Spartacist English edition No. 64
Fruits of Stalinist Class Collaboration
Greece 1940s: A Revolution Betrayed
The economic implosion of Greece in the midst of a global recession has turned that small capitalist country into a tinderbox. Greece has been plundered by the imperialist powers of the European Union (EU), while the pliant Greek bourgeoisie has inflicted massive pain and suffering on the working masses. Threatened with homelessness and hunger, the combative proletariat has taken to the streets time and again in recent years in huge demonstrations and protest strikes. At the same time, the fascist Golden Dawn, which is inspired by Hitler’s Nazis and enjoys considerable support among the police and the officer corps, has grown enormously, carrying out ever-bolder attacks on immigrants and leftists.
On both sides of the class divide, the sharp polarization of Greek society has brought to the fore bitter memories of the Civil War in the 1940s, which pitted the mass of workers and peasants under the leadership of the Communist Party (KKE) against the Greek ruling class and its imperialist patrons. Seven decades later, these events remain a living part of the consciousness of the working class.
World War II was even more horrific in the scale of its devastation and brutality than the first interimperialist world war of 1914-18. The bestiality of the imperialists was epitomized on the one hand by the mechanized machinery of murder in the Nazi death camps and on the other by the deliberate firebombing (and A-bombing) of hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians, as well as the British-engineered famine in colonial India, where wartime speculation and deliberate imperialist policy led to the deaths of well over a million people. Such imperialist brutality was visited also on the Greek populace. During the occupation of the country by the Italian and German imperialists and their Bulgarian allies, an estimated 550,000 people died, out of a population of just over seven million, largely the result of famine, but also through systematic massacres and the razing of entire villages. Tens of thousands more, especially workers and leftists, were subsequently slaughtered by the Greek bourgeoisie and its British (and, later, American) backers.
The Greek masses fought with courage and dedication. The depredations of the German occupation forces and the systematic looting of the country spurred a more or less spontaneous resistance movement in the cities as well as in the villages. The KKE placed itself at the head of this resistance. The National Liberation Front (EAM) was founded and dominated by the KKE as a coalition with small groups of social democrats, bourgeois liberals and petty-bourgeois agrarian populists. KKE cadres such as Aris Velouchiotis transformed the mountain guerrilla bands into the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), the fighting arm of the EAM. Notably, the Workers National Liberation Front (EEAM), based on the trade unions, was launched in July 1941, two months before the EAM itself. Likewise initiated and led by the KKE, the EEAM became the hegemonic organization of the Greek proletariat during the war. Under EEAM leadership, the workers’ quarters of Athens and other large cities were turned into fortresses against the invaders.
By April 1944, 90 percent of the Greek mainland was in the hands of the resistance movement. When the Nazi Third Reich began to crumble under the hammer blows of the Soviet Red Army, and the Germans were forced to withdraw from Greece, the KKE-led forces found themselves undisputed masters of the country. The EAM was supported by the vast majority of the population. Its Unified Panhellenic Youth Organization was a half-million strong. By the end of the occupation, ELAS had at least 70,000 well-armed fighters, along with a large reserve.
The working class in Athens, Piraeus, Salonika and other cities played a central and organized role in the Resistance, marked by a number of general strikes and huge protests against the depredations of the occupation forces. Working-class struggle continued after the German withdrawal, as exemplified by the Athens uprising of December 1944, the Dekemvriana, against the combined forces of the Greek capitalist state and a British expeditionary army.
The favorable situation for a seizure of power by the Communist-led workers and a settling of accounts with the capitalist oppressors was evident. Even the viciously anti-Communist Chris Woodhouse, a British agent parachuted into Greece during the occupation, conceded:
“If EAM/ELAS had been determined to seize power by violence on the liberation of Greece, the capital was waiting empty for them to do so on the day the Germans left. They could only have been evicted, if they had so decided, by a costly invasion, which Allied pressure and public opinion would have made impossible. By no conceivable calculation could a better opportunity be expected to recur.”
—Woodhouse, Apple of Discord: A Survey of Recent Greek Politics in Their International Setting (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1948)
Yet the KKE leadership refused to struggle for power. Why? Why did the Dekemvriana end in bloody defeat like the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s rather than in victory like the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917? This question continues to haunt the KKE. But it cannot be answered within the framework of the KKE’s Stalinist politics. A critical understanding of the lessons of the Greek Civil War—essential in forging an authentically communist vanguard party in Greece—can be derived only from the standpoint of Trotskyism, the continuity of V.I. Lenin’s Bolshevism.
Stalinism vs. Bolshevism
In the aftermath of the counterrevolutionary collapse of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of Central and East Europe in 1989-92, the KKE remains one of the few mass Communist parties that has not formally renounced the Russian October Revolution of 1917. Its predominant role in the Civil War and its long history of persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the state endow it with an undeserved aura of revolutionary militancy. With a base among the most combative sections of the working class and a niche as the “far left” in Greek parliamentary politics, in recent years the KKE has proclaimed its rejection of any electoral coalitions with bourgeois parties and sharply criticized its own role during the Civil War.
The KKE’s current cycle of self-criticism is clearly a work in progress. In 2011, it published the second volume of its Dokimio istorias tou KKE (Essay on the History of the KKE) (Athens: Sychroni Epohi, 2011), which includes a number of points at variance with the first volume, first published in 1995. The KKE has since announced that it intends to release a new version of the first volume. Meanwhile, the party press regularly churns out new revelations of where the KKE and the “international communist movement” went wrong. In a recent article in its newspaper, Rizospastis (Radical), titled “Pages from the Years 1941-1944,” the KKE asserts:
“The struggle of the KKE in the decade 1940-1949, with the armed struggle of EAM-ELAS in December 1944 and the Democratic Army of Greece (1946-1949), is the greatest offering of our party to the working class and the other poor popular layers as well as its greatest contribution to the activity of the international communist movement in the 20th century.
“However, it was confirmed in Greece as well as internationally that the most glorious movements are doomed to certain defeat if their vanguard cannot correctly solve the fundamental question of every political struggle—the question of power. The dilemma posed had to be, and could not be otherwise: bourgeois or workers power. However, while clearly a target of the bourgeoisie, the KKE counterposed the strategy of ‘national unity’.”
—Rizospastis, 22 December 2013 (our translation)
This statement raises more questions than it answers. Why would a self-styled Communist vanguard divert the struggle for workers power into the dead end of bourgeois “national unity”—and why did this happen not only in Greece, but also in Spain, France, Italy and elsewhere, for example South Africa? The KKE’s ideologues do not say. Nor can they, since that would compel them to trace this nationalist, class-collaborationist treachery back to its Stalinist roots.
The KKE glorifies Stalin as “one of the most eminent leaders of the proletariat of the USSR and also of the international communist movement” (“J.V. Stalin: His Enormous Contribution to the Cause of Building Socialism,” Rizospastis, 17-19 December 2010 [our translation]). In fact, Stalin was the gravedigger of revolution; Stalinism is not the continuity of the proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist program of Bolshevism but rather a throwback to the Menshevik politics of class-collaborationist coalitionism that was its mortal enemy in 1917.
The overthrow of the tsarist autocracy in the February Revolution of 1917 ushered in a period of dual power, pitting the soviets (councils) of workers and soldiers against the feeble bourgeois Provisional Government. So long as they remained the dominant force in the soviets, the Mensheviks and their petty-bourgeois, peasant-based Social Revolutionary allies sought to hand the power the workers had won back to the bourgeoisie, even joining the Provisional Government in a coalition with the bourgeois parties. Against Menshevik coalitionism—the precursor of Stalin’s “popular front”—the Bolsheviks advanced the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets!”
It took a sharp internal struggle by Lenin to win the Bolshevik Party to this revolutionary perspective. Until Lenin’s return to Russia in early April, the Bolshevik leadership under Stalin and Lev Kamenev conciliated the Mensheviks and extended conditional support to the Provisional Government, claiming this was in line with the old Bolshevik call for the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” The purpose of Lenin’s “April Theses” was to rearm the Bolshevik Party, to chart a course of struggle toward the dictatorship of the proletariat, to convince the masses “that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government” (“The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution,” April 1917). In so doing, he explicitly renounced the earlier conception that the Russian Revolution would take the form of a “democratic dictatorship.”
KKE ideologues who occasionally cite the April Theses to the contrary, Lenin’s conclusion was operationally congruent with Trotsky’s conception of permanent revolution—that the Russian proletariat could win power in advance of the Western proletariat and would be compelled to transcend the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution and undertake socialist measures. Trotsky, in turn, came over to Lenin’s view on the vanguard party, allowing for a deepgoing fusion of their forces. Lenin’s struggle in April laid the basis for the Bolsheviks’ victory in October.
