A JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL MARXISM
VOLUME 9 NUMBER 1 SUMMER 1974
History of the Greek Civil War (part ii) 2
(Greek Section of the ICFI)
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE FOURTH
INTERNATIONAL 186A CLAPHAM HIGH STREET, LONDON, SW4 7UG.
History of the Greek Civil War
Resistance and Civil WarWE DID NOT decide to write these articles about the civil war by accident, nor with the intention of writing ‘history’. We were obliged to concern ourselves with this so-recent but so-obscure period, from the concrete needs of the struggle waged today against the military capitalist dictatorship.
After the coup d’etat of April 21, 1967, and after the crisis and split in the CPG, a series of newspapers and journals of the so-called ‘anti-dictatorial resistance’ movement suddenly began to concern themselves intensely with the civil war, after so many years of absolute silence. This phenomenon is striking but not inexplicable: It reflects the fact that the working class itself returns to the history of its struggles, in an attempt to explain the battle-less defeat of 1967, which puts it under the yoke of the Papadopoulos junta.
It was natural, within this so crucial epoch of history, for the working class to wonder what, after all, is the role of the CPG, which it built itself and which has led it to repeated catastrophes.
But it is true that the answer to this vital question demands a return to the even more distant past: to the struggle between Stalinism and Bolshevism (Trotskyism) within the CPG; the defeat and expulsion of the Bolshevik wing of the Party; its theoretical and political degeneration, which was followed by a change in both its programme and its composition. Why the CPG made the programme of middle-class radical democracy (this deadly trap for the proletariat in the imperialist epoch) its own, why men like Petsopoulos, Glinos and others - from theoreticians of Venizelism - appeared in its ranks as theoreticians of Marxism.
Above all it is necessary for one to study this period - the turn of the CPG as part of the transformation of the whole of the Third Communist International, of its degeneration, of the degeneration of the USSR, the first workers’ state, and of the struggle between Trotskyism and Stalinism within the Bolshevik Party in Russia.
Whatever happened in Greece during the Occupation and the civil war had its roots in this past. And when we speak of a real understanding of historical events - indispensible to today’s struggles - we are speaking exactly of an understanding from the ‘roots’.
When one comes into contact, face to face, with the monstrous and criminal treacheries of the CPG in the civil war, the need for a deep study and interpretation of the historical nature of Stalinism itself as a world current within the working-class movement, presents itself as imperative.
If these articles incite the fighters of the working-class movement to such a study, then they have fulfilled their purpose. They have made a gain in the struggle in healing old wounds of the movement within the building of a new revolutionary party, which, enlightened by the bitter experience of past defeats, will now lead the working class to victory and to the taking of power.
We must finally note that when we tried to investigate the events of the civil war, we came up against the total lack of historical references on the part of the CPG. Besides a semi-official ‘chronicle’, and this itself incomplete, nothing else has been written, despite the fact that the CPG was then at the centre of events.
The CPG really does not dare to write its own history. And as can be ascertained from our narrative, this is the best thing the Stalinists could do for, their own self-preservation.
Greek Section of the International Committee
HISTORY OF THE GREEK CIVIL WAR
ON AUGUST 10 1943 the delegations of EAM, EDES and EKKA arrived by air in Cairo. For EAM were I. Tsirimokos, L. Tzimas, P. Rousos and K. Despotopoulos. For EDES, K. Pyromaglou and for EKKA, G. Kartalis. To be exact, the Cairo conference would be discussing the participation of EAM, EDES and EKKA in the Tsouderos ‘government’ in exile which was to be transformed into a government of ‘national unity’.
We will leave Brigadier General Myers to show us how the British saw the Cairo conference:
‘Finally, given the unrepresentative character of the Greek government and given its lack of contact with the interior and the non-existence of confidence in it on the part of the guerrillas, especially of EAM. it was ascertained that the danger of a sudden change from the guerrilla regime and Law to a constitutional government after the liberation of Greece had to be avoided.
Consequently, we imagined that the landing in Greece would take place from Southern Italy and that the west coast near the territory of EDES-EOEA (the armed bodies of EDES) would be liberated before Athens. We decided that I should recommend that one or two representatives of the Greek government proceed to Free Mountainous Greece, when the continuing control of the administrative machinery and the absorption of the administrative organization of the resistance by the state mechanism had been ensured.
Before I left Perdouli for Neraida, I explained separately to each one, to Komninos Pyromaglou of EDES and to George Kartalis of EKKA the above, and achieved an agreement without reservations that they would jointly recommend the three above phases of the development of the resistance.
The next morning, August 9, I had a long consultation with Siantos and the other representatives of the Central Committee of EAM, for the purpose of getting their consent, as with the representatives of EDES and EKKA, in all that concerns the common way of confronting our problems in Cairo.
After a satisfying discussion, which lasted two hours, Siantos agreed that his representatives would seek the resolution of the problems exactly in the way which had been called for.”
However, the Cairo conference did not achieve the joint confrontation of ‘our problems’ ... It collapsed without having decided on the government of ‘national unity’, which even the ‘radio waves’ of Moscow had begun to recommend persistently at that time.
The reasons were the following: The arrival of the Greek Mission coincided with the circulation of the first rumours about an agreement between Roosevelt and Stalin on the ‘spheres of influence’ in a way that changed the strategy of the war completely. Until then, it was calculated that the ‘allied’ landing in Europe would be realized from the Balkans, that, consequently, great military forces would follow the German retreat and bring with them, to resume their positions, the kings of Greece, Yugoslavia and their governments. But the British put it about that a makeshift distribution of the ‘spheres of influence’, decided on by Roosevelt and Stalin, provided for the Balkans to ‘be liberated’ by the Red Army.
Indeed, three months later, on November 28, 1943, at the Teheran conference Churchill was obliged to accept such a settlement. Later, on December 24 in Cairo, Roosevelt and Churchill decided conclusively that the ‘liberation’ landing of the ‘allies’ would be deflected towards the west.
This decision, while limiting the military importance of the guerilla forces, made more prominent their political importance and the danger they constituted for the capitalist regimes of Greece and Yugoslavia after the end of the war. The English had to re-examine the subject of the Cairo conference in this new light.
The British Ambassador for Greece, Sir Reg Leeper, later wrote in his book When Greek meets Greek:
“As 1943 drew to an end, the situation underwent a change. The general strategy of the war, as was agreed between the British and Americans, dictated that in Greece large military forces would not be sent for the repulsion of the Germans. The King, the Greek Government and the Greek People were waiting for the British landing in Greece and consequent widespread operations against the Germans.
If all the force of the allied attack were turned towards the west, in Greece they would not have to expect anything but operations of a small extent and at a later time. The prospect that King George would return to Greece with the Greek Army and supported by large allied forces became even more unrealisable.”
On the same question, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in his Memoirs:
“The decisions of the conferences in Cairo and in Teheran indirectly influenced the position in Greece. There would never be a major Allied landing there, nor was it likely that any considerable British forces would follow a German retreat. The arrangements to prevent anarchy had therefore to be considered…”
So the British imperialists, who were among its inspirers, proceeded to torpedo the Cairo conference.
The leaders of EAM had come to Cairo in order to take part in a government of ‘national unity’ on the presupposition that the King would state that he was not going to return to Greece, without the opinion of the people being expressed through a plebiscite. These leaders would not have had in reality any objection to taking part in a government headed by the King and just how counterfeit their antimonarchism was, became apparent many times later. But they had to take account of the simple ELASites and the masses of workers, who would not by any means have accepted a return to the pre-war civil regime of the monarchy. In fact, they would not accept a return to the capitalist social regime.
