Der Kollaps der Front, die »militärische Revolution« und die revolutionäre Krise in Griechenland

Die Front bricht zusammen und die Partei handelt: eine internationalistische Stimme, die zur Verbrüderung aufruft, wird ausgeschlossen und der Generalstreik der ArbeiterInnen massiv behindert. Die Kämpfe halten an, die »Kommunistische Union« und ihr Organ die »Kommunistische Tribüne« werden gegründet …

The collapse of the front, the »military revolution« and the revolutionary crisis in Greece

The general offensive of Kemal began on 13 August 1922. It was remarkably well organised and we know its tragic result. The front gave way on the first attack. The army dissolved and the retreat of the first few days quickly turned into a disorderly flight. All the equipment was abandoned. The dead, and even more so the wounded and those taken prisoner could be counted in the thousands. With the army the Christian inhabitants of Asia Minor also fled in their thousands, terrorised, abandoning all their goods. Everywhere there were massacres and burning. Everywhere bodies and smouldering ruins. And to crown this drama, the indescribable horror of the burning of Izmir.

Who was responsible for this unprecedented crime against the country and the people? The Liberals, who sent the army, or the monarchists, who continued the war? All were, without doubt. It was the bourgeois class in its entirety.

Then came the military »revolution«, the abdication of Constantine in favour of the crown prince, the overthrow of the authorities by that same revolution, the putting on trial for treason of the monarchist government, the sending to the revolutionary tribunal of the most responsible ministers, Gounaris, Stratos, Theotokis, Protopapadakis and Baltatzis, and of the chief general, Hatzianestis, their condemnation to death and their execution.

All this is well known. Some have lived it, others have read about it or heard about it. And yet the most interesting thing is precisely what everyone avoids mentioning: the situation amongst the popular masses and their reaction to the events.

The country was in ferment. Everywhere anger and indignation were being expressed. The roads were full of armed soldiers who no longer obeyed anybody. Thousands and thousands of refugees, penniless and starving, invaded the ports, the streets, the squares. The authorities, stricken with paralysis, no longer had any real existence. In Redestos(20), the authorities were abolished, red flags appeared in the demonstrations. The »revolutionary« government, racked with anguish, tried to disarm the soldiers, granting them freedom in return for their weapons. There were more and more appeals to the masses and the army for order, discipline and national unity. The primary mission of this »revolution« was clearly to safeguard the capitalist regime. To appease the desperate mob, it threw them the heads of five ministers and the chief general, and in unison the pathetic leaders of the CPG, released from prison in the interval, scattered themselves about to explain that in the face of national disaster it was necessary to put away the flag of class struggle.

But the class struggle obeyed its own laws. The masses, guided by their class instinct, did not concern themselves unduly with the national disaster and were hardly concerned at all about the crisis of power of their exploiters.

The explosive materials which ceaselessly accumulated were not slow in spontaneously combusting. A strike wave swept across the country. The refugees demanded bread and housing. Many violent strikes led up to the general strike of August 1923. In all the industrial centres thousands of workers took to the streets. Everywhere there were clashes with the police. Ferocious fighting in Piraeus caused eleven deaths and hundreds of injured people. The army office there was besieged by the masses in revolt. Some of the troops fraternised with the strikers. The government sent some Cherkesses against the workers. A state of emergency was proclaimed across the whole territory, the workers’ unions were made illegal. In Thessaloniki, Tomoglis was murdered in cold blood in the gaols of the Security Police.

The military government finally succeeded in re-establishing »order«.

The CPG in the events

In May 1923, two months before the general strike, the central committee (then in prison) had called a meeting of the national council. At this council some people had declared that the resolutions of the February conference were annulled, but it was recognised immediately that the council, not being a representative body, did not have the authority to change theses and resolutions of conferences and congresses. This prevarication allowed them to avoid any debate on the situation and on the tasks of the Party. The council was content to take a series of decisions on Party organisation, education, conferences and publications. Despite this, most of the debates were about the innumerable capitulations of the old and the recent central committees.

Like rats leaving the ship just before it sinks, the leaders abandoned the Party just before the storm.

