From Fourth International, vol.6 No.2, February 1945, pp.36-41.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
Greece is undoubtedly among the most backward and poorest countries of Europe. For over a century it has been condemned to the status of a semi-colony of the major European Powers. Foreign kings have been imposed on the Greek people and have exercised their oppressive rule for the benefit of the foreign bankers and the small clique of Greek capitalists and landowners. The Greek people have been ground down under a terrible weight of poverty. The per capita income of the average Greek is 17% that of the average British income. The wealth of the country has been skimmed off by the western bankers and the Greek capitalists. Little remained for the masses. But despite the economic backwardness and extreme poverty, Greece gave birth, as the present civil war testifies, to one of the most dynamic and revolutionary working classes of Europe. The Greek workers, deeply courageous and self-sacrificing, stepped forward, after the last war, as the leader, the only possible leader of the masses in its struggle for progress and emancipation. The revolutionary movement is developing in Greece with such vigor, it can be safely predicted that regardless of what difficulties and setbacks may be in store, Greece is destined to play an heroic part in the great European revolution, in the struggles of the European peoples for their emancipation.
The history of modern Greece as an independent state dates back less than 120 years. Under the inspiration of the great French revolution, a wave of nationalism swept over Europe at the start of the 19th century. Beginning with the Serb revolt in 1804, national revolution blazed for a century in the Balkans, finally sweeping Turkey back to the western defenses of Constantinople in 1913. The Greeks, who preserved their national consciousness and culture for over 800 years under Turkish rule, raised the banner of revolt against the Ottoman empire in 1821. The Greek War of Independence, which dragged on for over eight years, evoked the greatest enthusiasm and won the wholehearted support of revolutionists and liberals throughout Europe. England, France and Russia, anxious to bring the revolutionary war to a close, finally came to an agreement with the Sultan in 1829 to recognize a small independent Greece, a fraction of present-day Greece, with a population of no more than 600,000.
The new tiny Greek state was certainly launched in an inauspicious manner. The vast majority of Greeks still lived outside its borders. The financial situation was desperate. Greece already owed the sum of $15,000,000 to the British banks. The financial debt was further increased by the expenses of the long war with Turkey. Another loan had to be floated in 1833 to set the country on its feet. The oppressive taxes leveled on the peasantry by the new government drove many to take to the hills. Brigandage, which has a long history throughout the Balkans, once more took on serious proportions.
The three “Protecting Powers” who had underwritten the new state immediately began hunting around for a suitable king for the country. They first offered the crown to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who later became King of the Belgians. But he declined. The Allied diplomats finally settled on Prince Otho of Bavaria, 17 years old when he ascended the newly-created Greek throne. Of course, the Greeks had not fought for eight years a bloody costly war to exchange the Turkish Sultan for a 17-year old Bavarian Prince. The three “Protecting Powers” assured the Greeks, however, that a constitution would be promulgated. This promise, like so many others, was never kept. The National Assembly, which was supposed to draw up the constitution, was never summoned. The country continued to be ruled as a royal dictatorship by a Regency of 3 Bavarians.
The Greek people were bitterly disappointed that their overthrow of the Turkish oppressors had brought them not freedom but the dictatorial rule of Bavarian princes, acting as clerks for the British, French and Russian ruling classes. In 1843,a new revolt spread over Greece and forced King Otho to call the National Assembly and promulgate a Constitution. This too remained largely a dead letter and 20 years later in 1862, a popular revolution forced the King off the throne. Otho abdicated and left Greece on a British warship.
