Seventy-three years after the end of the decade 1940-49, the ideological battle over its legacy continues to occupy an important place in the general ideological struggle that is taking place in Greek class society. No other historical event of the 20th century attracted as much interest as the occupation (1941-44) and the so called civil war (1946-49) – a period that Greeks refer to as the revolution.
Confirmation of this comes from the fact that for the period 1941-49, millions of pages have been written by the supporters of the warring parties (communists and anticommunists – the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries) as well as by the so-called ‘neutrals’. And they continue to be written. It is certain that interest in these events will not fade away, but will rather grow, because it was then, during the 20th century, that the greatest upheavals in the history of Greece‘s popular movement took place.
Thus, it is a prism from which to understand the second world war – its fronts, its alliances, the end of illusions, the beginning of the cold war, the Truman doctrine and the revisionist turn in the international communist movement.
Most people on the left know the general context of this period. Namely, that the Greek people were then under the weight of a triple occupation, which encompassed pogroms, executions, arson, atrocities, torture and famine (300,000 people died of starvation); that the German, Italian and Bulgarian fascist occupiers were committing the above, having an extra armed hand in the form of the collaborationist government and its security battalions along with other gangs; and that a giant popular movement arose against them – the EAM (National Liberation Front), notwithstanding the voices of ‘prudence and logic’, which called on the people to calm down – for their own good! It was the EAM, then, which bore the main weight of Greece’s popular resistance.
Throughout the second world war, the question that preoccupied Greece’s rulers was what would happen after liberation. They were concerned because a new revolutionary situation had begun to emerge in the country, with people taking power into their own hands, through self-government and people’s courts, as well as through the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA) – also known as the ‘Government of the Mountain’ – which operated from March to September 1944.
There was also the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS). The majority of the Greek people were organised in EAM, the National Liberation Front.
This historical period had as a key feature the people’s liberation struggle against Hitler’s occupation and enslavement, but this aspect alone does not capture the whole truth. The class struggle between the ruling class of Greece on the one hand and the working class on the other was being waged relentlessly. This expressed itself during the German occupation as a struggle for the formation of the post-liberation government (a liberation which, as it turned out, the Greek people were not to enjoy for long).
The British imperialist army intervened in Greece as a conqueroring force, with the aim of crushing the popular movement of EAM-ELAS and the KKE (Communist Party of Greece). Its mission was to establish capitalist power, effectively imposing a second occupation. This was reflected in the armed intervention of the British and their alliance with local collaborators, who had been supporting the German occupation until December 1944.
The intervention of the British imperialists in Greece came as a continuation of the economic and political connection of Greek capital with the British bourgeoisie, on which the Greek ruling class depended, because it was itself not leading the war of national liberation. We must not forget that the liberation struggle was led by the working class and its allies. The KKE-EAM coalition was at the forefront of that struggle.
The correlation of power that was formed during the liberation struggle meant that the Greek ruling class was not going to be in a position to direct socioeconomic and political developments after liberation, which is why it desperately needed British military intervention.
The strategic pursuit of the establishment of bourgeois power in Greece after liberation by any means necessary was implemented on the basis of a plan that was in place even before the end of the war. Winston Churchill had actually reached an agreement with Hitler in order to facilitate this goal. They agreed that German troops should be left undisturbed during their withdrawal from Greece, and that in exchange the Germans would cede the country to the British.
The British intervention resulted in the Varkiza agreement, a compromise between the EAM and the KKE made in February 1945, on the basis of which ELAS was to disarm and hand over its weapons.
But as soon as it had done so, the white terror was unleashed – a ruthless persecution of hundreds of thousands of EAM resistance fighters. This was a full-frontal attack to bring about the annihilation of the popular movement, involving unprecedented murderous orgies and brutal violence against the EAM’s fighters.
By 15 months after the signing of the Varkiza agreement, there had been a bloodbath: murders: 1,289; injured: 667; tortured: 31,632; prisoners: 8,624, while throughout the year they exceeded 30,000. Attempted murders: 509; arrests: 84,931; raped women: 165; lootings: 18,767. This was the bloody chaos that arose under the auspices of British imperialism.
Historical background to the liberation war
The KKE and the Greek left had gathered around themselves the descendants and successors of the previous national-democratic struggles of the Greek nation. The Greek people had started their liberation struggle during a national uprising to free themselves from slavery and exploitation under the Kodjabashis (‘elders’ – a hereditary oligarchy under the Ottoman administration).
The contradictions among the various liberation forces had their roots in that period of the struggle against the Turkish yoke, which aimed at the creation of an independent democratic state of the Greeks. From the day the Greek state was proclaimed in 1830, contradictions and conflicts continued in various ways between the forces of progress and backwardness.
The Greek people, after hard and bloody struggles, were able to create a small state, but could not attain a genuine national independence that would bring about a national rebirth, for economic and cultural progress.
The Kodjabashis and the ruling plutocrats were connected with foreign interests and were completely dependent on the alternating foreign powers that presented themselves as ‘protectors’. The parties that alternately came to power were creations of foreign intrigue and gave voice only to the politics of the oligarchy.
Such were the first three Greek parties that were openly called ‘English’, ‘Russian’ and ‘French’. While foreign powers presented themselves as ‘protectors’, they in fact behaved like masters. They were throwing the Greek people into wars for their own interests; they were blockading Greece; they were causing financial bankruptcies.
They were also eating each other up, and they organised military interventions. Greece suffered at least two intense military interventions in the 19th century. The first was an Anglo-French intervention, involving the arrival of the French fleet and consequent blockade, which gave rise after 1897 to an enormous debt. The second was the creation of rival governments after the Balkan wars with the election of Venizelos, who sided with the Anglo-French Entente and created a second government in Thessaloniki, involving a military operation to actually occupy Greece so as to force it into the first world war.
Greece’s dependent status was also highlighted by the fact that Greek shipping capital, the most powerful capital in Greece, is traditionally based in the City of London.
The following statement is typical. In 1841, the English ambassador to Greece said: “A truly independent Greece? It is something absurd. Greece is either Russian or English. And since it should not be Russian, it is necessarily English.”
When, with the Truman doctrine, America bought Greece from the British. From this time on, the US imperialists considered Greece their own, a place to which they have the property title. When American Democrats remarked that the attitude of the State Department and the Pentagon was against the principles of American democracy, they got the following answer: “Democracy and freedom only very big states and rich societies can have. Other states are doomed to have a brutal oligarchy or to be a showcase of democracy.”