Such a statement from George was expected as a certainty. But at the last moment he refused and through Tsouderos made known to the conference the telegraphic advice of Churchill that the statement be not made. So it was not possible for the negotiations to continue.
With the change undergone by the situation, the British moved in other directions. They started urgently to prepare EDES and EKKA, not for co-operation with ELAS, but for war against it, in the hope that they would strike heavy blows against it. Part of these preparations was the purge of conciliatory elements from their organizations and parallel to this, the collective recruiting of royalist officers with concrete orders. It was precisely then that they turned towards the Rallis government (through Scott), which had been in office since April 1943 and had formed the Security Battalions which people rightly paraphrased ‘Vagrancy Battalions’.
Of course, the British attempt to counterpose EDES and EKKA to ELAS was doomed to failure. These organizations were too weak to confront such a dynamic and really mass movement. No one would ever have dreamed the annulment of the ‘liberation’ plans for Greece by the ‘allies’ would create conditions so favourable for the seizure of power by the proletariat. The power would have fallen into the hands of the working class like a ripe fruit after the imminent German withdrawal, and the bourgeoisie had no power at all to retrieve it.
For this reason, the reaction was obliged to return to the tactic of collaboration with the CPG, but not any more for ‘resistance’ against the Germans. ‘There had to be an attempt at a political solution, that is of collaboration with the Communists and simultaneously their removal,’ said Pipinelis (P. Pipinelis George II).
The Stalinists of the CPG were determined to play the game of the Greek bourgeoisie and imperialism! To become the bridge for the re-installation of the old regime, it was enough for them to be given some guarantees that the CPG would be recognized as a necessary factor in public life in post-war Greece. This was after all the poverty-stricken content of their ‘medium-poor democratic dictatorship’.
So the reaction, while it had no doubts about the intentions of the Stalinists, had no confidence whatsoever in the armed masses and was determined to smash them. When it had achieved this it would not of course have given medals to the Stalinists for their services.
After Cairo the threat of destruction loomed ever more clearly before the leaders of EAM-CPG. But they did not for a moment stop acting as the incorrigible lackeys of the ruling class. Their interest continued to be concentrated on how they would create the conditions for bargaining from a more favourable position.
BATTLES WITH EDES
In September 1943 EDES advanced its detachments from Epirus into the Zagorios-Konitsa area. In October it attacked the Second Company of the 1/15 Battalion of ELAS in the village of Tsepelovo. Then, while it never halted its provocations and arrests of EAMites, it generalized its attack against Regiments 3/40 and 24 of ELAS, in the Tzoumerka and Souli areas and against the 15th Regiment in the Mourkgana-Kasidiaris area. (See Chronicle of the Resistance: ‘To Arms, to Arms’.)
In October 1943, ELAS was obliged to launch a large-scale counter-attack, Its fighters, although not so well trained and organized, by their sheer impetuosity, overcame EDES, whose resistance was very rapidly collapsing and whose men were in danger of being captured.
But suddenly, a surprise: An unforeseen saviour of EDES appeared: the German army, which for the first time intervened in the Greek mountains. The German detachments took up a position between the two forces and struck at ELAS which was obliged to temporarily abandon the operation and retreat.
This episode is also recalled by the British Major Edgar O’Ballance in his book The Greek Civil War.
“This failure was a disappointment to EAM-ELAS and another one followed. EAM-ELAS had been of the opinion that the Germans were completely indifferent to what was going on in the mountains away from the beaten track, but this was not so. Having lulled the guerrillas into a false sense of security, German forces struck hard when they had just paused for breath, attacking them from both the western and the eastern sides of the Pindus Mountains. German units cut right into the mountainous areas and got in amongst the guerrilla units. The very best of the ELAS fighters could not stand up even to second-rate German troops, and were compelled to disengage rapidly and withdraw in order to survive.”
However, ELAS resumed the operations in January 1944 and continued them until February. Its blows were now decisive. EDES would not be able to recover its strength any more. If the leaders of the CPG had wanted to, they would have been able to liquidate it conclusively. But, while the battle continued, they met in the village of Myrophilo with a delegation from EDES, EKKA and the British Mission in order to negotiate a truce. A former woman guerrilla later recounted:
“The sky was red the place was all lit up, so terrible was the fire of the battle. In the morning we could discern that everywhere around us the field was covered with corpses. We could not tell our men from the EDESites. And we learned that they (the leaders) had left the evening before for Myrophilo to discuss a truce. They had told us nothing. They left us to kill each other.”
The Stalinists themselves wrote:
In the space of time between January 26 and February 3, 1944, the forces of EDES were dissolved and went to Arachthos pursued by ELAS. Detachments of ELAS in the southern sector went up to Xerovouni, while in the northern sector they reached, and at a few points crossed, the Kalarrytiko river. The British agents, confronted with the danger of the whole of EDES being liquidated, hurriedly called for the conclusion of a truce. ELAS, even though it was able to continue its attack and dissolve EDES in its entirety, accepted the proposal of a truce because it always sincerely desired the unity of all the national forces [!!] in the struggle for the liberation of the country. The truce provided for discussions between representatives of ELAS. EDES and EKKA. These discussions began on the morning of February 15. 1944. in the village of Myrophilo. (Chronicle of the Resistance ‘To Arms, to Arms’.)
THE PLAKA TRUCE
At Myrophilo the delegation from EAM proposed to the other organizations and to the representatives of the British Mission, the formation of a joint Political Committee installed in the mountains, with provisional governmental powers. But their proposal was rejected. The British did not want to proceed to some form of government in which politicians of the Cairo ‘government’ would not have incorporated the Greek bourgeoisie in a ruling capacity.
Despite all this, on February 29 the leadership of EAM signed an agreement for the conclusion of hostilities between ELAS and EDES-EKKA. This agreement was called the Plaka Agreement, Plaka being a location two kilometres outside Myrophilo.
From the beginning of the negotiations at Myrophilo, Aris Veloukhiotis, who was not a member of the EAM-ELAS delegation and was apparently opposed to the truce, installed himself and his headquarters with his ‘Black Caps’ at Plaka. The EAM-ELAS delegation was not aware of his presence. General Saraphis, when asked, denied the allegations about Aris’ presence and proposed an inspection of the area. However it was ascertained that Aris was in fact at Plaka and he was asked to go away.
Pyromaglou notes in relation to this episode:
“In my opinion and from the impressions I got from the very sharp discussion I had with him [with Aris] in Myrophilo before the beginning of the conference, his presence was not only a ‘reminder’ to the Representatives of EKKA and EDES, it was perhaps, and much more, an extension parallel or even opposed to the delegation of EAM-ELAS. Even today I continue to believe that the disagreements and oppositions of Aris with the Central Committee of EAM or the Politburo of the CPG were substantial, both concerning the manner of the national activity of the armed resistance, and also concerning the content of the Political line of EAM during the Occupation and the first year after the Liberation.”
At the first meeting at Myrophilo, a unanimous resolution was carried condemning the Security Battalions and the Rallis government. The resolution was also signed by the representative of the Middle East headquarters, Colonel Woodhouse.
The British undertook to broadcast the resolution on the radio. But this did not happen. And anyway it would have been meaningless to broadcast a condemnation of Rallis and the Security Battalions from the radio stations of Cairo, London and America, when everyone knew that the ‘allies’ had close relations with the Rallis government and the Occupation Authorities.
