Partial translation of an Italian biography on the life of Greek socialist Aghis Stinas.
This study by Arturo Peregalli about the Internationalist Communist Union and its main representative, Aghis Stinas, should have been the fifth chapter of a larger work whose completion was prevented by the premature death of the author.
The initial project had the provisional title Against winds and tides. The Second World War and the internationalists of the “Third Front”1 , and aimed at the study of those small political formations that refused to support one imperialist camp against the other, raising instead – as Lenin and the communist left did during the Great War – the flag of revolutionary defeatism, of class struggle and the fraternisation of the international proletariat in the battle against the bourgeoisie of their own country and any other belligerent country.
During the course of the Second World War almost the whole of the proletarian movement – it would be useless not to recognise it – suffered opportunistic influences and deviated to policies that are clearly a submission to the interests of capitalist preservation.2
This is absolutely true. However, small groups of revolutionaries managed to keep a firm position, rejecting the diktat that imposed the choice between the “fascist” camp and the “democratic” camp – which Russia decided to join, once the digression of the alliance with Germany (1939-41) was over – and instead identifying the causes that sparked off the war in the dynamic of world capitalism, which they had to oppose without leaving the terrain of the class struggle.
These people who kept the flag of the communist revolution flying then, although they were constantly pursued, imprisoned and murdered by the forces of both camps, are today almost unknown and forgotten, even by those who defend their positions.
The formations of the “Third Front” mostly originated from two historical tendencies of the international workers’ movement.
The first was those who opposed, from the very first moment, the degeneration of the Russian revolution, the first victorious and then triumphant course of Stalinism in the Soviet union and, as a consequence, in the Communist International, which had been reduced to a compliant instrument of the Russian state: the Italian Communist Left. This was represented abroad by the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left3 , the Fraction Belge and the Fraction Française and what was left from the German KAPD and the Dutch councilist left4 .
The other, more modest, tendency was formed by the fractions of the Trotskyist movement who opposed the order, adopted by the Fourth International, to defend the Russian “degenerated worker’s State” in the war, and refused to support the war effort. To this tendency belonged, without any contact between them: Aghis Stinas in Greece, Grandizio Munis in Mexico and, following a different course, Henk Sneevliet and the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front (MLL Front) in Holland 5 .
This internationalist line was also followed by anarchist fractions (more or less organized) and the extreme left of European socialism.
This research would also have focussed on France and on other European countries besides Italy (the Author had already examined the Internationalist Communist Party 6 ).
In France where, during the years between the two wars, many other opponents of nazi-fascism and alleged Russian socialism had sought refuge, as well as the Italian Fraction and the Fraction Française de la Gauche Communist, there existed two formations coming out of official Trotskyism – the Revolutionäre Kommunisten Deutschlands (RKD) and the Organisation Communiste Révolutionnaire (OCR) – and the Groupe Révolutionnaire Prolétarien (GRP), that later became, in the Spring of 1944, Union des Communistes Internationalistes (UCI), with a clear councilist orientation 7 .
All these political groups considered imminent, once the conflict was over, a class-oriented and revolutionary resumption on a broad scale and they were counting upon the reoccurrence of a situation similar to the one that had shaken bourgeois Europe at the end of the First World War on the tide of the Russian revolution. But they hadn’t reckoned either with the excessive power of Stalinism and the subjection of the western proletariat to its politics, nor with the “iron heel” that the United States, the new dominant power, was about to impose on the “Free World”. The totalitarian co-ownership of the planet would carry on functioning for many years.
Only Amadeo Bordiga had understood how deep and detrimental the counter-revolution had been and, therefore, how long and laborious would be the course towards a class-oriented resumption of the proletariat, (a resumption that, by the way, still hasn’t happened …). The difficulty of the work that must be done is synthesised in these words:
Here the question is how we will put together again all the terms of the doctrine of the class struggle as concerns the crucial causes that act on factors in the balance of forces, something that I am trying to do with difficulty every time that I send you something.8
This is not to underestimate the effort of those who fought, often sacrificing their own lives, against the imperialist war and who refused to submit to partisanism. Their lesson and their struggle concern the direction of the historical continuity of the revolutionary movement and belong to the, present and future, generations that will make communism their flag.
As we said at the beginning, the greatest part of the research done by Arturo remained at the planning stage.
The only chapter that the author could finish is the one on Stinas. Despite a modest fame in France at the beginning of the nineties, when his “memoirs”9 were published, this revolutionary is still practically unknown in Italy. That’s why the publication of an essay dedicated to him is useful.
In Greece, as elsewhere, the internationalist communists had played an absolutely marginal role. Here again the action against the world war had been conducted by a very small minority that, as in other cases, still formally adhered to Trotskyism.