Greece’s subordination to foreign interests from the very first day of its proclamation as a free state led the ruling bourgeois-kodjabashi plutocracy to tie its interests to those of foreign capital. The antagonism between the kodjabashis on the one hand, who were represented by the Conservative party from 1880 and later by the monarchist parties, and the Greek bourgeoisie on the other, represented by such parties as the Venizelos party, had intensified. The bourgeois-kodjabashi plutocracy, which with the help of foreign powers took over the government of the country, hid behind the ideological slogan of the ‘Great Idea’ (Megali Idea), with the irrational aim of reconstituting the Eastern Roman empire with Constantinople as its capital.
Later on, during the 4 August monarcho-fascist dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas, the ideology of the Great Idea was recycled under the slogan of the ‘Third Civilisation’, which took for its model an idealised Ancient Sparta.
Behind the Great Idea, the bourgeois-kodjabashis hid their true policy and succeeded in maintaining the privileged and semi-feudal relations of the rural economy. They turned Greece into an agricultural supplier to the industrialised countries of western Europe. They engaged in heavy borrowing, resulting in the country’s complete political and economic dependence on foreign powers.
They imposed on the people huge tax burdens that stifled their productive vitality and potential. They condemned the people to poverty, oppression and exploitation. Greek industry developed very slowly because external indebtedness drained the country’s economy, prevented the internal accumulation of capital and stopped the economy from growing. (This remains the case today with Greece’s enormous debt to German banks and the IMF.)
Despite the weak organisation of the working class and a lack of a clear perspective, the Greek people began to struggle for the improvement of their living conditions with protests and strikes. Not only workers, but the peasantry too waged a constant struggle with the bourgeois-tsiflikades (rich landowners), demanding land, culminating in the peasant uprising in Kilerer, from 6-19 March 1910. Objective preconditions were maturing for a radical internal change in Greek society.
Foundation of the communist party
The October Socialist Revolution was the main influence for the creation of the Communist Party of Greece. The October Revolution helped the revolutionary proletarian forces of the country to become aware of their historic mission and to proceed with the creation of the party.
This article does not allow a detailed exposition regarding the struggle of the Greek communists in the 1920s and 1930s. suffice it to say that they acquired significant experience and knowhow in operating as an underground network, leading numerous strikes, serving sentences in exile and rotting in prisons. The generation that had been impoverished by the wars of 1912-22 and the tragic defeat in the Greco-Turkish war (the so called ‘Asia Minor catastrophe’) fought hard to improve their lives and to resist the exploitation and repression of the Greek ruling class.
Ioannis Metaxas, who was a graduate of the German military academy and an admirer of both Mussolini and Hitler, became Greece’s fascist dictator in 1936, appointed by King George II of Greece. He had regretfully to side with the Allies during WW2, despite the fact that ideologically and aesthetically he was in favour of the Axis, but Greek capital required the country to side with Britain. Metaxas’s foreign policy was under the control of the palace, which was closely linked to the interests of Great Britain.
During the German Nazi occupation, the monarcho-fascist government was exiled to Cairo, whilst in Greece itself a regime called the ‘Greek State’ (just as the collaborationist Vichy regime in France had been dubbed the ‘État Français’) was imposed by the Nazis, which aimed to include Greece in the New Europe of the Axis. The fascist government used state repressive mechanisms such as the police and gendarmerie to fight communism and wielded legislative power to impose economic measures that would favour capital for years to come.
The Greek resistance (Andartiko), 1941-45
“I, a child of the Greek people, swear to fight faithfully by the ranks of ELAS, shedding the last drop of my blood, as a true patriot for the expulsion of the enemy from our land, for the freedoms of our people, and still to be a faithful and vigilant guardian of the property and life of the agricultural labourer. I accept the death penalty in advance if I dishonour my status as a warrior of the nation and the people, and I promise to glorify and honour the weapon I hold and not to hand it over unless my homeland becomes free and the people become masters in their land.” (Oath of the first guerrilla group in Roumeli written by Aris Velouchiotis and introduced in 1942 in the Greek mountain region of Grammeni Oxia)
At the outset, ELAS (the Greek People’s Liberation Army) was a rural army of young men from the mountains who formed the backbone of the resistance. Most of its fighters were males aged between 15 and 25, stationed in units based near their home villages. Data regarding regiments in central Macedonia is indicative of this trend: 80 percent were farmers or agricultural labourers and only 5 percent were white-collar workers or professionals (teachers and doctors). The vast majority were from the region in which they were fighting.
The Greco-Italian war (1940-41) in Albania had been a formative experience for these fighter. Fifty percent of the veterans of the war against fascist Italy joined ELAS, and were later joined by an influx of teenagers. Their politics of armed resistance became the politics of a radical society and a people’s democracy (Laokratia).
ELAS was a revolutionary army because for most andartes (partisans) this was a revolution directed against any return to the prewar world of Metaxas and his monarcho-fascist dictatorship; against any attempt to reintroduce the monarchy by force with the aid of the British.
In the andartes’ eyes, ELAS was fighting for the emancipation of their villages from the domination of the political world of the capital (Athens) and for independence from their country’s elite (the lackeys of international plutocracy). Thus, the partisans also demanded Greece’s liberation from the shackles of British capital.
It was the rural people who had for so long been forgotten by their rulers, joined by the city-dwelling poor who were dying in their thousands from famine as a result of the occupation – right next to the houses of the collaborating rich.
United in their sensitivity to the calls for social change made by ELAS, the people joined a politicised resistance movement organised by the Communist party, which is what made it so threatening to the established political order. They were fighting for a dual liberation: national liberation from an external oppressor and for internal social reform.
What they were fighting against: Terror
During the fascist occupation, there were anticommunist sweeps of incredible brutality, but these did nothing to quell the resistance. There was torture, and there were daily shootings in cold blood of civilian hostages who had been rounded up in lightning sweeps called ‘bloccos’. For city-dwellers, the bloccos became the equivalent of the regime’s reprisals against the rural population.
The purpose of such actions was not to punish those responsible for offences, nor to prevent further crimes. The aim of the terror system was more far-reaching: to extinguish the will and the imagination of the subject population. Justice in the terror system operated purely demonstratively, for effect. The question of individual guilt or innocence had become all but irrelevant.
The German occupiers oversaw the formation of new Greek police formations, building up paramilitary auxiliary units that worked alongside Wehrmacht commanders to carry out operations against the partisans.
When the Germans had become the new exclusive rulers of the country, they had immediately realised the dangerous situation facing them. They launched fierce attacks and purge operations against ‘Free Greece’ (ie, against the territories controlled by ELAS). Their tactics were based on terrorising the population and the methodical destruction of the mountain villages of the country. More than 1,700 villages were destroyed in the winter of 1943.
From Kalavryta to Distomo, the mass executions of civilians created a nightmarish situation. The aim of the German fascists was to separate the mountain populations from ELAS and to condemn them to starvation. ELAS, together with the camp of Free Greece and the Resistance, did not have answers to many of the problems that the political power brought with it. They could not solve the food problem of the cities, and they could not secure a continuous supply of ammunition for the German and Italian weapons with which they had equipped themselves.
