Tuesday, May 17, 2016

'Captain-Yiotis' remembered: Charilaos Florakis, 1914-2005

Nikos Mottas writes about the legendary Greek Communist leader, partisan-fighter in WW2 and Greece's Civil War, long-time (1972-1991) General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece, CHARILAOS FLORAKIS.

By Nikos Mottas.

It was the 22nd of May 2005 when the tireless communist, the militant guerrilla captain, the popular leader, comrade Charilaos Florakis passed away. At 91 years of age, he was completing a life full of struggles; a life given to the ideals of a better world, for the perspective of Socialism and Communism. His life was given to KKE, to the Party he loved and gave everything.

The life and activity of Charilaos Florakis has been core part of KKE's history, of the most glorious- but also difficult- peoples struggles in Greece during WW2 occupation, during the Civil War as well as the country's modern history. Comrade Florakis, with his firm faith in the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, was never absent from Greek working class struggles.

Charilaos Florakis' political activity began in the pre-war decade of 1930s, as a member of the Communist Party's youth wing (OKNE) and later as a student and vigorous worker at the so-called “TTT” (Posts, Telegraphs, Telephone Offices). At an early age, as a teenager, he understood the signs of the ongoing class-struggle in the Greek countryside of '30s:

...the hopes that the course of the soviets was giving towards the workers and the poor ones, were oxygen for the people who used to participate in organised mobilisations. On the same time, however, the bourgeois State, which in the beginning was looking numb and awkward, started moving towards counter-attacking and anticommunism. The Police was observing everyone and everything and the workers' leadership was taking numerous precautions for its activity” (Ch.Theocharatos, Charilaos Florakis and Popular Movement, Typoekdotiki 2001, p.60).

Florakis was present in the workers, labor union struggles, as a working telegrapher, member of the “TTT” struggle committee, acting under especially difficult circmstances in the midst of Metaxas dictatorship's anti-communist frenzy. For his union activity he was transferred many times from town to town. Wherever he was, however, young Charilaos was trying to create contact with clandestine groups of communists.

Florakis participated actively in the resistance struggle against the Nazi occupation. He was one of the major organisers of the first large strike in Nazi-occupied Europe (April 1942) while he started participating in EAM (National Liberation Movement) activities and also became a member of the Communist Party (KKE). 

As a member of the anti-fascist liberation movement, Charilaos Florakisparticipated actively in the great popular struggles of EAM-ELAS [1] being a guerrilla officer. From 1943 to 1945 he was promoted to the ranks of Captain and, later, of Major in the ELAS army, while he took part in the bloody events of December 1944 against British imperialists and their local servants. He was arrested on October 1945.

The fight of the Democratic Army [2] in the Civil War was the most significant
'Captain-Yiotis' in 1940s.
moment of class-struggle in 20
th century's Greece. Charilaos Florakis participated actively in the 1946-1949 war, being a military officer of the Democratic Army- from Lieutenant Colonel he reached the rank of Major General in 1948. 'Captain Yiotis'- as he was known in the guerrilla war- never submitted to “political correctness”. On the contrary, he was known for never mincing his words, calling a spade as a spade. Years after the Greek Civil War he was telling to journalist Christos Theocharatos:

Yes, the Civil War was unavoidable. Because, the domestic and foreign reaction had decided to subjugate and exterminate every patriotic and democratic resistance. Only if we were waiting to arrest us, to torture us, to humiliate and kill us, then we wouldn't have a civil war. But, even this, without armed resistance, extermination of us wouldn't be a unilateral civil war? […] The Civil War was a patriotic and democratic struggle, like the Resistance (in WW2) was, and not a fight for a regime. It was the continuation of the Resistance” (Ch.Theocharatos, Charilaos Florakis and Popular Movement, p.324).

For his political ideas and for his activity as a member of EAM-ELAS and the Democratic Army, Florakis was persecuted by the Greek bourgeois state. He passed through trials and prisons. But he would always manage to find the courage and transform his defense speeches in courts into fierce tirades against his prosecutors. In a testimony to the court in the city of Larisa, on April 1955, Florakis said:

Communists aren't those who have no fatherland. Communists are simple people, hard-working people, having ties with the land they were born in. […] Those who don't believe in fatherlands and who have no country are the plutocrats. The wealth gives them the ability to live in any place and every country they want. The Occupation proved, as well as the present situation does, who has a fatherland, who loves her and who sacrifices himself for her freedom and prosperity”.

