On July the 2nd 2006 thousands of members and supporters of the KKE and KNE gathered in the village of Likorakhi deep in the Gramjos mountain range for the opening ceremony of a memorial commemorating the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Democratic Army of Greece (DAG) and in honour of the thousands of militants who sacrificed their lives in the three year civil war (1946-1949), in the struggle against domestic reaction and Anglo-American imperialism.
The position of the memorial is itself highly symbolic, placed as it is on a former machine gun post of the Democratic Army within a range of mountains where the jost ferocious battles of the civil war were waged in 1948 and 1949. In its statement to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the CC of the KKE noted that the civil war was the “The sharpest period of class struggle in Greece during the 20th century” the struggle for peoples democracy against the corrupt monarcho-fascist ruling class and its foreign imperialist backers. The right of Greek communists and other progressives to honour the militants of the DAG is in fact a hard-won right, for years after the civil war its members and sympathisers were persecuted in every possible way. Indeed only in 1989 did the Greek parliament pass a resolution that the partisans of the DAG were not bandits. This period of history has been particularly distorted by propagandists, journalists and historians inside and outside of Greece. Their purpose is to slander the people’s movement and to undermine the struggles past, present and future for socialism, portraying it as a sinister soviet-backed attempt to establish a dictatorship, an example of communist aggression and fanaticism.
The Greek civil war of course did not fall out of the sky; it was the result of a series of imperialist interventions and developments in the people’s movement which dated back to the Second World War and before. What follows is a brief and somewhat schematic account of the processes leading up to the Civil war, aspects of which will be amplified and expanded in later articles. In 1940 when the Italian Fascist regime invaded Greece, Greek Communists and progressives were at the forefront of successful resistance, despite the fact that thousands of them were languishing in prison and the KKE was operating under particularly difficult conditions as an illegal and persecuted organisation. The General Secretary of the KKE Nikos Zachariadis famously wrote an open letter to the Greek people invoking them to resist the Italian aggression, and fore-seeing that on the back of such a popular resistance a new Greece would be created. After the Wehrmacht received the surrender of the cowardly ancien regime, Greek progressives started to organise resistance. This came to a climax at the 6th session of the KKE in July 1941 which declared the need for a National Liberation Front (EAM). Thus the legendary EAM was formed along with its military wing ELAS (National People’s Liberation Army), and later the legendary youth organisation EPON. Over the next three years these legendary organisations would write the jost glorious pages in Modern Greek history through their heroic struggles against the Nazi occupation. Their effectiveness can be seen by the fact that by April 1944 they had liberated 90% of the Greek mainland. In areas controlled by EAM women were enfranchised for the first time, popular democratic councils and courts were established. Through the struggle against the occupation the foundations of a democratic peoples Greece were being created, with the KKE in the vanguard.
This did not go unnoticed by the British ruling class. Clearly a popular EAM government with the KKE in a leading position would be a threat to Britain’s historic interests in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Thus during the occupation itself every attempt was made to undermine EAM/ELAS, mainly through bolstering the small and highly anti-communist EDES organisation which became notorious through its frequent collaborations with the Nazi occupiers against ELAS. As the Germans were forced out of Greece, these efforts were intensified, and can only be seen as a systematic preparation for an attack on the organs of the Greek people’s resistance. In April 1944 Churchill ordered the BBC to stop favourably reporting the activities of EAM/ELAS. Through a series of well managed provocations the British purged the Greek army in North Africa of Left wing soldiers, with the result that 18,500 of them were imprisoned in concentration camps in North Africa. This went hand in hand with the formation of ultra-royalist battalions in the Greek army such as the alpine regiments, in order to form the tools which could be used against the popular movement. Churchill manoeuvred the pre-war Greek politicians like George Papandreou into leading positions in the first ecumenical government, while allowing collaborationist gangs to operate freely as well as allowing the formation of pro-royalist death squads like Grivas’ X battalions to be formed. A series of attacks against the popular movement and its representatives culminating in the resignation of the EAM ministers from the government. A massive protest demonstration was called for Sunday the 3rd of December, as the crowds entered Constitution square the police opened fire killing 15 demonstrators and wounding 100. After this massacre the General Secretary of EAM Dimitris Partsalidis declared that “the people will fight for their freedom no matter what the cost” And so began the battle of Athens which was fought between ELAS on the one hand and on the other the British army and the collaborationist security forces. EAM made several attempts to negotiate a ceasefire but the British were determined as Churchill put it “The basic aim is the crushing of EAM”. In order to crush the popular movement British imperialism dispatched 60,000 troops, 200 tanks, planes etc along with units that had collaborated with the Nazis! After 44 days ferocious fighting ELAS units withdrew from Athens, a week later a ceasefire was declared. On the 12th of February EAM signed the Varkiza agreement, which amongst its clauses included the disarming of ELAS and the security battalions as well as other measures to ensure a normalization of the situation.
It soon became clear that only EAM and the KKE would keep their side of the agreement. Paramilitary gangs with the connivance of the security apparatus and the British army launched a campaign of terror. ELAS partisans were murdered, tortured arrested and convicted of “crimes”. While Nazi-collaborators, when prosecuted, were handed down “joke” sentences. Some statistics give a flavour of the scale of the “White Terror”. In the period between the Varkiza agreement and the 31st of March 1946, 1,289 resistance fighters were murdered, 6,671 wounded, 31,632 tortured, 84,931 arrested, 8,624 imprisoned. 677 offices of resistance organisations were attacked, 165 women members of EAM were raped. During this entire period through various combinations of bourgeois parties, the British never stopped attempting to crush the Greek democratic movement and restore the monarchy. It should be noted here that the election of a Labour government had no effect on this policy, something consistent with the pro-imperialist nature of Social democracy internationally, and the Labour party in Britain in particular. In this climate of terror the entirely fraudulent elections were held on the 31st of March 1946, The KKE and EAM in protest at the nature of the elections did not participate.
