DEFEND THE RIGHT TO NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION OF THE KURDS IN TURKEY. MILITARY DEFENSE OF THE KURDISH WORKERS PARTY (PKK)
The minute one enters into the murky waters of Middle East politics one is immediately confronted with words like, insolvable, daunting, and hopeless. If there is one area of the world that cries out for a multi-nationally derived socialist solution it is this benighted area. Practically speaking, however, that prospect is music for the future. Nevertheless some programmatic points can be put forth today that will cut across the racial, ethnic and religious divides that lead one to use the above-mentioned words of despair. One such point is not even a socialist point per se- the question of a nation’s right to self determination. Yes, that question is off the table for those nations that have already established their right to it by force of arms, or otherwise. However, in the case of the interpenetrated peoples of the Middle East some real nations have been left on the sidelines. In no case is this clearer than with the Kurds, the largest coherent population without a state of their own.
Recent headlines have highlighted this question point blank as Turkey, one of the four nations along with Syria, Iraq and Iran in the region that have significant Kurdish populations, has attempted to solve its Kurdish ‘problem’, as in the past, by militarily annihilating various guerilla operations wherever they crop up- here across the border in neighboring Iraq. I make no pretense that this solves all the questions of this area in regard to the Kurdish situation, for example, militants do not today raise the right of national self-determination for Kurds in Iraq who have consciously subordinated themselves to American imperialism but the beginning of wisdom today is to defend those guerilla forces, mainly the Kurdish Workers Party, in their fight against their national oppressor-Turkey. More, much more on this situation as it unfolds but for now the prospective slogan is –For the right to national self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey. For the future- A United Kurdistan.
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Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
From Acronauplia to Nezero
Greek Trotskyism From the Unification conference to the Executions
(Part 1)The Metaxas dictatorship, which assumed power on 4 August 1936, meant the gaoling and subsequent internal exile, not only of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) but also of the Trotskyists. The outbreak of the Second World War therefore found the Fourth Internationalists in concentration camps in which they alone upheld the principles of revolutionary internationalism, the transformation of the imperialist slaughter into a civil war, and the defence of the USSR. In this struggle they not only fought the German occupation, but also the Metaxas dictatorship and its Stalinist supporters.
The 1930s saw the development of several Trotskyist organisations in Greece, which gradually began to unite before the Second World War. The Spartacus group continued, changing its name whilst picking up splits from either the KKE or the Archeiomarxists. They amounted to about 75 members in 1932 (L.D. Trotsky, A Discussion on Greece, Spring 1932, in Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1929-33, New York 1979, p.126) and were led by Pouliopoulos. In 1930 a new group, the ‘Fractionists’ broke with the Archeiomarxists, consisting of the most active student members led by Michel Raptis (Pablo) and Christos Soulas, which took the name of the United Communist Group (KEO). In 1932 Agis Stinas was expelled from the Communist Party and united with the KEO to set up the Leninist Opposition of the Greek Communist Party, publishing the weekly paper Banner of Socialism and the theoretical organ Permanent Revolution. When the Bolshevik group led by George Vitsoris (1889-1954) broke with the Archeiomarxists in 1934 and remained loyal to the international Trotskyist movement, the Leninist Opposition broke up, and the group led by Pablo joined up with Pouliopoulos to set up the International Communist Organisation of Greece (OKDE), whereas Stinas and his comrades united with Vitsoris’ group to set up the International Communist Union (KDEE), publishing Ergatiko Metopo (Workers Front). This latter organisation maintained contact with the International Secretariat and was recognised as the official section, whereas Pouliopoulos and Pablo maintained relations with Landau and Molinier. A third organisation also emerging from Archefomarxism, the Bolshevikos Neos Dromos (Bolshevik New Course)was led by Loukas Karliaftis, “M Mastroyioannis” and Sakkos Papadopoulos.
In 1937 the Bolshevik New Course united with the OKDE of Pouliopoulos and Pablo, as recounted below, to form the United Organisation of the Communist Internationalists of Greece (EOKDE) which published Diethnistis (Internationalist) and Proletarios (Proletarian) up to and including the Second World War. This group and the KDEE of Vitsoris and Stinas were represented at the founding conference of the Fourth International, the KDEE by Vitsoris and the EOKDE by Pablo. The Congress unanimously supported the unification of the two Greek groups (Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years, 1933-40, New York 1973, pp.271, 302, which was accepted as an accomplished fact by L.D. Trotsky, Letter to Rose Karsner, 13 September 1938, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-38, New York 1976, p.448), but the fact that Vitsoris proposed a seat for each group upon the IEC in view of the previous hostility between them shows that this never in fact took place (Documents of the Fourth International, p.299). Nor did the proposed international discussion about the differences that was supposed to be organised by the IEC. The repression prevented the unification of the two groups until 1946, and by then the differences had widened so that only a paper unity was achieved. The political differences between the groups to a large extent reflected the differences that emerged in the American SWP on the eve of the Second World War. The discussions and polemics were carried out mainly in the concentration camps and in total isolation from the rest of the world. Trotsky’s articles on the dispute with Burnham and Shachtman were unknown until well after the war.
