Communism and the Greek Civil War

A few words about The Black Book Of Communism before we begin the article. This long-awaited account of the "crimes, terrors, and repressions" of the destructive phenomenon known as Communism has been widely-known and read internationally since 1997. 

That the book finally got published in the U.S. after much delay and difficulty is another story: A story that any reader of this website can easily understand since it is assumed that anyone reading TGR is aware of how "sensitive" the publishing and media cabal in America is to any criticism of the twin idiocies of Socialism and Communism. The reader will also not be astounded by the fact that, though this book made headlines in Europe, one would be hard-pressed to find even a back-page mention of it in American newspapers, literary journals, critical reviews, or on radio and television.

We hope to do an in-depth review of the book in the future. Until then, a few "dust-jacket" words -- intended to pique the reader's interest enough to entice him to read the book himself -- will have to suffice:

"This international bestseller plumbs recently opened archives in the former Soviet bloc to reveal the actual, practical accomplishments of Communism around the world: terror, torture, famine, mass deportations, and massacres. Astonishing in the sheer detail it amasses, the book is the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue and analyze the crimes of Communism over seventy years.
"The authors, all distinguished scholars based in Europe, document Communist crimes against humanity, but also crimes against national and universal culture, from Stalin's destruction of hundreds of churches in Moscow, to Ceausescu's leveling of the historic heart of Bucharest to the wide-scale devastation visited on Chinese culture by Mao's Red Guards.

"As the death toll mounts -- as many as 25 million in the former Soviet Union, 65 million in China, 1.7 million in Cambodia, and on and on -- the authors systematically show how and why, wherever the millenarian ideology of Communism was established, it quickly led to crime, terror, and repression. An extraordinary accounting, this book amply documents the unparalleled position and significance of Communism in the hierarchy of violence that is the history of the twentieth century."

["Beat them, Red Fighters, clobber them to death, if it is the last thing you do! Right away! This minute! Now! ... Slaughter them, Red Army Fighters, Stamp harder on the rising lids of their rancid coffins!" Isaac Babel, described by Cynthia Ozick in her book From Kafka to Babel as, "An acutely conscious Jew," propagandizing for the Bolshevik Revolution, and also cited by K. MacDonald in his book The Culture of Critique ... (2002, xxxvii).
"We didn't kill enough people." Communist guerrilla leader, Ares Velouchiotes, when queried as to why his EAM-ELLAS forces had been defeated.]
What follows has been excerpted from The Black Book Of Communism and has to do with the Greek Civil War

When the [second world] war ended, the Greek Communists were in a situation roughly similar to that of the Yugoslavs. On 2 November 1940, a few days after the Italian invasion of Greece, Nikos Zachariadis, the secretary of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), who had been in prison since 1936, sent out a call to arms:  
"The Greek nation is now engaged in a war for its national liberation from the fascism of Mussolini ... Everyone must take his place, and everyone must fight." But on 7 December a manifesto from the underground Central Committee called into question this decision, and the KKE returned to the official line recommended by the Comintern, that of revolutionary defeatism. On 22 June 1941 came the spectacular U-turn: the KKE ordered its militants to organize "the struggle to defend the Soviet Union and the overthrow of the foreign fascist yoke."

The experience with clandestine activity had been crucial for the Communists. On 16 July 1941, like their counterparts in other countries, the Greek Communists formed a National Workers' Front for Liberation (Ergatiko Ethniko Apelevtherotiko Metopo, EEAM), an umbrella organization for three unions. On 27 September they established the EAM (Ethniko Apelevtherotiko Metopo), the Party's political arm. On 10 February 1942 they announced the creation of the People's Army for National Liberation (Ellinikos Laikos Apelevtherotikos [Stratos]), or ELAS. By May 1942 the first ELAS partisans were operating under the leadership of Ares Velouchiotes (Thanassis Klaras), an experienced militant who had signed a recantation in exchange for his freedom. From this point on, ELAS numbers continued to grow.

