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Nicos Remoundos

Greece after the war

A revolution disarmed

(May 1985)

From Militant, No. 751, 31 May 1985, p. 10.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

IN OUR second article marking forty years since the second world war ended, NICOS REMOUNDOS, editor of Xekinima, the paper of the Marxist tendency in PASOK, looks at the war in Greece, and its aftermath.

THE BARBARITY of capitalism in Greece from 1941–1949 resulted in 650,000 dead – approximately 10% of the population. 150,000 were killed in ’40–’41 fighting the attacks of the German and Italian armies; 250,000 died of starvation; about 100,000 were executed by the Germans during the occupation, and a further 150,000 died in the civil war of ’46–’49.

After all this, Greece presented a picture of catastrophic destruction. 1,600 villages out a total of 6,500 razed to the ground; hundreds of thousands of families uprooted; industries, roads, railways and telecommunications completely destroyed.

Following the liberation, hundreds of thousands were left homeless. There was mass unemployment, hunger and malnutrition, uncontrollable inflation, and tortures and concentration camps from the “democratic” governments, plus the flight of 100,000 refugees to Eastern Block countries by the end of the civil war.

Despite its pro-fascist leanings, the dictatorship of Metaxas (1936–41) was forced in 1941 to reject the provocative ultimatum of Mussolini, who, despite Hitler’s advice, demanded the immediate surrender of Greece.

Heroic resistance

Mussolini hoped the occupation would be a walkover. However, the threat of fascism aroused the Greek people, who, despite their officers and because of their hatred of Metaxas, defeated Mussolini’s attack at the Albanian border. After a series of victories, they threatened to drive the Italian forces into the Adriatic Sea. Hitler was forced to intervene to save his ally from humiliating defeat.

Because of the Greek generals’ desertion, and the enormous military superiority of the German army, Greece was occupied in 1941, after fierce battles, which eventually forced the German general staff to delay their attack against the Soviet Union for three weeks.

Tens of thousands of heroic workers and peasants (men, women and children) built the resistance movement. They formed an 80,000-strong army (ELAS) from nothing with rank-and-file officers (the Capetani) who proved themselves in battle, and EAM, a popular movement of 1.5 million members, its youth section alone (EPON) numbering 150,000. By 1944 they had occupied all the countryside, and forced German high command to tie up nine divisions of 150,000 men in Greece.

The heroic resistance in the mountains was strengthened by mass mobilisations and strikes in the cities. In February 1943, a mass demonstration in Athens against plans to send Greek workers to labour camps in Germany overran the police, and forced the German army to intervene, killing 100 people.

EAM called a general strike for 5 March. 200,000 unarmed men and women, a quarter of Athens’ population fought for a whole day against tanks, machine guns and hand grenades. After killing dozens of soldiers and policemen with their bare hands, they forced them to retreat, and burned down the hated Ministry of Labour. Next day the German command announced that no Greek would be sent to labour camps. This victory was unique throughout occupied Europe.

As a result of these heroic struggles, when the German army evacuated Greece in October 1944, power rested in the hands of the armed fighters of ELAS. All the hopes of the workers and peasants could not be realised peacefully.

Following the defeat of the Greek army by Nazi Germany, the Greek bourgeois either fled with the king to comfortable exile in Cairo, along with the British forces, or collaborated with the Nazis against the Greek workers and resistance. Workers and peasants and the CP rank and file started the resistance as early as 1941.

The capitalists and the right wing officers were terrified of the consequences of a mass resistance movement, so they tried initially to discourage it as “premature” and “illegal”. After the first successes of EAM-ELAS, however, they began to set up some resistance groups (EKKA-EDES), with the guidance of the more far-sighted British ruling class, to try to check the rapidly expanding influence of EAM, and make sure that after the defeat of Germany they would have a strong military presence in the country, ready for use against ELAS.

These groups not only avoided engaging the Germans, they co-operated with the Greek collaborators and the German high command to ensure a ‘safe’ transfer of power to their hands. Nevertheless, despite enormous material support from the British Army, by 1944 they had minimal influence, and were tolerated by ELAS only because the Communist Party leaders insisted that the “democratic “ Allies should not be upset.

