1910’s – the Balkan wars: imperialist wars in miniature, aimed at grabbing the former parts of the Ottoman Empire. Greece doubles up its size and population.
1914-1918: Greece is split between two of its parties: pro-German, headed by the king, and pro-British, headed by the prime minister (Eleftherios Venizelos). Greece splits into two territories, one supporting the Axis, and the other – the Allies. Superficially unites under the Allies, gains some territories.
At the end of WWI, there was a compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey, “with over 1.5 million Christians and almost half a million Muslims being uprooted”. Many died.
Many refugees from Turkey were impoverished now, but they were well educated. So, they took a leading role in the nascent Greek Communist Party, KKE, founded in 1918. In 1920, KKE affiliated to the Comintern.
1920’s: a civil strife in Greece between “royalists” (pro-German party) and Venizelists (pro-British party). Continuous coups and counter-coups by the army officers. Instability.
1930’s: Great Depression hits the capitalist world and Greece. Emigration to the U.S. – a safety valve – was closed. “High unemployment and consequent social unrest resulted, and the Communist Party of Greece made rapid advances”. Coups and counter-coups between the pro-British republicans and pro-German monarchists.Fascism comes to Greece. “Metaxas, a retired royalist general, believed that an authoritarian government was necessary to prevent social conflict and, especially, quell the rising power of the Communists. On 4 August 1936, with the King's support, he suspended parliament and established the 4th of August Regime”.
“The Communists were suppressed and the Liberal leaders went into internal exile. Patterning itself after Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy, Metaxas' regime promoted various concepts such as the "Third Hellenic Civilization", the Roman salute, a national youth organization, and introduced measures to gain popular support, such as the Greek Social Insurance Institute (IKA), still the biggest social security institution in Greece”. Fascism adopts some of the social measures of communists to cover the left flank and suppress the social anger.
“Despite his aping of Fascism, and the strong economic ties with resurgent Nazi Germany, Metaxas followed a policy of neutrality, given Greece's traditionally strong ties to Britain, reinforced by King George II's personal anglophilia. In April 1939, the Italian threat suddenly loomed closer, as Italy annexed Albania, whereupon Britain publicly guaranteed Greece's borders”.
War between Italy and Greece starts: “Provocations against Greece included the sinking of the light cruiser Elli on 15 August 1940. Italian troops crossed the border on 28 October 1940, beginning the Greco-Italian War, but were stopped by determined Greek defence, and ultimately driven back into Albania”.So, Hitler comes to the help of Mussolini and attacks Greece on April 6, 1941 (diverts troops from attacking the USSR). In spite of Britain “guaranteeing” Greek borders, soon Germans take over the country, and the monarchist government goes into exile.
The king escapes to Egypt and proclaims a government in exile. A power vacuum is formed in Greece, which is filled up by the KKE (the Communist Party of Greece). The organize the people to resist Germans in the umbrella organization of EAM (National Liberation Front). In “1944 EAM became the most powerful resistance movement in Europe, with more than 1,800,000 members (the Greek population was around 7,500,000 at that time)”. So, when we hear of the American president (Truman) talking of “armed minorities” who attempted to overthrow the legitimate government of Greece, we know that he is lying.
The armed wing of EAM was ELAS (National Popular Liberation Army).
Thus, EAM-ELAS – communist; EDES – capitalist. A civil war broke out between these two wings of the Greece liberation movement, with the Germans and the British supporting (of course) EDES.
The Greek communist party (along with all other affiliated parties of the Comintern) was decimated, as a result of the Stalinist wing coming to power in the USSR. Here is a list of the general secretaries of KKE, and their fate:
- Nikolaos Dimitratos (November 1918-). Expelled from the party on charges of "suspect behavior."
- Yannis Kordatos (February 1922-). Expelled from the party on charges of "distorting Marxism."
- Nikolaos Sargologos (November 1922-). Expelled from the party on charges of "espionage."
- Thomas Apostolidis (September 1923-). Expelled from the party on charges of "opportunism".
- Pandelis Pouliopoulos (December 1924-). Expelled from the party on charges of being a "provocateur".
- Eleutherios Stavridis (1924–1926). Expelled from the party on charges of pro-bourgeoisie political position.
- Pastias Giatsopoulos (September 1926-). Expelled from the party on charges of "liquidarism".
- Andronikos Haitas (March 1927-). Expelled from the party and executed in the USSR in 1935.
- Nikolaos Zachariadis (1931–1936).
- Andreas Tsipas (July 1941-September 1941). Expelled from the party on charges of "adventurism."
- Georgios Siantos (January 1942-1945). Expelled from the party on charges of being an "agent provocateur."
- Nikolaos Zachariadis (1945–1956). Expelled from the party; committed suicide after years in exile in Siberia.
