As events in Greece open up a new epoch that could change the face of Europe and the world, it is important to trace the historical roots of the Greek crisis. Greece has the most turbulent history and revolutionary traditions of any country in Europe and perhaps the world. And the best is yet to come!
Before the current crisis, the last period of major social upheavals in Greece was the 1970s – notably the time from the overthrow of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974 to the election of the first PASOK government in 1981. During the whole of that period, I made countless visits there; During this period I made a special study of modern Greek history, and wrote many articles which I would like to place at the disposal of the list. To begin with, I am republishing here an extended piece that was serialised in consecutive issues of MILITANT in 1977. Part 2 will be placed on this blog tomorrow. I hope Comrades find these articles interesting and useful.
PART ONE: THE RESISTANCE
The crisis that has rocked Greece in the three years since the collapse of the dictatorship has been shrouded in secrecy by the capitalist press. As with Spain, rather than draw attention to the struggles of the working class, the capitalists prefer to console themselves with fairy tales. But the picture of Karamanlis as a knight rescuing Greek democracy from the ogre, and of a stable democracy resting on the biggest parliamentary majority in Europe, is a distortion.
The workers understand instinctively that they must fight every battle to the bitter end, before the class enemy regains the initiative. The history of Greek capitalism is a cycle of bloody repression, heroic resistance by the workers, brief interludes of turmoil, electoral fraud, betrayal by the liberals, and new defeats.
Never has there been a working class more resilient. If, as Trotsky said, the Spanish workers could have made ten revolutions between 1931 and 1939, then the Greeks could easily rival them in the elemental waves of revolution between 1936 and 1949.
The rout of Greece in Asia Minor in 1922 brought refugees streaming home, swelling the population by 20%, and led to the overthrow of the monarchy. The young Communist Party gained strength as the Republic showed its impotence in the Depression, when the value of Greek exports slumped by 70%. The restoration of the monarchy on a fraudulent referendum in 1935 met with little opposition from a disenchanted population. Within a year, the King imposed the dictatorship of General Metaxas, an admirer of Hitler. Despite his unpopularity, the liberals handed him power rather than form a bloc with the CP.
But where the peddlers of fine phrases capitulated, the workers joined battle. Like the Asturian miners in 1934, the Greek workers rose up in May and June 1936 to avoid the fate of the Italian, German and Austrian workers. Whole cities, including Salonika, fell under their control for days. The dictatorship avenged itself by building up a formidable apparatus, using spies, infiltration, police files, forced declarations of loyalty, forgery, and the torture and imprisonment of 50,000 to 100,000 people.
The people were temporarily stunned. But when Mussolini, thirsting for instant glory, invaded Greece in 1940, they saw their chance to fight, no matter how hopeless the international background. A popular uprising beat back the Italian armies well into Albania.
So loud was the cry “Down with Fascism!” that the Metaxas press had to insist: “Greece is fighting not Fascism but Italy”. When Hitler was forced to intervene, the Greek officer caste, shaken by the intensity of mass feeling, capitulated to Hitler despite Greece’s time-honoured commitment to the interests of British imperialism. The King was whisked out to safety in Cairo. The rulers of Greece absconded, leaving the people at the mercy of Hitler and a handful of quisling collaborators.
Resistance was left to the underground CP, which organised EAM, a broad anti-Fascist resistance movement, adorned with various liberal figureheads at the top. The workers and peasants and even the middle class, abandoned by their traditional leaders, flocked to EAM.
In a country which already had the lowest per capita income in Europe, the people suffered the famine of 1941-2 (in which 260,000 people starved to death) and later hyper-inflation (by 1944 a kilo of bread cost 122 million drachmas). Hatred spread for the SS and collaborators, and food speculators.
By 1944 the CP had grown to 450,000 members; the EAM to at least two million (over a quarter of the population); and the guerrilla army ELAS from a handful in 1942 to an army of 75,000, which liberated 27 out of 31 provinces of Greece. The daring exploits of ELAS cut off Rommel’s supply line, tied down 300,000 occupation troops, and thus delayed the Battle of Stalingrad those fateful months into the winter, possibly changing the whole course of the war.
ELAS was the most successful resistance army in Europe. The peasants afforded protection to the partisans in the teeth of savage reprisals from the Nazis, including the burning down of whole villages with their inhabitants inside, and the tossing alive of men, women and children into the local bakers’ ovens.
The workers in the towns were no less heroic. The Nazi occupation forces were beaten more than once by mass unarmed workers’ risings. Threatened in 1943 with civil mobilisation – the rounding up of the male population for the slave camps in Germany – the Athens workers surged forward bare-handed in their tens of thousands on the Ministry of Labour. Marching forward into the line of fire of the German guards’ machine guns, their first ranks faced certain death. Wave after wave replaced them, to be chopped down in their turn, until by the sheer force of numbers, the sea of humanity engulfed the guards, tore the gun out of their hands and stormed the Ministry. The files were burned and the Nazis had to cancel their plans.
The resistance triumphed despite the treachery of the British Command, perched in Cairo alongside the exiled Glucksberg king, which actually colluded with the Nazis to weaken ELAS, and set up little rival guerrilla bands to attack ELAS from the flanks.
They formed a puppet government-in-exile under a tamed republican: George Papandreou, who had previously been offered leadership of EAM, but who had promptly offered the British his services in a grovelling memorandum counterposing “Anglo-Saxon liberalism” to “Pan-Slavic communism”. He too served only as an adornment, for it was the rabid royalists and Metaxists who commanded the Greek armies serving in the Middle East war. Mutinies against these reactionary officers were crushed with the utmost ferocity by the British.
The people had to contend also with the cowardice of the EAM leaders, who responded to British blackmail by meekly accepting the leadership of this artificial government, despite the fact that all the fighting was being done by ELAS. Thus the way was paved for the civil war.
The resistance of the Athens workers was punished with massacres in Kaiseriani and other red working-class districts. Whole populations were driven out of their homes on to the public squares, where hooded informers marched up and down their ranks picking out known militants. Hundreds were shot on the spot and thousands sent to concentration camps.
But not even this was the last word. The Athens proletariat rose up yet again in a general strike which effectively overthrew the Nazis in the last days as their military grip weakened.
(PART TWO: CIVIL WAR will be sent tomorrow)