Greece, 1941–49: From Resistance to Civil War1
13/02/2018 by socialistfight
The Strategy of the Greek Communist party By Haris Vlavianos
The Stalin – Churchill Agreement. Churchill asked Stalin should they not destroy the paper napkin as future generations might think it a cynical document? “No, you keep it” said, Stalin
This is a scanned in extract of pages 64 to 77 of the book online (there are 4 missing pages, as is the practice when putting books online, indicated in the text).
Throughout the December crisis, it should be remembered that the Soviet Government made no detectable attempt to influence the course or outcome of the crisis. Without its own correspondents on the scene, Pravda confined itself to brief news items, often under the heading, ‘The situation in Greece’, based on press despatches from London and New York, These were factual and without comment. Similarly, the Soviet radio had not a single word to say in sympathy with the Greek partisans. That ‘enigmatic’ persistent silence testifies that Stalin had washed his hands of the affair. That Stalin was keeping his part of the ‘percentages agreement’ can also be proved by the telegram-referred to by Partsalidis and mentioned above, which Dimitrov sent through the Bulgarian Communist Party to the KKE on 20 December 1944, at the height of the battle between ELAS and the British:
Given the present international situation, no external support can be provided to the Greek comrades. Any support from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia which involved them in fighting the British armed forces besides ELAS would be of little immediate use to the Greek comrades but might well harm Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Our Greek friends should bear all this in mind. ELAS and the Greeks must direct their steps, away from this situation, which is dangerous for them. They should not wish to pull too bard on the rope, but on the contrary should try to manifest exceptional resilience and freedom of manoeuvre with view to conserving their strength as far as possible, and await a more favourable moment for putting their democratic programme into effect. The most Important thing for the Greek party is to try to avoid becoming isolated from the Greek masses and from the democratic parties of EAM. 46
Because of some mistake in the code, the telegram was delivered to the leadership of the KKE on 15 January when the Battle of Athens had already been lost. The leadership of the KKE knew very well Dimitrov’s position in Moscow and with whose authority he spoke. Although Stalin in his meeting with the Greek communists implied that Dimitrov sent the telegram without previously consulting him, one may very much doubt his sincerity. In any event, Dimitrov was dead by that time and, therefore, no one could challenge Stalin’s words. That Dimitrov’s telegram reflected Stalin’s mind is also demonstrated by the Russian leader’s subsequent actions.
On receiving the telegram, the KKE, already deeply demoralized, was forced into a compromise. One of the main reasons which dictated its retreat was never admitted to the rank and file. 47 Zachariadis’ statement, however” that ‘Varkiza constituted an indispensable manoeuvre for the re-grouping of the forces of ELAS’, conforms, fully to the content of Dimitrov’s ‘advice’.
Churchill too was impressed by Stalin’s ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour. In his memoirs, he wrote: ‘Stalin adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement of October, and during all the long weeks of fighting the communists in the streets of Athens, not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Izvestia’. 48. In his diary on 11 December 1944, Churchill noted:
I am increasingly impressed, up to date, with the loyalty with which, under much temptation, and very likely pressure, Stalin has kept off Greece in accordance with our agreements, and I believe that we shall gain in influence with him and strengthen a moderate policy for the Soviets by showing them how our mind works.’ 49
and again on 15 ‘December 1944, in a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister he commented:
‘although communists are the root of ‘the business Stalin has not so, far made any public reflection on our action. 50
The Varkiza talks were still going on when, on 5 February 1945, the Allies met at Yalta. At the Conference’s fifth plenary meeting, on 8 February’, Stalin asked Churchill rather casually about developments in Greece” quickly adding that ‘he had no intention of criticizing what the British were doing in Greece but would ‘simply like to have some information. 51 Churchill replied that negotiations were well under way and seized the opportunity to thank Stalin for’not taking too close an interest in Greek affairs’. 52 Stalin ended the exchange of civilities by repeating that ‘he had no intention of criticizing British actions there or interfering in Greece.’ 53
