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

Der Kampf gegen den Krieg –
The struggle against the war

At the end of 1920 and at the beginning of 1921, Communists came from numerous other towns and gathered in Thessaloniki. We were all young and thoroughly impregnated with the principles of the Russian Revolution. Thessaloniki, the heart of the movement, attracted us like a magnet. Here are some names which come back to me from that time: Y. Ioannidis and Kaltekis (the first, a barber, the second, a cigarette maker, sought refuge here, hunted since the February events in Volos), M. Papadopoulos, Mikhailidis, Zissiadis, Avgoustis, Alekos, Dimitratos (tobacco workers), St. Arvanitakis (cigarette maker), Kypridimos (bakery worker), Tomoglis (building worker), Stefanoudakis (electrician), Sfontilis, Seïtanidis, Palaistis, Yamoyannis and myself (employees), Spanakis, Zogas, Vintsilaios (soldiers), Strakos (sailor in Karamboumou).

The best known were: Yannis Ioannidis, very well known in the movement since he refused to put party cards in circulation with a photo of Benaroya. “Cards with his photo will only circulate when he is dead, and on condition that he was revolutionary right to the end”, he had said, and the party cards were not distributed in Volos. The same Ioannidis later turned into the most resolute and sinister Stalinist bureaucrat. As for Aristidis Dimitratos, it was indeed he who became the Minister of Labour under Metaxas and then Karamanlis. Sfontilis (Pyliotis) and Vintsilaios were in the Communism group. Pyliotis evolved a bit like Ioannidis. Khristos Seïtanidis, who later led the group Towards the Masses, was executed under the Occupation by the Italians. Stelios Arvanitakis was for some years the principal spokesman for the most extremist tendencies in the party. He was killed by OPLA during the Occupation for having committed this sin. Alekos G. (I don’t remember his family name any more) killed a grass and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Tomoglis was killed in a police station during the general strike of August 1923.

We met up with each other very quickly. In agreement on ideas, we strengthened our links and decided to organise the fight to purge the party of opportunists and to take in hand the struggle against the war as we understood it, without taking account of the official leadership and what it was able to decide.

The twenty one conditions were then discussed in all the Communist parties, conditions that had to be accepted unreservedly by those who wanted to be admitted into the Communist International. We called for their acceptance without reserve. One of them made provision for the immediate expulsion of all those who had stood for the defence of the nation during the war. For us this condition had a decisive importance. Most of the other ones dealt with the discipline of the parties in the International. This discipline, for us, went without saying. There is only one revolutionary movement, worldwide and indissoluble.

To extend and coordinate our action across the whole country, we then tried to enter into contact with comrades of the left known from the other party organisations. I was put in charge of this task. So we established contact with Serres (Hatzistavrou), Volos (Theos, then in prison), Athens (Ikonomou), Corfu (Rallis) and with the front.

Our struggle enabled us to overturn the old local leadership of Sargologos, and worker comrades close to our views entered it again (Papadopoulos, Tzallas, Ikonomou, Paschalis). But it was in the editorship of Workers’ Voice that our victory was most complete. The editorial committee comprised the journalist Riginos, the doctor Evropoulos and myself, and I was appointed director.

As Riginos and Evropoulos were mostly there for reasons of protocol, the editorship of the journal fell entirely to me and through me certainly to our fraction. Thus, Workers’ Voice became an authentic revolutionary organ, an organ of intransigent struggle against the war.

The respective editorial committees of Avanti and Workers’ Voice were elected by the assembly. The local committee did not have the right to dismiss them, only the assembly could do that. Thus the editorial committee enjoyed a certain independence.

At the same time, as a fraction, and not as a party organisation, we organised the sending of propaganda material to the front. Every week we prepared packages with Workers’ Voice, pamphlets and leaflets, which were sent to Smyrna, poste restante, in the name of Raoul Avgeris. Our organisation in the army then picked them up and shared them out to the various units. (I knew Raoul Avgeris – this obviously wasn’t his real name – in Corfu in 1924. He was a pupil at the urban police school, which had just been created. It was the very same person who had been in contact with us. Constantin Bastounopoulos, alias Costis Bastias(17), was also once a pupil in that school. He also acted the leftist and was linked to progressive literary circles. He had a bust of Liebknecht on a table in his room.)

Apart from these regular dispatches, we noted from weekly publications the addresses of soldiers and NCOs who wanted to correspond with young ladies. We wrote to each one saying that it was all well and good to correspond with girls, but that he mustn’t forget the other much more important and serious problems: why was he fighting? Why was he putting himself in permanent danger being killed or maimed? What was the sense of this war? Who had an interest in it? etc. In this way we made contact with numerous soldiers and afterwards put them in contact with the organisation inside the army. During the mobilisation of March 1921, there wasn’t a single reservist assembly point where we were not present, making speeches and distributing leaflets. There was almost no surveillance on the part of the military and police authorities. The official authorities of the party obviously had no responsibility for all this antiwar and antimilitarist work. Everything was done on our initiative and took place under our responsibility.


