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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

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Ahmet Ersoy
, 
Maciej Górny
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Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Socialism and the nationality question

The socialist frenzy of two decades

Abraham Benaroya
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: ‘O σoσιαλιστικός ὀργασμός δύo δεκαετιῶν (The socialist frenzy of two decades)

2Original published: In installments in the newspaper Tαχυδρόμoς (Postman) in 1931

3Language: Greek
The excerpts used are from the latest edition entitled ‘H πρώτη καριέρα τoῦ έλληνκοῦ προλετριάτου (The first career of the Greek proletariat) with an introduction by Angelos Elefantis (’Aθήνα:’ Iολκός 1975), p. 69–72.

About the author

4Abraham Benaroya [1887, Vidin (present-day north-west Bulgaria) – 1979, Holon (Israel)]: journalist, trade unionist and socialist theoretician. In 1907, he graduated from high school and became a teacher of Bulgarian at a Jewish school in Plovdiv (Tur. Filibe, Gr. Filipoupolis). He had already been involved in socialist activities while in high school. In 1905, he founded the first socialist newspaper in the Ottoman Empire El journal del laborador (Newspaper of the workers) in Ladino, that is Judeo-Spanish, the idiom used by the Sephardic Jews of the Balkans. Following the Young Turk revolution, he left Plovdiv and went to Salonica (Gr. Thessalo-niki, Tur. Selanik, Bg. Solun) via Edirne (Gr. Adrianoupolis, Bg. Odrin) with the intention of taking advantage of the new conditions created in a city where the largest community was Jewish. In September 1908, he managed to found a socialist Sephardic society, which, in April 1909, was named the ‘Labor and Socialist Society.’ In July 1909, Benaroya played a key role in the foundation of the Federation Socialista Laboradera (Workers’ socialist federation), which became the major workers’ association in Thessaloniki, and managed to bring together workers and intellectuals from different communities. The Jews and the Bulgarians were the most numerous. He then published the newspaper Solidaridad oberadera (Workers’ solidarity), the official paper of Federation. Benaroya was not a Zionist. In his view, the solution of the ‘nationality issue’ in the Ottoman Empire would be achieved through the social liberation within a federative multinational state. He was also critical of the nationalist fervor that led to the Balkan wars. Therefore, he clashed with the ‘nationalist’ socialists such as Nikos Yiannios (1885–1958), among the founders of the Σoσιaλισικόν Kόμμa ‘Eλλάδoς (Socialist Party of Greece) in 1911. At the end of the First World War, in November 1918, Benaroya played a leading role in the foundation of the Σoσιαλιoτκόv ’Epyaτικόv Kόμμa ‘Eλλάδoς (ΣEKE) (Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece). He was one of its leading figures until 1924, when the former leadership, Benaroya included, was ousted and the party was renamed the Communist Party of Greece. The removal of the old guard in 1924, cost the Communist Party the alienation of a great deal of its supporters, who could not identify with the Bolshevik policy of the young leaders. Moreover, the accusation of being a ‘reformist’ or ‘social democrat’ would haunt many important figures of the Labor movement. It was only in 1968, after the split in the Communist Party of Greece, that the contribution of figures like Benaroya was recognized. The new Interior Communist Party of Greece created its own genealogy and political heritage. It turned to the roots of Greek socialism, to the era before the domination of Bolshevik orthodoxy, and promoted figures such as Benaroya among its ideological forefathers.

5Main works: ‘O σoσιαλιστικός όργασμός δύo δεκαετιν [The socialist frenzy of two decades] (1931).

Context

6As an outcome of the Young Turk revolution and the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in July 1908 (see Georgios Boussios, The political program of Hellenism in Turkey), favorable circumstances were created for political and trade unionist activity. In July 1909, Salonica, the city where the revolution had itself gained momentum, witnessed the founding of the Federacion Socialista Laboradera, that united workers from all ethno-religious communities. The Committee of Union and Progress, the secret society set up by the Young Turks, dominated political life and tried to eliminate trade unionism through a series of repressive measures. When it did not manage to achieve this goal, it turned against the Federacion itself and, in November 1911, its offices were closed down. Despite the persecution, the Federation remained powerful until the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 and its members played a significant role in the emergence, first, of the Greek Socialist Party in 1918, and of the Greek communist party in 1924.

