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History and Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2009, pp.


Bawdy Songs and Virtuous Politics: Ambivalence and Controversy in the Discourse of the Greek Left on rebetiko
Yiannis Zaimakis
YiannisZaimakis 0 1 zaimakisj@social.soc.uoc.gr 00000March 2009 History 10.1080/02757200802650496 GHAN_A_365219.sgm 0275-7206 Original Taylor 2009 20 and & and Article Francis (print)/1477-2612 Francis Anthropology (online)

This paper explores the interrelations between politics and music as they appear in the ongoing debate about the rebetiko genre, within the intellectual circles of the left-wing movement in the post-war era. Through the analysis of the rebetika texts and biographical material, the ambivalent attitude of the Greek Left movement about the political context and the class affiliation of rebetiko are exposed. The Left saw popular music as a pedagogic means for inculcating class-consciousness among the masses and promoting optimistic utopian images of a possible communist future. In the framework of this politically motivated consideration, the attempt of left-wing intellectuals to interpret and evaluate the rebetiko genre led to various ambivalences and controversies within the Left movement. Keywords: Rebetiko; Left movement; Popular song; Ambivalence; Politics; Biographical reconstruction; Greece Introduction In the post-war era in Greece many left-wing writers became involved in a long-standing debate on the field of popular music and in particular on a specific type of music called rebetiko. By following the contours of this debate both among the intellectuals and party dogmatists, as well as among the musicians and singers themselves, we can witness not merely a debate on the relationship between popular culture and Marxist views on art, but also the complexity of the relationship between political parties and certain social segments as well as a symptomatic reading of what was viewed as proper Greek culture. The long-lasting engagement of the progressive movement with rebetiko reveals
Yiannis Zaimakis, Faculty of Social Science of University of Crete, Rethymnon, Crete, Greece. Email: zaimakisj@social.soc.uoc.gr ISSN 02757206 print/ISSN 14772612 online/09/01001522 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/02757200802650496


Yiannis Zaimakis

a deep-seated interest. Rebetiko was a musical genre with great popularity among the working people and was connected with the lower strata of the urban areas, at least during its early phase. Left intellectuals engaged in this debate believed that the social and political affiliation of a type of music which was popular among the subordinate social classes should be a priority for Marxist policy makers. Despite the common political aspirations of the writers involved, the debates between such intellectuals displayed ambiguities, different opinions and understandings reflecting the prevailed ideological tensions and conflicts within the Left movement. A study of these attitudes could therefore reveal much about such tensions and perhaps shed light on the relative failure of the Left in fully inserting itself in popular Greek culture. At the very least, it could help outline the nature of the Greek Lefts engagement in issues of hegemony, popular culture, etc., topics that engaged the attention of Gramsci in neighbouring Italy. The rebetiko issue has become a favourite subject in some scholarly explorations based on textual analysis in the last two decades (see, inter alia Gauntlett 1991, 2005; Michael 1996; Andriakaina 1996; Vlisidis 2004; Tragaki 2005a, 2007; Papanikolaou, 2007) including, to some extent, the left-wing intellectuals involvement in this debate while some texts turn their attention directly to the Left movements discourse about rebetika. Vlisidis, for instance, using a wide range of rebetika texts presented a detailed chronological approach of the left-wing intelligentsias assumptions and beliefs about the genre (Vlisidis 2004: 69164) while Panagiotopoulos (1996) explored the controversial attitudes imprisoned leftists held regarding rebetika. My approach focuses on some ideological juxtapositions which privileged within the communist movement, mainly after the restoration of democracy in 1973. In the sociopolitical context of this period, the revival of rebetika and its increasing popularity among the members of communist youth, the influence of the 1960s social movements discourse in leftist intellectual circles, and the involvement of some left-wing scholars in rebetiko study refocused attention on the issue. In these circumstances, the genres supporters emphasized rebetikos visionary appeal and tried to stress its resisting elements, while the opponents employed an anti-imperialistic rhetoric in order to criticize rebetikos presumed fatalist and apolitical content and to denounce some rebetes1 for their alleged shady transactions with parastate mechanisms and the security police. This article uses both textual and biographical material in an effort to understand the rebetiko issue in all its complexity. Seen from this perspective, the analysis allow us to crosscheck the oral histories of elderly people concerning their experiences and interpretations of the locally circumscribed relationship between rebetiko and the Left with the views of Marxist intellectuals as expounded in the published texts. This multimethod approach poses new questions and, possibly, paves the way for a more comprehensive approach in the field. The text is composed of two interrelated sections. The first part is based on textual analysis and addressees an important issue and dilemma in the rebetiko debate. It deals with the political orientation of the genre and poses the question whether rebetiko could be thought of as a political song; one that includes elements of cultural resistance to bourgeois norms and values, or whether it is a reactionary, fatalistic song genre that diverts proletarians from active political activity.

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The second part is based on primary and secondary biographical material. From an anthropological point of view, it turns its attention to some of the controversies and ambiguities concerning the moral and political influences of rebetika as these are displayed in elderly peoples life histories. It also highlights the ways that rank-and-file leftists negotiate and interpret in their biographical reconstruction the rebetiko world in its local context. The sources for this article are both available textual resources and biographical accounts. The former were selected from a wide range of left-wing intellectuals writings on the rebetiko issue, published in newspapers, magazines and books since the end of the interwar era till the present. The biographical accounts include testimonies from ethnographic interviews and biographical texts. Two oral histories collected through my 1994 ethnographic fieldwork on the rebetiko world in Heraklion, Crete and reexamined according to the aims of this paper. I have also collected an oral history of a left-wing woman composed specifically for the needs of this survey. In addition, I use two published biographical texts: Kail-Velous edition of Vamvakaris autobiography, an eminent rebetiko composer (Kail-Velou 1978), and an autobiographical book by Missios (Missios 1985), a left-wing political imprisoned in the post war era. Political and Subversive or A-political and Reactionary Song? The interest of the Greek Left on popular music dates back to the inter-war period. Although, the official Left saw rebetiko as a disapproved musical genre which was considered to be associated with the fatalism of the lumpen-proletariat and the underworld, some Left intellectuals acknowledged its value for its satirical depiction of Greek low-life in poetic and literary works (Gauntlett 2005). During the 1920s the Lefts engagement with the rebetiko world seems to reflect the mystique of the marginality which was expressed in the texts of some new authors (for example Pikros, Varnalis, Velmos, Zarkos, Katiforis and Kanellis). Vivid, colourful, often sarcastic, literary pictures which derived from the worlds of social wretchedness (prostitutes, drugs, venereal diseases, vagabondage and hashish-dens) used to depict the atmosphere of the marginal social worlds in the interwar era. As Ntounia (1996: 38) has noted for the militant intellectuals of that time, popular tavernas, rebetika haunts, and the neighbourhood of Troubas brothels in Piraeus became the space of a literary and social protest and the figures of the underworld were perceived as spontaneous representatives of social subversion. As the times passed, the partys disciplinarians and ideologues sought purer proletarian patterns in art which could inspire people in the fight for radical socialist transformation. In their politicallymotivated conceptions, Marxist intellectuals tried to do two things: first, they attempted to demystify the underworld hero, who was perceived as a victim of capitalism being pushed in marginality by the dominant sordid living conditions; and second, they attempted to appropriate some of rebetikas positive and subversive elements in the rosy prospect of organized political activities (Ntounia 1996: 52). In 1934, the Conference of Soviet Union of Writers initiated the dogma of socialist realism in literature and art that had a strong influence on the Greek Left intelligentsia.