In September 1923, one month after the general strike, an extraordinary electoral congress was organised. This congress, also using its narrow competences as an excuse, avoided all debate on the situation and on the formidable events of the previous month and limited itself to preparation for the elections, the designation of candidates and the elaboration of an electoral platform which, moreover, did not distinguish itself in any way from the electoral programmes of the reformist parties. Maximos, Apostolidis, Stavridis, Tzallas and Akrivopoulos were elected to the central committee.

The »revolution«, become the government, gave the order to liberate the imprisoned leaders of the CPG. The Party was therefore blessed once again with its »leadership« elected by the February conference.

The central committee then called an extraordinary congress for October. The resolutions of that congress had perhaps no precedent in the political history of the world. The collapse of the front had created a revolutionary situation in the country, and the »revolutionary« party of the working class, the party supposed to prepare itself for precisely such circumstances, declared with alacrity in its resolutions that it was not the place for it to occupy itself with programmatic questions, and that any debate on the setting out of new tactics would serve no useful purpose. Finally, it decided that the theses of the February conference could serve very well as the provisional basis for the activity of the Party.

The congress also decreed the exclusion of Petsopoulos. Georgiadis, A. Sideris and M. Sideris submitted a motion to that effect, because of the tactic that he had put into practice: »a changing mixture of ultra-communism, chauvinism and reformism«, etc. This motion provoked some discussion, the creation of a commission of enquiry, and everything ended up with his exclusion. But I am sure that the real reasons rested rather on his attitude during a rally in Sofia. At this huge rally in the biggest square in the town, Petsopoulos, after having saluted the Bulgarian workers in the name of the Greek workers, then hugged and kissed the Turkish representative in front of the crowd of assembled workers and the two men, the Greek and the Turk, while Greeks and Turks massacred each other in Asia Minor, denounced the war, proclaiming with a loud voice the solidarity, the common interests and ideas of the Greek and Turkish workers and called on the two peoples to fraternise and to join together in the fight for socialism.

The Greek ambassador in Sofia had immediately informed his government.

This internationalist position of Petsopoulos obviously didn’t fit in at all with the policy of »legal existence« and the appeal to »put away the flag of class struggle«, and risked compromising the Party in the eyes of the »officer patriots« or even of provoking the intervention of the police and the courts. There lies the real reason for his exclusion. The central committee elected by this congress comprised Kordatos, Lagoudakis, Mangos, Sargologos and Yamoyannis.

The circumstances experienced by the country after the collapse of the Asia Minor front and the army revolution were precisely those which violently propelled a revolutionary party on to the scene. Yet in no way or at any moment did the CPG assert its presence, even in the most elementary way. It was nothing other than a pathetic side-kick of the military government. Its leaders were in permanent contact with the officers, and in their »memoranda« which came from the »Commander« who was with Plastiras(21). What they asked from the military was even more moderate and measured than what was demanded by the officers and the Republican Union of Al. Papanastassiou. It didn’t propose even the shadow of an independent class politics.

When the working class entered into struggle, despite the advice of the central committee of the CPG, opening a front against the army revolution, the Party, if it did not openly take the side of those who machine-gunned the workers in Piraeus, deployed all its effort to sap the morale of the masses in struggle and to break their combativity. During the general strike it played the role of fireman and scab.

To justify its strike-breaking attitude, it declared that the conflict between the working class and the army ran the risk of being exploited by the monarchists. It was for that reason that it did everything in its power to restrain the workers and contain their struggles. It is a policy as old as the workers’ movement, which the workers always pay very dearly for. This is because the opposite is true: the workers’ struggle bars the way to reaction while capitulation opens it.

The proletarian organisation of Piraeus finally saved the honour of communism in Greece. Seeing that the central committee acted as scabs, the Piraeus organisation detached itself from the Party, and, with part of the Athens organisation, created the Communist Union and published the newspaper Communist Tribune. This organisation did everything it could to help the workers in struggle, its members were in the front line of all the battles, and by its newspaper and its slogans it stimulated courage and maintained confidence in the victorious outcome of the struggle. Its main slogan for the sailors was »Take over the ships«.

The Communist Union, by its politics, its action and the blood of its fighters, wrote one of the most brilliant pages in the history of our workers’ movement.

