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Struggle and suffering: The 1946-49 Greek Civil War

Fighters of the Greek Army of National Liberation.

See a video presentation of this talk at For more by Doug Enaa Greene, click HERE

By Doug Enaa Greene

July 17, 2015 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- On March 24, 1945, the famed partisan leader Aris Velouhiotis wrote the following in a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE):

Why did you do this? Where are we going? Why did we shed so much blood? Why did they burn our houses for three years? Why are you handing us over without a battle? What are we going to do now? Where is our popular justice our self-government?... Reaction has raised its head...You don't see any of this. You have been isolated from the popular masses and you have lost their pulse. Wake up. Even at this late stage it's not too late, but soon it will be and we will then need massive sacrifices in blood and toil. Don't let reaction permanently gain a foothold.[1]

Velouhiotis was writing in protest to what he perceived as the sell-out of the Treaty of Varkiza, that was signed by the KKE only one month before. Although the Greek Communists had led the resistance to the Nazis and liberated the bulk of the country from the Nazis, they had agreed to demobilise their armed units, accept amnesty and to hold a referendum on the monarchy. The treaty was a political disaster for the KKE, leaving their supporters defenseless before wanton White Terror at the hands of “Security Battalions” that had collaborated with the Nazi occupation.

Among the fallen was Velouchiotis, who took up arms again rather than surrender. In 1946, the KKE leadership had little choice but to resort to armed struggle, beginning three years of civil war which saw the ultimate defeat of the Communists, tens of thousands of deaths and the installation of an authoritarian right-wing regime.

The roots of the Greek Civil War can be traced back to pre-war society, with its monarchy, class inequalities, and at the mercy of imperialist powers such as Great Britain, and later, the United States. During the Second World War, the old order collapsed and resistance was taken up by the Greek Communist Party. Their support was fuelled not only by a popular desire to resist the invaders, but for social transformation. Both Britain and the monarchy were determined to restore the antebellum situation by any means necessary.

Despite the overwhelming support of the Greek Communists, they did not seize power upon liberation in October 1944 and soon found themselves confronting not only the king, but the British army. The loss by the Communists can be traced back to a number of factors: poor political decisions, indecisiveness in recognising their enemies, failure to take the initiative, military mistakes during the civil war and the fact that they were decisively outgunned by the United States who aided the royalists.

I. Greek Society

Following 500 years rule by the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks managed to achieve their independence in 1830 after a long bloody war. However, the new Greek state had a foreign monarchy imposed upon it by the great powers, as a concession for independence, in order to “ensure that the new country adhered to the old regime in Europe that followed the defeat of Napoleon and the French Revolution”.[2] The monarchy was not accepted by all in Greece though, many wished to curtail or abolish what they saw as alien rule. The politics of the newly independent Greece were linked to those of France, Britain, and Russia, with political parties bearing the names of their foreign patrons. By the mid 20th century, Britain had eased out its rivals to become the dominant power in Greece and the Mediterranean Sea.

Furthermore, Greece was a small and backward country. The power of the state was confined mainly to the cities and towns. By contrast, the countryside and the mountains were generally isolated from governmental authority. In the mountains there were also bandits, some of whom had played major roles in the struggle for independence, but who subsequently went back to their former roles and obeyed their own laws, although sometimes they were utilised by different political factions. According to historian Andre Gerolymatos, “in the twentieth century, these isolated communities would become hostage to guerrilla armies and serve as staging areas and battlegrounds of insurgencies opposed to foreign occupation and the political order in Athens.”[3] Despite these flare-ups of resistance, in order for a new government to be successful and legitmate, it had to establish itself in the capital.

The small size of the country fuelled irredentist claims to recover lost territory from the Ottoman Empire, and later, from Turkey. These nationalist yearnings led to Greece's involvement in the two Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, World War I and a disastrous war with Turkey in 1922. From 1924-1935 Greece established its first republic, but it was unstable and had to fend off several military coups and faced a humanitarian crisis in dealing with more than a million refugees from Turkey. Each military coup led to purges within the armed forces, with initially royalists removed, but subsequent purges led to the creation of a largely non-republican army by 1940.[4] Political instability was compounded by the Great Depression, which brought widespread unemployment and unrest, leading to the reestablishment of the monarchy in a fraudulent plebiscite in 1935.

The monarchy of George II was supported heavily by the military, who feared possible Communist inclusion in a coalition government, since the KKE had 15 deputes who held the balance of power in parliament. The liberals were entering secret talks with the KKE, that soon leaked out. As a result, no government was formed. At the same time, there was labour unrest in the city of Thessaloniki by tobacco, railway and tram workers. The strike, initially numbering 6000 grew to 25,000, even as the army was sent in, killing 12 and wounding 200.[5] As a result of labour strikes and the lack of a stable government, the King gave power to General Ioannis Metaxas, who on August 4, 1936, established martial law and an authoritarian dictatorship. The new dictatorship, supported by the landlords, merchants and the crown, brazenly emulated the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany. The regime sought to squelch any opposition – seeing its main opponent as the Communist Party.


The Communist Party, formed in November 1918, was a small party cut off from the political mainstream with its hostility to irredentism and radical politics. In 1922, the KKE possessed only 1500 members. In these early years, the party was wracked by ideological and political conflict. The KKE was primarily concentrated among the working class of Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. Following the war with Turkey in 1922, refugees from Asia provided the KKE with a social base and prominent leaders such as Nikos Zachariadis.[6]

Zachariadis was an orthodox party member, spending time in the USSR from 1925-8, later rising to general secretary in 1934 and holding the position until his death in 1952. He was elected to parliament shortly before the Metaxas coup and imprisoned from 1936 through 1942. When the Italians invaded Greece in 1940, Zachariadis demanded that party members fight alongside the forces of Metaxas, no doubt this must have been a bitter pill to swallow for those imprisoned and tortured.[7] In 1942, the Germans transferred him to the concentration camp at Dachau and he was freed in 1945. Yet, as we shall see, Zachariadis did not possess the qualities needed to lead the Greek Revolution.[8]

By 1929, the KKE numbered 3000 members, who could expect arrest and imprisonment at the hands of the government. Among the members of the KKE was Thanasis Klaras, the future Aris Velouchitos,[9] born in 1905 to a liberal bourgeois family with declining fortunes. Aris studied agronomy where he first came into contact with elements of the revolutionary left, planting the seeds of his future political career.

In 1925, Aris, then serving in the Greek military, was jailed for being rebellious. By 1929, he was the leader of the youth wing of the KKE, which brought him another bout in jail lasting 45 days, following a clash with the police. The following year, he wound up being imprisoned several times, eventually being exiled to the Gavdos, an island to the south of Crete, where many prisoners succumbed to malaria. While on Gavdos, Aris took charge of his fellow inmates, who built a common settlement, and kept a strict exercise regime. Yet his release from exile in 1932 was merely a prelude to four more years of prison.[10]

However, the repression of the Metaxas regime was at a qualitatively different level than anything that came before. Communists were now being actively hunted, imprisoned and tortured. Among the tortures inflicted, according to Gerolymatos, “communists were made to sit on blocks of ice while force-fed castor oil. The victims suffered horribly from uncontrollable diarrhea, but the objective of torture was to strip them of any semblance of dignity”.[11] The security forces also coerced thousands of real or suspected communists to sign declarations of repentance in order to avoid prison ot to be released:

Just before the Italian invasion of 1940, a proud minister of propaganda, Theologos Nikoloudis, claimed that 57,000 had signed declarations. Remarkably, these figures exceeded the total membership of the Communist Party, which did not surpass 14,000, and must be attributed to the excessive zeal of the police, who often seized individuals merely suspected of communist sympathies. Eventually, many of those unjustly arrested or condemned to prison drifted to the KKE.[12]

Those party members who remained free had to operate in a clandestine manner, a skill that would serve them well during the war.

