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Fourth International, February 1945


The Editors

Civil War in Greece

3. The Lesson of Greece


From Fourth International, vol.6 No.2, February 1945, pp.46-49.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The Greek civil war has served to lay bare the moving forces and the underlying dynamics of the European crisis. All the major political factors, all the basic conflicts, which in their general political features exhibit a striking similarity throughout Europe, are mirrored with complete faithfulness in the momentous class struggle now in progress in Greece. Greece thus serves as an important starting point for an analysis of the revolutionary crisis in Europe and as an object lesson for the proletariat.

The most important aspect of the present political situation in Europe is the deep-going revolutionary ferment among the masses. This revolutionary mood has seized not only the working classes but to a considerable extent, the lower middle classes as well. In 1936 the revolutionary crisis engulfed Spain, France, Greece. It remained for all that largely localized. The capitalists, aided by their Stalinist and Social Democratic labor lieutenants, were able to isolate each revolutionary situation and thus throttle more easily the rising mass movement. Today the revolutionary crisis is sweeping across Europe from one end to the other. There is not one single country that will escape its hot breath. And regardless of the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary process, regardless of all initial setbacks, retreats and defeats, the revolution will continue to dominate Europe for years to come.

For the masses there is no way out of the present catastrophe except through socialist revolution. Capitalism, after building up Europe as the center of affluence, culture, political democracy and progress, is today engaged in literally destroying the continent, tearing down brick by brick its great metropolitan cities and reducing its people to beggary and starvation. Europe, ridden with famine, pestilence and death, is in a blind alley. The working class has been driven down to inhuman levels. The middle classes are ruined by the war inflation. Under capitalism these masses have nothing to look forward to except further ruination and enslavement.

The western imperialists, aided by Stalin and his greedy bureaucracy, aim to reduce the continent to the status of a colony, to exploit its peoples in truly Asiatic style, and to inflict upon them the rule of the bayonet and the whip. That is why the revolutionary crisis will not be mitigated but aggravated with the passing months. The revolutionary ardor of the masses will not cool. It will become more militant, more determined, more grim, more compelling. We must prepare ourselves for a protracted period of revolutionary eruptions.

The first world war was an expression of the absolute decline of the capitalist system. Capitalism in Europe – as on a world scale – was no longer expanding but contracting. In Greece, as throughout Eastern Europe, bourgeois democracy became a luxury which the capitalists could no longer afford. Bourgeois democracy, or more correctly, what little there was of it, gave way to military dictatorship. But diseased and decaying capitalism could not, for long, continue its rule under democratic forms even in Western Europe. Mussolini came to power in 1922-23. Ten years later the Weimar Republic was smashed and the Nazi dictatorship proclaimed. A year later, a clerical brand of Fascism took power in Austria. Franco triumphed in Spain in 1937. At the same time, a semi-bonapartist dictatorship arose even in “ultra-democratic” France. Everywhere the masses saw how their own capitalists set up dictatorships and began ruling over the people with unconcealed violence and terror.

The imposition of the Nazi dictatorship over the whole of Europe was merely the last act in this drawn-out reactionary drama. It was under Nazi rule that the exposure of the European capitalists was completed. While the masses were undergoing untold agonies, they saw their ruling class hobnobbing and collaborating with the foreign overlords, joining the Quisling governments, coining profits out of the mass misery and suffering, and uniting with the Nazis to hound all working class militants and anti-fascists. Is it any wonder that the big capitalist circles throughout Europe have irretrievably disgraced themselves and exposed their true visage to the broad masses? The campaign to “purge the collaborators” is not, as the newspaper correspondents hypocritically pretend, directed against individual capitalist malefactor. It represents the elemental desire of the masses to destroy the power of the capitalist class as a whole. It is mass action directed, in truth, against capitalism as a system.

The European capitalists worked cheek by jowl with the Nazi butchers because that was the only way they could continue to rule over and exploit “their own” sullen and rebellious peoples. Collaboration with the foreign conqueror became for them a life and death necessity. That is why they were so anxious that the Allied armies occupy Europe when Hitler’s “New Order” began to crumble and his armies to retreat. European capitalism is so shaken, weak and desperate, its leading circles are so thoroughly discredited, the armed forces at its disposal so pitiable, the masses so revolutionary, that foreign armies are indispensable for the preservation of its rule. That is why the Vatican, the powerhouse of reaction, is so concerned that the Allied occupation armies remain “for twenty years”, lest Europe go communist.