Kordatos, in his History of Greece (1900-1924), doesn’t say a single word about this split, nor about the Communist Union. He presents the Communist Tribune as the personal organ of V. Papanastassis, and the latter as an agent of the Security Police. Here Kordatos engages in deliberate falsification and distortion of the facts. He settles accounts, by a really dirty calumny, with history, which contradicts him, and with those who took on what neither he nor the other theoreticians of the conference of February 1922 had the courage or the stature to take on.

At that time I was serving with the 1/10 Company in Corfu. I presented myself there just after the rout, like hundreds of other deserters. In Corfu as everywhere, the revolutionary situation was evident. On our own initiative we then opposed the antimonarchist slogans of the liberals, the Republican Union and the agrarians of Dendrinos with the slogans of the proletarian revolution: »It is capitalism in its entirety which is responsible for the war, famine and destruction, and not just one of its camps« ; »The refugees should be put up in the houses of the rich«.

We openly spoke in the army buildings, in the cafés, in the street. Every evening we gathered a crowd of soldiers in the Party local offices. We debated, we sang the International, The Labour Song and a detourned version of The Son of the Eagle: »From the cannons of the fleet we make hammers to smash the heads of the bourgeoisie, and from sabres we make sickles to harvest…«.

During the general strike we were all confined to barracks, required to remain armed at all times, with full cartridge belts. But beforehand we had convinced most of the soldiers to choose targets other than the heads of the workers if we were to receive the order to fire. Some soldiers, in groups or individually, approached me to give me their hand, addressed me with smiles or winks of the eye and whispered to me »We are ready«.

When we received the order to assemble the soldiers who knew how to knead bread to replace the bakers on strike, everyone refused to break the strike, agreeing only to make bread for the army, although many had declared their profession as baker. We had done some good work. We also did what we could to help the refugees looking for assistance and a roof over their heads, calling on them to occupy the houses of the rich. Once we, a few soldiers, took the head of a group of refugees and all together we pushed back the gendarmes and occupied a wing of the royal palace.

During the left split in Piraeus and Athens and the formation of the Communist Union, the comrades who had taken on its leadership, all workers and people that I knew for the most part, wrote to me, persuaded that the Corfu organisation was going to follow their example. I replied that I was in complete political agreement with them but that it was necessary to avoid a split in so far as it was possible. That did not stop us from distributing Communist Tribune, which was an authentic proletarian journal.

(20)
Now in European Turkey and known as Tekirdağ.

(21)
The chief of the military junta which had come to power.

The general offensive of Kemal began on 13 August 1922. It was remarkably well organised and we know its tragic result. The front gave way on the first attack. The army dissolved and the retreat of the first few days quickly turned into a disorderly flight. All the equipment was abandoned. The dead, and even more so the wounded and those taken prisoner could be counted in the thousands. With the army the Christian inhabitants of Asia Minor also fled in their thousands, terrorised, abandoning all their goods. Everywhere there were massacres and burning. Everywhere bodies and smouldering ruins. And to crown this drama, the indescribable horror of the burning of Izmir.

Who was responsible for this unprecedented crime against the country and the people? The Liberals, who sent the army, or the monarchists, who continued the war? All were, without doubt. It was the bourgeois class in its entirety.

Then came the military »revolution«, the abdication of Constantine in favour of the crown prince, the overthrow of the authorities by that same revolution, the putting on trial for treason of the monarchist government, the sending to the revolutionary tribunal of the most responsible ministers, Gounaris, Stratos, Theotokis, Protopapadakis and Baltatzis, and of the chief general, Hatzianestis, their condemnation to death and their execution.

All this is well known. Some have lived it, others have read about it or heard about it. And yet the most interesting thing is precisely what everyone avoids mentioning: the situation amongst the popular masses and their reaction to the events.

The country was in ferment. Everywhere anger and indignation were being expressed. The roads were full of armed soldiers who no longer obeyed anybody. Thousands and thousands of refugees, penniless and starving, invaded the ports, the streets, the squares. The authorities, stricken with paralysis, no longer had any real existence. In Redestos(20), the authorities were abolished, red flags appeared in the demonstrations. The »revolutionary« government, racked with anguish, tried to disarm the soldiers, granting them freedom in return for their weapons. There were more and more appeals to the masses and the army for order, discipline and national unity. The primary mission of this »revolution« was clearly to safeguard the capitalist regime. To appease the desperate mob, it threw them the heads of five ministers and the chief general, and in unison the pathetic leaders of the CPG, released from prison in the interval, scattered themselves about to explain that in the face of national disaster it was necessary to put away the flag of class struggle.

