Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Agis Stinas, Memoires: un revolutionnaire dans la Grece du XXe siecle, preface by Michel Pablo, translated by Olivier Houdart, La Breche, Paris, 1990, pp369, 130FF.
La Breche, the publishing house of the French section of the USFI, has recently published a series of interesting biographies and memoirs of revolutionaries, including French translations of Oscar Hippe’s Our Flag is Red and Wang Fanxi’s Chinese Revolutionary. The latest addition to the list is Agis Stinas’ autobiography, originally published in Athens in December 1977, which, despite its title, concentrates on the period 1920-1948.
Stinas (1900-1987) was born in Corfu. He became interested in revolutionary politics following the October Revolution of 1917. He was encouraged by the local doctor, who had known Lenin in Switzerland and felt that the best introduction to Socialism would be for the young Stinas to read Hegel’s Logic and Goethe’s Faust, which he duly did.
Stinas joined the fledgeling Greek Socialist Workers’ Party (to become the Greek Communist Party in 1924), and rapidly played a leading role in organising workers and in printing and circulating clandestine bulletins. Initially hostile to the ideas of Trotskyism and the Left Opposition, Stinas was eventually convinced by the ludicrous consequences of the Stalinist Third Period when it was put into action in Greece at the beginning of the 1930s. Together with Poliopoulos, he became one of the leaders of the Greek Trotskyist movement, and was specially mentioned in the resolution A salute to our living martyrs and our heroic dead, adopted at the 1938 Founding Conference of the Fourth International.
During the war, isolated from all contact with any Trotskyist group outside Greece, Stinas argued against the defence of the USSR (although still holding that the USSR was a degenerate workers’ state), and argued that there was nothing progressive in any national struggle whatsoever. His group, the Internationalist Communist Union (ICU), remained outside the Stalinist-dominated mass EAM/ELAS liberation movement. The ICU participated in the July 1946 reunification of the Greek Trotskyist movement, although by Spring 1947 Stinas had left to become a hardened anti-Trotskyist and anti-Leninist. He was later the principal representative in Greece of the Socialism or Barbarism current, and towards the end of his life – according to the translator – moved closer to Anarchism.
Stinas’ political evolution is interesting, but, to this reviewer at least, unfortunate. He was obviously an extremely capable organiser with boundless energy. However, despite his youthful appetite for somewhat difficult texts, there is little sign from this autobiography, or from the archival material which is cited or printed in appendix form, that he ever dealt with the key questions of Marxist theory, or really understood the nature of Trotsky’s politics. Despite citing pages of Lenin against the social patriots in the imperialist countries, he seems never to have considered the fact that Lenin’s position was somewhat different for those in those countries – like Greece – dominated by imperialism. Stinas’ opposition to nationalism in all its forms went beyond the ideological and entered the realm of the visceral.
This leads him to make some silly generalisations which go way over the top. He argues that “we were the only political group in the whole world which, in conditions infinitely more difficult and dangerous than in 1914-18, continued the heroic tradition of Luxemburg and Liebknecht” (pp.236-7), whilst the sections of the Fourth International “found themselves with the Socialists and Communists, working for the executioners” (p.221). Despite the undoubted heroism of Stinas and his group, this is nothing less than a slur on the memory of those Trotskyists – such as the group around Monat (Widelin) in France – who not only carried on the tradition of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, but also paid the ultimate price.
For those who are not knowledgeable about Greek twentieth century history (and that includes this reviewer), Stinas provides ample material to explain the series of coups and counter-coups which punctutated the first 40 years of the century. However, this attention to broad historical detail is also one of the book’s weak points, as it appears to be at the price of getting any impression of Stinas the man. He never once mentions his social origins (he came from a relatively well-off family of olive oil merchants), nor any personal relationships whatsoever.
The probable reason for this is given in Pablo’s short preface, where he describes Stinas (whom he claims to have introduced to Trotskyism – not particularly well, it appears!) as a kind of “red monk”. He continues: “This frail man, feeding himself on coffee and biscuits, who had reduced his needs to a bare minimum, not only due to necessity but also to temperament, had a rare degree of revolutionary faith and courage when faced with the ‘class enemy’.” (p7) This view of an extremely austere man presumably accounts for his refusal to put himself to the fore in his autobiography, or to explain the personal differences he had either with the leader of Greek Trotskyism, Poliopoulos, or with Pablo, who by all accounts was as close a friend to Stinas as it was possible to be. Relations between the two were soured by what Pablo calls “personal reasons” which, frustratingly, he refuses to explain.
