Der Aufbruch der Massen – The Awakening of the Popular Masses II

[Fortsetzung des zweiten Kapitels Seite 33 – 35 der englischen Ausgabe]

The war in Asia Minor, the Kemalist movement and the position of the CPG

The last great deed of the “glorious” epoch of Venizelism was the transportation of the army, and the war, to Asia Minor. The Greek troops set out for Izmir in May 1919. So began the most tragic adventure of the country and its people, and the most costly.
In the beginning the war was limited to clashes with irregular formations of partisans. But Kemal, from the far end of Anatolia, denounced the capitulation of the sultan, galvanised and enthused the Turkish people and called for resistance against the invaders by every means. Very quickly groups of partisans formed themselves into a powerful well-equipped regular army. The ineluct- able character of the defeat and collapse of the Greek army took on the appearance of a physical law.
On the Greek side, according to the criteria habitually and generally admitted, this war was reactionary, the invasion of a foreign territory, an invasion whose main reason was to safeguard British interests in the oil fields of the Middle East. The Greek army gave its blood, playing the servile and degrading role of gendarme of the colonial interests of British imperialism.

The Russian government and the Communist International had characterised the war led by Kemal as a war of national liberation and had “in consequence” judged it as progressive, and for that reason supported it politically and diplomatically and sent him advisors, arms and money. If we consider that Kemal was fighting a foreign invasion to liberate the Turkish soil, his struggle had a character of national liberation. But was there anything progressive about it? We believed this and supported it then. But how can we defend the same thesis today? For something to be progressive in our era and to be considered as progressive it must contribute to the raising of the class consciousness of the worker masses, to developing their capacity to struggle for their own emancipation. What has the creation of the modern Turkish state contributed to this? Kemal didn’t just aim to expel the foreign invaders from Turkish territory, but also to create a purely Turkish state by the liquidation of national minorities, millions of Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Cherkess etc. He achieved this objective after his victory, threw the Turkish Communists into the jails where he hanged them, and then finally turned his back on Russia, establishing cordial rela- tions with the imperialists and giving himself the job of protecting their interests. The correct pol- icy, in line with the interests of the proletarian revolution, would have been to call on the Greek and Turkish soldiers to fraternise, and the popular masses to struggle together, without letting themselves be stopped by national, racial and religious differences, for the republic of workers’and peasants’ councils in Asia Minor. Independently of the policy of Russia and the objectives of
Kemal, the duty of Greek Communists was definitely one of intransigent struggle against the war.

The Kemalist movement was a real headache for the theoreticians of the Communist Internat- ional. It didn’t fit into any of the historical categories determined by Marxist theory. To speak only of national liberation meant nothing. Because this is not a social definition. What is the class nature, the social content of the movement? Is it a bourgeois-democratic revolution? But all the businesses in Turkey were Greek, Armenian and Jewish. That was the bourgeoisie. And this bourgeoisie, Kemal dealt with by fire and iron. After his victory, it wasn’t possible for a single vestige of them to remain on the whole of the Turkish territory. In addition, the big companies, the banks, railway companies etc. were French and German, and Turkish only in name. That is to say, a Turkish bourgeoisie did not exist. So, how to define the movement? “A historical anomaly”? “A bad turn of the dialectic”? (It is Trotsky who introduced these curious definitions into Marxist literature). In the end, as the movement was decidedly resistant to any classification, it entered into the archives under the label “Kemalist movement”.

Venizelos falls, the monarchists regain power, but the war carries on When Venizelos returned to Athens, the Treaty of Sèvres(8) in his pocket and crowned with the glory of a martyr after his attempted assassination in Lyon(9), he was praised to the skies. Meeting in the Athens stadium, the mayors and presidents of the localities proclaimed that he had earned the recognition of his countrymen. How could there be any doubt that he would gather under his name the great majority of the people at the elections? Despite the advice of some of his friends, he called the elections for 1 November 1920. The United Opposition(10) came away from the voting with absolute power.

The explanation for the crushing defeat of the “creator of Greater Greece” is not difficult to find. The popular masses had, by voting against Venizelos himself and his party, rejected the war and the terror. In France and Britain the Prime Ministers Clemenceau and Lloyd George, victorious in the war, had met the same unfortunate fate.
At this time I found myself in Thessaloniki. As the results were announced, massive demon- strations formed spontaneously, there was huge participation by soldiers and the peasants from the surrounding villages came into town, holding candles and shouting “Christ is risen”. The gyparaioi, the Cretan gendarmes, all the truncheon wielders… were nowhere to be seen. A certain number of party members allowed themselves to be carried away by the current and participated in these solemn processions. We convened a whole series of meetings to deal with this problem and many members were expelled. With similar demonstrations of joy and enthusi- asm across the whole country the popular masses greeted the defeat of Venizelos and the victory of the United Opposition.

In December the same year a plebiscite returned Constantine to the thrown. The CPG stood election candidates in the main regions of the country. The local organisations proposed the candidates, who were finally designated by an extraordinary electoral congress. The electoral programme was elaborated at this same congress (September 1920). Massive rallies and meetings in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki testified to the vitality and success of the campaign. The slogan “hammer and sickle” resounded in the working class neighbourhoods and the trade union centres. The presence of the party was very visible. It got a hundred thousand votes, a significant figure, if we take into account the fact that the population was then less numerous and that women did not have the right to vote. And without any doubt these voters were workers. But the same workers voted simultaneously for the United Opposition, believing that a vote only for the Communists would be taken as a demonstration of support for Venizelos. The electoral system allowed for this double vote (a system of balls: there was one ballot box per candidate, and you voted by putting a black ball or a white ball in each one of them).

During the plebiscite for the return of Constantine, the party called on the people to abstain. But, in Thessaloniki, we called on the workers to vote against, and in favour of the republic. This brought us immediately into conflict with the monarchists. The popular joy didn’t last long. The United Opposition had denounced Venizelos over the years, and the war and the terror with him. They had publicly, formally, categorically promised that they would bring it to an end and that the people would finally enjoy freedom and peace. It became apparent very quickly that all these promises of peace and freedom were nothing other than the usual pre-electoral trickery. In its turn the new government used violence and terrorism against its opponents. Para-state organisations appeared everywhere. The government imposed new taxes and seized half the value of the currency in circulation by a forced loan. The hundred drachma bill became worth no more than fifty. And, most importantly for the people, the war in Asia Minor continued with a redoubled intensity. In March, the classes were called under the flags again. The Sakarya(11) campaign, led by Constantine and designed to raise his prestige, cost rivers of blood and ended in a pitiful defeat.


A treaty signed in August 1920 between the victorious powers and the Turkish empire, which consecrated its
dismemberment; it’s notable that Greece received the region of Smyrna (Izmir).

In fact at Lyon station in Paris; an attentat carried out by some monarchist officers.

The monarchists.

An Anatolian river to the west of Ankara. The objective was to take Kemal’s capital, Ankara.