Haris Vlavianos, Greece, 1941–49: From Resistance to Civil War. The Strategy of the Greek Communist Party, Macmillan-St Antony’s College, Oxford 1992
List of Acronyms ix
Note on Transliteration
I The Greek Communist Party: Resistance or Revolution?
II Varkiza: Capitulation to the British?
III From Varkiza to the Seventh Congress
IV The Elections of March 1946: Pandora’s Box
V The Second Plenum: Textbook Revolution
VI The Decision to Abstain: ‘Tactical Error’ or ‘Decisive Mistake’?
VII From Limited Self-Defence to Civil War
This book is a study of the policies and strategies of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) during the period 1941-7, with particular emphasis on the period 1945-7. It examines the policy of the KKE during the Resistance and the immediate post-liberation period with the purpose of offering a post-revisionist interpretation of the causes of the Greek Civil War. In what follows we have tried to deconstruct a number of right-wing orthodox and left-wing revisionist myths and polemics attempting to offer an account of events that remains as far as possible detached. Naturally, we do not wish to pretend that this study is free of value judgments. A study of this kind that did not derive from moral and political premises of some kind would be impossible, and if it were possible, it would be sterile. What is important in an academic inquiry into politics and the nature and manifestations of power is not to exclude value judgments, but to subject these judgments to thorough investigation and criticism, to treat the moral issues that arise as an integral part of the inquiry.
Unfortunately most accounts of the Greek Civil War offer oversimplified analyses, based either on a mechanical application of some political or sociological theory or on a series of a priori value judgments, whose sole purpose is to condemn or exonerate the policy of the British or the Soviets towards Greece or the policy of one of the Greek political parties. Moreover, in their search for some useful overall ‘alibi’ that would explain or justify the actions of the Greek political leaders or parties, these accounts ascribe primary responsibility for developments in Greece to the ‘foreign’ factor, thus turning Greece into a stage of helpless puppets whose strings are moved by alien hands. Although this kind of historiography can be very comforting for the leaders and parties concerned, not to mention the historian himself, it deflects scholarly attention away from the complex nature of the conflict. The causes of the Greek Civil War can and should be explained on the basis of power relations within Greece itself. What is required is an analysis of their historical formation, of the source of their strength or fragility, and of the conditions that transformed some or abolished others. In other words, we need to 11·verse our priorities and begin our inquiry with an examination of the evolution of the social and political structures in Greece itself. The play of forces in any particular historical situation is made possible by the space which defines them. Foreign intervention must be understood in terms that reject any notion that it is unilaterally imposed from outside.
The book is divided into seven chapters. In four of them (I, III, IV, VII) the narrative is linear and straightforward. Chapter I examines the policies of the KKE during the inter-war and war period, and considers the reasons for the dramatic rise in communist strength during the Occupation, given the almost total disintegration of the Party during the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-40. The significance of Zachariadis’ famous ‘letters’ to the Greek people at the time of the Greco-Italian war of 1940 is analyzed and the character and aims of the most powerful resistance movement EAM/ELAS are assessed. This chapter also examines the policies of the British government towards EAM/ELAS and the various other resistance organizations, and the extent of Soviet involvement in Greece during this period. It attempts to refute the right-wing assertion that the ‘second round’ of the civil war (the clash between EAM/ELAS and the British in Athens in December 1944) was the result of a well-planned attempt by the communists to seize power by force, as well as the left-wing view that the communists were provoked into hostilities by the British so that they could be destroyed. Moreover, it dismisses the cold-war orthodox belief that Stalin fomented civil war in Greece and that the Greek communists acted as his agents.
The December Events of 1944 came to an end with the signing at Varkiza of a political agreement that was supposed to form the basis for the peaceful reconciliation of the opposing factions within the country and for the restoration of democratic legality. Instead Varkiza became, in the hands of the government, an instrument of revenge, the curtain-raiser to the ‘third round’ of the civil war. Chapter III examines the reasons for the failure of the Varkiza Agreement and assesses the responsibility of the various British- sponsored Greek governments for this development. It traces the evolution of the Left during a period of mounting right-wing violence and outlines the gradual change in the objectives of the KKE. It dismisses the orthodox view that in the immediate post-Varkiza period the communists were regrouping and preparing for the ‘third round’, and sees the abandonment by the KKE of the parliamentary alternative as the direct result of the government’s failure to enforce the provisions of the Varkiza Agreement.
Chapter IV examines in detail the issue of the parliamentary elections of March 1946 and the manner in which they were organized and conducted. It is now generally accepted that these elections constituted the last chance for a peaceful post-war evolution in Greece. The decision of the Left to abstain from these elections served as the catalyst for civil war. Although the reasons and the implications of this abstention are discussed in Chapter VI, this chapter assesses the responsibilities of the Greek, British, American and Soviet governments in this affair. It also considers the way in which the ‘Greek Question’ became internationalized in the United Nations and the consequences of this development for Greece itself. Finally, it analyses the circumstances surrounding the international observation of these elections and their actual results.
Chapter VII examines the policies pursued by the KKE in the period between the elections and the outbreak of the ‘third round’ of the civil war in 1947. Based mostly on primary sources and recently declassified KKE official documents, this chapter explores the gradual intensification of the conflict and outlines the objectives, dilemmas and errors of the Party leadership. In addition, it attempts to define the extent of the involvement of the neighbouring communist states in the civil war and their share of responsibility for the defeat of the KKE.
