Max Shachtman

Hands Off Greece!

(December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 51, 18 December 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

BULLETINAs we go to press, fighting in Greece between the armed people and the British forces continues unabated. Reports are inconclusive on the progress of the battles around Athens, but it it clear by Churchill’s order that reinforcements be sent to General Scobie that the British have not been making much headway in their efforts to force an unwanted regime upon the Greek masses. In the meantime. Field Marshal Alexander and the British Resident Minister for the Middle East, Harold MacMillan, have reached Greece for the purpose of arranging an armistice between the ELAS armies and the British. General Scobie, commander of the British army, has demanded immediate disarmament of the ELAS as a condition for peace. Representatives of the ELAS have already met with the British.

A terrible and shameful crime is being committed in Greece.

Hundreds of Greek people, men, women and even children, have already been shot or bombed to death.

Who slaughtered them? The Nazis? No, the fascist hordes were driven out of Greece by the very people who have just been martyred.

The chief criminal in the Athens slaughter is Winston Churchill, presiding officer of the British Empire. His accomplices are the heads of the other Allied empires, the American and the Russian.

It is not the Hitlerite Stukas, Messerschmitts, Panzers and SS troops that our pouring a hail of terror and destruction into the people of Greece. It is Wellington bombers, Spitfires, General Sherman tanks and British parachutists that have taken over this bloody role.

What Hitlerite fascism did to the peoples of the European countries sickened the world with the deepest revulsion, Infused it with hatred and with a determination to put an end to this gruesome plague.

The leaders of the Allied nations exploited this universal feeling to the utmost.

“Work like slaves to turn out Wellington bombers and Spitfire lighters.” cried Churchill. “We must have them to defend England’s sovereignty and freedom, and to restore these precious treasures to the peoples of Holland. France, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Greece, who have been deprived of them.”

“All-out production for war. and forget about wages and working conditions,” cried Roosevelt. “This is no time to strike – we need more and more Sherman tanks to beat the Germans who have robbed the peoples of Europe of their national independence, of the right to self-determination which we sacredly enjoy in America.”

Now the same bombers and fighters and tanks and munitions and troops are pouring death into the heart of the people o£ Greece who fought for democracy and national freedom against the Nazis, and who are still fighting for it.

The signers of the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt and Churchill, wrote down as their third “common principle” that —

“... They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”

Churchill, the reactionary monster who we still remember as the British Minister of War who was the would-be assassin of the Russian Revolution and the Russian people in 1918–19, whom we have not forgotten as the man who sang the praises of Mussolini and Italian fascism, who is still the Lord High Protector of Francisco Franco in Spain and the fascist House of Savoy in Italy, must needs add the most infamous insults to the Greek people.

Yesterday, when the fate of the Empire was at stake, Churchill fell all over himself in praise of the revolutionary underground fighters in such countries as Greece. He lauded them as men of imperishable exploits, heroes, idealists, martyrs.

Now that he has his own troops in Greece, and now that these underground fighters have shown that they had no intention whatsoever of exchanging British oppression for German, Churchill speaks a different language. The fighting people of Greece are now referred to as “bands of gangsters forcing their way into Greek cities, seizing police stations and key points of government, and endeavoring to introduce a totalitarian regime.” The same people are accused by this cynical servant of British imperialism of “a carefully planned coup d’état by murder gangs and by the iron rule of ruffians seeking to climb into the seats of power without a vote ever having been cast in their favor.”

In the first place, these “bands of gangsters” were originally armed by Britain (and the U.S.A.) precisely for the purpose of “forcing their way into Greek cities, seizing police stations and key points of government.” To be sure, they were not meant to “introduce a totalitarian regime,” but only a puppet regime subservient to British control. This is what the Greek masses do not want, however. They have suffered long enough under foreign puppet regimes. They want the freedom of their country. They want to rule themselves. They want to take care in their own way of their own enemies at home. That’s why Wellington bombers, Spitfire fighters, Sherman tanks, cruiser fire and mortar shells are mowing them down today!