7The most heated debate among the leading figures of the Federation was the nationality question, which constituted a widely contentious issue for all social democrats in the period before the First World War. What was at stake was how the nationality question was going to be combined with the international aspiration of socialism, especially in relation to the nationalities of the Ottoman Empire. The fundamental principle of the Federacion was the creation of an association “in which all nationalities could participate without abandoning their language and their culture.” In other words, each nationality would be able to retain its specific character while joining forces to achieve the common task: the socialist ideal. The Balkan Wars delivered the harshest blow to the Federation. As a reaction to the wars and to the annexation of Salonica to the Hellenic state, the party turned even more anti-imperialistic and internationalist, and the conflict between different internal groups ended up with the domination of the leftist faction led by Joseph Hazan.

8Following the annexation to the Hellenic state, the whole city lived in a state of emergency. The socialists refused to accept the annexation and considered it an act of occupation. In particular, within the Jewish community, this led to an expansion of the Zionist movement. To make things worse, the Jewish community would experience a real disaster with the fire of 1917, which eliminated the commercial center of the city. The authorities took advantage of the calamity relocating the Jewish community far from the center. The community would gradually adapt to the new circumstances. A large part of it would also gradually develop a Greek national awareness, which became apparent in the participation of many Greek Jews in the Greek-Italian war of 1940–1941 and in the resistance movement against the ensuing German occupation. However, the devastating final blow for the Jewish community came in 1943, when almost 50,000 people were deported to concentration camps all over Germany. Only a few thousand managed to return, thus turning a population which used to consist a good half of the city’s population into a tiny minority.

9Benaroya’s early involvement in socialist activity coincided with the transition of a multi-communal Ottoman Salonica, mobilized by the constitutional regime introduced in 1908, into a Greek city which sought homogeneity and preferred to marginalize ‘foreign’ elements. In his account, ‘The socialist frenzy of two decades,’ Benaroya narrated the history of the Greek socialist movement through his own experience. His aim was to defend his choices and views, which cost him his position of leadership. The language he employs in the text is of a peculiar unadorned style. However, it is known that his Greek was not sufficient and that he started learning it after 1908, when his activity brought him into contact with Greek socialists. Consequently, it is certain that somebody else helped him by polishing the language of the text.

10In the excerpt presented here, he describes his first visit to Athens, where he met the leader of the first period of the Greek socialist movement, Platon Drakoulis (1858–1934), who advocated a mix of Utopian, socialist, Christian and anarchist ideas, as well as the new leader Nikos Yiannios along with many other important figures. Among other things, the text is interesting for depicting the first celebration of the ‘Workers’ day’ in Athens. During the demonstration that day, the police arrested the socialist group, and Benaroya was declared to the police as a ‘foreigner.’ In fact, this was the way he felt about himself, despite the fact that he would become, later on, one of the central figures of the Greek socialist movement. It was only in 1966 that Benaroya entrusted his text to the historian Georg Haupt in the hopes that it would be republished in Greece. The text was eventually published in 1975, a year after the fall of the military dictatorship in Greece under the title H πρώτη καριέρα τoυ ελληνικoύ πρoλεταριάτoυ (The first career of the Greek proletariat). The publication was clearly aimed at providing a genealogy for the socialist movement on behalf of this part of the communist left that wished to break with the Bolshevik tradition and embrace the ideas of the first generation of socialists.

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The socialist frenzy of two decades

12His first visit was to the Athens Workers’ Center, which had been founded a year earlier. But the socialist Israelite at once encounters an environment different to that of Salonica, Belgrade and Constantinople. In the Center’s main hall, instead of a picture of Marx he encounters an icon of Christ; instead of the hospitable concern of his comrades, a cool and indifferent attitude by all, including his fellow printers. He wonders whether there is a separate socialist center in Athens. He is accompanied to what was then called the Σύνδεσμoς των Eργατικών Tάξεων (League of working classes), led by Drakoulis, on Pireos Street. He walks in and encounters once again the figure of Christ rather than that of Marx. The practically old Drakoulis welcomes the political exile in a somewhat more “socialist,” human way.

13Thus, Benaroya learns of the existence of a ‘Socialist Party’ presided over by Drakoulis and a ‘Socialist Center’ led by N. Yiannios, known to him from Constantinople. The Socialist Party had the ‘League of Working Classes’ under its care and published ΄Eρευνα (Research) (a magazine). The ‘Socialist Centre’ had under its influence the Пρόoδoς (Progress) trade union, which published ῝Aμυνα (Defense) (a fortnightly trade union newspaper). Benaroya rushes over to the Klafthmonos coffee house, which housed the offices of the ‘Socialist Center’ in its “loft.” Here he was welcomed differently. He is a comrade coming from abroad. Socialist sentimentality, curiosity and finally pure courtesy welcome the Israelite exile. Intellectuals and workers surround the foreigner and besiege him with thousands of questions.

