Greek Workers' Movement in Egypt 1872-1911

[The following piece was written by a Greek Marxist-Leninist historian, Gianni Kordatou, and is part of the thirteenth chapter in his History of the Greek Workers Movement (Athens 1931). The book covers the period from 1880 up to 1920 and despite some distortions, snide remarks and patronisation he cannot deny the great influence of the Greek anarchist movement.

In the period covered the Greek worker was spread across the Balkans and the Middle East, and like the Spanish worker of later years, spread their knowledge and the activity of socialism, which in those days was generally anarchism. In almost all cases the Socialist groups consisted of a tiny minority of Marxists (at odds with each other), usually intellectuals, and a large number of anarchist workers.

Egypt, in particular the cosmopolitan cities of Alexandria and Cairo, was home to various immigrant communities of workers for a large period of time. Chief among these were the Jews and the Greeks and indeed large Greek communities existed in Egypt until they were expelled by Nasser in the late 1950’s. The piece that follows deals with the workers movement mainly among the immigrant communities. Any snide remarks are not my own and are to be expected even from a reasonably honest Marxist-Leninist. I have added to some of the notes to give a greater outline of the later activities of some of the anarchists.]

A lively workers movement appeared at around that period (1910) in Egypt, mainly in the big cities of Cairo and Alexandria where many Greek workers were employed.

As we have seen the Greek workers of Alexandria, most of whom were from Corfu, founded the workers club with the name of Brotherhood of the Workers in 1872.

Later the International Cigarette Workers Club was founded in Cairo. This was at the high point of the Egyptian tobacco industry.1

In 1907 the workers paper with the title The Worker was distributed, it was brought out weekly then monthly by the old socialist from Athens, N. Doumas, a shoe-maker, who stayed at Haret-el-Nous Nousara. Doumas did not have a Marxist education (sic.) and was mostly a supporter of anarchism. However until his death he stood up for and by his convictions. In 1912 an anarchist pamphlet Down with the Mask was distributed, written by Stavros Kouchtsoglou2 a tobacco worker. Like the doctor Sarafides, Asteriades3 and Joseph Chionis, he was also a helper on the paper The Worker with Doumas.

In this period the print workers organised themselves into an International Syndicate of Printworkers, which had a Greek section, with Joseph Chionis as its secretary. Another printworker Gerasimus Luzis, with Chionis and the Italian anarcho-syndicalist printers Vozai, Lotzi and Pitzoritti influenced all the print-workers in Egypt at that time (1907-1913). As their organ they had the weekly Buletino Typografico, and with the active movement of the print-workers they won the eight hour day where previously they had 12-14 hour days.

The Buletino (it came out from 1909 until 1914) gave great service to the syndicalist movement in Egypt. In the period 1909 to 1911 two of its pages were written in Greek by Chionis, Luzi and Luca Christofidi. The Italians Vozai, Lotzi and Pitzoritti were expelled from Egypt in 1911. Later Doumas together with the Italian anarchists Jabio and Antonio were also expelled.

The Worker Doumas’ paper, in 1908, after only a years publication, stopped coming out. However its propaganda had great affect among the Greek workers (printers and cigarette workers). Generally the cigarette workers of Egypt, came to Pireaus and Volos where they played a vanguard role in the Greek workers movement.

(Translation & notes: P.P.)

1. The International Cigarette Workers Club was founded around 1894. In this year the first strike in the tobacco industry (cigarette makers) took place in Cairo and another occurred in 1899. In these strikes about 1600 workers were involved. Both of these strikes were won thanks to the workers solidarity. At the head of the 1899 strike were A. Pappas, N. Chrysoudis, S. Blachopoulos, N. Xaidis, Muhammed Sidley and Solomon Goldenberg who was, it is said, the leader of the Cairo workers movement in that period. Also active were the Boursonides brothers (anarchists), N. Gdanis and G. Mavros.

2. Stavros Kouchtsoglou was one of the greatest of the Greek anarchists. In contact with anarchists in Europe (he met Malatesta among others), he was active in Egypt, Turkey and Greece. He took part in armed expropriations of banks in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and in Alexandria. He also represented the tobacco workers at the first two conferences of the General Confederation of Greek Workers where, along with K. Speras and Fanouraki, he led the anarcho-syndicalists against the Marxists. His pamphlet Down With The Mask published in Cairo in 1912 with an introduction by another Egyptian-Greek anarchist G. Sarafides, was reprinted in Athens in 1984 by the International Library.

3. The worker K.S. Asteriades, published a pamphlet Capital - work or property - money where he propagandised the ideas of workers clubs and syndicates, in Cairo (1900).

From: Black Flag, v.7, no.7 Autumn 1984 Page 35.