Figure FIGURE4. 2. 3. 1. A The Civil Yiorgos family cafe guards, ouzeri of Souliaris refugees policemen Krinos (third from in and the Bodrum from various centre theof left) gamblers of Asia Lakkos with Minor his in , 1949. the company in years the suburb of inCretan a of local Heraklion, Autonomous den. Nea State Alikarnassos (a photo taken (1934). by Cretan Muslim photographer BhaeddinArchives of Vikelaia Library of Heraklion).


Yiannis Zaimakis

The need for a strong criticism of bourgeois values as well as the shift towards the popular traditions in literature and the arts were among the most important issues that emerged from this influence. Following the 1935 Seventh Conference of the Communist International that decided on the formation of anti-fascist blocks all around the world against imperialistic forces, Marxist discourse started to incorporate national and ethnic issues seeking the continuity of Greek popular traditions across time. In Marxist rhetoric, the traditions of the popular masses were distinguished from the bourgeois ones, which were considered to be merely as an unquestionable acceptance and imitation of western musical patterns. In the field of music, the dimotika (folklore) songs were perceived as the popular artistic expression of subordinate classes including, up to a point, elements of the authentic experiences of the masses. These songs expressed the torments and passions of the people and could be used by communist artists as seminal materials for a new form of optimistic and militant popular art. In the spirit of the militant populist slogan art from the people and for the people, Marxist artists were expected to combine their need for artistic expression with the task of raising the class-consciousness and the ideological indoctrination of the working people, while the positive picture of the hardworking and militant proletarian was expected to replace the controversial and ambivalent heroes of the underworld. In the post-war era, interest in a national-popular culture, which had been enforced during the years of Metaxas fascist regime (19361940) and the Second World War, led to a long-standing debate about the political and national affiliations of rebetiko. In this debate, some of the most important questions were whether the morphological elements and social affiliation of rebetiko could allow its inclusion into authentic Greek popular music and whether it could express the deepest needs, feelings and hopes of the subordinate social classes. This rebetological discourse is defined by a demand for uplift and reformation of popular music destined to reinforce the anti-capitalist spirit of the people and which could humanize them (Tragaki 2005a: 63). During the same period, Mikis Theodorakis, a left-wing composer who was involved in this debate, tried to implement through his innovative musical experimentation the Marxist ideals concerning the political role of the progressive artists to the formation of a militant culture. Poems mirroring the high virtues of Greek people were set to a qualitative form of popular music (what was termed entexno laiko tragoudi, artpopular song), which could be understood by the masses raising their cultural level and communist morale. The furious discussion about rebetika occurred in a polemical climate with the majority of Marxist intellectuals and the Communist leadership expressing their reservations about the possibility of the genre to become a vehicle of social consciousness contributing to the struggle against the hegemonic dominant culture. During the years of Junta dictatorship (19671974) although interest in rebetika remained active, public expression of Marxist opinions as to the political value of the genre could not be explored as political parties were abolished and a strict press censorship instituted. In 1968, a year after the imposition the dictatorship in Greece, the split of Communist party into two parties, the orthodox KKE and the reformist KKE of interior, was

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accompanied by and expressed in various changes in the attitudes of the communist movement. On a cultural level, the reformist intellectuals were influenced by the French May 68 student uprising and the new discourses that emerged, and attempted to adopt ways of life and Marxist precepts about class-based societies that deviated from the strict rules and ideals of the orthodox communist leadership. The framework of the rebetiko issue in the post-dictatorship era, which is the focus of my analysis here, seems to change. In the second half of the 1970s in the enthusiastic climate of the restoration of democracy the newly established communist reformist youth Rigas and B. Panelladiki turned their attention to new ways of expressions such as rebetiko, the music of youth subculture in western countries, and the innovative music of Dionysis Savopoulos2 (what is termed the new wave in Greek music). The interest of young people in music with new social meanings led to the use of rock and rebetiko as powerful instruments in order to challenge conservative respectability and to deviate from the principle of the party lines concerning militant art. The previously clear-cut distinction between what was regarded as a higher form of popular song compatible with the virtues of working people and the low culture that serviced the goals of reactionary forces was starting to collapse. In the case of the orthodox KNE (Greek Communist Youth), although the principles of party discipline and class consciousness remained strong, the new social and cultural context and the increasing popularity of rebetika and rock music among the young groups was followed by new considerations regarding popular music. Indeed new, sometimes moderate or positive, views about rebetika appeared which were at odds with the longstanding negative attitude of the party and the voices of the more dogmatic intellectuals within KKE. In the wider debate about the political affiliation of some popular musical genres, the issue of the politically engaged versions of rock music (for example, Dylans and Baezs songs) was posed and re-evaluated while rebetika (with the exception of the alleged hashish-rebetika), along with the entexno laiko tragoudi started to be incorporated in the recommended forms of music to the youth (Papadogiannis n.d.). The attraction of young communists towards new musical experimentations and the revival of underworld music contributed to the emergence of a subversive discourse that identified rebetika and rock as symbols of a young counterculture which was at odds with the dominant values and challenged, up to a point, the strict disciplines and normative rules of the Communist leadership. In the campus of rebetikos supporters new considerations appeared including views from the academic community. It seems that, after some delay, the mixing of music and politics in the popular music of the movements of 1960s (see Eyerman & Jamison 1998) started to influence the Greek Left intelligentsia provided an opportunity for the emergence of some critical views accompanied by new conceptualizations and visionary, often idolizing, approaches. A noteworthy example is Stathis Damianakos, a Greek scholar living in Paris and an active member of the communist movement, who was engaged in the furious rebetiko debate in 1970s. Damianakos was aware of the analytical weakness of the old arguments about the evolution and class affiliation of rebetika and tried to identify a large-scale evolutionary progress of rebetika inspired by the evolutionary schemes familiar to