Even more so than in Greece, in Russia the proletariat was numerically dwarfed by the petty bourgeoisie, in the form of a downtrodden, impoverished and backward peasantry. The Bolsheviks did not conciliate the Social Revolutionaries, whose defense of the bourgeois order was in fact counterposed to the hunger for land of their peasant base. Rather, the Bolshevik-led proletariat won to its side the multimillioned peasant masses, including the peasant ranks of the decomposing Russian army, by fighting to sweep away the rule of the rapacious capitalists and landlords and to expropriate their holdings.
The Communist International (CI, or Comintern) was founded in 1919 to fight for world socialist revolution. But the postwar revolutionary wave in Europe inspired by October did not lead to the workers capturing power, largely because of the immaturity of the Communist vanguard there. By late 1923, Lenin lay dying from a stroke, and Trotsky, who had forged the Red Army and stood second only to Lenin in the eyes of the Soviet masses, was increasingly sidelined by the triumvirate of Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev. The failure of the German Revolution in October 1923 was a particularly bitter blow. For the Soviet Union, it meant facing an indeterminate period of isolation.
In that context, a conservative bureaucratic layer in the Soviet party and state, headed by Stalin, was able to usurp political power from the proletariat. This development was manifested in the rigged delegate election to the January 1924 13th Party Conference, which allowed the loose Left Opposition around Trotsky only three delegates despite its widespread support in the party. The consolidation of this political counterrevolution, which was fought down the line by Trotsky, was marked by a series of ever more overt betrayals of the international proletariat and, by the late 1930s, the wholesale extermination of virtually all the leading cadre of the Bolshevik Party of 1917. Though the Soviet Union still rested on the nationalized economy, central planning and state monopoly of foreign trade ushered in by the Bolshevik Revolution, from 1924 on the people who ruled the Soviet Union, the way it was ruled and the purposes for which it was ruled all changed. This understanding must be the beginning of wisdom for revolutionary-minded elements in and around the KKE.
Stalin’s declaration in late 1924 that it was possible to achieve socialism in a single country gave voice to the aspirations of the conservative, Russian-centered bureaucracy, which wanted to safeguard its relatively privileged position against revolutionary “adventures.” This was flatly counterposed to the Bolshevik view that the October Revolution was only the first in a series of proletarian revolutions that would extend to the advanced capitalist countries in Europe and worldwide. In Stalin’s dogma lay the origins of the revisionism inherent in the futile quest for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism (and not, as the KKE leadership would have it, a 1956 speech by Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev). In 1926, the Soviet bureaucracy, through the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee, provided a left cover for the British Trades Union Congress misleaders as they betrayed the General Strike. In the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution, Stalin and his then-ally, Nikolai Bukharin, promoted the liquidation of the Chinese Communist Party into the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang, leading to the beheading of the Chinese proletariat by the nationalist butcher Chiang Kai-shek, whom Stalin had made an honorary member of the Comintern Executive Committee in 1926.
These bankrupt anti-revolutionary policies were codified in Stalin/Bukharin’s draft program for the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928. Until 1924, all Marxists, including Stalin, had rejected the notion that an egalitarian socialist society—which would necessarily be based on an international division of labor and a level of productivity far higher than in even the most advanced capitalist countries—could be built in a single country. In “The Draft Program of the Communist International—A Criticism of Fundamentals,” Trotsky drew out the national-reformist implications of this anti-Marxist dogma:
“The new doctrine proclaims that socialism can be built on the basis of a national state if only there is no intervention. From this there can and must follow (notwithstanding all the pompous declarations in the draft program) a collaborationist policy towards the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism, that is to say, will solve the main historical question. The task of the parties in the Comintern assumes, therefore, an auxiliary character; their mission is to protect the U.S.S.R. from intervention and not to fight for the conquest of power....
“If socialism can be realized within the national boundaries of backward Russia, then there is all the more reason to believe that it can be realized in advanced Germany. Tomorrow the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany will undertake to propound this theory. The draft program empowers them to do so. The day after tomorrow the French party will have its turn. It will be the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social-patriotism.”
—Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (1928)
The KKE’s social-patriotic “national unity” politics flow logically from its continued adherence to “socialism in one country.”
1935: The Comintern’s Liquidation Congress
Shortly after the Sixth Congress, Stalin proclaimed the so-called Third Period of imminent revolution everywhere. The Communist parties rejected the existing trade unions, dubbed the social democrats “social fascists” and engaged in a series of sectarian adventures, leaving these parties increasingly isolated from the mass of the organized proletariat. The culmination of this pseudo-leftist interlude was the refusal of the German Communist leadership to demand that the reformist Social Democracy join them in a workers united front against the Nazis, allowing Hitler to come to power in 1933 without having to fire a shot.
Until the Germany debacle, Trotsky and his supporters in the International Left Opposition had considered themselves an expelled faction of the CI. But when the Nazi triumph failed to provoke any internal protest, Trotsky declared that “if the Comintern remained deaf this time, it means that it is a corpse” (“It Is Impossible to Remain in the Same ‘International’ with Stalin, Manuilsky, Lozovsky and Company,” July 1933). The task now was to build the Fourth International. The Soviet bureaucracy could no longer be removed from power, concluded Trotsky, short of a proletarian political revolution—a revolution premised on unconditional defense of the Soviet workers state—led by a new Bolshevik-Leninist party.
Panicked by the Nazi victory, Stalin insisted that everything was as it should have been while reversing course toward an open alliance with the imperialist “democracies.” The new order of the day was the “people’s front against fascism,” an electoral coalition with bourgeois parties necessarily limited to a program of bourgeois reforms. The new betrayal was codified at the 1935 Seventh CI Congress, described by Trotsky as “The Comintern’s Liquidation Congress” (August 1935). Stalin’s hatchet man, Georgi Dimitrov, declared at the Congress:
“Now the working masses in a number of capitalist countries are faced with the necessity of making a definite choice, and of making it to-day, not between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy, but between bourgeois democracy and fascism.”
—Dimitrov, The United Front Against Fascism (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1945)
When they do mention the Seventh Congress, KKE spokesmen tread gingerly around this political minefield. While the KKE claims, for now, to reject electoral coalitions, it continually calls for “people’s power,” “people’s alliance,” etc., appealing to the petty bourgeoisie on the basis of bourgeois populism. And only a few years back, the KKE crowed: “The 7th CI Congress armed the international workers movement with a clear conception of the perspectives of the fight against fascism and war” (Essay on the History of the KKE, Vol. 1 [Athens: Sychroni Epohi, 1995]).
Thus “armed,” the Stalinists became a bulwark of the rotting bourgeois order internationally, as the social democrats had been since 1914. The popular-front policy was applied from the U.S. to Europe and more broadly. When a general strike challenged capitalist rule in France following the electoral victory of the Popular Front in 1936, Stalinist leader Maurice Thorez famously declared that one must know how to end a strike. In the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, the Stalinists became “the fighting vanguard of the bourgeois-republican counterrevolution,” as Trotsky put it (“The Class, the Party, and the Leadership,” August 1940). Intent on reassuring Stalin’s hoped-for “democratic” allies that they could count on him, the Stalinists did all they could to suppress the revolutionary proletariat of Spain, rounding up and exterminating working-class militants who defied the bourgeois Popular Front government, physically smashing the heroic Barcelona uprising of 1937 and ultimately opening the door to decades of Francoist reaction (see “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War,” Spartacist [English edition] No. 61, Spring 2009).
The popular front, wrote Trotsky, “is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism” (“The POUM and the Popular Front,” July 1936). Stalinism is warmed-over Menshevism. This is what KKE supporters seeking a road to socialist revolution must come to terms with programmatically.
Leninist Policy in World War II
The KKE’s critique of “national unity” is a hollow sham in the absence of a repudiation of its support for Stalin’s “democratic” imperialist allies in World War II. Genuine Leninists—i.e., Trotskyists—were guided by the revolutionary internationalism of the Bolsheviks in World War I. From the start of the war in August 1914, Lenin fought for a complete break with the social-patriotic class traitors of the Second International and for uncompromising opposition to their policy of “civil peace”—i.e., class collaboration in the name of “defense of the fatherland.” The Bolsheviks counterposed the call: Turn the imperialist war into a civil war!
In World War II, the Fourth International stood for revolutionary defeatism with respect to all the imperialist belligerents—the Allied as well as the Axis powers—while supporting the efforts of colonial and semicolonial peoples to free themselves from imperialist subjugation, insofar as such struggles were not decisively subordinated to one or another imperialist power. A major difference with World War I, however, was the existence of the Soviet Union, which Trotskyists defended unconditionally against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution.
