Von Spitzeln und Gangstern

Linkskommunisten und Stalinisten sitzen im Knast von Akronafplia. Was ist die Politik der stalinistischen KP – und wer entscheidet … ?

The »Provisional Leadership«, or the management of the CPG by the Ministry of Security
The Greek army had already pushed back the Italian invasion and taken the offensive, taking the war onto Albanian territory. The popular masses celebrated the victories. The Stalinists as well. But they also rejoiced when the armoured columns of Hitler pulverised armies, towns and borders.

It is then that the Stalinists of Akronafplia disavowed their central committee with great shouts and recognised the »Provisional Leadership« as the authentic leadership of their party. They openly accused the members of the central committee of being traitors and in the pay of the police, and were full of praise for the militant virtues and the faith in the party of those who made up the Provisional Leadership.

We witnessed things directly then. We only came to learn a long time afterwards what had really happened. It appears that their central committee (Papayannis, Mathessis, Kanakis, Ktistakis)(4), in its resolution(5), concluded that the passage of the theatre of operations into Albania had removed all defensive character from the war and that it had transformed itself into an act of Greek aggression. In consequence, according to them, the duty of the CPG was to take from then on a position against the war and to denounce it.

This policy was without doubt in agreement with that of the USSR and the Communist International at the time. The Germano-Russian pact was in full force. Communist parties could not, by their politics or their actions, put Germano-Russian friendship in peril. Italy was an ally of Germany, and what was good for the latter became consequently good for the former.

The central committee was therefore in total accord with the official policy of the CPG after the Pact, that policy set out with such clarity and even more cynicism by the manifesto of the CC of the CPG in Rizospastis, 2 May 1940, and already cited here.

But this pacifist and anti-war policy of the Papayannis central committee could create problems and have displeasing consequences for the government, the regime and the conduct of the war. Maniadakis then decided to do what no other police force in the world had succeeded in doing until then: to fabricate for himself a »central committee« and provide the leadership of the CPG. His personal experience had given him the exact measure of the moral courage and the political firmness of the leading cadres of the CPG (as was shown by the success of his plan). Thus the »Provisional Leadership« was born from the Security Police.

Its principal cadre was Yannis Michailidis, a graduate of KUTV, a member of the political bureau of the CPG and a close friend of Zachariadis. They were both imprisoned in Corfu when Zachariadis gave him the order – at least he was asked to sign so that he could take in hand the leadership of the party and purge it of dubious elements. He went over to the service of the Security Police and executed his boss’ order very well, but under the direction of Maniadakis.

The Provisional Leadership grouped together with him Tyrimos, an MP for the CPG, secretary of the Athens organisation and member of the political bureau, Manoleas, MP, Moschos, kutvist and member of the central committee, Tatassopoulos, who had signed the »agreement on common action« of 6 October 1934 for the CP, and some others. In a proclamation they denounced the members of the Papayannis central committee as traitors and agents of the Security Police and declared that consequently, to preserve the party and save its honour, they would take the initiative of constituting themselves into a provisional leadership, demanding their recognition by the party members and cadres. And those, at least the ones who were in the camp of Akhronaflia, solemnly recognised that central committee manufactured by Maniadakis as the legal leadership of their party. The event was without parallel in political history.

The Tsarist Okhrana, that police force which was so effective in persecuting the revolutionary movement, was able to place its own men in key positions in revolutionary organisations. Azev, for example, in the combat group of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Malinovsky in the central committee of the Bolsheviks and in their parliamentary group, and some others, in almost all the revolutionary organisations. Yet they never succeeded in, and they were not capable of, taking in hand the leadership of one of these organisations, and, moreover, making its own members accept the policy. That success of the Security Police, unbelievable, incredible and without precedent, could only have been obtained with the Stalinist party and the cadres which it had formed.

Of the members of the old central committee, I knew Papayannis. He had been a member of the regional party committee for central and western Macedonia, of the organisation bureau and of the union committee during the years 1928-1931. Devoted, active and capable, he was the principal trade union cadre in Thessaloniki for a long time, and also the secretary of the trade union centre. He was a waiter. After the »liberation« he took an active part in the left-wing trade union movement without this old accusation against him ever being brought up again(6). It is obvious that he was the victim of slander.

Arrested in mid-1941, he was transferred to Akhronaflia. The Stalinist leadership isolated him in a little room, on the corridor between the first and second wings. The wing chiefs made it known to us that it was a matter of a »dodgy element« and that all contact with him was forbidden. The next day I went to visit him. But he told me himself that it was necessary to respect the decision of the »leadership« and made me conform with this as well.

As for Damianos Mathessis, I learnt some years later that he was a man of absolute trust in the CPG as well as the International. I knew him. More exactly I saw him at the Fourth Congress and at the Second and Third Plenums of the party. He did not belong to the central committee and did not participate in the debates. But he was responsible for the delegates of the International, for hiding places, housing etc.. I cannot formulate an opinion on the very serious accusations brought against him. He obstinately rejected them himself. In reality there is no concrete proof. V. Nefeloudis(7) spoke of »suspicions«. What is said by Solon Grigoriadis in his History (Volume I, page 182) proves nothing and rather pleads in his favour. Mathessis was linked, he tells us, to a group of officers(8) with lieutenant V. Venetsopoulos at their head, known to Solon Grigoriadis. These officers wanted to join the CPG, but Mathessis prevented them, telling them that the leadership of the party was in the pay of the British and perhaps also the Germans. Finally, S. Grigoriadis himself revealed to the officers that Mathessis was the »grass supreme. From an agent of Maniadakis, he had become an agent of the Gestapo«. And the officers, despite the attempts of Mathessis to hold them back, moved away from him and joined the CPG.

