Pandelis Pouliopoulos died 70 years ago, on 6 June 1943, shot by Italian occupation forces in Greece during World War Two. In his final moments he delivered an internationalist speech to his executioners, so that the firing squad rebelled and the officers had to shoot instead.
In this extract from his pamphlet What the Veterans and Army Victims Demand (1924), Pouliopoulos indicted the economic and diplomatic subjugation of Greece to the big powers; and explained clearly a nationalist response was inadequate for the working class. The plutocrats of second-rank capitalist powers like Greece also had "aspirations to conquest", and only independent working class struggle against Greece's own oligarchy could bring liberation.
Pouliopoulos (1900-43) was the first general secretary of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and a founder of the Trotskyist movement in Greece.
In March 1927, Pouliopoulos was removed from the KKE Central Committee. He soon formed an oppositional journal Neo Xekinima (New Beginning).
In 1938 Pouliopoulos took the initiative to unite the Greek Trotskyists to form the Unified Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece (EOKDE), which was present at the founding of the Fourth International in Paris in September 1938.
That same year, after going into hiding, Pouliopoulos was arrested by the Greek government and imprisoned. He refused to kneel before the dictatorship or sign a declaration of repentance allowing him to flee abroad, declaring that "they can only take me abroad in chains, and even then I will find a way to return".
Our country is so tightly bound to the chains of economic dependence from the Western imperialist Powers, that every government is forced to follow a policy of blind obedience towards the daily interests of the imperialists in the East and the Balkans. And we have seen that the interests of the various imperialists do not agree with each other, but they antagonise each other, they are in constant conflict.
Thus, every time that this conflict reaches a war outbreak, the policy of the Greek governments, tied to the chariot of one of the warring imperialist Powers, leads inevitably the people to bloody adventures, and takes now this, and then another self-righteous pretext. If this depth of the war policy of the Greek governments is not leaping to everyone’s eyes, this is happening because these charlatans and jingoists take all possible measures to hide it, to cover it up. The diplomatic backstage and antechambers of the bank offices are the workshops where the executioners, local and foreign, sharpen their murderous knives.
But the economic chains and the attachment of the state to the chariot of European imperialism wouldn’t be enough to completely justify the wars if there wasn’t yet another factor, another power in our country, allowing and facilitating foreigners to carry out their plans of conquest with our blood. And we must find this power, we must examine it carefully and persistently from all sides. Because it is the most important, the most basic point of our whole program.
There is an oligarchy in our country too, which holds in its hands the most important means of the national wealth and whose interests oppose and counter those of the great majority of the people. Many want to deny this, either out of self-interest or narrow-mindedness. They say that there is no such class here in Greece, such capitalism as in the other big countries, who have a more advanced economy and their big industry concentrated to a few hands. They say that our country is petit-bourgeois, where all wealth is shared, where every one has his own and no-one is complaining and that there is no inequality in our society.
But those who suggest such things do not want to look around them. They don’t see from one side the infinite misery that torments the poor people, and all the small ones who “own” something (small landlords - small manufacturers, poor peasants etc) they don’t see that themselves, in order to live, are forced to work and work more excruciatingly than those who own nothing, but their labour is stolen by the merchant with his speculation, the shylock with his loan sharking, the predatory State with its taxes, the landlord with his rents.
They don’t see that this “something” whether it is a small house, or a small shop, or a small amount of money, the poor in order to keep it “theirs” are forced to work for it day and night with all his family, to painstakingly earn his bread!
And they don’t want to see from the other side, these parasites, bankers, big merchants, financiers, ship owners and industrialists, all those idle squires who accumulate capital from the sweat of all the working people.
And what is happening in our own country, is happening also in the other small Balkan states. There too such a privileged oligarchy holds the most important parts of the national wealth in their hands and exploits the labour of the people, accumulating huge capital.
As the gangs of big plutocrats of the big Powers demand today to conquer the whole world becoming imperialistic, thus the privileged oligarchies of our Balkan countries of today show similar aspirations of conquest: Each one them seeks to extend the kingdom of their economic sovereignty, to make it bigger and to exploit even more working hands, more extensive lands and sources of natural wealth. The bankers seek new countries to place their capital with bigger profits in new enterprises. The big merchants seek to they grow their circle of speculative action. The ship owners seek to acquire new harbours under State protection. The industrialists seek to sell in more speculative prices their merchandise under the protection of the State, that is, by paying fewer customs duties. Finally the predatory State with its sinecures, in order to have more poor people to milk and thus avoiding the taxation of its protected ones, the rich.
And generally every plutocrat, of any sector, always sees something good for his interests and supports always war. For this reason, when war is imminent, while the workers and peasants and the poor people in general tire and ask for peace, the rich are ready to gouge their eyes out in order to convince us that the war must go ahead, that the homeland blah-blah, etc.
Now it’s easier for all of us to realise that the imperialists find in these tendencies, in this greed and profit mania of the local oligarchy, their best ally for their interests and purposes. Of course, the aspirations of conquest of each one of the Balkan plutocracies come to conflict, since their lands are not immense.
For example, Macedonia is claimed by the Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek plutocracies and even by the Turkish lords. The States arm themselves and confront each other like roosters ready to fight. The slightest pretext is enough for war to break out. Thus, every now and then the unfortunate peoples are called to resolve these trade differences with their own blood. Pretexts are found in abundance. Today, national unity, tomorrow a diplomatic incident, the day after in defence of the first one to be attacked and the like...
Only through their own organisation and their own struggle will the working people, slaughtered and sacrificed, be able to gain hold of their lives and a means to free and save themselves. As there are various kinds of tyranny and exploitation against them, their organisations must also be varied; there must be various ways for their struggle. And so it happens. The very needs for life itself push them to join in various organisations. It is obvious that all these organisations have common traits and final goal: the abolition of the plutocratic oligarchy and the liberation of the people.
Workers and peasants’ economic organisations take up the struggle against economic exploitation. They seek to improve the position of wage earners and all workers in general! To impose to the exploiters and the State their demands.
Political organisations wage the political struggle of the exploited. They fight against the political parties of the exploiters, they pull the masses out of their influence, they awaken and educate them, and want to give the people true political domination, to raise them to state power, to turn the state into an instrument of their own interests, instead of the instrument of plutocratic interests that is today.