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Marxist circles. According to this author, the birth of rebetiko dated back to the end of the nineteenth century in the harbours of the Aegean. A new type of popular urban song emerged in the enclosed spaces of hashish dens and prisons, whose lyrics referred primarily to hashish, prisons, and criminals. This primary phase of the genre was followed by a second phase of classic rebetiko, which started with the arrival of the Asia Minor refugees in 1922 and ended approximately in 1940. During this phase the genre changed, the orchestra was enriched and references to issues such as love and the way of life of the rebetis were reinforced. The third phase of the genre, called the labor phase, spans from 1940 to 1953, when it spread throughout the wider social strata. Its poetics were embellished and it began incorporating lyrics that were influenced by the proletarian movement, including elements of working class culture (Damianakos 2001, 1987: 109167). This evolution of rebetika reflected, in Damianakoss words, the history of the Greek proletariat in a society on the way toward capitalist integration. Rebetiko followed the development of the proletariat and its class-consciousness and captured the authentic expression, the cry of pain and despair of a great part of the low social strata, which due to the invasion of capitalist relations were driven to a marginal and wretched existence (Damianakos 1987: 164). The progressive development of rebetika from a criminal and sub-proletariat outlook toward an authentic voice of the working class was interrupted in the mid-1950s due to the widespread commercialization of the genre by the culture industry and the invasion of the upper class in the places of popular entertainment. Damianakoss work seems to be inspired by the popular idea in the 1960s social movements discourses about anti-capitalist utopias in that he seeks to locate pockets of resistance in popular culture against the assimilating mechanisms of the state and the alienating patterns of global cultural imperialism (Damianakos 2001: 270, compare to Tragaki 2005b). In an historical perspective, Damianakos (2005) saw in rebetikos case the continuity of a long tradition of resistance and revolt by some dominated groups of Greek society.3 Damianakoss view about the proletarian outlook of rebetika has been challenged by Ole Smith (1989: 190), who claimed that this was mere wishful thinking among leftists and that only one song, Fabrikes [Factories] by Tsitsanis, can be regarded a proletariat song that, nonetheless, presented a rather romanticized picture of the life of industrial workers. According to Smith, the new feeling of postwar rebetika of deep depression, insecurity, and total hopelessness was a veiled reaction to the shattered prospects for a better world created during the Resistance and Liberation. Kostas Vergopoulos, in his limited yet noteworthy involvement in the debate, adopted an interpretive approach that focused on cultural dimensions, rather than a narrow political frame of analysis and presented an idealized and perhaps rarefied interpretation of rebetika. He located its development in the marginal social strata of the interwar era and proposed that it is precisely the marginal nature of the genre that gave it its artistic value and power. Rebetiko, like other kinds of popular traditions, did not directly challenge the power relationships but their manifestations in everyday reality and, in this sense, it constituted a secondary resistance in the wider terrain of the struggle against ruling class hegemony. He found the strength of rebetiko in the

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marginality of its worldview and ideology because, for Vergopoulos, the radicalism of the lumpen-proletariat during the interwar era of social crisis expressed not only the views of the working class but also a large part of the wider society (Vergopoulos 1974, reprinted in Holst 1991: 232.) (Vergopoulos original text derived From newspaper). Regarding the class affiliation of the genre, Vergopoulos claimed that it had a classless orientation, which is considered to be radicalism beyond class struggle. He disagreed with the criticism of some political organizations, including KKE, about the conservatism of rebetiko, noting that, although it did not have a revolutionary content in terms of political struggle, it nevertheless proposed a radical aesthetic around the issues of beauty, life, pleasure and poetry. In this sense, rebetiko was not a realistic but a deeply metaphysical and poetic song that gave priority to an interior freedom, overcoming every type of alienation (Vergopoulos 1974 in Holst 1991: 233, 237). It is worth mentioning that Vergopoulos, did not attempt, as did the eminent folklorist Petropoulos (1978: 70),4 to separate rebetiko from its disputable and disreputable social setting but identified precisely the virtues and unconventional values of this marginal world in its social settings . In his worlds, in this case it is confirmed that social deviation and isolation were forever compound elements of every kind of authentic art (Vergopoulos 1974, in Holst 1991: 233). Some years later, he characterized rebetiko as the highest expression of a generalized pursuit to find ways that led to the other, the different, and to escape. For Vergopoulos, rebetiko was an authentic art form that achieved its poetic value by dwelling on the low, insignificant features of everyday life, rather than on the pure forms of conventional poetry (Vergopoulos 1978: 210211). To some extent, this approach seems to return to the nostalgia for marginal worlds, an issue, which, as I point out above, was employed leftist intellectuals in 1920s. In the mid-1970s there were appeared some critical evaluations of the genre in the communist partys official press. In a Rizospastis column, for instance a contributor called M.P. (1975), pointed out that the social origin of rebetiko from the underworld made an objective evaluation of the genre problematic. He attributed this cautious attitude to the fossilized dogmatic tendencies of Stalinism, which had prevailed in the Left movement during the 1940s and demanded the eradication of the authentic expression of an era. Referring to the official stance of the modern Left on rebetiko, he remarked on its ambivalent thesis, which on the one hand praised its aesthetic content, and on the other continued to castigate its lack of fighting spirit. , tried to In 1975, M.L. in an article in the newspaper of the KNE O connect rebetiko with the working-class value system. According to his view, rebetiko was born in the working-class areas of Athens, Piraeus and Salonica and, apart from a few hashish songs, it incorporated the social protest of the proletariat and not the expression of lumpen circles. Although rebetiko did not reinforce proletarian classconsciousness toward militancy, it was an authentic popular and social song expressing daily longings. Because of the inability of the progressive movement to understand the social meaning of the genre, its evaluation remained entrapped in bourgeois conceptions by stressing its lumpen and mangiko features (M.L. 1975). Others commentators asserted views that attributed an explicit political content to the genre. Sxorelis, a rebetologist and a then member of the communist party,


