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

In Yannina

At the end of July 1921, we were freed. I didn’t know the legal reasons for our release and I didn’t try to find out what they were. A few days later I left for Corfu. I presented myself to the office of that place, which sent me to Yannina, in a half-batallion of the tenth regiment of infantry, stationed in Akraios. Two days later, for the first time I came into contact with the comrades of the local group of the Party and with F. Bratsos (a member of the CPG), from the offices of the headquarters of the gendarmerie of Epire, Ar. Papadatos, a warrant officer (also a party member) and St. Yannoulatos, a second lieutenant (who had been excluded from the party for indiscipline and anarchist tendencies). We organised ourselves to intervene politically. Stationed at Akraios there was the half battalion of the tenth (where I served as a private and Papadatos as a warrant officer), a half battalion of the twenty fourth infantry regiment and the first and second mountain artillery sections.

Our first need was to establish friendly relations, which would allow us to make individual propaganda, and at the end of one month we had created groups in all the units. Pamphlets and leaflets circulated everywhere and provoked discussions. Some evenings, after secretly leaving the barracks, we met in the ruins of Velisarion, thirty or forty soldiers, to draw up a balance sheet of our activity and decide on actions to follow. Some soldiers joined the Party after their demobilisation. Sympathetic drivers transported our propaganda material to the border[18]. It is true to say that there was no surveillance on the part of the military authorities. We regularly visited the trade union centre and had discussions there with the workers.

I wrote to the Central Committee to inform them of our activity and to ask them to send pamphlets, anti-war leaflets and a duplicator. The response arrived very quickly, signed by P. Dimitratos. He formally disapproved of our action, which according to him was dangerous for us and for the Party, and enjoined us to stop it. Needless to say we did not obey him.


At the beginning of October 1921, our unit received the order from the army corps to select four educated soldiers for the recruitment centre in Corfu. I was part of this batch and, like the three others, I received my movement order for Corfu. There, the register was entrusted to me.

We were two soldiers employed in writing who had the same surname. Shortly after we had taken up our functions, the captain Nikolouzos called us together and asked us which of us two was a Bolshevik.

“It is me that you are speaking to us about, Captain”, I said to him.

“What does that mean”, he said to me, “Are you one or not?”.

“I was a citizen, but now I am a soldier.”

Another day, the commander of the recruitment office came into our room and said: “Is there anyone here who can explain to us what the word soviet is supposed to mean, hey! Priftis?” But I answered that I didn’t know.

It seems they had received some information about me, whether from the Security Police, or, more probably, from the mayor of Corfu. I had made the journey from Thessaloniki to Corfu in the same bus as him, a car drawn by horses, as one travelled in those days. I was going back to my village, and he to Dassia. We began a discussion which obviously ended in accusations and insults. When the mayor tried to pull off the hammer and sickle insignia which was pinned on my tie, I grabbed him by his bowtie and we came to blows. However, nobody took any particular measure against me in the recruitment office, and those who pushed me into discussion were more trying to make fun of me. Every day, after the officers had left, we stayed in the offices and, with soldiers from the other companies, we debated the situation, the war, the workers’ movement, communist theory.

At that time N. Dimitratos passed through Corfu returning from Russia via Italy. He spoke to us about contacts he had had and about the situation of the country, but he appeared rather disillusioned.

In mid-December 1921, a day when I was “on duty”, the postman turned up, before the arrival of the other soldiers and the officers, and gave me an urgent telegram from the army corps. I opened it without thinking so as to make a note of it. I remained holding the pen in the air as I read its content: “Send escort soldier Priftis Spyridon – stop – Confirm execution telegraphically – stop – army corps”.

I put the telegram in my pocket, took up my gun and my bag and returned to my village.

I then lived the life of a deserter in wartime, until the end of August 1922, eight months in all. The life of a hunted beast. The detachments of Gounaris[19] combed the villages, as those of Venizelos had done five years before. They didn’t smash the jars of olives and the barrels of wine, but made their quarters in the houses of the deserters, transforming them into barracks, sleeping there, killing the chickens, lambs and pigs to eat them, making the parents of those they were hunting serve them. The villages and the mountains were filled with deserters. Soldiers who obtained a permit (most often the wounded) no longer quickly rejoined their units.

Obviously the gendarmes chose to put themselves in the most comfortable houses, and mine was one of them. Very often ten to fifteen gendarmes invaded the house, running into the rooms to be sure of a place to sleep, setting out their possessions and their guns, and then setting about devouring everything which can be eaten, drinking wine until they’ve had their fill, throwing themselves like foxes on the hens and like wolves on the lambs. My mother and father were obliged to serve them, to cook for them, to wash their dishes and to remove their rubbish from the garden. In winter, they had to provide them with wood non-stop, if not they would warm themselves by burning anything which came to hand, chairs or tables.