As well, the widespread popular perception that the imperialist Allies in World War II were waging a progressive, democratic war against fascism, particularly Hitler’s barbaric regime in Germany, posed various tactical difficulties for the Trotskyists. Where the social democrats had been largely discredited by the end of World War I, after World War II the reformists, chiefly the Stalinists, emerged with their authority greatly enhanced by their leading role in the popular-frontist “anti-fascist resistance.” In fact, it was the Soviet Union that carried out the overwhelming brunt of the fighting against Hitler’s Germany, and it was the Red Army that defeated the Nazi scourge. On the part of the imperialists, however, this war was no less aimed at a redivision of the world than was World War I, as was evident in North Africa, South Asia and the Pacific Rim. As the postwar order demonstrated, the Western imperialists fought to make the world “safe” for neocolonial exploitation, rightist reaction and all the attendant evils inherent in capitalism, including the current resurgence of fascism.
Writing some months before the Seventh Congress, Trotsky sketched out the policies that the Bolshevik-Leninists would pursue in the coming interimperialist conflict and anticipated the perfidious role that Stalinism would play:
“The international proletariat will not decline to defend the USSR even if the latter should find itself forced into a military alliance with some imperialists against others. But in this case, even more than in any other, the international proletariat must safeguard its complete political independence from Soviet diplomacy and, thereby, also from the bureaucracy of the Third International....
“The proletariat of a capitalist country that finds itself in an alliance with the USSR must retain fully and completely its irreconcilable hostility to the imperialist government of its own country.”
—“War and the Fourth International” (June 1934)
Frustrated by his failure in wooing the “democratic” imperialists, Stalin secured a “non-aggression” pact with Nazi Germany on the eve of Hitler’s September 1939 invasion of Poland. The Communist parties in the Western democracies went through another brief leftist phase during which their imperialists were roundly denounced (with nary a criticism of German imperialism under the Nazis). The Hitler-Stalin pact came crashing down on 22 June 1941, when German forces stormed into the Soviet Union. Having beheaded the Soviet high command in the bloody purges of the late 1930s and then repeatedly ignored warnings of the Nazis’ war plans from Soviet espionage networks in West Europe and Japan, Stalin was paralyzed following the invasion. The cost to the Red Army and the Soviet peoples of the vozhd’s (Russian for leader) touching faith in the Nazi führer was incalculable.
When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the Trotskyists imprisoned in the camps of Siberia demanded to be allowed to fight on the front lines in defense of the homeland of the October Revolution. Around the world, along with the advanced workers of all nations, the Fourth Internationalists hailed every victory of the Red Army against the Nazi war machine. But they did not grovel before the capitalist rulers nor wallow in the mud of bourgeois democracy. For their part, the Stalinists suddenly became the best defenders of the “democratic” imperialist ruling classes whose rapacity they had only yesterday denounced.
The war came to Greece with the Italian invasion in October 1940. After Mussolini’s troops were repulsed, in April 1941 Hitler sent in the Wehrmacht to occupy the country and shore up the Axis powers’ southern flank. Since 1936, the Greek workers and peasants had groaned under the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. Notwithstanding the dictator’s admiration for the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy, until the Italian invasion the Metaxas regime had tried to pursue a policy of pro-British neutrality. Britain had been Greece’s great-power patron since its birth as a modern state.
During World War I, Lenin sharply rebuked those “socialists” who pointed to the plight of small countries swept up in the interimperialist war as justification for the defense of their fatherland. As he later put it in a polemic against German revisionist Karl Kautsky, “If the war is a reactionary, imperialist war, that is, if it is being waged by two world groups of the imperialist, rapacious, predatory, reactionary bourgeoisie, then every bourgeoisie (even of the smallest country) becomes a participant in the plunder, and my duty as a representative of the revolutionary proletariat is to prepare for the world proletarian revolution as the only escape from the horrors of a world slaughter” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky ). Yet the outpouring of Greek “national unity” following the Italian invasion was faithfully echoed by KKE leader Nikos Zachariadis, who was then imprisoned in one of Metaxas’ camps along with many other leftists. In an open letter upheld to this day by the KKE, Zachariadis urged: “We must give all our strength, without reservation, to this war directed by the Metaxas government” (reprinted in Richard Clogg, ed., Greece 1940-1949: Occupation, Resistance, Civil War [London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002]).
The KKE launched the National Liberation Front and its ELAS fighting force only after the attack on the Soviet Union. The name ELAS—which sounds like Hellas (Greece)—underlines the nationalist character that the KKE sought to give the Resistance. The EAM’s political manifesto, which did not so much as mention the words “socialism” or “communism,” proclaimed: “The struggle will include all social classes of the people, from the worker to the bourgeois, from the poor peasant to the land owner” (“What Is the National Liberation Front and What Does It Want?”, reprinted in Greece 1940-1949). In line with the policy of the popular front, the KKE managed to bring into the EAM a handful of social democrats and bourgeois liberals, as well as the Agrarian Party. This handful represented, as Trotsky said of the small bourgeois component in the Spanish Popular Front of 1936, the shadow of the bourgeoisie; the overwhelming bulk of the Greek bourgeoisie wanted nothing to do with the Reds or the Resistance. Yet this shadow was a guarantor of the EAM’s commitment to the defense of bourgeois property relations, while simultaneously allowing the KKE tops to justify their treachery to their combative working-class base in the name of “unity.”
Some elements of the old officer corps also established resistance groups. Compared to ELAS they were militarily insignificant. The two most important—the National Republican Greek League (EDES) and the National and Social Liberation (EKKA)—were anti-Communist tools of the British high command in Cairo, for whom their main value was not in resisting the German occupation but in fighting ELAS.
Working-Class Struggle Under the Occupation
The entire interwar history of Greece dictated that the resistance struggle of the working people against the Axis occupation could not be confined to one of “national liberation” as the Stalinist schema demanded. The foreign occupation added national oppression to the sufferings of the Greek working people, but under no circumstances could the reactionary Stalinist pipe dream of “national unity” be realized. The Greek bourgeoisie was far too afraid of the proletariat for that and the class question was thrust inevitably to the fore. Moreover, British prime minister Winston Churchill, mindful of the revolutionary turmoil that swept Europe at the end of the earlier interimperialist war, was determined to extirpate any Communist influence in Greek society. Churchill was also insistent on returning the widely unpopular King George, who had installed Metaxas as dictator, to the throne.
Faced with the hostility of their hoped-for “democratic” allies, the Stalinist-led partisans—notwithstanding the KKE’s pro-imperialist politics—fought largely independently of and not under the direction and military discipline of the Allied imperialists. In an article written after the December 1944 uprising, the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the most politically authoritative section of the Fourth International, noted:
“The resistance movement in Greece rose to mass proportions without—and against—the bourgeoisie. The masses were no less hostile to Churchill’s collaborationists in Cairo than to Hitler’s Quislings in Athens. The decisive force in the resistance movement was the working class.”
—“Civil War in Greece,” Fourth International, February 1945
Especially with the Red Army’s heroic February 1943 victory over the Nazis in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Greek working class began to assert itself through strikes and other actions and to grow in confidence. The second of two general strikes against the Nazi “civil mobilization” of forced labor, on 5 March, was accompanied by a massive demonstration in Athens. Amid clashes with the police and the occupying troops, demonstrators stormed the Ministry of Labor and succeeded in destroying the lists of workers who were slated for deportation to Germany. That evening, the German authorities announced that the civil mobilization plans had been canceled, the only country in occupied Europe where this happened.
While these actions are its best-known achievement, the EAM’s working-class auxiliary, EEAM, organized a large number of strikes, demonstrations and other actions. On 25 June 1943, following the execution of 128 Communists, more than 150,000 demonstrated against Nazi state terror. As a consequence of the protest, 50 tramway workers who were slated for execution for participating in a strike were saved. Listing the numerous strikes that took place in a typical month under the German occupation, historian Angelos Avgoustidis concludes that “EEAM’s active role in the Resistance contributed to a general appearance of continuous upheaval in the Greek cities at this time” (“EEAM: The Workers’ Resistance,” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, Fall 1984). By 1944 the Germans were under siege in the major cities. The working-class districts of Athens, the so-called “Red Belt,” were no-go areas for German troops, who could leave the cities only in guarded convoys.
The aspirations for social as well as national liberation were clearly reflected in the central role played by women in the struggle. The National Solidarity support network was dominated by female cadres, and young girls were active in the EAM’s youth movement. Greek women first got the right to vote in the 1944 election for the EAM’s “government of the mountain.” In 1946-49, women made up some 30 percent of the fighting forces and 70 percent of the medical and other support personnel in the Communist-led guerrilla army. In an article titled “Left-Wing Women Between Politics and Family,” Tassoula Vervenioti writes: “It was during the German occupation that Greek women entered the public sphere en masse for the first time”; “even today women members of EAM or the KKE feel that they acted as historical subjects and gained self-confidence, equality, and esteem through their resistance activity” (Mark Mazower, ed., After the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943-1960 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000]).
