From the Greek Trotskyist paper Socialist Change, 1983

Interview with General Markos Vafiades, former Leader of ELAS.

The recent return from exile of General Markos Vafiades has revived memories of the role of the Communist Party in the Greek revolution and added new historical information of this brutal betrayal of the Greek working class at the end of World War II.

Markos, 77, is home in Athens after an amnesty declared by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. The former commander of the Communist Party forces in the 1946-1949 civil war returned from the Soviet Union in March 1983 after 35 years in exile. He spent most of his time as a watchmaker in the Ural mountains.

Markos is a contemporary legend in the Greek workers movement. During the fascist occupation of Greece (1941-1944) he was the chief of ELAS, the Greek Popular Liberation Army in the north of Greece. He was commander of the Democratic Army of Greece and president of the Provisional Democratic Government, the 'government of the mountains', set up to fight for Greek independence after the war.

In interviews, Markos has made no attempt to conceal the errors and mistakes made by the Communist Party leadership during the civil war. He admits that the agreement made between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in 1944 sealed the fate of the revolution. The secret deal gave Greece over to the imperialists' 'sphere of influence' and in return Stalin got Bulgaria and Rumania, he said.

On the instructions of the party leader Nicos Zachariades, the general was ordered to abandon his successful guerrilla tactics and to use conventional warfare methods. The result was disastrous. The liberation army finally collapsed in 1949 after Tito broke with Moscow and closed his country's borders to the guerrillas who had relied on sanctuary there and in Albania and Bulgaria.

Markos remains bitter about his departure from Greece. 'Perhaps the hardest thing was to leave Greece in disgrace, charged with being an agent for British intelligence and Tito.' He was expelled from the party and kept under house arrest in the Albanian capital from where he issued an appeal to Stalin. He was transferred to Moscow and was rehabilitated after the death of Stalin in 1953.

The Sixth CPG Congress which brought him back into the fold excluded Zachariades who had been hand-picked for the post of general secretary by Stalin himself. But two years after his re-admission, Markos was again in political disagreement with the party and expelled a second time. At the instigation of the CPG leadership, the Soviet authorities exiled him to the provincial town of Mensa in the Urals, far from the other Greek political refugees.

Back in Greece, Markos has embarrassed party hacks by saying that the revolution could have been won. He has criticised the party leadership for not fighting for power and for failing to collaborate with the partisan movement in Yugoslavia and, instead, preferring to collaborate with the British Middle East Headquarters.

When the civil war was coming to a head, the Stalinist leadership issued the order: 'We do not aim at an armed struggle', and sought a treacherous compromise.

Markos became a member of the CPG's Political Committee in 1946. Under party instruction he led an attack on 3 police stations in the provincial town of Litohoro. The military action caused an uproar, as it was designed to.

It was a diversion by the Stalinist leadership which had called for abstention in the elections. But instead of calling for a revolutionary struggle for the conquest of power, the party tried to reach a compromise with the bourgeoisie and to negotiate for some ministries, as they had done from October to December 1944.

The attack on Litohoro is generally regarded at the starting point of the second round of the guerrilla war. In reality, since the surrender of the army in February 1945 after the Varkiza and Yalta agreements the activities of the various guerrilla groups had never stopped.

In this interview General Markos speaks about the armed struggle, its defeat and the Stalinist policies which were responsible.

In this interview, Markos criticised Communist Party leadership's decision to accept the appointment of British General Scobie as commander-in-chief of the guerrilla forces. He says the party surrendered the arms of the guerrilla troops, including 75,000 rifles, mortars and cannons to the British army and the bourgeois government of Prime Minister George Papandreou, father of the present Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou.

Q. In retrospect, can you tell me whether the first and second rounds of the guerrilla war could have been victorious and under what conditions?

A. The first round was victorious. In practice. that is, it was victorious, although we, as a party and as a national liberation movement, did not raise the question of power clearly and in a programmatic way.

However, the people, through self-government etc., had created the structure of a new society, of people's power. With the liberation from the Germans, all Greece was ELAS-dominated, NLF-dominated, except for Athens.

