The life of martyred Greek Trotskyist pioneer Pandelis Pouliopoulos

Submitted by Matthew on 12 June, 2013 - 12:34

Pandelis Pouliopoulos, the founder of the Greek Trotskyist movement, was shot on 6 June 1943 by Italian occupation forces in Greece. The US Trotskyist paper The Militant commemorated him with this article on 8 June 1946.

In losing Pandelis Pouliopoulos, who was shot in June 1943, at Nezero by the Italian imperialists occupying Greece jointly, with the Germans at that time, the Greek revolutionary workers’ movement lost its greatest figure.

The name of Pandelis Pouliopoulos is linked to the entire development of the Communist movement in Greece which had its beginnings soon after the victory of the Russian revolution of 1917.

Pouliopoulos began his revolutionary career in the ranks of the Greek army which fought in the war against the Turks in Asia Minor between 1920 and 1922. Influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolution, he denounced the imperialist character of this war, agitated for fraternisation with the Turkish soldiers and organised the first communist groups in the army.

He became a leading member of the young Greek Communist Party in 1920, was elected to its Central Committee and Political Bureau. After the defeat of the Greek army in 1922, he organised the movement of the war veterans upon which he left the imprint of revolutionary orientation.

Pouliopoulos represented the Greek Communist Party at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International.
In 1925 he became General Secretary of the Communist Party and remained in this post until 1927. In the mid-20s a crisis broke out in the Russian Bolshevik Party between the Stalinist faction and the Left Opposition led by Trotsky. The crisis shook the whole Communist International. In Greece, Pouliopoulos resolutely favoured the platform of the Opposition, which led to his expulsion from the Communist Party.

He founded an organ Spartakos, which was the only organ to publish the fundamental documents of the Left Opposition in Greek, and continued the struggle with several hundred workers, former members of the Communist Party who had remained faithful to the Leninist line.

Pouliopoulos considered himself in complete ideological agreement with Trotsky during his entire political life. The one exception was the position taken by the International Left Opposition in 1930 recognising the Archeo-Marxist organization as the official section in Greece.

Pouliopoulos regarded this organisation as centrist and opportunist, and asked for supplementary political guarantees before the International Left Opposition recognised it.

Pouliopoulos’s organisation was represented at the Founding Congress of the Fourth International in 1938, accepting all of its decisions, including those relating to unifying the Trotskyist movement in Greece.
In 1936 there was established in Greece the most terrible dictatorship. General Metaxas, the agent of King George II, abolished the parliamentary regime and unleashed a war to the death against the revolutionary movement of the Greek working class.

All the revolutionary organisations went completely underground. Pouliopoulos was the political and organisational inspirer of the movement. Beginning in August, 1936, the police carried on intensive search for him. Changing residence frequently, Pouliopoulos succeeded in escaping the traps set by the police, until 1939. In that year he was arrested and incarcerated in the prison on the island of Aegina.

As war came, the years passed, and Pouliopoulos, whose health was declining rapidly in the jails of Greek capitalism, thought only of the ideological rearmament of our movement for the problems posed by the imperialist war.

Transported along with other comrades in 1940 to the medieval fortress of Acronafplia, he organised a thorough discussion on our tactics in the imperialist war.

Many Trotskyists confined in this fortress took part in the discussion. Pouliopoulos brilliantly defended the Trotskyist position on the USSR.

Comrades who have survived those terrible years, and later had occasion to read Trotsky’s book In Defence of Marxism, were struck by the similarity of Marxist argumentation used by both, each in complete isolation from the other.

In 1943 Pouliopoulos, already very ill (he had contracted, tuberculosis in prison), left the fortress to enter a hospital in the city of Piraeus. Comrades prepared plans for his escape, but they did not materialise. In May of that year partisans dynamited the Bralos bridge near Lamia. In reprisal the German and Italian military authorities ordered the shooting of hundreds of hostages among the political prisoners.
Pouliopoulos was among those chosen along with three other Trotskyist leaders: J. Makris, J. Xypolytos and Costas Yannakos.

He maintained his calm, his dignity, his revolutionary courage to the end, giving by his death an example which inspired the activity of young revolutionary militants. Led before the firing squad composed of Italian soldiers, he addressed to them a fiery speech in Italian, an appeal not to commit the crime of killing class brothers and of thus serving bestial imperialism.

A struggle ensued between the soldiers and the officers commanding them. Witnesses say that Pouliopoulos was finally felled by officers.

Pouliopoulos was not merely a great revolutionary militant. Possessed of a vast general and Marxist culture, speaking fluently several languages — among them German, French, English and Italian — he translated into Greek many of the fundamental works of Marxism: Capital, the Critique of Political Economy, Anti-Dühring, etc. Several works by Trotsky were also translated by him.

Pouliopoulos was the author of numerous articles, pamphlets and books dealing with general questions of Marxist theory as well as with current political problems in Greece. [He wrote a] masterful reply to the opportunist People’s Front theses of the Greek Communist Party in 1935, which replaced the revolutionary socialist perspective in Greece with that of a “Popular Democracy”.

This work constitutes the theoretical platform which distinguishes our movement in Greece as a revolutionary proletarian movement from the party of the “petty-bourgeois democracy” into which the Greek Communist Party had degenerated under the influence of Stalinism.

In the course of his revolutionary career, Pouliopoulos was arrested, sentenced and imprisoned many times. His whole life is an example of a great revolutionist who placed his ardour, his practical activity, all of his intellectual capacities at the service of the emancipating movement of the Greek and international proletariat.

Every June the Fourth International pays homage to the glorious memory of this great fighter of the world socialist revolution.

Pouliopoulos on Greek capitalism and imperialism

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