The Greek Civil War
Source: Fourth International, Volume VI, No. 2 (Whole No. 51)
Author: The Editors of Fourth International
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.
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. rhe 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 be 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 suservient, 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 Venizeks' "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 facade, the capitalists could 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 werq 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 Kondylis 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 prompty 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 an 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.
Hitler's "New Order" was a streamlined organization for the purpose of exploitating to the limit Europe's resources, economy and manpower for the benefit of the Nazi war machine. To the insoluble crisis that wracked Europe before the war was added the grinding exploitation of Nazi oppression. This exploitation became most unbearable at the perimeter of European economy, in those countries where capitalist industry was least developed, where slim peace-time reserves were soon exhausted by the demands of a total war. As a consequence the standard of living quickly plummeted into the abyss of starvation. The strain was greatest in the countries like Greece.
Grim starvation drove the Greek proletariat and peasantry to revolt against the German conqueror. The Gauleiters ruled by the bayonet and concentration camp. The Greek bourgeoisie collaborated with the Nazis from the very beginning, provided them with Quisling rulers, preserved "order" and ran the state apparatus with virtually the same personnel as under the Metaxas dictatorship. In return the German overlords gave them the compradores' reward, a share in the profits. As we have already demonstrated in the preceding section, the Greek bourgeoisie was collaborationist from the first hour that the proletariat became an independent force on the social arena. The German conquest merely required their adaptation to the new master.
The resistance movement in Greece rose to mass proportions without—and against—the bourgeoisie. The masses were no less hostile to Churchill's collaborationists in Cairo than to Hitler's Quislings in Athens. The decisive force in the resistance movement was the working class. This working class predominance is partially revealed in EAM's program for nationalization of the railroads, public utilities and banks. More significantly, EAM's methods of action are thoroughly proletarian in character. It was demonstrations and general strikes in Athens and Salonika that prevented the mobilization of slave labor to Germany, halted conscription for the German army and forced an increase in the bread rations. Behind the proletariat was ranged the vast majority of the toiling masses, poor peasants and ruined middle class. EPON, the EAM youth organization, according to Nation Correspondent Michael Clark, has an estimated membership of 500,000. The mutinies in Alexandria showed that the decisive section of the Greek navy and army supported the EAM. Anthony Eden credited EAM with the support of 75% of the Greek people; the London Times credited it with 90%. In addition, its organized military force, ELAS, probably far better armed than the Bolshevik Red Guard of 1917, was strong enough to put 25,000 armed men into action in Athens against the British "without stripping other regions under its control."
The Stalinists, who since the Russian revolution, have played the predominant role in Greek working class politics, easily emerged as the leader of the new mass movement. The old Venizelist Liberal Party, which in the past enjoyed widespread middle class support had split up. Its right wing had gone over to the monarchists, its left wing to the EAM. The Greek masses were burning with revolutionary determination and wished to prepare the overthrow of all their oppressors—Nazi and Greek. Instead of providing the mass movement with a revolutionary program, similar to the Bolshevik program of 1917, and preparing the masses for the seizure of power, the Stalinists steered the movement into the blind alley of People's Frontism. The Stalinists, who enjoyed virtual hegemony of the mass movement, joined with a lot of petty bourgeois politicians, lawyers, professors, who had neither mass following nor influence, and artificially worked to limit the struggle to the fight for capitalist democracy.
By their capitulation to the petty bourgeois democrats, the Stalinists as leaders of the proletariat subordinated the working class to the rule of the native big bourgeoisie in combination with imperialism. The middle class program of a democratic republic for Greece where trade unions would function freely, where the state machinery and its armed forces and police would be purged of Nazi collaborationists and the creatures of Metaxas, the nationalization of public utilities, railroads, etc., proved a utopian dream. The very threat of effecting such a program by EAM lead to civil war and British intervention. Frightened by the inexorable logic of the struggle—which could only triumph with the dictatorship of the proletariat—the Stalinists and petty bourgeois leaders sought an agreement with the reactionary bourgeois government in exile and through them with British imperialism.