The three “Protecting Powers” promptly set to work to find a new king for the Greeks. Their choice finally fell on Prince William George of Denmark, also 17 years of age. As continued financial support to Greece depended upon acceptance of the Monarch, the Greek National Assembly approved the decision. To soften the blow to the Greek masses, who had just staged an anti-monarchist revolution, the British Government announced that along with the King they would cede to Greece the Ionian island, and the three “Protecting Powers” likewise undertook to remit $20,000 a year from the interest of the loan of 1833, which sum, however, was to be added to the King’s Civil List. Now that the new king was safely installed, the British bankers floated a new loan for Greece. To underline the country’s utter subservience to the Powers, the Treaty of 1864 expressly laid down that any one of the three Powers might send troops into Greek territory with the consent of the other two signatories. The consent of Greece was not necessary.
Here was the balance sheet of thirty years of Greek Independence: the Greek nation encompassed no more than a fraction of the Greek people and it was hopelessly bankrupt and mortgaged to the British bankers. In truth, its independence was largely fictitious. It was in reality a semi-colony of Britain, France and Russia, forced to tolerate the rule of a foreign prince imposed upon it by its bond-holding “liberators” or as they dubbed themselves in those days, the “Protecting Powers.” The history of Greece epitomizes the fate of all the Balkan peoples as indeed of all small nations – the impossibility for small nations to achieve under capitalism real independence, as distinguished from formal political independence.
Greece, like the other Balkan nations, was caught in the web of the struggle for Empire on the part of the major Powers. England and France, fearful of Russian expansion toward the Mediterranean, fought Russia in the Crimean war to prolong the existence of the Turkish Empire, and thus perpetuate Turkish oppression of the nations in the Near East. It was the studied diplomatic policy of England and France that the Turkish Empire had to he preserved for the maintenance of “stability” and the proper “balance of power” in Eastern Europe. Czarist Russia, the “prison-house of peoples,” despite its territorial ambitions, likewise feared and betrayed the national revolutionary movements in the Balkans. Thus, for over half a century, the Powers thwarted all attempts on the part of the Greek people in Crete, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean islands etc. to unite with the mother country. Again and again they dispatched their fleets to prevent secessions from the Turkish Empire. This century-old conspiracy of the major Powers to prevent the small nationalities of Eastern Europe from attaining national independence; to artificially prop up the Turkish Empire, “the sick man of Europe”; to play off the Balkan countries one against the other, the better to keep them subservient, has gone down in western diplomacy under the euphonious title of the “Eastern Question.”
By the eighties, a new factor had entered Greek politics: the emergence of a capitalist class becoming richer and more powerful than the landowners. Trikoupis, Greece’s first great capitalist statesman, came to power in 1882. Greece experienced a brief period of capitalist expansion, a pale reflection of the enormous progress of capitalism in western Europe, With the aid of British capital, the railway system was extended, the Corinth Canal was opened, new public works were begun. By 1893, the bubble had already burst. A devastating economic crisis swept Greece, resulting in the first large scale emigration to the United States. Four years later, the revolution in Crete against Turkey and for unification with Greece brought on Greece’s war with Turkey. For thirty years, Crete had been fighting to reunite with Greece but had always been thwarted by the “Powers.” The 1896 revolution in Crete produced a wave of nationalism in Greece; Greek troops were dispatched to the island and Greece was soon at war with Turkey. Greece suffered disastrous defeat. Turkish troops occupied Thessaly for a year. Greece lost its strategical positions along its northern frontier and was forced to pay the huge indemnity of $20,000,000. The Turkish war made complete its vassalage to the European bankers.
From 1833 to 1862 Greece was barely able to pay back short-term loans and to meet the interest on its indebtedness contracted during the War of Independence and in 1833. From 1862 to 1893 the effort to meet interest due the foreign bond-holders together with the annual budget deficits lead to complete bankruptcy. Greece was no longer able to meet the interest payments and set aside the amounts called for to pay off the principal. The disastrous war of 1897 finished off the process. The European bond-holders declared that the payment of the Turkish indemnity could not take priority over their bond payments nor would they grant another loan unless the three “Protecting Powers” guaranteed it. This time, in guaranteeing the new loan, the “Protecting Powers” stripped Greece of its sovereign powers. An International Finance Commission virtually took charge of Greek finances and guaranteed payment of the war indemnity and interest on the National Debt. Crete, whose national revolution led to the Graeco-Turkish war, was put under international control, with the island divided into British, French, Russian and Italian spheres. Greece’s humiliation was complete.