At the same time, the nationalist, popular-frontist politics of the KKE/EAM embraced even the reactionary Orthodox church. Orthodox priests were welcomed into the EAM and some fought in ELAS units. The EAM manifesto reeked of anti-German and anti-Italian chauvinism combined with vile misogynist backwardness: “Whatever happened to ‘traditional Greek morals and customs’? Foreign soldiers stroll around our towns and villages arm-in-arm with our wives, our daughters, our sisters” (reprinted in Greece 1940-1949). The manifesto shrieked:
“Scourge in every way and condemn sexual relations with foreigners. Stigmatize the women who give themselves. Every woman who gives herself to foreigners is already an informer and a traitor. Use cheapening adjectives and terms for these, and make it known that after the war on both their cheeks will be carved with indelible letters a large initial P which will stand for Porni (Prostitute) and Prodotissa (Traitor).”
Under the leadership of the Stalinists, the huge social power of the working class and the heroism of its fighters, rather than being mobilized to do away with the capitalist system of exploitation, were used to pull the cart of bourgeois nationalism with attendant social backwardness.
Revolt in Cairo
In August 1943, the British invited the various guerrilla groups to Cairo, seat of the Greek bourgeois government-in-exile, to coordinate their activities. The KKE/EAM representatives begged the king not to return to Greece until after a plebiscite had been held. But Churchill dismissed this request and the negotiations were over before they began. Churchill came to the conclusion that something had to be done to clip ELAS’ wings.
Bolstered by British aid, in October 1943 EDES engaged in fighting with ELAS (ushering in what became known as the “first round” in the Civil War). The response was swift. In short order, EDES was in danger of being completely wiped out. The intervention at this time of the German army saved EDES (which collaborated with the Nazis as well as the British against ELAS). ELAS soon resumed operations and could easily have liquidated the EDES forces. But EAM/ELAS sought the unity of “all the national forces” and in February 1944 signed the British-brokered Plaka Agreement that mandated an end to hostilities among the guerrilla groups. The Plaka Agreement did not last. ELAS soon came under attack again, this time by the other British-sponsored guerrilla force, the EKKA, whose 5/42 Regiment was surrounded and liquidated by ELAS.
On 10 March 1944, EAM/ELAS announced the formation of the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA). The KKE/EAM leadership never intended this “government of the mountain” to be anything more than a bargaining chip for a future division of portfolios in a British-sponsored coalition government. But it was pointedly snubbed by Stalin, who feared anything that might unsettle the British just when a second front against Germany was about to become a reality. In contrast, the PEEA’s formation was greeted with excitement by the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Greek armed forces in Egypt, which was made up of some 30,000 Greek troops who had escaped following the Nazi occupation and of volunteers from among Greeks living in Egypt. They were placed under the command of the British HQ Middle East in Cairo as the Royal Hellenic Middle East Forces and saw action at El Alamein. However, the soldiers and sailors were overwhelmingly sympathetic to EAM/ELAS and became a hotbed of revolutionary agitation.
Pro-EAM officers drew up a resolution demanding the “formation of a government representing the fighting people based on the Political Committee of National Liberation” (“The Middle East Movement,” Rizospastis, 23 April 2000 [our translation]). The arrest of six of these officers triggered an angry mutiny that spread to the navy, as rebellious sailors seized the Pindus, the Averoff, the Ajax and other ships. Sailors on board the destroyer Pindus, docked in Alexandria, threw their reactionary officers into the sea. Churchill instructed his naval commander-in-chief: “You should leave the senior member of the Averoff in no doubt that his guarantee that the use of firearms will be avoided will not be reciprocated by us” (quoted in Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 5 [London: Penguin Books, 1985]). The mutiny was crushed and thousands were packed off to concentration camps in the desert. Some were sentenced to death; many others died in the intolerable conditions.
The small Egyptian Stalinist group led by Henri Curiel came to the aid of the Greek soldiers and sailors, organizing huge support demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria. Curiel provided the rebels with food and water, premises and funds, and he helped those who managed to escape after the mutiny with finding temporary sanctuary. As for the Greek Stalinist leaders, their backstabbing was captured in a message from an EAM delegation to British ambassador Reginald Leeper condemning the mutiny as the “mad action of irresponsible persons” (U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1944). The KKE now says his message was “unacceptable and inexplicable” (History, Vol. 1). Nevertheless, it was published at the time in the KKE’s Rizospastis (Athens edition, 25 May 1944).
In late May 1944, a delegation of KKE, EAM and PEEA representatives met with newly appointed prime minister Georgios Papandreou in Lebanon to sign an agreement drawn up by Leeper. Churchill saw Papandreou as the Greek politician most able to carry out a hardline policy against the KKE. The Lebanon agreement stated: “All of us agreed that the Middle East mutiny constituted a crime against our country” (reprinted in E.A.M. White Book [New York: Greek American Council, 1945]). In exchange for spitting on the bodies of their comrades, the EAM got six of 24 ministerial portfolios in a new government of “national unity” under Papandreou. In entering the Papandreou government, the Stalinists invested this hated puppet regime with a measure of popular authority.
In September came the Caserta Agreement in Italy, in which the EAM/ELAS leaders agreed to place their fighters under the discipline of British general Sir Ronald Scobie—whose purpose was to eliminate ELAS! As Woodhouse described it: “The agreement completed the work, begun at Plaka seven months earlier, of ensuring that the return of the Allies (and with them Papandhreou’s Government) should be unchallenged by EAM/ELAS” (Apple of Discord).
A month later, at a meeting in Moscow, Stalin accepted Churchill’s infamous “percentages agreement.” According to Churchill, he told Stalin: “So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent. predominance in Roumania, for us to have ninety per cent. of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” (Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 6 [London: Penguin Books, 1985]). Churchill wrote this proposal on a piece of paper, his account continues, and “I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down.”
Revolt in Athens
On 12 October 1944, the German army abandoned Athens. Two days later, Scobie arrived in Greece, with the Papandreou government in his baggage. As the British convoy made its way from the port of Piraeus to the center of Athens, it was greeted by massive crowds waving KKE placards declaring: “Welcome to Our Allies.”
During this period, committees for popular administration took over food distribution and organized free medical aid and public education. Factories abandoned or shut by their owners were occupied and run by the workers. While the workers sought to exercise the power they held, the “Communist” ministers in the government of “national unity” (like the Mensheviks in Russia, the Social Democratic Party in Germany 1918-19, the Stalinists in Spain, etc.) sought to liquidate it. The EAM-controlled National Civil Guard handed over its powers to the police, who were protecting the pro-Nazi collaborators. The EAM ministers of finance and labor took responsibility for setting wages at starvation level and sacking “excess” workers in order to bring down the spiraling rate of inflation. The massive profits made by bourgeois speculators during the war were not confiscated, as demanded by the workers, but merely taxed. The KKE cautioned against strikes, but angry workers began to mobilize.
For the British imperialists and the Greek bourgeoisie, the burning question was the disarmament of the proletariat and the rural masses. In early November 1944, the British moved the Mountain Brigade from Italy to Greece, preparing for the showdown. This brigade consisted of fanatical anti-Communists who had been salvaged from the Greek armed forces in Egypt. But, feeling the hot breath of the masses on their necks, the Stalinists balked at disarming without first ensuring that the pro-Nazi collaborationist forces, as well as the rightist cutthroats of the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion, were also disarmed.
In late November, Scobie issued an ultimatum ordering ELAS units to disarm by 10 December, threatening that otherwise “the currency will not be maintained on a stable basis and the people will not be fed” (E.A.M. White Book). The six EAM ministers finally resigned from the government. In his resignation statement, the KKE’s Yiannis Zevgos called for “the demobilization of all armed forces,” including ELAS, and “for the creation of a real National Guard which will be at the service of the nation” (E.A.M. White Book). While Churchill and Scobie were preparing a bloodbath against the armed proletariat organized in ELAS, the KKE pleaded to place nation above class!
EAM called for a mass protest in Athens’ Constitution Square on 3 December and a general strike the following day in order to pressure the government. Hours before the demonstration, Papandreou suddenly withdrew permission for the protest. Under the protection of British tanks, gendarmes opened fire on the hundreds of thousands who turned out, killing at least 20 and injuring well over 100. According to an eyewitness account in the Chicago Sun:
“While the police were firing upon the unarmed demonstrators, the mass of the crowd continued to march on erectly. Women and girls with a smile on their lips shouted even after their comrades were killed ‘Long Live Churchill! Long Live Roosevelt! Down with Papandreou! No King!”
—quoted in E.A.M. White Book
The day after the massacre, armed rightist gangs and the gendarmerie killed or wounded hundreds more as they were returning from the funerals of those slain on Sunday. Enraged Athens workers seized police stations throughout the capital, shouting “Death to Papandreou!” In Piraeus, dock workers paraded with clubs, knives and guns. Churchill cabled Scobie:
“You are responsible for maintaining order in Athens and for neutralising or destroying all E.A.M.-E.L.A.S. bands approaching the city.... Do not however hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.”
