Stinas and Castoriadis


The Thirties


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 19901, 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”2.

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”3.

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 movement4. “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 Pouliopoulos5, 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 movement6. 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 strenuously7.

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)8, 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 Acronafplia9.

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)10.

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.


1 A. STINAS, Mémoires. Un révolutionnaire dans la Grèce du XXe siècle, La Brache, Paris 1990.

2 Conference by Cornelius Castoriadis on Aghis Stinas, held in the University of Athens, March 1989.

3 Conference by Cornelius Castoriadis, ibidem.

4 In 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.

5 Pantelis 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.

6 The OIC was represented by Michel Raptis (Pablo).

7 Y. 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.     

8 On 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.

9 Akhronafplia lies in the hills that surround Nafplio, a small city with clear Venetian influences, located in the gulf of Argolida, in the Peloponnese.

10 From now on we will designate it as the Unified OIC