The Plaka agreement was the first link in what was perhaps the most cynical betrayal that the history of the Greek and the international working class movement has known. After Plaka, the leaders of the CPG were able to travel to Lebanon in order to negotiate with the reaction on the government of ‘national unity’.
“Without the Plaka truce - at the Myrophilo-Plaka meeting - the Lebanon conference would not have been possible: and without the Caserta agreement the Lebanon conference would have been unfruitful.” (Woodhouse: Apple of Discord.)
We must not forget that the Plaka agreement came after the Teheran conference of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. A short time before, in Teheran, Stalin had declared the dissolution of the 3rd Communist International as proof in practice that he would do everything to save the capitalist system as provided for by the ‘spheres of influence’ arrangements.
In January 1944 the political leader of ELAS, A. Tzimas, visited Yugoslavia where he asked the Russians to give ELAS arms and ammunition from the Red Army. The reply was negative.
“Much later I was told by a Soviet officer”, O’Ballance writes, “who claimed to have read a copy of the original report sent back by the Soviet Military mission on ELAS that ELAS was ‘just a rabble of armed men not worth supporting.”
Episodes like these showed what the position of Moscow towards Greece was. Parallel to these, while the battles with EDES were raging, the Soviet Ambassador in London presented his credentials to George VI (December 1943). And on January 1, 1944, Radio Moscow made an appeal for a government of ‘national unity’. On the 12th of the same month, a Soviet communication was delivered to the Greek Ambassador in Moscow which once again asked for the formation of a government of ‘national unity’.
HOW THE 5/42 WAS LIQUIDATED
After the battles with ELAS, the EDES forces were decimated. Besides this, ELAS managed to ambush and to neutralize EDES completely and formed another division in the north part of Epirus.
However, the provocations continued, this time on the part of the 5/42. Major Kapentzonis and Captain Dedousis had a field day against EAM and its followers. Dedousis, on March 4, 1944, declared the North Dorida region under a state of siege. He arrested members of the District Committee of EAM of Fokida at Pentagioi. Subsequently he disarmed the headquarters of the reserve ELAS of Dorida and the militant bands of Pentagioi, Krokyleios and other neighbouring villages. He murdered the commander of ELAS of Krokyleios, Varsos, he cut the telephone lines and, seizing hostages and taking the provisions of ELAS, moved towards the South Mornos region, in order to join with Kapentzonis’ battalion.
Subsequently, the 5/42 concentrated its forces in the location of Klimata on the Gulf of Corinth, awaiting reprisals from ELAS. Earlier it refused to satisfy the demand of ELAS for Captain Dedousis to be arrested and sent to the Mixed Guerrilla Tribunal.
Shortly, the 5/42 was to be dissolved by ELAS. Its case does not have any special historical importance but presents one of the many aspects of the betrayals committed by the Stalinists in the period of the Occupation and the civil war. One could fill whole volumes with stories and episodes similar to this, which we shall leave to ELAS Captain K. Yiannakopoulos to narrate:
“Especially from the first months of 1944, the relations between ELAS and the forces of the 5/42 are not taking a good course …The crisis comes to a head after the domination of extremist elements and indeed of the irreconcilable royalist officers (Major Kapentzonis, Captain Dedousis etc.) whose stand was provocative to such a degree that it came into clear opposition with their conduct, with what one would have expected of them during the final phase of the conflict which they sought through all available means…In order to judge, however, let us see what this conflict was, how the battle of the night of April 17, 1944. came about …The reader should not be surprised to read of Battalions. In reality, however, he will only be concerned with Bands! And only three at that.
There are many strange things about this battle. One of these is that the three Bands were concocted in order to justify the unjustifiable…Divisions!”
Subsequently Captain Yiannakopoulos cites the forces of ELAS which are arrayed against the 5/42. These included detachments from five battalions and among them the III/36, the Death Battalion under Captain Yiannakopoulos which was made up of Aris’ special forces. Also taking part were the Commanding company of Regiment 36 and Aris’ personal guard. A total of 1,400 men. Yiannakopoulos continues:
“The III/36 battalion, whose lot it was to play the leading role in this sad affair, is the Death Battalion, which only a fortnight previously has returned unbelievably fatigued from Epirus, after a hard five-month fight against EDES.
The night of April 7-8: the Death Battalion finds itself in the village of Pitsi, where it receives Aris’ order to move towards Gardidi…After a three-day march in the rain with little or no food and after covering 100 kilometres we arrived at the village of Kampos or Koumpaioi and from noon on 13-4 the Death Battalion, already named III/36, finds itself in the positions which it will hold until the time of the attack…The actions on which the III/36 embarked are:
(a) A makeshift organization on the terrain for every eventuality.
(b) Organization of a complete and continuous observation network throughout the front of the line of resistance of the 5/42, especially the detachment in front of us, with observers working alternately and separately on the basis of detailed orders and able to prepare rough elementary maps.
... As was ascertained after the battle the location of the positions of automatic weapons was 90-100 per cent successful.
…The morning of Easter day, 16.4: after a conference about the whole situation among Aris, Rigos, Zoulas etc…at which I found myself by accident. After its conclusion, Aris asked me:
“What do you say, Dino?”
I described to him the results of my observations and in conclusion said:
“I think that if the attack is ordered to take place in the daytime, we can operate only against the right flank of the 5/42’s disposition, keeping the left side engaged. If, however, it takes place at night, then the opposite must happen.”
Aris’ question was again:
‘What do you say?”
“I would prefer it to take place at night.” And I briefly explained why.
“Then at night.” was Aris’ reply.
Besides, I hoped justly that the other detachments too, would operate on the basis of some plan for the success of the purpose of the battle.
With Aris, we determined the time of the attack to be at 2.15 on 17.4.44, that is 45 minutes before the moon rose. I believed that I should have finished within 30-40 minutes otherwise it was going to be a failure…What I said naturally concerned the blow against those opposite me. For this reason, when 1 finished I waited to hear from Zoulas what was to happen relative to the remaining detachment of the line of resistance of the 5/42, because with three bands of III/36 more could not be done. Because, however, nothing is said, I put the question of the temporary immobilization of the detachments of Kapentzonis-Paizanos and Douroi-Kaimara. To be exact, I ask for 3-4 machine guns and at least another band…The three bands of the only company of the III/36 battalion commanded by the first-year cadet but excellent fighter George Athanasiou, started the attack at 2.15…In a manner of speaking of course…(they advanced at a crawl).
…Ten minutes have passed, we have covered 100-200 metres approximately. Everyone knows that we must reach a point not more than 50 metres away. But will we reach it? We advance towards the machine guns and they towards us! Almost everyone knows that opposite us, on our front, five machine guns and around 15 submachine guns are pointed at us. They know because they have recognized and noted them themselves.
…One more step…another…the distance is now much less than 100 metres… someone stumbled somewhere…
Suddenly voices and whistles are heard, simultaneously the first shots are fired from the positions of the 5/42. The moments are crucial. In accordance with instructions and even before they find time to place the automatic weapons, taking advantage of the crucial 4-5 seconds, we gain with a very rapid leap about 20 more metres. Thus, 25 minutes after the beginning of the attack, the automatic weapons of the opponent are separated from us even less than 40 metres. We have fallen to the ground and are crawling on our bellies. …The ground around us is being torn up and bullets are whistling furiously in all directions…
…We prepare ourselves for the final leap. …At that exact moment, from the side of the village Basteri, which was simultaneously surrounded by the First Band of Second Lieutenant V. Saratsis, voices are heard and a bugle begins to play ‘The son of the eagle”…
…If we have not finished in one minute, then we have lost, or rather we will have been lost. With a hastily-made paper funnel, I judge it to be expedient to give with my own voice the signal to attack.