Ten years later, the Greek capitalists made an heroic effort to convert Greece into a modern capitalist state. The emergence of a strong bourgeois class in the Near-East and the growing rivalry and conflict of the Western imperialists brought to a climax the century-old struggles of the Balkan peoples. In 1908, the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turk Movement) composed of the secondary army officers and supported by the Turkish bourgeoisie issued a Pronunciamento and forced the establishment of Constitutional government in Turkey. The rise of Turkish nationalism gave birth to a new oppression of the Greeks and Armenians in Turkey. Economic boycotts were organized against Greek merchants and ship-owners, some of the wealthiest of whom resided in Constantinople, Smyrna and the interior of Asia Minor. The Greek capitalist class, both of Greece and Turkey, alarmed at this development, embarked on their heroic attempt to reunite Greece and hurl the Turks out of Europe. The following year, 1909,a “Military League”, in imitation of the Young Turk movement, was organized in Greece and under threat of a coup d’etat demanded a Constitutional government of the Greek Monarchy. The court camarilla capitulated. 1910 marks the beginning of Constitutional government in Greece. The Military League called the Cretan national revolutionist, Venizelos, into Greece, to head the government. Venizelos, who dominated Greek politics for the next two decades, became Greece’s capitalist statesman par excellence. He founded the Liberal Party, the authentic party of Greek capitalism, which now began to rule in its own name.
Under Venizelos the government was reorganized from top to bottom along modern capitalist lines. The “spoils system” was abolished, civil service was reformed, agrarian reform was introduced with the division of the feudal estates in Thessaly. Foreign experts were called in to reorganize Greek finances: a British naval mission reorganized the navy, a French military mission reorganized the army. Education was made free, compulsory and universal. A new public works program of road and railway construction was begun. The capitalists, under Venizelos, were striving mightily to create a modern capitalist state.
Two years later the Balkan Alliance between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria was sealed and the three countries hurled their armies against Turkey. The Turkish army was crushed. Then in 1913, Greece in alliance with Serbia fought the second Balkan war against its ex-ally, Bulgaria, for the lion’s share of the spoils and again Greece emerged victorious. Venizelos became a national hero. Greece had grown to a nation of 6,000,000, ten times its original population. Greece now included Crete, most of the Aegean islands, the Epirus, Thessaly and even parts of non-Greek Macedonia. The struggle for Greek unity was almost complete. From 1910 to 1915 Greek foreign commerce increased from 300,000,000 to 500,000,000 drachmae. From 1910 to 1913 the revenues of the Greek government increased by a third.
But all this progress was illusory. It did enrich a small clique of Greek bankers, merchants and shipowners. But it only burdened the already impoverished masses with new taxes and finally plunged Greece into more terrible hunger and crisis. The Greek capitalists could not raise the standard of living of the Greek masses. They only deepened the country’s bankruptcy and its subservience to Western Imperialism. The Greek and Serbian victories in the two Balkan wars dislocated the “balance of power”, strengthened nationalist aspirations inside the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires and hastened the outbreak of the World War. Greece was soon occupied by Allied troops. Venizelos, representing the big capitalists, wanted to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side, determined to swim in the sea of imperial intrigues and Big Power conflicts. Just as the Greek capitalists were able to create Greater Greece by means of the two Balkan wars, so now they believed the providential opportunity had arrived to realize their program of Pan-Hellenism, the recreation of a Hellenic empire stretching from Constantinople to the Adriatic. King Constantine and the court camarilla, convinced of Germany’s eventual victory, decided to pursue a more modest course and maintain Grecian neutrality during the War of the Giants. Realizing that Constantine could not be pressured into acquiescence in his plans, Venizelos set up a parallel National Government in Salonika, and proceeded with the help of Greek and Allied bankers to set up a new National Army. By 1917, the “Protecting Powers” gave de facto recognition to Venizelos “revolutionary” government and demanded the abdication of King Constantine. They suddenly reminded themselves that the king had violated his oath to rule as a Constitutional Monarch. The Allies designated his son, Prince Alexander as successor.