At the head of this current was Spiros Priftis, better known under the pseudonym Aghis Stinas, whose memoirs, written during the seventies and published in France in 199010 , we will follow for lack of any original documentation.
Stinas belonged to that generation of communists that had lived the euphoric atmosphere of the period after WWI, an atmosphere of great expectation in which it seemed that a great revolutionary period was opening up. The Greek ex-communist Cornelius Castoriadis, once said that Stinas had lived in a period in which the working class had been “truly revolutionary (at least in one of its parts and for a certain period of time). Thessaloniki in the twenties and thirties was his landmark”. “I remember” added the, by this time, established sociologist and political commentator, “his admiration for the women working in the tobacco factories of Thessaloniki, when they were going on demonstrations and clashing with the police”11 .
The first meeting between the young Castoriadis and the accomplished militant took place towards the end of 1942 (or the beginning of 1943). “I remained deeply impressed, like never before in my life”, he said, recalling when he was a twenty three year old communist, “by his acuteness, his courage, by the intransigence of his political thought, and for this reason I joined the organisation that he played a leading role in along with Dimosthenis Vursukis, Giannis Tamtakos and other militants”.
A member of the Greek Communist Party until his expulsion (in 1931), Stinas passed over to the Trotskyist opposition, whose organ of propaganda was called “Communist Flag”. After his rupture with the Stalinist movement, continues Castoriadis, he had developed a radical critique of the soviet regime and “he had immediately come to the conclusion that any reform, any attempt of […] reformation of the Communist parties of the Third International was completely impossible. Already in an article written in ’32 or ’33, if I remember well, he was putting forward the necessity of creating a new International and he was saying that from a revolutionary point of view the Third International was dead forever, contrary to Trotsky, who in that period still considered it possible to struggle within it”12 .
Towards the middle of the thirties the Trotskyist organization went into crisis and, after a very intense debate, Stinas left the group in order to join “Bolshevik”, a breakaway group born from the split of the archeiomarxist movement13 . “Bolshevik” would later give birth to the movement headed by Stinas himself: the Internationalist Communist Union (ICU).
After March 1935, when it took on its own organisational aspects, both political and theoretical, the ICU was for the following three years the only section officially recognised by the Trotskyist mother ship (the Internationalist Communist League). But its political space was contested by another formation that defined itself through Trotskyism: the Unified Organisation of the Internationalist Communists (OIC), headed by Pantelis Pouliopoulos14 , which included as a militant member Michel Raptis (Pablo), who would take the leadership of the Trotskyist Fourth International after WWII.
In September 1938, this competing group also took part in the Founding Congress of the Fourth International in Périgny, in the suburbs of Paris, and at the end of the debate was recognised as an affiliated movement15 . The congressional resolutions recommended that the two movements of the opposition should unify, but the ICU, represented at the congress by Yorgos Vitsoris, objected to this strenuously16 .
According to Stinas’ account, before the outbreak of the world war, even within the limits of a movement of such modest proportions, the ICU had already engaged in a considerable amount of political activity. Among other things, it had published, with a certain regularity, a mimeographed review, “The Workers’ Front”, and distributed a conspicuous amount of leaflets. When the signs of the approaching war became more obvious, the ICU set out in a very clear way that the duty of the Greek working class in the situation where the country became involved in the world military conflict would consist in attempting to transform the war into social revolution.
During these years of waiting the event that involved the Trotskyist movement most intensely was the civil war that drenched the Iberian Peninsular with blood. The Greek Internationalist group, even though far from the centre of the conflict, kept itself regularly informed on what was happening in Spain, and the “Workers’ Front” didn’t miss an opportunity to comment on the events reported in the international press.
Under the dictatorship established by Metaxas in August 1936 (and that would last up to his death, which occurred suddenly on 29 August 1941)17 , being a communist, or even just of the left, could entail considerable risks. Many militants were arrested, some were exiled to the islands and others were interned in the fortress of Acronafplia18 .
Hit by the repression, a lot of activists ceased to have any political activity. Others, who were offered renunciation documents to sign, had seen the prison gates opening before them. Many of them, facing the fear of torture and isolation, yielded, signing declarations of repentance that, real or presumed, helped to make the atmosphere of suspicion heavier in the following years. During the four years of the dictatorship the number of such declarations reached the substantial figure of 45,000.
The militants of the ICU, as far as is known, didn’t show any signs of surrender. One of them, Christos Tyligadis, committed suicide in the prisons of the Security Police because of the tortures he had suffered. Stinas was also among those that didn’t surrender. Arrested in April 1937, betrayed by a member of the Greek Communist Party, he had been accused of illegal actions intended to overthrow the regime. Like most of the political prisoners he had been tortured. Instead of rebutting the allegations, he confessed openly to having fought not only against the regime of the dictatorship, but also against the capitalist society that had generated it, and that he had been the editor of the newspaper of the ICU.