The following day, after joking that it would have been dangerous if Churchill had allowed other ‘forces than his own to go to Greece” to which Churchill retorted be would welcome a Soviet observer there, the Soviet leader replied that the idea seemed to him a dangerous one, as the British had never allowed any forces but their own in Greece. This was, of course, a joke, and he ended on the official note thought more appropriate to subjects of this kind: “I have every confidence in British policy in Greece’. 54
On 27 February 1945, Churchill asked the House of Commons to approve the results of the Crimean Conference. On this occasion, the British Prime Minister declared that ‘I felt bound to proclaim my confidence in Soviet good faith in the hope of procuring it. In this, I was encouraged by Stalin’s behaviour about Greece”. 55
On 24 April 1945, Stalin sent an exasperated message to Churchill on the Polish question:
‘You, it is clear, do not agree that the Soviet Union has the right to demand for Poland a regime that would be friendly toward the USSR’. Here Stalin pointed out that the Soviet Union did not object to ‘any arrangements the British. might take in regard to Greece’ as it understands the full significance of Greece for the security of Great Britain’. 56
On 28 April 1945, as German resistance was collapsing, Churchill wrote to Stalin that he recognized tile consideration the Soviet leader had given him when the British had been compelled to Interfere in Greece. For its part, the British government had given repeated instructions that Soviet in Rumana and Bulgaria ‘be cognized as predominant’. 57
At the Potsdam Conference on 17 July 1945, President Truman unequivocally raised at the very ‘first plenary meeting of the Big Three the question of implementing the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe, which caned for the setting-up of representative governments in ‘the countries liberated by the Allies” such as Rumania and Bulgaria .. Stalin, in a meeting the next day with Churchill, complained that be had been hurt by the American proposal for a change of government in Rumania and Bulgaria. Since he was not meddling in Greece he thought it unfair of the Americans to do so in the other two Balkan countries.
These exchanges between Churchill and Stalin demonstrate that the Soviet leader was eager to show that he was keeping his hands off the British and American spheres of influence. ‘This can be seen also in the cases of France and Italy.
In both these countries, the Communist Parties had in the course of the war gained enormous prestige and authority, largely because of tile prominent role they had played in the resistance. Although the Comintern had been dissolved Moscow was, still their ‘Mecca’. Thus, Stalin continued to command a potent and growing influence within the orbit of the Western powers. Soon after the liberation of France, he used that influence in a manner calculated to satisfy conservative opinion and to set at rest any fears or suspicions that Churchill and Roosevelt may have had. It was undoubtedly under his inspiration that the French and Italian Communist Parties behaved with extraordinary selfless moderation. For the first time in their history, disregarding their own programmes, which forbade them to take part in bourgeois governments they joined in administrations based on broad national coalitions. Although they were the strongest parties in their countries, they contented themselves with minor positions in those governments” from which they were eventually to be ousted, almost without effort, by the other parties. The army and the police remained in the hands of conservative or at any rate anti-communist groups. Western Europe was to remain the domain of liberal capitalism. At times Stalin demonstrated his attitude with so little regard for appearances that he shocked the palest of the pink socialists and the most moderate liberals. We have already discussed the Soviet stance while Churchill was pursuing his policy of armed intervention in Greece in December 1944. But even before the October 1944 ‘percentages agreement” was made, Stalin recognized in March 1944 the Italian, government of Marshal Badoglio. The Italian parties, thee Left and, the Centre still clamoured for the dismissal of Badoglio, the conqueror of Abyssinia, the henchman of King Victor Emmanuel. Stalin enhanced Badoglio’s position vis-a-vis his opponents. Shortly afterwards Moscow counselled the Italian communists, who had pressed for the abdication of the discredited King, to postpone their dispute with the dynasty. Thus, the National Council of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) which met in Naples on 30 March 1944, approved Badoglio’s proposal to work toward a government of ‘national unity’ and to postpone the “institutional question” until the convening of a Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage. 59
Even much later, the communist deputies in the Italian Constituent Assembly voted for a renewal of the Lateran Pacts which Mussolini had concluded, with the Vatican and so, against Socialist and Republican (parties?)