From the beginning of 1946 small bands of partisans left the towns for the mountains in self defence. The first major operation undertaken was a raid on the police station in the town of Litochori. There began a series of confrontations with government forces and paramilitary death squads. On the 28th of October 1946 the Democratic army of Greece was formed. During this period the terror intensified which culminated on the 17th of June when the Greek parliament voted through “emergency measures” which effectively abolished individual and political rights and established martial law.
It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the many operations of the DAG during the civil war. However some aspects such as the nature of the DAG, the provisional government, and the tactics used by the monarchofascists should be touched upon.
Some features of the terror used by the imperialists and their domestic allies have been described earlier. These operated throughout the civil war, an example of the barbarity of these actions was the displaying of the severed heads of dead partisans in the town of Florina in July 1947. This went in conjunction with a systematic clearing of the countryside to deprive the DAG of support and recruits an estimated 700,000 people were driven away from their villages and became internal refugees in the towns and cities. The network of prison islands and concentration camps was extended, suspected leftists, their families, leftwing soldiers (it is estimated that between 1947-50 28,800 were sent to prison camps) were sent to these notorious dungeons, Makronissos, Yioura etc. Every form of torture and degradation was inflicted on those unfortunate to find themselves there.
After the Americans took over responsibility for managing Greece from the British with the Truman Doctrine, the range and amount of military help available to the Greek government increased dramatically. What is little known is that Napalm, used so devastatingly in Vietnam, was first used in Greece. In the battles on the mountains Gramjos-Vitsi in 1949 388 Napalm bombs were used.
The DAG was in every sense a democratic people’s army. Assemblies were held at the level of platoons where every soldier could voice their opinion; an oath of loyalty was taken which outlined the ideals of the DAG and how each militant should behave towards the people. Political education was carried out systematically by the political officers assigned to every unit. Women played a significant role in the struggle making up to the 30% of the DAG’s fighting strength, and 70% of the medical and other support personnel. This was in stark contrast with the role envisaged for women by the Greek ruling class (only in areas controlled by the democratic forces were women politically enfranchised). A medical service was established with training schools and hospitals. 125 health workers were trained. Despite the lack of supplies as the GS of the KKE, Aleka Papariga, put it “No operation which had to be carried out was not carried out”
In the free areas of Greece on the 23rd of December 1947 the Provisional Democratic Government was founded. The PDG was founded on 12 principles which included amongst others the recognition of the rights of women and minorities, and the independence of Greece from foreign capital. People’s councils were established in the villages and people’s representative assemblies in the towns which elected presidia with the right to recall these bodies. Elections were held in 300 municipalities in Northern Greece in 1948, 323 villages in the Peloponnese. People’s courts were elected again with the right to recall its officers (appeal courts were also elected). Demotic Greek (the language of the people) was established as the official language and taught in the schools set by the PDG, minorities were also taught in their own languages. Education was free and compulsory, with a school in every village. Land ownership was regulated and land redistributed. Every farmer was entitled to a minimum amount of land; a maximum level was also set. The achievements of the EAM period were broadened and deepened, establish the basis for a democratic people’s Greece,
After three years fighting, the balance of forces (especially after the American intervention from 1948 onwards) forced the DAG to withdraw into Albania after fierce battles in the Vitsi and Gramjos mountain ranges in August of 1949. Although resistance continued in some areas, such as Lesbos, into 1950. The last 2 partisans of the DAG in Crete, Giorgos Tzompanakis and Spiros Blazakis, came down from the mountains in 1975 after the fall of the dictatorship, on the 24th of February 1975.
The number of people killed in the Civil war was close to 150,000. According to the official data of the General Staff of the Greek army, 38,839 DAD partisans were killed or wounded, 20,128 taken captive. The casualties of the governmental army numbered 55,528 according to the official data,
More than 65,000 communists and other fighters and supporters of EAM and DAG were forced to leave Greece and seek refuge in the Socialist countries (around 20,000 of them were deprived of their citizenship), 40,000 were sent to the prisons and concentration camps such as Makronnissos. The executions of resistance fighters continued until 1955 (at least 5000 were executed including the famous case of Nikos Belogiannis member of the PB of the KKE). The monarchy was re-established along with a reactionary regime notable for its subservience to Anglo-American imperialism, its repression of the left, economic mismanagement, its political and cultural bankruptcy. It reached its apogee with the notorious 7 year US-backed dictatorship of the Colonels.
The civil war and the EAM era resistance were as significant in shaping the popular movement. The KKE and its allies never stopped its struggle for democracy and socialism in the conditions of illegality, whether through the left front of EDA (United Democratic Left), in the fight for education and rights in the prisons, on the question of Cyprus and national independence, to develop a living popular culture in contrast to the sterile bourgeois dogma of the 50’s and 60’s. A struggle that continued after the fall of the Junta, against the imperialist wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq, against the imperialist centres of the USA and EU, to defend the rights and gains of the workers Aleka Papariga summed up this legacy in her speech at Lykorakhi
“The terrorism and violence against the communists, the militants of the Resistance, are the factors which gave birth to the DAG, not only as a form of defence, but as a heroic attempt to bring to realisation the vision of the National Resistance.
When the question “Counter-attack or Submission” is put to communists, anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists by the material conditions themselves, there is one answer, Counterattack!”
Costas Pateras is an associate of the international section of KKE