Venizelos returned to Athens at the head of French Negro troops. His first act was to suspend the Constitution and rule by Emergency Decrees; a cloud of spies and informers descended upon the country; the prisons were filled with “political suspects”; Greece was placed under Martial Law. The capitalists began to rule under a scarcely disguised police dictatorship, the main method of their rule for the ensuing 23 years.
Under the leadership of Venizelos, the Greek capitalists made the fateful gamble to realize their dream of a modern Hellenic Empire. All of Greece was used as a counter in their desperate game. When the Allies signed their Armistice with Germany, the war first began in deadly earnest as far as the Greek masses were concerned. Venizelos sold the Greek army to the British imperialists to prove his “reliability” and “cooperativeness.” He sent 100,000 Greek soldiers into the Ukraine to fight with the forces of General Denikin against the Soviet Government. Then in May 1919 Venizelos, spurred on by Lloyd George, ordered Greek troops to occupy Thrace and Smyrna. The Greek army was soon pressing on to the interior of Asia Minor. Venizelos was pushed forward by the Allies at the San Remo Conference to force Allied terms upon Turkey. In return Greece was promised a further enlargement of territory. The war between Greece and Turkey dragged on. It had already cost $300,000,000 and an enormous number of lives. The newspapermen were remarking cynically that the English at Asia Minor were determined to fight to the last Greek.
In 1922, the French imperialists now at conflict with the British and viewing Greece as simply the tool of British imperialism, armed the Turkish army and enabled it to annihilate the Greek forces. There began the Turkish massacres of the Greek population in Asia Minor and the expulsion of about three-quarter million Greeks from Turkey. To prevent any further atrocities, Greece and Turkey arranged by treaty an “exchange” of populations. Greece was utterly ruined. The country had been at war almost uninterruptedly for ten years. It was hopelessly in bankruptcy. The National Debt had grown to fantastic proportions. The drachma was worthless. The poverty-stricken country of 6 million people was suddenly inundated by the arrival of one and a half million homeless, starving refugees. So ended the great “adventure” of the Greek capitalists.
The Graeco-Turkish war brought to a close the period of Greek irredentism. For a hundred years Greek political life was dominated by the “Great Idea”, the aim of annexing the “unredeemed” Greek lands and establishing a united Greek state. It was for this that the people had permitted themselves to be bled white. Now bourgeois Nationalism had bankrupted itself. The Greek bourgeoisie no longer possessed even a glimmer of a progressive mission.
A new factor had entered the arena of Greek politics; the working class. Inspired by the Russian revolution, a very influential Communist movement sprang up in Greece. (The Social Democrats were never a very important force in Greece.) The trade unions began growing very rapidly and came under the influence of the young Communist Party. The old battle cries of Nationalism, Republicanism and Constitutionalism now began giving way before the new problem of Greek politics – the struggle between labor and capital. The bourgeoisie, mortally frightened by the red spectre began to unite its ranks. The old political lines between Monarchists and Republicans became more and more blurred. Coalition governments composed of both factions became the rule. Whether under the Republican or Monarchist façade, the capitalists would carry through their program and maintain their rule only by dictatorship and bloody terror. No sooner did the working class enter the political stage as an independent force, than the bourgeoisie turned savagely reactionary. The alliance with foreign imperialism became a life and death necessity for the preservation of its rule over the rebellious masses. Bourgeois democracy was a luxury that the Greek capitalists could no longer afford.