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(finally saw Stalin.) In a letter to Tito, dated 22 April 1947 (sent one day after their meeting), and in a long memorandum to Stalin, dated 13 May 1947 (sent prior to their meeting), the KKE leader continued to press for help. The ‘Democratic Army could raise an army of 50,000 fighters provided. that it receives the necessary assistance’. 72
Nikos Zachariadis (27 April 1903 – 1 August 1973) was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) from 1931 to 1956, and one of the most important personalities in the Greek Civil War.
But, despite the assurances that Zachariadis may have received Moscow 73 the Soviet assistance was not forthcoming” 74, The promulgation of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947 was bound to make Stalin very cautious about risking a clash with the British and Americans over an issue of only minor importance for Soviet strategy. It is worth noting that the KKE was the only East European Communist Party, apart from the Albanian Party, not invited to the foundation meeting of the Cominform in September 1947. Likewise, two. months later, the formation of the ‘Democratic Government’ was greeted by Moscow with a deafening silence. Until the end of the civil war neither the Soviet Union nor any other government of the Eastern bloc recognized Zachariadis’ government.
Early in 1948 Stalin summoned to Moscow two leading Yugoslav communists, Djilas and Kardel], and the Bulgarian leader, Dimitrov, According to Diilas’ account of the meeting, Stalin. told the Yugoslav and Bulgarian representatives, that ‘the uprising in Greece has to fold up’ .75 It had, he stated, no prospect of success. Kardelj, according to Djilas, demurred at Stalin’s advice. He said that the Democratic Army could still win ‘if foreign intervention does not grow and if various political, and military errors are not made’. To which Stalin replied:
If, if! No, they have no prospect of success at all. What do you think, that Great Britain and the United States -the United States, the most powerful state in the world – will permit you to break their line of communication in the Mediterranean? Nonsense. And we have no navy. The uprising in Greece must be stopped, and as quickly as possible. 76
Djilas, in his account seems to reach the same conclusions as Tempo about Stalin’s policy towards Greece:
Not even today am I clear on Stalin’s motives in condemning the uprising in Greece. Perhaps be thought that to create another communist state – Greece – in the Balkans, when not even the others were reliable and subservient, could hardly have been in his interests, to say nothing od possible international complications, which were becoming more and more threatening and even if they did not drag him into war, they might endanger positions he had already won. 77
Kardelj in his account adds one or two additional details. He started his reply to Stalin by saying that it was not the Yugoslavs who had organized the uprising in Greece, but the Greeks themselves; the Yugoslavs, on their frontier, could not have refused to give such help as every revolutionary movement gives to another revolutionary movement. According to Kardelj Stalin said that the Yugoslav and Greek comrades were living in deep illusion and were thereby creating political difficulties ‘for us all’. Kardelj then comments:
After Stalin’s, attitude, it was clear to me why Soviet help to the rising in Greece was in words only but in the material sense, in reality symbolic. And immediately after the quarrel between Stalin and the Yugoslav Communist Party he liquidated the rising – so to speak overnight – and threw the blame on to us. 78
After the June 1948 expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform, and Zachariadis’ subsequent decision to side with Moscow in the Stalin-Tito feud, 79 it was only a matter of time before the closing of the Yugoslav border to the Greek partisans. In July 1949, the borders were formally closed and a month later the Democratic Army was finally defeated by the forces of the Greek government. Stalin had finally succeeded in turning Tito into the scapegoat for the collapse of the Greek communists’ ‘socialist. revolution’. Thus, it was to no one’s surprise that Zachariadis in his speech at the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee of the KKE, held in October 1949 -that is after the end of the civil war – alleged that the cause for the defeat of the Democratic Army, had been ‘Tito’s treachery’. 80
Greek partisan women during the Civil War
To sum up: Stalin’s policy towards Greece was primarily determined by his country’s interests, as he judged them. If Stalin decided to wash his hands of the Greek affair in December 1944 or wanted the Greek civil war to be liquidated early in 1948, he did so for reasons of narrow Soviet policy. As we have already indicated his, policy in late 1944-early 1945 was to allow the British a free band in the handling of Greek affairs. Part of the British policy in Greece at the time ‘was first to put an end to the hostilities between ELAS partisans and the British troops, and secondly to disarm ELAS to 72 Greece, 1941-49: From Resistance to Civil War frustrate KKE designs – as they saw them – of establishing a communist dictatorship in Greece. The Varkiza compromise achieved both, at least for the time being. But for the Varkiza agreement to succeed the Greek communists had to accept its terms. They did so because apart from military and domestic political considerations, they realized – through Dimitrov – that this is what the Soviets wished them to do.
