Article - Tribute to the creator of "Odigitis":140 years since the birth of Kostas Varnalis

He didn’t offer ‘words of consolation'; but poetry cutting 'like a knife' so that it becomes the 'light' and 'mind' of the struggles of the working class and the people

The poem ‘Odigitis’ (meaning Guide) is included in one of the communist poet Kostas Varnalis’ greatest poetic compositions, ‘The Burning Light’. The inspiration for our magazine’s name and, hence, the Festival of KNE, came precisely from this poem, and one of its verses is always printed on its cover:

I’m not a seed of fortune

Nor the forger of new life

I’m but the child of need

The mature child of rage


Within a few words, these four lines condense basic ideas of our worldview: revolutionary struggle does not arise by chance; rather, it’s a fruit of the conditions, of the necessity to smash capitalism and build the new socialist-communist society. Varnalis was a masterful craftsman of Art and speech, which becomes evident not just by the way he stood beside the workers and the farmers with his pen, but also by the skill and courage with which he showed them the way out, how to think in order to break the shackles of exploitation.

That is why his poetry is a knife, a weapon in the hands of the people, the workers and the Communist Party. This year, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the poet’s birth, the 50th anniversary of his death, and the 65th anniversary of him being honoured with the Lenin Prize by the USSR, the KKE and KNE will encourage people to get to know his work through a rich cultural-political initiative that consistently includes Varnalis and his poetry. So, let’s have a look at some important moments of his life and work.


'Odigitis' (The Guide) is not a Messiah sent from Heaven to redeem the people, he is not a child of the Mystery or of Fortune, he is the consciousness of the people themselves, who have awakened and set off vigorously for the final struggle. He is the vanguard of the masses, fighting and tearing down the rotten world to create the New Life...

The poet himself in a letter states that the 'Odigitis' is Lenin himself! In his person the catalytic power of the people - the creator of history is symbolized...


He consciously chose the right side of History

Before he armed us with his poetry, Varnalis decided to arm himself against the dominant bourgeois ideology. Along with the educator Dimitris Glinos, he’s one of the few exceptions who switched sides and abandoned the bourgeois ideology and worldview, choosing to fight against it and facing the consequences of their choice.

Though raised in a well-to-do family, and despite his 30 years, he escaped the world of idealism, metaphysics, ancestor worship and nationalism, mysticism, linguistic conservatism, and the overly elaborate verse writing that only praises a limited number of individual experiences, and he joined the world of the workers, the world of historical materialism and internationalism. He chose the world of an art that offers the people and the workers social and political views. He rejected the widely accepted idea of ‘art for art's sake’ that was common from that period, and instead embraced the concept of art for the people, for the struggle, for society, for socialism-communism. Thus, he became a trailblazer in revolutionary poetry in Greece. This is a remarkable and timely example that illustrates how a person’s consciousness can be shaped when they understand the character of the era they live in and choose not to overlook the world-shaking events happening around them.

The progressive turn in his thinking was developed before the October Revolution. The moment when he joined the few Demoticist students of the University of Athens, as a first-year student at the School of Philosophy, was a turning point in his life. In 1910, he became a member of the Educational Club. In the confrontation that arose within the Club regarding educational, linguistic and other issues, Varnalis lined up with the more radical wing. He was always present in all the political discussions of his time and was persecuted for his radical views.

The October Revolution had a profound impact on his consciousness and determined his future course. This can be seen in his poem ‘The Stylite’, whose verses are imbued with a revolutionary spirit:

It’s not with words, but with acts that you must fight injustice!

And not alone! Join the people!
Injustice feeds on blood! Drench it in blood.


In 1919, while pursuing his postgraduate studies in Modern Greek Philology in Paris, with a scholarship from the Greek state, he was deeply influenced by dialectical materialism. When he wrote his emblematic work ‘The Burning Light’ in 1921, it seems he had already sufficiently assimilated the laws of scientific communism.

His more fruitful decades

According to his comrades and friends, as well as according to his own personal narrations, Varnalis remained a prolific and creative man in all aspects of his life right to his death. In his ripe old age, he was completely lucid and enjoyed good company and ideological, literary and political discussions. He had a soft spot for the sea and he often went there, even when he was 90 years of age. Thus, he embodied yet another trait of a vanguard communist: being well-rounded and enjoying life in a way that does not conflict with the services offered to the communist movement.

