The Greek Civil War
Date: March 25, 1950
Source: World News and Views, Vol. 29, No. 44
Author: Theodore Doganis
Transcribed/HTML: Mike B. for MIA, 2005
Proofread by: H. Antonn
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
"Standing there an hour alone I dreamt that Greece might once be free." — Byron.
IT IS ONE of the bitterest ironies of capitalist society that today (March 25) resplendent celebrations of Independence Day are taking place in Athens when in fact Greece lost her independence to the British and the United States long ago. Indeed, the tragic fate which has befallen the Greek people since their successful uprising against Turkey in 1821 is one of the most instructive examples of how reactionary and capitalist powers subjugated Greece, economically and politically, whilst purporting to be the guarantors of Greek independence.
For seven years (1821-28) the Greeks fought alone against the mighty Ottoman Empire. The then potentates of the world—the Holy Alliance—were deeply disturbed at this first national revolution in South-Eastern Europe lest it spread to other Balkan countries, at a time when the flame of the French Revolution was still burning in the souls of the European peoples. It was primarily this fear, and also the strong pressure exerted by the progressive forces of Europe at that time for assistance to be given to the gallant Greeks, which compelled the Governments of Britain, France and Tsarist Russia to intervene and put an end to the fighting. They compelled Turkey to accept that the Southern part of Greece should become an independent country. What sort of "independence" the three protecting powers had in store for their protege it did not take long for the Greeks to experience and on their own backs.
When the Greeks had taken up arms against their Turkish tyrants they did so not only because they wanted to liberate their country from them, but also because they wanted to smash the chains of feudalism. They wanted to see the large estates of the Turkish landlords (and also of the few Greeks who, with Turkish tolerance, owned such estates) distributed among the Greek peasantry. Thus the struggle for national liberation was at the same time a social struggle. But already, whilst the Greeks had been engaged in fighting the Turks, new foreign masters were appearing on the scene; the British capitalists were moving into devastated and hungry Greece—to stay. They made their first bid through the loan of £800,000 made to the fighting and bleeding Greeks in 1823. Only £308,000 ever reached Greece. The £500,000 odd were extracted beforehand by the British bankers as interest and expenses…Two years later, when the struggle in Greece was desperate, the second British loan followed. Its nominal value was £2 million. But Greece actually received only £816,000, and out of this sum again only £232,000 ever reached the country. £584,000 was squandered in buying vessels which never arrived. The British money-lenders had, in fact, swallowed nine- tenths of this loan. These first two loans constituted the bond which ultimately chained Greece completely to British capitalism.
Together with the economic went the political subjugation of the country. Without the Greek people even being asked, the three "protecting powers" (Britain, 'France and Russia) stipulated in the London Protocol of May 7, 1832, that Greece should be an "independent monarchy under the guarantee of the Powers". They then imported a Bavarian prince into Greece whom they installed as King Otto I. The new King, before setting foot on Greek soil, had solemnly promised to govern constitutionally. Naturally he lied. Among his first acts was the abolition of all—even the most elementary—civil liberties, setting up an absolute monarchy par excellence. He brought with him a Bavarian army—the Greeks called them locusts—to keep "law and order". The people, starving and in rags, awaited the distribution of the lands of the Turks who had left. Instead the lands were declared "national", i.e. King's property. Meanwhile, the numerically small Greek bourgeoisie, which had taken an active part in the organisation of the national revolution against the Turks, came to terms with the few Greek land-owners who had collaborated with the Turkish masters and with the foreign capitalists who were now making themselves the virtual masters of the country.
To the people's demand for land and freedom the King's reply was the dispatch of his Bavarian "soldateska" to the provinces to put down revolts, which were breaking out everywhere, by fire and lead. Meanwhile the foreign bankers were exploiting the new "independent" and "protected" Greek State in a way which would have made Shylock appear to be a generous donor. When King Otto arrived in Greece, they granted a loan of 64,000,000 gold francs, out of which 33,000,000 francs were extracted right away for expenses and payments to various agents. Greece had to pay for this loan 6,300,000 gold francs yearly in interest and amortisation out of a State budget of 13,000,000 francs altogether. A hundred years later, in 1933, Greece was still paying back this loan, still "owing" 37,000,000 francs, although the initial amount had already been repaid several times over.
The first monarchy in Greece lasted for thirty years (1833-62). Throughout its duration not a year passed without some minor or major revolt of the people. In 1843 they surrounded the palace in Athens and compelled the foreign king to grant a constitution. Henceforward and until 1862, when the people chased him away for good, the King tried by hook or by crook to violate and annul in practice the constitution which he had unwillingly granted.