The fall of Mussolini in July 1943, under the impact of great strikes and demonstrations, struck all of Europe like a series of electric shocks. Revolutionary ferment raced wildly through Italy and broke over its boundaries, especially into neighboring Greece where large detachments of the Italian Army were quartered for occupation purposes. The Italian troops, infected with the anti-war fever that gripped the population at home, began to fraternize with the Greek workers, exchanging arms for civilian clothes. The Nazis were forced to dispatch picked troops into Larissa to disarm the largest exclusively Italian garrison in Greece. A general strike broke out among the Greek workers. 300,000 Athenians, defying German machine guns, grenades and tanks, marched in demonstration. It lasted for hours, and when it was over 300 demonstrators had been murdered by Nazi guns and more than 100 wounded.
The flare-up of class warfare accompanied by demonstrations of international solidarity brought into sharp relief the treacherous character of the Stalinist-dominated leadership of the EAM. The EAM leaders, frightened by the revolutionary upsurge, soon dispatched a delegation to Cairo to persuade Tsouderos, the reactionary Premier of the King's Government-in-Exile, left over from the Metaxas regime, to set up a government of "National unity." They asked for only one concession: that King George issue a statement that he would not return to Greece until a plebiscite had been held. Tsouderos gave them a traitor's welcome. The delegation was placed under house arrest by the British authorities, held incommunicado, and then sent back to Greece under the most humiliating circumstances.
The Greek armed forces, stationed in Egypt, were bitterly anti-monarchist. Eight months before, the King called upon the British to disarm the Greek Brigade in the Middle East. The British imperialists, alarmed by the developments in the Greek mainland, now launched their counter-revolutionary terror. A mutiny was quelled on the destroyer Ierax, and five sailors were sentenced to death. The army was drastically purged. A Nation correspondent described the events that followed:
"Hundreds of other persons, not only army men but civilians, were arrested... People disappeared without a warrant having been issued, without any specific charge having been issued, and without notification to their families. The Greek military headquarters in Cairo were occupied by force. The offices of the Greek government were placed under British supervision. The editor of the newspaper Helm and the director of the Hellenic League of Liberation and the Seamen's Association of Alexandria were arrested."
The Greek soldiers and sailors fought back. Resisting "the efforts of the Cairo government to impose the most notorious fascist officers" upon them, (statement of Greek Maritime Union) the Greek Brigade stationed near Alexandria mutinied. The mutiny soon spread to the Greek warships lying in the naval base; the sailors formed ship committees and took charge of the vessels. On the invitation of the King's Government, with which the Stalinists had sought collaboration the month previous, the British High Command moved against the rebellious forces.
Churchill reported to the House of Commons the brutal intervention of British imperialism: "The Greek brigade was encircled by British forces some 30 miles from Alexandria and Greek ships which mutinied in Alexandria harbor were lying under the guns of both shore batteries and our superior naval forces which had gathered. The tension lasted nearly three weeks… The disorderly ships were boarded by Greeks under the Greek government, and, with about fifty killed and wounded, the mutineers were collected and sent ashore. The mutinous brigade in the desert was assaulted by superior British forces which captured the eminences surrounding the camp, and 4,000 men there surrendered."
The Greek Maritime Union appealed to the British workers to cease granting any help or recognition to the self- appointed Greek government in Cairo, under whose repressive fist "thousands of Greek civilians, officers, soldiers, and sailors are today confined in concentration camps for the sole crime of being anti-fascists."
First to flout the appeal of the Greek seamen were the Stalinist-EAM leaders themselves. Over the still fresh graves of the martyred sailors, not more than three weeks after the mutiny had been subdued, they again addressed themselves to the Cairo butchers for a coalition. Venizelos, (son of the famous Greek leader) who succeeded Tsouderos, had been toppled by the mutiny and George Papandreou, a Social Democrat, became the King's first minister. (Papandreou had been brought out of Athens on the recommendation of the notorious Rex Leeper, British ambassador, after he had delivered a memorandum to British agents on how to destroy the EAM.) In line with the new "Teheran" revelation, the Stalinists reversed their previous position on the monarchy and agreed to serve in a "Pan-Hellenic" coalition under the King. This agreement was embodied in the Lebanon Charter signed in May.