But the class struggle obeyed its own laws. The masses, guided by their class instinct, did not concern themselves unduly with the national disaster and were hardly concerned at all about the crisis of power of their exploiters.

The explosive materials which ceaselessly accumulated were not slow in spontaneously combusting. A strike wave swept across the country. The refugees demanded bread and housing. Many violent strikes led up to the general strike of August 1923. In all the industrial centres thousands of workers took to the streets. Everywhere there were clashes with the police. Ferocious fighting in Piraeus caused eleven deaths and hundreds of injured people. The army office there was besieged by the masses in revolt. Some of the troops fraternised with the strikers. The government sent some Cherkesses against the workers. A state of emergency was proclaimed across the whole territory, the workers’ unions were made illegal. In Thessaloniki, Tomoglis was murdered in cold blood in the gaols of the Security Police.

The military government finally succeeded in re-establishing »order«.


The CPG in the events

In May 1923, two months before the general strike, the central committee (then in prison) had called a meeting of the national council. At this council some people had declared that the resolutions of the February conference were annulled, but it was recognised immediately that the council, not being a representative body, did not have the authority to change theses and resolutions of conferences and congresses. This prevarication allowed them to avoid any debate on the situation and on the tasks of the Party. The council was content to take a series of decisions on Party organisation, education, conferences and publications. Despite this, most of the debates were about the innumerable capitulations of the old and the recent central committees.

Like rats leaving the ship just before it sinks, the leaders abandoned the Party just before the storm.

In September 1923, one month after the general strike, an extraordinary electoral congress was organised. This congress, also using its narrow competences as an excuse, avoided all debate on the situation and on the formidable events of the previous month and limited itself to preparation for the elections, the designation of candidates and the elaboration of an electoral platform which, moreover, did not distinguish itself in any way from the electoral programmes of the reformist parties. Maximos, Apostolidis, Stavridis, Tzallas and Akrivopoulos were elected to the central committee.

The »revolution«, become the government, gave the order to liberate the imprisoned leaders of the CPG. The Party was therefore blessed once again with its »leadership« elected by the February conference.

The central committee then called an extraordinary congress for October. The resolutions of that congress had perhaps no precedent in the political history of the world. The collapse of the front had created a revolutionary situation in the country, and the »revolutionary« party of the working class, the party supposed to prepare itself for precisely such circumstances, declared with alacrity in its resolutions that it was not the place for it to occupy itself with programmatic questions, and that any debate on the setting out of new tactics would serve no useful purpose. Finally, it decided that the theses of the February conference could serve very well as the provisional basis for the activity of the Party.

The congress also decreed the exclusion of Petsopoulos. Georgiadis, A. Sideris and M. Sideris submitted a motion to that effect, because of the tactic that he had put into practice: »a changing mixture of ultra-communism, chauvinism and reformism«, etc. This motion provoked some discussion, the creation of a commission of enquiry, and everything ended up with his exclusion. But I am sure that the real reasons rested rather on his attitude during a rally in Sofia. At this huge rally in the biggest square in the town, Petsopoulos, after having saluted the Bulgarian workers in the name of the Greek workers, then hugged and kissed the Turkish representative in front of the crowd of assembled workers and the two men, the Greek and the Turk, while Greeks and Turks massacred each other in Asia Minor, denounced the war, proclaiming with a loud voice the solidarity, the common interests and ideas of the Greek and Turkish workers and called on the two peoples to fraternise and to join together in the fight for socialism.

The Greek ambassador in Sofia had immediately informed his government.

This internationalist position of Petsopoulos obviously didn’t fit in at all with the policy of »legal existence« and the appeal to »put away the flag of class struggle«, and risked compromising the Party in the eyes of the »officer patriots« or even of provoking the intervention of the police and the courts. There lies the real reason for his exclusion. The central committee elected by this congress comprised Kordatos, Lagoudakis, Mangos, Sargologos and Yamoyannis.