All these factors played their part in preventing the social and military power of the resistance from surviving as a political power. The British agents and the domestic forces that relied on them were not prepared to reach any agreement with the Left that would open the prospect of communists coming to power. They therefore sought the absolute destruction of the legacy of the ELAS resistance, which was their only concern.
What was achieved; what was destroyed. The creation of Free Greece and its legacies
In 1943, EAM (the National Liberation Front) had been established in wide areas of Greece and had managed to exercise substantial territorial control. The Germans and the collaborationist Greek government were absent from these liberated zones. The area was formally under occupation, but in essence it was free.
“The whole central volume that forms the backbone of Greece is completely and utterly independent of the influence or contact with the occupying forces of the Quisling administration in Athens. The borders east and west are blurred and differ from time to time depending on the activity of the Axis forces. But in normal conditions they cross almost parallel the borders of the plain of Thessaly on the one hand, and the main valleys of Epirus on the other.
“There are, of course, isolated sections of liberated areas throughout Greece, but this is the largest continuous section and starts unbroken from southern Serbia down to the mountains of Giona and Parnassos. In this, you are in complete safety. You can travel from Florina to the outskirts of Athens without anything other than a permit from EAM.”
This description of Free Greece was given in August 1943. In his famous report by British Major David Wallace, he added: “I did not realise before I went there how big it is or how free it is.” This image is impressively captured in many reports by British liaison officers working with the Greek armed resistance.
Government of the Mountain
Before the war, the poor mountainous provinces of Greece had suffered from the indifference of the politicians in Athens. Many villages remained hours away from the nearest road, hospital or law court. Rural Greece was condemned to backwardness and neglect.
Metaxas’s monarcho-fascist dictatorship put an end to any progressive initiatives by committees able to resolve local issues in the absence of professional lawyers from the towns. He banned a proposed conference that was to have debated the social and economic difficulties facing the countryside.
Any attempt at local self-government was forcibly dissolved, as a result of which villagers faced arduous journeys and heavy costs in order to access the mechanisms of official justice.
But from the occupation in 1941 onwards, and the collapse of Athens’ authority over the provinces, a vacuum was created which local initiatives started to fill. The dictatorship was deeply unpopular amongst the rural populace, so by protesting against Metaxas’s policies, the communists from the 1930s began to build up local support from peasant workers and farmers, even those who had little interest in communism.
Local activists of the KKE who already had the esteem of their communities were the ones to spread the word about EAM and to recruit many influential older men in their localities, men who before the war would have had nothing to do with young communists.
One of the most popular reforms of EAM concerned the law courts. Conciliation committees were established, which made it easy for people to access ‘people’s justice’ in courts that took convened weekly in their villages, where proceedings were public and free, and where they were conducted in a language everyday people understood. Plaintiffs and defendants presented their own cases and introduced witnesses before a tribunal whose members were appointed by election in the community.
This was people’s democracy – equality and justice in action. Official EAM guidelines for the people’s courts did not discriminate between the sexes, meaning that women became part of public affairs as far as possible.
People’s courts were the basis for governing councils and village general assemblies, in which all citizens over 17, male and female, had the right to vote by secret ballot. New people’s committees were set up and undertook activities such as securing the harvest for the needs of the people (the so-called Battle for the Harvest).
They would order local olive oil producers and traders, for instance, to declare the quantities they possessed. They set the prices at which firewood could be sold. They forbade private work contracts and set wage rates. Exploitation by the crafty and the well-off stopped, as everything grown on communal land was harvested by workers under the committee’s supervision.
Measures were taken to ensure that unemployed workers and children were regularly fed. Surplus crops were sold and any money remaining, after covering local needs, was handed over to EAM for the needs of the struggle.
For small mountain villages, the support of even a few guerrillas was a burdensome obligation. The peasants’ surpluses were not large and the frictions that could be created were particularly dangerous for a military force that aspired to develop into a true people’s army. The solution to this problem was found in the exploitation of stocks created by the adversary’s own tax system.
The taxation imposed by the authorities created stocks in state warehouses, in the communities. Aris Velouchiotis (nom de guerre of Thanassis Klaras, a communist veteran and the legendary leader of ELAS) decided to seize and open these warehouses, achieving many aims at once. This siezure immediately created stocks of food and materials that allowed the numerical growth of ELAS teams, and which brought access to a kind of ‘currency’ that could buy services and other supplies. At the same time, part of the confiscated goods could be returned to producers and poor farmers.
In this way, ELAS exercised a kind of social policy, while at the same time undermining the institutions and laws of the collaborationist state. So it was that, at the beginning of autumn 1942, the numerical take-off of ELAS began.
The first activities of the guerrilla groups were very prudent. They usually started with the execution of an executive of the state or some other collaborator with the occupiers. The act was a kind of political declaration as it broke the ties of the occupying authorities with the local government and announced the creation of a new government, which arrogated to itself the right to put on trial, to judge and to execute.
There could be only one master in the mountains now: the andartes. The gendarmerie’s members were disarmed or forced to take refuge in the cities. In the free areas created by the expulsion of the collaborationist state, a new system of power could now be established, and this new regime, a state in essence, in turn supported and invested in ELAS.
From the end of 1942, the British military mission of Eddie Mayers operated in the mountains of central Greece. The group’s military and political goals did not include strengthening left-wing guerrilla standards. Their relations with ELAS from the first moment were relations of dislike, suspicion and sabotage.
However, the British officers and ELAS could not but cooperate in the conditions then existing. ELAS offered free territory and security in which the British could operate. Despite their opposite desire, they gave ELAS the necessary prestige, a kind of international recognition.
The early cooperation between these forced allies was impressive. In November 1942, the andartes and British military team together blew up the railway bridge at Gorgopotamos, after first neutralising its Italian garrison. The prestige of ELAS was secured. Very many weapons, along with ammunition from the disbanded Italian army, passed into the hands of the guerrillas. ELAS was thus supplied with artillery, automatic weapons, mortars and ammunition, so that it now looked like a regular army. Its manpower exceeded 30,000 guerrillas.
By 1943, the communists were the driving force behind the revolutionary self-government institutions of the resistance, which culminated in the Government of the Mountain.
On Sunday 10 March 1944, the Political Committee for National Liberation (PEEA) was founded in the village of Viniani in Evrytania. In the village square, the founding act was read out:
“The main and primary purpose of the commission is: To coordinate and carry out with all means and with all forces in Greece and on the side of our allies the struggle against the conquerors. To fight for the expulsion from the country and the defeat of the German and Bulgarian invaders, for the complete national liberation and for the guarantee of the independence and integrity of the country. To seek our national restoration based on the principle of self-determination of the peoples. To fight for the extermination of internal fascism and the armed traitorous battalions.”