Ever since 1920, Greece has been in the throes of terrible economic crisis. The trade balance sheet had a standing deficit of at least 50%. One quarter of the national income was paid out yearly to meet the National Debt; another 20% for the military establishment, another 14% for the upkeep of the governmental bureaucracy. The already high taxes were enormously increased. The cost of living sky-rocketed. The capitalists shifted the full burden of military disasters, foreign loans and the upkeep of a huge military establishment onto the shoulders of the already overburdened and impoverished masses.
The Greek masses answered the attempt to drive them down to inhuman levels by militant class action. The Greek working class is relatively small – 400,000 in a country of 7,000,000 people. Greece remains primarily an agricultural country whose peasantry is one of the poorest in all Europe. But even in agricultural Greece, the proletariat quickly stepped forward as the leader of the peasantry and the oppressed masses as a whole. The trade unions embraced one quarter of the proletariat, about 100,000 with the majority of the unions under the direct influence of the Communist Party. There also grew up a strong peasant cooperative movement, embracing approximately 250,000 members. There existed a number of left agrarian parties but the Communist Party won the dominant influence even among the poor sections of the peasantry. The economic crisis produced a raging political crisis, which reflected itself in the extreme instability of the governmental superstructure. From 1920 until the Metaxas regime in 1936, one political regime followed another with the greatest rapidity. And as none of the bourgeois political parties could find sufficient support in the masses and quickly exhausted themselves in the struggle with the difficulties growing out of the economic bankruptcy of Greece the army again emerged as the regulator of political life. Scarcely a year went by without a coup d’etat or a threatened coup d’etat.
The Greek masses reacted violently against the war and the dictatorship, and decisively defeated Venizelos at the polls in the 1920 election. A plebiscite was rigged up and King Constantine was recalled. Three years later, in an attempt to deflect the anger of the masses and shift responsibility for the tragedy of the Greek defeat in the war with Turkey, Col. Plastiras (who heads the present government) at the head of a Military Junta forced the abdication of King Constantine and executed the key Monarchist leaders as punishment for the 1922 disaster. The new King George II was forced to leave the country and in 1924, a new plebiscite was held and the Republic proclaimed. The Republicans and Monarchists united to rule under the Republican banner. But even this unification could not produce stability in the government, as governmental shifts and combinations were powerless to mitigate the economic disaster. The following year, General Pangalos staged a coup d’etat and set up a dictatorship. A year later, appeared a new “strong man”, General Kondylis, who organized a new coup d’etat. The capitalists then attempted a new government headed by their old leader Venizelos. But to no avail. The Greek crisis continued to grow worse. By 1930, as the economic crisis convulsed the whole world, Greece was choking to death. Over one-quarter of the entire working class was unemployed. The cost of living in 4 years had increased twenty-fold, while wages had only increased twelve-fold. The people were starving.
The Greek masses began fighting back. Between 90 and 100,000 workers took part in strikes, which largely bore a political character. Simultaneously a peasant movement against taxes spread throughout the countryside. Armed clashes between strikers or insurgent groups of peasants and the gendarmerie became commonplace. Venizelos replied by passing a bill suppressing the Communist Party and the so-called revolutionary trade unions. (The Stalinists split the Greek trade union movement during the Third Period.) The press was muzzled and the first Emergency Bill for the Security of the State was passed, which inaugurated the practice later to become notorious under the Metaxas dictatorship of banishing tens of thousands of workers and peasants to the barren Aegean islands by simple executive order.