We might, of course, have taken advantage of this people's struggle provided we had a leadership, a direction, consistent with what was taking place in life, with the political line, the strategy etc., we had.

For example, in complete contradiction with reality was the agreement they reached with the British Army Middle East Headquarters over the recognition of ELAS, while they rejected the proposal, or more correctly, the possibility, of reaching an agreement with the Balkan neighbours, with the partisans there.

Q. Tito's envoy Tempo proposed to form a joint headquarters of the guerrilla forces to co-ordinate the liberation struggle. Samariniotis (Djimas) was at the meeting and turned down the proposal on behalf of the CPG leadership.

A. Yes, yes, that's it. It was the position of the leadership that at that moment there should not be such close co-operation, since the Macedonian question was a very subtle problem and the reactionary forces would exploit it.

But it was not at all a question of Macedonia. Here was a question of co-ordinating the struggle against the occupying forces. And there was no question of our neighbours disputing the Greek character of Macedonia. No such question existed.

Consequently, this was a mistake. It was a mistake not to accept a closer, more organised collaboration. In preference, the leadership went for a connection, a rapport with the English of the Middle East Headquarters, on the grounds that since the anti-Hitlerite alliance existed, our task was to be there.

Q. You mean the agreement between the Soviet Union and the so-called Allies?

A. No, no. I mean the agreement between the English Middle East Headquarters and ELAS, who were placed under the command of MEH (Middle East Headquarters) as its own troops. It was a wrong agreement, because we were fighting alongside the Allies anyway for the benefit of the country and its allies, the anti-Hitlerite alliance.

Consequently, there was no need to make official what was taking place in practice. And this was taking place under certain mutual obligations.

Q. What obligations?

A. Obligations to carry out the orders of the MEH, which, however, were proved to be anything but what Greece needed. They did not want us to build an army. They wanted certain units of saboteurs to meet precisely the needs of the alliance in our region.

Q. Did the Varkiza agreement have anything to do with this previous agreement?

A. This was a whole process. A chain of agreements. We had the Lebanon agreement reached on the basis of such retreats, when, although we were in the majority, both as a people and as an army, as a people's movement, we entered a government of shadows.

Q. Of George Papandreou?

A. A government of shadows of the bourgeois parties, of the so called old party system. They did not have anything, they were shadows. In spite of all this, we joined them as a minority.

Q. With six ministers?

A. Yes, with six ministers etc.

Q. Today, do you consider this was a political mistake?

A. A mistake. A decisive, major mistake. But an even bigger mistake was that in Caserta, on September 26 and 27. They made an agreement with Papandreou, with the government, who insisted and succeeded in having Scobie appointed commander-in-chief.

The notorious Scobie, a foreigner, while we had very good generals such as Othoneos and a lot of other Greek military chiefs. And we accepted a foreigner, and the right to intervene in Greece was made official.

Q. After the Varkiza agreement and the pogrom launched against the left, we came to the second round of the guerrilla war. There was no decision on behalf of the CPG to launch the second round; it was elementary defence by the masses. Could the second round, despite the Varkiza agreement and the surrendering of arms, have been victorious?

A. This was not the question. First of all, we must say whether we could have avoided the confrontation. Such possibilities did exist. Despite the sacrifices we made after Varkiza, when they were killing us in the streets etc., there were very many possibilities for a peaceful course and a peaceful solution of the internal Greek problem and the tragedy which began after Varkiza.

We could have avoided the armed confrontation if we, with a line, with a strategy – and at this time we had a strategy for a peaceful solution to the problems – had not fallen afterwards into the trap of abstention from the 1946 election. This, in effect, isolated us from the political life of the country and then led us to unrealistic positions.

We could have avoided it (the armed confrontation). The possibilities for a peaceful course had not been exhausted. This would have been possible had we not abstained in the elections.

Q. Could the second round, the revolution, have been successful?

A. It could have been won if the CPG, our leadership, had decisively taken either the peaceful road, or the road of armed struggle. This was the contradiction. While we were fighting in the mountains, arms in hand, the leadership was in Athens, keeping the offices etc.