It should be stated that one of the most ferocious battles to break out inside the Greek concentration camps was against all who had made “declarations” against Communism. Capitulations occurred within the ranks of the KKE as well as of the Trotskyists. Anyone who capitulated to Metaxas or to the Germans was considered as a traitor by the movement as a whole. Among the Trotskyists who were considered to have capitulated were several who were later to become important in the history of Greece and of the Fourth International. Andreas Papandreou, later to become leader of PASOK, belonged to the ‘Group of the Thirteen’ and was associated with the Proletarios(EOKDE) group. He made an open declaration against Communism on 7 July 1939, as described below, and betrayed all his comrades to the police. His family connections enabled him to obtain a passport, which he used to flee to America. Cornelios Castoriadis, also in the ‘Group of Thirteen’, also made a declaration against Communism. At the end of the war he went to France, where he became a leader of a faction inside the French Trotskyist organisation, the PCI. In 1949 this faction split and began to publish the magazine Socialisme ou Barbarie, whichwent on to develop a new revolutionary philosophy, from which the British group Solidarity in part draws its inspiration (for examples of his ideas, cf. Socialism or Barbarism, Solidarity pamphlet no.11, and C. Castoriadis, History as Creation, Solidarity pamphlet no.54). Stinas’ group, which broke from the Greek Trotskyist movement in 1947, became the main supporter of these theories in Greece. Due to the fact that he was a famous theatrical actor, George Vitsoris was allowed to go abroad when Kotopoulea, a famous actress, put pressure on Maniadakis. On his way to internal exile, Vitsoris was forcibly taken out of the car against his will. In the end he gave all his revolutionary literature to another comrade and departed for France. There he took part as a Greek delegate at the clandestine European Conference of the Trotskyists in February 1944 (Rodolphe Prager, The Fourth International During the Second World War, in Revolutionary History, volume I no.3, Autumn 1988, p.36, n42) whilst playing an enthusiastic part as an explosives expert in the French Resistance to the extent of being decorated by De Gaulle at the end of the war. Pablo was also considered to have compromised himself, as the following text makes clear.
The Trotskyists who remained in prison condemned the capitulations in a different manner. The KDEE-Stinas group justified Vitsoris, but not Pablo. The EOKDE group condemned Vitsoris, but by a majority decision justified Pablo. Pablo’s subsequent history was one where he was recognised as the official representative of the Greek Trotskyists in France during the Second World War – although no such role was assigned to him by any Trotskyist group in Greece.
The entry of the USSR into the war on the side of the Allied imperialists meant that the Greek Stalinists now supported the Metaxas dictatorship in its war against Germany. All the Greek Trotskyists considered this stance to be a betrayal of Lenin’s principles, and despite the fact that they were threatened with immediate execution, refused to support the Metaxas dictatorship, But differences emerged whereby the group around Stinas held a defeatist position in relation to the USSR in the Second World War. Differences also started to develop with the outbreak of the resistance movement and over the methods of guerrilla warfare. Revolutionary History will be publishing part of this polemic concerning the Soviet Union in its next issue. Whereas the views of the Stinas group can be easily consulted in his Mémoires (pp.219-220, 273-6 and the documents, appendices on pp.313-354), those of the Karliaftis tendency have so far not appeared in any Western European language.
In 1942 many Trotskyists escaped from prison and started discussions and practical activity, publishing revolutionary material against the war. Three tendencies emerged:
- One led by Karliaftis, now called EDKE (Workers Internationalist Party of Greece);
- One led by Stinas, now known as Ergatiko Metopo (Workers Front);
- One led by Christos Anastasiades called KKDE (Communist Internationalist Party of Greece).
It must be noted that a serious practical obstacle remained for all those who declared themselves as Trotskyists and participated (many did on an individual basis) in the resistance movernent – the Stalinist secret police, the OPLA. According to the Bartzotas Report more than 800 Trotskyists were shot,mainly because they opposed the Stalinist policy of simply getting rid of German imperialism in order to put in its place British imperialism. Only the Greek Trotskyists warned that the British would not come as liberators (as the Stalinists asserted, filling the towns of Greece with slogans like “Welcome our friends”). When General Scobie opened fire on unarmed civilians killing thousands in December 1944, the Trotskyists were proved tragically right.
Previously the Stalinist policy of class collaboration in the name of “national reconstruction”, whereby all the military arms of the EAM-ELAS guerrillas were handed over to the government of Papandreou (the Varkiza Accords), was condemned only by the Trotskyists. Under pressure from its membership the KKE was forced to enter into open public discussions with the Trotskyists in 1946 to justify its policies.
Under orders from the IS the Greek Trotskyists held a unification congress in 1946. At the Congress the Karliaftis tendency had 16 delegates, Stinas had 10 delegates and Anastasiades had eight. The organisation now called itself the KDKE (Communist Internationalist Party of Greece). After the Congress Stinas and Anastasiades voted together and became the majority of the organisation. Stinas, however, was soon expelled for his state capitalist views, and the Karliaftis tendency became the majority once more. From now on the IS of Pablo and Mandel associated itself with the side of the minority (Anastasiades). The Karliaftis group subsequently went with Healy, and Anastasiades with Pablo, and then with Mandel.
The account we present has been compiled from pamphlets by Comrade Karliaftis dealing with the war period that have already appeared in English and French, but due to translational problems and limited circulation certainly merit reproduction here, even though this is a departure from our normal practice. We have largely drawn upon Trotskyists and Archeiomarxists in the Concentration Camps of the Metaxas Dictatorship, parts i and ii, Internationalist Publications, and In Devotion to P. Pouliopoulo and the Militant Trotskyists: Archeiomarxists Killed by the Fascists and the Stalinists (French and English), Ergotiki Protoporeia, Athens 1984. The full text of Papandreou’s capitulation, which is too long to reproduce here, can be consulted in Internationalist: Documents de L’Avant-Garde Ouvrière, Grèce.
All parallel versions in our compilation have been eliminated, and a strictly chronological sequence has been imposed upon the material. We need hardly add that the writer is not responsible for this editorial practice, any more than for any mistakes that may have inadvertently crept in, the blame for which rests upon ourselves alone. All the renderings from Greek have been made and checked against the original by Comrade V.N. Gelis, and those from the French by Ted Crawford. The reader can well estimate the extent of our thanks to them, and even more so to the author.
1. The Founding Conference of the EOKDE and the Group’s ActivitiesIn spite of intense repression, arrests and unprecedented terror, and in addition to the fact that the finest members of the Trotskyist movement were already imprisoned in the concentration camps of the Metaxas dictatorship, the Trotskyists organised the founding conference of the United Organisation of the Communist Internationalists of Greece (EOKDE) in February 1937. The OKDE and the New Course groups, both having roots in the period of the Russian Revolution and the birth of Bolshevism and Trotskyism in Greece, united at this conference.