The three remaining chapters (II, V, VI) examine in greater depth and detail three questions that became major issues of controversy within the KKE after the end of the civil war: the question of whether the decision of the wartime leadership of the KKE to sign the Varkiza Agreement constituted an act of unconditional surrender, as opposed lo a realistic compromise; the question of whether at the Second Plenum of February 1946 the KKE decided to launch an armed rising; and finally, the question of whether the KKE’s decision to boycott the parliamentary elections of March 1946 was a decisive mistake that led the Party to its ultimate defeat. In attempting to answer these questions we rely heavily on documents published after the end of the civil war, especially on the minutes of the Sixth and Seventh Plenums of 1956 and 1957, when the KKE, as a result of the decisions of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, went through the process of de-stalinization, and the old leadership, including Zachariadis himself, the KKE’s General Secretary, was expelled from the Party. A proper evaluation of the policies of the KKE during the period of the civil war is impossible without reference to this valuable material. So although these chapters seem at first sight to disrupt the overall pattern, their inclusion is intended to elucidate various confllicting issues that arise in our inquiry.
In this book there is little discussion of Greece’s economic development in the post-liberation period. What characterizes economic development in the period between Varkiza and the breaking out of civil war in late 1946 is the virtual non-existence of an economic policy. All governments of this period relied on foreign resources, first on the assistance of the British, and especially UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), and later on the Americans, to tackle the mounting economic problems (galloping inflation, scarcity of essential commodities and huge budget deficities). Their attitude was one of laissez-faire, with their attention geared towards consolidating their power and ensuring that their political hegemony remained unchallenged. Yet the substantial amount of aid which flowed into Greece did not bring about the stabilization of the economy. The reestablishment of government authority in the economic sphere and the enforcement of a national programme of reconstruction and development required above all the unqualified support of all segments of society and the cooperation of all political forces, especially that of the Left, whose influence in labour unions, consumer and agricultural cooperatives, and other types of mass organizations was widespread. Had it been possible to enlist the support of the Left, the legitimacy of the government’s plans would have been greatly enhanced and its efforts to implement a stabilization programme greatly assisted. As things stood, however, government choices veered to the reverse course. At the political level the basic aim was to banish left-wing influence and impose control by unrepresentative factions, whose main credential was anti-communism. The general disarray that prevailed within the labour movement throughout this period was not conducive to any sort of genuine political participation by labour in the process of reconstruction. It was not even conducive to the more limited objective of stabilization, despite the intensification of police methods and even the legislated prohibition of strikes during the latter years of the Civil War.
Another important implication of the collision course between the government and the Left was the allocation of larger and larger amounts of funds for military and public security purposes. The need to maintain what the government and the British perceived as ‘public order’ undermined what possibility remained of establishing financial order in state affairs. The military expenditure was not only enormous. It was also beyond normal financial control. It remained insulated from the budgetary control process and functioned as an independent compartment of the fiscal activity of the state, at the expense of making the economic crisis in the civilian sector worse.
Having excluded the Left from any meaningful dialogue, the only powerful constituency which the government could look to as political allies were the merchants and industrialists. Any attempt to stabilize the economy would have required the taxing of their profits and extensive price controls. Naturally, both groups ensured that such policies, whenever applied, would fail. Fortunately for them and for the Greek government, when in February 1947 Britain, realizing that it could no longer afford to keep the Greek economy running, decided to pull out of Greece, the Americans were ready to assume the burden.
We should point out right from the start that an assessment of the policy of the KKE during the period of the civil war is a difficult and complicated exercise. First, Zachariadis’ statements during the years following the end of the civil war and his testimonies to various KKE members read very much like an apologia, an attempt by him to defend his policy during the civil war. They therefore have to be read with great caution.
Secondly, the various accounts of old KKE members are in most cases heavily prejudiced. Some members, especially those whose fortunes were closely linked to Zachariadis, simply try to provide alibis for past errors. Others, while trying to take a more critical view of the past, often find it difficult to confess openly to the mistakes of the Party. In this respect, the split in the KKE since 1968 has further complicated the picture, given that the Party line during the civil war is a major issue of contention between the two communist parties, the Moscow-oriented one, and the Eurocommunist one. Some accounts, therefore, represent simply an effort by their authors to openly discredit those of others, because the latter belong to the ‘other’ Communist Party. Writing a book on the subject or publishing memoirs seems a good way of settling old scores.
Finally, although during the period between the end of the civil war and Zachariadis’ dethronement in 1956 no KKE member could freely express his opinion about the reasons that led to the defeat of the Party, the same applies for the period following his fall. The temptation to satisfy the Soviet interpretation of events was too great for anyone to ignore.
The common thread running through the literature on the KKE is a distaste for taking the history of Greek Communism on terms other than those it has itself imposed. In this study we have tried to avoid a historical perspective that seeks to totalize history and offers the reassurance of an end towards which history moves. Moreover, we do not pretend, as some historians do, to base our conclusions on an ‘apocalyptic’ or scientific objectivity. In our reading of the various sources, whenever we have encountered the words truth, justice or freedom we have looked for strategies of domination. We see the world not as a play which simply masks a truer reality that exists behind the scene, but as it appears.
The history of the Greek Civil War, as we have interpreted it in this book, is the history of errors, of petty malice, of vicious intentions, of high-sounding objectives sometimes masking the lowest of motives. It is not, however, a history of genuine villains but of men moved by ambitions and greed, beset by fears and suspicions, struggling to decipher a network of relations, constantly in motion and tension, pretending to see the light when groping about in the dark. Such a history, however, is not devoid of nobility, as it concerns men who sacrificed their lives for their convictions believing that they were doing so for the sake of an absolute truth. Their tragedy is that they were wrong; ours, that we condemn their actions thinking that we can thereby rewrite the past. Perhaps our catharsis lies in our weakness to deny this past, in the knowledge that their history is ultimately our history.