From 1945–49 to establish ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in Greece, the British and American imperialists assisted their Greek brothers in drowning EAM-ELAS in blood. The quickly rehabilitated collaborators with the Nazis. Together they executed and murdered tens of thousands of resistance fighters; tortured, raped and maimed over a hundred thousand more, and set up concentration camps.

“The Greek government”, writes an American reporter in 1949, “offered lucrative contracts to rich industrialists who had collaborated with the Germans. They bought from it the food parcels sent by UNRA for the starving children and sold them on the black market, making enormous profits.” (C.Tsoukalas: The Greek Tragedy)

The Minister of Merchant Navy gave 109 US liberty ships, part of the reparation aid programme, to 23 Greek Ship-owning families. It was estimated that in 1947 one thousand families (0.3% of the population) ‘earned’ half of the national income.

“Spheres of influence”

The tremendous heroism of the workers and peasants did not deter Stalin from selling out the Greek revolution to the imperialists in October 1944 in Moscow, when he accepted Churchill’s proposal that Britain and the USA retained a 90% ‘interest’ in Greece in return for 90% Russian influence in Rumania.

As a result, the leadership of the Communist Party, instead of consolidating the power it already controlled, gave it up to the capitalists. It joined a “national government of liberation”, accepted a few ministries, subordinated to ELAS to the British Gen. Scobie, and allowed the British expeditionary forces to land in Athens.

The CP leadership had learned nothing from the disastrous consequences of their policies in 1936, when they supported the liberal capitalists to “save democracy”. The liberals in turn had then handed over power to Metaxas.

Once more their attempt to complete the so-called “democratic revolution” led them to dampen down the socialist aspirations of the workers, and to look desperately to Churchill and Roosevelt as allies. That is why the CP, while holding power, asked initially for 50% of the ministries in a national government, was prepared to accept 25%, and in the end settled for none, provided it could stay legal. It also explains why the CP daily paper hailed Churchill as “a protagonist in the war for the liberation of the people”, on the very day of Scobie’s ultimatum ordering ELAS to evacuate Athens.

Despite their leaders, the resistance fighters would not accept defeat. After the December massacres, led by the collaborator police with the support of the “national” government, EAM-ELAS, with the assistance of thousands of women and children, fought against the invading British army, and re-occupied Athens, except for one square mile in the centre of the richer part of the city.

Instead of calling reinforcements, however, and arousing the people and taking over the cities, the CP leadership sent Gen. Sarafis (chief of staff of ELAS) and Aris Velouchiotis (the brilliant and heroic leader of the Capetani), and strong forces, on a “special” mission far away from Athens and Salonika. For a fortnight they restrained ELAS from taking over Athens, hoping for a compromise, until Scobie received reinforcements to drive the resistance army out of the city.

The British Ambassador in Athens, Sir R. Leeper, wrote:

“During the first days of battle British forces were outnumbered, and concentrated only in the central part of the city. If ELAS had shown greater resolution, and attacked the centre they would probably have succeeded.”

Bankrupt government

Even after 1946, in spite of the defeats and confusion, and the strengthening of reaction, a victory of EAM-ELAS would still have been possible. The Greek government was totally bankrupt in the eyes of the people. Chruchill had lost the elections. The British soldiers were exhausted by the war, demoralised by the crimes against the Greek people their only desire was to go home.

Nevertheless, the CP leaders and the USSR were using the sacrifices of EAM-ELAS not to take power, but to put pressure on the Greek capitalists and the Imperialists to accept them as junior partners in a parliamentary democracy, and accommodate Russia’s regional strategic interests.

When the Capetani and the fighters were told that their leaders had agreed that ELAS would give up its arms, and “go peacefully” to their homes, they gave up only old weapons, and hid the best to protect themselves.

And how right they were. The collaborators and the fascist gangs, with the support of the British army, began a massive bloody campaign against EAM-ELAS. From February 1945 until 1 March 1946, 1,300 people were murdered, 6,600 injured, 31,600 tortured, 18,800 imprisoned and 85,000 arrested.

As if this was not enough, CP leaders attacked and liquidated as Trotskyist or Titoist every ELAS officer or militant who disagreed with their criminal policies. Velouchiotis himself was denounced as a traitor, isolated and left to be murdered by fascist gangs. So it took two counter-revolutions to break the spirit and the stamina of the heroes of the resistance.

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