The cry ‘Air’* (*The signal “Air’ is used by Greek soldiers when attacking.) is repeated by 160 mouths. Before a minute has elapsed, the five machine guns, 16 submachine guns and the mortar of Dedousis’ battalion are in our hands. Dedousis abandons everything, seriously threatened with being surrounded by the Saratsis band. The place Basteoi, as well as Analipsis, are seized.
The time is 3.30. The moon is illuminating the surrounding area quite well.
We are continuously gathering automatic weapons.
Six o’clock. During this space of time the following took place:
Koumaros, after a weak resistance, has been seized.
The weaponry has been abandoned in our hands. The First Band is moving towards Eupaulio. The Third Band is approaching Skala Karaiskou. With the Second Band, I arrive at Prophet Elias (at Kokkinaious). On the way I sent Karageorgos, the Captain of the Company, and he freed 21 hostages of the 5th Independent Battalion who had been captured a few days before and were being held in the village Klimata.
The sun is just rising now. From Prophet Elias I look down towards the sea with binoculars and observe the small harbour. No movement at all.
…Suddenly we are under thick machine gun and mortar fire from the positions of the 11/34 Battalion of Kronos. We take cover just in time.
It was a question of…a misunderstanding!! …I learned afterwards.
Here we can say that the battle had ended conclusively.
The 5/42 nolonger exists, nor does EKKA…
. . . The forces of the 5/42 after the breach in their line, taking advantage of darkness, a complete knowledge of the terrain and its roughness, has dissolved from the first moment and scattered.
A detachment under Kapentzonis, Dedousis etc arrived in Marathia when it was still night and continued on its way towards Trizonia. But it was obliged to pass in front of the guards’ huts of the 11/34, which stretched to the sea. On arrival when challenged by the guards they replied: “We are Nikiforos’ men” and…continued along their
way! About 100 of them arrived in Patras, where they immediately enlisted in the Security Battalions…’
From a perusal of the foregoing, I do not think that any special knowledge of military matters is necessary for certain questions to come into one’s head, for certain very natural doubts to arise.
And first the stand of EKKA, to be exact, that of the extremist fanatics and irreconcilable Kapentzonis, Dedousis and others. Here I limit myself to the clearly military side of the events, although the existence of EKKA itself, especially as an armed detachment. I think was for it (or at least should have been, taking into account the small numbers of the force of the 5/42 in relation to the force of the ELAS detachments by which it was permanently surrounded) rather a political question. That is, a question of handling. Because I do not believe, at least from my knowledge of it, that it was ever possible for the 5/42 to seriously threaten the detachments of ELAS…
…Characteristic from this point of view is document No. 634/l6.4.44, of 5/42 Regiment to the Central Committee of EKKA, which was despatched a few hours before the attack. Among other things it contains: ‘…The Regiment will fight using all its means against the attack thus plotted against it by EAM-ELAS. It is determined with sadness to spill brotherly blood…”
…On what do they base themselves, however?
Why, since they see and know that the slightest spark will immediately provoke the explosion, do they maintain this stand right up to the last moment?
It is not only the above document. I remember that even up to the afternoon of Easter Sunday, 16.4, they sent, almost every two hours, liaison officers to the 5th Brigade, who on account of the positions they held, I examined first. All of them, every one of them, tried to convince us that we would experience heavy losses if we attacked, and that they would attack us, no matter what. All of them said this in the same words, so I was more than certain from their tone that they did not believe it either. Indeed, one of them, while assuring us that he had come for…our own good, was at the same time shaking, even though it was April!!
. . . However Dedousis provokes and threatens until the last minute. Even Dedousis knows that surrounded as he is, neither he nor any one of them will escape being taken prisoner (assuming, our five battalions operate correctly). And Dedousis knows that if he falls into the hands of ELAS he is 100 per cent lost. And Dedousis and the other “irreconcilables” know that behind them is the inhospitable sea, and that they will either die fighting or be captured alive…
However the ‘irreconcilables’ know something that we do not know.
They know that: Neither will they die, nor be captured, nor is the sea inhospitable!!
Because very simply they know: that they will not fight!!!
So it was proved . . .
. . . From what I cite it appears clearly that, while the Command of the detachments of ELAS has at its disposal five Battalions 1,400 men strong, it nevertheless led it in such a way that only three Bands, that is, 90 men, took part in the battle.
…However, even that next to us and indeed in contact with the enemy (Battalion 11/34) did not take any part in the battle. And not just this. It was so ignorant of what was happening, that it rained on us a torrential fire of cannon and mortar, 2 ½ hours after the conclusion of the battle. …At the same time while it is very well aware that it controls one of the two overland routes of escape of the 5/42. while it is informed that a battle is taking place, nonetheless, in front of its very guards’ huts about 300 men of the 5/42 are passed undisturbed, together with Dedousis-Kapentzonis etc. simply by stating that ‘they were from Nikiforos’ Battalion’!!! As we saw, 90-100 of them went and joined the Security Battalions of Patras.”
(Quoted from the book by K. Pyromaglou: G. Kartalis and His Epoch.)
WHAT THE PEEA WAS
On 10 March 1944, EAM announced the founding of PEEA (Political Committee of National Liberation), whose base was in Viniani of Agrafa. After the rejection of the EAM-ELAS proposal at the Myrophilo-Plaka conference for the formation of a ‘mountain government’, PEEA was considered to be a government of the CPG. Even today the reaction uses the case of PEEA to prove that the CPG was aiming to seize the power when the war was over. But the only purpose of such a view of PEEA is to justify the British intervention in Greece and the savage oppression of the masses which followed and which has never ceased since then. In reality, PEEA was nothing but a threat and pressure on the ‘allies’ to accept the participation of the CPG in a government of ‘national unity’. The Stalinists used it as a means of proving in practice that they did not aim to overthrow the capitalist system. Simultaneously it acted as a left cover for the big betrayals that were being prepared.
This is what Pyromaglou says about PEEA:
‘However, on and after 15 March 1944, a wind of moderation was blowing throughout Free Mountainous Greece. The concentration camps were abolished. The acts of violence and extremism stopped. A praiseworthy attempt for a real and faceless command was noted in all the regions controlled by EAM. Troublemakers and violence-seekers were taken out of circulation. Incendiary propaganda, printed or spoken, ceased. Elections were proclaimed for a national council; candidates were put up not belonging to EAM, and some from EDES. The Communists were few. The attempt for a democratic administration appeared sincere everywhere.
During this transitional period of re-adaptation a difficulty was ascertained. The re-adaptation in the ranks of ELAS. The broader democratization of EAM presented no difficulties. In ELAS, however, the military inflexibility remained both a national advantage for the detachments which had not been differentiated ideologically and also a disadvantage in relation to the aims pursued by PEEA, since certain units had a revolutionary inclination above and beyond the climate inaugurated by PEEA!”
The programme of PEEA was undisguisedly bourgeois. In its founding statement and its first ‘Message to the Greek people’ (10.3.1944), it declared that it would safeguard with the ‘greatest strictness’ the ‘right of private property’!
‘Moreover the Committee will safeguard with the greatest strictness all the freedoms of the people and particularly the freedom of religious conscience and all the rights, as well as the right of private property.”