Aris himself, imprisoned in 1939, signed one of the declarations of repentance in order to regain his freedom. Although some communists were ordered to sign such declarations in order to carry out party work on the outside, the effect was still humiliating and demoralising. Most of those who signed the declarations had, in fact, been broken under torture. The Metaxas dictatorship publicised the declarations in order to poison KKE organisations with suspicion, real and imagined, that the repenters were actually police agents. We don't know if Zacharidias ordered Aris to repent, but the shadow of that signature hung over the future partisan leader for the rest of his life.[13]

Although the government nearly managed to wipe out the KKE, the period of repression hardened its cadre. During World War II, the KKE would grow from a persecuted minority to an armed force of hundreds of thousands, carrying the hopes of the masses for national liberation and social change.

III. World War II

Even though the Metaxas regime was quasi-fascist, Greece was allied with Great Britain and France. Despite this, Metaxas was determined to keep Greece out of the war, which meant he played a delicate balancing act with both the British and the Germans. Mussolini, though, was eager to expand Italian power in the Mediterranean. Greece was plunged into the war when they rejected an Italian ultimatum, that would have reduced them to a satellite. On October 28, the Italians invaded Greece from their colony in neighbouring Albania. The invasion was an unmitigated disaster for Mussolini. The Italian army had to fight on mountainous terrain in poor weather, which was exacerbated by logistical problems, and they were soon overextended. By January 1941, the Greek army had performed so well that they had not only pushed the Italians out of Greece, but had conquered one quarter of Albania.

The Nazis had not supported the Italian invasion of Greece, since they did not have faith in the ability of Italian arms. Yet Hitler intervened because he feared that the Greek debacle would open southeastern Europe to British forces, then stationed in Egypt. 58,000 British and Commonwealth troops were sent to Greece, but this was a small force lacked both tanks and aircraft. Hitler was determined to rescue Mussolini and protect his southern flank in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of the USSR.

On April 6, 1941, the Wehrmacht launched a blitzkrieg against both Yugoslavia and Greece. Although the British had accurate intelligence of German troop movements and operational plans, they remained too weak to effectively resist. The Greek army was also out of position, with the bulk of its soldiers fighting in Albania. Greek and Allied forces were soon overwhelmed and by April 27 Athens was captured by the Nazis. British and Greek forces evacuated to Crete, which the Germans attacked on May 20 in history's first airborne invasion. Still, by June 1, Crete too was conquered, albeit, at heavy cost to the Germans.[14]

Greece was primarily under Italian and Bulgarian occupation, although the Germans controlled strategically important areas such as Athens. The Germans set up a puppet government that was not only ineffective, but increasingly brutal and unpopular. The Greek monarchy and the remnants of the army fled to Cairo, to set up a government-in-exile under British protection.

IV. The German occupation

The German occupation came after the end of more than six months of war and an exhausted populace. Although the Germans made some efforts to “soften” their approach, this had little effect. The Germans had come to Greece as conquerors: their soldiers were parading in the streets and they requisitioned the personal possessions of ordinary people.[15]

The Germans also purchased goods in a currency that quickly lost value. Greece was subjected to ruthless economic exploitation as food and raw materials were taken to serve the German war machine.

In light of the plunder by the Axis powers and the economic and infrastructural disruptions of the occupation, Greece was overcome by famine in 1941-2. Even in peacetime, Greece had depended on imports of foodstuffs to feed its people, but the war had cut off the normal sources of external trade, such as Britain. The famine bred hatred for the Germans and encouraged the creation of mass resistance:

Starvation pervaded every city and town in Greece, consuming its victims at an alarming rate. Thousands succumbed to the debilitating effects of malnutrition or died from the onset of disease triggered by the famine. More than 100,000 died of starvation and associated diseases in Athens alone, and thousands more in other cities and towns.[16]

Ultimately, more than a quarter million Greeks, in a population totalling 7 million, died during the famine.

It is important to note that the famine fell hardest on the urban sector, since the countryside was largely self-contained and isolated, but possessed a surplus of food. The villagers sent a great deal of that surplus to feed their starving compatriots in the cities. This implied a fundamental shift in the balance of power within Greece: “centralized authority was the primary feature of the Greek state, and power radiated from the city and dominated the village. Because of the famine and the guerrilla forces in the mountains, the roles were reversed: legitimate Greek political authority shifted to the village.”[17]

The first acts of resistance to the Germans were disorganised and uncoordinated. The resistance began with symbolic acts such as students taking down the swastika from the acropolis and raising the Greek flag. Leaving aside talk of the rural guerrillas for later, it is important to note that the urban working class of Greece played a major role in the resistance. There were working-class demonstrations in Athens to mark the first anniversary of the Italian invasion in October 1941, student demonstrations in December, major strikes in early 1942. According to historian Pierre Broue:

On 22 December 1942 there were 40,000 people on strike. The demonstrations and strikes which followed the announcement of compulsory labour service in Germany, and which developed from 24 February to 5 March 1943, resulted in the only occasion when the occupying power backed down on this issue. By 1943 the armed struggle was no longer the work of small groups but that of real military units. When they arrived in a region with the intention of extending the liberated zones, there would be an immediate mass uprising of the armed people. Kedros declared that “the entire population was involved in the armed resistance”.

The mass movements in the cities were irrepressible. There was a general strike in Athens on 25 June 1943 against the execution of hostages by the occupying power. The tram drivers’ strike, which began on 12 June, had led to 50 tramway workers being sentenced to death. They were saved by the general strike. By 1944 not only were wide rural areas liberated, but the German troops lived under siege in the cities, which they could only leave in guarded convoys. The “Red Belt”, the workers’ quarters around Athens, were nothing less than fortresses of the armed people.[18]

As a result of the actions of the resistance, Greece wound up sending no foreign labourers to Germany. The Germans exacted bloody reprisals and launched at least nine major operations against the guerrillas, mainly in northern Greece.[19]

As the war dragged on elsewhere, Germany faced the combined might of the USSR, Britain and the USA which strained their resources. Following the surrender of Italy in 1943, the Nazis supported the efforts of the collaborationist Greek government to establish security battalions to replace Italian troops. The efforts of the Communist-led guerrillas drove many conservative officers to enlist in the Security Battalions. The battalions were commanded by German forces and began with an oath which read: “I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will obey absolutely the orders of the Supreme Commander of the German Army, Adolf Hitler.”[20]

However, the extreme anti-communism of the Security Battalions and fears of a leftist takeover meant that the Greek government-in-exile and the British were unwilling to denounce them. Winston Churchill privately said: “It seems to me that the collaborators in Greece in many cases did the best they could to shelter the Greek population from German oppression.”[21] Only in September 1944, mere weeks before the German withdrawal from Greece, did the monarchy condemn the Security Battalions as traitors.[22]

On October 12, 1944, as the Soviet Union's Red Army was advancing through Eastern Europe, the Germans began their withdrawal from Greece. Six days later, British forces and the Greek government in exile landed in Athens, where a struggle for power with the Communists began almost immediately. The Nazi occupation had devastated Greece: “It cost the lives of 8 per cent of the population (550,000 people), 34 per cent of the national wealth, 402,000 houses and 1,770 villages were destroyed, leaving 1.2 million homeless. Furthermore, 56 per cent of roads, 65 per cent of private cars, 60 per cent of trucks and 80 per cent of buses were out of action.”[23] Yet the ordeal was far from over.