The circumstances experienced by the country after the collapse of the Asia Minor front and the army revolution were precisely those which violently propelled a revolutionary party on to the scene. Yet in no way or at any moment did the CPG assert its presence, even in the most elementary way. It was nothing other than a pathetic side-kick of the military government. Its leaders were in permanent contact with the officers, and in their »memoranda« which came from the »Commander« who was with Plastiras(21). What they asked from the military was even more moderate and measured than what was demanded by the officers and the Republican Union of Al. Papanastassiou. It didn’t propose even the shadow of an independent class politics.

When the working class entered into struggle, despite the advice of the central committee of the CPG, opening a front against the army revolution, the Party, if it did not openly take the side of those who machine-gunned the workers in Piraeus, deployed all its effort to sap the morale of the masses in struggle and to break their combativity. During the general strike it played the role of fireman and scab.

To justify its strike-breaking attitude, it declared that the conflict between the working class and the army ran the risk of being exploited by the monarchists. It was for that reason that it did everything in its power to restrain the workers and contain their struggles. It is a policy as old as the workers’ movement, which the workers always pay very dearly for. This is because the opposite is true: the workers’ struggle bars the way to reaction while capitulation opens it.

The proletarian organisation of Piraeus finally saved the honour of communism in Greece. Seeing that the central committee acted as scabs, the Piraeus organisation detached itself from the Party, and, with part of the Athens organisation, created the Communist Union and published the newspaper Communist Tribune. This organisation did everything it could to help the workers in struggle, its members were in the front line of all the battles, and by its newspaper and its slogans it stimulated courage and maintained confidence in the victorious outcome of the struggle. Its main slogan for the sailors was »Take over the ships«.

The Communist Union, by its politics, its action and the blood of its fighters, wrote one of the most brilliant pages in the history of our workers’ movement.

Kordatos, in his History of Greece (1900-1924), doesn’t say a single word about this split, nor about the Communist Union. He presents the Communist Tribune as the personal organ of V. Papanastassis, and the latter as an agent of the Security Police. Here Kordatos engages in deliberate falsification and distortion of the facts. He settles accounts, by a really dirty calumny, with history, which contradicts him, and with those who took on what neither he nor the other theoreticians of the conference of February 1922 had the courage or the stature to take on.

At that time I was serving with the 1/10 Company in Corfu. I presented myself there just after the rout, like hundreds of other deserters. In Corfu as everywhere, the revolutionary situation was evident. On our own initiative we then opposed the antimonarchist slogans of the liberals, the Republican Union and the agrarians of Dendrinos with the slogans of the proletarian revolution: »It is capitalism in its entirety which is responsible for the war, famine and destruction, and not just one of its camps« ; »The refugees should be put up in the houses of the rich«.

We openly spoke in the army buildings, in the cafés, in the street. Every evening we gathered a crowd of soldiers in the Party local offices. We debated, we sang the International, The Labour Song and a detourned version of The Son of the Eagle: »From the cannons of the fleet we make hammers to smash the heads of the bourgeoisie, and from sabres we make sickles to harvest…«.

During the general strike we were all confined to barracks, required to remain armed at all times, with full cartridge belts. But beforehand we had convinced most of the soldiers to choose targets other than the heads of the workers if we were to receive the order to fire. Some soldiers, in groups or individually, approached me to give me their hand, addressed me with smiles or winks of the eye and whispered to me »We are ready«.

When we received the order to assemble the soldiers who knew how to knead bread to replace the bakers on strike, everyone refused to break the strike, agreeing only to make bread for the army, although many had declared their profession as baker. We had done some good work. We also did what we could to help the refugees looking for assistance and a roof over their heads, calling on them to occupy the houses of the rich. Once we, a few soldiers, took the head of a group of refugees and all together we pushed back the gendarmes and occupied a wing of the royal palace.

During the left split in Piraeus and Athens and the formation of the Communist Union, the comrades who had taken on its leadership, all workers and people that I knew for the most part, wrote to me, persuaded that the Corfu organisation was going to follow their example. I replied that I was in complete political agreement with them but that it was necessary to avoid a split in so far as it was possible. That did not stop us from distributing Communist Tribune, which was an authentic proletarian journal.

(20)
Now in European Turkey and known as Tekirdağ.

(21)
The chief of the military junta which had come to power.