whereas at the end of the Second World War the masses waited passively for the realisation of these promises made so freely by their governments and parties, they rose up at the end of the First, occupying the whole political terrain and threatening to overturn the established order. Every day Moscow hurled its thunderbolts and provoked explosions and conflagrations. To save itself the established order had to make concessions to the masses, and promise them serious and substantial social reforms.
The socialist parties, which a large fraction of the masses in revolt still had faith in, made guar- antees of the realisation of the these reforms. Everywhere the capitalists themselves pushed them to the front of the stage. Their representatives had strength and authority at the “peace” conferences. All this explains why Venizelos had authorised and facilitated the foundation of the Communist Party and the Confederation. He thought that he could assure the sympathy and support of the big European socialist parties for his territorial demands on Macedonia and other regions by presenting them through the mediation of the party and under the cover of a “socialist line of argument”. He had already obtained an initial relative success with the mission of Sideris, Curiel and P. Dimitratos at the allied socialist conference of February 1918
No serious debate preceded the founding congresses of the two organisations. The only obstacles which had to be surmounted were the personal differences between leaders. This was a task tailor-made for Benaroya.
Around two hundred delegates took part in the foundation of the GSEE, representing between seventy and eighty thousand workers. Without any serious objection the congress recognised the principle of class struggle, that is to say, the idea that the workers formed a class distinct from that of the capitalists, and opposed to it, and that they would defend their interests in fightingthem and not in collaborating with them. The principle that the unions must guard themselves against any bourgeois influence was also accepted by the great majority. This idea implied that the workers had to create their own political party. The recognition of these principles went without saying. It also went without saying what the colour of the flag would be. The first articles of the statutes affirmed that the flag of the union was the red flag of the international working class and that the international red First of May was its official festival.
A little anarcho-syndicalist group around Speras, Koukhtsoglou and Fanourakis strongly opposed themselves to the principle according to which it was necessary “to guard against all bourgeois influence”. They insisted that the union movement must preserve itself not only from bourgeois influence but more generally from all political influence, implying the Socialist and Communist parties as well.
The first Executive Committee of the Confederation comprised eleven members. Amongst them, three, G. Papanikolaou, E. Evangelou and A. Benaroya, belonged to the CPG; two, A. Hatzimikhalis and I. Delazanos, were attached to the Socialist Centre of N. Yannios
, and the others, including E. Machairas, who was elected secretary, to the liberal movement. Inevitably the Executive Committee very quickly split into two tendencies, which each convened their own Second Congress: the majority, around Machairas, in Piraeus, the three from the CPG, in Athens. The great majority of unions took part in the Athens Congress, recognised as the only legitimate one. Very quickly the organisation maintained around Makhairas, the agent of the Venizelists, dissolved.
The Second Congress took place in Athens in September 1920. Only two tendencies confronted each other: the great majority, members and partisans of the CPG, and the little anarcho-syndicalist group of Speras. This Congress recognised the Communist Party as the sole political represen- tative of the working class, and decided on reciprocal representation, that is to say that one representative of each organisation would participate in instances of the other at all levels, central and local. That is, participation of one representative of the Central Committee of the Party in meetings of the Executive Committee of the Confederation, and the other way round, and the same operation in the provinces, this time at the level of the union offices and the regional organisations of the Party.
This created many problems for Evanguelou, Secretary of the GSEE for many years. He was seen as very malicious for turning against the ministers and the bosses. While Rizospastis remained the organ of just the CPG, its attacks against the ministers did not prevent him from discussing with them. From then on, with the newspaper being also that of the GSEE, it would be difficult for him to pretend that the Confederation had nothing to do with its content. One day, Spyridis, Minister for the National Economy, agreed to the demands which he had put to him. But the next day Rizospastis caricatured Spyridis on the front page and violently attacked him. Furious, the Minister asked Evanguelou: “What does this say, is this your way of thanking me?” But, Evanguelou succeeded in convincing him that the Confederation had no responsibility for… that page of the newspaper.

Speras expressed himself in a vehement and opinionated way against reciprocal representation, defending the autonomy of the union movement and insisting on the risks that this real domin- ation exercised by the CPG imposed on the working class. I witnessed this Congress, and the passion with which Speras defended his opinions, his astonishing eloquence and his convincing arguments impressed me more than anything else.
I met him again in prison in 1938, in the transfer section of Piraeus. He was there for a breach of common law. We spoke with emotion of the heroic epoch of the movement. He mentioned his past and spoke, full of enthusiasm and passion, of the action of the anarchists in Spain. His name can be found on a list of worker cadres murdered by the OPLA
. They killed him because he had had differences with the CPG twenty five years before.
The organisations and socialist youth of Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Volos, the organisations of Corfu and Halkis and the journals Workers’ Struggle and Avanti took part in the founding congress of the Communist Party. Yannios represented his group there, but he was in disagree- ment from the start and withdrew.
Three principal tendencies defined themselves clearly enough: the right (A. Sideris, P. Dimi- tratos), the centre (N. Dimitratos, A. Benaroya and the delegation from Thessaloniki) and the left (D. Ligdopoulos, F. Tzoulatti, M. Ikonomou, S. Komiotis).
The Congress recognised and proclaimed the general principles of socialism and sent a message of support to the Russian Revolution, but on the decisive questions of the moment, those on which revolutionaries and reformists across the whole world opposed each other, it was the points of view of the right and the centre which won and were voted for. Thus they recognised “national defence”, the “League of Nations” and “popular democracy”.
N. Dimitratos, D. Ligdopoulos, M. Sideris, Arvanitis and Kokkinos were elected to the first Central Committee. The CC put Ligdopoulos in charge of Workers’ Struggle, the official press organ of the party.
The Second Congress was convened in April 1920. Its most significant decision was to join the Communist International, including certainly the unreserved acceptance of its principles and the resolutions of its Congresses.
Georgiadis wrote the reports there. The word “communist” was added between brackets to the initial title “Workers’ Socialist Party”.
N. and P. Dimitratos, Y. Kordatos, G. Doumas and M. Sideris were elected to the new CC. These very serious decisions would be quickly forgotten by the same people who had presented and voted on them.

Of all the work and debates of the Congress, only the declaration of Spyros Rallis, representing the Corfu organisation, remained in the memos for a long time. The order of the day was the tactics of the party. Specifically the immediate action to be taken. A pamphlet by Lossovsky on immediate action and organisation by enterprise had been distributed. The president invited the Corfu representative to give his opinion and to vote. And Rallis, who had had a bit to drink, got up and declared, pronouncing every word: “In conformity with the mandate received by the Corfu section, I vote for immediate action and civil war”. Speaking immediately, Sideris (also from Corfu) asked him: “Tell me, comrade Rallis, since when have you become so thirsty for blood in Corfu ? There hasn’t been a murder there for a century.”

The Spartan king who was killed at Thermopyles resisting the Persians (480 BC). A patriotic and military symbol in Greece.

At the start of the war, Constantine had ceded Kavala, in Macedonia, to the Central powers. The Greek garrison of the town had been interned in Görlitz.

General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE).

Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece (SEKE).

An anti-bolshevik conference held in London by the socialist parties favourable to the Entente. The three Greek delegates, led by Venizelos, had agreed to defend the territorial demands of Greece.

Yannios and his Socialist Centre were situated on the right of the socialist movement.

Initials of “Organisation for Protection of the People’s Struggle” (“opla” means “arms” in Greek). This was the political police created by the CP during the Occupation. OPLA hunted down and murdered opponents of the party line.