Greece and Social-Democracy

by “D”

Greece and Social-Democracy, Justice, 6 March 1897, p.4. Signed by “D” (probably Drakoules).

The subject of absorbing interest for the last three weeks has been the Cretan question, or, as we might rather call it, the Greek question. Everybody now knows the beginning and progress of the events which led to the expedition of King George of Greece, who sent his son with a torpedo flotilla and strict orders to prevent Turkish troops foam landing at Crete. It is also well known that the warships of the great Powers have surrounded the island, with a view to preventing hostilities between Turks and Greeks. The British admiral threatened Prince George of Greece to use force against him if he would give any assistance to the insurgents of the island. We need not dwell upon this incident, which has already roused some indignation in England, nor do we intend to go through a narrative of other details. Wars and expeditions are deprecated by all Socialists who understand their origin and source, but their significance as indicating the course of events is worthy of our serious study.

There are some points which call for an interpretation of the Eastern question from a Social-Democratic point of view. The existence of modern Greece is an immediate offspring of the French Revolution. The inspiring ideas of that great drama and its stirring events awoke the Hellenic race from the torpor into which the Turkish yoke had plunged it for four centuries. Greeks of learning and culture lived through the whole period of the Revolution in Paris, and the most eminent among them, Koraes, who saw the impending rising of his race, conceived the idea of paving the way for its regeneration by regulating the then corrupt and neglected Greek languages so as to bring it in greater conformity with the ancient Greek, hoping thus to kindle in the hearts of his countrymen that love far freedom which characterised their ancestors.

The conceptions of Freedom, Equality, and Fraternity have now permeated the Hellenic race all over the world, and. after a period of incubation, survived the reaction which followed in Europe at the appearance of that Messiah of capitalism, Napoleon Buonaparte. The Greeks, now duly equipped with the requisite determination, and full of the spirit of their new literature and poetry which sprang from their new ideal, all rose as one man in 1821 against Turkish tyranny, in defiance of the united opposition of Western Europe. The ruling classes were terrified at this insurrection, which they considered as identical with the insurrection of the French nation, and were determined to stifle it at the outset. They resolved, however, to allow Turkey to suppress the Revolution by her own methods, which, it was hoped, would lead to the final extermination of the disturbers of “peace and order.”

But the firmness of the Greeks was as remarkable as it is now, and this cost them terrible sufferings during a period of ten years. European democracy was by that time benumbed, and on the Continent it had not yet attained sufficient development to exhibit the universal and systematic sympathy which is now exhibited on behalf of the Greeks. Sympathy, of course, existed, but it was much less articulate than it is now, though Shelley sufficed to give it effectual expression through his unrivalled poetry, and his humanitarian ideal. The heroic achievements of Greeks too recalled the valour of classic times, and at last the European democracies triumphed over the determinations of the governments to allow Greece to be exterminated by the Turkish forces which were then pretty formidable. Byron’s championship of Greece, and his death at Messolonghi, has also contributed, to a very large extent, towards the culmination of feeling in favour of the brave revolutionists.

A free Greece, in a republican form, was created in 1830, but the Hellenes saw it was too far short of their ideal, and they regarded their President, Capodistris – a Greek chosen by Russia – as an instrument of Russian plans of dominion over them. They got rid of him very soon, and constituted themselves into a kingdom. King Otho proved too despotic, and was accordingly expelled, after a reign of thirty years. The present reign of King George began in 1864, and continued throughout to be a most democratic government, in form. But as Capedistria was the embodiment of aristocracy, and King Otho the incarnation of the bourgeoisie, so King George has throughout represented the capitalistic spirit.

Greece went, within seventy years, through all the stages which took seven hundred years to be evolved in Western Europe. The system of accumulation of wealth in a few hands produced just the same effects as everywhere else. The usual methods of capitalists who convert every noble sentiment into a weapon for their own advantage, have been in Greece conspicuous in the production of the vulgar aspect of patriotism, side by side with the most abject poverty of the working classes. Twelve years ago a discreet and tactical propagation of scientific Socialism began slowly, but surely, to gain ground, until both the labour world and the educated proletariat assumed a really menacing attitude which the sagacious King George duly noted. He faced the difficulty most admirably; and we wish him the success which his temerity and audacity deserves, for the sake of the issues it is likely to have. He saw and demonstrated the impotence of the European Governments. He profited by the example that the crumbling Turkish Empire was rendered omnipotent solely on account of the mutual jealousies of the Powers. He relied on the feeling of the European democracies, which, as William Morris observed, constitutes the invincible power of Greece. Counting, moreover, on his close relationship with nearly all the reigning families of Europe, King George did not suffer his opportunity to pass, but masterfully seized it, averting by his action the upheaval of the working classes of Greece, but at the same time awakening the slumbering masses of Europe, who in their sympathy with Greece struggling for freedom are reminded of that Social Revolution which sooner or later is to come, but which is delayed on account of a certain apathy due to lack of initiative.

The boldness of Greece might serve as an instructive lesson to the working classes of Europe, inasmuch as it shows that the ruling classes are impotent to withstand a strong general uprising. The action and tact of King George moreover suggests that all depends on the initiative of one man able and determined enough to place himself at the head of the great army of European workers who await the signal in order to bring to an end the present monstrous fabric of civilisation. Such a sincere leader whom international labour could trust, would be followed with the same eagerness with which King George was followed by the Greek nation.

The capitalists all over the world are in dread of a European war, not out of love for peace, but out of love for their stocks. There are two issues of the Eastern Question which appear to us quite possible: Either it may lead to the Social Revolution through a general European war, or it may be limited to producing a larger Greece, perhaps a Greek State, with Constantinople as its capital, and a confederation of all the Balkan States. If the latter alternative happens, we sincerely hope that it will not be on the model of Italy, whose unity was attained only for the benefit of capitalists and marquises. Whatever benefits may accrue to Greece, they must be for the people of Greece, not for her handful of politicians.

If the Social Revolution in Europe is postponed by such a solution of the Eastern Question, the community of interests of the workers of all countries, as opposed by the interests of capital, must not, at any rate, be forgotten. Greece, Bulgaria, Servia, Roumania, Armenia, and even Turkey, are united in a common cause of Labour, and if only they understand this they will find that their brethren of Western Europe and America constitute the only great Power which really means, and is able, to co-operate with them in establishing social and political freedom, and abolishing any Sultan, either Moslem or Christian.

Welcome page   |   Supplementary Balkan menu

Updated by ETOL: 22.5.2004