After Varkiza, Stalin, under the influence of the Zhdanov faction (Zhdanov, Voznesenskii, Kosygin), which was in favour of a radical, revolutionary line and was closely connected with Tito, may have encouraged the Yugoslavs to give some support to the Greek communists. 81 But by the end of 1947 with the Americans taking an active interest in the Greek civil war, what Brzeziaski calls the ‘diversity phase’ (that is, the period in which Stalin encouraged flexibility and diversity among the various communist parties and allowed them to follow ‘separate roads to Socialism’) came to an abrupt end. The founding of the Cominform, and the rise to prominence of Malenkov and Suslov, who were opposed to the Zhdanov faction, signalled a new period of Soviet foreign policy based on centralization and consolidation. 82 Thus, in his February 1948 meeting with the Yugoslav and Bulgarian communist leaderships, Stalin not only criticized the Yugoslavs for supporting the Greek partisans but also castigated Dimitrov for pressing for a Yugoslav-Bulgarian Federation. 83 Stalin may have initially authorized Yugoslavia to ‘swallow’ Albania, 84 but certainly not Greece or Bulgaria, and the proposed Federation would have reduced Bulgaria to the status of one of seven constituent republics, on a par with Slovenia or Bosnia. 8S Stalin knew that his assault on the Yugoslav communist leadership was bound to undermine any prospects the ‘Democratic Army’ may have had to win the civil war. (It is no coincidence that Tito’s expulsion from the Cominform and Zhdanov’s fall from grace were followed by Markos’ dismissal from his posts as head of the ‘Provisional Government’ and of the ‘Democratic Army ’86). But be pressed his point even harder.
Markos dismissal was followed by broadcasts from the communists ‘Free Greece’ radio, on 27 January and 20 April 1949, calling for an armistice, and by an attempt by the Soviet representative at the United Nations to negotiate a settlement of the ‘Greek problem’ with the Americans and the British. Four months later, Zachariadis, demoralized and isolated, finally accepted his predicament. Unlike Markos, who was accused of being a Titoist, be paid the price for being a faithful Stalinist. His revolution had become an inconvenience to his Soviet master and as such, it had to be ‘suspended. It is clear that Stalin’s comment about Varkiza in January 1950 was totally unwarranted. But it was neither the first nor the last time that political expediency has dictated different versions of historical truth.
Turning to the views of the other critics, Tempo’s argument that Greece should have followed the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutionary model does not hold. The geographical, strategic, military and social circumstances were too different. In relation to Yugoslavia, Greece was always seen by the British to be strategically more important and physically more controllable. As Seton Watson has remarked, ‘Greece in hostile hands would undermine British security in the Mediterranean, and conversely British naval power would make it possible for Britain to hope to impose its will on Greece, at least on the assumption that Britain was going to remain a Great Power. Neither of these things were true for Yugoslavia’. 87 As for the Chinese example, Stalin was right when he said to Kardelj that ‘Greece is an entirely different situation: the United States is directly engaged there – the strongest state in the world’. 88 If the British had not intervened militarily in Greece in December 1944, and the Americans in late 1947, the KKE might have achieved the same influence that the Chinese Communist Party did in 1949. But as things happened, this was politically and militarily impossible.
