“Epi ta Proso” (“Forward”): a Greek anarchist newspaper

A brief presentation of the first anarchist communist publication in Greece “Epi ta Proso”.

In 1893, Socialistiki Adelfotis (Socialist Brotherhood) founded in Patras, an organisation with a mutual aid character, a loose grouping of some socialist and progressive elements, followers of the moderate socialist Plato Drakoulis. In Socialist Brotherhood found also accomodation followers and friends of the socialist Stavros Kallergis as well as some anarchists. Socialist Brotherhood interested primarily for the trade-union movement and with its own initiative the first working associations were founded in Patras, aiming also in educating the population and the workers in the ideals the socialism.

By 1895, the Brotherhood reached 500 members. In 1894 published the newspaper “To Fos” (“The Light”) supporting Plato Drakoulis who was a canditate in the then general elections. The anarchist members of the organisation and some Kallergis’ supporters disagreed intensely with the participation in the elections and organised a separate anti-electoral propaganda. Since then, the organisation began to be torn up by internal conflicts between the three tendencies, Drakoulis’ followers, Kallergis’ supporters and anarchists. One of the results of these internal conflicts was the foundation on 2 June 1894 by some Kallergis’ supporters of Sosialistiki Lesxi Patras (Socialist Club of Patras).

In January 1896, with the initiative of the anarchists Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Dimitris Karampilias and Panagiotis Kotzias, an anarchist fraction created into Socialist Brotherhood (which now was mostly a dissolved organisation), which tried to continue the educative work of the organisation between the workers and began the publication of a weekly newspaper with the title “Empros” (“In Front”), which, however, stopped its circulation in the third copy because of economic difficulties. This loose anarchist grouping set the base for a more continuous connection of anarchists with various organised workers, mainly those organised in the association of workers of currant box-makers. It is reported by historians that this anarchist grouping numbered roughly 40 members.

In April 1896, anarchist Yiannis Magkanaras, began to circulate as anarchist the newspaper “Epi ta Proso” (“Forward”) which he had bought in 1895. Thus, around this newspaper a well organised anarchist collective constituted. The more known and militant members of this collective were the printer and journalist Yiannis Magkanaras, the printer Panagiotis Kotzias, the tailor Dimitris Karampilias, the poet and lecturer Panagiotis Tsekouras, the lawyer Vasilis Theodoridis, Panos Machairas, Antonis Soufas and Evangelos Markantonatos. Correspondent from Athens was Georgios Katsifouzos, close collaborators (also from Athens) were the Medicine students Dimitris Arnellos and Dimitris Mpantounas and others. In the translations helped the lawyer Vasilis Kalliontzis, without to be a member of the collective.

Lots of articles published in the newspaper on and about the currant question - that during this season was enough accentuated, specifically in Western Peloponnese - and also about various local issues –as the then strike of Lavrio miners , while articles by famous anarchist writers, as Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Malatesta, Reclus and others were published translated by D. Arnellos and V. Kalliontzis. There were also contacts and collaborations with anarchist publications from many countries. The circulation of the newspaper was enough satisfactory and was read in cities and villages across Western Peloponnese.

Apart from the newspaper, with mainly the initiative of Yiannis Magkanaras, the collective circulated and distributed in pamphlets and booklets various anarchists articles and translations, which constituted the “Anarchiki Vivliothiki” (“Anarchist Library”), which was confiscated two times, in November 1896 and in February 1898, by the authorities.

The collective around “Epi ta Proso” was the first anarchist collective in the all “hellenic” geographical area with a systematic action and was connected very closely with the rural revolts and other struggles, instigating some of them and promoting them in its pages. The members were almost always in various villages spreading the anarchist ideas. The period 1893-1905 was characterised by frequent revolts, risings and even armed demonstrations. The members of “Epi ta Proso” participated actively in the whole movement, distributing also the newspaper, booklets and other stuff.

The collective had also its own system of measurement of the time, beginning from 1792, the year of the A’ French Democracy and thus 1896 was entered as year 104.

On the occasion of the terrorist action of Dimitris Matsalis the collective found itself in the centre of a wave of repressive attack by the state. On 3 November 1896, in Patras, anarchist shoe-maker Dimitris Matsalis attacked with a knife in two familiar faces of the city. By his blows the banker Dionysios Fragkopoulos killed on the spot and the merchant Andreas Kollas wounded seriously. Matsalis was arrested immediately with the bloody knife in his hands. In his first plea he expressed evidently his anarchist ideas. On 6 November 1896, Matsalis was led to the prisons of the Castle of Patras. From the first moment he began the propaganda to the other prisoners saying that the society is unacceptable, that a genuine and absolute freedom should exist, that the laws are unnecessary and the authorities of all types should be destroyed. On 8 November, Matsalis was closed in an isolation cell because of his propaganda. According to certain testimonies, the same day (or according to others on 11 November) he committed suicide by biting a capsule of dynamite that even today is unknown who and how supplied to him. Therefore, if we take into consideration these testimonies we are concluded that his trial did not occur, even if it was certain that he would be sentenced in the death penalty. However, it is supported by other sources, that Matsalis finally beheaded in the prisons of Palamidi Fortress in Nafplion. But still we are not sure. In any case, the Matsali’s action was a really suitable occasion presented to the state to start a wild repressive wave against the anarchists.