The purpose of PEEA, as was declared in its founding statement, was for the agreements of Teheran to be adapted to Greece, that is, the agreements whereby Stalin had conceded Greece to the ‘sphere of influence’ of British imperialism.
‘(The PEEA) should seek - said the founding statement - our national restoration based on the principle of self-determination of peoples (!) according to the Atlantic charter and the Teheran agreement and the strategic arrangement of our frontiers’(!!) The CPG also made the same declarations directly: ‘ We are fighting unreservedly on the side of our great allies - the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States - and all the united nations for the worldwide annihilation of Fascism and all tyranny, for the prevailing of the principles of the Atlantic and Teheran.’ (Proclamation of the Aims of the CPG, in Today’s Peoples’ War of Liberation).
The PEEA was finally dissolved within the government of ‘national unity’ which originated from the Lebanon conference.
THE MIDDLE EAST MOVEMENT
But, even before the Stalinists set out for the Lebanon conference, ‘our great allies’ were to provide a few strong samples of their decision to enforce their will, no matter the ‘principles’ of the Atlantic Treaty and Teheran, with a bloody suppression of the movement of Greek soldiers and sailors in the Middle East.
In the Middle East there were 30,000 Greek soldiers of all three forces, and they were fighting under the orders of British Headquarters. Eighteen thousand of them were infantry organized in the First and Second Brigades, in a Regiment of armoured cars and in some other smaller units. 7,000 were in the navy and 4-5,000 in the air force.
The Greek army in the Middle East had been formed mainly from voluntarily enlisted fugitives from Greece, from the crews of the Greek ships sailing in the Middle East after the country was occupied by the Germans and from Greeks from Egypt.
Ninety per cent of the soldiers had radical ideas and believed that in the Middle East they were fighting Fascism. The soldiers dreamed that with their strength they would manage to live after the war in a Greece of ‘freedom and full stomachs’ as the CPG promised. On the other hand, the reaction saw in the army of the Middle East a force with which it would impose, after the war, its counter-revolutionary order.
The Greek detachments were torn by these internal contradictions, and the British were often hesitant to use them in operations. The soldiers were murdered or put in medieval prisons which the British colonialists used for the locals. But they also resisted, organized themselves in committees and in the Anti-Fascist Military Organization (ASO) whose leader was Tfiannis Salas. There were many revolts and the most reactionary officers were arrested. As the end of the war approached, the existence of a dual command became more strong within the Greek army of the Middle East.
In February and March 1943 the monarchist officers of the ‘Association of Officers’ submitted mass resignations, demanding a purge from the military command of all the ‘pro-Communist elements’. The soldiers struck back by seizing the officers who had resigned and turned them over to the British, as they were asked to.
After a few months, in July 1943, the British dissolved the Second Brigade following a rebellion which broke out with the murder of the soldier Pygmalion Papastergiou.
All these incidents made the British decide to dissolve the Greek units in the Middle East. On 2 April 1944, after the despatch of a resolution of the soldiers supporting PEEA to the Tsouderos government, strong units of the English army surrounded the 4th Regiment and disarmed it.
Subsequently all the remaining units were surrounded, as well as the Greek ships in the harbour of Alexandria. The struggle of the soldiers and sailors was terribly unequal. They found themselves surrounded by a huge mass of British Army, in a foreign country, where their opponents controlled everything, together with the sources of supplies of the troops. After a lengthy blockade which deprived the soldiers and sailors of food and water, the British succeeded in disarming them.
Twenty thousand soldiers of the infantry, armoured car regiment fleet and the air force, were put in concentration camps in the deserts of Libya and Eritrea. Many of them died of privation, hardship and illness. The British selected 2,500 loyalists, most of whom were former gendarmes and other scum and organized the ‘Mountain Brigade’ which was later used as a detachment of the counter-revolution.
Immediately after the dissolution of the Greek units in the Middle East, at the Lebanese mountain resort of Dur-el-Sawar, there began on 17 May 1944 the negotiations between the delegations of PEEA-EAM-ELAS and EDES, EKKA, the British, the Greek government of Cairo, other bourgeois parties and reactionary organizations which openly collaborated with the Occupation Authorities.
This conference voted on a document drawn up by the British Ambassador, Leeper called ‘National Contract’. Its contents were to be the programme of the government of ‘national unity’.
The ‘Contract’ began with a condemnation of the class struggle of the Greek soldiers in the Middle East, which was suppressed by the open attack of the British army. The soldiers were accused of making a ‘mutiny’ in the military sense and of a ‘crime against the Fatherland’. It was stated that for their ‘crime’, ‘the instigators of the mutiny must be punished according to their responsibilities’.
Subsequently, the dissolution of ELAS was provided for, even though this was not set out in so many words. The ‘Contract’ however mentioned that the government had to proceed as quickly as possible towards the creation of a ‘national army’ on the basis solely of “national and military criteria’, an army which ‘will be free of any influence of parties and organizations’.
Also the ‘liberation’ of the country would be realized ‘jointly by the allied forces’ and the ‘securing of the order and the freedom of the Greek People during the liberation of the Fatherland which would be carried out together with the allied forces will be its own work’ (of the government of ‘national unity’).
According to the ‘Contract’ of the Greek nation, drawn up by the British Ambassador, responsibility was undertaken for measures for the purpose ‘of satisfying immediately after the liberation the material needs of the Greek People’ and an elaboration would take place ‘of a plan for the economic reconstruction of the country, the realization of which would demand the support of the Allies’.
In the ‘national unity’ government, the CPG was to be represented with 25 per cent. The ministries which it would take up would be analogous to its mission to tame the struggle of the workers for their demands: the Ministries of Labour. National Economy, Agriculture. Finance, Public Works and the Under-Secretaryship of Finance.
The ‘Contract’ of Lebanon was a complete betrayal by Stalinism. With this, even the position of the monarchy remained untouched. Article 5, which concerned the position of the king, was composed in a purposely abstract way, so that the local reaction and the British did not undertake any responsibility for a plebiscite, while the CPG only kept up a few doubtful pretences so that the spirit of the masses who supported it would not be upset.
The British intended to insist on an open declaration that the civil regime of the country would not be changed for any reason. They retreated however after the insistence of the Greek bourgeois politicians, especially G. Papandreou, who warned that the question of the monarchy could provoke a civil clash before the conditions had changed in favour of the old social and civil regime.
Article 5 of the Contract simply noted that the positions of all the parties that took part in the government, as far as the ‘Sovereign’ was concerned, were known. …The parties within the ‘national unity’ government would continue to keep up these positions and consequently the ‘elucidation’ of the question of the monarchy had to be left at the disposal of the ‘national unity’ government.
The British ambassador Leeper wrote:
“One will observe that my Article 5 was formulated in general terms. The question of the king’s return to Greece was the apple of discord in Greek circles in the past. Tsouderos had undergone a long and rigorous experience of this disagreement. Papandreou had his baptism of fire in Lebanon and came out of it well. There was the fear that EAM would cut off its participation in this subject unless all the parties agreed that the king would not return before a plebiscite was taken. They did not change their views but neither did they set them as a condition of agreement... In other words, the decision (on the subject of the king) was only postponed, but the postponement was made with great skill. …”
The Stalinists disagreed on only one point: on making Papandreou, a well-known monarchist with a long anti-Communist record, Prime Minister. Because the British were insistent, the CPG accepted the whole ‘National Contract’ but refused to take part in the government if a different person were not put in the seat of Prime Minister.