V. The Resistance

Following Metaxas's death in January 1941, the new government-in-exile was now controlled by the King. However, the government had no outstanding personalities in it nor any legitimacy. While King George II distanced himself from the discredited Metaxas dictatorship, he was not willing to contemplate any major constitutional or social changes.[24] He saw his first, and only priority as winning the war. Ultimately, the monarchy had only tenuous connections to the mainland, which meant they lost the initiative in organising a resistance force.

Despite these weaknesses, the British remained firm supporters of the monarchy:

British policy in Greece between the beginning of the Axis occupation and liberation was characterized by two uncompromising principles. First, the Greek king and his government were the legitimate representatives of the Hellenic state, and second, Britain could neither sanction nor impose any political change during the war.[25]

British policies toward the various resistance movements remained adaptable enough (despite misgivings) to provide aid to non-royalist forces. Despite their flexibility, the British remained determined to restore the pre-war regime to Greece, no matter the cost.

The power vacuum in occupied Greece was filled by a number of resistance organisations of differing social and political origins. In Greece, just like Albania, Yugoslavia, Italy and France the largest component of the anti-fascist resistance was formed and led by the Communists. On September 27, 1941, the National Liberation Front (EAM) was formed at the initiative of the KKE with support from the Union of Popular Democracy, Agrarian Party and the Greek Socialist Party. The KKE central committee members who formed the EAM were aided by their years of clandestine work and the fact that they had not been infiltrated by the Metaxas dictatorship.[26]

The EAM was not formed on a strictly communist program, but was conceived as a broad front to unite for national liberation. This approach allowed the EAM to grow rapidly: “joining the EAM did not require any particular sacrifice; one only had to accept the organisation as the common resistance front. Under these terms, EAM acquired thousands and ultimately hundreds of thousands of members, who by the simple act of becoming members could believe themselves to be fighting the occupation authorities.”[27]

The EAM was not an army, but a political organisation that sought to create a “resistance state which operated right under the noses of the Nazis”.[28] The EAM soon possessed a vast network that spread across the countryside and into the cities, encompassing workers, peasants, students and women.[29] The EAM managed to create a parallel state, creating organs of self-government in villages and even holding an election involving one million Greeks under occupation in March 1944. The EAM sponsored election wound up creating the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA), a new provisional government that possessed 250 delegates from all social classes.[30]

Their program for a liberated Greece included planks promising major social changes and self-determination. In light of the lack of credibility that the monarchy possessed, the EAM could now lay claim to being the sovereign power in Greece. At its height, EAM could count on the support of at least one to 2 million Greeks.[31]

While the EAM was the political wing of the resistance movement, it also possessed a military wing known as the Greek Army of National Liberation (ELAS). In June 1942, in the village of Domnista, 300 kilometers northwest of Athens, Aris gave a speech to the villagers where he proclaimed:

Patriots! I am Aris Velouchiotis, Colonel of Artillery. Starting today, I am raising the banner of revolt against the forces occupying our beloved country. The handful of men you see before you will soon become an army of thousands. We are just a nucleus.[32]

Although it was a grand boast, Aris was soon proven correct. Beginning with only 15 members, the ELAS grew to 5000 combatants by the Spring of 1943. Five months later, they numbered 40,000.[33] And it is important to note that ELAS received very little outside aid (for reasons we will elaborate upon). ELAS managed to expand rapidly under Aris' command, conducting guerrilla war against the Nazis in the mountainous region. In March 1943, they expanded their operations into the Peloponnesus, central and northern Greece with the result that many of these areas fell under their control.

The resistance movement led by ELAS vastly transformed the situation of women as well. Traditionally, women in Greece were illiterate and treated as chattel. ELAS mobilised women who formed their own battalions, created schools, and gave them suffrage in the liberated zones. The PEEA provisional government granted women equal political and civil rights. Women deputies in the new government were also granted pay equal to that of men.[34]

ELAS also benefited from the popular support and networks set up by EAM in villages and towns. They managed to recruit a considerable number of Greek military officers, who were attracted to their successes against the Axis.[35] ELAS was also aided in the fact that the acronym for the organisation itself, when pronounced, means “Greece” which served as a powerful piece of propaganda.[36] Furthermore, ELAS built upon the popular legends of bandits and outlaws of the countryside, since the guerrilla commanders themselves or Kapetanios were leaders who supported the aspirations of the masses.

The Kapetanios were viewed by both the British and the KKE leadership as uncontrollable, violent and social radicals. The Kapetanios were determined to push for the military advantage of ELAS and their own vision of a liberated Greece, regardless of what any of their allies or enemies thought. The Kapetanios were hampered politically since they had very little influence within the KKE leadership, who opposed not just their radicalism and ill-discipline, but their unorthodox strategy of rural warfare as opposed to urban insurrection.[37]

Aris himself was both a feared and admired guerrilla commander. His legend spread throughout Greece in song, rumour, newspapers and propaganda. Aris was a leader in the operation that destroyed the Gorgopotamos viaduct in November 1942, cutting the main railway line between Athens and Thessaloniki, that seriously disrupted German troop movements.[38] Aris was not only a charismatic figure, but had a reputation for brutality since he not only executed traitors, but thieves and rapists.[39] Aris made a number of enemies including those of rival guerrilla groups, the British who feared his methods and social radicalism, and the KKE. The KKE at one point even recalled Aris to Athens in March 1943, where he war reprimanded for his methods of terror and for endangering the chances of British recognition of the ELAS.[40] Although Aris managed to reassure his detractors, it was not his last confrontation with the leadership of the KKE.

The KKE itself had grown enormously during the war to at least 350,000 members by 1945.[41] Although the party provided the leading core of the resistance movement, it did not simply manipulate it like a puppet on strings. The KKE had actually managed to build a genuinely broad movement for social and national liberation that extended far beyond their own ranks. Yet the KKE determined that the struggle in Greece was to be confined to the tasks of national liberation and would not overstep those limits to become a social revolution. The leaders of the KKE believed that social aspirations needed to take a back seat in light of the war in order to build a broad popular front of all classes and to secure British aid. While the KKE followed Comintern directives (disbanded in 1943) to build a national front to fight the Nazis, it should be noted that those communications were disrupted during the war.[42]

If the KKE had wanted to, it could have pursued a far different policy, but the leadership remained committed to national tasks and not to making a bid for power.