Secondly, the argument put forward by Tempo, Hoxha, Partsalidis and Karagiorgis, that is, that ELAS should not have surrendered its arms but should have continued the fight outside Athens is based on the wrong premises. Had EAM/ELAS refused to sign the Varkiza Agreement, the Right, with British support, would riot have yielded but would have resumed the fighting. Dimitrov’s telegram and Stalin’s attitude towards the Greek case at Yalta and Potsdam clearly demonstrate that in this fight ELAS would not have had support from abroad, either from the Soviet Union or from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria who at that time had problems stabilizing their own regimes. Continuation of the conflict would have meant fighting alone against an opponent who had the support of Britain and later of the United States, Moreover, it can be doubted whether all ELAS units would have been ready or willing to continue the fighting. The majority ELAS guerrillas were not KKE members and it is, questionable whether they would have followed the KKE into such an undertaking. Certainty some units, such as those under the command of Aris and Markos, would have gone on fighting, but in general, ELAS was not psychologically prepared after four years of resistance on the side of the British and the Americans to resume fighting against yesterday’s allies. As the communist Ioannidis observed, ‘the people in the villages did not talk about the Russians. They talked only about the Allies. Those who were with us praised the Russians. Those, however, who were not present praised in general the allies, and among themselves the British’. 89
There are also some other issues of a more particular nature that help to explain why these critics viewed Varkiza with such contempt. Hoxha knew that most Greeks considered Northern Epirus as part of Greece. A national army under the control of the KKE, such as ELAS, offered him the kind of security and protection that his own small partisan army against a reorganized Greek army under the command of a non-communist Greek government, could not. As Ioannidis remarked, ‘Hoxha wanted our army to safeguard his borders’. 90 Varkiza, with its provisions for the demobilisation of ELAS and the creation of a new national army, raised the possibility of an invasion of Albania and consequently posed a serious threat to Hoxha’s newly-installed regime.
Tempo, similarly, writing in late 1949 after the Tito-Stalin break, the defeat of the ‘Democratic Army’ and Zachariadis’ assault on Tito, may have wanted to redress the balance of responsibilities. It is clear that Zachariadis’ campaign against the Yugoslav leader was also part of the general campaign waged against Tito by Stalin himself. Thus, Tempo may have wanted to kill two birds with one stone: indeed, he admits as much in the introduction to his book. 91 It is clear that Tempo also saw Varkiza as a threat to Yugoslavia’s national security and would have preferred a Greece under communist rule, 92 Last but not least one must consider Yugoslavia’s territorial ambitions, in Greek. Macedonia. As Barker has observed, ‘Tito’s objective during, the war ‘was to bring about the union of Bulgarian and Greek Macedonia with Yugoslav Macedonia under his own aegis’. 93 Tempo, as ‘we have already noted, was Tito’s lieutenant in Macedonia and his mission consisted mainly in preparing, the ground for the realization of his leader’s post-war designs in the area.
In the summer of 1943 EAM/ELAS, rather reluctantly, agreed to his plan to let the Macedonian communists of Yugoslavia organize the Slavophones of Greece under an independent command. A few months later SNOF, the Slavo-Macedonian National Liberation Front was formed and Gochev (or Gotsi), an outspoken advocate for the incorporation of Greek Macedonia into Yugoslavia, became its military leader. 94 Although the SNOF ‘units were supposed to be under
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(peoples’. 109) This decision implied that the reorganized ‘anti-Tito’ NOF, with the approval of Zachariadis, politically sanctioned a pro-Cominform, pro-Bulgarian orientation of the Slavo-Macedonians. The statement naturally generated a profound reaction in Greece and Yugoslavia. Tempo, acting again as the official spokesman for his government, declared that behind the KKE’s move ‘one had the attempt on the part of the Government of the Soviet Union and the other Cominform elements to detach the People’s Republic of Macedonia from the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to break up socialist Yugoslavia, and make it subordinate to the Soviet Government. 110 In July 1949 Tito closed his country’s borders to the Democratic Army, declaring once more that all parts of Macedonia should be united in one state, under Yugoslav sponsorship. 111
It should be clear from this brief account of’ the ‘Macedonian question’ during the period of the Resistance and the civil war that Tempo’s criticism of Varkiza is closely related to Yugoslavia’s territorial ambitions in Greek Macedonia. Behind his ‘ideological’ attacks on the KKE, one can easily detect his frustration over his country’s failure to fulfill a long-standing dream. For Tempo, Varkiza represents the first in a series of developments that ultimately led to the destruction of the KKE, and as a consequence brought about an end to Yugoslavia’s imperial aspirations. Unfortunately, he too, like Stalin and Hoxha, found simple answers more convenient than complex ones.
This gives good insights into the postwar situation in Greece, and Stalin’s role in Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia
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