After his conviction, he was sent to the prison of Eghina, an island in front of the harbour of Piraeus, where he found another three militants of his group, of which he gives only the initials or pseudonyms: K. Pap., Th. Yan., and Charles.
Stinas tried to involve the majority of the interned left militants in political debate. He transformed the chamber which he was locked up in into a place for political discussion. It was at this time that he put the question, heard a great deal inside both the Stalinist and the Trotskyist movement, of the “defence of the USSR”, advancing for the first time the proposal to separate the interests of the workers from those of the “Country of Socialism”. That is, Stinas stated that Stalin’s Russia, both in its domestic policy and its foreign policy, despite having a social structure not equivalent to that of the western capitalist countries, should be put on the same level with them. In the case of war, it was necessary to distance themselves from all the military coalitions, including the one that would ally with the Soviet Union.
Within the ICU not everybody agreed with such a position, which didn’t make concessions to subtle distinctions or get-out clauses: if Th. Yan. and Charles shared this view, K. Pap. had some reservations about it.
Stinas and his closest collaborators came to this perspective not because of a theoretical in-depth study of the social structure of the USSR – their judgment on this matter still remained, after all, that of Trotsky – but rather because of a critical examination of the political line defended by the Internationalist Communist League. Anyway, the ICU had come to the point of rejecting one of the main theses that characterised the Trotskyist movement in that period, that is the “unconditional defence” of the State at the head of which was Stalin. The intention was to eliminate every possible avenue through which social-patriotism could be introduced under the pretext of the defence of the “workers’” gains achieved in the Soviet Union.
After a few months, at the beginning of September 1937, Stinas was transferred to Akhronafplia. In this prison, whose internal control was entrusted to the Stalinist detainees, the situation was palpably worse than it was in Eghina. Having responsibility for the distribution of meals, the Stalinist militants had at their disposal a very efficacious instrument for making the lives of the left dissidents more complicated. Stinas underlined in his memoirs this seemingly incredible paradox: the management of a detention camp under a para-fascist regime, like the Greek one, allowed a group of detainees of adverse political sympathy to direct, terrorise and beat up the other detainees, as if was itself the management.
At that time the following members of the ICU were detained in Akhronafplia: Y. Makris (pastry worker), N. Panayotidis (shoemaker), Rigas (electrician), Th. Skaleos and P. Tsoukas (who passed directly from the Communist youth to the Internationalist group). Obviously, the dictatorship didn’t leave them on their own, taking care to also imprison in the fortress militants of the Unified Organization of the Internationalist Communists of Greece (EOKDE)19 .
In May 1939, when Stinas was called to his trial, he openly defended the principles of the proletarian revolution. He denounced the reactionary character of the dictatorship and he made clear that in the face of the imperialist war in progress the only duty of the proletariat was to preach revolutionary defeatism. After accepting the accusation with complete calm, he ended by declaring that he had committed himself to the battle for the overthrow of the social system, of which the dictatorship was only a political manifestation.
The sentence condemning Stinas to five years of imprisonment was rather mild, considering the extremely reactionary character of the Greek regime. In any case, there began a real odyssey for him that took him from prison to prison: the first jail that received him was Syggrou, where he stayed until the spring of 1939. The drawing up of the Hitler-Stalin Pact found him in the prison of Eghina, where he was imprisoned with Pouliopoulos, the leader of the other Trotskyist group.
Translation of Introduction and Chapter 1 of: Arturo Peregalli, "Contro venti e maree. La seconda guerra mondiale e gli Internazionalisti del "Terzo Fronte". Grecia: Aghis Stinas e l'Unione Comunista Internazionalista", Colibì, Paderno Dugnano, 2002 . Taken from the Antagonism website.
- 1The title was an intentional reminder of that of the book written by Pierre Lanneret, Les internationalistes du “troisième camp” en France pendant la seconde guerre mondiale (Éditions Acratie, La Bussière, 1995), which examined the internationalist groups in France during the Second World War which defended rigorous class-oriented and internationalist positions. “Third camp” (or “Third Front”) also means “Proletarian front” against the two imperialist fronts involved in the war.
- 2“The perspectives in the post-war era with regard to the Platform of the Party”, Prometeo, no.3, October 1946.
- 3That had published in Belgium, till the end of the war, Promoteo, Bilan and Octobre.
- 4An important text on the council left: Philippe Bourrinnet, Αt the origins of council communism. History of the Dutch Marxist left.
- 5Sneevliet, along with others of his comrades, had been executed by the nazis in 1942.
- 6Arturo Peregalli, L’altra Resistenza. Il PCI e le opposizioni di sinistra 1943-1945 [The other Resistance. The ICP and the left oppositions 1943-45], Graphos, Genoa, 1991.
