The following article was prepared for inclusion in the Revolutionary History special issue on Greece, Vol.3 No.3, Spring 1991. Because of pressure on space we were not able to include all the documents that we would have liked in that issue. Several other interesting documents by Karliaftis were published, and interested readers are recommended to look there for biographical notes about him and other heroic figures in the Greek movement.
The articles in that issue, which is now out of print, is available on the web. In the longer term, we hope it will be possible to scan and web-publish other material which was given a very limited circulation in English by the Greek ‘Workers Vanguard’ group, of which Karliaftis was the long time leader.
It would be surprising if we were able to prepare this document without making errors in the spellings of proper names. We will be grateful if you point any out to us.
The Birth of Bolshevism in Greece
by Loukas Karliaftis
THE ROLE OF THE LEADERSHIP OF THE BALKAN FEDERATION IN GREECE
To understand the influence which the Balkan federation had on the Greek movement, we must learn about the different tendencies inside the Balkan federation.
The Bulgarian ‘Narrow’ marxists played a very important role in the Balkan Federation. They were the first to join the Bolsheviks. Without any doubt Dimitrov was a heroic militant as his struggle against Nazism and his testimony at the Leipzig trial proves. But it was Stalin’s politics that he put forward at Leipzig, policies which contributed to Hitler’s rise to power.
A lack of initiative did not help Dimitrov. The date of the split between the ‘Broads’ and the ‘Narrows’ was in 1903. Dimitrov was the leader of the Trade Union side of the Bulgarian Communist Party. He pushed the struggle between the ‘Narrows’ and the ‘Broads’ to the point of a Trade Union split. Already, outside the Second International and before its decline, Trotsky was sent in 1909 and Rakovsky in 1908 to resolve the Bulgarian question and to repair the strategy which the Dimitrov’s split had caused in the Trade Unions. What is more this strategy helped the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, Savazov and others, to divide the masses. At last in 1914 Dimitrov accepted Trade Union unity.
During the war of 1914, the Bulgarian leadership of the Balkan Federation, Dimitrov and Kolarov, cordially stood together with the other representatives. It seems that Dimitrov and Kolarov were not aware that Sideris was a representative of the Federation, that is to say a supporter of gradualist Socialism, in other words a ‘Broad’ like Rakazov.
During this period of unity there was an Anti-Militarist Manifesto of the Balkan Federation which had a rather superficial view of the situation and even a certain pacifism.
In 1918 the uprising at Klantomir and Kintala broke out and Dimitrov said later that both the Party and he himself made grave errors during the uprising, which was drowned in blood. This revolt was a spontaneous movement of soldiers, Dimitrov even said that they were not close enough to the Bolsheviks. This declaration necessitated his self-criticism.
At their conference in February 1922 the PSO continued its policy of betraying the masses. What is more this policy was not just because of Dimitrov and Kolarov but was also that of the Balkan Federation.
The Stalinists have said nothing about this betrayal. Benaroyas has revealed an extraordinary and important thing in telling us what the political prisoners in prison stressed on the subject of this betrayal. Benaroyas tells us that the Conference had thought that the social patriotic and opportunist policy was alright in the Greek situation, while the Bulgarian representatives declared that they wished to set an example to the other Balkan parties.
That was an inevitable proof of their incapacity, unlike Lenin and Trotsky with the Comintern, to perceive the revolutionary nature of the epoch.
After the Conference of October 1922 the representative of the Balkan Federation who had come to Greece with leanings towards the supporters of the 1922 February Conference of a common agreement between the extremist Papanastassis and the reformist Sideris, said that a Central Committee must be created including Sargologos and the partisans of the February 1922 Conference. During this period the Federation representative, with the complicity of Georgiadis and Sideris, had created another Central Committee but the Central Committee of Sargologos sabotaged this Committee.
The Bulgarian representative had dared to support Georgiadis, Sideris and Petsopoulas. Sargologos made friendly contacts with him of a kind that gave a false impression of his plans to the Bulgarian representative. The Bulgarian representative had also met Tzoulatis of whose role and prestige he was well aware. There was no possibility of doing anything without Tzoulatis. He tried to convince the latter to join them. But from the end of 1921 onwards Tzoulatis did not believe in a regroupment of the PSO. So he formed a new movement. Without doubt he counted on the support of Balkan Federation but even more he counted on that of the Communist International. The Balkan Federation representative ignored article 7 of the 21 Principles which demanded a break in relations with reformists and centre politicians. He made an agreement with Tzoulatis on the basis of Article 2 of the 21 Principles which demanded that two-thirds of the Central Committee could only consist of Socialists who had pronounced in favour of the Third International before the Congress.
Thus he aligned with the right wing of the February Conference.
Dimitrov had made other errors and had accused the tendency opposed to the Fascist coup d’tat of Tsagov of reformism. From that moment Dimitrov, on his own responsibility, adopted a policy by the Bulgarian Communist Party of neutrality between the governments of Stabolinsky and Tsagov. He did not take sufficient notice of the position taken by the Bolsheviks towards Kornilov. Tsagov started by murdering Stabolinsky. He then killed thousands of Communists, workers and intellectuals. He ruled for twenty years as a dictator.
The hatred of Fascism and the spontaneous rising of the masses against Tsagov brought about a change of heart in the Bulgarian Communist Party. They then formed a joint front with Agrarian Union of Stabolinsky, the Social-Democratic Party (the so-called Social Fascists of 1931) and even radical bourgeois.
These opportunist deviations of Kolarov and Dimitrov were unknown to Trotsky and Lenin. But they showed the reason for the conflicts going on between Trotsky and Rakovsky on the one hand and on the other Dimitrov and Kolarov. It was never possible to open a debate within the Third International on the problems of Greek and Bulgarian Communism.