The establishment of the EOKDE was the result of the close cooperation and ideological discussion between the two tendencies throughout 1936. We played a genuinely revolutionary rôle during this period and through the magnificent revolt in Thessalonika. An unbreakable unity was forged, and in February 1937 a Trotskyist organisation was founded which would work within Trotsky’s orientation for the building of the Fourth International. The circumstances in which this necessary and hopeful unification took place were harsh in the extreme. We could thus go so far as to call it an historicalevent.
The unity conference took place in February 1937 in a canyon in the Pentelic mountains in Attica. It lasted one day and was attended by around 15 comrades, all of whom were well-known and had played a significant rôle in the history of the workers” movement. The prisoners in Acronauplia and the other concentration camps were not, of course, represented. In his closing speech, L. Vourzoukis noted that there were more participants from the New Course. The new Central Committee comprised Pantelis Pouliopoulos, who became the leader of the united organisation, Michel Raptis and G. Vryhoropoulos from the OKDE, and L. Vourzoukis, K. Anastasiadis and G. Tamtakos from the New Course. Other participants included Nontas Giannakos, Lilis, M. Kondilidis, Katsaprokos and four or five others whose names I never learned. Comrades who were still in jail under 12-month sentences that were renewed indefinitely were not eligible for the new Central Committee.
The conference resolution emphasised that the dictatorship in Greece showed that the bourgeoisie was obliged to construct a strong state apparatus that could deal with national divisions which had exploded in the rebellion in Thessalonica in May 1936, the workers” movement, and with any problems posed by the huge requirements of resources for the forthcoming world war:
The dictatorship became inevitable as a result of the mounting anger of the masses, which was manifested in several long and revolutionary struggles all over the country, which, in the face of the worsening world economic crisis, combined with the revolutionary uprising of the Spanish Civil War, and the imminent threat of a new imperialist war, could be transformed into a generalised revolutionary storm.The conference stated that the main obstacle to the advance of the workers’ movement was the Communist Party (KKE), which had led the workers’ struggles to disaster, and, therefore, had helped Metaxas to impose his dictatorship. This party and its Popular Front policy bore the main responsibility for the ease with which the bourgeoisie imposed its dictatorship. It had covered up the aims of the bourgeois parties instead of exposing them, and it had helped them to concede full control of the army to the king, thus helping Metaxas to take power. Even then it still did not place a revolutionary perspective before the masses, but merely called for the replacement of the dictatorship by a bourgeois parliamentary government. It was necessary to wage a relentless, all-out struggle against this party, with the perspective of uniting all revolutionary forces in a new internationalist party, under the banner of the Fourth International.
Unity between the OKDE and the New Course took place, even though pre-conference discussions had not been fully concluded, and some points of difference had not been satisfactorily clarified. Nonetheless, unity was as necessary as it was constructive. Yes, historical, we might say. Because the Trotskyists were united and armed both politically and theoretically, and strove for the formation of the Fourth International, we were therefore the only tendency prepared to face the coming approaching war in a Leninist manner, and able to build the new Bolshevik Leninist party in our country.
The political orientation of the conference was confirmed in a resolution of June 1937, which called:
For an independent revolutionary struggle for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government. That is the direction of the struggles of this period. Only thus will the workers be saved from the destruction and horror of the war.And continued by demanding:
A United Front for the overthrow of the royal dictatorship in Greece, for support for the immediate political and economic demands of the workers, and for the rapid preparation for the rule of the workers and peasants.For us the approaching war was imperialist as far as the major powers were concerned, with the exception of the Soviet Union:
The war does not cease to be imperialist because frauds and middle class philistines bandy around sugared slogans. War is an extension of the policies of finance capital. It is important to recognise which class makes the war. As Lenin said, the war is imperialist so long as it is carried out by the bourgeoisie with the aim of robbery. There is no greater fraud than the Stalinist and Social Democratic propaganda about it being an anti-Fascist war.We continued to affirm that the participation of the Soviet Union on the side of either the Axis or Allies would not change the character of the war as far as its imperialist allies are concerned, and that the duty of all revolutionaries was to defend the Soviet Union by every method of the class struggle and by the social revolution, notwithstanding our opposition to the bureaucracy, which must be overthrown by a political revolution.
We must also admit that the unification and the emergence of the EOKDE was a result of the necessity of having to resist the dictatorship, as well as the need for unity in the drive to build the Fourth International. The unification conference took place under conditions of extreme state terror.
In Greece, our Archeiomarxist origins had had a positive influence in that, ever since 1930, under the leadership of the International Left Opposition, we had sought unification on a Trotskyist basis. We were obliged to overcome the resistance to this unity of Pouliopoulos, who had aligned himself with the Landau-Nín tendency in the POUM. Pouliopoulos was by now a firm supporter of unity. In vain had Giotopoulos met with him in order to drive a wedge between the two tendencies. We might add at this point that Giannakos’ support for unity was very helpful throughout the whole period of discussions between the two tendencies.
Despite the dictatorship’s repression, the first issue of The Proletarian was published in February 1937. About 80 per cent of it was written by Pouliopoulos, who was hiding all the while in the house of comrade Menelaos Megariotis’ father. We in the Acronauplia concentration camp, where most of the rank and file of the New Course and the Spartacists (Pouliopoulos’ group) were imprisoned, were overjoyed when we heard of its publication, but we were unable to obtain copies.
The Proletarian was the only oppositional publication of a Trotskyist nature that was able to circulate during the first two years of the dictatorship. It was duplicated and circulated by hand. The responsibility for publication rested with comrade Megariotis, one of the newer comrades, and the equipment was secretly guarded in a separate house. Demosthenes Vourzoukis, although an intellectual, was not among its usual contributors, as he was constantly on the move during the dictatorship in order to evade capture by the police. Neither were comrades Costas Anastasiadis and Vryhoropoulos, even though they also had the ability to write.