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defended rebetiko, claiming that only 2 per cent of rebetika made references to hashish; that was because of the State policy to encourage drug-use among the impoverished popular masses in order to control their resistance. He reversed the arguments regarding the anti-social dimension of rebetiko by asserting that it was not a song of escape, pessimism and refusal, but a social popular song, which, for a long time, was the unique expression of popular longings, wishes and desires in the Greek cities (Sxorelis 1976). In the same vein, the political orientation of rebetika became the main topic in a book by Nearxos Georgiadis. He presented selective examples of songs penned by rebetiko composers, with references to the Resistance and the heroic role of EAM (National Liberation Front), to support his hasty generalization that the popular songidentified with rebetikofollowed in the footsteps of guerilla songs which were connected with the political ideology of EAM. From this point of view, rebetiko ideology was gradually moved away from the inter-war patterns of low life mangas bravery in favour of the fighting guerrilla. Similarly, its anarchistic or individualistic ideological traits receded in favour of organized political action (Georgiadis 1993: 142). It is remarkable that although the rebetiko debate has recently subsided, texts have appeared, sporadically, posing some of these old questions. For example, there is a view that criticizes the modern youth because they enjoy themselves in commercial rebetadika listening to songs which praise narcotics (T.M. 2008: 15). This has incited a direct reaction in the Kosma and Mitas article (2008) which in responding to the T.M argumentation that these songs were in low esteem in the circles of the Left movement in 1960s, argued that rebetiko is a deeply political song which came from the bottom, the silent majorities of the margins to build an alternative sensibility and a response to the prevalent social, political and cultural discourse. According to these writers, the use of hashish dens as a means of escape was not the abandonment of the fight but a political vindication: one consciously chooses the deviant circumstances and this constitutes an answer to the social contexts in a given historical conjuncture (Kosma & Mitas 2008: 84). In the circles of the rebetiko opponents a main argument was elaborated around the established belief that rebetiko was used by reactionary forces in their effort to impose an ideological hegemony of the ruling class in Greek society securing, to some extent, the consent of the subordinate class. This consideration brought to the fore a latent awareness of the shady dealings of many people around rebetika haunts with members of the repressive state apparatus and the promotion of the genre by both the cultural industry and state radio. This line of thinking dates back to the civil-war era when Stavrou condemned the increased popularity of the genre and its diffusion in bourgeois circles as proof that the extreme social worlds of prostitution in Trouba and the upper class society of Kolonaki square interacted. He complained about the wide diffusion of rebetika but wondered, ironically, who would ban it, since rebetika songs are neither anarchistic nor do they seek the toppling of the beautiful and healthy regime. Recalling the days when the nationalist paramilitary evzones5 were singing rebetika,6 he defended the proletarian spirit that was not broken in spite of the exiles, the executions and the efforts of the

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reactionary forces to imbue people with the music of the hashish dens that would make them passive and politically inactive (Stavrou 1946). Similarly, other distinguished members of the communist youth emphasized the risk of corrupting the youth through the free circulation of hashish songs in various disreputable places with the tolerance, if not collaboration, of the police. This also brought to mind the campaign by the organized communist movement, during the German occupation years, against dens of vice and prostitution where the koutsavakika songs were born. A variant of this argument was presented later by Maxairas who regarded the postwar diffusion of rebetika as a symptom of the cooperation of a variety of capitalist forces, such as security policemen, black-marketeers, entertainment halls, radio and record companies, which formed a block based on their common interests that were antithetical to those of the working class (Maheras 1961). The conspiracy argument was at its fiercest during the mid-1970sunsurprisingly so as Greek society was trying to understand and come to terms with the disastrous period of the recently collapsed Junta dictatorship. In this period, the revival and the increased popularity of rebetika and its promotion via the broadcasts of the Armed Forces Radio were interpreted as an organized cultural plan of imperialistic forces to transmit their rotten reactionary ideology on a cultural level through the diffusion of alien cultural patterns (Laikos Dromos 1975) or, in other words, a means for the ideological and moral attack of imperialism against the people, aiming at their spiritual enslavement (Skaros 1976). The supposed immoral and a-political traits of defeatist, sad, anti-heroic, neutral songs of prisons and hashish dens, incompatible with the real grandeur of the people (Fotiadis 1976) were considered to be the means that spread an attitude of despair, solitude, escape, consolation in false paradises, subordination to fate and destiny, and the belief that every effort is in vain to the masses (Rotas 1984). In his, critical intervention Vournas claimed that while the rebetiko of the interwar period became the musical expression of the working people, during the black years of the German occupation it transformed into a musical expression of the psychology of the black-marketeer, the tagmatasfalites,7 and of all sorts of agents of the occupying forces. As he wrote We saw it with our own eyes and heard with our own ears. I remember the crowds of [tagmatasfalites] shooting in their enthusiasm while listening [to rebetika] (Vournas 1977). Expressing his disappointment with the increasing commercialization of the genre, Theodorakis also commented on the passion of some apolitical and anarchic circles for rebetika and rock music and noted that the idolization of the rebetis and his evolution into a social symbol amounted to a backstabbing of the Left (Likiardopoulou 1980). The high-school magazine of Communist students Sxolio also became involved in the relevant debate criticizing the postwar invasion of rebetika in the places of upper strata entertainment and their musicological and stylistic adjustment to bourgeois tastes. According to the anonymous writer, this process was a plot by the ruling class to conceal the Civil War scars and to generate a false sense of improvement in the living standard of Greeks, in the framework of a supposed capitalist industrial development (Sxolio 1982). Xenos came back with his conspiracy theories (see Gauntlett 1991: 1617) condemning the economic oligarchy for the long-standing diffusion of the decadent