The commission, starting from the realisation that, in order to achieve the above national goals satisfactorily, all national forces had to be involved in this work, considered that its primary task was actively to pursue the formation of a general national coalition government.
One of the most remarkable events in the history of the formation of power in Free Greece was the election process of the national council. If the PEEA (Political Committee for National Liberation) was the governing body of Free Greece, the National Council was the parliament that ratified its power. The election process was unprecedented in many ways. Undoubtedly the most important aspect was the unconditional participation of women in the electoral process, as well as young people aged 18 and over.
But the most important thing was what followed: the political formation, that is, of Free Greece, with institutions staffed by elected members of the National Council and other executives of PEEA. Through them, the social alliances of EAM were consolidated.
The announcement of elections was provided by the founding act of PEEA. The elections were scheduled for 23 April 1944, and it was definitely a mass process. There are estimates of 1,800,000 voters, despite conditions of unbelievable persecution by the occupiers. In comparison, in the Greek parliamentary elections that had taken place in January 1936, 1,278,085 people had voted.
At the same time as the Greek people were fighting the conqueror, in the midst of famine and hardship, meeting death on a daily basis, they were also struggling to establish the reconstruction of a country that had been half-destroyed, to educate their barefoot children, to save their culture, to establish local government institutions that could govern their country, to consolidate justice and democracy, and to consolidate people’s power.
The goals were set right from the start: national liberation; the restoration of popular sovereignty; the improvement, completion and smooth operation of the institutions of local self-government; the adaptation of the people’s army to the demands of the new reality; the satisfaction of the needs of the Greek people, the care of the victims of the occupiers; and the union of all the Greek people under a single government.
One hundred and eighty representatives were elected to the first meeting of the National Council, held in Koryschades, from 14-27 May of the same year. Patriots who belonged to the KKE, the Peasant party of Greece, the Socialist party, the Democratic Union, the Union of the Democratic Republic, the Left Liberal party, the Reform party, as well as independents took part.
The work of PEEA was particularly rich. It tried to live up to the expectations of all those who had fought with self-denial and heroism against foreign and local tyrants, harvesting the first fruits of their collective work and planting the seeds of the Greece that they wanted to build. It was a glimpse of the bright future for which EAM/ELAS was fighting.
People’s democracy in action: building the society to come
In one of the many theatrical plays written for the revolutionary Free Greece by Georgios Kotzioulas, this social vision was clearly expressed:
“In the future, we will all be one, villagers and town-dwellers, rich and poor. It is our Will. The People’s.”
With the code of local self-government, the PEEA defined the organisation, operation and responsibilities of the district councils, the administrative committees, and the services of the secretariats. In terms of legislation, it set the minimum maintenance limit for employees and their families, and it recognised, for the first time in the history of the country, the equality of women with men, including the wage equality of the working man and the working woman.
It allocated forests and pastures to communities. It took care of relief for the families of the martyrs, the needy and the fire victims. It ensured the operation of primary schools, as well securing pedagogical centres for teacher training. It printed books, and it also printed money. It founded the National Militia Corps, to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the people.
As mentioned, women were given the vote for the first time in Greece’s history. Women entered the resistance through involvement in welfare work and through running food kitchens in towns and villages. Others joined the partisans, the andartes, in fighting formations or as nurses and washerwomen.
The emancipation of women was also accompanied by EAM’s appeal to the young. Through the EPON (United Panhellenic Organisation of Youth), EAM mobilised teenagers in the villages and cities. Their younger siblings, the Aetopoula (Little Eagles), carried out many useful tasks under the noses of the Axis authorities. They took part in demonstrations, helped transport supplies and carried messages, organised relief work and laid on cultural events.
Many young Eponites served as reserve militia and many advanced into fighting units based far from their homes. EPON itself emerged as a shadow national organisation to EAM. It organised regional conferences that hundreds of youthful delegates attended. They produced plays and puppet shows with themes drawn from the flames of the national-liberation struggle.
Almost a thousand village cultural groups were sponsored across Greece, in addition to the travelling theatre troupes.
Reflecting the high value that EAM attached to education, the movement attracted many outstanding educationalists, such as Rosa Imvrioti, a pioneer of female emancipation and the first woman principal of a high school in Greece. She embodied the idea of resistance as internal reform and improvement, establishing a primitive teacher training college in a mountain village.
“A school in every village” was her motto. After the defeat of Free Greece, Rosa was written off as a dangerous radical, and Greece was not to see such an impressive and dedicated effort to improve rural schooling for another 30 years.
The conservatism of the 1950s reflected the counter-revolution and its anticommunism. All these pioneering groups of people were sent into exile, some never to return, and their efforts became a poignant memory of a time when the conventions of Greek life had been challenged with a breath of freedom and people’s power.
Many of EAM’s leading reformers were university graduates and intellectuals, and most saw the countryside through a city-dwellers’ eyes. Some of the villagers were also often suspicious of the new social innovations. The most enthusiastic supporters of the cultural events were the partisans themselves, children and young women.
But the brutality of the Germans’ burning and looting made the villagers look more tolerantly on EAM’s vision of social cooperation. In all these various ways, EAM was showing people that politics was no longer the reserve of a specific elite of Athenians and local notables. The emphasis was on organisation. The power of organisation was made visible, encouraging people to persevere with what was dangerous work that alarmed potential opponents.
The schools and nurseries set up built up the support of everyday people for the resistance. They were teaching illiterate children how to write. Whether or not many peasants were able to read the hundreds of pamphlets, posters and broadsheets generated by the underground, the fact was that the press and the educational initiatives generated vast enthusiasm and respect.
People felt great pride in supporting a movement which was capable of such innovations. The speeches made by EAM activists on every occasion represented for the inhabitants of Free Greece a quite new style of political practice.
The first person plural ‘We’ became the characteristic voice of songs, speeches and posters: “We are the little Eagles. With freedom in our hearts / blessed children of Greece and offspring of the People.”
The youth of the villages had become accustomed, within the struggle, to speak before the people.
Perhaps the most important resource available to the revolutionary movement was the enthusiasm of the people. This is what the communists achieved. For them, popular support would not come so much from propaganda (notwithstanding the sense of passionate intensity and involvement they were putting across) but through the construction of a new revolutionary morality and the force of their own personal example.
A powerful sense of patriotism inspired people to support the resistance, to ‘take to the mountain’ and fight. EAM stressed the need for national unity. This was already a reality in Free Greece. There the people were boss in their own land.
According to EAM’s manifesto ‘Two Years Activity’: “The whole-hearted support of the people had led to a general people’s rule in which hundreds of thousands of Greeks live and work in harmony, in security and order and fight with enthusiasm as pioneers for the freedom of the entire country.”
