DIMITRI. "A brief presentation of the first anarchist communist publication in Greece, Epi ta Proso [Forward] – 1890s. "

A Greek anarchist collective-newspaper

RECLUS, Élisée (1830-1905)KROPOTKINE, Petr Alekseevitch (1842-1921) MALATESTA, Errico (1853-1932)GRAVE, Jean (1854/10/16 - 1939/12/08). Auteur, éditeur et conférencier anarchiste. Pseud. : Jehan LE VAGRESTAVROPOULOS, KonstantinosKARAMPILIAS, DimitrisKOTZIAS, PanagiotisMAGKANARAS, YiannisTSEKOURAS, PanagiotisTHEODORIDIS, VasilisMACHAIRAS, PanosSOUFAS, AntonisMARKANTONATOS, EvangelosKATSIFOUZOS, Georgios ARNELLOS, DimitrisMPANTOUNAS, Dimitris

In 1893, Socialistiki Adelfotis (Socialist Brotherhood) was founded in Patras, an organisation with a mutual aid character, a loose grouping of some socialist and progressive elements, followers of the moderate socialist Plato Drakoulis, followers and friends of the socialist Stavros Kallergis as well as some anarchists found also accommodation in the Socialist Brotherhood. The Socialist Brotherhood was primarily interested in the trade-union movement and through its own initiative the first working associations were founded in Patras, aiming also to educate the population and the workers in the ideals the socialism.

By 1895, the Brotherhood reached 500 members. In 1894 it published the newspaper “To Fos” (“The Light”) supporting Plato Drakoulis who was a candidate in the then general elections. The anarchist members of the organisation and some Kallergis’ supporters disagreed intensely with the participation in the elections and organised a separate anti-electoral propaganda. Since then, the organisation began to be torn up by internal conflicts between the three tendencies, Drakoulis’ followers, Kallergis’ supporters and the anarchists. One of the results of these internal conflicts was the foundation on 2 June 1894 by some Kallergis’ supporters of Sosialistiki Lesxi Patras (Socialist Club of Patras).

In January 1896, with the initiative of the anarchists Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Dimitris Karampilias and Panagiotis Kotzias, an anarchist fraction within the Socialist Brotherhood (which now was mostly a dissolved organisation), tried to continue the educative work of the organisation between the workers and began the publication of a weekly newspaper with the title “Empros” (“In Front”), which, however, stopped its circulation in the third copy because of economic difficulties. This loose anarchist grouping set the base for a more continuous connection of anarchists with various organised workers, mainly those organised in the association of workers of sultana box-makers. It is reported by historians that this anarchist grouping numbered roughly 40 members.

In April 1896, anarchist Yiannis Magkanaras, began to circulate as anarchist the newspaper “Epi ta Proso” (“Forward”) which he had bought in 1895. Thus, around this newspaper a well organised anarchist collective constituted. The more known and militant members of this collective were the printer and journalist Yiannis Magkanaras, the printer Panagiotis Kotzias, the tailor Dimitris Karampilias, the poet and lecturer Panagiotis Tsekouras, the lawyer Vasilis Theodoridis, Panos Machairas, Antonis Soufas and Evangelos Markantonatos. The correspondent from Athens was Georgios Katsifouzos, close collaborators (also from Athens) were the Medicine students Dimitris Arnellos and Dimitris Mpantounas and others. The lawyer Vasilis Kalliontzis helped in the translations, although he was not a member of the collective.

Lots of articles were published in the newspaper on and about the current issue - which during that season was particularly crucial, specifically in Western Peloponnese - and also about various local issues –as the strike of Lavrio miners , while articles by famous anarchist writers, such as Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Malatesta, Reclus and others were published translated by D. Arnellos and V. Kalliontzis. There were also contacts and collaborations with anarchist publications from many countries. The circulation of the newspaper was quite satisfactory and was read in cities and villages across Western Peloponnese.

Apart from the newspaper, with mainly the initiative of Yiannis Magkanaras, the collective circulated and distributed various anarchists articles and translations in the form of pamphlets and booklets, which constituted the “Anarchiki Vivliothiki” (“Anarchist Library”), which the authorities confiscated twice, in November 1896 and in February 1898.

The collective around “Epi ta Proso” was the first anarchist collective with a systematic action in all the “Hellenic” geographical area and was connected very closely with the rural revolts and other struggles, instigating some of them and promoting them in its pages. The members were almost always in various villages spreading the anarchist ideas. The period 1893-1905 was characterised by frequent revolts, risings and even armed demonstrations. The members of “Epi ta Proso” participated actively in the whole movement, distributing also the newspaper, booklets and other stuff.

The collective had also its own calendar, beginning in 1792, the year of the French Democracy and thus 1896 was entered as year 104.

On the occasion of the terrorist action of Dimitris Matsalis, the collective found itself in the centre of a wave of repressive attacks by the state. On the 3d of November 1896, in Patras, the anarchist shoe-maker Dimitris Matsalis attacked with a knife two familiar faces of the city. By his blows the banker Dionysios Fragkopoulos was killed on the spot and the merchant Andreas Kollas seriously wounded. Matsalis was arrested immediately with the bloody knife in his hands. In his first plea he expressed evidently his anarchist ideas. On the 6 of November 1896, Matsalis was led to the prisons of the Castle of Patras.