As a result of the victory of the Stalinist politics in the world communist movement, the aim of the communists in Greece was not winning the civil war and setting up their own form of government, but rather “national unity” government. Let’s remember that similar government was advocated by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the course of the Chinese revolution in late 1920’s (an order to dissolve the CP and its members to join the Nationalist party of Chiang Kai-shek), in Spain in the course of the civil war there (a national unity government with the republicans, and as a result rolling back the revolution in Spain), and in Yugoslavia (Stalin attempted to stop the revolution in Yugoslavia in the course of liberation of the country during WWII). Also, “national unity” governments were set up in the countries of Eastern Europe, in the course of their occupation by the Red Army, as a result of WWII.
Documentary movie Greek Civil War (1997) by Roviros Manthoulis. It explains that there was “a percentage agreement” between Churchill and Stalin, with Greece going over to the British sphere of influence. Moreover, the communist party leadership was dominated by Stalinists. They advocated “national unity” governments – in China (late 1920’s), in Spain (1936-39), in Yugoslavia (1941-45), and in Greece. In effect, this meant handing the command of ELAS to a British officer (general Ronald Scobie), after the German withdrawal in October 1944. And of course, the officer ordered the disarmament of the ELAS. A disarmament of revolutionary armed forces was the beginning of their defeat in the civil war that followed.“To combat the rising influence of the EAM, and fearful of an eventual takeover after the German defeat, in 1943, Ioannis Rallis, the conservative Prime Minister of the collaborationist government, authorized the creation of paramilitary forces, known as the Security Battalions.” These were composed mostly of local fascists and convicts, thugs. In 1944, their peak year, they numbered 20,000.
“In March 1944, EAM established the Political Committee of National Liberation (Politiki Epitropi Ethnikis Apeleftherosis, or PEEA), in effect a third Greek government to rival those in Athens (collaborationist) and Cairo (monarchist)… ‘to intensify the struggle against the conquerors... for full national liberation, for the consolidation of the independence and integrity of our country... and for the annihilation of domestic Fascism and armed traitor formations’. PEEA consisted not only of communists but also of progressives, who had nothing to do with communist ideas.” As communists refuse a clear program, a clear takeover of power, this power is taken by others, their enemies, and they are destroyed. That’s the story of the Greek civil war, and other similar civil wars (Spanish), where Stalinists participated.
“In April 1944 the Greek armed forces in Egypt, many of them well-disposed towards EAM, demanded that a Government of National Unity be established, based on PEEA principles, and replace the government-in-exile as it had no political or other link with the occupied home country. The movement was suppressed by British forces and Greek forces loyal to the exiled government. Later on, through political screening of the officers, the Cairo government created the III Greek Mountain Brigade, composed of staunchly anti-Communist personnel”.
“As the German defeat drew nearer however, the various Greek political factions convened in Lebanon in May 1944, under British auspices, and formed a government of national unity, under George Papandreou, in which EAM was represented by six ministers” – out of 26! And government “under British auspices” means that the Britain was to continue to be the colonial power in the region.
“The agreement was made possible by Soviet directives to KKE to avoid harming Allied unity, but did not resolve the problem of disarmament of resistance groups”. The British insisted on disarming the units of EAM, while keeping the monarchist units armed.
In fact, British colonial status in the region was negotiated in the meeting between Churchill and Stalin, the so-called percentage agreement, where the USSR got the dominance over countries of Eastern Europe, while Britain kept dominance over Greece, and Yugoslavia was split between Britain and the USSR as 50/50.
Nigel Clive, then a liaison officer to the Greek Government and later the head of the Athens station of MI6, stated that "Greece was a kind of British protectorate, but the British ambassador was not a colonial governor."
“After the German withdrawal (October 1944), the EAM-ELAS guerrilla army effectively controlled most of Greece, but its leaders were reluctant to take control of the country, as they knew that Soviet premier Joseph Stalin had agreed that Greece would be in the British sphere of influence after the war.”
Once again: “With the German withdrawal, ELAS units had taken control not only of the countryside but of most cities as well. However, they did not take full control because the KKE leadership was instructed by the Soviet Union not to precipitate a crisis that could jeopardize Allied unity and put Stalin's larger post-war objectives at risk. KKE’s leadership knew this, but ELAS's fighters and rank-and-file communists did not, which became a source of conflict within both EAM and ELAS”. Allied unity means unity between the USSR and England and the U.S. in fighting Germans. Fundamentally, it was wrong to put “Allied unity” over the interests of the world revolution. An alliance with Britain and the U.S. could only be a tactical, short-lived one, for the USSR, in its drive to defeat Nazi Germany. More important for its survival was the interest of the world revolution, and if the two objectives were in contradiction, the USSR had to choose its long-term objective. However, the Stalinist bureaucracy was interested in suppressing revolution, first of all at home (fighting Trotskyists and other communist leaders and groups), and then abroad.