—The Second World War, Vol. 6
Finally, on 7 December, the Central Committee of ELAS announced: “The general battle for liberty and the complete independence of Greece has begun. We did not desire to fight; it was forced upon us” (E.A.M. White Book). Within days, workers’ detachments controlled the whole of Athens but for a small area of three square miles. On 11 December, Field Marshal Alexander, sent to Athens to assess the situation, told Leeper: “You are in a grave situation. Your seaport is cut off, your airport can only be reached by tank or armoured car, you are outnumbered, your dumps are surrounded and you have three days’ ammunition” (quoted in John O. Iatrides, Revolt in Athens [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972]).
Frightened by the revolutionary implications of the fighting, the KKE leaders tossed one concession after another at the recalcitrant British and tried to avoid engaging Scobie’s forces, even forbidding fraternization with his troops. Instead of concentrating its forces in Athens, where the struggle would be won or lost, ELAS launched a major assault against the remnants of the EDES forces in Epirus and against another reactionary guerrilla group in Macedonia. As telegrams zipped back and forth between the panicked British imperialists in Athens and London, the EAM Central Committee declared on 15 December “that it does not wish to seize power. It does not wish a coup-d’etat of any kind. It does not wish a one-sided Government of the Left” (E.A.M. White Book).
Betrayal in Varkiza
On 25 December, Churchill arrived in Athens to take personal control. Having previously rejected any substitute for the king, Churchill finally accepted Archbishop Damaskinos as regent. The KKE leaders capitulated totally. A new “national unity” government was to be formed, excluding the KKE/EAM and also Papandreou. On 30 December, as the Greek workers continued to fight for their lives, the Soviet government gave its seal of approval to their repression, announcing that it would appoint a Soviet ambassador to the puppet government in Athens.
Before Churchill’s arrival, guerrillas had managed to place a ton of dynamite in the sewers underneath the Hotel Grande Bretagne, where Churchill had intended to stay. This episode illustrates the capability and audacity of ELAS, but it was no more than a show of strength in the service of a rotten policy basically aimed at securing a couple more cabinet seats in a future capitalist government. On his return to Britain, Churchill denounced ELAS in Parliament, saying, with a nod to Stalin: “I think ‘Trotskyists’ is a better definition of these people and of certain other sects, than the normal word, and it has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia” (“War Situation and Foreign Policy,” Speech to House of Commons, Hansard, 18 January 1945). The February 1945 Fourth International article commented:
“ELAS is ‘Trotskyist’ in one sense only—in the revolutionary instincts of its indomitable fighters, in their great capacity for struggle and sacrifice. But its program and leadership has no resemblance to ‘Trotskyism.’ Churchill forgets that during the real ‘Trotskyist’ revolution, he never in his wildest dreams conceived of going to Moscow to secure the agreement of the Bolsheviks to set up the white guard Baron Wrangel as regent for the Czar while the Red Army quietly surrendered its arms.”
—“Civil War in Greece”
Dutifully aiding Churchill in his reactionary crusade against the Greek proletariat, a delegation of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) returned from Athens in early February 1945 to retail fabricated accounts of Communist atrocities. Appropriately, the delegation was headed by Sir Walter Citrine, a traitor to the 1926 General Strike. The TUC report was part of a massive propaganda campaign portraying ELAS fighters as mass murderers. The KKE’s political police, the Organization for the Protection of the People’s Struggle, certainly executed a number of collaborators and rightists. They also seized on the fighting as an opportunity to slaughter dozens of Trotskyists. But much of the “evidence” of mass executions of Greek civilians was simply manufactured.
On 11 February, KKE leader Siantos stated at a press conference:
“The Great Allies decided that it would be useful to have the British army present in Greece, and in that respect its presence is a good thing. We believe that the conflict between the British and ELAS is the result of a regrettable misunderstanding which we hope will soon be forgotten.”
—quoted in Dominique Eudes, The Kapetanios: Partisans and Civil War in Greece, 1943-1949 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972)
The following day, Siantos and his comrades signed the Varkiza Agreement. The treaty stipulated that “the armed forces of resistance shall be demobilised and in particular ELAS, both regular and reserve” while “the Sacred Squadron shall remain as at present, since it is under the immediate orders of the Allied High Command” (quoted in Apple of Discord).
The Stalinist leaders feared that the base of ELAS would revolt against a deal which left them not only disarmed but also subject to arrest without warrant under the prevailing conditions of martial law. The KKE leaders demanded an amnesty and, after some wrangling, agreed to a bogus amnesty for political crimes that allowed tens of thousands of militants to be set up for arrest and imprisonment, since their actions were deemed not political but common crimes.
Some of the rank and file of ELAS wisely refused to surrender their weapons, burying them instead. In signing the order to disarm, ELAS leader Aris Velouchiotis lent his huge authority among the ELAS ranks to this betrayal. But he then regrouped armed fighters (who included many fleeing the rightist reign of terror in the cities) in the mountains in preparation for renewed fighting. When KKE leader Nikos Zachariadis returned from Dachau concentration camp on a British military aircraft in May 1945, he denounced Velouchiotis as an adventurer. Shortly afterward, Velouchiotis and his small band of followers were trapped by government forces. Either he committed suicide or was killed; his head was severed and put on display as an anti-Communist trophy.
Zachariadis regained leadership of the party from the discredited Siantos, who would become an early scapegoat (later followed by Zachariadis himself) for the KKE leadership’s “errors” in the Athens uprising. In an article headlined “C.P. Heads Admit Treacherous Role in Greek Struggle,” the U.S. SWP commented:
“When it’s so dirty it seems impossible to cover with whitewash, call on the leadership of the Greek Stalinists. They can whitewash anything, even a bloody reign of terror for which they themselves are responsible. They’ve got it down to a fine art—making it whiter by adding a dash of the blue paint of ‘self-criticism’.”
—Militant, 7 July 1945
The Varkiza betrayal was the logical outcome of the Seventh Comintern Congress and the embrace of the imperialist “democrats.” In 1943, Stalin had dissolved the Comintern, already dead for the cause of revolution, to underscore to Roosevelt and Churchill that he was not in the business of making revolution. At war’s end, both the French and Italian Stalinists disarmed the workers and beheaded palpable opportunities for proletarian revolution—all in the service of the Stalinist fantasy of a postwar order based on “peaceful coexistence.”
The “Third Round”
The Varkiza Agreement was only a brief respite in the struggle in Greece. While large-scale fighting ceased, it could hardly be said that there was peace. The period from Varkiza until the elections of 31 March 1946 was marked by a wave of strikes and by a white terror facilitated by the Stalinists’ disarming of the workers. Nearly 1,300 leftists were murdered, some 85,000 arrested and more than 31,000 tortured. Nonetheless, the KKE stuck to the terms of the agreement and prepared for the election.
It was perfectly clear that the election would be a massive fraud. When the KKE called for the election to be postponed in view of the continuing attacks by the right, Damaskinos refused. Along with liberal opponents of the regime, the KKE ended up boycotting the election. As could be expected, it was won by the monarchist coalition. Five months later a plebiscite on the monarchy showed an improbable 68 percent of the population in favor. The newspaper of the American Trotskyists later noted that as Greece was holding the plebiscite “a 45,000 ton aircraft carrier and six other warships steamed off the Greek coast in a bristling display of military power” (Militant, 22 March 1947).
In February 1946, the KKE Central Committee had held its Second Plenum. It was later alleged—by the KKE as well as by anti-Communists—that this was the meeting at which the party resolved to launch the Civil War of 1946-49. It is doubtful that the KKE leaders ever made such a decision. This “third round” of fighting (the Athens uprising being the second round) demonstrated that despite the betrayal at Varkiza, the revolutionary energy of the working masses had not been exhausted. With more than a hint of defensiveness, KKE party historian Makis Mailis writes:
“This struggle proved that the KKE was capable of not [!] subordinating the interests of the working class and the popular layers to the strategic goals and plans of the exploiters. It proved in deeds that the KKE was not incorporated into the system despite strategically important errors such as the agreements at Lebanon, Caserta and Varkiza.”
—“The Strategy of the KKE with Nikos Zachariadis as General Secretary of the CC (1931-1956),” Kommounistiki Epitheorisi (Communist Review), November-December 2013 (our translation)
The KKE had not changed its reformist stripes. The reality was that “the system” refused to incorporate the KKE. It was the unrelenting violence of the Greek reaction that drove the working masses into an armed struggle for self-preservation and the KKE leadership was again obliged to place itself at the head. Within three months of its founding in October 1946, the Stalinist-led Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) controlled extensive parts of northern Greece. The government’s conscript army included large numbers of supporters of the Stalinists’ EPON youth organization and others sympathetic to the guerrillas. But instead of fighting for victory, the Stalinists scrambled for compromise, making repeated peace offers.