Although the KKE membership expanded during the resistance, this did not translate into changes in the party line, even though: “in the course of the struggle for national liberation an underground minority was developing into a mass movement by leaps and bounds, but without its controlling group undergoing the slightest mutation. Not a single man who joined the Party from the Resistance was admitted to the top echelons of the Party leadership”.[43]

Unlike Yugoslavia or China, where the communist parties were willing to translate their armed strength into a bid for political power, no such impetus could be found within the KKE, since the leadership sought to limit expressions of radicalism. This meant that radical Kapetanios such as Aris, while they were popular, were isolated within the party.

While the KKE remained committed to the national struggle, the British and the Greek government-in-exile did not believe them, and were already preparing for a showdown to determine who ruled Greece.

VI. The British and the crown

Although ELAS/EAM were the largest anti-Nazi resistance groups in Greece by far, they were not the only ones. In late 1941, when the National Liberation Front was founded, a group of purged Republican officers from the Greek army formed the National Greek Democratic League (EDES). EDES was pledged to prevent the return of the monarchy, to purge the army of monarchists and to implement social, political, and economic reforms.

The main leader of EDES was a republican officer, gambler and womaniser named Napoleon Zervas.[44] Despite its republican credentials, EDES had very limited support, mostly based in Epirus. This meant EDES expanded far slower than the ELAS, even though they had better trained officers and partisans; by March 1943 they possessed only 4000 guerrillas.

A number of factors limited the support of EDES. For one: the leadership was not willing to mobilise the people, something ELAS believed was essential to fighting the Nazis.

Second, despite the professed republicanism of the EDES program, both the British and the Greek monarchy courted them as a non-radical alternative to the Communists. To this end, EDES was furnished with supplies by the British. In return, on March 9, 1943, Zervas pledged his loyalty to the Greek king. By embracing a discredited monarchy, EDES ensured that the yearnings for social change would be channelled instead by ELAS.[45]

Third, ELAS/EAM was able to out-organise the EDES, absorbing other guerrilla units by their ability to not only organise the people, but to effectively fight the Germans. This was definitively proven by the fact that ELAS suffered more than four-fifths of resistance casualties during the war.[46]

Even though ELAS and EDES were at war with the Nazis, relations between the two were uneasy. Following the desertion of 25 ELAS guerrillas in December 1942 to EDES territory, Aris led his forces there to capture and punish them. This nearly led to armed clashes, but British agents on the scene managed to cool things down. Talks were opened at the behest of the British between Zervas and Aris to unite their forces. The talks fell through when Zervas overplayed his hand, demanding overall command of the resistance, something that the size of EDES did not warrant.[47]

Yet the British did not give up their efforts to unify the two organisations. Not only was the KKE eager for British recognition and support, but the British needed them to win the war. The two groups nominally agreed to cooperate and accept overall British command of the resistance in 1943, yet in practice distrust remained and there was armed fighting between EDES and ELAS.[48]

The end result of these unification efforts were two treaties signed in 1944 those of Lebanon and Caserta between ELAS, EDES and the monarchy that established a Greek government of National Unity. The treaties denounced KKE terrorism, left open the question of the monarchy and set up a single military command. As part of the treaties, it was agreed to disband the Security Battalions. Despite these concessions, the British and the crown also secured KKE support for dealing with the problem of security after the liberation which “effectively gave the British and the Greek governments control of key areas, thus enabling them to offset some of the strategic advantage held by ELAS”.[49] Already, the British were preparing to fight with the Communists to determine the future of Greece.

There had been forebodings of civil war even as World War II was still being fought. Not only was the KKE fighting EDES, but the Greek army was showing that it was potentially mutinous. Greek soldiers in exile, who numbered 20,000 ,were determined but they had different goals than the royalist officer corps. According to Eudes,

in minds of a great many of these men the liberation struggle was closely associated with the liquidation of the monarchy, of fascism, and of the influence of the great foreign powers in Greece. They constituted a highly politicized army fighting in cooperation with the Resistance inside the country, and they had no intention of becoming the praetorian guard of a puppet government tied to the old regime.[50]

These marked differences between the ranks and their commanders, led to two mutinies within the Greek army. The first was in October 1941 when soldiers formed the underground organisation, the Military Organisation for Liberation (ASO). The ASO demanded to be sent to Greece to fight, officers sympathetic to Metaxas be purged and that pro-ASO officers not be discharged. According to Pierre Broue, the government agreed that the

Metaxist officers should be isolated, on the one hand to prevent events from running out of control, and on the other hand to prepare a fresh attack. Over the next few months military directives caused the units to be dispersed, the rebels were punished by disciplinary training, and finally the subversive elements were weeded out and the officers who had been isolated were brought back into key positions.[51]

The second mutiny that occurred in March and April 1944 was a much more serious matter. The ASO, which remained intact, collected a petition signed by the majority of Greek soldiers that supported the creation of a National Government of Unity based upon the PEEA. The petition was presented to the Soviet embassy (who refused to receive them) and to the Greek government-in-exile. The movement was not led or organised by any of the left-wing resistance forces in Greece, but developed organically and spontaneously from the soldiers.

The mutiny led to mass demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria, that was supported by Egyptian workers and spread to the navy. However, the British moved in swiftly, disarming "unreliable" units and arresting the ringleaders. By mid-April, the mutiny was put down. The Greek Army of the Middle East no longer existed and 20,000 soldiers were now languishing in concentration camps.[52] The army was reorganised with well-armed units loyal to the crown, who were imbued with virulent anti-communism.

The British were determined throughout the war to ensure that there would be no change in the status of the monarchy in Greece. Yet they had to face the realities of war where it was the Communists who were leading the bulk of the resistance and organising the people. To this end, they played the carrot of offering concessions to the KKE that left the old order fundamentally intact, but they also used the stick by supporting ineffective anticommunist resistance forces and to putting down mutinies amongst the Greek army. Yet Britain was confronted not only with fighting a war, but with a brewing social revolution in Greece.

In summing up the vast social changes that occurred in Greece, and other occupied countries during World War II, Basil Davidson, a member of the British Special Operations Executive, makes the following conclusion:

In Greece and Yugoslavia, and to varying degree in all occupied countries, large and serious resistance came and could only come under left-wing leadership and inspiration. Whole ruling classes had collapsed in defeat or moved into compromise with the Nazis. With notable exceptions, the beaten generals followed their governments and kings in exile, went into retirement, or took service with the Nazi occupiers. Some believed they could conciliate the conquerors; others despaired of any rescue; not a few shared the beliefs and aims of the Nazis. Preaching the unification of a nazified Europe, Hitler was able to win fighting volunteers from every occupied country.

Again, with exceptions, the right-wing sold out and the centre simply vanished from the scene. Here and there patriotic officers tried to stand against this collapse, and called for resistance in the name of king and conservatism. Yet the people to whom they called proved reluctant or quite unwilling to follow them. Plenty of ordinary folk were ready to risk their lives, but only, as it soon transpired, if they were not risking them for king and conservatism. In these countries of bitter pre-war dictatorships, it further transpired, the self-sacrifice and vision required to begin an effective resistance, and then rally others to the same cause, were found only among radicals and revolutionaries. Exceptions there were; but such was the general rule. And again, in practice, this leadership was found above all among the men and women of harried and clandestine communist parties whose remnants were all still unbowed by persecution.[53]

VII. The Soviet Union

Many ELAS guerrillas could be forgiven for believing that the Red Army, then sweeping the Wehrmacht before it, would move into Greece and ensure the liberation of the country. However, the USSR was not willing to jeopardise the war-time alliance with the British and the Americans by encouraging communist parties to seize power. In fact, as it became clear that Nazi Germany was going to be defeated, the British, the United States and the Soviets were already negotiating on the post-war division of Europe.