Defending his ideas in the court.
The accusations against him, the persecutions, the threats against his life wouldn't be able to uproot from his mind the strong belief in communist ideals, in the Communist Party (KKE), in the great values for which he fought. Speaking to his prosecutors at the end of a trial he said:

Personally- as I told you in the beginning- I am filled by the great ideals of communism. There is no power in the world that can oblige me to denounce them. For the realization of the Party's policy, for the service of our People's interests, for Greece, I gladly offer all my powers and, without doubt, even the most valuable possession for a human being- my own life...”.

Charilaos passed 18 years in the prisons of Greece's post-Civil War bourgeois state. He was imprisoned at the age of 40, he was released under conditions at 52 and then he was re-arrested and sent into exile at 53. He remained imprisoned for 216 months and 6,570 days. But he fought and, finally, came out victorious. In 1972, in the midst of the anti-dictatorship struggle in Greece, he was elected First Secretary of the- then illegal- Communist Party and later General Secretary of the CC of the Party.

He remained Secretary of KKE from 1972 until 1991. Florakis fought with all his power for a Communist Party dedicated to the ideals of Marxism-Leninism, against any kind of opportunism and revisionism. His role was undoubtely significant in the 1980s, in a period when the petty-bourgeois 'socialism' of PASOK was alluring people with populist promises.

Florakis remained solid in his beliefs during the counter-revolutionary 'storm' of 1989-1991 in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Aleka Papariga, who succeeded him as KKE's General Secretary, described his role: “Lively, in front of us, is the decisive contribution of Charilaos Florakis, in 1990, in the wide plenary of the Central Committee, in the 13th Congress in 1991. In defense of the socialist system. His courageously stance to defy the mountains of lies against socialism and socialist ideology. He had- especially in the then extremely difficult and dark times- the solid belief that the world will change, that socialism will win. It isn't always easy to go 'against the flow'. It isn't always easy to remain firm when others are falling. And, even more, to open new ways” (Farewell of the CC, 24 May 2005).
With Fidel Castro in Havana.
Charilaos Florakis remained a consistent supporter of what historical Socialism had achieved. When in the dawn of the 1990s, various 'eurocommunists' and 'revisionists' were abandoning the class-struggle ideals, the historic leader of KKE was remaining firm in the ideological heritage of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

So, therefore, the overthrow in Eastern Europe consist a 'thriumph of Democracy'! (Translator note: ironically speaking). But, what powers were strengthened by this 'triumph'? The real democratic powers or those powers which, in the name of democracy, have literally came out against socialism? 'Thriumph of Democracy' with the Communist Party outlawed! 'Thriumph of Democracy' with new capabilities for Imperialism's intervention! 'Thriumph of Democracy' with unemployment, misery, hunger and crime!” (Chr.Theocharatos, Charilaos Florakis: The popular leader, Typoekdotiki, 2001).

Florakis had the perception that the so-called “End of History”- as Fukuyama and the bourgeois propaganda were predicting after the counterrevolutionary events in the USSR- was an illusion. Charilaos was saying:

Florakis' grave in Paliozoglopi.
(Photo: Nikos Mottas)
Despite it's metaphysical (paranormal) content, (the 'end of ideologies' argument) can't change reality. And the reality states that the contradictions existing in Capitalism, now that the USSR has dissolved, aren't weakened but getting stronger […] Neither Capitalism is eternal nor the end of Communism has come, for the simple reason that the people will not renounce the vision for a just society and won't abandon the struggles for socialism”.

Charilaos Florakis died on May 22, 2005 at the age of 91 in Athens. His funeral was attended by thousands of people, communists and non-communists, ordinary working-people, young and old ones. According to his own wish, he was entombed at Ayios Ilias, a quiet mountainous place surrounded by forrest, a few kilometres away from his birthplace, Paliozoglopi, in Karditsa, Thessaly.

Florakis was a real, authentic communist. In a speech, given at the age of 75, he was assuring the audience: “If, like Faust, I had to restart by life, what would I do? I would become a communist once again and I would fight for a better world and, again, I would struggle- with less or more mistakes, doesn't matter- for the fatherland, for democracy, for social justice, for Socialism”.

Memory eternal, comrade Charilaos Florakis.

* [1]: EAM: Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo, National Liberation Front was the major movement of Greek resistance during the Axis occupation of the country during World War 2. The main driving force behind EAM was the Communist Party of Greece / ELAS: Ellinikós Laïkós Apeleftherotikós Stratós, Greek People's Liberation Army was the military wing of EAM during the resistance period, until 1945.

* [2]: Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) was a guerrilla army founded by the Communist Party of Greece during the Civil War of 1946-1949. DSE fought against the conventional Army of the Kingdom of Greece and it's allies, US and Britain.