By this time, the U.S.-led Cold War against the Soviet Union was well under way. Churchill’s March 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, was followed one year later by Washington’s proclamation of the anti-Soviet Truman Doctrine. By April 1947, with the sun setting on the bankrupt British Empire, the anti-Communist Labour government of Clement Attlee (who succeeded Churchill) finally pulled its forces out of Greece, to be replaced by a much more powerful U.S. imperialism. The U.S. began sending massive amounts of military aid to the right-wing Athens regime in order to prevent the “spread of Communism.”
As Stalin was forced to respond to the increasingly bellicose threats of U.S. imperialism, Bulgaria and most other Central and East European countries occupied by Soviet forces were transformed into bureaucratically deformed workers states. In Yugoslavia, the victory of Josip Broz Tito’s Communist-led Partisans over the Nazis and their local allies had also resulted in the creation of a deformed workers state. Thus, the DSE fighters were able to find refuge across Greece’s northern borders.
But instead of offering the DSE the military aid it needed to win, Stalin and Tito kept the Greek fighters on a drip feed. In 1948, Stalin summoned Bulgarian and Yugoslav CP leaders to the Kremlin and told them, according to Milovan Djilas, then Tito’s vice president: “The uprising in Greece has to fold up” (quoted in Djilas, Conversations with Stalin [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962]).
The developing split between Tito’s Yugoslavia and the Kremlin was beginning to exert a decisive influence on events. In July 1949, hoping to get U.S. aid after being cut off by the Kremlin, Tito announced that he was closing the border to the Greek fighters. This was the final blow to the DSE. In August, the DSE fighters made their last stand on the mountainous border with Albania and Yugoslavia, massively outnumbered by Greek government forces and bombed by U.S. planes dropping napalm. The defeat of the guerrilla war, in which some 40,000 Communist-led militants lost their lives, highlighted the perfidy inherent in the dogma of “socialism in one country,” as nationalist rivalry between the Stalinist bureaucracies in Moscow and Belgrade acted to strangle the last round of the Greek revolution.
Macedonia: Litmus Test for Greek Revolutionaries
The main theater of the guerrilla war was Macedonia and large numbers of Macedonians fought in the DSE, making up an estimated 25 percent of the Communist forces in April 1947, and more as time passed. The KKE had by this time buried its earlier demand for the right of self-determination for Macedonia in favor of a call for national equality within the borders of Greece. But unlike the bourgeois parties, the KKE at least acknowledged the national existence of the Slavic Macedonian people.
Partitioned among Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War of 1913, Macedonia was a cockpit of rivalries and intrigues among these three regional powers. Greece annexed the largest portion of this region and went on to expel or forcibly Hellenize much of the Slavic-speaking population, denying any national rights to those who remained. Even to acknowledge the existence of this national minority, much less its right to secede, was anathema to the advocates of a “Greater Greece.” Thus for revolutionaries in Greece, support for the right of self-determination for the Slav-Macedonian minority in northern Greece has long been a litmus test of their commitment to internationalist struggle against the Greek bourgeoisie.
Trotsky addressed the Macedonian question in a 1932 discussion with the early Greek Trotskyists, the Archeiomarxists. The Archeiomarxists opposed independence for the Macedonian minority. Responding to their argument that Aegean Macedonia was “90 percent Greeks,” Trotsky replied: “Our first task is to take an attitude of total skepticism toward these [government] figures.” On the question of independence, Trotsky said:
“I’m not certain whether it is correct to reject this slogan. We cannot say we are opposed to it because the population will be against it. The population must be asked for its opinion on this. The ‘Bulgarians’ represent an oppressed layer....
“It’s not our task to organize nationalist uprisings. We merely say that if the Macedonians want it, we will then side with them, that they should be allowed to decide, and we will also support their decision.”
—“A Discussion on Greece” (Spring 1932)
Trotsky went on to point to the crux of the matter for Marxists in Greece:
“What disturbs me is not so much the question of the Macedonian peasants, but rather whether there isn’t a touch of chauvinist poison in Greek workers. That is very dangerous. For us, who are for a Balkan federation of soviet states, it is all the same if Macedonia belongs to this federation as an autonomous whole or part of another state.”
The oppression of the Macedonian minority under the Greek jackboot was such that many Macedonians initially welcomed the Bulgarian occupation in World War II. It was necessary to oppose the chauvinism not only of the Bulgarian ruling class but also of the Greek bourgeoisie over Macedonia. But this was not the Stalinists’ approach: for example, in July 1943 the EEAM organized a massive demonstration in Athens against the Bulgarian annexation of “Greek” Macedonia.
The brutality of the Axis occupiers soon repelled many Macedonians. By the time of the 1946-49 war, the main factor in winning support among the Slavic minority for the DSE’s struggle was the social revolution taking place across the border in Yugoslavia. There, the Macedonian partisans had formed their own HQ, were led by Macedonian officers and used the Macedonian language and flag. The creation of an autonomous Macedonian republic within the Yugoslav federation was to exert a powerful attraction for the Slavs in Greece. The Yugoslavs’ agitation for a united Macedonia met with hostility from the KKE.
But as the split with Tito deepened, the KKE made an effort to conciliate the Macedonians in order to undermine support for Tito, declaring in January 1949 that with “the victory of the DSE and of the people’s revolution, the Macedonian people will find their full national restoration as they themselves wish” (Resolution of the Fifth Plenum of the CC of the KKE, 30-31 January 1949, www.rizospastis.gr [our translation]). Only a few months later, following the defeat in the Civil War, the KKE again repudiated the right of self-determination. Intoning that “Stalin teaches us,” leading KKE spokesman Vasilis Bartziotas announced in October 1949: “Today the situation has changed.... We have to return to the slogan for national equality which was put forth by the  Sixth Congress of the KKE” (quoted in Andrew Rossos, “Incompatible Allies: Greek Communism and Macedonian Nationalism in the Civil War in Greece, 1943-1949,” Journal of Modern History, March 1997).
More than 40 years later, when the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared its independence in 1991 amid the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Yugoslav deformed workers state, posters across Greece declared, “Macedonia Is Greek!” KKE spokesman Aleka Papariga was witchhunted at the time for merely stating that there were Slavic speakers in Greece. Nevertheless, the KKE now echoes the Greek bourgeoisie in railing against “a conscious effort to promote Turkish national consciousness in the Muslim minority and a so-called ‘Macedonian’ national consciousness among a section of the Slavic-speakers.” The KKE declares:
“The attempts to gain recognition of a ‘Macedonian national minority’ as well as a ‘Turkish minority’ as pursued by the U.S. and the EU, with all that that entails, would constitute another step toward contesting the borders (e.g., the Treaty of Lausanne) and territorial status in the region, something moreover that is not hidden in nationalist circles in Turkey and FYROM [Macedonia].”
—Rizospastis, 27 April 2014 (our translation)
This grotesque appeal to a 90-year-old imperialist treaty in order to defend the territorial integrity of capitalist Greece speaks volumes about the revolutionary pretensions of the KKE. Contrast this with Lenin, who wrote: “A member of an oppressor nation must be ‘indifferent’ to whether small nations belong to his state or to a neighbouring state, or to themselves.... To be an internationalist Social-Democrat one must not think only of one’s own nation, but place above it the interests of all nations, their common liberty and equality” (“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up,” July 1916).
It is a task of Leninists to combat national chauvinism among the workers and to educate them in the spirit of internationalism. Without breaking the proletarian vanguard from loyalty to its “own” capitalist state and winning it to the understanding that workers of all countries share a common interest in overthrowing capitalism and constructing a global communist society, it will not be possible to forge a party capable of leading a revolution. This is particularly true in the Balkans, where nationalist territorial conflicts have long served to poison the consciousness of the working class. In the statement announcing the founding of the Trotskyist Group of Greece in 2004, we noted:
“The Balkan peninsula is a region with myriad interpenetrated peoples and oppressed minorities. An equitable resolution of the national question in the Balkans requires a socialist federation. The ICL recognizes that the question of Macedonia is a test of the authenticity of any group claiming to be internationalist in Greece. The TGG defends the national rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece, including their right to set up their own state or unite with the existing state of Macedonia. For full democratic rights for national minorities in Greece! For a Balkan socialist federation!”
—Spartacist (English edition) No. 59, Spring 2006
Trotskyists in the Greek Civil War
The Stalinist bureaucracy in the Kremlin was a contradictory phenomenon resulting from and in turn reinforcing the isolation and relative economic weakness of the Soviet Union. While pursuing a generally reactionary policy motivated by defense of its bureaucratic privileges, at times—and through its own methods—it was compelled to defend the historically progressive collectivized economy on which that privileged position was dependent. In the capitalist countries, the Stalinist parties served two masters: the Kremlin bureaucracy and the local bourgeoisie. But in cloaking themselves in the mantle of the Russian Revolution, these parties also had to maintain the loyalty of the subjectively revolutionary masses drawn to their banner. In their article on the Greek Civil War, the American Trotskyists captured well this contradictory situation:
“The Greek masses were burning with revolutionary determination and wished to prepare the overthrow of all their oppressors—Nazi and Greek. Instead of providing the mass movement with a revolutionary program, similar to the Bolshevik program of 1917, and preparing the masses for the seizure of power, the Stalinists steered the movement into the blind alley of People’s Frontism. The Stalinists, who enjoyed virtual hegemony of the mass movement, joined with a lot of petty bourgeois politicians, lawyers, professors, who had neither mass following nor influence, and artificially worked to limit the struggle to the fight for capitalist democracy....