In October 1944, just as the Germans were withdrawing from Greece, Winston Churchill arrived in Moscow for a meeting with Stalin on allied spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. From this meeting came the famous “percentages agreement” dividing up Eastern Europe: “Romania was to be 90 per cent under Russian predominance and 10 per cent under British; the reverse situation was to prevail in Greece. Yugoslavia and Hungary were to be shared 50-50. Bulgaria was to be 70 per cent Russian and 25 per cent British.”[54]

In the cases of a number of the countries, the percentage agreement was meaningless since it was clear that the Red Army would hold the preponderance of power. However by agreeing that the British were going to have paramount influence in Greece, Stalin ensured that he would not encourage any uprising by the KKE nor would he move the Red Army into Greece.

It was not as if the Soviets were unaware that the British would ruthlessly put down a potential Greek uprising. As part of the October accord, both sides agreed confidentially that “'if the British found it necessary to take military action to quell internal disorders in Greece, the Soviets would not interfere. In return, the British would recognise the right of the Soviets to take the lead in maintaining order in Romania". Stalin could have had no doubt what sort of "internal disorders" Churchill anticipated.[55] The Soviets were true to their word, when fighting broke out in Athens in December 1944, they raised no objection. Nor did the USSR say anything when the United States intervened in the Greek Civil War in 1947 as part of escalating the Cold War.

However, in assessing Stalin's responsibilities for what occurred in Greece, the Greek Maoist Kostas Mavrakis says that the Soviet agreement with the British “did not mean that Stalin undertook to press the Greek communists not to oppose the British intervention. Even the most extreme advocates of the thesis under discussion do not go so far as to say this openly.”[56] Mavrakis also says that Stalin did not want to risk another war while the Red Army was still engaged in fighting with the Nazis. The second point is only political realism, which is certainly understandable. Yet in regards to the first point, the Soviet envoys did not warn the Greek communists to be prepared for battle with the British.

As Mavrakis argues:

It was Stalin's duty to urge the communist leaders to prepare themselves and the masses to resist ferociously the return of the reaction in the wake of the British, since those leaders were incapable of understanding this by themselves. His silence may be explained by the same error which is at the root of the mistakes committed by the CPG: he lacked confidence in the strength of the popular masses and allowed himself to be intimidated by the apparent power of British imperialism. Stalin no longer believed that the Greek people could win against such a formidable enemy. He did not want to urge on them a hopeless struggle.[57]

While Stalin and the USSR certainly do bear responsibility for pushing the KKE to subordinate their revolutionary ambitions and to participate in the pro-British government, ultimately it was not the task of Stalin and the USSR to make a revolution in Greece. The KKE could just as easily have ignored the advice of the Soviet Union and decided to strike out for power on their own – something that Mao and Tito would do. The KKE leadership was quite willing, even when they had little contact with the USSR, to limit their revolutionary aims in the interests of the wartime alliance and feared a challenge for power. Ultimately, the main responsibility for failure to take the offensive in 1944 lies on the KKE leadership, who had forces on the ground and did not press their advantage.

VIII. The December uprising

In October 1944, Greece was finally liberated as the Germans withdrew. The British quickly moved into Athens, followed a few days later by the Greek government-in-exile (although the King remained in Cairo). The Greek government had the enormous task of creating a new army to restore order. Currently, they only possessed control over the navy, a small air force, and a single brigade.[58] Following the mutinies in Egypt, these forces were staffed overwhelmingly with conservative and royalist officers. Yet ELAS and their supporters were not going to support an army whom they believed was tied to repression the pre-war regime.[59] Whereas the Crown controlled Athens, ELAS ruled almost the entire country and could have easily moved into the capital and proclaimed themselves the new sovereign power in Greece. However, in line with previous their agreements, the Resistance did not take over.

Upon liberation, most members of the Security Battalions were imprisoned. Yet the Greeks and British “had decided ... to reinstate, quietly, at least the officers who served in the Battalions. At the same time, it had become British policy to dissolve EAM and dismantle ELAS while using collaborators to support the Greek government.”[60]

Soon, the government was releasing members of the Security Battalions from prison or allowing them to “escape”, and within a short time afterward, they were again wearing Greek army uniforms. Naturally, ELAS and EAM were outraged at this move, provoking a crisis inside the government. Yet, the Crown and the British needed the Battalions to disarm ELAS. The crisis culminated on December 1, 1944 when the government presented an ultimatum to ELAS to dissolve its organisation and disarm. This was a deliberate provocation and set the stage for civil war.

Throughout, the KKE remained committed to cooperation with the British and the crown. Yet Aris did not trust the British and believed that a confrontation was imminent. In November 1944, he held a meeting at Lamia to discuss the situation with the Central Committee. However, the KKE was not willing to even consider fighting the British, leaving Aris isolated. This was the end result of a party that remained bound by old formulas and was not willing to seize the opportunities at hand. The KKE would thus find itself completely caught off-guard in December. The hopeless position of Aris also showed that the Kapatenios, despite their popularity and military prowess, had no organisation comparable to that of the KKE. “Not only did the kapatenios fail to marshal their convictions, not only would they never make their united voice in the Central Committee, but no overall plan to deal with the fighting to come was ever formulated.”[61]

Yet the EAM was not willing to follow the orders of the government to disarm, and their representatives walked out on December 2. The following day, EAM called for a general strike and began reorganising ELAS. The demonstrators, who numbered 200,000, marched towards Syntagma Square where they confronted by British tanks and Greek police. Tensions were high. It did not take much for shots to be fired. Despite conflicting accounts of who fired the first shot, the police responded by shooting on the demonstrators. At least 28 were killed in the massacre, starting several weeks of fighting in Athens. The Greek government still possessed only a few forces at their command, meaning they relied on the British, who used their troops, artillery and air craft to deal with the protesters.

After the first day of fighting, the demonstrators returned to the streets, now flanked by armed ELAS militants who fired back. ELAS cadre targeted the police, whom “the left identified with the provisional government and the last vestiges of the occupation. Over the next several hours the reserve ELAS units sparked dozens of small sieges against police stations in Athens and Piraeus. By 3 pm, ELAS had captured 21 of the 24 police stations in metropolitan Athens and had unraveled the tenuous compromises that had held the peace since liberation.”[62] During the fighting, there was reports of torture and executions by ELAS. At one point, during the December fighting, ELAS used their own political police, OPLA to massacre anarchists and members of the Trotskyist Archeo-marxists in Athens.[63]

By December 12, ELAS was in control of most of Athens and the British seriously considered pulling out. However, ELAS had largely concentrated their fire on Greek police and army, leaving the British alone, since they didn't want to escalate the conflict.[64] Even now, the KKE still wanted to reopen negotiations as the people were being gunned down in Athens. And in a major miscalculation, ELAS units throughout the rest of Greece, did not engage the British to expel them from the country. These errors allowed the British to bring in reinforcements who held key facilitates and were able to regain control over southern Athens. Churchill had been quite adamant in his orders to commander of British forces stationed in Athens: “do not hesitate to act as if you were in a a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.”[65] This was only a natural response by Churchill, who had a history of suppressing anti-colonial revolts against British rule.