But they were not going to insist for very long on the question of Papandreou. On 26 July 1944 the Soviet Military Mission led by Colonel Popov arrived in Greece. Three days later the CPG had changed its mind and on 2 September 1944 it declared publicly that it accepted participation in the government with Papandreou as Prime Minister.
As far as the visit of the Soviet Mission is concerned, the news paper of the CPG (Interior) has written:
“Perhaps we should add here that on 26 July 1944 the Soviet Military Mission arrived in Greece under Colonel Popov, who immediately was in contact with Siantos and loannidis. And that, three days later. PEEA made its first big retreat before Papandreou, only to make a total retreat a few days later, on 15 August 1944.” (Free Greece, ‘Foreign interventions in our national life’ 10.6.71).
Many years passed and the CPG ‘condemned’ the agreements of Lebanon. The resolutions of the 8th Congress of the CPG as far as the agreements of Lebanon were concerned, said:
‘Essentially, they facilitated the firm and persistent intention of the English imperialists and of the plutocratic oligarchy to return the old regime and to prevent the people from deciding themselves about their destiny.’
The semi-official Chronicle of the CPG To Arms, to-Arms also says that ‘unacceptable retreats’ took place at Lebanon:
“The main ones were: The approval of the condemnation of the struggle of the armed Greek forces in the Middle East, something which objectively made it easy for the English imperialists to cover up the armed intervention against them and which left the fighters exposed: the ‘participation of PEEA. EAM and the CPG in the government of “National Unity” as a minority with only 25 per cent of the seats and all of these secondary ones: recognition of a regulating role in the Middle East Headquarters on the decisive question of the armed forces which gave the English imperialists the right to put, when they judged the moment to be suitable, the question of the dissolution of ELAS.”
But all this, in the Chronicle, is justified with the impudent as well as witty contention that ‘in the negotiations the representatives of PEEA, EAM and the CPG violated the orders which they had from the PEEA and the Central Committees of EAM and the CPG...’
* * *
After Lebanon, the betrayal was completed on its practical side, at Caserta, Italy on 26 September 1944, where another conference took place between the representatives of the Allied Forces Headquarters in the Mediterranean, ELAS and EDES.
Present at this meeting presided over by the British Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean forces, Wilson, were the British minister in the Middle East MacMillan, the English Ambassador to the Greek Government R. Leeper. General Scobie, G. Papandreou, Ministers Svolos and Zevgos (CPG), Tsatsos, Sgouritsas, General Saraphis of ELAS and N. Zervas of EDES.
‘Following the talks an agreement was signed under which the Greek guerrilla forces came under the orders of the Greek government which, in its turn, placed them under the orders of the British General Scobie. The leaders of the guerrilla forces undertook responsibility ‘to forbid every attempt of their units to take the authority in their hands’ and that in Athens no operation would take place against the Germans, unless ordered by Scobie.
‘The EAM resistance movement recognized the Briton Scobie as the general in command of the military forces operating in Greece and agreed to execute the orders he would give, according to which the descent of the forces of ELAS to certain large cities and main strategic points was ruled out.’ (To Arms, to Arms.)
While the Stalinists gave everything, with such cynicism, to the British imperialists, the latter were preparing violently to smash the Greek working class and the oppressed people. Let us see what Churchill was occupying himself with in the period between the Lebanon conference and the Caserta conference:
‘Before leaving Italy at the end of August I had asked the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to work out the details of a British expedition to Greece in case the Germans there collapsed. We gave it the code-name ‘Manna’. Its planning was complicated by our strained resources and the uncertainty of Germany’s strategic position in the Balkans, but I directed that our forces should be ready to act by September 11, and that the Greek Prime Minister and representatives of the Greek Government in Italy should be prepared to enter Athens without delay. …(Churchill The Second World War, Vol. 6, Triumph and Tragedy’)
It is not a question here of any campaign against the Germans, but against the Greek workers ‘in case the Germans collapsed’ as Churchill puts it. And this is how it happened. The British Prime Minister was very concerned that the landing of British troops should follow on the heels of the German collapse and retreat, so that a ‘vacuum’ and ‘anarchy’ would not follow.
One month later, on 14 October 1944, the CPG was to welcome in Athens the British forces of intervention, under General Scobie, as liberating forces.
CHURCHILL MEETS STALIN
While all the conditions were being prepared for the December tragedy, let us look behind the Greek scenes, following the threads that tied the CPG with the despot in the Kremlin.
Despite the fact that from Teheran, in 1943, the first settlement on the spheres of influence has taken place, and while various other meetings had taken place in Moscow, London and Washington, the tense and uncertain situation which existed in the Balkans and in Europe in the autumn of 1944 seriously disturbed Churchill.
For this precise reason, Churchill feels the need for another personal meeting with Stalin ‘whom I had not seen since Teheran and with whom, in spite of the Warsaw tragedy, I felt new links after the successful opening of ‘Overlord’.’ (op. cit.)
The meeting took place on 9 October 1944 in the Moscow Kremlin. Besides Churchill and Stalin, Molotov and Eden took part with Major Birse and Pavlov as interpreters. Churchill relates:
“The moment was apt for business, so I said: ‘Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Roumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. 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?’ While this was being translated I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper: Roumania
Russia………………………90 per cent
The others…………………. 1O per cent
Great Britain………………..90 per cent
(in accord with U.S.A.)
Russia……………………….10 per cent
Hungary……………………..50-50 per cent
Russia……………………… 75 per cent
The others……………………25 per cent
‘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.
Of course we had long and anxiously considered our point, and were only dealing with immediate war-time arrangements. All larger questions were reserved on both sides for what we then hoped would be a peace table when the war was won.
After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length 1 said. ‘Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.’ ‘No, you keep it,’ said Stalin.
On October 12, in a telegram, Churchill explains to his colleagues the meaning of the percentages determined in Moscow. It is worthwhile to quote here the whole of this important historical document:
1. The system of percentage is not intended to prescribe the numbers sitting on commissions for the different Balkan countries, but rather to express the interest and sentiment with which the British and Soviet Governments approach the problems of these countries, and so that they might reveal their minds to each other in some way that could be comprehended. It is not intended to be more than a guide, and of course in no way commits the United States, nor does it attempt to set up a rigid system of spheres of interest. It may however help the United States to see how their two principal Allies feel about these regions when the picture is presented as a whole.
2. Thus it is seen that quite naturally Soviet Russia has vital interests in the countries bordering on the Black Sea, by one of whom, Roumania, she has been most wantonly attacked with 26 divisions, and with the other of whom, Bulgaria, she has ancient ties. Great Britain feels it right to show particular respect to Russian views about these two countries, and to the Soviet desire to take the lead in a practical way in guiding them in the name of the common cause.
3. Similarly, Great Britain has a long tradition of friendship with Greece, and a direct interest, as a Mediterranean Power in her future. In this war Great Britain lost 30,000 men in trying to resist the German-Italian invasion of Greece, and wishes to play a leading part in guiding Greece out of her present troubles, maintaining that close agreement with the United States which has hitherto characterized Anglo-American policy in this quarter. Here it is understood that Great Britain will take the lead in a military sense and try to help the existing Royal Greek Government to establish itself in Athens upon as broad and united a basis as possible. Soviet Russia would be ready to concede this position and function to Great Britain in the same sort of way as Britain would recognize the intimate relationship between Russia and Roumania. This would prevent in Greece the growth of hostile factions waging civil war upon each other and involving the British and Russian Governments in vexatious arguments and conflict of policy.