And all this was happening at a time when the conquerors, seeing their impending defeat, were setting fire to villages and executing patriots with a vengeful fury, while the local reactionaries who had taken refuge in the middle east were preparing for the enslavement of the Greek people to the British imperialists.
The British in Greece
English historian Elizabeth Barker has written that during WW2, the British government “continued to behave as if Greece was its fiefdom”. The only military aid that Britain gave to Greece was Italian loot from north Africa, while at the same time undermining efforts to buy modern aircraft from the USA, which eventually, although paid for by Greece, ended up in the RAF.
The British presence in occupied Greece was a brutal colonial operation that led to the Greek civil war (1946-49). Winston Churchill considered the country to be an integral part of the British empire and wanted exclusive control over it:
“Even the last British employee controlled the Greek government abroad (exiled in Cairo) completely. They controlled, almost completely, all the resistance organisations inside Greece. Except for EAM, with which they were obliged to discuss and negotiate,” wrote Phoebos Grigoriadis, chief of staff of ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army) in the Attica-Boeotia region, in his book Resistance.
The British officially kept more than 150 officers in the Greek mountains – a number far greater than their war operations required, but absolutely necessary for their ultimate aspirations. It is estimated that in Greek territory, British secret agents were numerous, and more than 5,000 Greeks had some connection with the various English secret services.
The anglophile general secretary of the Union for People’s Democracy (ELD) and co-leader of the National Liberation Front (EAM), Elias Tsirimokos, described the English who were in the Greek mountains:
“Most of them had common characteristics. Young, brave, healthy, sportsmen, sharp as a needle, with sincere contempt for the people and pure hatred for the idea of social change. They parachuted in our mountains with the will to serve their homeland and with the taste of adventure.
“Left alone on their own initiative, they had all the appetite to do something, not only brave actions, but also their first steps in imperial politics … And here they were, in a small, backward place, representatives of a Great Power … They probably acquired the mentality of the children of very rich or very strong parents who are left to do whatever comes to their mind, knowing that they have ‘their backs’ …
“They could not approach, feel and love the proud people who fought for their country, but they had not learned, nor did they want to learn, to flatter foreigners. On the contrary, every such person was very willing to be considered an ‘enemy of England’.” (Published in the newspaper Acropolis, 21 January 1973)
Ordinary Greeks in the countryside saw the English as saviours. They opened their homes and their hearts to them. The head of the British military mission, Brigadier General Eddie Myers, described his tours in the countryside and the warmth of the people:
“I could have ended up in the house of one of the poorest Greeks, who, no matter how poor he was, always behaved with the greatest generosity and the highest spirit of hospitality … They always gave us not only the best they had, but also gave from the little they had. It could seem pointless to an Englishman, but it showed the quality of these Greek mountaineers.”
Myers, despite his subsequent compliments, during the occupation period at least, hated them. “I do not trust any Greek,” he wrote, considering all the inhabitants of this country ‘Asians’, and most Asian of all Aris. (Referring to Aris Velouchiotis, the leader of ELAS.)
Most of his officers had the same feelings. One of them described the Greeks as “the hairy monkeys that infect this country”, according to historian R Clogg.
What must be emphasised is that the British officers, both during their period of action in the Greek mountains and after the liberation, in their books and interviews, “judged the Greeks in accordance with the aims of British policy”. (O Smith)
No person, no organisation, no event was presented positively if it did not identify with their policy.
“In Greece, the testimonies of British officers against EAM/ELAS were exploited for political reasons. These testimonies were a valuable help to the postwar governments, in the context of their attempt to falsify Greek history. Now we can happily put things in their place.” (O Smith, Proceedings of the Conference Greece, 1936-1944)
To those who willingly obeyed their orders, the British were a little more tolerant, although without ceasing to underestimate and ridicule them.
The best moment between EAM and the British was when the subordination of ELAS to the middle-east headquarters was signed. Mentioning even the name ‘ELAS’ was banned in Cairo by English censorship, wrote the poet and diplomat Giorgos Seferis in his diary.
How ‘their’ imperialist history is written
The abduction of the German Lieutenant General Kreipe in Crete was widely publicised, because it had been carried out by English officer Patrick Lee Fermor and thus became legendary.
Coincidentally, on the exact same day in the Peloponnese, Permanent Lieutenant Manolis Stathakis, with ELAS guerrillas, ambushed and killed German Lieutenant General Krech. This event was suppressed and no one mentions this important success for all the Balkans.
Likewise, the great battle of ELAS against superior German forces in Karoutes on 5 August 1944 was led by Colonel Rigos. US Officer Ford and British Officer Joe were watching, raising serious doubts about whether the partisans would be able to stop the iron-clad Hitlerites. The Greek colonel interrupted them: “No one will escape.”
In a little while, the American was excitedly throwing his hat into the air as the phases of the battle unfolded, constantly repeating: “Tomorrow you will hear how much Cairo will broadcast about the battle.” The Greek colonel stopped him again: “They will not say anything.” And indeed, they did not.
As Christopher Montague Woodhouse, Eddie Myers’ successor as head of the British military mission and faithful servant of imperialism, later admitted: “The BBC had orders to mention only Zervas – head of EDES, the British-sponsored resistance.”
The subversive activity of the British officers against the National Liberation Front (EAM) movement is reflected in a confidential report of Brigadier General Myers, who wrote the following – for the first report to his superiors – two days after his arrival in Cairo:
“X – 12 August 1943, Strictly Confidential (85-4 AS)
“According to your latest instructions, I have instructed the British and Greek agents working under my administration to torpedo the work of ELAS and EAM and to prevent them from stabilising their position and gaining a dominant influence in Greece. However, such an outcome is problematic as the monarchists have no political influence in the country and their leaders are hated by the Greek people …
“On the contrary, the political and military organisation of EDES is making remarkable progress, especially in Epirus. It is imperative that it be given war materiel and that we strengthen it morally. In my opinion, this organisation will be useful to us, on the one hand as a counterbalance to ELAS and on the other hand, when it (EDES) has been strengthened, it will possibly be able to be used against it (ELAS).
“One day it will be necessary to disband ELAS … I have the impression that it would be useful for our agents to get in touch with the representatives of the government (the collaborationist state) in order to encourage in them the idea that they have the duty and the right to hand over the leaders of EAM and ELAS to the occupation authorities and to assist in the capture of their agents to such an extent that these organisations, when the time comes, will be unable to oppose British interests.