The fighting in Athens produced a scandal in the British public. World War II was still going on, British troops were fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, now here were those same troops engaged in open warfare with the anti-fascist resistance in Greece. Churchill was denounced in parliament by members of the Labour Party and even by fellow Tories. Churchill flew to Greece on December 25, 1944 in order to negotiate with ELAS and end the fighting. However, the negotiations quickly fell apart. Still ELAS did not seize the opportunity and they were not able to overwhelm either the pro-government forces or the British. Another British offensive in January successfully drove ELAS out of the city of Athens. The Communists had lost the battle which devastated the capital and left tens of thousands dead.[66]

This military defeat was compounded by a political one, when on January 11, 1945, ELAS asked for an armistice and talks were reopened with the British. A month later, all Greek political parties, with the support of the Allies, signed the Treaty of Treaty of Varkiza. The treaty called for the demobilisation of ELAS and other guerrilla groups, an amnesty for political offensives (but in fact many actions of partisans during the war were still classified as criminal offensives), legalisation of the KKE, a referendum to decide to the fate of the monarchy and general elections for a new government. The Treaty had compounded the defeat of the KKE in December and was an unmitigated disaster on every level.

Aris refused to accept defeat after the December uprising since most of the ELAS units remained intact. He was prepared to go against the Central Committee in order to resume the struggle. The KKE did everything possible to disrupt Aris' efforts to reach out to the Kapatenios to reorganise the resistance.[67] When Zachariadas returned from Dachau in April 1945, he resumed his position as leader of the KKE and fully supported the Treaty. Zachariadas would not tolerate a breach of party discipline by Aris and in June denounced Aris in harsh terms: “Velouchiotis's current activities are helping the forces of reaction to formulate anti-KKE arguments, providing them with a pretext to claim that the Varkiza agreements are being broken and to invoke the crimes Aris has committed against the democratic world.”[68]

Aris was never able to answer his detractors since he was busy organising a new guerrilla army and killed in battle. On June 16, 1945, in the mountains of Agrafa, Aris and his men were ambushed by forces of the enemy. His head was severed and displayed as a trophy and a warning. Despite the denunciation of Aris, within a year the KKE would be forced to take up arms once again. Ultimately, the martyred Aris was proven right, but alas it was too late.

In regards to assessing the errors of the KKE in 1944 to take power, there is actually a great deal of convergence of reasons on the far left in regards to their failure. The Trotskyist Pierre Broue not only faults the USSR's advice and politics, but criticises their line of “renouncing a class approach” that left them politically disarmed in 1944.[69] The Maoist Kostas Mavrakis criticises the "opportunism" of the KKE stating,

When the occupying forces withdrew from the country power lay within their reach. They did not seize it. Intimidated by the power of Britain, anxious to avoid a trial of strength, deluded about the democratic professions of faith of the English, and aware of the immense popularity of the “National Liberation Front” (EAM) which they led, they hoped to accede to power by the “normal” wide and level road and to economise on the “Long March” via the precipitous maths of protracted war; the wide road led them to the precipice.[70]

Anarchists such as Andrew Flood lays the blame squarely on the party's subordination to Moscow: “The ELAS accepted British control of liberation. As the Germans left the British arrived, some 26,000 and 5 air squadrons. The ELAS had 50,000 and although it could have seized power did not do so on orders from Moscow.”[71]

And lastly the KKE admits, in a statement on its 90th anniversary, that it lost a major opportunity to take power through a lack of strategy, by subjecting itself to British command and underestimating the class content of the resistance. The lengthy statement is worth quoting in full:

At the time of liberation from the Germans (12 October 1944) a revolutionary situation was created in Greece. EAM was dominant, while at the same time the bourgeois state machinery was in tatters. The bourgeois government that had been set up was still in Egypt and the British had not yet reached Greece.

The main conclusion is that our Party, despite its enormous contribution and its leading role, was unable to formulate a strategy that would have led to a revolutionary solution to the problem of taking political power, even then, especially after 1943, when conditions required that the issue of the revolutionary seizing of power be raised. Thus, it came about that ELAS subjected itself to British headquarters in the Middle East (5 July 1943) and later to the agreements of Lebanon (20 May 1944) and Kazerta (26 September 1944), in order to maintain and extend “national unity”. It did not create the subjective prerequisites for a course which, depending on other factors as well, could have led to victory.

First of all, it did not assess correctly the interaction between the social and class content of the people’s struggle and national liberation. Apart from the political and military clashes with quisling military organisations, this interaction can be confirmed by the armed clashes of ELAS with anti-Hitler and pro-British organisations such as EDES. The same fact is illustrated by the constant friction between ELAS and the British, the continuous ideological and political battle of the bourgeois Greek governments in the Middle East against PEEA and EAM-ELAS, the frequent collaboration of bourgeois organisations with the invaders in order to confront the “red peril”, as well as the bloody suppression of the heroic Antifascist Military Organisation (ASO) in April of 1944 by British forces and the Greek government in Cairo.

The forces taking part in EAM expressed different interests. In addition to the KKE, the participants included social democratic and liberal forces, as well as others of a general bourgeois political stamp. It should have been regarded as certain that, owing to the vacillations peculiar to parties and persons of this nature who are not prepared to take things to the end, it would not be possible for them to keep pace with the working class in all phases of the fight, especially when the Occupation was nearing its end and the issue of power (i.e. who would be ruling whom) arose. The KKE did not take into account that the ideological and political battle was also being waged within the alliance and that, for a successful outcome to the class struggle, prejudicial compromises could not be permitted. Especially when the compromises did not reflect the balance of forces between the allies.

The strategy of the British and the domestic bourgeois forces and their manoeuvres should also have been studied, so that the KKE could adapt its strategy accordingly.[72]

Except for Flood's statement that the KKE didn't seize power on orders from Moscow, there is consensus that the KKE had subordinated the class struggle to the national one, lacked a clear revolutionary strategy, and was outmaneuvered by the British.

IX. Civil war

For the next year, despite the formal promise of the Treaty of Varkiza that all guerrilla forces were to be disarmed, members of the KKE and ELAS were repeatedly subjected to attacks from right-wing paramilitaries who operated with impunity. More than a thousand pro-communists were murdered by death squads. At the same time, following the December Uprising the government had released all the members of the Security Battalions and now 12,000 of them were serving in the national guard.[73]

The KKE was caught in an untenable position: on the one hand, its supporters were being killed with tacit support of the government, while on the other, they remained committed to legality. Nor had the “amnesty” spared members of ELAS from criminal prosecution. From 1945-6, close to 50,000 people with connections with ELAS were imprisoned.[74] To escape retribution, at least 5000 ELAS and KKE members fled into exile in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania.[75] As a result, many members of ELAS formed self-defence units, without sanction from the KKE, to protect themselves from the white terror.