The ELAS was not the only military resistance movement. The National Greek Democratic Union (Ethnikos Demokratikos Syndesmos), or EDES, had been created by soldiers and republican civilians in September 1941. Another group of resistance fighters was formed by a retired colonel, Napoleon Zervas. A third organization, the National Social Liberation Movement (Ethniki Kai Koinoniki Apelevtherosis), or EKKA, came into being in October 1942 under Colonel Dimitri Psarros. All these organizations were constantly trying to recruit from one another.

But the success and strength of the ELAS made the Communists hopeful of imposing their leadership on all the armed resistance groups. They attacked the EDES partisans several times, as well as the EKKA, who were forced to suspend operations to regroup. In late 1942 Major G. Kostopoulos (a renegade from the EAM) and Colonel Stefanos Sáráfis formed a resistance unit in the heart of a zone that had been captured by the EAM in western Thessaly, at the foot of the Pindus Mountains. The ELAS surrounded them and massacred all those who did not escape or refused to enroll in their ranks. Taken prisoner, Sáráfis finally agreed to assume leadership of the ELAS units.

The presence of British officers who had come to help the Greek resistance was a cause of concern to the ELAS chiefs, who feared that the British would attempt to reinstate the monarchy. But there was a difference in viewpoint between the military branch, directed by Ares Velouchiotes, and the KKE itself. The latter, led by Giorgis Siantos, wished to follow the official line as laid down by Moscow, advocating a general antifascist coalition. The actions of the British were momentarily beneficial because in July 1943 their military mission convinced the three main protagonists to sign a pact. At that time the ELAS had some 18,000 men, the EDES 5,000, and the EKKA about 1000.

The Italian surrender on 8 September 1943 immediately modified the situation. A fratricidal war began when the Germans launched a violent offensive against the EDES. The guerrillas, forced to retreat, confronted several large ELAS battalions, which threatened to annihilate the EDES. The KKE leadership decided to abandon the EDES, hoping thus to check British policy. After four days of fighting, the partisans led by Zervas escaped encirclement.

This civil war within the main war was of great advantage to the Germans as they swept down upon the resistance units one by one. The Allies thus took the initiative to end the civil war. Fighting between the ELAS and the EDES stopped in February 1944, and an agreement was signed in Plaka. The agreement was short-lived; a few weeks later the ELAS attacked Colonel Psarros' EKKA troops. He was defeated after five days and taken prisoner. His officers were massacred; Psarros himself was beheaded.

The Communists' actions demoralized the resistance and discredited the EAM. In several regions, hatred for the EAM was so strong that a number of resistance fighters joined the security battalions set up by the Germans. The civil war did not end until the ELAS agreed to collaborate with the Greek government-in-exile in Cairo. In September 1944 six members of the EAM-ELAS became members of the government of national unity presided over by Georges Papandreou. On 2 September, as the Germans began to evacuate Greece, the ELAS sent its troops to conquer the Peloponnese, which had always eluded its control thanks to the security battalions. All captured towns and villages were "punished." In Meligala, 1,400 men, women, and children were massacred along with some 50 officers and noncommissioned officers from the security battalions.

Nothing now seemed to stand in the way of EAM-ELAS hegemony. But when Athens was liberated on 12 October it escaped the guerrillas' control because of the presence of British troops in Piraeus. The KKE leadership hesitated to undertake a trial of strength, unsure of whether it wanted a place in a coalition government. When the ELAS refused a government demand to demobilize, Iannis Zegvos, the Communist agriculture minister, demanded that all government units be disbanded too. On 4 December, ELAS patrols entered Athens, where they clashed with government forces. By the following day, almost the entire capital had fallen under the control of the 20,000-strong ELAS forces; but the British stood firm, awaiting reinforcements. On 18 December the ELAS again attacked EDES in Epirus and at the same time launched a bloody antiroyalist operation.