“In this field, EDES helped us. It already handed over to Colonel Dertilis and Minister Tavoularis many personalities of the EAM, who are now in the hands of the Germans …
“I think it would be better to delay the liberation of Greece for six months or a year than to allow it to fall under the rule of EAM.” (Report published for the first time in Bulletin of the Hellenic-American Association of the USA, October 1945, and subsequently in J de Launay, Major Controversies of Contemporary History, 1967)
In 1978, Brigadier General Myers, questioned about this particular document at a conference entitled Greece 1936-1944, claimed to have been unaware of its existence. Whether he told the truth or not, there has been no other text in which British politics in practice was so clearly captured.
Along the same lines as Myers, Colonel Tom Barnes wrote: “I believe the best solution is for Greece to become a British protectorate for ten to twenty years after the war.”
An American report mentioned these plans, which remain buried to this day, along with a wealth of other information, in British classified files:
“At that time, a small group of capable officers tried to divert attention to the need to encircle and, if necessary, imprison the communist commissars and captains who ruled the ELAS administration.” (War and postwar Greece by F Spencer, in A Kedros, The Greek Resistance 1940-44)
The British were discussing a plan to gather an English brigade in the mountains for the capture of the general staff and the violent dissolution of ELAS. For the popular mass movement EAM to be out of their control was clearly not tolerable to the British, who took the view that when the time came, it would either have to surrender or be dissolved by force. That is why, after April 1943, the British authorities proceeded to prepare the head of the British military mission to Greece for what was to follow:
“The Cairo authorities consider that after the liberation of Greece, a civil war is almost inevitable.” (Myers) And this is exactly what happened.
The defeat of ELAS
In May 1944, it had been broadly agreed at the Lebanon conference that all non-collaborationist factions would participate in a government of national unity. Eventually, six out of 24 ministers were appointed by EAM. Additionally, a few weeks before the withdrawal of the German troops in October 1944, it had been reaffirmed in the Caserta agreement that all collaborationist forces would be tried and punished accordingly; and that all resistance forces would participate in the formation of the new Greek army that would be formed under the command of the British.
When the British entered Athens in mid-October 1944, things were so contradictory in the recruitment and operation of the guerrillas that, while they could have come down and occupied strategic positions, they did not do so and essentially left Athens and Piraeus unfortified in the hands of the British and their colonial troops.
No fighting took place when the British first landed at Skaramagas, Keratsini and then Faliro. Instead, they were greeted by the ELAS-ites and their reserve and the EAM with chants of “The Allies came”. The crowds waved British, American and Soviet flags together and held laurels for victory. The British did not fight, they simply came in and the Greeks welcomed them.
Yet on 1 December, British commander Ronald Scobie ordered the unilateral disarmament of EAM-ELAS. The EAM ministers resigned on 2 December and EAM called for a rally in central Athens on the 3rd, requesting the immediate punishment of the collaborationist security battalions and the withdrawal of the ‘Scobie order’.
The rally of some 200,000 people was shot at by the Greek police and gendarmerie, leaving 28 protesters dead and 148 wounded. These killings ushered in a full-blown armed confrontation between EAM and the government forces (which included the still operating security battalions). By the second half of December, the fight was directly between EAM and the British military.
The British had entered Athens without resistance. Even the guerrilla forces in the nearby mountain of Parnitha had not come down to oppose them. ELAS was very wrongly given instructions to turn to a fight against Zervas in Epirus. When in fact ELAS had the power to hold Athens in its hands, its fighters were told to turn away.
Only when there was an attempt by the British to enter the national road to get to the Peloponnese did ELAS attack them and the British had to change their mind. Inside Athens, however, British snipers used the Acropolis as a fortress, knowing well that ELAS would not shoot at them there out of respect for the monument, even if the shameful attitude of the British respected nothing.
The 33 days of fierce clashes and sacrifices known as the Dekemvriana (the December events) were the climax of class struggle between the Greek people and the British-backed bourgeoisie and its collaborationist machinery. This period and its lessons will be the subject of another article in the future.
The Soviets had contractual obligations towards the British, and ELAS was perceived as part of the Red Army. It was impossible to be six months away from ending the war and have another war between the components of the allied front on a strategically important spot of the Balkans.
These were very difficult and extremely unlucky circumstances for the revolutionary movement in Greece. In the existing historical research, even by the Greek communist party in its most honest phases, not enough emphasis has been given to factors such as the time during which these events took place, the potential they had, and what correlations of power existed.
The fallacy of blaming Stalin for every failed revolution
In the following extract that comes from his book The Essential Stalin, Bruce Franklin offered a clear answer to unfounded accusations:
“Stalin’s role in the Spanish civil war likewise comes under fire from the ‘left’. Again taking their cue from Trotsky and such professional anticommunist ideologues as George Orwell, many ‘socialists’ claim that Stalin sold out the loyalists. A similar criticism is made about Stalin’s policies in relation to the Greek partisans in the late 1940s, which we will discuss later.
“According to these ‘left’ criticisms, Stalin didn’t ‘care’ about either of these struggles, because of his preoccupation with internal development and ‘Great Russian power’. The simple fact of the matter is that in both cases Stalin was the only national leader anyplace in the world to support the popular forces, and he did this in the face of stubborn opposition within his own camp and the dangers of military attack from the leading aggressive powers in the world (Germany and Italy in the late 1930s, the USA ten years later).
“After the showdown against the popular forces occurred in Greece, we meet another ‘left’ criticism of Stalin, similar to that made about his role in Spain but even further removed from the facts of the matter. As in the rest of eastern Europe and the Balkans, the communists had led and armed the heroic Greek underground and partisan fighters.
“In 1944, the British sent an expeditionary force commanded by General Scobie to land in Greece, ostensibly to aid in the disarming of the defeated German and Italian troops. As unsuspecting as the comrades in Vietnam and Korea, who were to be likewise ‘assisted’, the Greek partisans were slaughtered by their British allies, who used tanks and planes in an all-out offensive, which ended in February 1945 with the establishment of a right-wing dictatorship under a restored monarchy.
“The British even rearmed and used the defeated Nazi ‘security battalions’. After partially recovering from this treachery, the partisan forces rebuilt their guerrilla apparatus and prepared to resist the combined forces of Greek fascism and Anglo-American imperialism. By late 1948, full-scale civil war raged, with the right-wing forces backed up by the intervention of US planes, artillery, and troops.
“The Greek resistance had its back broken by another betrayal, not at all by Stalin but by Josip Broz Tito, who closed the Yugoslav borders to the Soviet military supplies that were already hard put to reach the landlocked popular forces.
“This was one of the two main reasons why Stalin, together with the Chinese, led the successful fight to have the Yugoslav ‘Communist’ Party officially thrown out of the international communist movement. Stalin understood very early the danger to the world revolution posed by Tito’s ideology, which served as a Trojan horse for US imperialism.” (1973)
Testimony of an antirevisionist Greek fighter
Giorgos Gousias (1915-79) was a member of the KKE’s politburo, a key collaborator of general secretary Nikos Zachariadis during the revolutionary period. We translate here his first-hand historical account The Reasons for the Defeats and the Split of the KKE and the Greek Left.
