Karampilias, Dimitris, 1872-1954

Biography of Greek anarchist Dimitris Karampilias, who was active in anarchist movements in Egypt and France as well as his native Greece.

Submitted by Ed on June 13, 2011

Dimitris Karampilias born in the village of Mintilogli Achaia (outside of Patras) in 1872. He was one of the most active anarchists in “Epi Ta Proso” newspaper/collective and the anarchist movement of Patras during 1890's. After the dissolution of the anarchist movement of Patras, moved to Athens together with Giannis Magkanaras where they both participated in the anarchist groups and activities.

In 1901, he settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where he worked as a cigarette maker and participated in the labor and anarchist movement, collaborating with Greek and Italian anarchists who had been settled there before him.

We do not know the exact time of his departure from Egypt. In France, where he went, he worked as a tailor and became involved in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. Allegedly he come together with other Greek anarchists who lived and were active in France (although we do not know names and how many they were), while some information want him to work in the printing of the anarchist magazine «Les Temps Nouveaux» edited by Jean Grave. He rather became a member of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), founded in 1906 in Amiens and at that time was more syndicalist and had not gone under complete marxist control. But shortly before the outbreak of World War I an internal fighting broke out in the organisation due to the adoption by the leadership of patriotic rather than internationalist positions and the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists members gradually began to withdraw.

Thus, it appears that Dimitriss Karampilias left CGT in a bitterness and with his French companion Louise-Melanie Pierette, returned to Greece during 1913-1914 and settled in his homeland Patras, where he continued to work as a tailor, while his companion was giving French language lessons.

By some information Karampilias during the period of the Greek military campaign in Asia Minor actively involved in the anti-war propaganda. The same information say that in the elections of 1920 (which turn to be a referendum against the war), he was urging people to vote for the Sosialistiko Ergatiko Komma Elladas (SEKE – Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece – the predecessor of the Greek Communist Party) which during this time had adopted a clear anti-war program. If we consider the fact that during those years many anarchists were founders of communist and socialist parties believing that they may have a revolutionary potential and also that the same time, and also that one of the primer organizers of SEKE in Patras was Stelios Arvanitakis, who shortly after became an anarchist communist, maybe this information is not so wrong. However, from what we know Karampilias neither appear been a member of SEKE nor he involved in any organized socialist or other similar movement or activity in Patras up until 1945. The local well-known left trade unionist Haralampos Ploskas, said in early 1980 that during1930's Karampilias was the only anarchist in Patras.

In 1928 a publisher with the name Leon Panayotou published in Patras a book by someone B. Konstand (?) under the title “Christianity”, translated from French by D. Karampilias, but we do not know the precise content of this book.

During the dictatorship of 4th August (1936), although Karampilias was well known to the authorities was not bothered by the regime, but withdrew at his village home in Mintilogli, where he lived until shortly after the war. He worked as a tailor, while his companion Louise taught French on a private basis. There, by some evidence it seems that he did not carry any action at Mintilogli, but it seems that he formed a circle of friends gathering at his home where discussing general theoretical issues telling to them often about the communist ideas. However, the information we have say that Karampilias was not talking about political parties, but for workers and peasants.

It appears that he was quite attentive to his political relations, that he followed closely some conspiratorial rules in a very difficult time when the free circulation of dissident ideas was illegal. At his home in Mintilogli, several discussions were held with a few chosen participants. The topics of discussions were not confined only to Greek political affairs, but also extended to international issues. Around fifteen people were in this narrow circle of people, most of whom were supporters of the reformist socialism. A significant characteristic was that in this narrow political circle no one was in a young age. However Karampilias at the same time would contact with at least ten young radicals. He was discussing lots of issues with them, but sometimes they disagreed with him, characterised him as modest but they were respecting him since he was "the first communist in the village”.

At that time, the extremism derived by the then general secretary of Stalinist KKE Nikos Zachariades, had affected a number of dissident radical youth. Almost all the youth who knew Karampilias politically became key figures of the Communist Party in local level, but many of them never occupied high ranking positions in the party, and many of them died in exile.

In 1945, after the riots and the events of December 1944, a conference been held in Athens were socialists of all tendencies participated (except the stalinists), who decided the formation of Sosialistiko Komma-Enosi Laikis Dimokratias (SK-ELD - Socialist Party-Union of Peoples’ Democracy), a mostly social-democrat organisation with university professor Alexandros Svolos as a president and Elias Tsirimokos as general secretary., Among other groups, SK-ELD joined by Epanastatiko Sosialistiko (Kommounistiko) Komma Elladas (ESKE - Revolutionary Socialist (Communist) Party of Greece), as a separate councilist tendency. This organisation founded in 1943 as Revolutionary Socialist Party of Greece and supported the views of Rosa Luxemburg and by their start were in a vicious conflict with KKE. Initially, the organisation was known by the name of their magazine “Nea Epochi” ("New Age") which was circulated illegally together with another similar magazine called “Sosialistiki Idea” ("Socialist Idea”). In autumn 1943, in the midst of their confrontation with the Communist Party, they changed their name to Revolutionary Socialist (Communist) Party of Greece and began publish “Kokkini Simaia” (“Red Flag”). In 1945, as we said, they joined SK-ELD.