The thoroughly frightened Greek bourgeoisie came to the conclusion that the king was indispensable for the creation of a “strong government.” The Greek bourgeoisie had come to such a pass that they could no longer rule without a “crowned idiot” heading the State. Kondylis, a former Republican general, staged a new coup d’etat in 1935. He immediately banned all public meetings and suppressed the papers that opposed his dictatorship or the return of the king. The whole staff of Rizospastis, the Stalinist daily, was arrested and exiled. A new fake plebiscite was stage-managed by the army and it was soon announced that 98% had voted in favor of the monarchy. (The Kendylis plebiscite became an international joke.) King George II returned to Greece. Venizelos, who had previously come to an agreement with the king, specifically called on his Liberal Party not to oppose the Monarch. To round out the picture, the Stalinists, hot on the trail of carrying out the policies of the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern sent a delegation to King George II whom they hailed as a “guarantee against Fascism and against any authoritarian regime.” King George received the delegation and was given assurance that the Communist Party had decided to function “within the framework of the present regime.”
The new elections of January 1936 resulted in a parliamentary deadlock. The Venizelist and anti-Venizelist combinations won 142 and 143 seats respectively in the Chamber of Deputies. The Communist Party with 15 members held the balance of power. Meanwhile a strike movement was spreading throughout the country. The bourgeoisie alarmed by the growing class struggles at home and with the events in Spain and France staring them in the face determined to wipe out once and for all the menacing working class movement. The word went down that no combinations should be made with the CP parliamentary fraction, that a “strong government” was necessary. The King appointed Metaxas, a Monarchist general, whose party had won the smallest number of seats, seven, in the election, to head the government. The Chamber met in April and overwhelmingly voted to prorogue for 5 months empowering Metaxas to govern by decree. The bourgeoisie flung this provocation into the face of the labor movement prepared to crush the opposition which they knew would follow.
From April to August 4, when Metaxas proclaimed his dictatorship, events moved rapidly. The tobacco workers, numbering 45,000, considered one of the most militant sections of the Greek working class were on strike for higher wages throughout northern Greece. On May 9 a general strike was called in Salonika in sympathy with the tobacco workers. Metaxas promptly issued an Emergency Decree mobilizing railwaymen and tramwaymen under military orders. Troops were sent out against the demonstrators in Salonika. The crowds appealed to the soldiers and fraternization began between the soldiers and workers. The gendarmerie were then called out and shot into crowds. 30 demonstrators including 2 women were killed. The day has gone down in Greek labor history as the “Black Saturday” massacre. Next morning 100,000 attended the funeral of the murdered men and women shouting “Revenge.” The Greek working class always revolutionary, was now surging forward. The revolutionary tide was rising hourly. Preparations were immediately announced for an all-Greece strike. The strike demands were:
- Liberation of everybody arrested;
- Pensions and indemnities for the victims of the terror;
- Dismissal of the guilty officials;
- Withdrawal of the Emergency Decree;
- Resignation of Metaxas and his cabinet.
The following day, the general strike had already spread throughout northern Greece. Metaxas ordered the fleet to Salonika and redoubled the terror. Thousands of workers were arrested and summarily exiled to the penal islands. The “revolutionary” unions were outlawed and union funds declared confiscated.
In July the Social Democratic trade union bureaucrats, thoroughly frightened by the turn of events, agreed to conduct with the Stalinists, who headed the so-called revolutionary trade unions, a joint struggle against Metaxas’ dictatorial decrees. A joint Congress of the Unitarian Trade Union Federation (“revolutionary”) and the General Trade Union Federation (reformist) was held in Athens on July 28. The united session of the Executive Committees announced their decision to call a one-day protest strike in Athens on August 5 and, as against the previous threat to call a general strike, appealed to the workers throughout Greece “to hold themselves ready” for a general all-Greece protest strike if the government rejected the workers” demands. This was exactly the moment for which Metaxas had been waiting. On August 4, one day before the scheduled protest strike, he placed machine guns on all the main street intersections in Athens, abolished Parliament, banished the working class leaders and proclaimed the Dictatorship. Within a year, 13,000 political exiles were reported living on the barren Aegean islands while thousands more were in the prisons awaiting decision on their cases. Five drachmae (cents) a day were allotted the prisoners for their subsistence. Thousands died from cold, hunger and the polluted water. Doses of castor oil were fed workers to extort confessions. Ancient forms of torture were again revived. “Liberty,” Metaxas proclaimed, “was a 19th century illusion.”