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message of rebetika that vulgarized peoples qualities, disorienting and debasing human nature (Xenos 1975). He also criticized the connections between the German Occupation informers and the hashish-dens of rebetes after the civil-war era, as a basic vehicle of the right-wing campaign to wear down the democratic and fighting spirit of the people. Xenos argued that this campaign was organized on the basis of an AngloAmerican plan of psychological warfare, by diffusing rebetika in the places of exile and by promoting it through the State Radio (Xenos 1984). For many years the argumentation of the alleged underground relations between the rebetiko world and the reactionary forces as well the risk of the diffusion of its corrupting power on working class people remained among the main weapons in the crusade against rebetika. In the next section I will try to show that this issue was in the forefront of biographical accounts. Biographical Ambivalences in Musical Memories The foregoing account of the ideas about rebetiko that were held by leftist intellectuals has traced the ideological orientation of the left-wing movement. If the texts reflect the negative attitude of the communist leadership and the ambivalent views of left-wing writers, the stance of the rank-and-file members of the Communist Party remains opaque. I use biographical reconstruction and the memories about left-wing attitudes towards the rebetiko world, as they re-created in the present, to interpret and understand past beliefs and prejudices. The patterns of repetition and reinvention of the memories concerning the musical experiences and their political affiliation, in Shelemay (2006: 17) words, move across the boundaries of the personal consciousness to touch a collective memory of the social worlds.

Figure 1. Yiorgos Souliaris (third from the left) with his company in a local den.

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Figure 2. The cafe ouzeri Krinos in the centre of Lakkos, 1949.

Taking into account my biographical research on material relating to the world of rebetiko in the Cretan port-city of Heraclion, it seems that some left-wing elderly narrators had constructed a stigmatized image for the local rebetiko world. However, this negative attitude was associated rather with the low-life associations and political affiliation of this local pocket than with rebetika per se. As regards the latter, the majority of the narrators appeared to be supporters of the genre only expressing some objections

Figure 3. Civil guards, policemen and various gamblers in the years of Cretan Autonomous State (a photo taken by Cretan Muslim photographer BhaeddinArchives of Vikelaia Library of Heraklion).


Yiannis Zaimakis

Figure 4. A family of refugees from Bodrum of Asia Minor in the suburb of Heraklion, Nea Alikarnassos (1934).

to the hashish songs. By contrast to the rather positive assessment of the genre, their opinions on the local social setting of rebetika appeared to be more controversial. Lakkos was a neighborhood on the south-west perimeter of the old town, just within the Venetian walls in which were restricted all the city brothels away from the eyes of respectable people, following the Decree on Brothels8 issued by the Cretan Autonomous State. It was a dynamic social space structured around complex sociocultural networks connected with impromptu economic transactions at times bordering on the illegal, such as smuggling, gambling, prostitution and hashish-smoking. It was also a vibrant centre of indigenous cultural activity and popular artistic creation (Damianakos 1996: 325). This was the social setting where rebetes (known also in local society by various names, such as kaldirimitzides, mourmouria or kapadayides) frequented. According to cross-checking oral histories, they were social figures with a central presence in the daily life and economic activities of Lakkos and were characterized by a distinct slang idiom, a peculiar swaggered style of dressing (among other things, it comprised of a type of hat called republika, striped suits and pointed polished shoes), a system of values associated with manliness, hashish smoking and the pursuit of daily pleasures. Although the music, especially some modes of local, non-commercial and oralcompositional songs, was an important part of the daily community activities and an element of their collective identity, the meaning of the word rebetis, as it is constructed in biographical outlets, is associated more with its social context than its relation with a particular kind of music. Exploring the body of left-wing personal narratives on rebetika, it seems that the conspiracy argument, highlighted in many rebetika texts, was also a commonsense

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belief in biographical reconstructions. Indeed, some narrators denounced certain prestigious rebetes for their alleged secret dealings with the State mechanism, implying that they were informers of the State Security Police in exchange for the unhindered pursuit of their economic, and occasionally illegal, activities. According to the life history of Giorgos Souliaris (19152000), a left-wing mangas from Asia Minor, the pimps here were protected by the Security [Police]. As for the stories about the ban imposed by Metaxass regime, [] they exiled only those persons that K.9 and some others pimps did not like. They were a cliquethe pimps, the security policemen, some patrons, and the permanents in the area. They lived under immunity during the dictatorship.10 Souliaris referred to one of the troubled periods in the social history of Lakkos in the Metaxas era when many local manges were exiled and the place was under the strict surveillance of the local authorities. He seems to express a social protest against the corrupt social networks of the time and a belief, widely accepted in left-wing circles, that despite the regimes declared determination to clean out local expressions of moral corruption in Lakkos, the subject of their zeal were mainly some leftists that frequented the area and some wretched hashish users, not the local elitesimplying the cooperation of the latter with the Security Police. All the same, this biographical comment focuses on the ways that ordinary left-wing people interpret the regimes policies, presenting a commonsensical picture that under the guise of a crusade for the remoralization of the city, the regime tried to wear down the morale of the powerful local working class movement. The same matter is the subject of criticism in the biography of Yiorgos Kalatzis, (19061998) an old boatman who had been exiled during the Metaxass Dictatorship era (19361940). This extract from his narration is remarkable:
Among the people of Lakkos, the regime arrested only second-rate manghes, some hashish users but not the heads. I remember P.the Security Police detained him for a short while. He went to the Chief of the Security Police and became an informer. We all know that he trafficked women and hashish.

o. They kept As regards his own experience, he said: They exiled me to Too pressuring me to enroll in Metaxass [Fascist] Youth. But I was a liberal, so I couldnt do it. They labeled me a dangerous communist and since I was a mangas they took away my republica11 and tried to humiliate me.12 The evidence from diverse biographical accounts suggests that for a long time some exchange networks were established between some prestigious figures of Lakkos and the repressive mechanisms of the State. Despite the fact that these networks seem to constitute a small part of the local social scene, the left-wing approached the Lakkos case with some degree of caution. The Left leaderships cautious attitude was reinforced by the fact that Lakkos was considered to be an area associated with permanent pleasures, hashish using, listless and fatalist rebetika including some local oral compositional songs. The latter contained eastern influences reflected an undesirable residue connected to the era of Ottoman occupation in Crete and the years of the Autonomous Cretan State when the Cafe Aman flourished in Heraklion (Zaimakis 19971999).