Gousias wrote about how Stalin agreed that the reason for the defeat of the Greeks (in 1949) was the unsolved problem of reserves, the unresolved issue of supplies to the units in southern Greece, the open betrayal of Tito, and the enormous support that the Anglo-Americans gave to the local reaction. Gousias recalled that Stalin had said “well done” to the Greek communists who had had to retreat when they could no longer continue the war in the new conditions prevailing in the Balkans. Also that he agreed on the new tasks that were facing the movement in Greece.
Gousias referred extensively to a meeting between Stalin and the KKE leadership, during which Stalin answered a question regarding rumours that Tito and his associates were spreading. It was alleged that in a meeting with the Yugoslavs, Stalin had told them that he did not agree with the armed struggle of the Greek communists and that he had asked them why they were assisting it. Zachariadis then asked Stalin why he did not help ELAS.
Stalin replied that he could not do so diretly as this would bring the Soviets into conflict with the British and they did not have a navy to carry out such an action. According to Gousias, Stalin considered it to have been a mistake for ELAS not to fight the British from the start, and also a mistake that, after especially that, after the loss of Athens, ELAS had not only discontinued its fight but actually surrendered its weapons.
In that meeting, Zachariadis told Stalin that he had been told of the existence of a letter by Georgi Dimitrov, then head of the foreign department of the central committee of the CPSU, which had been sent to the central committee of the Communist Party of Greece while the battle was taking place in Athens in December 1944, suggesting stopping the battle because the situation did not allow for the Soviet Union and the people’s republics to offer assistance. Stalin replied to Zachariadis that Dimitrov could not speak for the CPSU central committee.
Zachariadis (who had only returned to Greece from his four-year imprisonment in Dachau concentration camp in May 1945) had received a notification from Dimitrov that a leading member of the KKE (Siantos) was an agent of the British. The discussion with Stalin reinforced Zachariadis’s view that the struggle against the Hitlerite-fascist occupation had been betrayed by people like Siantos.
Gousias described how Zachariadis and Stalin and other members of the Soviet leadership discussed the deployment of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) fighters and the civilian population. It was decided that all the people who had retreated to Albania would be taken by the Soviets by boat and stationed in the Tashkent capital of Uzbekistan. Others who entered Bulgaria would be sent to various people’s republics. Stalin ordered the ships to be ready immediately and the transport to begin in October-November 1949.
Zachariadis thanked Stalin and the other members of the CPSU leadership for this gesture. Stalin said to Zachariadis: “You have nothing to thank us for, you did a lot for us while we could not help you, but we reserve the right to do so.”
With the document signed by Stalin and the decisions they made about the refugees, and after all the discussions they had to clear up a number of issues, Zachariadis left the Soviet Union and returned to Albania.
As soon as Zachariadis returned, the KKE politburo met and gave the document, which was written in Russian and signed by Stalin, to other members to read. Gousias recounted that they were all satisfied with the discussion:
“With understanding we saw everything that Stalin said about the difficulties that were presented and our fight that was not helped. And we felt satisfied, because there was a common perception about the causes of our defeat and about the new tasks that now came before us. We decided to convene the sixth plenary session of the KKE central committee.”
In October 1949, the CC’s sixth plenary session took place in Bureli, Albania. Petrov and the delegation of the central committee of the Albanian Labour party, headed by Mehmet Sehu, took part in its work on behalf of the CPSU. Gousias described the discussion that took place and the decision that was made unanimously and published under the title ‘The new situation and our duties’. It read as follows:
“1. Our confrontation in 1949 in Vitsi and Grammos was one of the toughest battles (napalm bombs were used for the first time against communists). The fighters and the cadres of the Democratic Army fought well, but faced with the enormous superiority of the opponent, we were defeated. The tactic of continuing the war definitely expresses a petty-bourgeois spirit of despair, which is why the political bureau of the KKE central committee acted correctly, following the tactic of retreating, which prevented the opponent from annihilating the main force of the Democratic Army.
“2. With the battle of Vitsi-Grammos, an important phase in the postwar course of the popular movement of our country closed. The following conclusions were drawn: (a) In December 1944, the KKE organised the heroic resistance of our people against the English intervention. ELAS, however, due to a series of opportunistic mistakes in the period of Hitler’s occupation, was in many respects unprepared to face victoriously the intrigue of English imperialism.
“(b) The persistence of the KKE and the EAM after Varkiza for a smooth democratic development had been exhausted. The broad popular strata were convinced that there was no other way out of the armed struggle imposed on the people by the foreign and local reaction. At the same time, this policy of the KKE and the EAM prevented British imperialism from intervening militarily.
“(c) The time for the start of the armed struggle was appropriate. Internally, this need became consciousness for the broad masses. Externally we relied on the people’s republics, we had not yet Tito’s apostasy and the balance of power on a global scale had changed in favour of democracy and socialism.
“(d) The KKE, organising and leading the new armed struggle, drew the right line for the creation of the people’s army with the aim of overthrowing the local reaction. A correct combination tactic of the regular army war and the guerrilla warfare was elaborated.
“(e) The fifth plenary session, based on a correct analysis of the situation that prevailed in 1948 and early 1949, declared that we can win the turning point in our internal development. The Democratic Army, despite the fact that it could not solve its main problem of the reserves, came out of the test of 1948 stronger. The international situation was generally favourable for the camp of democracy – hence the promise we received in the autumn of 1948 from the leadership of the CPSU for help in military means and other supplies.
“(f) The outcome of this year’s confrontation with the local reaction, determined the fact that the party, in conditions where the difficulties for our struggle grew mainly due to the betrayal of Tito and its exploitation by the Americans, their increased insistence to keep the bridgehead in Greece, greater support for monarcho-fascism, etc, could not solve the basic problem of the reserves of the Democratic Army and the supply of its units in central and southern Greece, failed to break the situation created by monarcho-fascism in Greece and combine a strong mass movement in the cities with the war of the Democratic Army.
“3. The sixth plenary session, based on the new situation, summarised the following events:
“Stop the armed struggle. Transfer the centre of gravity of the work of the KKE to the organisation and guidance of the political struggles of all strata of the working people. ‘Based on the programme for the democratisation of Greece, it is necessary to unite all the progressive forces of the country in a common front fighting for the issues of the people, demobilisation, independence and peace.’”
Gousias explained that the Communists had been forced into a temporary retreat. However, the three-year heroic epic of the Democratic Army of Greece was an invaluable asset for the revolutionary movement. Gousias made a strong point that as the Greeks retreated, a world-historic event took place, second only to the October Revolution – the victory of China’s popular forces and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. The Communist Party of China had called the struggle of the Democratic Army of Greece “the second front of the Chinese war”.