Just as in Italy the Stalinists had rescued Badoglio when he and the House of Savoy were about to crash into limbo, so in Greece they propped up Papandreou and the House of Glucksburg. No wonder the Beirut (Lebanon) conference sent a message to Churchill thanking him for "his interest in Greece and its future." In the heat of the class struggle all fictions are burned away. The Stalinists could not bolster up the Greek puppet without publicly approving the British master behind him. Churchill, his hands still red with the blood of Greek soldiers and sailors, smirked in the House of Commons that he had received a "very agreeable letter" from the Stalinists.
It was precisely at this point that the masses intervened to block fulfillment of the sell-out agreement and keep it a dead letter for more than three months. Papandreou accused the Stalinists of violating the Lebanon Charter and threatened to outlaw EAM-ELAS. But popular indignation at the murder and imprisonment of the soldier and sailor rebels was running too high for the Stalinists to act rapidly. The Cairo court martial was still grinding out death sentences and long prison terms for the mutineers. The masses wanted amnesty for the convicted, not coalition with the jailers and executioners. In July 1944 the London Sunday Observer reported that EAM leaders "are quite ready to enter the government. But they have hesitated to take this step without the full approval from those they represent lest this should further split the resistance movement and bring about civil strife in Greece… The main obstacle to complete unity is the intransigent attitude adopted by certain EAM leaders of secondary rank."
Here is the key to an understanding of events in Greece. A great gulf separates the insurgent masses from their treacherous Stalinist leaders. Yet so long as the Stalinists remain at the helm they cannot escape the revolutionary pressure of the workers and peasants who hate the king and will never peacefully countenance his return, who are determined to purge Greece not only of the German collaborationists but of all the satraps of the Metaxas dictatorship, and who instinctively are striving towards a socialist solution. This indomitable pressure delayed for months the consummation of the Stalinist betrayals and forced the Stalinist leaders to withdraw agreements previously made.
The EAM was finally able, after three months of internal struggle, to send five representatives out of the mountains to sit in the Papandreou cabinet. To palliate the distrustful masses, EAM announced a program which included nationalization of the railroads and public utilities that constituted surety for the 400,000,000 national debt held by British bankers.
The entry of EAM representatives into the Papandreou Cabinet gave Churchill a tremendous advantage. It was a victory for reaction. The heretofore thoroughly discredited Cairo government was for the first time provided with a semblance of popular support. Behind the facade of "unity," the Greek capitalists and British imperialists could intrigue with greater confidence for the disarming of the masses. This became the decisive question and only its decision could resolve the issue of power. The People's Front, whose aim is to sidetrack the masses from the highroad of socialist revolution onto the detour of capitalism must inevitably capitulate to the disarming of the masses. Under Stalinist leadership this capitulation occurs rather sooner than later. The problem was particularly acute in Greece because the regular army, shot through and through with revolutionary moods, was unreliable and had to be violently disbanded. Only the forces under Zervas, commander of EDES, plus two remaining Royalist detachments in Egypt and the despised Security Battalions (the "Cossacks" who had maintained "order" under Metaxas and the Nazis) could be counted on.
As far back as December 1943 Eden Proclaimed in Parliament that the British government would send arms only to General Zervas. By the end of September 1944 the question of power could no longer be postponed. The Germans were withdrawing from Greece with Partisan bullets hastening their retreat. The Greek people began taking over. ELAS levied taxes on the rich and distributed food stocks to the famine-stricken people. Politophilaki, the ELAS police force, took charge of law enforcement arresting collaborationists, Metaxas agents and Black Market racketeers.
Churchill had anticipated this situation and subsequently he revealed in a speech to the House of Commons that he had previously obtained the agreement of Stalin and Roosevelt to install the Greek Monarchist Government on the peninsula with British troops.
The Greek Government towards the end of September, now residing at Caserta, Italy, called upon the Allies to occupy Greece. The EAM representatives dissented but remained in the government. Thus the Stalinists, by remaining in the government, permitted their prestige to be used as a cover for the conspiracy that was being prepared against the Greek people.
The betrayal of the Stalinists takes on huge proportions when we consider that the situation was revolutionary and power was within the grasp of the Greek workers. But the Stalinist leaders dreaded workers' power just as much as Churchill. Poulos, Nation correspondent, wrote from Greece:
"The EAM could have seized the power. They had plenty of time to do it between the German withdrawal and the British arrival." Why didn't they? Poulos answers: "The... major reason was Teheran."