The offensive was contained, and in talks held in Varkiza the Communists resigned themselves to a peace accord under which they agreed to disarm. The accord was something of a sham, however, since large numbers of weapons and munitions remained carefully hidden. Ares Velouchiotes, one of the principal warlords, rejected the Varkiza conditions, rejoined the partisans with about one hundred men, and then crossed into Albania in the hope of continuing the armed struggle from there. Later, asked about the reasons for the defeat of the EAM-ELAS, Velouchiotes replied frankly: "We didn't kill enough people. The English were taking a major interest in that crossroads called Greece. If we had killed all their friends, they wouldn't have been able to land. Everyone described me as a killer -- that's the way we were. Revolutions succeed only when rivers run red with blood, and blood has to be spilled if what you are aiming for is the perfectibility of the human race." Velouchiotes died in combat in June 1945 in Thessaly, a few days after he was thrown out of the KKE. The defeat of the EAM-ELAS unleashed a wave of hatred against the Communists and their allies. Groups of militants were assassinated by paramilitary groups, and many others were imprisoned. Most of the leaders were deported to the islands.

Nikos Zachariadis, the secretary general of the KKE, had returned in May 1945 from Germany, where he had been deported to Dachau. His first declarations clearly announced KKE policy: "Either the EAM struggle for national liberation is finally rewarded with the establishment of a people's democracy in Greece, or we return to a similar but even more severe regime than the last fascist monarchist dictatorship." Greece, exhausted by the war, seemed to have little chance of enjoying peace at last. In October the Seventh Party Congress ratified Zachariadis' proposal. The first stage was to obtain the departure of the British troops. In January 1946 the U.S.S.R. demonstrated its interest in Greece by claiming at a United Nations Security Council meeting that the British presence constituted a danger to the country. On 12 February 1946, when defeat for the Communists in the coming elections seemed inevitable -- they were calling on their voters to abstain -- the KKE organized an uprising, with the help of the Yugoslav Communists.

In December 1945 the members of the KKE Central Committee had met with various Bulgarian and Yugoslav officers. The Greek Communists were assured that they could use Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia as bases. Fore more than three years their troops did so, retreating with their wounded into these countries and using them to regroup and build up supplies and munitions. These preparations took place a few months after the creation of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), the Moscow-dominated grouping of world Communist parties. It seems that the Greek Communist uprising was perfectly coordinated with the Soviet Union's new policies. On 30 March 1946 the KKE declared that a third civil war was under way. The first attacks by the Democratic Army (AD), which had been established on 28 October 1946 and was led by General Markos Vafiadis, followed the usual pattern: police stations were attacked, their occupants killed, and leading local figures executed. The KKE openly continued such actions throughout 1946.

In the first months of 1947 general Vafiades intensified his campaign, attacking dozens of villages and executing hundreds of peasants. The ranks of the AD were swollen by enforced recruitment. Villages that refused to cooperate suffered severe reprisals. One village in Macedonia was hit particularly hard: forty-eight houses were burned down, and twelve men, six women, and two babies were killed. After March 1947 municipal leaders were systematically eliminated, as were priests. By March the number of refugees reached 400,000. The policy of terror was met with counterterror, and militant left-wing Communists were killed in turn by right-wing extremists.

In June 1947, after a tour of Belgrade, Prague, and Moscow, Zachariadis announced the imminent formation of a "free" government. The Greek Communists seemed to believe that they could follow the same path taken by Tito a few years earlier. The government was officially created in December. The Yugoslavs provided nearly 10,000 volunteers recruited from their own army. Numerous reports from the UN Special Commission on the Balkans have established the great importance of this assistance to the Democratic Army. The break between Tito and Stalin in 1948 had direct consequences for the Greek Communists. Although Tito continued his aid until the autumn, he also began a retreat that ended with closure of the border. In the summer of 1948, while the Greek government forces were engaged in a massive offensive, the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha also closed his country's border. The Greek Communists became increasingly isolated, and dissent within the Party grew. The fighting continued until August 1949. Many of the combatants fled to Bulgaria and thence to other parts of Eastern Europe, settling particularly in Romania and the U.S.S.R. Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, received thousands of refugees, including 7,500 Communists. After this defeat, the KKE in exile suffered a number of purges, and as late as 1955 the conflicts between the pro-and anti- Zachariadis factions [were] still extremely fierce, so much so that at one point the Soviet army was forced to intervene, resulting in hundreds of casualties.