It was during this period that the tottering monarchy resorted to a diabolical method of deceiving the people and pushing them into expansionist adventures whenever its misrule was about to meet the people's challenge. This invention was "THE GREAT IDEA" and was based on the nation's ardent desire to see those parts of Greece still under the Turkish yoke liberated and united with the small portion which had been freed from the Turks in 1828. The monarchy magnified this legitimate aspiration of the people into a fantastic chauvinistic mirage. It propagated that Greece was direct heir to the Byzantine Empire (conquered by the Turks 450 years before); that now this Empire would be resurrected; that Greeks would follow the paths of Alexander the Great and that the King of Greece would enter Constantinople in triumph. It was easy for the people, politically immature and with a corrupt political leadership, to be taken in by "THE GREAT IDEA" and be led into one catastrophic war after another by their unscrupulous monarchy. The Greek historian and politician, N. Dragoumis, wrote:
"Because dissatisfaction with the rulers was general and the Government was constantly in fear of revolts, "The Great Idea" was propagated in order to electrify the people and turn their attention from the internal problems to the external grandeur of the Fatherland."
When in 1862 Otto was exiled, the monarchy was already so discredited and hated by the people that many progressive Greeks wanted a democratic solution. But Greek reaction and the "protecting" powers, especially Britain, would not dream of allowing such a dangerous development. The British Royal Household at once started a hasty search among the various unemployed princes of Europe to find one who would agree to become His Britannic Majesty's King of Greece. The Royal House of Denmark, having great experience in the business, provided the desired specimen. It was Prince Christian Glucksburg, son of the Danish King. He agreed to become King of Greece under the name of King George I, after he had been given a pledge that he would receive £12,000 per annum for life. He, for his part, promised to do nothing embarrassing to British policy, which was to prevent the collapse of the corrupt and disintegrating Turkish Empire, since it was through Turkey that Britain was trying to stop Russia reaching the Mediterranean.
The Greeks, therefore, had to be kept docile and powerless. They had to be prevented from trying to liberate their eight million brothers still under the Turkish yoke.
To achieve this end Lord Palmerston, as British Prime Minister, proclaimed at about the same time (1863): "The only thing Greece needs is an effective police." (The present Prime Minister is of the same opinion and that is why he keeps a British Police Mission in Greece.)
Thus the new monarchy of the Glucksburgs stepped into the shoes of Otto. Repression and corruption were the means by which the people were kept in submission. Whenever, under the Glucksburgs, things reached breaking point inside the country "THE GREAT IDEA" was pulled out of the drawer by the King. A sham war, costing the people lives and money, would be unleashed against Turkey. Then, as pre-arranged, the Great Powers "intervened", the British Navy would appear in Greek waters and the sham war would be called off. This happened in 1868, 1878 and 1897.
The military defeat and betrayal in 1897 infuriated the people so much that the three "protecting Powers" found it necessary to despatch their naval squadrons to Piraeus to protect their royal puppet. In order to arouse some sympathy for the monarchy the Palace organised a sham attempt on the life of the King, in which a shot was fired but deliberately missed.
Meanwhile further strangling loans were being granted to Greece, usually by British bankers. By 1879 out of a total budget of 45,000,000 drachmas 17,000,000 were paid as interest and amortisation on the foreign debt. In 1881 the foreign Shylocks were extracting 49 per cent of the budget and in 1893 the State went bankrupt. It could no longer carry the crushing load of foreign debt. The money-lenders and their governments then imposed on the country the International Economic Control Committee. Before the Second World War 35 per cent of the State budget was being spent on paying the foreign debt, more than twice as much as any other European country was using for such a purpose. And 55 per cent of this foreign debt was owing to British creditors.
It is therefore quite obvious why, apart from all other reasons, the British Government—whether under Tory, Liberal or Labour labels—has, with ruthless persistence, supported monarchy and reaction in Greece. The monarchy was, and is, a plague on the Greek people, but it was, and is, a blessing for British money-lenders.
In 1936 the monarchy, scared by the rapid growth of the influence of the Communist Party among the Greek masses, clamped on the country a fascist dictatorship. But this, too, was done with the benevolent connivance of the British Government. Indeed, the dictatorship, apart from fighting Communism by Hitler's methods, was the best possible protector of British capitalist interests in Greece. After the people of Greece, led by the Communist Party, had cleared the country of the German invaders, the British Government started war on them again in December 1944. Together with the City it feared that the Greeks might be liberated after all and become, for the first time, a really independent nation.
Therefore, by British arms, the corrupt monarchy and a bogus "Parliamentary regime" were restored, and the oppression of the Greek people in the fascist manner began all over again.
But this time the British imperialists did not have their former strength. So, having restored the monarchy and a disguised form of fascism, they were obliged to hand over the financial responsibility to the United States, while still keeping British troops, a Military Mission and Police Mission in Greece to safeguard the country for the introduction of the American way of life.
The Greek people, who fought for liberation for 400 years against the Turks, and have consistently fought for their real freedom against monarchs and dictators, Italians and Germans, will continue the fight for their national liberation against their present Anglo- American masters, and ultimately win.
Of all the peoples in the world the British people have a supreme duty to aid the Greek people in their struggle for real independence. For, since the Turks were driven out, it has been the British ruling class, more than any other, which has borne responsibility for the continued enslavement of the Greek people.