GREEK CAPITALISM ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS
When Greek capitalism reeled in Asia Minor and rotted in Greece, the militarist adventure paralysed activity. A state of emergency was declared. Then in the summer of 1922 the Gounaris government imprisoned members of the Communist union of the P.S.O., the editor of Rizopastis and Rizos, with the accusation of high treason and sedition. At the same time Metaxas, for demagogic reasons, declared that the direct intervention in Asia Minor was done by mercenaries and that Kabanis, Kraniakis and Kotsies openly sabotaged it without anyone bothering them.
The prisons filled with members of the P.S.O until the organisation collapsed.
At this point the retreat started. The defeat was almost total. There was panic among Constantine’s supporters. Kordatos made public a decision of the military government of Athens that wanted to execute all the Communist prisoners believing that there would be a mass outcry to punish the Communist treason.
The blow failed. In fact Balidis, the prison governor, demanded a written order as a telephoned command was not enough.
The bourgeois class looked with favour on the defeat at the front and saw a Greek version of the Commune.
Then Metaxas was summoned to take power. It was he who was given the responsibility of involving the communists in the government.
Metaxas sent his aide Evelpidis to visit the prisons and then went there himself with two vacant ministerial posts to offer. One of these was the Ministry of the Interior for he said “The more you can pin the responsibility on Plastiras the more they will have to suffer the reprisals of the Venezelists.” It was certainly an odd proposition from someone who had previously hanged Communists for treason.
“General you do me too much honour” replied Kordatos. “I know that the present time is critical for our country but I believe that the role for us in the P.S.O.P. is not save the throne of the bourgeois state. We cannot take part in your government for our principles forbid it.” After that Metaxas formed a government on his own.
THE DEFEAT ON THE FRONT IN ASIA MINOR
The collapse of the front in Asia Minor in August 1922 marked the end of the Greco-Turkish war which the Venezelists had started and the royalists had continued. This defeat was the result of the profound weakness of Greek capitalism and the feelings of the soldiers against the massacre lasted for eight months.
In that year discipline in the army was destroyed. A whole unit mutinied rather than go to the front. The soldiers would no longer sacrifice themselves for Greek capitalism. The articles in Rizos, For Communism and Workers’ Fight were inspired by Lenin’s Socialists and the War which set the tinder alight. The exiles had difficulty in recovering from this defeat. But there were other disturbances in the very heart of society. At Radesto there were numerous disturbances. There were mass meetings of thousands of soldiers. In these mass meetings they spoke of peace and socialism. The state seemed to breaking up. At Adrianople a group of Communists, which included Vlachos, had organised an action committee. There were other such centres of organised nuclei in other places but their impact was not very great. In reality, since the PSO had been dissolved at Athens, the little groups could not co-ordinate their activities. Papadatos and Kianoulotos maintained that they had reunited the Committee but the Soviets did not get the same effects as in Russia.
Certain units of the army succeeded in both keeping their arms and escaping from the control of Plastiras. The Trotskyist Giannis with some other socialists says that they were able to get almost to Pireaeus before they were disarmed. The worker Kokkinogiannis almost got to Salonika. The defeat at the front could have transformed itself into a revolution but there was no party to give things direction and to focus the revolutionary tendencies of peasants, workers and soldiers.
THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM BETRAYED
When the decisions of the February Conference were known the word treason sprang to the lips of the rank and file. Everyone attacked the opportunist tendencies.
The rank and file were encouraged in their struggle by the German crisis of 1923. The British, Bulgarian, Estonian, Hungarian and Chinese revolutionary events encouraged them too. But they were also influenced by the (dis)association of the Comintern of Lenin and Trotsky.
The upheaval started with the Tzoulatis-Sarandidis group but the Papanastassakis tendency followed. In time the movement spread as far as Pireaus and Salonika reaching into the prisons and the soldiers at the front.
Benaroyas was sincere in his recognition of this movement of militants in spite of which he declared “Some agitated with ulterior motives, other through weakness, thought that the February Conference had betrayed the principles of the Party.” Saragogolos and Stavridis did agitate with ulterior motives and voted for the decisions of the February meeting.
Then Benaroyas tells us “Around Papanastassios a group of militants was built against the Conference decision. The prisoners were also against such Social-Democratic decisions. Petsopoulas and Kordatos also declared themselves opposed to these decisions. And the leadership of the Party became engaged in a great movement against these opportunist tendencies.” Then the Petsopoulas tendency cancelled the February conference decisions even though it was in favour of them. At the time the revisionism of the February conference had only partially marked certain events of the twenties, Petsopoulas and Kordatos were definitely influenced.
THE SPECIAL CONGRESS OF SEPTEMBER 1922
The October 1922 Conference was called to resolve the crisis of the P.S.O. but in fact it made it worse.
Athens was represented by Ikonmou, Papanikolaou, Maggo and Strago, and Pireaus by Agelis, Kourtidis and Aligizakis, while Saragogolos, Chatzistavros and Ventura came from Salonika. The Federation of Tobacco workers and Electrical workers union were present. Sideris and Georgiadis decided to break if they were not in the majority. But the right wing did not have the majority.
That, said the secretary Kordatos, is united on the only small possibility of organising. What is more that underlined the crisis among the parties and unions.
Then Sideris and Georgiades proposed the expulsion of Petsopoulos. After the treachery of the leading workers here and internationally, the Special Congress was torn to pieces by endless personal rivalries.
Members with ossified ideas were attacked as intellectuals. That only made the crisis worse. Thus the bourgeoisie could rule over a divided working class. Petsiopoulos was expelled by a committee made up of Saragogolos and Stavridis who by the end had shown themselves to be traitors to the working class.
Updated by ETOL: 25.10.2003