Q. Up to 1947?

A. Yes, up to 1947. And they did not see the drama taking place, the arrest of tens of thousands, the courts martial, executions, etc., and they were losing this potential, the reserves of the revolution.

All the ELAS men had, in effect, been slaughtered. All the cadres had been exiled and imprisoned. The armed movement was deprived of its officers and chiefs.

Had the leadership gone decisively in one direction or the other, in our case that of the armed struggle, there existed many possibilities for a victory, even if not from the point of view of taking the power as we understood it. However, there were some possibilities for a successful solution of our internal problems through a revision of the heavy terms of the Varkiza agreement.

Q. You raised the question of reinforcing the guerrilla movement with cadres and new recruits from the cities.

A. With cadres, with the whole enormous potential, placed at the disposal of the NLF.

Q. You set a figure for recruitment. How many did you ask for?

A. Sixty thousand troops, we could have had immediately, within a year, provided our leadership had proceeded decisively to the armed struggle.

However, the position was that we were not heading for an armed struggle and the taking of power by arms, but that in answer to the terrorism of the right wing, we were taking up arms in self-defence to force the situation that was deteriorating every day.

This was what was happening up to September-October of 1947. From then on, the problem posed was that our struggle was expressed through the armed struggle, when we had already lost the opportunity.

Q. Had there been a breach between the peasantry and the working class? During the first round was the whole peasantry on the side of the CPG and the NLF, while in the second round did sections of the peasantry at a certain point become reluctant to come forward?

A. No, it was not like that. The peasantry was with us, just as it was during the occupation. The point is that the leadership's position was that the peasants should not have a direct relationship with the guerrillas.

And this gradually created an alienation. The Agrarian Party was new then. The CPG's party organisation had been dissolved in the villages.

The instruction, the decision of the Agrarian Party and the Communist Party, was that this struggle should not be connected with the parties, and that the latter should stay out of it. And this created a situation in which the government was able to evacuate the peasant milieu who supported and reinforced us. They evacuated about 1.5 million people who supported us from the villages.

Q. Meanwhile, the Americans had arrived.

A. Yes.

Q. If the CPG had pursued the line of guerrilla warfare as you had proposed, what were the prospects of the struggle being prolonged and of the movement not being defeated?

A. These perspectives could have had results precisely on the basis I'm talking about. Neither victory, nor defeat for a certain period of time, and in this case a certain situation of equilibrium would have been created where neither they nor we could have won.

Q. In other liberation struggles, in Yugoslavia, Vietnam, etc., the liberation army took part in social measures for the peasants and working people. Did you follow this practice?

A. In the areas we controlled, and as far as we could.

Q. For example, if they were large land estates, were they distributed?

A. What we had in the areas we controlled, were dealt with both by the decrees of the Provisional Committee of National Liberation during the first guerrilla war and by the decrees of the Provisional Government. There were decrees about the distribution of estates. These things can be arranged.

Q. Were you expelled from the party after the disagreement with Zachariades?

A. Yes, after the battles of Grammos they expelled me. I was removed from the leadership and after the Fifth Plenum of 1949, they expelled me.

Q. In 1956 you were reinstated as a member of the party. When were you expelled again?

A. In 1958 they expelled me again because we disagreed over the dissolving of the party organisations. They thought the majority of the Political Committee that in Greece we could express ourselves without a Communist Party, through someone else, through the EDA (United Democratic Left).

My view was that the EDA was a democratic, broad organisation, which did not accept socialism, did not even have a socialist programme. It was a party of constitutional democracy which limits, adapts its policies to the constitutional framework.

The situation, however, was still not straightened out in Greece. Democracy had not been re-established, the dangers of its overthrow existed. Consequently, the only strike force and guarantee was the Communist Party.

We had people in prison, sentenced to death. Consequently, legalistic illusions could not have the result they thought.

Q. So somebody who disagrees is expelled. What do you think of this procedure?

A. According to the party constitution one should not be expelled on these grounds. A disagreement is a disagreement. This means to state your opinion.

The fundamental party principle of the CP is democratic centralism. Consequently, when you state your opinion, not only is this not a crime, but it is compulsory. The question is that you must abide by the decision of the majority.