4. Coming to the case of Yugoslavia, the numerical symbol 50-50 is intended to be the foundation of joint action and an agreed policy between the two Powers now closely involved, so as to favour the creation of a united Yugoslavia after all elements there have been joined together to the utmost in driving out the Nazi invaders. It is intended to prevent, for instance, armed strife between the Croats and Slovenes on the one side and powerful and numerous elements in Siberia on the other, and also to produce a joint and friendly policy towards Marshal Tito, while ensuring that weapons furnished to him are used against the common Nazi foe rather than for internal purposes. Such a policy, pursued in common by Britain and Soviet Russia, without any thought of special advantages to themselves, would be of real benefit.
5. As it is the Soviet armies which are obtaining control of Hungary, it would be natural that a major share of influence should rest with them, subject of course to agreement with Great Britain and probably the United States, who, though not actually operating in Hungary, must view it as a Central European and not a Balkan State.
6. It must be emphasised that this broad disclosure of Soviet and British feelings in the countries mentioned above is only an interim guide for the immediate war-time future, and will be surveyed by the Great Powers when they meet at the armistice or peace table to make a general settlement of Europe.
Many comments have been made about the agreements on the ‘spheres of influence’ which determined the stand of the CPG and the fate of the Greek working class. Not even Moscow denies that Churchill had proposed a ‘table of percentages’. The History of the Great Patriotic War writes:
‘The basic question for Churchill, which was examined in Moscow, was the question of policy towards the Balkan countries. Already during the first meeting with Stalin, Churchill informed him that ‘he drew up quite a dirty and cynical document, which portrayed the distribution of influence between the Soviet Union and Great Britain in Roumania, Greece, Yugoslavia. Bulgaria. The table was drawn up in order to show what the English think on this question.’
But the composers of the History state that the proposals were not accepted by Stalin. And they characterize the statements of Churchill in his ‘Memoirs’ as an invention.
However from 1944 until today these agreements have been confirmed by many and various ways. The formal denial from Moscow that Stalin had accepted them has since become a dubious fig leaf. Many times, leading personalities of Stalinism have been obliged to admit what is by now a ‘common secret’.
In 1963 Mikis Theodorakis, in his report to the Conference of the Committee of Lambrakis Youth, had said:
“We do not believe in the zones of influence as they were determined by the great powers during the last war for the very simple reason that we did not expect them to give us our freedom, but we won it with our blood. And we think that few peoples can be compared to us in sacrifices and struggles. We hoped that such a people, which raised its stature like a giant when all of Europe was being suffocated under the boot of the Wehrmacht, would be respected and consulted before decisions were taken. But it did not happen like that. They divided us like the shepherds divide their flocks.” (Notebooks of Democracy)
Even the pro-Moscow fraction of the CPG does not deny today the agreements on the ‘spheres of influence’. They only make apologies for themselves and on Stalin’s account, that ‘they were forced’ to accept them. Petros Rousos, whose signature figures among those on the ‘National Contract’ of Lebanon, has written:
“The subject can however take us a long way. What is of direct interest to our revolutionary movement is that the concrete knowledge of the military and diplomatic conditions of our own National Resistance helps us to understand better its strong and weak sides, to be objective in our assessment of its mistakes, for drawing lessons. We must take upon ourselves courageously the responsibility for the Struggle in our Fatherland. Without also taking more responsibility upon ourselves on a subject which was simultaneously a subject of international strategy.
As far as the latter is concerned, it is a mistake for a Marxist not to distinguish who was the instigator of the policy of ‘spheres of influence’ - the imperialists - and who was simply forced to take into consideration the positions of his allies for the sake of unity and victory against the common enemy, Hitler’s Fascism (New World, No. 8, 1970).
At the end of 1944 the German Occupation troops began to abandon Greek territory and on October 12 they vacated Athens. The landing of the British followed on the heels of the withdrawal of the German troops. On October 4 British detachments landed in Patras. On the 13th parachutists landed on the Megara airfield. And on the 14th of the same month, General Scobie, who has been recognized by the CPG as the commander-in-chief of ELAS, arrived in Faliron with Papandreou’s government, accompanied by units of the British navy.
EAM has organized a warm welcome for Scobie and the members of the ‘national unity’ government. A detachment of ELAS did them the honours as soon as they set foot on dry land. Subsequently, Scobie and the members of the government with an escort of British military units headed towards the centre of Athens through an enthusiastic crowd which applauded while holding up huge banners of EAM with slogans written on them such as ‘Welcome allies’, ‘We believe in your justice’ and others. They covered the walls of the city with the same slogans which were to remain indelible reminders to people for years afterwards of the great betrayal.
The British imperialists had not of course come to Greece to render ‘justice’. While the CPG was organizing parades celebrating the ‘liberation’ and the newspaper of EAM ‘Free Greece’ denounced the ‘Fifth Columnist Trotskyists’ who spread rumours that ‘the allies did not come to liberate us but to replace one imperialist slavery with another’, at the same moment the British and their man Papandreou, were busy with choosing their ground to launch their bloody violence.
The CPG had of course betrayed but at the same time had been deceived: The British did not aim to replace the old order of things peacefully, but with fire and sword.
Churchill had no doubt that the CPG would consistently apply the agreements of Lebanon and Caserta. And Komninos Pyromaglou confirms this:
“We were in a position to know that General Sarafis visited General Al. Othonaios (about the middle of October) when the latter was going to take up a position as Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army and stated that under General Othonaios all the Officers of ELAS and the military ELAS would be disciplined and no dictatorial anomaly or operation would arise and, even if it did arise, which was highly improbable, it would be stamped out at birth…” (op. cit.)
But the British were above all interested in smashing the working class movement and thus stabilizing the capitalist regime and their own position in this corner of turbulent Europe. Churchill, more keen sighted than even his closest colleagues, insisted on only a military victory in Greece. When three million men were fighting on the western front and large American forces were fighting Japan in the Pacific, the disturbances in Greece may have seemed unimportant to others, but for Churchill the ‘nerve centre of power, law and Freedom in the Western World’ was to be found there.
Churchill did not want a peace that would shortly be transformed into a social upheaval, threatening the capitalist system in Greece and anywhere else in Europe. So while the CPG slavishly offered him ‘earth and water’ he was ‘certain that the Communists plan to seize power by force’.
On November 8, he sent a telegram to the commander of the Allied Middle East Forces, General Wilson:
“In view of increasing threat of Communist elements in Greece and indications that they plan to seize power by force, I hope that you will consider reinforcing our troops in Athens area by immediate dispatch of the 3rd Brigade of 4th Indian Division or some other formation...”
The moment had arrived for Churchill to realize what he had settled at the Moscow conference, where as he says in his Memoirs he ‘had obtained Russian abstention at a heavy price”.
On November 7 he had sent another telegram to his Foreign Secretary, where he clearly revealed the strategy of British imperialism in Greece:
1. . .” In my opinion, having paid the price we have to Russia for freedom of action in Greece, we should not hesitate to use British troops to support the Royal Hellenic Government under M. Papandreou.
2. This implies that British troops should certainly intervene to check acts of lawlessness. Surely M. Papandreou can close down EAM newspapers if they call a newspaper strike.
3. I hope the Greek Brigade will soon arrive, and will not hesitate to shoot when necessary. Why is only one Indian division to be sent in? We need another eight or ten thousand foot-soldiers to hold the capital and Salonika for the present Government. Later on we must consider extending the Greek authority. I fully expect a clash with EAM, and we must not shrink from it, provided the ground is well chosen.