Police arrested most members and collaborators of “Epi ta Proso”, that is Magkanaras, Karampilias, Tsekouras, Soufas, Markantonatos and Kotzias, the socialists Mourikis and Zafeiriadis, the social-christians Christogiannopoulos and Ioannis Arnellos (brother of the anarchist Dimitris Arnellos) and others. Dimitris Arnellos and other anarchists gone cladenstine In Pyrgos police arrested Panos Machairas. Also, various charges were attributed against socialists Stavros Kallergis and Plato Drakoulis. Totally, about 30 people arrested. The police also entered in the offices of “Epi ta Proso” and confiscated the printing press, various articles, the correspondence and other material, while they entered in the house of Yiannis Magkanaras, where amongst the others found an article against the police, which they immediately tried to connect with the Matsali’s action. However, this try was unsuccessfull because Magkanaras wrote this article after the police accused him as the instigator of a strike of currant box-makers. After the interrogations, from the 30 arrested 6 remained under custody, that is Magkanaras, Tsekouras, Soufas, Markantonatos, Mourikis and D. Arnellos (who continued to be unarrested). Finally, all released expect Magkanaras who continued to be prosecuted by the police and the state.

The state repressive mechanisms thought that Matsalis was a member of “Epi ta Proso” and the paper was the physical and ethical perpetrator of his action. But in according the histoical elements we have we categorically point out that “Epi ta Proso” had huge disagreements with the action of individual terrorism in which proceeded many anarchists of this era and that followed mostly the ideas of P. Kropotkin, Jean Grave etc Besides, it has not been confirmed from nowhere that Matsalis had no relation with “Epi ta Proso”, while we should take into consideration an intense dialogue between Magkanaras and Matsalis - through the publications of this period - where the first called insane the second.

We should take also into consideration that the “Epi ta Proso” members were prosecuted continuously, but their huge access in the local society and their catalystic participation in the social movement made them enough powerfull and familiar and only an action sush as Matsali’s used by the state in order to begin the process of their extermination. The use by the state of the permanent hostage, the repeated detentions and sentences against them were the main ways for the achievement of this objective. It was also tried the anarchists of “Epi ta Proso” to be characterised as deliberate offenders and the authorities never accepted that they had a social reason, even denying to accept them as anarchists. In their trial, Yiannis Magkanaras and Dimitris Karampilias celebrated the anarchists ideas in their pleas. On 31 December 1896, Yiannis Magkanaras - who as we saod was the only one remained in the prison, because the others, although sentenced of imprisonment from two to eleven months were released - submitted an application for release but on 17 January 1897 the Magistrate Court rejected this application. Magkanaras remained in the prison until 20 May 1897 and in the 22 of the same month he sent an extensive correspondence published in “Les Temps Nouveaux” in Paris.

“Epi ta Proso” then suspended its publication because of economic difficulties. Magkanaras was sending frequent correspondences in the anarchist magazine of Paris “Les Temps Nouveaux”.

Although after the continuous prosecutions and “Epi ta Proso” had almost been dissolved, some anarchists continued the action and most of all Yiannis Magkanaras and Dimitris Karampilias, who were propagating in cafes, villages and streets. They published many booklets, other printed and other as manuscripts, which distributed and which constituted (the second) “Anarchist Library”, with the responsibility of Yiannis Magkanaras. But on 6 May 1898, they faced a new juridicial prosecution, because, previously, speaking to a demonstration of peasants in Agios Vasileios Vrachnon, called the population to revolt. They arrested again and sentenced in 5 months imprisonment each one, for challenge of population in defiance and libeling against the authorites.

From 1 April 1896 to 8 February 1898, “Epi ta Proso” published 35 issues through interruptions and violent state repression, in total 142 pages.