Churchill is against murder gangs and “the iron rule of ruffians seeking to climb into the seats of power without a vote ever having been cast in their favor.” Four hundred million Indians know Churchill as the outstanding ruffian in the world who has already climbed “into the seat of power without a vote ever having been cast in his favor.”

What Greek Masses Want

And Papandreou – by what “vote ever having been cast in his favor” did this British puppet “climb into the seats of power”? When was he elected and by whom? Whom does this assassin of his own people represent? Papandreou’s “party” is a joke in Greece and always has been. He represents NOBODY among the people, except for the handful of ultra-reactionary elements who have now rallied around him and who were the tools of the Nazis during the German occupation. His own ministers have quit his ludicrous “government”; he himself has offered to resign, an offer he withdrew only under pressure of the British. What makes this marionette, in Churchill’s words, “the authority of the constitutional Greek government”? Nothing but British bayonets, British bullets and British bombs.

The Greek masses are represented, in their vast majority, not by Churchill or the “Greek” King or Papandreou, but by the national revolutionary resistance movement, the EAM and its armed forces, the ELAS.

Role of the Stalinists

The first thing to note is that the Stalinists in the ELAS, and the Communist Party itself, voted repeatedly to disarm the fighting forces of the people and to give all armed power to the British military forces.

The second thing to note is that the masses of the people follow, or look with sympathy to, the Communist Party ONLY to the extent that it appeared in their eyes as the most forthright and unyielding and consistent champion of their fight for national freedom.

Following the expulsion of the Germans, however the Stalinists faced an exceptionally difficult problem: How to keep their influence with the Greek people who want real democracy, and at the same time protect the interests of Russian imperialism, which has no more in common with democracy or the right of self-determination than Hitlerite Germany has.

This problem was aggravated by the fact that while everyone of the Greek politicians joined in the clamor for the disarming of the ELAS, not a move was made to disarm the reactionary and royalist military formations. On the contrary, they became increasingly prominent In the country and increasingly arrogant. What is more, not a single step was taken to clean out the Fascists and Nazi collaborators who made up the bulk of the police force and were taken over bodily by Papandreou and his British bosses as their own police force.

It appears quite clearly that the rank and file of the ELAS was more than hesitant, in the face of such alarming facts, to allow itself to be disarmed. The people of Europe have learned a great deal in the last five years, and one of the most important things they have learned is that nowadays an armed, self-controlled people is the only guarantee of liberty.

It appears also that the Papandreou government enjoyed no real popularity and that in Greece, as in all the “liberated” countries, the first thing the people want is a government they have themselves chosen freely, so that they can have a government which will protect their numerous interests. In Greece, however, as in Italy, France and Belgium, the bayonet-propped government promised “free elections” – but only in the distant and very hazy future. Meanwhile, the temper and the restlessness of the Greek people rose steadily.

Russian-British Differences

The role of the Stalinists in the clashes that began with and followed the shooting down of demonstrators by Papandreou is as unclear as it is suspect. Three surmises are in order:

One is that the Stalinists opposed the inevitable clash between the people and the Churchill-Papandreou vassal regime, but did not dare do so openly without losing every bit of influence it had with the people. Consequently, they went along with the people in the struggle, carefully maintaining all their leading positions in order, at the crucial moment, to betray the movement by capitulation or treacherous compromise – as they did in the case of Belgium.

The second is that the Stalinists utilized the sentiment of the masses to engineer a clash deliberately, to embarrass the British and to gain an extra concession for the Russians. It is true that the agreement between London and Moscow “leaves” Greece to Britain. But imperialist bandits are faithful only to those agreements which benefit them or which their strength does not permit them to alter or break. Stalin aims at a vassal confederation in the Balkans. Rumania and Bulgaria are already under his thumb. Tito of Yugoslavia is his bonded servant. Unostentatiously, a movement has developed for a “free Macedonia” as part of a “free Balkan confederation.” If these ever developed under Stalin’s rule, they would be just as free as Russia’s own imprisoned peoples.

