Kostis Karpozilos on how a band of thirty workers from Constantinople reinvented Greek communism and made “the Refugee from the East” into an international bogey.
Kostis is Director of the Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI) in Athens.
In November 1922, while diplomats convened in Lausanne, representatives of revolutionary movements and communist parties were gathering in Moscow for the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. Both confronted a similar question: the shape of the world following the end of a tense period of multiple ruptures and violent confrontations in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. For the communist movement this was a moment of realization. Prospects of revolutionary uprising were diminishing. The communist movement across the world was confronted with defeat, repression, and often disillusionment.
On November 20, Sadrettin Celal Antel (Orhan) took the floor in Moscow to make an “important and urgent announcement”. The 32-year-old revolutionary from Turkey informed his comrades about a “new orientation of Kemalism” that manifested itself in the mass arrests and “barbaric repression” of communists in Ankara and Constantinople. These developments came right after the announcement of the Lausanne Conference. In the eyes of the Communist International the nationalist government had decided to come to terms with the imperialists. The Kemalists were now serving the interests of the Turkish “big bourgeoisie” against the working-class.
A thousand miles to the south, a group of thirty Greeks fled Constantinople. This was nothing unusual in itself, given the mass population movements following the end of the Greco-Turkish War. But their itinerary stood out. These refugees embarked on a ship that sailed north, via the Black Sea, to Odessa. A train then took them on to Moscow. The members of the group belonged to a militant working-class association that had been formed in Constantinople in 1919, during the Allied occupation. Their association was called International Union of Workers (“Panergatikē” in Greek) whose goal was to unify the ethnically and linguistically diverse world of wage labour.
The IUW members may have been escaping the repressive policies of the Kemalist government, but this was no leap into the unknown. A trail linking Ottoman Turkey to Soviet Russia had already been blazed by previous activists. A path that had been taken by other adventurous youngsters such as Nazim Hikmet and his friends. 
The Soviet Union presented itself as homeland to the global nation of the oppressed, and gave political rights and material assistance to those persecuted for their beliefs.  Under the protection of the International Red Aid, the newcomers soon enrolled, and eventually formed a “Greek group”in the Communist University for the Toilers of the East (KUTV).
The international communist schools had a clear aim: the construction of a novel revolutionary identity following the Bolshevik example and lexicon. In this process the “East” had significant importance; it described a political geography in which the “colonized” and “dependent” areas of the planet were becoming protagonists in the global revolutionary movement.  The Fourth Congress of the Communist International hailed “Constantinople, Japan, China, and India” as the epicenters of class struggle, but noted that the “west European labor aristocracy did not lift a finger”. 
Following a brief stay, students in the international communist schools left to spread the call for revolution across the globe. In the case of the Greek political refugees, their ethnic background, the policies of the Kemalist government and the Treaty of Lausanne ruled out revolutionary endeavours in the Turkish Republic. From 1924 to 1926, members of the group that had fled Constantinople in 1922 travelled under orders of the Communist International to Greece in order to promote the policies of Bolshevization.  This was a very practical application of Lenin’s principle that class-consciousness comes from the “outside”.
In early 1924, Greece recognized the Soviet Union. Ships began to depart with refugees from Odessa to Piraeus once again. This provided excellent cover to the professional revolutionaries who mingled with the destitute passengers, taking advantage of mass arrivals to escape controls. Their arrival proved seminal for the development of Greek communism. In Athens, the newcomers joined forces with radicalized war veterans and formed a new leadership that ousted moderate socialists skeptical about the Comintern’s rigid and hierarchical structure. Among the “refugees” from Russia was a 21-year-old born in Adrianople. Nikos Zachariadis signed as “KUTVis” in order to emphasize his connection to the Communist International and later on became the secretary of the Communist Party (1934-1956).
The revolutionaries from Moscow transplanted new theoretical concepts such as the framing of Greece as a “semi-colony”. They adopted Comintern policies on the Macedonian question and worked for the adoption of organizational and ideological measures that would transform the party into a real Bolshevik one. Their success highlights the fluidity of the early communist movement and more particularly its lack of historical roots in Greece. The newcomers could thus establish themselves easily and reshape a movement shorn of historical traditions of an earlier period.
This fluidity reflects the overall remaking of Greek social and political realities at a historical conjuncture defined by the successive mass refugee arrivals. It was a moment of reinvention and turnover. And this was reflected in the realities of the Greek communist movement. In 1927 five out of seven members of the party’s Politburo were “refugees”- two were Greeks from the Soviet provinces of the Black Sea (Andronikos Chaitas and Kostas Eftychiadis) and two were members of the Constantinople group (Seraphim Maximos and Kostas Sklavos). No wonder, then, that the Communist Party of Greece shortly turned towards the masses of refugees who were transforming the social and political landscape.
The itinerary of a small band of revolutionaries from Constantinople allows us to rethink the interplay between the parallel downfall of the Ottoman and Czarist imperial systems, the role of the Black Sea as a revolutionary pathway, and the construction of a transnational communist identity intertwined with multiple stories of human mobility and alternative political geographies. Finally, it adds an additional layer to our understanding of interwar anti-communism. The refugee experience was an intrinsic component in the history of revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century as political exiles created radical colonies across the world. In the context of the population movements following the Great War, the “refugee from the East” -whether real or imagined- was, by definition, a potential threat to the established order. Heavy accents, foreign names, strange origins made refugees the primary targets of policies challenging their belonging to the nation.
MAIN IMAGE: SERAPHIM MAXIMOS (FAR RIGHT) AT THE FIFTH CONGRESS OF THE COMINTERN (1924) NEXT TO HO CHI MINH AND LEO TROTSKY [RGAKFD, nr. 5-8749]
 John Riddell (ed.), Toward the United Front : Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 613-619.
 Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsialno-politicheskoi istorii [RGASPI] 495/207/176.
 George S. Harris, The Origins of Communism in Turkey (Washington: Hoover Institution Publications, 1967), pp. 97, 105-106.
 “Turkey on the One Big Union Map”, The One Big Union Monthly, October 1920, p. 55 and “The O[ne] B[ig] U[nion] of Turkey”, The One Big Union Monthly, December 1920, p. 49. Both were signed by S. Maximos. I would like to thank Kenyon Zimmer for sharing these announcements.
 James H. Meyer, “Children of Trans-Empire: Nâzım Hikmet and the First Generation of Turkish Students at Moscow’s Communist University of the East”, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association , 5.2 (2018): 195-218.
 Brigitte Studer, The Transnational World of the Cominternians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), p. 63.
 Masha Kirasirova, “The ‘East’ as a category of Bolshevik Ideology and Comintern Administration”, Kritika: explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 18.1 (2017): 7-34.
 Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International 1919-1943: Documents, 3 vols. (London: Frank Cass and Company, 1973), 1: 450.
 RGASPI 495/207/172, RGASPI 495/207/230.