“The very threat of effecting such a program [for a democratic republic] by EAM lead to civil war and British intervention. Frightened by the inexorable logic of the struggle—which could only triumph with the dictatorship of the proletariat—the Stalinists and petty bourgeois leaders sought an agreement with the reactionary bourgeois government in exile and through them with British imperialism....
“A great gulf separates the insurgent masses from their treacherous Stalinist leaders. Yet so long as the Stalinists remain at the helm they cannot escape the revolutionary pressure of the workers and peasants who hate the king and will never peacefully countenance his return, who are determined to purge Greece not only of the German collaborationists but of all the satraps of the Metaxas dictatorship, and who instinctively are striving towards a socialist solution.”
—“Civil War in Greece”
Unfortunately, the Trotskyist militants on the ground in Greece did not share this dialectical approach. They not only opposed the Stalinist misleaders but also rejected the Stalinist-led mass movement.
Trotskyism in Greece had its origins with the Archeiomarxist group that had been expelled from the Greek Communist Party in 1924. After several years of educational work, including the publication of key Marxist texts in Greek, the Archeiomarxists embarked on work in the trade unions, winning the leadership of a number of unions. In 1930, they adhered to the International Left Opposition (ILO), becoming its largest section, with a membership comparable to that of the KKE. Four years later, the bulk of the Archeiomarxists split with Trotsky over his call for a new International. Those who stayed with Trotsky included veteran cadre George Vitsoris. After Vitsoris was forced to go into exile, the group came under the leadership of Agis Stinas.
Meanwhile, Pantelis Pouliopoulos, who had been general secretary of the KKE from 1924 until a year before his expulsion in 1927, formed the Spartakos group. Pouliopoulos professed support for the Left Opposition but refused to unite with the official ILO section, the Archeiomarxists. He, too, initially opposed the call for the Fourth International, but started moving closer to Trotsky in 1935. Thus by the late 1930s, there were two main groups in Greece claiming adherence to Trotskyism. Over the years, various other groupings (notably that of Loukas Karliaftis) shifted back and forth between the two or set up ephemeral independent operations.
When World War II broke out, the best of the Trotskyist cadre in Europe sought to uphold the program of revolutionary internationalism, in contrast to the gross chauvinism of the Stalinist-led resistance movements, encapsulated in the headline of the French Communist Party’s newspaper L’Humanité: “A chacun son boche” (Everyone Get a Kraut). In particular, the Trotskyists sought to fraternize with the German and Italian occupation troops, recognizing that many of them were working-class youth from a Communist or socialist background who could serve as a bridgehead for socialist revolution throughout Europe. Exemplary in this regard were the French Trotskyists, who built a cell in the German armed forces at Brest and distributed the newspaper Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier), and also the Dutch Committee of Revolutionary Marxists. (For more on this, see “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’,” Prometheus Research Series No. 2, February 1989.)
In Greece, Pouliopoulos became a symbol of proletarian internationalism when he confronted an Italian firing squad in 1943, appealing to the soldiers as class brothers in Italian. They refused to fire, and it was left to a fascist officer to execute Pouliopoulos.
The Struggle for Program
The Fourth Internationalists had to apply their program in unimaginably difficult circumstances. Few in number, the Trotskyists in Greece were isolated by the war from the Fourth International and subjected to persecution by fascists, “democratic” imperialists and Stalinists alike. At the time of the Italian invasion in 1940, the majority of the Greek Trotskyists, in common with many KKE militants, found themselves in the prison camps of Metaxas. But the Greek Trotskyists were also hamstrung by serious political problems, notably on the Russian question and the national question. (A detailed treatment of Trotskyism in Greece is presented in two unpublished dissertations by Alexis Hen: “Les trotskystes grecs et le Parti communiste de Grèce pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale” [Greek Trotskyists and the Communist Party of Greece during the Second World War], INALCO, December 2006, and “Les trotskystes entre deux phases de la guerre civile en Grèce 1945-1946” [The Trotskyists Between Two Phases of the Civil War in Greece 1945-1946], INALCO, November 2011.)
Unlike World War I, the Second World War was marked by prolonged occupations of a number of European countries by the German (and, to a lesser extent, Italian) military. Many European Trotskyists were thrown into disarray by these occupations, developing symmetrical deviations on the national question. In France, the group around Marcel Hic espoused an explicitly nationalist and popular-frontist line—which was opposed by other French Trotskyists—declaring that the Trotskyists “stretch out [their] hands to the ‘French’ faction of the bourgeoisie” (quoted in “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’”). Both of the Greek Trotskyist groups were guilty of the opposite error, failing to recognize any aspect of national oppression under the Nazi occupation. Karliaftis defended this abstentionist position throughout his life:
“Occupations during the imperialist war are nothing but a phase, an incident of a smaller or greater significance of the prolonged war.... It neither raises a national question and a question of National Liberation, nor, finally, does it change the basic duties of the proletariat, i.e. the transformation of the war into a civil war.”
—quoted in “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’”
While Trotsky opposed those “semi-internationalists” who argued for supporting the Allied imperialists after France was occupied by the Nazis, he did not, as Karliaftis did, turn a blind eye to the renewed significance of the national question. Rather, he asserted, national oppression could act as an auxiliary motor force for proletarian revolution:
“In the defeated countries the position of the masses will immediately become worsened in the extreme. Added to social oppression is national oppression, the main burden of which is likewise borne by the workers. Of all the forms of dictatorship, the totalitarian dictatorship of a foreign conqueror is the most intolerable....
“One can expect with assurance the rapid transformation of all the conquered countries into powder magazines....
“The new war map of Europe does not invalidate the principles of revolutionary class struggle.”
—“We Do Not Change Our Course” (June 1940)
In the case of the Russian question, the two Greek Trotskyist groups were at odds. The Pouliopoulos group called for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union. Stinas opposed this call and became even more virulently anti-Soviet when Stalin entered the war in a bloc with the Allied imperialists. Similar disputes over the Russian question erupted in other sections of the Fourth International, most notably in the American SWP, where a petty-bourgeois opposition led by Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Martin Abern split away following the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact to form the Workers Party, which openly renounced unconditional military defense of the USSR.
Both Greek groups opposed the popular-frontist politics of the Stalinists and denounced support for the Anglo-American Allies. They did not join the KKE in enthusing over Metaxas’ war with Italy, recognizing that this was subordinated to the interimperialist conflict. However, both of the Greek Trotskyist groups went further, generally refusing to defend ELAS against the German occupation army and, later, against the British/Greek reactionary forces in 1944-45. With this abstentionist line, the Trotskyists abandoned the struggling masses to the chauvinist demagogy of the Stalinists.
The severe disorientation of the Greek Trotskyists during the war was a result of their failure over the years to recognize the primacy of the struggle for programmatic clarity. Such internal struggle is critical to the cohering of a politically homogenous cadre organization. Instead, ostensible Trotskyism in Greece spawned a confused and heterogeneous multiplicity of groups that would come together and then fall apart without any advance in clarity.
Sectarianism and Stalinophobia
Once contact with the International was re-established in 1945, the Greek organizations’ sectarianism toward the Resistance was subjected to the criticism of their comrades in other countries. But some of the counsel against sectarianism tended in the direction of opportunism toward the Stalinists. This opportunist thrust was already evident in a resolution adopted at a February 1944 clandestine conference in Paris. Among the participants were two Greek exiles—George Vitsoris and Michalis Raptis (Michel Pablo), who after the war became the principal leader of the International and the architect of a revisionist policy that led to its destruction. This resolution called on the Fourth Internationalists to:
“Organize themselves within the ranks of the military organizations controlled by the National Unity of the anti-German bourgeoisie and the Stalinists as secret fractions, with their own discipline, and firmly oriented toward breaking with these organizations at the most advantageous or the most necessary moment.”
—“Theses on Liquidation of World War II and the Revolutionary Upsurge,” Fourth International, March 1945
Trotskyists do not oppose partisan struggle on principle. It can be a useful auxiliary in the proletariat’s fight to overthrow capitalist rule. But as we noted in the introduction to our Prometheus Research Series bulletin:
“Although the Partisan movements in France, Italy and Greece followed very different trajectories, where the leadership was not simply bourgeois nationalist it was Stalinist and the Stalinists had subordinated their forces to the military and political alliance with the ‘democratic’ imperialists. Participation by the small Trotskyist nuclei in nationalist bourgeois or Stalinist military formations in a subordinated or assimilated role would have meant abandoning a class position, crossing the line to class collaborationism. Moreover, it would have tended to cut across the necessary strategy of subverting the Axis armies through revolutionary fraternization.”