The Greek working class was decisively defeated in 1936 and was unable to prevent the imposition of the Metaxas dictatorship because of the criminal policy of its Stalinist leadership. It is unquestionable that in 1936 Greece was in the throes of a revolutionary crisis. The Greek workers were prepared to overthow capitalist rule and join hands with the peasantry to form a government of Workers and Farmers. The Communist Party dominated the whole working class movement and likewise enjoyed strong support in the countryside. It was known at the time of the Salonika general strike in May 1936 that both the soldiers and sailors in the fleet were very sympathetic to the workers’ cause. All the major strike movements of 1936, moreover, were under the direct leadership of the Communist Party. Yet Metaxas was able to impose his bloody dictatorship with hardly a struggle. What is the explanation? It can be summed up in a few words: the fatal policy of the People’s Front. For over five years, the Greek Stalinists in common with the Stalinists throughout the world, had disoriented and disorganized the Greek labor movement with their suicidal ultra-leftist policies of the Third Period. They were instrumental in splitting the trade union movement. They wore out the Greek masses by their adventurist tactics. By 1936, on instructions from the Comintern, they had made an about face and began their ultra-opportunist course of the People’s Front. Instead of organizing the workers for decisive revolutionary action and working to draw the peasants of the countryside into the struggle throughout the fateful months between April and August 1936, when the working class was in deep revolutionary ferment, the Stalinists busied themselves with a campaign to force the Liberal Party to organize with them a People’s Front. The Liberal Party, however, had heard its master’s voice and turned down the Stalinist offer. They were busy easing the way for Metaxas. The Stalinists wasted the whole six months in these criminal negotiations – six months that should have been employed to mobilize the broad masses for the revolutionary assault on the capitalist government. Just as in Spain, bourgeois democracy had become an illusion, a reactionary snare in Greece in 1936. The only alternatives were Metaxas or Soviet power. There existed in Greece in 1936 no third alternative.
Sklavanos, leader of the Stalinist Parliamentary fraction, explained in an interview just a few weeks before Metaxas proclaimed his dictatorship that Greece was not in a revolutionary situation (!); that moreover, Greece had many feudal vestiges and would first have to make a democratic revolution before the country was ready for Socialism; that the task of the Greek proletariat was to forge a bloc with the liberals – the People’s Front – to prevent the formation of a dictatorship and to uphold democratic rights! That was the program of the Stalinists in 1936. Small wonder that Metaxas was able to crush the workers’ movement and impose with hardly a struggle, his bloody rule.
It must be further remembered that Greece is a small country. As present events testify, working class international solidarity and aid is a life-and-death question for the Greek masses and the success of their revolution. In 1936, the Stalinists, with the aid of the Social Democrats, effectively strangled the revolutionary struggles of the masses in Spain, France and elsewhere in Europe by means of their perfidious People’s Fronts. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that Reaction would likewise triumph in a small country like Greece.
The Trotskyist movement, which went back in Greece to 1928, had a correct revolutionary progam to meet the situation. The Trotskyists, however, split in 1934 and their forces were too weak in 1936 to challenge the Stalinists for the leadership of the labor movement.
Although it attempted to copy in every respect the Mussolini and Hitler regimes, the Metaxas dictatorship never enjoyed any mass support. Despite Metaxas’ “social” demagogy and his mountebank performances (he called himself “the first workman and the first peasant of Greece”), the Metaxas government, from its first days to its last, was nothing more than a police-military dictatorship. Metaxas’ regime which lasted four years – it collapsed after the invasion of Greece in 1940 – based itself on armed force and murderous terror. Even so, it lasted as long as it did only because of the temporary exhaustion and disorientation of the Greek working class brought about by the 1936 debacle.
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Last updated on 5.9.2008