Stinas concentrates much of his discussion of the 1920s on the Greek CP’s intervention into the working class. Two things are striking: firstly, the extremely under-developed nature of Greek capitalism. The workers Stinas refers to are electricians, tramway workers, weavers and tobacco workers. The genuinely industrial working class is never mentioned, presumably because it barely existed. In the early decades of the century Greek society was crushed by the exploitative weight of British, French, Italian and Turkish imperialism. Secondly, Stinas gives no indication of having ever intervened into the working class or peasantry, except on the basis of the most abstract ‘Socialism’ and calls for revolution. Despite his criticisms of the ludicrous – and dangerous – ultra-leftism of the Third Period, there were certain similarities of method in Stalinist sectarianism and in Stinas’ purity.
Another aspect of the 1920s which is dealt with in some detail is the relatively shallow base of the Greek CP. It is apparent from Stinas’ description of the opportunism of its leadership that, despite its formal adherence to the 21 Conditions of the Second Congress of the Comintern, the leadership never really felt bound by this, and the membership never understood what they meant. This made the party easy meat, first for the Zinoviev-inspired ‘Bolshevisation’ of 1925, then for a brisk Stalinisation in 1928-30.
Stinas spent a large amount of time between the 1920s and ’40s in prison. Tracked by the secret police, he was generally either in hiding or in jail. Prison conditions thus feature heavily in the book, and they make Strangeways look like the Hilton. The Stalinised Greek CP controlled the political wings of the prisons. Under their instructions, the Trotskyists were always placed closest to the communal toilet, and were regularly beaten by the prison staff. During the war, when conditions were particularly difficult and prisoners were dying of starvation in Stinas’ prison, 90 to a cell built for 15, the Stalinist prisoners were living it up on full rations in far more comfortable conditions.
From the end of the 1930s, Stinas was in the same prison (Acronauplia) as Poliopoulos. They shared a cell, and eventually, in June 1940, organised a series of debates between their two organisations (the Internationalist Communist Union and the Unified International Communist Organisation) in the prison. These discussions were primarily verbal, but they also wrote a series of documents which were circulated, hand-written, inside the jail. Stinas claims that Poliopoulos’ group kept the material and refused to publish his documents, of which he only obtained copies in the 1970s.
Whatever the truth of this claim, his autobiography is rounded off by extracts from two of these articles, Our differences with the unified ICO and The USSR and the struggle for the world revolution. These two documents, whilst of undoubted interest to the student of the Greek revolutionary movement, shed little supplementary light on Stinas’ positions, which are clearly expressed throughout the book. His sectarian opposition to both the defence of the USSR and the possibility of any progressive dynamic to any national struggle – even when a colony is faced with imperialist attack – shows quite how far Stinas always was from Trotskyist politics.
In general, the book is very vague about relationships between the Greek Trotskyists and the international movement. Stinas describes how in 1930 the French Trotskyists entered into contact with the Archeio-marxists (a group led by ‘Witte’ or Giotopoulos which had left the Greek CP, and was named after their journal, Archives of Marxism), how two members participated in a series of meetings, and then argued that the Archeio-marxists should become the Greek section of the International Left Opposition. Unfortunately, it appears there is little more to find out. Raymond Molinier confirmed to me that he was the only French comrade to participate in these discussions, which, according to him, followed the Archeio-marxists sending a telegram to the French section. Like Stinas, he remembers clearly the massive meetings of workers organised by the Archeio-marxists, and confirms Stinas’ and Trotsky’s view of Witte as an extremely authoritarian and egocentric character.
The history of Greek Trotskyism in general, and this early period in particular, is still extremely badly documented. A rapid survey of the indices of Trotsky’s Writings and of the French Oeuvres suggests that following Witte’s desertion in the early 1930s, Trotsky paid virtually no attention to Greek affairs, not even mentioning the strikes and massacres of May 1936 which opened the road to the Metaxas dictatorship three months later.
In both Britain and France, the problems faced by Greek revolutionaries, not the least of which was the murderous activity of the Greek CP, are still largely unknown. The sacrifices of hundreds of Greek militants, who, like Poliopoulos, were killed by the Stalinists, or like Stinas, were forced to live in the most extreme conditions for many years, should be known to all. Stinas’ book, whilst far from perfect, begins to redress the balance.
Updated by ETOL: 14.7.2003