—“Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’”
Those Greek Trotskyists who attempted to join the Stalinist-led Resistance were often rewarded with a Stalinist assassin’s bullet. What was necessary was to remain with the proletariat in the cities and to prepare for the moment when the proletariat rose in struggle as a class. This was demonstrated in Vietnam in 1945, for example, with the defeat of the Japanese occupation forces. Though they were ultimately defeated, with many of their cadre rounded up and executed, the Trotskyists were able to intervene into the accompanying social turmoil to lead a proletarian insurrection in Saigon against a popular-front government dominated by Ho Chi Minh’s Stalinists and allied with the British and French imperialist forces. (See Spartacist pamphlet, Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam .)
Greece was not Vietnam. The overwhelming mass of the working class was firmly under the control of the Stalinists, who hunted down and murdered dozens of Trotskyists during the December 1944 uprising. But, at bottom, what the Trotskyists lacked was a program for intervention into the Stalinist-led mass movement. Instead of supporting the workers uprising while politically opposing the Stalinist misleaders and exposing their compromisist policies, the Trotskyists took an abstentionist line.
In a statement on the Dekemvriana published in February 1945, the group founded by the late Pouliopoulos asserted that it had been objectively impossible to intervene given the murderous anti-Trotskyist role of the KKE. While acknowledging that the struggle “between the Right and the KKE-EAM took on the character of a conflict between capital and the oppressed layers of society,” the statement avoided any hint of military defense of the EAM forces (quoted in “Greek Trotskyists and the Communist Party of Greece During the Second World War”). Two months later, in a conference resolution published in its paper, Ergatika Nea (Workers News), the group (now fused with Karliaftis) openly equated the EAM with the British/Greek bourgeois forces:
“The two groups that fought one another must be judged from the point of view of the class struggle and the proletarian revolution; the oppressed masses can and must judge them from this historical perspective alone, and they must condemn them both mercilessly with regard to their political line as well as the relationship of forces that they relied on and the means and methods that they used....
“The conflict that arose in the December movement was not a conflict between opposing social forces, neither between capital and the proletariat, nor between capital and the oppressed layers of the population.”
—quoted in “The Trotskyists Between Two Phases of the Civil War in Greece 1945-1946”
With this sneering, plague-on-both-your-houses line, how could the Trotskyists have had any chance of winning over any of the many thousands of workers who felt betrayed by the KKE leadership’s capitulation?
From the beginning of 1945, oppositional elements within the Pouliopoulos group had started to criticize their abstentionist line in the uprising. The internal discussion was aired in the group’s paper, and more nuanced views on the role of the Stalinists and the contradictions of the Resistance were expressed. At a July 1946 conference attended by Pablo, the Stinas and Pouliopoulos groups (as well as another small group from Salonika) fused to become the Communist Internationalist Party of Greece (Fourth International), the KDKE. Though supported by only a minority of the fused group, Pablo managed to impose his line condemning the Trotskyists’ sectarianism toward the Resistance and the Dekemvriana. During the guerrilla war of 1946-49, the Trotskyists adopted a clear position of military support to the Communist-led forces.
Reflecting the political threat posed by Trotskyism, in the fall of 1946 the KKE agreed to a series of three debates with the KDKE in Athens. The Stalinists were on the defensive in the face of bourgeois persecution and restlessness within their ranks following the betrayal at Varkiza. A central issue in the debates was the question of British troops. Although the Trotskyists had correctly warned—against the KKE—that the Allied imperialists would impose a new dictatorship on the masses, the Trotskyist speakers would not state explicitly that they were for the withdrawal of the British troops on the grounds that this would be a concession to Greek nationalism. The fact that those chosen to speak for the KDKE included the anti-Soviet Stinas and Karliaftis, who still defended his earlier refusal to side with ELAS against the Wehrmacht, spoke to the Greek Trotskyists’ continuing refusal to reach out to the Stalinists’ working-class base.
Nearly 70 years later, the groups that falsely claim some identity with Trotskyism in Greece constitute a social-democratic, anti-Communist mélange that avoids the KKE like the plague and has nothing but contempt for its working-class base. In contrast, the Trotskyist Group of Greece is the only organization with a perspective aimed at winning the workers, including those who look to the KKE, to a revolutionary program and the struggle for an authentically Leninist vanguard party.
Greek Stalinism—Then and Now
Drawing the lessons from the Resistance and the Civil War begins with the understanding that defeat did not result primarily from the military superiority of the enemy, nor from the mistakes of individuals, but from the Stalinist politics of the leadership. The social liberation for which the masses yearned and fought could only be achieved through a workers revolution to sweep away the capitalist exploiters. This is what thousands upon thousands of Communist militants, not just in Greece but in France, Italy and elsewhere, expected and desired after the defeat of the fascist scourge. But the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union feared workers revolution, which it knew would threaten its own parasitic rule, and the KKE leaders, who followed Stalin, allowed the bourgeoisie to regain power. Those who apologize for or whitewash the betrayals of the past are preparing new ones.
This is palpable in Greece today. As life grows ever more unbearable for the masses, especially youth, the KKE vaunts the protest actions organized by its PAME trade-union front while arguing that the proletariat must await the day when some “objectively revolutionary situation” drops from the sky like a deus ex machina. Meanwhile, the strutting, stiff-arm-saluting fascists of Golden Dawn grow by leaps and bounds because they offer a “radical” answer now. What is urgently necessary is a fighting workers united front drawing in the main sections of the trade unions to defend the workers movement, immigrants, gays and all the oppressed against the fascists. Instead the KKE talks of “isolating” the “criminal, inhuman theories” of the fascists through educational programs in the schools or defeating them at the ballot box (KKE Political Bureau statement, 27 September 2013, www.902.gr [our translation]).
The fascists are not a debating society nor a right-wing ideological circle but a violent paramilitary gang dedicated to ethnic “purification” and the pulverization of the workers movement. In the absence of a proletarian challenge to its rule, the Greek bourgeoisie has not yet thrown its weight behind the fascists in the way that key sectors of the German bourgeoisie did in the early 1930s. But Trotsky’s warning to the German workers speaks equally to the KKE ranks today:
“Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for anyplace; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle.”
—Trotsky, “For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism” (December 1931)
The KKE covers for its criminal passivity with the perfectly correct statement that socialist revolution is ultimately the only answer to fascism. But the KKE’s program is not socialist revolution but reformist reliance on the bourgeois state. The KKE complains, “The bourgeois state has the legal framework to deal with the criminal actions of GD [Golden Dawn]. That this has not been done so far is the responsibility of governments up to now” (KKE Political Bureau statement, 27 September 2013 [our translation]). The bourgeoisie holds the fascists in reserve as a force to be unleashed against the proletariat when and as necessary. And even when the state, for its own purposes, does slap them on the wrist, this serves the bourgeoisie as a precedent to unleash repression against “extremists” on the left. As is evident in Greece today, it also allows the fascist killers to paint themselves as martyrs for the “little people.”
In line with its cringing legalism, the KKE seeks to curry favor with the fascist-infested cops, supporting their “strikes” and welcoming these hired thugs of the capitalist state into the labor movement. In a 27 February 2013 letter to the president of the European Confederation of Police, the KKE’s Aleka Papariga stated forthrightly, “We support the right of union action and the struggles of those in uniform for a decent life, like all the rest of the working people” (Rizospastis, 8 March 2013 [our translation]).
The Trotskyist Group of Greece fights to cohere from among those militants who seek to learn from the lessons of history a Bolshevik cadre committed to building a Greek section of a reforged Fourth International. In fighting for a party to lead a new revolutionary upsurge to victory, we note the following passage from a 1961 document of the British Socialist Labour League, one of the founding documents of our tendency:
“The history of the last 40 years has driven home the lesson so often repeated by Lenin and Trotsky, that there are no impossible situations for the bourgeoisie. It survived the challenge of revolution and economic depression between the wars by resort to fascism. It survived the Second World War with the complicity of the Stalinist and Social Democratic leaderships—which ensured that the working class would not make a bid for power—and used the breathing space to elaborate new methods of rule and strengthen the economy. Even the most desperate situations can be overcome if only the active intervention of the workers as a class for themselves, with a party and leadership with a perspective of overthrowing capitalism, is not prepared in time.”
—“The World Prospect for Socialism”
The KKE’s self-criticisms are a sham devised to disguise the essential continuity of its current politics with the class-collaborationist politics that led the workers of Greece into a death trap in the 1940s. A party capable of leading the struggle for workers power will be forged only by telling the truth and by instilling in the proletariat the understanding that its class interests are irreconcilably opposed to those of all wings of the bourgeoisie and its state.