Pouliopoulos and "return"

Submitted by martin on 21 September, 2021 - 7:16
Greek refugees from Turkey, after World War One

Greek refugees from Turkey, 1922


The debates about “return” as the redress-slogan for the Palestinian people (Dale Street, Solidarity 606) echo the aftermath of the 1919-22 war between Greece and Turkey.

The centuries-old Ottoman Empire collapsed in and after World War 1. Britain and France sought to scoop up most of its territories. Turkey was fighting to establish itself as an independent state. Greece, backed by Britain, went to war. Sections of the Greek ruling class aspired to a “Greater Greece” including the three great Greek city-populations of the time, in Smyrna (now Izmir), Constantinople (now Istanbul), and Thessaloniki.

By the end, 1922-3, Turkey had won. The Greek population of Smyrna had been driven out with great violence and deaths. A “population exchange” overseen by the League of Nations had evicted about 1.3 million Greeks (or at least Orthodox Christians, sometimes Turkish-speaking) from the newly-created Turkey, and 0.4 million Muslims (now labelled Turks) and 0.1 million Bulgarians from areas decreed Greek of Macedonia and Thrace.

The Communist International had backed Turkey in the Greek-Turkish war, without supporting the anti-Greek atrocities. Now, in a policy drift licensed by the Fourth Comintern Congress of 1922 but sharpened after the “Zinovievite” 5th Congress of 1924, it went beyond denouncing the population transfers to demanding “return” of the transferred groups.

The Greek Communist Party, and notably its leader Pantelis Pouliopoulos, later a Trotskyist, and killed by Italian occupation forces in 1943, opposed that drift. “Return” was impossible without renewed war.

In fact, because the Comintern leadership then favoured the Bulgarian CP and its attempted alliance with Bulgarian-leaning Macedonian nationalists, the Comintern policy tended to narrow down to supporting Bulgarian claims in Macedonia and Thrace.

Those areas now had few Bulgarian inhabitants, and CP support for Bulgarian claims could only come across as a cool attitude to the Greek refugees now scrabbling amidst great hardship and disease to build new lives. The story is told in Joseph Rothschild’s history of the Bulgarian Communist Party, pp.233ff.

Colin Foster, London

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