At the same time, after a speech of A. Svolos in Patras a local Committee of SK-ELD formed in the city, whose D. Karampilias became a member. In 1950, during a restructuring of the party, D. Karampilias continued to be a member of this Committee. Karampilia’s participation in Prefectural Committee of SK-ELD in Patras, is confirmed by Haralampos Ploskas who in his book "A life struggles” writes that Karampilias was "an old anarchist who in his old age became a socialist". From our research we came to the conclusion that Karampilias participated in SK-ELD maybe because this party was clearly opposed to the civil war of 1946 -1949, which Karampilias considered disastrous for any libertarian political developments in Greece.

One of the main Karampilia’s pre-occupations during this time (late 1940s) was to read the daily and other newspapers from Athens coming in the offices of the daily newspaper of Patras “Imera” ("Day"), which began its publishing around 1952 and it was the continuation of the newspaper “Simerini” (“Today”) which been launched shortly after the end of German Occupation by a "revolutionary" way by some journalists of newspapers “Neologos" and "Peloponnese" who went on strike.

Dimitris Karampilias had developed a special and close friendship with the director and editor of “Imera” Christos Rizopoulos, despite the age difference (the later by then was around 40). Christos Rizopoulos born in 1908 in Patras and Karampilias knew him before the war. He was a member of the Communist Party, journalist of its organ "Rizospastis" (“Radical’) and author of the book entitled "Memories of Kalpaki”, which in 1933 caused a stir amongt the Greek political establishment of the time. Christos Rizopoulos spent his military service as an ordinary soldier in the Border Division VIII of Kalpaki (a special military centre, something like an exile camp were communist soldiers been sent) in late 1920s. His catalytic revelations through the pages of "Rizospastis" and his book on the camp exile of Kalpaki, had as a result the closure of this disciplinary camp in 1934. Christos Rizopoulos without being involved in a vicious conflict between Stalinists and Trotskyites of early 1930s and after, shortly after left Communist Party and led himself to a broader liberal democratic space.

Old colleagues and acquaintances of Karampilias said about him that although he had not finished even the elementary school, he was quite aware of various social, political, historical and other issues, thanks to the self-education. Those who remember him say that he was reading a lot, he was always with a book in his hand.

After the end of German Occupation and war D. Karampilias entrusted an important part of his manuscripts and other materials with marxist historian Gianis Kordatos. He also sent some letters to him. Why Karampilias trusted G. Kordatos can be explained by the fact that the later had been expelled by the Communist Party (KKE) and Karampilias thought he was probably the only one who could preserve the historical memory of the old anarchist and working class movement in Greece.

Dimitris Karampilias was not satisfied at all with the then written history and the available literature about the working class and socialist movement in Greece, as he was considering that the most historical evidence either beeb falsified or not even mentioned. Thus he began to write his memoirs. In 1954 he had almost reached the end in order to begin publishing them in series in “Imera” ("Day"). He was also ready to write and publish in the same newspaper an article on the facts and realities of the attack of anarchist Dimitris Matsalis against businessmen Frangopoulos and Kollas in 1896 in Patras.

Karampilias, apart from his memoirs and writing articles on the history of the labor movement, translated also some theoretical articles of prominent anarchists such as a Piotr Kropotkin article titled "All socialists", published in the daily newspaper of Patras "Simerini” (Thursday, 14 March 1946). The time for translation and publication of this article is important because it coincides with preparations for civil war by N. Zachariades and the Communist Party, something Karampilias was against, because he agreed to hand a popular resistance against the occupying German army, but disagreed profoundly with a coup by the Communist Party, which could resulted in a Stalinist-type dictatorship in Greece. He also translated an article by Victor Hugo under the title “United States of Europe – With Democracy and Socialism” published in “Simerini” (Sunday, 25 November 1945).

Moreover, among others, D. Karampilias engaged with literary and artistic subjects. Amongst the various articles he published was an article on Schiller and Beethoven in the Journal of Patras “Astir Tis Ellladas” ("Star of Greece”), on 6 February 1927. Finally, using Karampilias personal historical archive two more articles been written by the editor Christos Rizopoulos, about the Chicago Martyrs of 1886 published in “Simerini” (Tuesday, 30 April 1946) and “Imera” (Sunday, 29 April 1979).

Dimitris Karampilias could not published his work on Dimitris Matsalis. In 15 September 1954 died at the age of 82. Christos Rizopoulos published a very great obituary in Sunday, 19 September 1954 in “Imera”.