His most significant works were written during the 1920s and the 1930s. It was during those years, leading up to the great slaughter of the Second Imperialist World War, that he found inspiration for his poetry. He was deeply influenced by the influx of the impoverished refugees that came to Greece from Asia Minor in 1922, as well as by such international developments as the capitalist economic crisis of 1929 and the great struggles of the workers and the farmers.

Thus, in 1922 he wrote the poem ‘The Ill-fated’, which was published in the magazine of OKNE, ‘Youth’. ‘The Burning Light’ and the ‘The People of the Eunuchs’ were also published at that time. The latter is a collection of stories in which Varnalis strongly criticizes the principles and values of capitalist society for leading mankind to stupefaction, alienation, despair and decadence.

In 1923, he began a collaboration with the Rizospastis, while, in 1925, he wrote and published ‘Solomos without Metaphysics’, a work that contributes to the confrontation with idealist views on Art. In 1927, he published the ‘Besieged Slaves’ and various studies in magazines of the KKE, such as the ‘Literary Review’, as well as in newspapers. In 1932, he published the ‘True Apology of Socrates’, a savagely satirical work that has the ancient philosopher denounce idealism, confronting the corrupt exponents of capitalist society and its justice, the rulers that oppress the people, religious bigotry, the conformist intellectuals, as well as the people for their passivity and for not trusting their own strength. For, if the people make good use of their strength, they will manage to make ‘their entire selves and their entire souls truly theirs’. Thus, overturning everything the bourgeois world holds sacred and venerable, Varnalis revealed the truth and, like an earthquake, he shook the consciousness of those who encountered his work.

In 1933, he joined the Anti-Hitler Committee for the Aid to Victims of Nazism, and in 1934 he travelled to the USSR to take part in the 1st Congress of Soviet Writers. In 1935, he was arrested and sentenced to exile on the islands of Mytilene and Ai Stratis. The dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas banned his works. In 1940, the State Security arrested him, demanding that he stop writing against fascism. In 1941, he took on the Propaganda Sector of the National Liberation Front (EAM).

All the aforementioned works, and many more besides, show a high degree of partisanship and aesthetic value, which proves that poetry is not diminished when it consciously serves high ideals and militates for scientific socialism. All his works are linguistically processed in such a way as to utilise the slang of the time and strong colloquial elements without rejecting rhyme. Varnalis’ achievements in terms of expression as a result of these distinctive linguistic choices didn’t pass unobserved and the poet Kostis Palamas positively commented on them, saying that ‘Varnalis’ tongue is like a bird flying from the horse-dung on the street to reach the top of a blooming peach tree’.

A timeless source of inspiration for our struggles

The conditions that gave birth to Varnalis’ work still remain. Some ill-fated men and women —though perhaps not in ‘underground taverns’—work for more than 8 hours a day to earn a meagre wage that barely covers their most basic needs. Some risk their lives working in dangerous factories, construction sites and ports, while others work day and night in front of a computer screen, watching their free time slip away. The peoples are drawn into the slaughter of war, since they haven’t yet dealt with the enemy within their own countries. The decay that Varnalis observed in capitalism now oozes from all pores of the system.

But there are also us that long for ‘the whole earth to turn red’. There are those —and they’re not few— who see that ‘their duty is to lift themselves out of the deep pit’ of this society, and the KKE and KNE are here to reach out to them and help them.

And our festival will be adorned with his verses for years to come.

Varnalis took his place among the intellectual vanguard of the people and the working class because he went far and managed to declare as his enemy the greatest enemy of the people: capitalism, which gives rise to poverty and wars, and oppresses the peoples.

We end this article with Varnalis’ words during his exile on Ai Stratis: ‘Today, social struggle is at the forefront of the values… People have become masters of their Art. […] Thus, instead of opiating souls, the artist shapes souls’. So, Varnalis retains his actuality, for he shapes the soul of each and every revolutionary determined to turn the world upside down!