During the civil war of 1946-1948, Greek Communists kept records on all the children aged three to fourteen in all the areas they controlled. In March 1948 these children were gathered together in the border regions, and several thousand were taken into Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The villagers tried to protect their children by hiding them in the woods. The Red Cross, despite the enormous obstacles placed in [its] path, managed to count 28,296. In the summer of 1948, when the Tito-Cominform rupture became apparent, 11,600 of the children in Yugoslavia were moved to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland, despite many protests from the Greek government. On 17 November 1948, the Third UN General assembly passed a resolution roundly condemning the removal of the Greek children. In November 1949 the General Assembly again demanded their return. These and all subsequent UN resolutions remained unanswered. The neighboring Communist regimes claimed that the children were being kept under conditions superior to those they would be experiencing at home, and that the deportation had been an humanitarian act.

In reality the enforced deportation of the children was carried out in appalling conditions. Starvation and epidemics were extremely common, and many of the children simply died. Kept together in "children's villages," they were subjected to courses in politics in addition to their normal education. At age thirteen they were forced into manual labor, carrying out arduous tasks such as land reclamation in the marshy Hartchag region of Hungary. The intention of the Communist leaders was to form a new generation of devoted militants, but their efforts ended in failure. One Greek called Constantinides died on the Hungarian side fighting the Soviet Union in 1956. Others managed to flee to West Germany.

From 1950 to 1952 only 684 children were permitted to return to Greece. By 1963, around 4000 children (some of them born in Communist countries) had been repatriated. In Poland, the Greek community numbered several thousand in the early 1980s. Some of them were members of Solidarity, and were imprisoned after the introduction of martial law in December 1981. In 1989, when democratization was well under way, several thousand Greeks still living in Poland began to return home.

The warm welcome extended to the defeated Greek Communists in the U.S.S.R. contrasted strangely with Stalin's annihilation of the Greek community that had lived in Russia for centuries. In 1917 the number of Greeks in the Soviet state was between 500,000 and 700,000, concentrated for the most part around the Caucasus and the Black Sea. By 1939 the number had fallen to 410,000, mainly because of "unnatural" deaths, not emigration; and there were a mere 177,000 remaining by 1960. After December 1937 the 285,000 Greeks living in the major towns were deported to the regions of Arkhangelsk, the Komi republic, and northeastern Siberia. Others were allowed to return to Greece. During this period A. Haïtas, a former secretary of the KKE, and the educator J. Jordanis died in [Stalinist] purges. In 1944, 10,000 Greeks from the Crimea, the remnants of what had been a flourishing Greek community there, were deported to Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, on the pretext that they had adopted a pro-German stance during the war. On 30 June 1949, in a single night, 30,000 Greeks from Georgia were deported to Kazakhstan. In April 1950 the entire Greek population of Batumi suffered a similar fate.

Source. The Black Book Of Communism. by Stéphane Courtois, Nicholas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin. trans. by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer. H.U.P., Cambridge, MA. 1999. pp. 326 - 331.

Editorial comment
A man meets a fellow villager on the road and sees that one of his eyes has been put out. Curious, he asks: "Neighbor, what has happened to your eye?" The neighbor replies: "My brother put it out." At which point the first man says: "Ah, that explains why the wound is so deep."

Greek proverb
(Greco Report - 10/2002)