From the moment the British arrived in Greece they began to entrench themselves in Athens, to seize key positions jointly with the Mountain Brigade which had arrived in the meantime from Rimini and with the dregs of ‘X’ and the Security Battalion men who had organized themselves in the so-called National Guard Battalions and applied themselves to provocations, terrorism and murders. When they had prepared sufficiently, they began to direct their efforts to creating an ‘opportunity’, a pretext for a split with EAM-ELAS and in order to launch their open military attack.
And they found the ‘opportunity’, in the question of the disarming of the Popular Militia and ELAS.
The CPG leaders had accepted the disarming. However its realization was not an easy matter. On November 28, the PEEA Ministers Svolos, Zevgos and Tsirimokos submitted a plan for the disarming, which however was not acceptable to Papandreou.
Papandreou and the British were opposed to the demand of EAM for simultaneously dissolving the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Band, the establishment of a brief procedure for those docile to the Germans, before the disarming. They insisted on the one-sided disarming and set December 10 as a time limit. Their purpose was to force a split with the CPG on this question.
Papandreou in his book The Liberation of Greece referring to the crucial December days, writes:
But there also exists the second stage, the disarming of ELAS. For since the CPG remained fully armed, the Greek Government as we were saying at that time, was simply the helmet of the EAMite State. …
But when should the demobilization have been decided? Should it have been decided immediately or put off until later? The time element was most crucial. The CPG asked for a postponement. And the more general situation favoured it. So long as the war against Nazism continued. the immediate demobilization of the forces of National Resistance could be considered illogical. And for this reason it happened nowhere in Europe. …
But it was clear to me that time was on the side of the CPG. Also internally, because in the meantime it would have safeguarded complete corrosion - as it seems to have happened in Czechoslovakia. And also externally, because the Soviet Union was then in a mortal struggle with Nazism and was taking precautions not to disturb its relations with the allies. And precisely for this reason it played the neutral all through December and indeed to the point of announcing to us, on December 30, that they were sending an Ambassador, while battles were still continuing furiously in Athens. And for this reason I insisted inflexibly on immediate demobilization. And December 10 remained unchanged. …
The result was that December can be considered a ‘Gift of God’. But in order for December to exist, we had to have come to Greece previously. And this was possible only with the participation of the CPG in the Government, that is, with Lebanon.
And in order for the British who were indispensable for victory, to find themselves here, the Caserta agreement had had to have been signed previously.
And in order for the situation to be cleared up then, I had to insist previously on the immediate demobilization of ELAS and to put the CPG in the picture about the dilemma either to accept the disarming peacefully or to attempt a rebellion under conditions which would now lead to its being smashed. ...
This is the historical truth. …
With the insistence of the British and Papandreou on the one-sided disarming, the ministers of the CPG were obliged on December 1 to declare their resignation from the ‘national unity’ government. Without aiming at a violent clarification of the situation, they turned towards the masses, in order to use them in a bid to bring ‘pressure’ to bear on the British and Papandreou. They immediately asked for permission, and it was granted, to summon the people of Athens and Piraeus to a protest demonstration. But late Saturday night Papandreou annulled the permission, rendering the demonstration illegal.
Despite all this, hundreds of thousands of people rallied the next day in Constitution Square to hear the speakers of the CPG. The British did not hesitate to use this opportunity of provoking the CPG, and to force a violent confrontation. While the meeting continued, the crowd was suddenly fired on from the windows of the Central Police Headquarters which was housed in the building opposite the ‘Great Britain’ Hotel. Twenty-eight dead and a hundred wounded covered the ground in a few seconds. The startled crowd retreated to the side-streets for a moment in order to return furious and to rush against the building where the shots had come from. But the murderers had had time to disappear, leaving their guns behind.
The Greek reaction and the British have persisted in their propaganda that this demonstration was the beginning of a violent Communist coup for seizing the power. And this monstrous lie was spread, with the silent tolerance of the leadership of the CPG, to such extent that even today the widespread impression prevails that the December butchery was started on the initiative of the CPG. But the truth about the events is very different from how they have made it appear. The British Ambassador to Greece, R. Leeper, is in this case a witness very worthy of belief.
“The shots on Constitution Square began in full view of the many foreign newspaper correspondents, who were staying in the Great Britain Hotel. Facing the Hotel and on the other side of the road is the Central Police Headquarters. The episode took place precisely on this corner. For the newspaper correspondents it was a wonderful opportunity for a swift correspondence of news. They had their typewriters ready. They had seen the whole episode themselves and all the comments flowed from their typewriters. Within a few hours the World formed the impression that the Fascist or almost Fascist Police of Athens fired against an unarmed crowd.” (R. Leeper, When Greek Meets Greek).
All the foreign journalists who observed the scenes from the balconies and windows of the buildings in Constitution Square communicated in their reports that the police has fired unprovoked on the crowd.
The extract from ‘The Times’ of London quoted by K. Pyromaglu is categorical: ‘The seeds of civil war were well and truly sown this morning by the Athens Police, when they fired on a demonstration of children and youth. The Times correspondent described how, when a protest demonstration against the government met in Constitution Square, the police opened fire. When the shots ceased, the crowd got up and began to collect the wounded. Then the police began to fire again. British armoured cars, the correspondent reports, were patrolling the streets before the shooting began.
The machine-gunning of the unarmed crowd in Constitution Square was only the beginning. The reaction was determined to proceed without delay to violently dissolve the Militia and ELAS and to impose a regime of white terror.
But let us follow how the situation developed after the demonstration, through a series of Churchill’s telegrams. On December 5 Churchill addresses himself to Leeper:
3. I have put the whole question of the defence of Athens and the maintenance of law and order in the hands of General Scobie and have assured him that he will be supported in the use of whatever force is necessary. Henceforward you and Papandreou will conform to his directions in all matters affecting public order and security. You should both support Scobie in every possible way, and you should suggest to him any means which occur to you of making his action more vigorous and decisive.
2. You are responsible for maintaining order in Athens and for neutralizing or destroying all EAM-ELAS bands approaching the city. You may make any regulations you like for the strict control of the streets or for the rounding up of any number of truculent persons. Naturally ELAS will try to put women and children in the van where shooting may occur. You must be clever about this and avoid mistakes. But do not hesitate to fire at any armed male in Athens who assails the British authority or Greek authority with which we are working. It would be well of course if your command were reinforced by the authority of some Greek Government, and Papandreou is being told by Leeper to stop and help. Do not, however, hesitate “to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.”
In his new telegram to General Scobie on December 8, Churchill stresses:
“There is much talk in the Press tonight of a peace offer by ELAS. Naturally we should be glad to have this matter settled, but you should make quite sure, so far as your influence goes, that we do not give away for the sake of kindness what has been won or can still be won by our troops. It would seem to me that anything less satisfactory than the terms agreed upon before the revolt took place should not be accepted. Also it is difficult to see how EAM leaders, with their hands wet with Greek and British blood, should resume their places in the Cabinet. This might however be got over. The great thing is to proceed with caution and to consult us upon the terms when they are made. The clear objective is the defeat of EAM…”
And in his telegram to Ambassador Leeper on December 9:
“Do not be at all disquieted by criticisms made from ‘various quarters in the House of Commons. No one knows better than I the difficulties you have had to contend with. I do not yield to passing clamour, and will always stand with those who execute their instructions with courage and precision. In Athens as everywhere else our maxim is “No peace without victory”.