The Proletarian was published continuously until 23 June 1938, with 21 issues appearing. It only stopped when the entire Central Committee was arrested. The EOKDE continued for almost another year, supported by a handful of members who were still at liberty, most notably comrades Megariotis and Kondilidis. Here is a list of articles published in the paper:
- February 1937: International developments and the political situation in Greece; a resolution of the founding conference March 1937: Revolution and counter-revolution in Spain; A programme for immediate action by the organisation: To topple the dictatorship, for a new Communist Party, to organise a guerrilla movement
- Issues 5, 6 and 7 are missing.
- June 1937: The death agony of the Soviet bureaucracy
- Issue 9 is missing.
- 30 July 1937: Down with the hated Metaxas dictatorship
- 26 August 1936: The Metaxas dictatorship masquerade; Spain: July 1936-July 1937
- 20 September 1937: The international campaign for the counter-trial and defence of Leon Trotsky
- 28 October 1937: On the threshold of a new imperialist war; The war and the tasks of Communists
- 25 November 1937: The current situation and its significance for the dictatorship
- 25 December 1937: And now, dangerous traitors
- 5 March 1938: To topple the dictatorship; To organise the workers” United Front; The Bukharin, Rakovsky and Rykov trial
- 20 April 1938: A leaflet.
- 25 May 1938: The king is having a good time – for how long?; And the Black Knight; Luxemburg’s nightmare; The First of May
- 28 June 1938: Down with the imperialist organisers of the war; Down with the dictatorship
Our activities were easier in the suburbs and the factories. The recruitment of those drawn towards us was checked momentarily during this period, but it did not stop altogether. The trade unions were viciously attacked. All the left wing unions were dissolved. Some of them were placed under appointed administrators, and became mere paper organisations, only able to show banners on demonstrations. The first blow was aimed at the bakers’ union, a stronghold in the trade union movement. The Metaxas government and its Security Police had not forgotten their humiliation in the great strike of April 1936, which was led by M. Soulas (OKDE) and A. Sakkos (New Course), and in which the workers were victorious.
Some comrades, working in clandestinity, held positions in Athens, especially in the employment organisations. Either as parties or individuals, we were all united in the fight against the right wing unions. Much the same occurred in Thessalonica. Later on, when the apparatus of the dictatorship and their quislings had been badly shaken, there were the strikes of the mill workers of the Piraeus under the leadership of comrade Smirlis, and in the German ships, led by Kleanthis.
In the Piraeus comrade Haritonidis led the construction workers’ organisation and the workers’ centre in Kokkinia, which he had established during 1928, despite the fact that he was taken every day to the Security Headquarters to be intimidated and forced to make a declaration. The same things happened to unskilled workers like V. Nikolinakos, and to building workers like K. Raptis.
The students’ circle led by Demosthenes Vourzoukis was engaged in a similar struggle. In the circle were, amongst others, Andreas Papandreou, Kornelios Kastoriades, T. Kirkos, Christos Karabelas and E. Hierotheos.
Papandreou had been influenced by Trotskyism since 1933. This was the time when Trotsky developed his analysis of Hitler’s Fascism and his critique of Stalinism, and his books could be found in the library of Papandreou’s father. Papandreou published two articles in a magazine called New Beginning, the same title as a pamphlet by Pouliopoulos, who had been the Secretary of the KKE, and who had resigned from the party in 1927. Papandreou was involved in the duplication of The Proletarian during the dictatorship, and his room was used as headquarters until his arrest with 12 other comrades, who were forced to sign a declaration of repentance. Kastoriades, who was good for nothing, signed an agreement as soon as he was arrested, and became anti-Soviet and later overtly anti-Communist as well.
Two further student circles were comprised of C. Prikades, Nikolopoulos, the Oikonomou brothers, a student girl whose name I do not know, S. Christopoulos, G. Christopoulos, A. Charalampopoulos, T. Vourzoukis, T. Lampropoulos and the famed Stratos Spanias, who was later murdered by the Stalinists. They were all arrested during a gathering which was held to raise money for our prisoners.
In April 1937, during an official visit of Zan Ne, the French Minister of Education, the EOKDE encouraged the students not to welcome a minister of imperialist France, as the Stalinists did, but to show their disapproval of the Popular Front, and to take the opportunity to oppose the hated dictatorship. It was the centenary of the founding of the university, and Zan Ne placed a garland on the grave of the unknown soldier. Our manifesto was circulated along with that of the Stalinists on that day, and posters supporting the dictatorship were torn down by the students. Further demonstrations against the dictatorship also occurred afterwards at Parnassos. K. Kotzias, the dictatorship’s minister, was booed at the stadium. These demonstrations ended with wild violence and mass arrests.
2. Arrest and InterrogationI was one of the first to be caught. I fell into the hands of Kompoholi, a police captain who later became the commander of the Security Police. He was a dyed in the wool anti-Communist and a passionate persecutor of the working class and revolutionary movement. He was the right hand man of Maniadakis, the Minister of Public Security.
He recognised me, and then arrested me. I’d had trouble with him before. I had the honour to attract his anti-Communist hatred whilst he was a commander of the Security Police at Drama in 1929-30, six years previously. He had not forgotten me, and neither had I forgotten him!
I had been sent by the Archeiomarxist organisation to head the Political Committee of East Macedonia and West Thrace. I was picked up as a foreigner at Kavala in a search conducted by Alexakis, who had the reputation of being one of the worst torturers and persecutors of Communists. His police and courts, which regularly sentenced people to from five to 10 years in jail, had gained control over the hitherto powerful tobacco workers’ union, and he placed his committee men in every tobacconist shop.
I could not avoid arrest. I was tortured for two nights and a day by various modern methods. Despite sleepless exhaustion and intensive questioning, they got no information, neither a name nor a village! “Where and with whom do you live?’, they demanded. I told them, “In a shed in the castle.” They searched it only to find it empty. I was then beaten mercilessly. How could I say that I lived with comrades? The only thing I didn’t keep secret was my commitment to Communism. They searched for a false identity – nothing! They asked Drama for more information – absolutely nothing! But Kompoholis was the commander there, and he was another monster like Alexakis.