I did not raise a question of breaking discipline. I stated my opinion. The majority decides. I would have worked, I would have carried out the decision.

Q. The dissolving of the party organisation, was it connected with the theory that socialism could be achieved peacefully?

A. Yes, yes.

Q. Was it connected with the theory of the peaceful road to socialism?

A. The peaceful road does not say that we must dissolve the party, the strike force. And the peaceful road presupposes a people's organisation, an organisation able to confront the dangers.

Even if in a situation of an electoral confrontation and you have the parliamentary majority if you don't have a party, an organisation, the bourgeoisie will not give up power without resistance. They will want to smash you with arms, with the state apparatus.

Consequently, in the final analysis, despite the will of the people, it cannot be ruled out that you answer in a certain way through your organisations. If you don't have the party organisations that are needed, you cannot win.

Q. You said that the EDA was a party moving within the framework of bourgeois democracy. The strategy of the CPG since 1934 was that there was first going to be a bourgeois democratic revolution and then, at another stage, a socialist revolution. Did this theory play a role in the fact that the CPG, the NLF, the ELAS and afterwards the Democratic Army, did not take the power when they could?

A. It was not ruled out. The Sixth Plenum did not rule it out. The bourgeois democratic revolution was, on the contrary, being realised during the period of the NLF.

If the bourgeois democratic revolution presupposed even the neutralisation of certain middle strata, then in the case of the NLF people from the middle strata had come over to us. Consequently, the conditions for the bourgeois democratic revolution were being realised; this bourgeois democratic revolution had been realised in the form of a people's power, in the form of self-government.

Q. However, in Yugoslavia, Tito took power.

A. Exactly. Because they created the powerful instrument to impose themselves. They attributed more significance to the armed struggle against the occupying forces, while we gave more weight to the mass people's movement and overlooked the armed part of it. And we made compromises.

Q. But Tito did not overlook the mass movement. On the contrary, he had one of the biggest guerrilla movements. Besides the army, he organised the National Liberation Committees and took measures of self-government.

A. These things were taking place in Greece in a primitive way. It must be pointed out that a mass movement like the Greek one did not exist anywhere in Europe during the occupation, neither in Yugoslavia, nor in France, nor in Italy.

Q. What I wish to make clear is the following: Tito, like the Vietnamese who were victorious later, combined the national liberation struggle with the struggle for power, with the social revolution.

A. They headed for power. They took power without hesitation. While we were not taking power. We said we were not aiming at power. We were swearing we were not taking power!

This is why we invited the bourgeois parties, and everyone who wanted to, to come to the NLF. We aimed at national accord, and collaboration on a national level with everybody and this is where our proposals of compromise were coming from.

Q. If we evaluate these policies today, were they right or wrong?

A. They were wrong. For that period, they were wrong. Because they were not in favour of resistance. Today, of course, the situation is different.

Q. Were you isolated while you were in exile in the Soviet Union?

A. I was isolated from Greeks, according to a decision of the CPG. And I lived as a free citizen.

Q. You could meet other Greeks?

A. I could, but it is one thing to make a trip to see a Greek and another thing to live isolated.

Q. Was it a deliberate decision by the leadership to keep you in isolation?

A. They thought I would cause harm to our movement.

Q. The people who carried out this unconstitutional expulsion, those who led the witch-hunt, like Bardjotas and Vladas, they were the same ones involved in the attacks on the Trotskyists?

A. In the period of the fight with the Archeo-marxists, there was no question of power.

Q. No, I mean 1945, 1946. . .

A. In that period we had no problems. Neither were there any Trotskyists in the Democratic Army. There might have been someone, I don't know, but he must have fought as fighter for freedom and democracy.

But I don't know of a single one Consequently, there was no question of persecution. But also, more generally, there was no persecution in the sense we thought of it in the Democratic Army.

Q. I do not mean the Democratic Army. I mean the following. You were a member of the Political Committee. Bardjotas gave a report in 1946 saying that 'we liquidated 600 Trotskyists'. His figures may be inaccurate, but do you remember these events?

A. I don't know. I have no knowledge of it.