From the first moment, he began to propagandize the other prisoners saying that the organization of society is unacceptable, that a genuine and absolute freedom should exist, that the laws are unnecessary and authorities of all types should be destroyed. On November 8, Matsalis was closed in an isolation cell because of his propaganda. According to certain testimonies, the same day (or according to others on 11 November) he committed suicide by biting a capsule of dynamite; who and how it was supplied to him is unknown to the present day.

Therefore, if we take into consideration these testimonies we must conclude that his trial did not occur, even if it was certain that he would be sentenced to death. However, according to other sources, Matsalis was finally beheaded in the prisons of Palamidi Fortress in Nafplion. But still we are not sure. In any case, the Matsali’s action presented a real opportunity for the state to start a wild repressive wave against the anarchists.

The police arrested most members and collaborators of “Epi ta Proso”, that is Magkanaras, Karampilias, Tsekouras, Soufas, Markantonatos and Kotzias, the socialists Mourikis and Zafeiriadis, the social-christians Christogiannopoulos and Ioannis Arnellos (brother of the anarchist Dimitris Arnellos) and others. Dimitris Arnellos and other anarchists were driven into clandestinity. In Pyrgos, the police arrested Panos Machairas. Also, various charges were attributed against socialists Stavros Kallergis and Plato Drakoulis. All together, about 30 people were arrested. The police also entered in the offices of “Epi ta Proso” and confiscated the printing press, various articles, the correspondence and other material, while they entered in the house of Yiannis Magkanaras, where amongst the others found an article against the police, which they immediately tried to connect with the Matsali’s action. However, this attempt was unsuccessful because Magkanaras wrote this article after the police accused him as the instigator of a strike of current box-makers. After the interrogations, out of the 30 arrested 6 remained under custody, namely Magkanaras, Tsekouras, Soufas, Markantonatos, Mourikis and D. Arnellos (who remained unarrested). Finally, all were released except Magkanaras who continued to be prosecuted by the police and the state.

The state repressive mechanisms thought that Matsalis was a member of “Epi ta Proso” and the paper was the physical and ethical perpetrator of his action. But according to the historical elements we have, we may categorically point out that “Epi ta Proso” had huge disagreements with the action of individual terrorism which was adopted by many anarchists of these times who followed mostly the ideas of P. Kropotkin, Jean Grave etc. Besides, there is nowhere any confirmation of a relation between Matsalis and “Epi ta Proso”, while we should take into consideration an intense dialogue between Magkanaras and Matsalis - through the publications of this period - where the first called the second insane.

We should also take into consideration that the “Epi ta Proso” members were prosecuted continuously, but their strong implantation in the local society and their catalytic participation in the social movement made them so powerful and popular that only an action such as Matsali’s could be used by the state in order to begin the process of their extermination. The adoption by the state of permanent hostages, the repeated detentions and sentences against them were the main ways for the achievement of this objective. It was also tried to qualify the anarchists of “Epi ta Proso” as deliberate offenders and the authorities never recognized that they had a social reason, even denying to accept them as anarchists. In their trial, Yiannis Magkanaras and Dimitris Karampilias celebrated the anarchists ideas in their pleas. On December 31 1896, Yiannis Magkanaras - who as we said was the only one left in the prison, because the others, although sentenced of imprisonment from two to eleven months were released - submitted an application for release but on 17 January 1897 the Magistrate Court rejected this application. Magkanaras remained in the prison until 20 May 1897 and on the 22nd of the same month he sent an extensive correspondence published in “Les Temps Nouveaux” in Paris.

“Epi ta Proso” then suspended its publication on account of economic difficulties. Magkanaras was sending frequent letters to the anarchist magazine of Paris “Les Temps Nouveaux”.

Although after the continuous prosecutions and “Epi ta Proso” had almost been dissolved, some anarchists continued the action and most of all Yiannis Magkanaras and Dimitris Karampilias, who were propagating in cafes, villages and streets. They published many booklets, some printed and others as manuscripts, which they distributed and which constituted (the second) “Anarchist Library”, with the responsibility of Yiannis Magkanaras. But on 6 May 1898, they faced a new judicial prosecution, because, previously, speaking at a peasant demonstration in Agios, Vasileios Vrachnon called the population to revolt. They were arrested again and sentenced to 5 months imprisonment each, for arousing the population in defiance and for defamation of the authorities.

From 1 April 1896 to 8 February 1898, “Epi ta Proso” published 35 issues, with some interruptions and violent state repression, a total of 142 pages.