The counter-revolutionary conspiracy was no secret — except to the masses. On August 21, Papandreou met with Churchill. He refused to produce the minutes of this conversation when he reported to the cabinet. An official statement declared ominously that they had "reviewed every aspect of the Greek situation and found themselves in complete agreement." A month later, the Stalinist leaders became full-fledged participants in the organization of the British imperialist-monarchist conspiracy. On September 27 General Saraphis, Commander of the ELAS had a conference in Caserta with Zervas and the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces and signed a secret agreement. Here are the terms, finally made public by Anthony Eden on December 20 in the House of Commons:
"1. All guerrilla forces operating in Greece place themselves under the orders of the Greek Government of National Unity. The Greek Government places these forces under the orders of General Scobie, who had been nominated by the Supreme Allied Command as the general officer commanding in Greece. 2. In accordance with a proclamation issued by the Greek Government, the guerrilla leaders declare they will forbid any attempt by any units under their command to take the law into their own hands. Such action will be treated as a crime and punished accordingly. 3. In Athens no action is to be taken except under orders of General Scobie. Security battalions are considered instruments of the enemy unless they surrender. 4. All Greek guerrilla forces, in order to put an end to past rivalries, declare they will form a national union to coordinate their activities in the interests of the common struggle."
Thus the stage was set for the occupation of Greece by British troops and the imposition of the Monarchy. Not only did the EAM leaders fail to warn the people and to organize them against this sinister invasion—they facilitated the invasion. When the British troops came ashore in the first days of October, the deceived and hungry populace gave them a lavish welcome. And for a time the British fostered the deception by bringing in 'food on relief ships at the rate of 2500 tons a day. But this miserly gesture only sharpened the edge of discontent. The supplies fell into the hands of Black Market profiteers who sold them at astronomical inflationary prices. Longshoremen at Piraeus, the Athens harbor, struck for greater allotments of food. Women and children marched in the streets with placards: "Bread for the People!"
While the workers were spontaneously taking the road of action, EAM leaders were busy negotiating for the disarming of ELAS. An agreement was signed with Papandreou that both ELAS and EDES would disarm and be superceded by a National Guard. Scobie, feeling very much in the saddle, set December 10 as the deadline for turning in all arms to the police. It appeared as if the counter-revolution would triumph without a struggle. Poulos, Nation correspondent, vividly describes the situation in Athens at this time:
"Thousands of traitors and quislings were permitted to roam freely around Athens. No collaborators were called to trial or punished by the government. Royalist organizations were secretly armed. Members of the Nazi-organized Security Battalions were spirited out of prison and armed. Wild stories of red terrorism were fed to the local and foreign press. High officials of the various ministries who had faithfully served the Nazi and quisling government were kept at their posts. No attempt was made to purge the police and national guard, both of which had worked for the Gestapo. When the Tinder-Secretary of War, on November 24, appointed fourteen officers to organize a new national guard, eight of them were former officers of the Security Battalions. The Mountain Brigade was withdrawn from Italy and brought to Athens. More British troops kept landing in Greece. And long after the last German had left the Greek mainland British tanks rumbled along the streets of Athens."
By now the masses were thoroughly alarmed. Under their angry pressure the EAM leaders were forced to tear up the October 18 agreement. Again negotiations began. Another agreement was reached. This time ELAS' disarming would be contingent on the disarming of the Metaxas-Nazi police force, the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion in addition to EDES.
"Thereupon, Rex Leeper, British Ambassador," the December 8 British Tribune reports, "informed Papandreou that His Majesty's Government would not allow the demobilization of…the Sacred Battalion and the Mountain Brigade. These two, Leeper said, were incorporated in the British forces and consequently outside the authority of the Greek Government. Also, His Majesty's Government were of the opinion that these were the only reliable troops available to protect the Greek Government against a possible coup d'etat."
The British methodically and cold-bloodedly gathered together their military forces. By November 28 they were ready to act. ELAS General Saraphis was ordered on that day to carry out the Caserta agreement and sign an order disbanding ELAS. He dared not agree, he said, because "his people would think he had signed under Allied pressure. He said he would rather go back to the mountains and discuss it with his people."