Substantially, as we said before, despite the actions of Magkanaras and Karampilias, from the late February with early March 1898, “Epi ta Proso” was a history. Panagiotis Tsekouras had been already settled in Athens, where he had been connected with the anarchosyndicalists in the organisation of the socialist Stavros Kallergis, but maintaining some contact with his comrades in Patras. The summer of 1898, Magkanaras and Karampilias were settled also in Athens and participated actively in the anarchist activities of the capital through the Association of Anarchist Workers of Athens. Dimitris Arnellos and Vasilis Theodoridis continued their action through the Anarchist Association of Pyrgos (another township in Western Peloponnese). In the same Association Dimitris Mpantounas participated for a little while until his murder, in the end of 1898. We have to point out here that until now we knew that Mpantounas killed from two police thugs. But, according to some recently discovered historical elements he been killed by another anarchist follower of propaganda by deed, the name of which we do not know, which said in the police when arrested that he killed him because he was objecting in the armed or “terrorist” action (!) The friend of anarchists of Patras and translator Vasilis Kalliontzis died in 1899 from apoplexy. Apart Evangelos Markantonatos (who was originally of the island of Cephalonia and a former member of the Central Sosialist Association founded in Athens in 1891 by S. Kallergis, who always shared his time and action between Patras and Athens and for whom there are allegations that migrated in USA), there are not available historical documents about the rest of “Epi ta Proso” members.

Until today we do not have sufficient elements about Yiannis Magkanaras. We know, however, that all the people with this surname in Greece originated from Jean (Ioannis) Magkanaros, who was a French alumni in the Military Faculty of Paris, officer of Napoleon army and Greek-friendly. He went in Greece via Cephalonia island, during the Revolution of 1821, obviously in order to fight and was led to Mesologgi with the group of lord Byron. His family which remained afterwards in Greece changed their surname in Magkanaras. The family unfolded in Patras, Mesologgi, Corinthos and, later, in Athens. Propably, the one of his three sons was Miltiadis Magkanaras father of Yiannis, which was settled in Corinthos, where Yiannis born. We know nothing for studies or other relative pre-occupations of Yiannis Magkanaras, but it is confirmed that he was a journalist and a printer, that he settled in Patras coming from Corinthos and bought from Alexandros Efmorfopoulos the newspaper “Epi ta Proso”, which became the biggest tool of spreading of the anarchist ideas in Patras and the region around during the decade of 1890. It is also confirmed that he wrote articles and poems in the newspaper of S. Kallergis “Socialist” and worked as a journalist in the newspaper “Peloponnese”.

After the dissolving of “Epi ta Proso”, Yiannis Magkanaras went with Dimitris Karampilias in Athens, where he participated in the anarchist movement there. He did not publish any magazine or other publication with the name “Anarchist Library”, as he had written in one of his letters in his French comrades of “Les Temps Nouveaux”. We do not know his precise activity in Athens since 1898 and his participation in the Anarchist Workers’ Association of Athens has only confirmed. After 1901 he published a non anarchist magazine called “Korte” for rather on clearly bread-meaning reasons, and maybe died young before 1910.

Dimitris Karampilias born in the village of Mintilogli Achaias (outside of Patras) in 1872. After the dissolution of anarchist movement in Patras, he settled in Athens with Yiannis Magkanaras and both participated in the anarchist activities there. In 1901, he migrated in Alexandria, Egypt, where worked as a cigaret-maker and participated in the local working class and anarchist movement, collaborating with other Greek anarchists who had been living there, but also with Italians. After 2 or 3 years maybe he left Egypt for France, where he worked as a tailor and participated in the French anarchosyndicalist circles. He apparently came in contact with other Greek anarchists lived in France, while we have information that he collaborated in the printing of the anarchist magazine “Les Temps Nouveaux” of Jean Grave. He also became a member of CGT. But a little before the outbreak of First World War, due to the internal conflicts in this organisation because of the adoption of patriotic positions by its leadership and the progressive withdrawal of its anarchist and anarchosyndicalists members Karampilias resigned from the CGT and with his French spouse Louise-Melanie Pierette, returned in Greece, between 1913-1914. They settled in Patras, where he continued to work as a tailor. During the dictatorship of 4th August 1936, although he was familiar to the authorities he did not have nuisances by the regime and lived with his spouse in his village Mintilogli, until a while after the end of war. In 1945, after Dekembriana (a renown battle of the Communist Party guerilla army and English troops in Athens), he became a member of Socialist Party-Union of Peoples’ Democracy (SK-ELD), but we do not know if he become indeed a socialist. Perhaps he participated in SK-ELD as a reaction in the KKE (Communist Party).

After the end of the German Occupation and war, Karampilias entrusted important part of his manuscripts and other historical materials in the marxist historian G. Kordatos, to whom he sent also enough letters. He was not satisfied from the then written in the left press and the relative bibliography about the history of the working class and anarchist and socialist movement, after lots of historical elements nor were counterfeited neither reported simply. Thus, he had begun to write his memoirs, in order to answer to all of them. In 1954 he had almost reached this aim so that he was ready to begin publish them in continuities in the newspaper of Patras “Imera” (“Day”). But he did not anticipate this aim as he died in 15 September 1954 in age of 82. Today, we owe everything about Karampilias (and about other anarchists of Patras too) to a rather social-democrat (and not anarchist) journalist Christos Rizopoulos who was a close friend of Karampilias in late ‘40s and early ‘50s and his son Andreas Rizopoulos.

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