The third is that the role of the Stalinists may be based on a combination of elements noted above.

Washington’s “Hands-Off” Hypocrisy

As for illusions about the benevolence of Washington, they are as current as they are unwarranted. The lofty “protest statement” of the new Secretary of State, Stetfinius, is a typical piece of American imperialist hypocrisy. The American government, you see, deplores any interference from without into the life of other peoples. It would really like to see a “Hands Off” policy followed by the British in Greece and everywhere else in Europe.

Of course, you understand that there are exceptions to these shining principles as in the case of France and Italy. When WE interfere in the affairs of the people of Puerto Rico (and Latin America) and prevent them by force from governing themselves, why – that’s one hundred percent okay, eminently democratic and preeminently American. When WE, through our chief commanding officer in the field, give orders to our American and British troops, under our General Erskine, to prop up the reactionary and super-unpopular government of M. Pierlot in Belgium, and to disarm or shoot down the Belgian people who really fought Fascism and who have no use for M. Pierlot and his super-reactionary patrons, why – that’s one hundred percent okay and democratic and American, too. Ditto when we support and give vast arms supplies to the self-perpetuating totalitarian tyranny of Sr. Getulio Vargas in Brazil, who has a vast prison-building program to accommodate the army of people who dared open their lips in criticism of the Vargas despotism and the Vargas corruption.

Why, then, the lofty Washingtonian indignation over Greece and Italy? It’s hypocrisy matches Churchill’s cynicism and Stalin’s brutality. In the first place, it gives American imperialism an opportunity to present itself to the masses of Europe as their benevolent friend, in contrast to wicked British imperialism. But there is a deeper reason. Poor British imperialism! How is it to hold its own in the world? The war has all but wrecked it, especially financially. It is dependent for food on rich Uncle Sam, who doesn’t give away anything for nothing. How is England to dominate a country like Italy or Greece? By the blackmail of food – “Do as I say or you get no food”? Not so easy a game to play, when your own food comes from – the United States! England must therefore resort more openly to direct physical force in these countries. A simple law of imperialism is in operation here: The weaker the imperialist power, the more openly it must resort to force and the less able it is to do its dirty work by “subtler” means.

Precisely because the United Slates is, relatively, so rich and powerful, it can more easily afford to proceed with “subtler” means. American imperialism does not plan to rip open the throats of the starving European people with a bayonet – at least not unless these people “get out of hand.” Instead, it plans to choke them to death with a few dried-up crusts; to bind them to servitude” with a chain of American dollar loans for “reconstruction” of the ruined lands:

Hands Off – London – Washington – Moscow!

The people of Greece, and of every other country, have a sacred right to their own freedom. They have a sacred right to choose and have a government of their own, and to choose it freely. It is reactionary arrogance, typical of Nazi imperialism and of all others, to say that “we” will rule another people “for their own good” or “only for a little while.” We were told – and still are told – that the war is being fought for democracy That was a lie when it was first said, and it is an even more obvious lie today. But this democracy we nevertheless demand for Greece and its people. That is the position of us revolutionary socialists. It is the people’s right.

And our dnty, here in this country? A heinous crime is being committed under our very eyes. This massacre of a people is being organized this tune not by the Nazis, but by “our” Ally with the folded-hands consent of the other Allies who act likewise elsewhere. We have no right to be silent – we of the labor movement. We have the downright, elementary duty to speak up and act so clearly decisively and effectively that the bloodstained arms of imperialism are broken or shackled.

Hands off Greece and the people of Greece! That cry must resound from every labor organization in this country. And “Hands Off” applies not only to the Nazis, and not only to England but to Washington and Moscow as well.

Let Churchill hear labor’s voice until his ears burn and his oppressor’s arm is paralyzed.

What is being done in Greece is a hideous criminal assault by Imperialism upon a people and a nation.

The crime must be stopped and the criminals brought to justice.

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Last updated on 17 February 2016