On November 29 Scobie's headquarters absorbed the Military Liason, in charge of distribution of food supplies, and UNRRA came under British control.
On November 30 RAF planes dropped leaflets all over Greece announcing that EDES and ELAS must demobilize between December 10 and December 20. No mention was made of the gendarmerie, the Mountain Brigade or the Sacred Battalion.
On December 1st Scobie threatened the people with starvation unless they submitted. His proclamation read: "I stand firm behind the present constitutional government until the Greek State can be established with a legal armed force behind it and free elections can be held. Unless we all succeed together in this, currency will not remain stable and the people will not be fed." (Scobie underscored the "nots".)
Only now, faced with this declaration of war, did the EAM leaders resign from the government. They could no longer participate with impunity. Thus had they betrayed the revolutionary masses step by step. And when the inevitable civil war finally burst forth, despite Stalinist treachery and cowardice, it took place under the most advantageous circumstances for the counter-revolution.
Churchill had given Scobie precise, cold-blooded instructions: "When shooting begins, said Churchill, he expects ELAS will put women and children in the first line. Scobie was instructed to be clever and avoid any error. Scobie was instructed not to hesitate to open fire on any armed male who assails authority of British or of Greeks collaborating with them. Scobie's forces should be augmented by forces of the Greek Government. British Ambassador is advising Papandreou not to hesitate.
"Scobie should act as if confronted by local rebellion and should teach ELAS a lesson, making it impossible that others will behave along these lines, and that British must keep and dominate Athens. It would be splendid if Scobie could accomplish this without bloodshed, but said he should do whatever he has to. (Signed) Kirk."
This report was transmitted on December 5 to the U. S. Ambassador in Italy and made public by Drew Pearson on December II. It has never been denied.
The provocation was organized and the Stalinists stepped right into the trap, or rather they led the unarmed workers, and their wives and children, into the trap. Permission for a demonstration had been granted by the Government for December 3. On the night of December 2, the permit was cancelled. It was too late to warn the workers, who poured into the streets. Without warning, government police from ambush opened a murderous fire on the demonstrators with machine guns, tommy guns, mortars and light anti-tank guns. British armored cars stood by for action during the massacre. When the "wild and savage" firing ceased 23 dead lay in the streets. More than 150 were wounded. Most of the victims were boys and girls under 18.
Now the counter-revolution went to work in deadly earnest. Martial law was declared. General Katsotas, acting Military Governor of Athens issued an ultimatum giving armed formations 72 hours to quit the city or be treated as enemies. Court martials were set up. Workers were being forcibly disarmed.
But the masses, now thoroughly aroused, began fighting back. They could no longer be confined to the role of helpless spectators and victims. Defying martial law, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Athens waving the blood-stained banners of yesterday and shouted: "Down with the Government!" For a quarter of a mile outside Athens cathedral people knelt in homage to the martyrs. When they arose they shouted: "Revenge! Revenge!
Down with Papandreou !" On December 5 when word spread that police had killed four more civilians, the cry changed to "Death to Papandreou!" Strikes broke out in the harbor the day after the massacre and spread throughout the city. EAM was forced to recognize the accomplished fact and declare a general strike. A demonstration was held before the British Embassy with signs: "British Soldiers! Let us choose our own government!"
Feeling their strength, the workers were now determined to finish once and for all with their oppressors. Dockworkers in Piraeus paraded armed with clubs, knives and a few guns. Machine gun nests were set up at some points. ELAS seized two police barracks in the harbor town. Meanwhile partisans poured into Athens seizing 21 out of 28 police stations. Hundreds of other armed workers battled British and government troops for possession of key government buildings.
When the first round of fighting was over, although the British had brought tanks and Spitfires into action, the workers' detachments were in control of all of the city (and the country too) with the exception of three square miles in the center of Athens. Papandreou and his cabinet fled from the government offices and took refuge in the Gran Bretagne Hotel guarded by British tanks. He proclaimed a government "crisis" and resigned. The power was in the streets with the workers of Athens.