The conference of February 1922

The situation of the monarchist authorities worsened by the day. All their desperate attempts to guarantee a loan from abroad had failed. Everywhere the government came up against a categorical refusal. The great allies, those on whose account and for whose interests they had begun the war in Asia Minor, abandoned the country to its fate and ended up by turning towards Kemal. They understood that he was not the dangerous revolutionary that they had once believed, but a nationalist leader which it was possible to get along with. This was sufficient for them to sacrifice their old ally and faithful agent Greece. That’s what they did. It was a long time since the Turkish ataman chief of the partisans. Kemal had become the chief of a large army – powerful, organised and supplied with the most modern weapons.

The Greek army was falling to pieces and no longer had even salted herrings to feed it. Its morale had fallen to zero. From hour to hour the number of deserters grew. You could no longer count the soldiers in cushy jobs, offspring of the bourgeois class and “string pullers”, who lounged about in the cafés of Athens carrying out some so-called special mission, while the sons of the people were dying on the plains of Anatolia.

The discontent and indignation of the popular masses was obvious. There wasn’t a day without a strike or demonstration. The collapse of the front was only a question of time.

A revolutionary party worthy of the name had to prepare itself and prepare the masses for the inevitable revolutionary crisis. What was the policy of the Central Committee of the CPG?

At its second congress, in April 1920, the Party condemned and rejected the social democratic theses of its founding congress (popular democracy, national defence, League of Nations), adhered unreservedly to the Communist International and accepted its programme and its principles. But the closer we got to the revolutionary crisis, precisely conditions which would allow the character of the party and its real attachment to its principles to be proven, the more it trampled them underfoot, ending up by completely rejecting the revolutionary programme.

At the beginning of the month of February 1922, the central committee called an extraordinary conference. The following lines summarise the spirit of the resolutions that it took up under such critical conditions: “The Party, going through such a period of organisation and propaganda, needs a long legal existence… The intensity of the Party’s offensive cannot go beyond the limits of the political resistance of the working class and the general capacities of the movement”. In the language of the class struggle, this means that the Party has to keep its political activity within the limits defined by the state and not give any pretext for police intervention. This means that it is necessary to contain workers’ struggles, to restrain them within a framework defined by bourgeois legality. And if, despite its efforts and good intentions, strikes, demonstrations and clashes with the police spontaneously break out, if, without its permission, the workers break the limits of bourgeois legality, thus perturbing the legal conditions so necessary to its existence, it must logically put itself on the side of law and order against the troubles that are “fomented by elements foreign to the working class, adventurists, provocateurs”, etc.

Such a theory obviously can’t stand up to any serious examination and contradicts historical experience. Not only is it not the Party which sets the pace of the class struggle, but, and this has almost the status of a law, all the great class struggles in history have broken out when no one, party or individual, was expecting it. Besides, who can measure the limits of the political resistance of the working class, and according to which criteria? When a revolutionary organisation has to limit its activity to propaganda, it is not in its nature and still less can it fix the term of this activity. The march of the class struggle takes precedence over everything. The organisation must therefore always be ready to pass from the propagandist stage to that of agitation and immediate action when the conditions change. Only the panic which gripped these unlikely “revolutionary” leaders in the face of the approaching storm can explain these resolutions.

Another resolution at the same conference, according to which the decisions of the International had only a “historic significance” for the Party and therefore did not commit it to anything, in fact placed it outside the Communist International.

Only two delegates expressed their opposition: the lawyer Vanguelis Papanastassis and the building worker Alevizakis, representing the Piraeus organisation.

Kordatos, Georgiadis, Papanikolaou, A. Sideris and Petsopoulos formed the new central committee.

It would however be wrong to think that these shameful resolutions expressed the opinion of the party members, quite simply because, in their great majority, the mass of the class youth, the lively and revolutionary elements were either conscripted or were deserters and fugitives. These members, where they were, particularly in the army, carried out a courageous action against the war on their own initiative. This is something which the legalist leaders of the Party would pay somewhat dearly for, even though they had nothing to do with it.

In June 1922, the five members of the central committee, the trade unionists Evanguelou and Anguelis and the journalist Strangas were arrested and imprisoned.

In view of the seriousness of the charges against them, in the context of a war, they risked the death penalty. These people were afraid, and to prove their innocence and to get out of prison there was no degradation and humiliation to which they didn’t submit. They used means which were the most contradictory not just to their quality as revolutionaries but, quite simply, to their human dignity: petitions to influential personalities of the regime, to friends close to the government, to the king etc.