- 7Arturo was very interested in closely examining this period of the revolutionary movement in France, but the lack of a sufficient documentation of the positions of these groups prevented him from carrying out an exhaustive research.
- 8Letter of Amadeo Bordiga to Ottorino Perrone, 13 June 1948 (Archivio Perrone, ULB, Bruxelles).
- 9A. Stinas, Mémoires. Un révolutionnaire dans la Grèce du XXeme siècle, Paris, La Brèche-PEC, 1990. Libcom note: An English translation of selections from these memoirs can be found here.
- 10A. STINAS, Mémoires. Un révolutionnaire dans la Grèce du XXe siècle, La Brache, Paris 1990.
- 11Conference by Cornelius Castoriadis on Aghis Stinas, held in the University of Athens, March 1989.
- 12Conference by Cornelius Castoriadis, ibidem.
- 13In the early thirties, the archeiomarxist movement gathered a large number of adherents and it was moving from a simple local expression of the Left opposition towards the constitution of the “second party” of the working class. In the face of the new International it was divided: the minority would give birth to the Archeiomarxist Communist Party, at first radical, but later becoming a very moderate socialist party, hostile to the CPG. The other current of the Communist Union of Greece remained in actual fact, in the shadow of the CPG.
- 14Pantelis Pouliopoulos, leader of the Greek Communist Party, represented the party in Moscow in 1924 at the Fifth Congress of the Komintern. Afterwards he took the side of the Left opposition. In 1937 he joined the Bolshevik-Leninists (current of L. Kastritis). See LOUKAS KARLIAFTIS (KASTRITIS), La naissance du bolchevisme-trotskisme en Grèce, s.n., s.d., cycl. pp.39-41. See also the biography in “Quatrième Internationale”, June 1946.
- 15The OIC was represented by Michel Raptis (Pablo).
- 16Y. Vitsoris was a rather famous actor of the international Theatre. In 1937 he had been arrested twice and released thanks to the intervention of the actress Kotopouli with the king. After his release he left for France. Stinas recounts that his departure had been the cause of a polemic and criticism on the part of Pouliopoulos, who said in the OIC press that, in the face of the dictatorship, revolutionaries should not escape abroad but stay and fight. Nevertheless, Stinas informs us that Pouliopoulos changed his tune when, the year after, Michel Raptis was released from Akhronafplia and also left for abroad with the permission of the authorities. He then said that revolutionaries faced with the dictatorship should escape abroad in order to continue the struggle. See A. STINAS, ibidem, p. 345. Vitsoris kept contacts with his Greek comrades after his departure. He took part in the Founding Congress of the Fourth International and was a member of the International Executive Committee until the outbreak of the Second World War.
- 17On 10 October 1935, in the middle of a very grave political crisis, three senior officers, representing a Military Committee, asked for the resignation of the government. The general Yorgos Kondylis was designated Prime Minister and assumed the regency, proclaiming martial law (politically isolated internally, the coup d’état nevertheless enjoyed British support). On 3 November, a constitutional referendum assigned to the monarchy 105% of the votes (a percentage that later was scaled down to 97.8%). Five days after his return from exile in London, king George II formed an “apolitical” government, replacing general Kondylis with the moderate liberal Konstantinos Demertzis (30 November 1935). The general Ioannis Metaxas, leader of the Monarchist Union became a member of the cabinet as Minister of War. In April of the following year a governmental crisis broke out because of revelations about the existence of a secret agreement between the liberals and the CPG against the political turn to the right. The Prime minister Demertzis was found lying dead on his bed (13 April 1936) and was replaced with Metaxas. The latter, on 4 August 1936, in order to prevent a “communist insurrection” and a “repetition of the Spanish events”, dismissed parliament and established a dictatorship, with the implied consent of king George II and without facing the slightest resistance from political ranks. The pretext was a 24 hour general strike called for the day after against the government plan to introduce compulsory arbitration in labour disputes, used after a long discussion with the British ambassador in Athens, Sir Sidney Waterlow (2 August). The agrarian reform was revoked, there was systematic recourse to the extortion of renunciation declarations (through detention and the use of torture), an establishment of an “anti-communist, anti-parliamentary, totalitarian and anti-plutocratic State”, markedly like the Salazarist example in Portugal (social security measures, maternity pay, eight-hour working day, introduction of a minimum wage, two weeks of annual holiday, rearmament of the country, fortification of the northern frontier on the pattern of the Maginot line, ten-year plan of public works). Finally, in July 1938, Mataxas was designated head of the government for life.
- 18Akhronafplia lies in the hills that surround Nafplio, a small city with clear Venetian influences, located in the gulf of Argolida, in the Peloponnese.
- 19From now on we will designate it as the Unified OIC