But no revolutionary workers' government was established in its place? Why? The workers had displayed magnficent courage, superb heroism and a genius for organization. But tragically, their leaders were not revolutionary fighters but cynical counter-revolutionary Stalinist adventurers. They headed the revolutionary masses only to behead the struggle. These unspeakable wretches were preparing to betray the struggle on the very day the fighting broke out. On December 4 the C.P. paper, Rizospastis, proposed that a Regency be instituted. The Stalinists offered to enter a new government which included "all parties" (including the murderer Papandreou). At this point Churchill stepped in and ordered Papandreou to stop thinking he needed to represent anyone but the British Empire, and get back in the Premiership.
After another week of fighting EAM agreed to give full powers to a Regent and to disarm under the direction of a new "national unity" government. But Scobie was in no hurry. He was only beginning to make headway against ELAS in Athens. So he stalled for time. First he demanded ELAS disarm before a new government was set up. Then he had Papandreou cable the King to ascertain his opinion on the Regency. Papandreou himself changed his mind three times on the question. Finally King George of Glucksberg insisted that EAM be left out of the cabinet. Churchill supported his stand. Meanwhile, British warships were shelling the workers' district in Athens.
After almost a month of fighting, ELAS remained in control of all Greece, with the exception of sections of Athens. 20,000 ELAS troops attacked the White Guard forces of General Zervas in Epirus and wiped them off the map. The vast majority of EDES deserted to ELAS and the remaining few Royalist troops were evacuated by the British. Indian colonial troops sent against ELAS went over to their side. Faced with the prospect of a long drawn-out civil war whose outcome could not be predicted, and the rising indignation of the British working class, Churchill decided to sheath his claws and make peace with EAM.
The Stalinists on their side were only too anxious for "peace"—at the expense of the workers. Each week the struggle continued could only further expose them and prepare the way for their elimination in favor of a genuine revolutionary leadership. Their new "peace" offer was again an offer of capitulation: ELAS would withdraw from Athens provided Papandreou's troops would likewise be withdrawn, the gendarmerie to be placed on reserve and Nazi collaborators purged; British troops would be employed as specified by the infamous Caserta agreement cited above.
On December 25, Churchill and Eden arrived in Greece and concluded an ageement to have the King appoint a regent as requested by the EAM heads and settle other questions under his supervision. Emboldened by Stalinist treachery and cravenness, reaction resumed its political offensive. Even while the conference was meeting, regent-to-be Archbishop Damaskinos called on the working class fighters to lay down their arms. Scobie reaffirmed his ultimatum that ELAS withdraw from Attica, hand in its arms and disband. On January 2 General Plastiras took office as Premier, appointed by the new regent. Since his arrival he continually denounced the ELAS and called on them to disarm.
Who is Plastiras? The British Tribune describes him as the commander of the Greek contingents that invaded Soviet Ukraine in 1919. More recently: "He lived unmolested in France during the German occupation. At the height of the German success in the summer of 1941 Plastiras was negotiating with the Germans to reach an agreement with them similar to that which he has now with the British. He took up contact with two of Abetz's agents: the S.S. General Thomas, and the S.S. Leader Roland Nosek, but the negotiations broke down when Plastiras' faith in the Germans was shattered by their reverses in the winter of 1941." This congenital Quisling is now being groomed for the role of a Greek Franco.
And despite British crimes against the Greek people, the Stalinist secretary of EAM Dimitri Partsalides kissed Churchill's feet declaring that he "wished to express the Greek people's feelings on behalf of the EAM for the efforts of Mr. Churchill, the Prime Minister of our great ally, England, in coming to Athens."
Thus was Churchill enabled to return to parliament and take the offensive against his critics. He hypocritically disavowed any intention of Great Britain to intervene in the internal affairs of Greece. Then he denounced ELAS as "Trotskyist…a name that is equally hated in Russia." With this one winged phrase he showed he had far more understanding of the Greek situation than all the stupid scribblers of the New Leader. At one stroke he revealed what had already become abundantly obvious. First, that Stalin had no independent territorial aims in Greece. This was confirmed even more directly by Bevin when he told the Labor Party Conference that Stalin had agreed at Teheran to Greece becoming a British sphere of influence in return for Rumania, Bulgaria and other Balkan territory as Russian spheres. Second: That Stalin was no less the enemy of the revolutionary Greek masses than was Churchill; that Stalin had not only abandoned the Greek workers to the onslaughts of the counter-revolution organized by British imperialism, (during the entire course of the struggle Stalin did not pronounce even one syllable that might be construed as support of the Greek masses) but he gave Churchill his full support. "These matters," Churchill said, "were first discussed at Teheran." Third: That the Stalinist leadership could not always control the mass struggles which often took on a revolutionary character.