Yiannis Zaimakis

The negative attitude of the communist leadership against the local rebetiko world is a source of ambivalence in Souliariss biography. Despite his strictures against the suspect role of some men of Lakkos, he was attracted by the pleasures offered there and the sense of liberty which he found in rebetiko life and music. According to his biography,
I was Left-wing and I still remain Left-wing [] They (The Communist Party leadership] did not want us, the rebetes, the manges. They were looking for slavish followers, they wanted to be at the top and to have the others worship them like they were Jesus Christ. But the rebetis is something else. He has no restrictions [] They wanted to impose rules everywhere. They told us to keep out of the area. I didnt want to have dealings with ruffians but these songs were passed to us by our parents, people who had been uprooted and tortured . They were our songs.13

The narration of Souliaris reminds us of a deep-seated ambivalence that many leftists experienced due to their enmeshing in two controversial value systems. On the one hand, there was the low-life preoccupation including sensual pleasures and ephemeral happiness (for example: vice, hashish-using, flirting and listening to low-life music). On the other hand, there was their commitment to communist ideals and a concomitant way of life dedicated to the political struggle for radical social transformation and obsessed with demonstrating Marxist precepts about social life. This political mission was considered to be incompatible with a way of life immersed in hedonistic values and pleasures. The analysis of all of Souliariss biographical accounts shows us the way in which he managed to overcome this ambivalence between the inner drives and the rationalistic thought of his political ideology. Although he remained committed to left-wing ideology he started to challenge the moralistic rules, releasing himself from collective obligations of the past and accepting his way of life and musical preferences without any guilt ambivilance. Unlike the ambivalences exposed in the voices of ordinary people, the local left-wing intellectuals displayed more complex views. Despoina Skaloxoritou (born 1928) has been an active member of both the Left and the feminist movements. She was one of the founding members of the Greek Womens Union, a member of the executive committee of EDA (Hellenic Democratic Left), together with Mikis Theodorakis, as well as having run for the Greek Parliament in the past. Her parents originated from Smyrna and Capadokia of Asia Minor and came to Heraklion during the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Her mother played the kanonaki and all the members of their family were enthusiasts of caf-aman style rebetika. She stressed the social meaning of rebetika, defining them as a type of music that gave artistic expression to the popular masses. As regards hashish songs, she accepted their musical value but not their social content, claiming that they were a particular category of songs within the rebetiko tradition, associated with some marginal groups ways of life but not with the people as a whole. This commonsensical approach appears to have been adopted by some circles of Marxist intellectuals (see the previous section). Skaloxoritou challenged the prevalent view of the perpetuation of hegemonic masculinity through rebetika, proposing a more moderate and balanced view. In her

History and Anthropology 29

opinion, the majority of the genres verses depicted images of oppressed and exploited women, while some other ones had images of liberated (woman) rebetises. She expresses her sympathy for the women who worked in the Lakkos economic activities (the so-called Kaldirimitzoudes or Lakkoudianes in local argot) stressing that some of them transgressed the conservative norms of this period by participating in male company: dancing, singing, smoking and drinking with them. In her memories, sometimes the pictures of misery and exploitation of these women were intertwined with situations of ephemeral pleasures along with a sense of freedom which some women seem to experience. Skaloxoritous opinion seems to distance itself from the one-sided negative attitudes of respectable society towards low-life women providing an alternative interpretation of womens position within rebetiko place that broadens the range of the interpretive schemes, through which narrators negotiate the topic. It is worth mentioning that Skaloxoritou was a non-conformist woman, who chose not to marry and occupied the posts of General Secretary and Treasurer of the local Football team Ergotelis during 1950s and 1960sextremely unusual for a woman in the city. She was, also, the first woman who drove a car in her city in 1951 and wore trousers, something that one should have guts to do it in Crete at this time (Michailidis 1999). Her type of personal history stimulated Holst-Warhaft (2003: 170) to note that there were references in the rebetika lyrics to the types of women who shared the male world of rebetiko, while in the real world some women who mixed with socially marginalized rebetes, either as artists or fans, may even have enjoyed a degree of freedom available nowhere else in Greek society. According to her biographical sources there were two different views for the rebetiko issue in the interior of EDA.14 In the following extract from her biography she explains this point:
The other sides (of EDA) accepted the popular song and said that not all (rebetes) were hashish users, men of the Security Police and informers. Rebetiko is a social expression and we should not make generalizations. We ought to deal with its origin and the needs that generated these songs. The Communist Party believes that none of rebetes had social consciousness. They may not have been informers. However, if they were under (Police) pressure they could do it. We could not have this world in the bosom of our party. They are adamant on this point. But I could understand their fears. They have made great sacrifices for their political struggle. Exiles, prisons, tortures [] I was preoccupied with this issue. Sophia, a distant relative of my mothers from Asia Minor was in Lakkos in her bakery. Sometimes, I went there to buy rolls and see what was going on. There were coffee shops around where the old (musicians) played rebetika and many Leftists and Asia Minor refugees frequented. The Communist Party demanded that the people avoid this place. [] Sofia told me many things. That some manges were police spies. We know that many were Royalists. The Police needed to have their snitches there.

This extract shows that the controversial positions concerning rebetika were part of the wider ideological conflicts that occurred within the communist movement. Although the narrators explanatory scheme exposed a general picture of the existing ideological disputes between the orthodox and the reformist sides of the left-wing movement, as we have seen in the analysis of textual sources, the boundaries between


Yiannis Zaimakis

the approaches of two sides were overlapped, with many commentators transgressing them. Any understanding of the fixed idea of the suspicious role of rebetes requires an awareness of the social-political context of the post Civil War climate and of the fears of that time. In this era, the defeated left wing was under the surveillance of the state apparatus and was treated as a political threat to the social order that was called the communist danger. Since its members suffered various persecutions, fear prompted people to organize their political struggle and conspiratorial mechanism against the propaganda of their rivals. The existence of a few incidents of corrupt relations between some people of the rebetiko circles and the Statea type of power relation that is also found in a wider social context in modern Greecealong with the presence of some known Royalist rebetes were interpreted as evidence of a polluted social environment which was becoming a moral and political risk for working class values. Ambivalence between political aspiration and inner feelings is also present in Skalohoritous life history in which it is displayed in several vivid pictures. The following extract focuses on the way in which some members of EDA internalized the party recommendations:
Some (Leftist) friends of mine lived in Agios Eleutherios, near the old vegetable market, close to Trouba (the old prostitution area in the port of Piraeus). I saw them on the one hand wanting to listen to these (rebetika) songs and on the other closing their windows, so as not to be seen from outside, while leaving the blinds open. They enjoyed themselves privately. The prevalent view was that they (rebetes) were hashish users and they carried a social stigma and (our friends) did not want to have any connections with them.