Kompoholis rushed to see me, to take over my interrogation. What a great honour for me! Finally Alexakis sent me to court. A move from hell to paradise! I was sentenced for one month – for vagrancy! I enjoyed that. The lawyer, sent from the Stalinist-controlled Workers’ Aid, ‘defended’ me like a bourgeois anti-Communist, treating me as he treated Stalinist defendants. He begged the court to be indulgent because I was “foolish”. I stood up and repudiated this lawyer: “I am neither foolish nor a tramp. I am a Communist and you can punish me for that!” The judges burst out laughing, much to the lawyer’s embarrassment.
I continued to circulate our propaganda once I was released. I was captured at Xanthi in Alexandroupolis, beaten up and thrown out. They were satisfied with expelling me and removing me from their affairs.
I was arrested again at Drama, and brought before the court. Despite a lack of evidence, Kompoholis proposed a three-month sentence and then exile. The accusations concerning “an independent Macedonia and Thrace” did not apply to us Archeiomarxists, as we considered that this had nothing to do with the slogan of the self-determination of the oppressed minorities.
When my sentence had finished, the commander of the jail handed me over to the Security Police for my exile. The Security Police headquarters, the court and the jail were in one compound, which at that time was full of people. The office of the commander of the jail was upstairs, and he was the first to go through the door. I suddenly had a bright idea. I turned around, rushed downstairs and mixed in with the crowd in the yard. I went straight out and walked to Kavala, an eight-hour walk. That’s how I escaped from Kompoholis’ clutches. But this encounter with Kompoholis resulted in my arrest during the Metaxas dictatorship, and a seven-year sentence in the concentration camps of Acronauplia and Pylos.
How Pouliopoulos, Giannakos, G. Xipolitos and Giannis Makris, the heroes who fell under the Fascists’ bullets at Nezero, were caught is a whole story in itself. This was the time when everyone was being caught. The arrests far exceeded the number of 50,000 militants reckoned in official statistics as having made declarations of repentance, apart from those, around 580, who remained a tower of strength in Acronauplia, facing torture and death, and another 1000 who were exiled on the islands. In Greece nobody could escape Maniadakis’ numerous policemen, and all those who took fright made declarations of repentance, deserted and gave up the fight.
There was little working class resistance to the establishment of the dictatorship. The revolutionary movement, after the betrayal and defeat of the events of 1936 in Thessalonica, was in a disorganised retreat, compounded by the effects of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, which spread confusion over the working class internationally, especially in the Communist movement. The 4 August coup was not, of course, Fascism, as the Stalinists stated with their theory of “Fascism everywhere” which characterised all governments as such, and as did the defeatists such as Agis Stinas, who talked of “red Fascism” in the Soviet Union.  It was a Bonapartist dictatorship, which is not to say that its methods were any different.
As I mentioned, I was one of the first to be captured by the dictatorship. Kompoholis had discovered where I was working. He had already met me in Kavala in 1930 in the prisons of the dreaded Alexakis. After the trials, the sentences, the discharges and the new arrests, this time in Drama, he came to provide the necessary information on my revolutionary credentials. Kompoholis and Alexakis had acted brutally in 1927, and since then had become the worst persecutors of the revolutionaries in Greece.
Kompoholis had sent a beast called Ioannides, who dragged me to the general Security Police. I conducted myself as befitting a leader of the Trotskyists of the New Course, as a Bolshevik. We were tortured, but not forced to drink castor oil. This was administered only by the special Security Police. We were exiled to St Stratis. After the hell of the Security Prison, this exile was paradise. This was the second time I had been banished to St Stratis since 1935, when Kondilis had sent between 40 and 50 party leaders in one ship – among them Varnalis and Glinos. He exiled us so that he could bring back the king without resistance – which he then did.
Whilst the arrests continued and the dictatorship succeeded in disorganising all working class organisations, the Trotskyists managed to organise their unification conference. This was no mean achievement. We were the only party to hold a national conference under these unprecedented conditions.
The blows of Maniadakis soon fell heavily upon the EOKDE. Under intense surveillance, we began to tire. How could we avoid this? Day and night we attended meetings, distributed propaganda and engaged in all kinds of action. The Executive of the Bakers’ Union instructed us to see their members, and at Tsakos, for example, we were betrayed by reactionaries, as in Christos Soulas’ case. There was the vital necessity to bring our new members into activities, and to keep in touch with each other.
Giannakos was captured in Thebes, where he had gone to escape the repression in Athens. He was hiding in a house of some relatives, and was betrayed by one of them. Fortunately, he was able to save his books and papers. He refused to bend under torture, and was sent to Acronauplia. We cannot recall how Xipolitos and Makris were caught, theirs was just one in that mass of stories of life and death that circulated in Acronauplia. Raptis was caught immediately after the conference, as was Vitsoris, who had, together with Stinas, been in a minority in supporting incorrect political tactics and had left the New Course. Raptis and Vitsoris were freed, but Vitsoris had been ill-treated.
Tamtakos was caught whilst he was working at Sotiria in September 1937. He was detained for three months in a Security Prison, and then exiled to Giaros, where there was a whole group consisting of Tournopoulos, Pontikis, Diplas, Staphilatos, Giannakopoulos, Tasakis, Smilis and Lambropoulos.
Anastasiadis was captured at the end of September whilst he was on his way to a Central Committee meeting, and was sent to Acronauplia, where he remained for six months. L. Vourzoukis was caught along with 10 other comrades, among them Nikos Aravantinos and Katina Megarioti. Thus with the arrest of Pouliopoulos that followed, the Central Committee of the EOKDE ceased to exist, as its members were sent to the concentration camps and into exile, and other comrades took on the responsibility for the continued existence and activities of the illegal organisation.