Liberation did not improve the lot of the average Greek either. There were now more than 1,000,000 refugees, 880,000 who suffered from disease, along with the hundreds of thousands killed during the occupation. The Greek currency had lost its value and by 1949, the cost of living would be 250 times that of 1940.[76] Many members of ELAS could be forgiven if they asked why they fought and what their comrades had died for.

By 1946, the situation in Greece was deteriorating rapidly. Greeks in exile in the People's Democracies were secretly returning home and linking up with the self-defence units to raid for arms and food, supplies and attack the forces of the right. Still, the KKE remained more interested in the coming elections in March 1946, but even they could not ignore the violence and decided to boycott the elections.

The international situation was also changing as the war-time alliance between the USSR, USA, and Britain was replaced by the confrontation of the Cold War. Aid for the KKE was now coming from neighbouring socialist countries, particularly Yugoslavia.[77] Growing more confident, the KKE began to openly denounce the responsibility of the British for the escalating violence. The KKE had already begun sending cadre to the provinces at the end of 1945 to begin organising resistance.

However, the KKE leadership, especially Zachariadis, “clung perversely to his old model, putting all his efforts into the big-city proletariat and limiting the development of a Mountain movement from the onset... The experiences of his predecessors had taught Zachariadis nothing and made him forget nothing. His atavistic mistrust of revolutionary spontaneity and of Greek popular structures prevented him from doing anything but repeat and aggravate the errors of the past.”[78] And those policies ultimately ensured defeat for the KKE.

In March 1946, the boycotted elections were won by the right-wing party, United Alignment of Nationalists, who organised a plebiscite that restored the monarchy in September. The lines were drawn. On March 30-31, a band of ELAS troops attacked the small town of Litochoro near Mount Olympus, finally beginning the civil war.[79] In response, the government quickly restored the organs of repression left over from Metaxas and imprisoned thousands of ELAS supporters. By the end of 1947, when the KKE formed the Provisional Democratic Government, all leftist parties were officially banned in Greece.[80]

The KKE formed a new insurgent force known as the Democratic Army (DSE) in October 1946 to fight the government. The DSE was under the command of Markos Vafiadis, a veteran of ELAS. The Democratic Army possessed approximately 7000 soldiers in November, growing to 13,000 in March 1947 and reaching 35,000 by the end of the summer. At least 20 per cent were women and the vast majority were very young.[81] The Democratic Army's initial strategy was to operate from safe base areas in Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and engage the Greek army.

The KKE had a high level of support in Macedonia which gave those plans some credence. Vafiadis foresaw a protracted struggle before the KKE could defeat the crown. “Yugoslavia carried the main burden of supplying the insurgents as well as providing staging grounds for the Greek Democratic Army's hit-and-run tactics. Part of the strategy also included the use of Macedonia as a resource region to sustain the Greek Democratic Army in the field.”[82] Vafiadis foresaw a protracted struggle before the KKE could defeat the Crown.

Initially, the government seemed to be vulnerable. The Greek army barely existed in 1946 and was hastily deployed when the civil war began, although by the end of the war, they reached 132,000 men. In the beginning at least, a great deal of conscripts deserted from the government and went over to the Communists.[83] Yet the government was fast losing ground and unable to quell the insurgency. On February 20, 1947, Britain, which had been financing the Greek government, announced that it could no longer afford to supply the Greek royalists. The Second World War had devastated and bankrupted Britain and the empire was slipping away from it. Without British support, there was a real possibility of Greece succumbing to the Democratic Army.

X. The Truman Doctrine

Yet the United States was not going to allow Greece, the “cradle of Western Civilisation”, to fall to the forces of “godless communism”. On March 12, 1947, US President Harry S. Truman spoke before a joint session of Congress, outlining what would become known as the Truman Doctrine - pledging that the United States would contain communism and support the Greek government:

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.[84]

Behind all the noble-sounding rhetoric of freedom and democracy, Truman had now committed the United States to support an authoritarian monarchist government that was propped up by an army of Nazi collaborators in order to fight the war-time communist resistance.
US military assistance poured into Greece in the summer of 1947. The scale of this aid was immense, according to Bill Blum in his history of US foreign interventions,

By the end of the year, the Greek military was being entirely supported by American aid, down to and including its clothing and food. The nation's war-making potential was transformed: continual increases in the size of the Greek armed forces ... fighter-bombers, transport squadrons, air fields, napalm bombs, recoilless rifles, naval patrol vessels, communication networks ... docks, railways, roads, bridges ... hundreds of millions of dollars of supplies and equipment, approaching a billion in total since the end of the world war... and millions more to create a "Secret Army Reserve" fighting unit, composed principally of the ex-members of the Nazi Security Battalions referred to earlier.[85]

The United States effectively took charge of the planning and training of the Greek army. US forces also removed sections of the population uprooted in order to deprive the Communists of a base of support, a foretaste of the strategic hamlets later employed in Vietnam. All the US military, economic and political aid to Greece threatened to overwhelm the Democratic Army.

XI. Defeat

Despite US aid, the DSE was able to score a number of victories against the Greek Army in 1947. Zachariadis was not willing to fight a long war and wanted a swift victory. In September 1947, the KKE shifted from guerrilla warfare to regular warfare with the goal of launching a victorious offensive against a regime seen to be on the verge of collapse:

We have decided to shift the centre of gravity of Party activities towards the politico-military sector, with a view to turning the Democratic Army into a force that will ensure the establishment of a Free Greece in the shortest possible time, starting with all the northern regions.[86]

After years as serving as a break on revolutionary initiatives by the KKE now the general secretary himself was pushing for an offensive. Yet Zachariadis was not Aris. His directive went against all military logic. Zachariadis had never valued guerrilla warfare and wanted to launch an offensive against major Greek cities such as Athens.

No doubt, Zachariadis' shift in strategy was motivated with the hope of gaining control over the war effort and to limit the power of the Kapatanios. DSE commander Markos was enraged at this turn, favouring guerrilla warfare, but he was unable to get the DSE to change course. Markos' continual disagreements over the military line led to his dismissal from the leadership of the DSE in August 1948.[87] By now, Zachariadis was in sole command of the DSE.

The turn to regular warfare had been conditioned by the Communists forming a government and the KKE to hold grounding to gain foreign recognition (none of which ever came).[88] At first, Zachariadis' strategy coincided with the KKE gaining momentum and achieving victories. In the summer of 1948, 12,000 DSE troops managed to hold off 50,000 government troops for two months in the Grammos mountains.[89] The DSE units across Greece remained formidable forces, bogging down the enemy.