Gousias’ account, which is historically accurate and characterised by Marxist objectivity, stands in stark contrast with the phenomenon of the liberal tears shed over the defeated Greek revolution and over the fate of the Greek partisans who were allegedly “abandoned to the fascists by the allies, both capitalist and Soviet”.
One needs to consider a few important points that Australian anti-imperialist activist Jay Tharappel has made in order to counter such liberal hypocrisy and lies.
“Even if Greece succeeded in becoming a socialist country, most of these liberals would probably denounce it as ‘Stalinist’, given that the KKE of the time would effectively have been in charge. So why do they pretend they care? Some seem to like communist victims, especially if their victimhood can be blamed on Stalin, but once they take power they become evil Stalinists.
“The USSR had already lost 27 million people in WW2. If you don’t have to deal with the consequences of sending the Red Army to Greece to help ELAS (Greek resistance) against the fascists, then you’re in no moral position to judge. The Red Army was not full of Stalin’s personal robots; they were conscripts with families who had already been through hell.
“The mistake lay with ELAS (not the USSR) for handing over their weapons to the Varkiza agreement at a time when they had four-fifths of Greece under their control, and then agreeing to the British proposal to arrive with their troops on the promise that elections would follow, which never came because the British handed the weapons of the resistance over to the fascists.
“Liberals forget that ‘Nazi terror’ did not just ‘come to an end’ but was defeated by the Soviet Union, for whose sacrifices we will be indebted for life. Instead of gratitude, some prefer to spit on the liberation of Europe by complaining about Stalinism like the liberal hypocrites they are.
“No, the Greek partisans were not ‘abandoned to the fascists’ by the allies; the allies re-armed the fascists to fight the partisans. Talking about Stalin ‘abandoning the partisans’ means letting British imperialism off the hook.’’
Another common lie that we need to counter is the notion that the British Labour party was proposing anything different to the policy of Churchill.
With the electoral victory of Labour in London, the movement in Greece felt encouraged and the right-wingers were terrified. But it soon became clear that the Labour party, for all its pre-election pounding on Churchill for his policy during the December incidents, was determined to continue on the same bloody path until every progressive citizen in Greece was exterminated.
The party compiled the report of Sir Walter Citrine, leader of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC), who rushed to Athens in search of mass graves. The war of impressions was immediately invoked, with the counting of corpses (cadaverology – a constant tactic of imperialism, as we have seen from the recent example of the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine) and Citrine aimed to present EAM, ELAS, OPLA (Organisation for the Protection of the People’s Struggle) and the KKE as criminal organisations.
Citrine’s ‘investigative’ crews dug up civilian victims of wartime bombings, and their provocations reached the point of mixing the victims of December, in shared graves throughout Attica, with bodies of the security forces and guerrillas, horribly deformed. The aim was to attribute all the dead, both perpetrators and victims, fighters and anonymous alike, to “the communist butchers”.
The movement in Greece responded to this defamation campaign by a deeply anticommunist Labour lackey with the publication of a pamphlet entitled ‘The Hellenic Katyn’, in which Citrine’s Goebbelsian propaganda was debunked.
Agents of colonial barbarism
It is significant to note that the man in command of the British police mission to Greece was Sir Charles Wickham, who had been assigned by Churchill to oversee the new Greek security forces – in effect, to recruit collaborators. He was one of the persons who traversed the empire establishing the infrastructure needed for its survival. He established one of the most vicious camps, in which prisoners were tortured and murdered, at Gyaros.
Wickham had served during the Boer war, during which concentration camps in the modern sense had been invented by the British. He then fought in Russia as part of the allied force sent in 1918 to aid White Russian tsarist forces in opposition to the Bolshevik revolution. After Greece, he moved on in 1948 to Palestine. But his qualification for Greece was this: Sir Charles had been the first inspector general of the fascistic Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) of northern Ireland from 1922-45.
The RUC was founded in 1922, following what became known as the Belfast pogroms of 1920-22, when Catholic streets were attacked and burned. It was conceived not as a regular police body, but as a counter-insurgency one. The new force contained murder gangs headed by men like the lead constable who preferred to use bayonets on his victims because it prolonged their agonies.
This is the logic of empire and, of course, the imperialists applied it to Greece. That same combination of concentration camps with putting murder gangs into uniform and calling them ‘police’. That is how colonialism works. The imperialists will use whatever means are necessary, one of which is terror and collusion with terrorists. And, of course, this delivers.
The head of MI5 reported in 1940: “In the personality and experience of Sir Charles Wickham, the fighting services have at their elbow a most valuable friend and counsellor.” When the intelligence services needed to integrate the Greek security battalions – the Third Reich’s ‘special constabulary’ – into a new police force, they used Wickham to get the job done.
We must demonstrate the timelessness of such methods and the genealogy of legalising fascist elements in the service of imperialism, offering them equipment, clothing and safe transport. The security battalions were supposed to be condemned by the exiled government in the middle east if they continued to carry weapons after the withdrawal of the Germans. The same was decided in Tehran for all the collaborators of the Axis.
The British tried to save the collaborators of the Germans who were cornered by the resistance, who were charged with horrific crimes against their compatriots throughout the occupation. They were taken to ‘prisons’ like Goudi (from where they were later released), gathering the outcry of the people who demanded justice.
Before the events of December, the people would see on the streets their former torturers moving around freely in a provocative way, ending up in the national guard and becoming the guarantors of the monarcho-fascist restoration. We can only think of the recent coordinated efforts of the Nato countries for the evacuation of the ‘heroic’ fighters of the Azov batallion from Mariupol. Not only Greece but also France and Turkey wanted to intervene to save the trapped fascists. We are reminded also of the transfers of islamofascists from Syria and Iraq by US helicopters to other fronts in their dirty wars.
British imperialism shaped the character of the postwar regime in Greece and equipped it with the colonial methods that it had perfected over many decades, such as the organisation of concentration camps and ways of torturing democratic and patriotic people. This was first manifested in the desert of El Daba and then in the Greek prison islands of Gyaros, Makronissos, Agios Efstratios and other hellish prisons around the country.
History has nested in those prisons and places of execution, and the splendour of the Greek communists who defied death and torture spread its wings, not in words but in deeds, because they struggled for liberation, independence and integrity against fascism and for a better world without exploitation.
As communists of today, it is our duty to honour their memory and our responsibility to learn from the history of their sacrifices. Where the Greek revolution failed, other revolutions (like the Chinese revolution) prevailed. Every time the red flag falls in one place, it is raised again in another.
And it will continue to be raised until the final defeat of imperialism and the complete victory of socialism have been achieved.