The Anglo-American imperialists in alliance with Stalin are coming into Europe to strangle the rising revolution. But they have other aims as well. They intend to keep Europe prostrate and to carve it up into “spheres of influence.” With the super profits wrung from the enslaved masses, the imperialists hope to circumvent a new crisis of their system and avoid new violent class struggles at home. British brutality and counter-revolution in Greece are helping to open the eyes of the whole world to these actual Allied aims.

Greece, of course, is an extreme case, as the country has been a semi-colony of Britain for over a hundred years. But the peculiar feature of Europe’s present crises is that the basic social similarities between all European countries are becoming greater than their specific differences. In pre-war Europe, the gap between Greece and France was immense, in standard of living, political freedom, etc. There still exists considerable disparity between the two countries, but it is an undeniable fact that they are drawing closer together; not, unfortunately, by Greece rising to France’s pre-war level but by France moving downward towards the level of Greece. Predatory imperialism is hurling all of Europe into the abyss, and while some countries are more favored and richer than others, all are being plunged downward at a dizzying speed.

Right after Hitler’s attack upon the Soviet Union, the Stalinists throughout Europe took the lead in organizing resistance to the Nazi invaders. The Resistance Movement, which up to that time, consisted of small isolated groups led chiefly by ex-officers, petty-bourgeois patriots and the like, for the first time took on a real mass character. The prestige of the Stalinists, who clothed themselves with the authority of the Russian revolution, was further enhanced at this time by the heroic struggle of the Red Army and the Soviet masses and later by the sensational Red Army victories. The Stalinists, even during Nazi occupation, emerged as the most influential leadership among the working class.

The European workers did not simply aspire to regain their national freedom and rid themselves of the hated foreign tyrant. Their national aims were fused with their social aspirations. They determined not only to drive out the Nazi oppressors but also to destroy the rapacious rule of the native capitalist exploiters. These two aims – the national and the social-fused all the more easily and indissolubly because of the open bloc of the Nazis and the European capitalists and their joint collaboration in oppressing the masses. The European masses organized their forces in the underground and no sooner did Nazi rule begin tottering than they rose in revolutionary struggle. The downfall of Mussolini signalized the beginning of the European revolution.

Stalinist and Social-Democratic Traitors

Unfortunately the mass movement was headed by scoundrels who took advantage of the illusions of the masses in order to betray them. The Stalinist leaders are simply the cynical agents of the counter-revolutionary Kremlin bureaucracy, which views these popular movements as chattel to be deployed and sold out in concordance with the requirements of its arch-reactionary diplomacy. The Social Democrats, cowardly and servile to the bone, continued their nefarious game of housebreaking the working class movement and converting it into a submissive menial in the service of the capitalists. Between these two utterly corrupt and conscienceless bureaucracies, the growing mass movement was derailed off its course. The Stalinist and Social Democrats concluded permanent political blocs with the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaders – new People’s Fronts.

The program of these People’s Fronts is everywhere the same chauvinistic, class collaborationist, pro-Allied, pro-imperialist war. It is these political blocs, parading under the high-sounding titles of “Liberation” or “Resistance” movements, that occupy the center of the political stage in Europe in this initial stage of the revolution. This explains why the class struggle, which has flared up so violently in Greece, Belgium, France, Italy, is carried forward under such “tame”, “naive”, and often such reactionary slogans and demands.

There is a crying contradiction between the aims of the embattled masses and their present “working class” leaders.

Trotsky, in discussing Spain, remarked that the Stalinists and Social Democrats formed the People’s Front bloc not with the real bourgeoisie – they had all gone over to the Franco camp – but with the shadows of the bourgeoisie: a variegated assortment of lawyers, doctors, journalists representing nobody but themselves. This was precisely the character of the underground People’s Fronts organized in Europe in 1942.The Stalinists and to a lesser degree the Social Democrats, led substantial masses, working class and lower middle class. The big capitalists had gone over in the main to the Nazi camp. The petty bourgeois lawyers, doctors, politicians representing the old defunct middle class parties were simply political ghosts. They led nobody and represented nobody.

But this does not prevent them from playing a decisive role in the People’s Fronts. On the contrary. It is precisely these avowed spokesmen of capitalism, now being pushed to the fore by the Allied imperialists, who determine the aims and delimit the goals of the movement. In fact, one of the very purposes of the People’s Front bloc is to rehabilitate these political cadavers, rescue them from their fearful isolation, provide them with the appearance of popular backing, and through them steer the masses back to support of, or at least acquiescence in capitalist rule.

At first the treacherous nature of these class-collaborationist blocs was concealed from the masses because of the prevailing underground conditions. The hostile class forces within the bloc could not unfold their programs fully and reveal in practice the full implications of their positions. But no sooner did the Nazi “New Order” begin to crumble accompanied by the rise of class struggles than the true nature of these political blocs became unmistakably clear. These new People’s Fronts, like their pre-war predecessors, have the sole purpose of stifling and sidetracking the revolutionary struggle for socialist emancipation and confining the mass movement to the utopian fight for bourgeois democracy.