Yet the battles at Grammos coincided with the split between Tito and Stalin. The split proved to be disastrous for the KKE. Tito had been one of the major backers of the DSE's strategy of guerrilla war. Zachariadis not only pursued a more orthodox military line, but he backed Stalin and condemned Tito. The split caused Yugoslavia to close their border to the Greek communists, depriving them of an important base area.[90]

Without support from Yugoslavia, DSE forces in Macedonia and Thrace were now isolated. By now, the Greek government, aided by the United States, had also reorganised the army command and launched several new offensives, overrunning the Communists in the south and the north. The Greek army had the initiative and managed to wipe out various Communist forces throughout 1948 and 1949. The tide had decisively turned. On October 16, the Democratic Army formally ceased all operations in a broadcast announced by Radio Free Greece:

The Greek government is ceasing hostilities “to prevent the total destruction of Greece.” The Democratic Army has not laid its weapons aside, but has suspended its operations for the time being. This should not be taken to mean that the Greeks are giving up the struggle for the rights of the people. The Anglo-American imperialists and their monarcho-fascist agents would be mistaken if they assumed that the struggle was over and that the Democratic Army had ceased to exist.[91]

Despite the boast, the war was now over and the DSE was totally defeated. At least 158,000 Greeks had died during the course of the civil war. Between 50,000 to 100,000 ELAS fighters were now exiles in the People's Democracies.[92] Thousands of communists and sympathisers wasted away in prisons. The counterrevolution now reigned triumphant in Greece. The KKE had been defeated by a combination of their poor military and political line, the split in the socialist camp and the better trained and led Greek troops who were bolstered by US aid.

XII. Conclusion

For the Greek left, defeat was only the beginning of a long and horrendous ordeal. Greece would remain under right-wing rule for decades. Greek society to this very day remains polarised by the legacy of the civil war. Only in the 1970s would the Communist Party finally be legalised and the Greek monarchy abolished after the fall of the US-backed “Regime of the Colonels”. While the sacrifices of ELAS/EAM are finally recognised and honoured by the current left-leaning SYRIZA government in Greece, the socialist dream of the partisans who followed Aris to the mountains has yet to be realised.


[1]    Aris Velouhiotis, “Last Letter of Aris Velouhiotis to the Central Committee of the KKE,” Marxists Internet Archive.

[2]   Andre Gerolymatos, Red Acropolis, Black Terror: The Greek Civil War and the Origins of Soviet-American Rivalry (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 23-4.

[3]   Ibid. 23.

[4]   Ibid. 26.

[5]   Ibid. 26-7.

[6]   Ibid. 7-8.

[7]   Nikos Zachariadis, “Open Letter of the General Secretary of the KKE,” Marxists Internet Archive.

[8]   Dominique Eudes, The Kapetanios: Partisans and Civil War in Greece, 1943-1949 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 247.

[9]   His nom-de-guerre came from Ares, the mythical Greek god of war and the mountains of Velouchi, where he was born. See ibid. 6.

[10] Ibid. 7-8.

[11] Gerolymatos 2004, 5.

[12] Ibid. 29.

[13] Eudes 2009, 8-9.

[14] For the Greek theater in World War II, see Michael J. Lyons, World War II: A Short History (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2004), 112-6.

[15] Gerolymatos 2004, 47-9.

[16] Ibid. 57.

[17] Ibid. 58.

[18] Pierre Broue, “How Trotsky and the Trotskyists confronted the Second World War,” Marxists Internet Archive.

[19] Donny Gluckstein, A People's History of the Second World War: Resistance versus Empire (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 44

[20] Ibid. 51.

[21] Ibid. 51.

[22] Gerolymatos 2004, 94.

[23] Gluckstein 2012, 39.

[24] Gerolymatos 2004, 38-40.

[25] Ibid. 43.

[26] Ibid. 72.

[27] Ibid. 72-3.

[28] Gluckstein 2012, 41.

[29] For the experience of women in ELAS during WWII and the Civil War see Eleni Fourtouni, Greek Women in Resistance (Chicago: Lake View. Press), 1986.

[30] See Gluckstein 2012, 43 and Gerolymatos 2004, 88.

[31] See William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004), 34.

[32] Eudes 2009, 5-6.

[33] Eudes 2009, 63.

[34] Gluckstein 2012, 42 and Fourtouni 1986.

[35] Gerolymatos 2004, 81-2.

[36] Ibid. 73.

[37] Eudes 2009, 11.

[38] Ibid. 18-21

[39] Ibid. 23 and Gluckstein 2012, 40.

[40] Eudes 2009, 28-32.

[41] Ibid. 66.

[42] Pierre Broue, “How Trotsky and the Trotskyists confronted the Second World War” (note 18).

[43] Eudes 2009, 66-7.

[44] Gerolymatos 2004, 73-4.

[45] Ibid. 80-1 and Eudes 2009, 50.

[46] Gluckstein 2012, 44.

[47] Eudes 2009, 24-5.

[48] See ibid. 50-65 and Gerolymatos 2004, 85-8.
For the Lebanon Charter see Eudes 2009, 130-8. See also ibid. 144-150 on PEEA acceptance of National Unity agreements with the government-in-exile and the role of the Soviets in pushing this. Eudes says of the Soviet representative to the KKE: “No doubt Popov’s mask expressed the stance of a Pontius Pilate. There is nothing we can do for you; sort it out for yourselves. It is most unlikely that the head of the Soviet Mission would personally have wished EAM–ELAS to capitulate to the Anglo-Saxon Allies.” See ibid. 147 and Gerolymatos 2004, 121-4.

[49] Ibid. 95-6.

[50] Eudes 2009, 75-6.

[51] Pierre Broue, “How Trotsky and the Trotskyists confronted the Second World War,” (note 18). See also Eudes 2009, 77-85 for an overview on the first mutiny.

[52] See Eudes 2009, 121-8.

[53] Basil Davidson, Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 93.

[54] Adam Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence: Soviet Foreign Policy 1917-1973 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974), 364.

[55] Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 502.

[56] Kostas Mavrakis, On Trotskyism: Problems of Theory and History (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), 173.

[57] Ibid. 174.

[58] Gerolymatos 2004, 96.

[59] Ibid. 96.

[60] Ibid. 96-7.

[61] Eudes 2009, 181-3.

[62] Gerolymatos 2004,108.

[63] Ibid. 209-10 and A. Stinas, “The Massacre of the Internationalist Communists in Greece, December 1944,” Marxists Internet Archive.

[64] Eudes 2009, 198.

[65] Ibid. 194.

[66] See ibid. 188-228 and Gerolymatos 2004, 99-185.

[67] Eudes 2009, 230-8.

[68] Ibid. 238.

[69] Broue. See also Gluckstein 2012, 48.

[70] Mavrakis 1976, 157.

[71] Andrew Flood, “Greece: war and civil war,” libcom.

[72] “Statement by the CC on the 90th Anniversary of KKE,” Communist Party of Greece.

[73] Gerolymatos 2004, 195.

[74] See Eudes 2009, 244-50 and 254.

[75] Gerolymatos 2004, 205.

[76] Ibid. 196-7.

[77] Eudes 2009, 258.

[78] Ibid. 266-7.

[79] Gerolymatos 2004, 209.

[80] Ibid. 210.

[81] Eudes 2009, 274 and 278 298

[82] Gerolymatos 2004, 224.

[83] Ibid. 224.

[84] Harry S. Truman, “The Truman Doctrine, delivered 12 March 1947 before a Joint Session of Congress,” American Rhetoric.

[85]        For US intervention in Greece see Blum 2004, 34-9.

[86] Eudes 2009, 302.

[87] Ibid. 334-8.

[88] Robert Taber, War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare (Dulles: Brassey's Inc., 2002), 145.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Gerolymatos 2004, 227.

[91] Eudes 2009, 354.

[92] Ibid.

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