“Following Stalin's instructions, KKE’s leadership tried to avoid a confrontation with the Papandreou government”, the gov’t in exile in Egypt that recently came back.
“Advised by the British ambassador Reginald Leeper, Papandreou demanded the disarmament of all armed forces apart from the Sacred Band and the III Mountain Brigade, which were formed following the suppression of the April 1944 Egypt Mutiny, and the constitution of a National Guard under government control. EAM, believing that this would leave ELAS defenseless against right-wing militias, submitted an alternative plan of total and simultaneous disarmament. Papandreou rejected this plan, causing EAM ministers to resign from the government on December 2 (1944)”.
On December 3, 1944, the British open fire upon demonstrators in the center of Athens, supporting EAM.
“According to an account of a person participating in the shootings, that day the police, covered by British troops, had been ordered to open fire on the crowd. The shootings began when the marchers had arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, originating from the side of the building of the General Police Headquarters, across from the Grande Bretagne hotel (where international observers had settled), the hotel itself, the Parliament (Βουλή) and from other governmental buildings. … More than 28 demonstrators were killed 148 were injured. This signaled the beginning of the "Dekemvriana" (Greek: Δεκεμβριανά, "the December events"), a 37-day period of full-scale fighting in Athens between EAM fighters and smaller parts of ELAS, and the forces of the British Army and the government”. The British had used heavy guns and planes, flown in reinforcements from Italy.
In the course of fighting in Athens, EAM persecuted Trotsyists, and other political dissenters; “several trotskyists had to leave the country in fear for their lives (Cornelius Castoriadis fled to France). As a result of the fighting in Athens, most of the prominent non-communists of EAM left the organization and KKE support declined sharply”.
February 1945: “the Varkiza agreement ended the conflict and disarmed ELAS, and an unstable coalition government was formed”.
“Nikolaos Zachariadis, who returned from Germany in April 1945, said that the KKE's objective was now for a "people's democracy" to be achieved by peaceful means. This objective had dissenters, of course, such as former ELAS leader Aris Velouchiotis. The KKE renounced Velouchiotis when he called on the veteran guerrillas to start a second struggle; shortly afterwards, he committed suicide, surrounded by the security forces”. This talk of revolution, or “people’s democracy” by “peaceful means” only leads to suicide of revolutionaries and the other side winning.
“The Treaty of Varkiza transformed the KKE's political defeat into a military one. ELAS's existence was terminated. The amnesty was not comprehensive, because many actions during the German occupation and Dekemvriana were classified as criminal, exempting them from the amnesty. Thus, the authorities captured approximately 40,000 communists or ex-ELAS members. As a result, a number of veteran partisans hid their weapons in the mountains, and 5,000 of them escaped to Yugoslavia, although the KKE leadership did not encourage this”.
“The anti-EAM backlash grew into a full-scale "White Terror"
1946: relations between the USSR and the West deteriorate, Cold War starts. The USSR uses the CP’s around the world to promote its own interests. Hence, the Greek CP moves into a position of re-opening an armed struggle against the Greek government. The KKE leadership decided in February 1946, "after weighing domestic factors, and the Balkan and international situation", to go forward with "organization of a new armed struggle against the Monarcho-Fascist regime". However, in spite of the Cold War, the USSR gave no direct support to the KKE, in spite of the British, and from 1947 the Americans actively supporting the Greek government.
the DSE reached the height of its power in 1948, extending its operations to Attica, within 20 km of Athens. It drew on more than 20,000 fighters, both men and women, and a network of sympathizers and informants in every village and suburb
DSE Divisions conducted guerrilla warfare across Greece; III Division, with its 1948 count of 20,000 men, controlled 70% of the Peloponnese both politically and militarily
“Fighting resumed in March 1946, as a gang of 30 ex-ELAS members, most of whom were persecuted, attacked a police station in the village of Litochoro. The next day, the official KKE paper’s coversheet announced, "Authorities and gangs fabricate alleged communist attacks". Contemporaneously, armed bands of ELAS veterans infiltrated Greece through mountainous regions near the Yugoslav and Albanian borders; they were now organized as the Democratic Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Elladas, DSE), under the command of the ELAS veteran Markos Vafiadis (known as "General Markos"), operating from a base in Yugoslavia and sent by the KKE to organize already existing troops” – ELAS becomes DSE
“the Soviets gave little direct support to the KKE campaign” – in spite of the Cold War!