Expanding our commentary beyond the local settings, we should note that similar biographical accounts have emerged, relating to ambivalence and controversies. It seems that despite the aspiration of the left-wing leadership to protect the communist ethos from moral corruption and cultural influence alien to the communist ideals, for many rank-and-file members of the party this censure gave rise to much controversy. Chronis Missios, an ex-tobacco worker, described this ambivalence in the literary narrative of his lengthy experience of exile and prison. In his own words and in free translation:
Beyond what the others did to us, we had the Party guidance assholes telling us not to insult anyone, not to curse, not to protest. The communist ethos and so on []. This bourgeois bullshit was presented to us as communist morale and revolutionary behavior. [] They viewed the former as traits of a lumpen character [] and you know why. Because [the rebetis] wanted to listen to a few bouzouki notes without hiding it, he loved women and he didnt hide that either, and he loved wine because he is a man who has longings []. They stuffed our heads with the idea that it was immoral to listen to bouzouki, and rebetika in general, and even more so to sing them because they were songs of decadence and pessimism. (Missios 1985: 1213)

It seems that some communist exiles had mixed feelings of enjoyment as well as guilt when listening to rebetiko, as it was a digressive social discourse, a deviance from the proper cultural norms of proletarian morality. Rebetiko constituted a threat of corruption, what Douglas (1993) terms symbolic risk, to the degree that any involvement with

History and Anthropology 31

it could be perceived by the left wing as evidence of participating in a negativelyassessed social category (Panagiotopoulos 1996: 270). As the above extract suggests the communist leaderships rejection of the rebetika because of their alleged immoral, apolitical and fatalist elements was followed by strict recommendations for the partys members to avoid people frequenting rebetika haunts and the area around them, or listening to this kind of music. This political attitude was thought to be part of the daily political task of the conscious and fighting proletarians as well as a preventive device in the partys attempt to protect the class struggle from the polluting influences of reactionary forces. The way that State apparatus manipulated rebetiko world is another remarkable subject in biographical sources. For instance, in his autobiography, Markos Vamvakaris described the German police (Komandatur) strategy to hunt communist guerrillas in the rebetika haunts, based on his personal experience when he was ordered to appear at the Komandatur offices in Athens. A German officer there asked him to inform on the communists that came to the places where Markos performed and many rebetes frequented. According to Vamvakaris, they told him:
This is what you will do. You will tell us all (about the activities of the communists). We will give you what you like to eat in your house. Bread, food, stuff, and we will pay you. [] I said yes to what they were saying as I could not do anything different. [] After that I considered dropping out of sight because I could not do such things. (Kail-Velou 1978: 206)

Vamvakaris, again referring to the civil war years, talked about the communists who would come to the musical tavern Kare tou Asou and ask for him to stop playing hashish songs, or else they would banish him: They did not want (hashsish songs) by any means so that the people would not learn these things. They demanded from me to play their Guerrilla songs. At the same time, their opponents, the Hiittes (right-wing death squads) would go there saying Sing them Marko, dont worry about a thing, well protect you (Kail-Velou 1978: 206). Vamvakariss narration reinforces the view that in the circumstances of the German occupation and the Civil War era, the social space of rebetiko became a contested ground between different political forces that tried to control the social body for their own purposes. The Left saw in it a way of expression that subverted its value system and tried to reduce its influence on the progressive movement. Both the German conquerors and the Civil War State employed devious means to undermine the left-wing resistance movement and to put deviant social places under surveillance. These biographical materials showed that narrators recalled past life experiences to generate a kind of social protest against the corrupt networks, between the para-state mechanism and some suspicious men associated with the rebetiko world. Regardless of whether these voices referred to actual facts, something which requires more detailed study of written sources and archives, it is obvious that such deep-seated beliefs reinforced the left wings negativism towards rebetiko. The analysis of these biographical accounts provides us with the opportunity to approach, from an anthropological point of view, socially and historically constructed


Yiannis Zaimakis

beliefs and prejudices as well social conflicts that were hidden behind the negative generalizations of a left-wing leadership. It shows the ways in which people interpreted and depicted the rebetiko world from their biographical perspective and displayed their sense of ambivalence connected with their position between two different worlds: of meaning and action (the rebetiko and the communist). Similar to the textual sources, the biographical accounts suggest that the prevalent conspiratorial argumentation of communist leadership was in the forefront of its crusade against the political and morally corrupting forces that rebetiko are said to represent. The analysis also suggests the significance of certain factors, for example the ideological tensions within communist movement and the sex of the narrator, which affected the perceptions and the assessment of the genre. It also points to the changes in leftist attitudes from the 1940s to the present day. Indeed, leftists begun to transgress the principles laid down by the communist leadership exploring and experiencing their own relationship with rebetika without the transmitted guilt of the past. One could argue that rebetika had won. Conclusion The rebetiko debate among Greek leftists highlights the prevailing attitude of a fighting and visionary Left committed to, and guided by, the certainty of the coming radical transformation of Greek society. The long-lasting interest of the left-wing for rebetika was based on the belief that music, especially popular music, influenced the system of values and the consciousness of working people, so that it could become a pedagogical instrument in the service of the proletarian struggle. For militant left-wingers, the road towards the emancipation of the working class had to pass through the resisting of conventional leisure habits, which caused further alienation. In this framework, the proposed solution to the rebetiko question can be seen as part of a wider plan of cultural practice aimed at raising the fighting spirit of the working people and forming a counter-hegemonic class consciousness. Trapped as they were in the dogma of socialist realism that insisted on the transparent and immediately graspable political dimension of art, many writers looked with suspicion upon the particular cultural expression of rebetiko. Other voices expressed more moderate assessments that reflected novel aesthetic and political orientations within the Left movement. Nonetheless, the interpretive framework of even these latter views continued to be embedded in the principles of a politically committed art that was directly connected to the vision of socialist transformation. The explanatory framework of the advocates of rebetiko was characterized by an idealized disposition. Indeed, they searched within the rebetiko melody and lyrics for elements of passion, love, kindness, pain and deep feelings in general that marked the chaste popular soul and constituted authentic traits and humanist attributes of the lower social strata (Andriakaina 1996: 236237). These elements were perceived as reflections of an instinctive and genuine popularity. In the other camp, the opponents of the genre, who formed the mainstream, claimed that rebetika reflected the negative social and psychological attitudes of the lumpen