Pouliopoulos was captured at the beginning of 1938. He had been widely sought. The Security Police had set a prize of 20,000 drachmas for his arrest. Previously condemned to death during the war in Asia Minor, narrowly escaping a death sentence at a military tribunal of the ‘democracy’ when he was a Secretary of the KKE in 1925, a supporter of Bukharin in the staff of the Comintern only to be crushed in 1927, now he was the leader of the EOKDE with a big price on his head. This was only published in the Police News so that they would get the 20,000 drachmas, no mean amount. Ironically, this only appeared 10 days after he was caught.
To begin with, Pouliopoulos was hiding in the house of Megariotis, and had adopted the name of ‘Petros’. This was in June 1937. Old Megariotis looked after him as if he was his own son, and he even held a birthday party for him on the Day of St Peter and Paul. He stayed there for a long time, but eventually his hideaway was discovered. The house was raided, but he escaped. Known to be wanted, Pouliopoulos was welcomed into the house of an intellectual, Karagiannis, an old follower, to whom I always gave copies of Bolshevik and the New Course. A good-humoured man, he was not in the party and so was not known to the Security Police. Pouliopoulos stayed at his house for a month, but then left. The sensitive Pantelis did not wish to task Karagiannis’ pregnant wife any further. He thanked them warmly, and left. He went to comrade M, but he was also wanted, and he pointed Pouliopoulos to Sidiropoulos’ house in Marousi. He was a tobacco worker with years of activity in the workers’ movement, a supporter of Pouliopoulos. There were other tobacco workers in the area whom I knew from my Archeiomarxist activities in the Piraeus from 1927 to 1929, but only the splendid Kotsias knew of Pouliopoulos’ hideaway. Pouliopoulos settled in that house, but was obliged to go out on party business.
In the meantime Lilis arrived at the house, breathless and under pursuit. Pouliopoulos considered him too excited, and that his condition would betray us. With nowhere else to run, he was allowed to stay. Kondilidis arrived a few days later. They could not stay at Sidiropoulos’ house any longer. Kondilidis left, but Lilis and Pouliopoulos remained. Pouliopoulos used the name ‘Pericles’. They accepted Sidiropoulos’ proposal to move to one his comrades, the vegetable seller Sarifoglou. Megariotis arrived at this new hideaway. He had just had an operation in hospital when the Security Police entered his house looking for Pouliopoulos. They found him in the hospital, but they did not take him to the Security, and he immediately escaped to Thessalonica. He hid in the house of D. Papadopoulos, an old trade union leader and follower of Pouliopoulos.
Before long the newspapers reported the arrest of some of the EOKDE Central Committee, with Demosthenes Vourzoukis as one of the first detained. Megariotis wasted no time, duty called in Athens. He discovered Pouliopoulos’ telephone number from Stavros and called him up. They arranged to meet. Stavros was an old Archeiomarxist, and now a supporter of the New Course, enjoying the absolute confidence of Pouliopoulos. Stavros was also sought after and on the run. And so now there were Pouliopoulos, Megariotis and Lilis hiding in Sarifoglou’s house.
However, Sidiropoulos had turned traitor. The hideaway was now a trap. The net around Pouliopoulos was tightening. The police were keen to catch him, not merely for ‘patriotic’ reasons, but also for the money. One day in early August a black car parked outside the house, and in it a gang of policemen. They knocked on the door and asked for Pericles. Pouliopoulos came out calmly. “Which Pericles do you want? I am Pericles – Pouliopoulos”, he told them in the proud style of Roumeli. Thus was Pouliopoulos caught, and Lilis along with him. Megariotis had gone to Koptis, saw the black car on his return, and avoided arrest.
At the Security Police Headquarters Pouliopoulos asked the policemen who had arrested him whether they’d received the reward. “It is complicated”, they said. Who had betrayed him?
Karagiannis, Megariotis and M visited him separately at the Headquarters. He told them that the traitors were Sidiropoulos and Sarifoglou. He gave Megariotis a note with the name of the traitors to be given to the organisation. M, an old assistant of mine in the Piraeus, was above suspicion, as was, as far as I was concerned, Kondilidis. Vourzoukis thought that Lilis’ telephone calls to the organisation from the Palataki tavern in the Piraeus could have led to the arrests, but I did not agree.
Megariotis and Kondilidis were two young men with an unshakable confidence in Trotskyism. Upon them fell the entire burden of the running of the leadership of the EOKDE after Pouliopoulos’ arrest. They kept the organisation functioning and produced The Proletarian, the illegal paper of the Fourth International in Greece.
The bitter campaign of the Security Police against the Trotskyists was intensified when a strike occurred at the Papastratos cigarette factory, which was organised and led by C. Antoniou, who was a former Archeiomarxist and now a Trotskyist. This was too much for the Metaxas regime to tolerate. Antoniou was caught and tortured. Blows to the head left him deaf, and he was sent into prison and exile.
The Security Police wanted to report a complete success in every case. The Megariotis team, Kondilis and the EOKDE university students, were caught. Originally the creation of the redoubtable Vourzoukis, this group was loved by all. Megariotis rebuilt the group, among whom was Andreas Papandreou. There was a duplicator in his room on which The Proletarian was produced, and Papandreou cut the stencils. Only Kondilidis knew of his room, and only Papandreou knew where he was working. Megariotis was caught at his work. Who betrayed him? A Security Police announcement read:
After an extensive search, the Special Security Police arrested the following students who had formed an organisation of Fourth Internationalists, followers of the exiled Trotsky, led by the Communist Menelaos Megariotis, a chemistry student, who appears to be the Secretary of the Central Committee of the organisation. From the house of Andreas Papandreou was taken a typewriter and a duplicator, with which the illegal Communist paper The Proletarian was printed, along with various Communist papers and leaflets. Those arrested confessed their activities and, with the exception of Megariotis, submitted declarations of regret and a renunciation of their Communist views:
- Andreas Papandreou
- Cornelius Castoriadis
- Kirkos Kirkou
- Eleutherios ——
- Christos Karabelas
- Helias Kolovos
- Ioannis Kontogiannis
- Stefanos Gastratos – all law students
- Christos Valias – a sixth-form student in the High School
- Nikos Kondilis – a student and electrician
- Menelaos Megariotis – a law student
Plus two or three others.