ELAS is "Trotskyist" in one sense only—in the revolutionary instincts of its indomitable fighters, in their great capacity for struggle and sacrifice. But its program and leadership has no resemblance to "Trotskyism." Churchill forgets that during the real "Trotskyist" revolution, he never in his wildest dreams conceived of going to Moscow to secure the agreement of the Bolsheviks to set up the white guard Baron Wrangel as regent for the Czar while the Red Army quietly surrendered its arms. How could he? The Bolsheviks had shot the Czar, declared war to the death on Wrangel, demobilized the British troops sent in to aid Wrangel. By fraternization and direct appeal to international solidarity, the Bolsheviks had spurred the British workers to threaten a general strike against the government if the British imperialists did not keep hands off the Russian Revolution.
Under the terms of a truce arrangement signed by the Stalinist leaders on January 11, ELAS was to withdraw from the Athens area on January 15 but not lay down their arms. But days before the truce was to go into effect Plastiras was appealing to ELAS to lay down their arms. Scobie's forces were mopping up in Athens and pursuing ELAS troops for 90 miles outside the capital. Warrants were being sworn out for the arrest of the "leaders of the rebellion." On January 14 the Plastiras cabinet announced that 25 three-judge committees would soon begin receiving cases of persons arrested in order to try all who had borne arms against the state. The Greek military governor of Athens proclaimed Draconian measures virtually equivalent to martial law. Damaskinos became "profoundly shocked" that ELAS retained hostages (a defensive measure against hostages seized by the counterrevolution). Plastiras announced he was not bound by the truce agreement since he was not a signatory to it. Meanwhile the Royalist scum, despite the Military orders, was permitted to demonstrate in Athens shouting slogans against Communism, for Scobie, Churchill, and Roosevelt. The climate looked good to the Greek King and he cabled his friends in Athens that the Regency was only temporary and he would soon return. For the workers it looked like the beginning of a terrible white terror.
Then for an entire month an unprecedented campaign of vilification, led and inspired by Churchill himself, was conducted from the rostrum of the House of Commons and into the world press, against ELAS. The most harrowing atrocity stories of fiendish ELAS acts were invented, tales that parallel and sometimes leave in the pale the lies invented about the Paris Communards by Churchill's ancestors and by Churchill himself against the Russian Revolution. And the "labor" scoundrel, Sir Walter Citrine, lent the authority of the British trade union movement to Churchill's calumnies by returning from Greece with "evidence" manufactured undoubtedly by the unspeakable Rex Leeper. All these slanders have a familiar ring: they are the "moral" screen behind which the counter-revolution perpetrates its hellish deeds.
The Stalinist EAM leaders are now concluding their "Peace agreement" with Plastiras and British imperialism: ELAS is to disarm by March 15, but the Mountain Brigade, the Sacred Battalions and Metaxas' gendarmerie remain. A Christian Science Monitor reporter correctly observes: "There is no doubt the agreement leaves EAM in a generally weakened position when compared with that it held prior to the revolt."
The Greek masses suffered a definite setback in this first armed encounter with the forces of the counter-revolution. As this analysis makes clear, not primarily because of Britain's superior armed might, but because of the duplicity and criminal treachery of the Stalinist leadership. The Greek workers will now absorb the political lessons of this betrayal and prepare for the next stage of the struggle. The glorious chapter that the Greek masses have already written in the annals of working class struggle will forever remain a shining inspiration to revolutionary fighters everywhere.
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 malefactors. 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 superprofits 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.
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.
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 counter-revolutionary 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 bourgeosie. 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 1936 in Spain paved the way for Franco. 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.
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 counterpose 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 October 1917 revolution, the program of socialist revolution, working class internationalism and the fraternal collaboration of the European peoples under the aegis of the Socialist 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, well-being and freedom.