Role of “Liberation” Leaders

The betrayal of the Stalinists and Social Democrats takes on gargantuan proportions when one considers that it is precisely these collaborationist blocs, these “Liberation” movements, that have provided the “mass base” for the counterrevolutionary handpicked People’s Front Cabinets: the Bonomi cabinet in Italy, De Gaulle in France, Pierlot in Belgium, Papandreou in Greece and the similar cabinets set up by Stalin in Eastern Europe. It is precisely the leaders of these “Liberation” movements who have entered as Quislings into the various governments, which are providing the “democratic” facade for the military dictatorships of Stalin and Anglo-American imperialism.

The mechanics of the betrayal are clear. The working masses, seething with dissatisfaction, throw their weight behind the “Communist” and “Socialist” parties, in the illusory belief that the leaders of these parties will advance the revolutionary struggle for socialism. These wretched bureaucrats, in turn, proceed to enmesh the masses within their perfidious People’s Fronts in order to sidetrack the struggle, dampen the revolutionary ardor and steer things back along capitalist channels. The working class thus finds itself in this anomalous position: It is supporting what it considers the extreme revolutionary leaders in order to crush capitalist rule. But through some political hocus-pocus, which it still does not fully comprehend, the working class finds itself collaborating with the self-same capitalist class under the capitalists’ program and reinforcing the capitalists’ counter-revolutionary government. Herein is the explanation for the present bewilderment of the European masses and the main cause of their initial setbacks.

The Greek events unmask more thoroughly the criminal character of the People’s Front, the tragic futility of this unnatural alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The working class wants peace, a purge of the capitalist traitors, arming of the masses, a government of their own, socialization of industry, the reorganization of society on new socialist foundations. The Bonomis, de Gaulles, Pierlots, Papandreous want to rehabilitate capitalism, disarm the armed formations and thrust the people again into the bloody maelstrom of the war – this time on the side of the Allied bandits. This unnatural alliance between the two hostile social classes is already bursting at all seams. Throughout Europe we see the masses waging furious battle against the very People’s Fronts’ puppet governments which “their own” “Liberation” movements have initiated and are pledged to support.

What is the burning task for the revolutionists in Europe? To demolish the policy of People’s Frontism and to overthrow its chief architects – the execrable Stalinist and Social Democratic bureaucrats. Otherwise as sure as night follows day, the present People’s Fronts will pave the way for a new bloody counter-revolution and the imposition of new savage capitalist dictatorships, just as the People’s Front of 1936in Spain paved the way for France. The only possible consequence of the continued leadership of these two venal “labor” bureaucracies is a repetition of the tragedy of Spain, this time on a Europe-wide scale.

Trotskyist Tasks

The revolutionary vanguard must plunge into the struggle, work unceasingly to show up these “leaders” for the counter-revolutionary rascals that they are and burn out their influence in the labor movement. A large-scale and vigorous agitation must be started to expose the fatal role and purpose of the perfidious People’s Fronts. The Trotskyists will call upon the working masses to break the bloc with the bourgeoisie both inside and outside the present governments. They will counterpoise to these People’s Front blocs the necessity of setting up, on the broadest possible basis, workers, farm laborers, poor peasants and soldiers’ Soviets. The Soviets will constitute the genuine alliance of workers, peasants and soldiers, in place of the fake alliance concocted by the People’s Frontists. Only the Soviets can rally all the oppressed masses and topple the bloody regimes of Europe’s desperate and ruthless capitalist rulers. Only the mass Soviets, which will surely be forged in the fires of the civil war, will prove capable of organizing fraternization with the troops of the invading armies and win their support, or at least their neutrality, in the coming gigantic battles to crush the age-old power of the exploiters and establish the authentic rule of the people.

The Trotskyists will learn to connect themselves with the masses and their struggles; in action gain their confidence and earn the right to revolutionary leadership. It is in the coming volcanic upheavals and turbulent class battles that the masses will gain political experience, will shed their illusions, and in ever growing numbers place themselves under the revolutionary banner of the Fourth International. The Soviets, under this revolutionary leadership, will spurn the program of chauvinism, war revanche, national hatreds and imperialist war. They will unfurl the proud banner of the United States of Europe. Thus and only thus will the European peoples find their way out of the wreckage and degradation of the imperialist war and achieve peace under the aegis of the Socialist and freedom, October 1917 revolution, the program of socialist revolution, working class internationalism and the fraternal collaboration well-being of the European peoples.

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