3. Acronauplia Concentration CampAcronauplia was not, of course, as bad as Auschwitz or Dachau, but it was modelled upon the Fascist concentration camps. It was a Venetian castle, a medieval fort. An extension adjacent to it was first used as a barracks, and then as a conference centre. A prison for those serving hard labour sentences was built on a hill opposite the main prison, and being sent there was a virtual death sentence. Kolokotronis, the leader of the Greek revolution of 1821, had been imprisoned there. Acronauplia was first given the title of a prison for Communists, but it was not a prison. The prisoners were not there by order of a court, but by virtue of the decisions of Public Security Committees, or on the order of the Minister of Public Security, Maniadakis. There were many exiles amongst the detainees.
Eventually it was decided that the most apt term for the prison was that of a concentration camp, as in the Fascist countries. The authorities in Acronauplia attempted to enforce strict military discipline. We were isolated from the outside world. Correspondence, except two letters per month to one’s family, was forbidden. Only family visitors were permitted, and they were persuaded and sometimes even threatened to try and make us sign declarations renouncing our principles and beliefs.
After great efforts on our part, we were permitted to have a very few books, but no newspapers at first. Much later we were allowed to read a newspaper, but that contained nothing but Fascist poison. We had very little water at first, the time permitted for a walk in the prison yard was barely enough for us to stretch our legs, and we went hungry very often. A strict military discipline was imposed, we could not rise before reveille had sounded, and revolutionary songs were strictly forbidden.
At the beginning an internal guard was maintained. Every morning we were counted and reported on, with the prisoners standing to attention right through the proceedings. Bed-time and lights out regulations had to be obeyed without question. We protested and fought tooth and nail to break this unpopular Fascist barracks regime.
We acted very carefully to secure what freedom we could within those walls. The situation became critical. In September 1937 the prison guards attacked the prisoners, after having encouraged them to break the prison rules – in other words, a provocation.
One night “Göring” entered cell 2 and ordered us to stop what we were doing and go to bed, as lights out had been signalled. Nobody moved. He left and we heard a pistol shot. That was the signal for the guards to shoot. A hail of bullets hit the cells. They were shooting to kill. We were not frightened. On the contrary, we shouted back, “Shame on you, murderers!” We crept under our beds, shielding ourselves with mattresses or stood in the corners or behind bullet-proof walls. This continued until Vrettos, the Prison Director, returned from Nauplia and ordered a cease fire.
This murderous assault cost the school teacher P. Stavridis his life. His head was shattered as if it was a vase, and his brains spilled out onto the floor. The prison authorities said he was shot dead whilst trying to escape ...
Raptis was exiled to Folegandros. He had not at that point signed any declaration of repentance. He did not take part in any of our meetings there. He was neither warm nor fraternal towards us. Was it his temperament? Was he pretending to be somebody else? Or did he have psychological problems? However, he did not give us the impression of being somebody likely to sign a declaration of repentance. Suddenly he left and was taken to the Ministry. After a while we heard that Maniadakis had freed him on condition that he went abroad. We were certain that he signed a declaration of repentance. It was well known that nobody had ever been released without signing one.
Meanwhile Vitsoris had been arrested, but through the mediation of the great actress Kotopouli, he had been freed to go abroad by Maniadakis, just as in the previous case of a highly esteemed member of the Glinos group, Likogiannis. The group’s leadership had said nothing, but we knew that Maniadakis would not free anyone without obtaining a declaration of repentance.
We discussed the cases of Raptis and Vitsoris, but could not form a uniform opinion. The majority approved of the behaviour of Raptis, but not that of Vitsoris. Only Xipolitos, Tournopoulos and I condemned Raptis. These were times when those who signed a declaration were rejecting all their beliefs and convictions, and would lose the respect held towards those who remained in prison, facing death with courage.
Theodorou, the former Secretary of the OKNE (the KKE’s youth group), who belonged to the Sklavos group, approached the prison authorities and asked for the records of the Raptis case. There he read:
Maniadakis asked Raptis “Your parents have assured me that you were involved in the movement because you were young and immature, and that if I let you go abroad, you will never become involved again. What do you say?” He did not answer.And as is very well known, he who remains silent, consents.
Raptis was not an ordinary member. He was a co-leader of the Pouliopoulos group, and a member of its Central Committee. Was it correct for the leaders to get a passport from Maniadakis and go abroad? And what about the ordinary members? Should they sign repentance declarations in order to leave? If the leaders deserted, should not the entire working class leave for abroad? If not, who would lead the working class to break its bonds? In this case Pouliopoulos showed all his greatness. To begin with, he had not heard of the affair. But prior to his capture he had met Raptis, who was by then freed. We never learned what Raptis told him or held back. Anyway Pouliopoulos brought the case before a Central Committee meeting, and Raptis’ behaviour was condemned by Vourzoukis, Tamtakos and Anastasiadis. When Pouliopoulos was arrested, he was first taken to the Averof jail, and then to the jail on Aegina. From there he managed to send a letter to us at Acronauplia saying that “Raptis is advising me to go abroad in the same way as he did. What is the opinion of the Acronauplia group?” We decided unanimously – “No”. Pouliopoulos had signed a contract of honour with the movement. He was not going to kneel before the ridiculous dictator. He had already started a struggle against the declarations of repentance, saying “they can only take me abroad in chains, and even then I will find a way to return”. Our comrades abroad were not aware of how we were fighting against the declarations of repentance.
Raptis and Vitsoris were accepted abroad as representatives. But of whom, the Workers Front or The Proletarian? Nobody had nominated them as their representatives. Their behaviour abroad was irritating. Even during the dictatorship of Papadopoulos (1967) those abroad showed the same rotten liberal attitude, and today we know how much this costs. We have been heavily criticised over the matter of declarations of repentance. We know better than anyone else what we have lost, as the leadership of the international Trotskyist movement [in Greece] was wiped out. But we refused to reverse our decision. We believe that they had the same feelings on this as us. They are not dead, they live because their ideas live on.