The Socialists

14During that time, the “loft” of this coffee house was the meeting-place for practically the whole of Greek socialism. It is where its leader would appear, the one-time demoticist school teacher from Constantinople, N[ikos] Yiannios, editor of the first Greek socialist newspaper to be published in Constantinople, ‘O ΄Eργάτης (The worker), he too a collaborator of S. Papadopoulos as well as of the socialist member of Parliament Vlachov and the—more orthodox than him—Bulgarian socialists of Constantinople. Here in Athens, N. Yiannios’s pre-eminence was unquestionable. A sober teacher, he always treated his followers like a teacher who taught socialism at night, the same way as he taught... French during the day: with authority and severity. That is where Yannis Pikros (a pseudonym of the then student and present-day lawyer Papaioannou), a poet and lively intellectual, came to socialism from the aristocracy; that is where H. Apostolidis, then a powerful intellectual journalist, [would go]; and also the well-known writers S[pyridon] Melas and D[imitris] Hatzopoulos (the two latter, having walked out later due to their ... “trade union” principles, put together a separate group, while Apostolidis, having disagreed with Yiannios, departed); and Ch. Michalis, Ioannidis, Ze-kos, Delazanos, Paliouras, etc., all workers.

15Present there was also K. Athanatos, then very young and now distinguished as a journalist, who was already editor of ’Avάστασις (Resurrection), a magazine for socialist youth. Lectures, discussions and lessons on socialism and Marxism were held regularly. It was late April, and May Day was going to be celebrated for the first time according to the new calendar. At the ‘Socialist Center,’ discussions and preparations were taking place. At Drakoulis’s Center as well. The ‘League of Working Classes’ decides to hold a celebration. Negotiations are held concerning a joint celebration, but no understanding is reached and the ‘Socialist Center’ is left to act freely. The decision is made: the members of the ‘Socialist Center’ and anyone from the Пρόoδoς trade union who wishes to will gather at the countryside coffee house of Metsi near the Stadium. A celebratory issue of ῝Aμυvα (Defense) will be published. There, at the coffee house, the red flag will fly for the first time, speeches will be made and socialist hymns will be sung. Thus had spoken the leader N. Yiannios and thus it would be. But socialist hymns could not be sung by all, because the majority did not know them. Pikros undertook the task and set to work. He translated two or three. And Benaroya took on the job of music teacher. At the Zappeion [Square], on isolated benches, preparatory “concerts” were held. The socialist workers of Greece, still only a handful of people, were taught the socialist hymn of the Internationale as translated by Pikros.

16On Mayday, the program was carried out in its entirety. N. Yiannios spoke first, the poet Pikros and others read socialist poems, the foreign guest also spoke, and then came the turn of another, the student Papadimitriou. The red flag was flying, the sounds of the socialist hymns had reached the ears of the gendarmerie, and before Papadimitriou’s speech came to an end, the police arrived, arrested everyone in flagrante delicto, and, having lowered the flag, led everyone—about twenty-five people in total—under escort to police headquarters. Those apprehended were somewhat daunted at first, despite the encouragement of their leaders, but they recovered along the way, and the escort quickly turned into a demonstration, with cheering, songs and protests. Curious and surprised, people gathered and thus May Day according to the new calendar, assisted by the police, made its appearance in the middle of Athens.

17At police headquarters, Commander Mr. Zymvrakakis, half-amused, half-solemn, interrogated the ‘Organizing Committee.’ The position of those arrested who were still arriving had not been decided. The exile Benaroya, under the threat of a new exile and despite exhortations to escape, did not want to miss such an “important” event. But comrade Athina Gaitanou Gianniou (among the celebrants there were three women) managed to convince an officer that [Benaroya] was a “foreigner” who happened by chance to be there and to free the “foreigner.” But as soon as we arrived at police headquarters, all those arrested were released together with the ‘Organizing Committee,’ upon which they poured out into the streets, cheering: Long Live May Day, Long Live Zymvrakakis (!).

18Nowadays the demonstration is larger and Klafthmonos Square reverberates with the sound of shouting and song. In the “loft,” the leader, solemn and severe as always, reviews the events of the day and the celebration comes to an end.

Auteur

Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540