In front of the Adrianoupoleos military tribunal, for high reason

In 1921, Easter Day fell on 18 April according to the old calendar; but it was also 1 May according to the new one, the First of May which the workers of the country celebrated, with all the workers of the world. The police, using the pretext of the Christian celebrations, banned all workers’ gatherings. We (the union centre and the party) decided to go outside and ignore the Easter of the Christians and the police ban. On Good Friday, while the services were taking place, thousands of leaflets were distributed calling the workers to meetings and demonstrations for the Sunday, Easter Day. On Holy Saturday the issue of Workers’ Voice, with more red than ever before, called on its front page for workers to take to the streets.

On Good Friday, Ar. Dimitratos, secretary of the Communist Youth, was arrested. On Saturday at mid-day, it was my turn. In the evening the door of the nick slammed shut on Ch. Tzallas, secretary of the bakery workers’ union and member of the local committee of the party. On Easter morning they brought us A. Papadopoulos, secretary of the party organisation.

The police and the military government had taken exceptional measures to prevent the workers’ demonstrations, without result. In various parts of the town gatherings and demonstrations formed, red flags flew, cries of “down with the war” and “fraternisation of peoples across borders and countries” rang out, shaking the whole town. Confrontations with the mounted police broke out in Koule-Kaphe, in Tsinar, in the Jewish areas, and above all, soldiers destined for the front in Asia Minor refused to get on board, mutinied, smashed portraits of the king to bits, fraternised with the workers and joined them. The same day, martial law was proclaimed.

The police handed us over to the military authority, and we were transferred from the nick to the military prison of Toumbas. There the soldiers showed their sympathy in all sorts of ways, greeting us, throwing us cigarettes and fruit, showing us leaflets. The examining officer brought charges against us of high treason, inciting the people to revolt and soldiers to desert, and sent us before the emergency military tribunal of Adrianoupoleos.

A few days later, chained up and escorted by six men commanded by a sergeant, we were taken to the station for Adrianoupoleos. Some thugs from the Macedonian Royalist Youth were waiting for us there. They were standing there to yell, to shower us with obscenities and take us to task. But the escort, with bayonets fixed on their rifles, pushed them aside with kicks and bayonet prods. The soldiers, along with their sergeant, were very nice to us during the voyage. The train only went as far as Karagatch. From then on the line was destroyed, and we took the road to Adrianoupoleos partly on foot and partly by truck.

A pleasant surprise was waiting for us. Barely had the soldiers taken us to the transfer section, and completed the formalities of our handover, when the two sergeants who had accepted us shook our hands effusively and put us in a room in the section and not in the prison. They sympathised with the CPG. One of them had discovered revolutionary ideas and had been influenced by them when he had been following Benaroya on behalf of the Security Police.

Two or three hours later, the second lieutenant Vlakhos, accompanied by a few soldiers of the telegraphists’ battalion, came to visit us and told us, after greeting us, that “The battalion is entirely ours. After discussing your case, we have all entered into an agreement and we are ready to free you if ever the tribunal sentences you to death or to a severe penalty.” The two sergeants present at the discussion assured us of this as well. Shortly afterwards it was the turn of lieutenant Konstantinidis to pay us a visit. At midday the soldiers provided us with a whole lamb that they had roasted in their unit. This stay in Adrianoupoleos passed in quasi-freedom, and the soldiers never ceased visiting us (I came to meet up with one of them again in Akronafplia camp in 1940) .

The soldiers, Vlakhos and the sergeants did not carry out their decision. The tribunal declared itself not competent because martial law had been declared after the events of Easter, when we were already in prison. After the tribunal had made the pronouncement we stayed in Adrianoupoleos for another two days, just to visit the town and its curiosities. At least to me, nothing made any particular impression apart from the mosque of sultan Selim and the women in rags who swept the streets. Redirected to an ordinary court, we returned to Thessaloniki escorted by just three gendarmes, and not handcuffed.

Locked up in the cellars of the Governor’s palace for four days, we drafted a protest against the persecution of Turks and Slavs by the Greek authorities, expressing our sympathy and our solidarity towards the persecuted minorities and criticising the attitude of the Central Committee of the Party which, although told about it by the comrades in the army, had not published anything or done anything.

The soldiers and the two sergeants had given us plenty of concrete examples of the ferocious persecution of the ethnic minorities of Thrace by the Greek government. Our testimony was published by Rizospastis, which was not yet the Party organ. From the cellars of the palace, which were the most foul prisons I have known, we were transferred to the new prison. Kordatos came to visit us after a few days, in his double capacity as a lawyer and a member of the Central Committee. We were ready to clash violently with him. But, in the visiting room, in front of this reserved man, who grasped our hands with obvious emotion, our anger and hostility evaporated. He agreed with us about the protest we had sent, and spoke to us sadly about the poor situation prevailing in the CC.

(17) 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.