4. The Founding Conference of the Fourth InternationalOn 3 September 1938 the Trotskyist organisations assembled at a conference in France, and the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution, together with the Youth International, was founded. Thirty representatives participated at the conference, from 11 countries: France, Britain, the Soviet Union, Germany, Belgium, Poland, the USA, Greece and various Latin American countries. It proved impossible to send representatives from Czechoslovakia, Spain, Austria, Indochina, China, French Morocco, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Palestine, Lithuania, Romania and some of the other Latin American countries, as well as from the POUM and the PSOP of France, who had requested to attend as observers.
Never before had an international conference of such great significance taken place in a period of such immense difficulties provoked by the accumulation of the problems which foreshadowed the approaching world war.
The majority of the conference declared that the establishment of the Fourth International was an absolute necessity if there was to be any further progress of the revolutionary movement during this critical period. After a wide-ranging discussion the conference approved the programme of the Fourth International, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, written by Trotsky. The Transitional Programme, as it was popularly known, was based upon the first four congresses of the Third International. It is the Communist Manifesto of today, covering our entire epoch, and maintaining its relevance against the self-styled attempts by Pablo and Mandel to revise it. The conference also voted to adopt the Statutes of the Fourth International, which were based upon democratic centralism.
Acutely aware of the approach of an imperialist war, the Programme declared:
The bourgeoisie and its agents use the war question more than any other to deceive the people by means of abstractions, general formulae, lame phraseology, ‘neutrality’, ‘collective defence’, ‘arming for the defence of peace’, ‘struggle against Fascism’ and so on. All such formulae reduce themselves in the end to the fact that the war question, that is the fate of the people, is left in the hands of the imperialists, their governing staffs, their diplomacy, their generals, with all their intrigues and plots against the people. It castigated the social patriots who were attempting to drag the exploited behind the war chariot in the name of ‘democracy’ and the Popular Front. It called on the working class to defend the Soviet Union, and called on workers to build a United Front against Fascism, to fight for the liberation of the colonial countries from imperialism, and to fight against the imperialist war and for the Socialist revolution.
The conference discussed the question of the unity of the Trotskyist movement in Greece, and decided that the unification of the EOKDE with the KDEE was necessary because the differences between the two organisations (the present situation in Greece and the question of the Archeiomarxists) did not justify the continuation of two separate organisations.
Without any authority Raptis dealt with the question of the entry of the POUM into the Fourth International, which had been proposed by the OKDE (Pouliopoulos and Raptis), in opposition to Trotsky, as well as presenting the question of Archeiomarxism, which had been solved in 1930.
The conference declared that unification must take place on the basis of the Transitional Programme, and that the organisation would be known as the Revolutionary Socialist Organisation (Greek Section of the Fourth International). It added that a newspaper under a new name would be published, that a new temporary leadership would be formed on the basis of equality of representation, with the sanction of the International Secretariat, which would take decisions should disagreements arise between the two tendencies, that the members abroad would form a committee whose main duty would be to assist financially the Greek section and, in conjunction with the leadership inside Greece, prepare a conference of the new organisation, and that this committee would publish a magazine containing the documents of the two tendencies.
That this resolution, which was proposed by those two self-nominated ‘representatives’ Raptis and Vitsoris, was accepted by the conference was scandalous, because they had adopted the rôle of a political leadership, and yet, with the exception of the matter of unification, ignored the wishes of their comrades who were engaged in a life and death struggle under the dictatorship.
After the founding conference Raptis was kept in the sanatorium of the Yser, and had no – absolutely no – contact with any Trotskyist organisation, faithfully keeping the promise he had made to Maniadakis that he would not take part in any political activity. He was, therefore, unaware of and unable to participate in the conference which took place in January 1942 in Brussels, at which the European Secretariat was formed, and in which Marcel Hic, Yvan Craipeau and Zwan (France), Henry Opta and Abram Leon (Wajnsztock) (Belgium), and perhaps Martin Widelin (France) participated.
When Raptis realised that he could be accepted without any problems by the Greek section, he sent the worthless T. Doris (Capnisi), who was given names and addresses, and who, as soon as he was arrested, betrayed to the Security Police comrades Prodromos Savas, Perkentes, T. Giannopoulos, Prigouris and others. He also told them that Vitsoris had entrusted to Giannopoulos a case containing the organisation’s archives, which were then seized by the spies.
Notes1. Comrade Stinas had spoken of “Fascism” both before and after the imposition of the Metaxas dictatorship. Within the ranks of the EOKDE, however, there was a general consensus that the KDEE’s analysis of Fascism was derived from their incorrect evaluation of the situation and from other theoretical errors. Our conference described the 4 August dictatorship as a “military-police regime”.
A relentless ideological struggle against Stinas” tendency occurred in the Acronauplia concentration camp. We exposed their pessimistic evaluation of the correlation of political forces prior to the Metaxas dictatorship and after the Thessalonica events, and also the mechanistic mentality that Stinas brought with him when he split from Stalinism. There was nothing new about Stinas’ view of the “Fascism of 4 August”. He did not accept the analysis of Fascism which Trotsky formulated, he could not throw off his Stalinist past, and, whatever his claims, he never became a Trotskyist. He used the same criteria as the Stalinists to describe the Metaxas dictatorship as Fascist.
Stinas was, nonetheless, careful not to go so far as the Stalinists, and avoided such theories as ‘all-out Fascism’ and ‘Social Fascism’, and those of the Archeiomarxists, through which he himself had lived, first as a supporter of Pouliopoulos in the spring of 1927, and then as a Stalinist that autumn, when he started to persecute the Spartakists and Archeiomarxists. He also avoided being identified with the later Stalinist ideas, that the choice of the day was between democracy and Fascism, and that one should call for the democratisation of the bourgeois regime.
2. L.D. Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, London 1976, p.21.