History and Anthropology 33

strata from which they had originated. The societal, aesthetic and ideological codes of the genre constituted a symbolic danger and contamination for the potential members of the movement. In the eyes of the communist leadership, rebetika glorified hashishuse and praised pessimism, fatalism, bitterness, sadness, escapism and individualism. These traits were antithetical to the moral and ideological order of a movement that tried to politically organize the resistance of the working class and to raise the morale of its persecuted members (Panagiotopoulos 1996: 270274). The patterns of repetition which appeared in biographical and textual materials suggest that the negative stance of many left-wing intellectuals, and of the communist leadership, was associated not only with the alleged pessimism of rebetiko songs but also with its political affiliation. The rebetiko world was seen as a politically infectious place connected with parastatal surveillance networks of the right wing which used people hanging around rebetika as informers for the Security Police in exchange for State tolerance or support for their activities, i.e. drug-trafficking, gambling, exploitation of prostitutes, running hashish dens. The interpretation of this belief or prejudice requires an understanding of the furious political and social conflicts of the Greek Civil War era which scarred the defeated left wing, spreading fears and insecurities among their members. As Samatas showed, the anti-communist victors of the Greek Civil War, with US guidance and assistance, organized an oppressive socio-political control system, legitimated by a semi-parliamentary guided democracy. The state tried to impose ethnikofrosyni, i.e. national loyalty and conformity to the post-Civil War regime, while the Security Police and military surveillance network throughout the whole country systematically watched, collected, stored, and updated information in special surveillance files (Samatas 2004: 20). The illegal Communist Party marshalled its conspiracy theory mechanisms against the propaganda of its opponents and its members regarded every activity of the state apparatus with suspicion. It is no surprise that in this coldwar climate the ideological disputes expanded in various areas of social life, such as the rebetiko world. The latter was seen by the official Left as a social environment associated with a part of lower social strata without class consciousness (in their terms, lumpen-proletariat or sub-proletarians) which risked becoming the ruling classs pawn in their efforts to impose their socio-political control system and ideological hegemony. Despite its defeat in the civil war, in the next decades the Greek Left continued to believe in a radical social transformation of Greek society and the arrival of a communist classless social formation. Along with the collapse of the former socialist regimes of Eastern and Southern Europe the hope for cultural and political revolution also collapsed, shaking the Lefts faith in the communist future and reshaping the ways in which left-wing people interpreted cultural phenomena. Nowadays, the discussion about rebetika remains alive but the focus on its class character and the effort to include rebetiko in a grand explanatory theory has all but disappeared. It is possible that in the future there will be another stage in the history of rebetology. Indeed, in the last few years there is a renewed interestthis time among academic rather than political circles, as this paper testifies.


Yiannis Zaimakis

Acknowledgements I would like to express my gratitude to the anthropologist Costa Gounis for his helpful comments on this paper. Notes
[1] The Rebetis (sing., pl.: rebetes) was the protagonist of rebetika songs. In the social life he was a prestigious man who revolved around hashish-dens and the rebetika haunts and acquired fame and prestige in their social environment. He used low-life slang and a distinctive way of dressing. His way of life was characterized by non-conformity, hedonism, prodigality and the pursuit of hashish and flirtation pleasures. [2] Savopoulos incorporated in his music musical elements from various types of Greek (for example, folk and traditional) and foreign (for instance, rock) music and mixed references to political protest, youth, drugs, alienation and gender issues. [3] Damianakos (1987, 2005) referred to three groups that deviated from societal norms of Greek society. The first were the Kleftes (brigands), a rebellious mountaineer group, during the era of national revolution against Ottoman Empire, the social armed bandits during the period of the settlement of modern Greek state and rebetes, the hard core of lower wretched social strata, at the end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. [4] According to Petropoulos rebetika was directly related to underworld which was, in his words, the only authentic depository of cultural transition in Greece (Petropoulos 1978: 70). [5] The term Evzones, which normally describes the select units of the Greek army that wore a traditional uniform, was adopted by the extreme right-wing paramilitaries in order to stress their anti-communist nationalism. [6] In the same vein, Pagkalis (1953) pointed out that during the German occupation there appeared songs such as A mans power is his pocket that sang the praises of the black-marketeer. [7] The tagmatasfalites were the members of the Security Battalions [Tagmata Asfaleias], that is, the Greek armed bands that collaborated with the Germans in fighting the Resistance forces. [8] See The Decree on Brothels, Law 173/1900, Official Gazette of the Cretan Autonomous Status), Chania, 1900, vol. 1, no. 30 [9] He was a prestigious owner of a local musical cafe-shop in Lakkos. According the cross-checking testimonies, he sold hashish, exploited prostitutes and played bouzouki. [10] Biography of G. Souliaris (19152000), Interview 12 March 1992. [11] In Greece, the republica is a fedora. Wearing a republica was one of the trademarks of a Maghas appearance, very much like with other urban underworld figures during the inter-war period. It was considered a grave insult to knock-off or take away a mangass republica. In effect it took away his manhood. [12] Biography of G. Kalatzis (19061999), Interview 17 December 1991. [13] Biography of G. Souliaris, Interview 12 March 1992. [14] EDA, which was composed of a block of progressive parties including the illegal Communist Party, remained the main political expression of the Left movement until the imposition of the Junta Dictatorship in 1967.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

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