1947: The task of re-equipping and training the Army had been carried out by its fellow Western Allies. By early 1947, however, Britain, which had spent 85 million pounds in Greece since 1944, could no longer afford this burden; President Harry S. Truman announced that the United States would step in to support the government of Greece against communist pressure. This began a long and troubled relationship between Greece and the United States. For several decades to come, the US Ambassador advised the King on important issues, such as the appointment of the Prime Minister.” – Greece becomes the U.S. “protectorate”
In September 1947, however, the KKE’s leadership decided to move from guerrilla tactics to full-scale conventional war, despite the opposition of Vafiadis. In December, the KKE announced the formation of a Provisional Democratic Government, with Vafiadis as prime minister; this led the Athens government to finally ban the KKE. No foreign government recognized this government. This new strategy led the DSE into costly attempts to seize a major town as its seat of government, and in December 1947 1,200 DSE fighters were killed at a set piece battle around Konitsa.
1948: In one of the meetings held in Kremlin with Yugoslav representatives, during the Soviet-Yugoslav crisis, Joseph Stalin stated his unqualified opposition to the "Greek uprising". Stalin explained to the Yugoslav delegation that the situation in Greece has always been different from the one in Yugoslavia, because the US and Britain would "never permit [Greece] to break off their lines of communication in the Mediterranean."
However, the Greek communists following Stalinist leaders meant defeat for them.
the KKE thus had to choose between its loyalty to USSR, and its relations with its closest ally. After some internal conflict, the great majority, led by party secretary Zachariadis, chose to follow the USSR, not like the YSR that had already started to negotiate with the British.
in the summer of 1948, DSE Division III in the Peloponnese suffered a huge defeat; lacking ammunition support from DSE headquarters, and having failed to capture ammunition depots belonging to the National Army at Zacharo in the western Peloponnese, its 20,000 fighters were doomed. The majority (including the commander of the Division, Vangelis Rogakos) were killed in battle with nearly 80,000 National Army troops under the command of General Tsakalotos. – a wrong tactic. 20,000 guerillas vs. 80,000 of regular army
“In 1949, the insurgents suffered a major blow, as Yugoslavia closed its borders following the split between Marshal Josip Broz Tito with the Soviet Union”. The decision by Yugoslavia to close its borders and stop helping the Greek communists was a result of the split between Yugoslavia and the USSR, due to the desire of the USSR to impose its politics on Yugoslavia, with the Greek Communist Party following the lead of the USSR.
1949: By August 1949, the Greek communist fighters were defeated.
the main body of DSE, accompanied by its HQ, after discussion with the USSR's Communist Party and other Socialist governments, was moved to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. They were to remain there, in military encampments, for three years. Other older combatants, alongside injured fighters, women and children, were relocated to European socialist states. On October 16, Zachariadis announced a "temporary ceasefire to prevent the complete annihilation of Greece"; the ceasefire marked the end of the Greek Civil War.
Militarily, KKE was defeated because they adopted the tactic of open confrontation with vastly superior government troops, for example in one battle in 1948 they put their 20,000 troops, without enough ammunition, against 80,000 government troops, armed with the latest weapons. Instead, they should have adopted “hit-and-run” tactics, like the Chinese communists in the early stages of their civil war.
The civil war “divided the Greek people for ensuing decades, with both sides vilifying their opponents. Thousands languished in prison for many years, or were sent into exile on the islands of Gyaros and Makronisos. Many others sought refuge in communist countries or emigrated to Australia, Germany, the USA, UK, Canada and elsewhere.
Greece “became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952. From 1952 to late 1963, Greece was governed by conservative parties
On April 21, 1967, a group of rightist and anti-communist army officers executed a coup d'état and seized power from the government, using the political instability and tension of the time as a pretext. The leader of the coup, George Papadopoulos, was a member of the right-wing military organization IDEA (Ιερός Δεσμός Ελλήνων Αξιωματικών, "Sacred Bond of Greek Officers"), and the subsequent military regime (later referred to as the Regime of the Colonels) lasted until 1974
During this regime, “civil liberties were suppressed, special military courts were established, and political parties were dissolved. Several thousand suspected communists and political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. Alleged US support for the junta is claimed to be the cause of rising anti-Americanism in Greece during and following the junta's harsh rule. However, during the junta's early years there was a marked upturn in the economy, with increased foreign investment and large-scale infrastructure works. The junta was widely condemned abroad, but inside the country, discontent began to increase only after 1970, when the economy slowed down. Even the armed forces, the regime's foundation, were not immune: in May 1973, a planned coup by the Hellenic Navy was narrowly suppressed, but led to the mutiny of the HNS Velos, whose officers sought political asylum in Italy
The Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973 was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974.
In 1981, in a major turning point in Greek history, the center-left government of PASOK allowed DSE veterans who had taken refuge in communist countries to return to Greece and reestablish their former estates (Slavic Macedonians excluded); this greatly helped diminish the consequences of the Civil War in Greek society. The PASOK administration also offered state pensions to former partisans of the anti-Nazi resistance.