Substantially, as we said before, despite the actions of Magkanaras and Karampilias, from the late February to early March 1898, “Epi ta Proso” was part of history. Panagiotis Tsekouras had already settled in Athens, where he had been connected with the anarchosyndicalist fraction in the organisation of the socialist Stavros Kallergis, but maintaining some contact with his comrades in Patras. The summer of 1898, Magkanaras and Karampilias were settled also in Athens and participated actively in the anarchist activities of the capital through the Association of Anarchist Workers of Athens. Dimitris Arnellos and Vasilis Theodoridis continued their action through the Anarchist Association of Pyrgos (another township in Western Peloponnese). In the same Association Dimitris Mpantounas participated for a little while until his murder, in the end of 1898. We have to point out here that until now we believed that Mpantounas had been killed from two police thugs. But, according to some recently discovered historical elements, he was killed by another anarchist follower of propaganda by deed, whose name we do not know, who told the police when arrested that he killed him because he was objecting to the armed or “terrorist” action (!) Vasilis Kalliontzis, the translator and friend of the Patras anarchists died in 1899 from apoplexy. Apart Evangelos Markantonatos (who was originally of the island of Cephalonia and a former member of the Central Socialist Association founded in Athens in 1891 by S. Kallergis, who always shared his time and action between Patras and Athens and for whom there are allegations that migrated in USA), there are no available historical documents about the rest of “Epi ta Proso” members.

To the present day we do not have sufficient elements about Yiannis Magkanaras. We know, however, that all the people with this surname in Greece originated from Jean (Ioannis) Magkanaros, who was a French alumni in the Military Faculty of Paris, officer of Napoleon army and Greek-friendly. He went to Greece via Cephalonia island, during the Revolution of 1821, obviously in order to fight and was led to Mesologgi with the group of lord Byron. His family which remained afterwards in Greece changed their surname in Magkanaras. The family spread in Patras, Mesologgi, Corinthos and, later, in Athens. Probably, one of their three sons was Miltiadis Magkanaras, father of Yiannis, who was settled in Corinthos, where Yiannis was born. We know nothing about the studies or other relative former occupations of Yiannis Magkanaras, but it is confirmed that he was a journalist and a printer, that he settled in Patras coming from Corinthos and bought from Alexandros Efmorfopoulos the newspaper “Epi ta Proso”, which became the biggest tool in the spreading of anarchist ideas in Patras and the region around during the decade of 1890. It is also confirmed that he wrote articles and poems in the newspaper of S. Kallergis “Socialist” and worked as a journalist in the newspaper “Peloponnese”.

After the dissolving of “Epi ta Proso”, Yiannis Magkanaras went with Dimitris Karampilias in Athens, where he participated in the anarchist movement there. Prior to that he managed to publish a magazine called “Anarchist Library”, as he had written in one of his letters in his French comrades of “Les Temps Nouveaux”. We do not know his precise activity in Athens since 1898 and his participation in the Anarchist Workers’ Association of Athens has only been confirmed. After 1901 he published a non anarchist magazine called “Korte” rather clearly for bread-and-butter reasons, and maybe died young before 1910.

Dimitris Karampilias was born in the village of Mintilogli Achaias (outside of Patras) in 1872. After the dissolution of the anarchist movement in Patras, he settled in Athens with Yiannis Magkanaras and both participated in the anarchist activities there. In 1901, he migrated to Alexandria, Egypt, where he worked as a cigarette-maker and participated in the local working class and anarchist movement, collaborating with other Greek anarchists who had been living there, but also with Italians. After 2 or 3 years maybe he left Egypt for France, where he worked as a tailor and participated in the French anarchosyndicalist circles. He apparently came in contact with other Greek anarchists living in France, while we have information that he collaborated in the printing of the anarchist magazine “Les Temps Nouveaux” of Jean Grave. He also became a member of the CGT. But a little before the outbreak of First World War, due to the internal conflicts in this organisation because of the adoption of patriotic positions by its leadership and the progressive withdrawal of its anarchist and anarchosyndicalists members Karampilias resigned from the CGT and with his French spouse Louise-Melanie Pierette, returned to Greece, between 1913-1914. They settled in Patras, where he continued to work as a tailor. During the dictatorship of 4th August 1936, although he was familiar to the authorities he did not have any nuisance from the regime and lived with his spouse in his village Mintilogli, until a while after the end of war. In 1945, after Dekembriana (a renown battle of the Communist Party guerilla army and English troops in Athens), he became a member of Socialist Party-Union of Peoples’ Democracy (SK-ELD), but we do not know if he become indeed a socialist. Perhaps he participated in SK-ELD as a reaction to the KKE (Communist Party). After the end of the German Occupation and war, Karampilias entrusted important part of his manuscripts and other historical materials to the Marxist historian G. Kordatos, to whom he sent also enough letters. He was not satisfied from what was then written in the left press and the relative bibliography about the history of the working class and anarchist and socialist movement, after lots of historical elements were counterfeited or not simply reported. Thus, he had begun to write his memoirs, in order to answer to all of these. In 1954 he had almost reached this aim so that he was ready to begin publishing them in a series in the newspaper of Patras “Imera” (“Day”). But he did not realize this aim as he died on the 15 of September 1954 in age of 82. Today, we owe everything we know about Karampilias (and about other anarchists of Patras too) to a rather social-democrat (and not anarchist) journalist Christos Rizopoulos who was a close friend of Karampilias in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and his son Andreas Rizopoulos.