One is thus entitled to ask why he didn’t hand them over to the Gestapo.

I once questioned Haïtas about the responsibilities of Mathessis in the party. He replied: »Let it go, it’s nothing to do with us«.

The gangster methods of the Stalinists, tolerated by the camp bosses

Among the six hundred detainees in the camp it wasn’t difficult to notice those who were in quarantine. Their punishment was total: absolute isolation, not the slightest relation was allowed with them. What crime could they have committed to merit such an inhuman punishment? We could never know.

Those who knew held their tongue. The punished even more than the others. They even avoided all contact with each other.

Nevertheless, three of them, Gakis, Paris et Kapenis were in permanent contact and separately formed an amicable group. Stamelakos joined them afterwards. He was a leading union cadre of the party, the secretary of the Federation of Shoe Workers, he had been at one time secretary of the Unitary General Confederation of Greek Workers (EGSEE).

It seemed that they were reproached for some political opinions which they had in common, opinions contrary to the line of the party. Which ones? We never knew anything about them. (…)

One day, suddenly, completely unexpectedly, a mass of thugs descended on them, screaming like savages and literally beat them to a pulp. (…) They threw them unconscious, half dead, bloody and with their clothes in tatters, at the entrance of the camp where the guards came to collect them.

I had personal experience of the sudden and massive outbursts of the screaming cops (…). But I had read pity and even shame in the eyes of some of those doing the beating. The faces and the eyes of the thugs of Ioannidis and Bartzotas expressed only a frenzied madness and sadistic pleasure.

Their work accomplished, they sat down to catch their breath and said, as they had been ordered: »After all, we only want to dispatch them back to their masters«. They meant the camp governor and the Minister of Security. But if their victims had really belonged to the Security Police, would they have dared to subject them to such treatment? The Stalinist leadership religiously respected the rules of the camp. (…)

I would add that if the Ministry of Security had needed informers in the camp, they would not have been those who had divergences with the »leadership« and the »line«. They knew that their least severe punishment was to be isolated, and that they would have put themselves in a situation where it was impossible to accomplish their work. (…) If there were grasses in Akhronaflia, it was only perhaps (…) among the »Stalinist fanatics« who gravitated towards the leadership, and among the thugs.

Gakis and Kapenis met a tragic end. Here is what Yannis Manousakas wrote on the subject, on page 152 of his book Akhronaflia: »To finally close this sad chapter, I consider it my duty to say a couple of words about their end. At the start of the Occupation, Gakis received an order from the Volos organisation to join the resistance. Shortly afterwards, because of his skill and courage, the partisans recognised him as ELAS chief for the Pelion. But when Bartzotas and the others were freed from Sotirias(9), and Ioannidis freed from Petras(10), they sent an order to the Thessaloniki organisation to kill Gakis. They also killed Kapenis who they found in the region of Agrinion, where he was the EAM official for a village. They put out a rumour that ELAS had captured them while they were serving as soldiers in a German unit and that it had killed them. So, Bartzotas and Ioannidis did not leave them, even after the iniquitous death which they had reserved for them, to find a little rest in the soil of their country, where, I am sure, history will show that they struggled for the people and progress and that they died with full honours«.

In a footnote on the same page he adds: »In 1956, when I was locked up in the Alicarnassos prison, a venerable septuagenarian came to my cell one day. It was Yorgis Roghas, from Volos: ‘I have come, comrade Yannis’, he told me ‘in the hope of going to find the Party one day and denouncing the tragedy that the putting to death of Gakis has been in the Pelion command.’ He added that when the members of the command took up the defence of Gakis, several of them were murdered. The old man spoke after the Twentieth Congress and the Sixth Plenum(11), which gave militants the right to speak for a little while«.

I only knew Stamelakos and Gakis a long time ago. Stamelakos was the ordinary type of paternalist Stalinist. Neither better nor worse than others like him. Stavros Gakis was on the contrary incontestably a militant. I knew him in Thessaloniki in 1929. The political bureau had sent him there with P. Ikonomidis. He was devoted, active and competent militant.

(4) A small group of cadres who had escaped capture had taken the initiative of forming a central committee at the end of 1939, after the arrest of all the principal leaders of the party. It was known under the name of “the old central committee”.

(5) On 7 December 1940.

(6) When the leadership of the CPG reconstituted itself in July 1941, it refused to come out in favour of either the Provisional Leadership or the old central committee, both accused of being composed of grasses.

(7) Member of the political bureau from 1931 to 1938.

(8) Mathessis was an officer himself. The story takes place during the German occupation.

(9) Sanatorium where the detainees were sent who were known to have tuberculosis.

(10) Same as 9.

(11) Those of the CP of the USSR where Khrushchev denounced Stalin and the “cult of personality”.