The Greek Communist Revolt At 70, And Its Legacy

The Greek Communist Revolt At 70, And Its Legacy

Today marks 70 years since the day the Greek Communist Party first attempted to seize control of Greece by force. Though they were defeated, Marxism has remained a prominent force in Greece – and is primarily responsible for the economic condition the country is in.

Some background: When the Germans invaded Greece, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was still in effect. Therefore, the Communist Party did not resist. On January 17, 1941, the Secretary General of the Greek Communist Party issued a statement saying:

The overthrow of [Greek ruler] Metaxas is the most imminent and vital interest of the country. The position of the Greek Communist Party is this: the people of Greece are only defending their national independence. They are indifferent and unsympathetic towards the British-German war; they want separate peace through the good offices of the Soviet Union and a true Balkan entente.

As a result, most of the anti-Nazi resistance was crushed and the Communist Party was not. This changed only after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The Communist Party, having sat on the sidelines up until that point, was still intact and organized itself into the guerrilla army ELAS, the largest of the anti-Nazi resistance groups. Well-armed, ELAS was able to take the fight to the Nazis and attack rival non-Communist anti-Nazi resistance groups at the same time.

By late 1944, with help from the Allies, the resistance drove the Nazis out of Greece. What happened next is described by Nicholas Gage in Eleni:

With almost the entire country in their grip, the ELAS fighters were furious that the previous spring their leaders had signed an agreement in Lebanon with the ministers of the exiled King George II, giving ELAS only four seats in the Parliament that would now rule Greece.

Convinced that they had been cheated of their rightful victory, ELAS troops decided to stage a coup. On the night of December 3, 1944, they attacked British and Greek troops in Athens, following a demonstration in which ELAS supporters were fired on by police, and according to various accounts, seven to twenty-eight were killed. At the height of the battle, ELAS had its enemies pinned into a few pockets near the city center. Throughout Athens the Communist Party’s secret police, OPLA, fanned out, knocking on doors, executing thousands of real and imaginary enemies of the party. … 

[The] British, sent to Athens to prevent a Communist takeover of the country, inspired by a surprise Christmas Day visit by Winston Churchill, beat back ELAS and won control of the city. 

The Communists, on orders from Stalin, were forced to sign a ceasefire. But after the Axis powers were defeated, the Communists launched a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Greek government, plunging the country into a brutal civil war. In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman and the newly-elected Republican Congress passed a bill to give massive military aid to the Greek government in order to crush the Communists. Over the next few years, the Greek government was able to drive the Communists out of Greece. But as they retreated north, the Communists kidnapped hundreds of thousands of children and took them behind the Iron Curtain.

Those captive children were forced to grow up in squalor and tyranny in Red Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. But in Greece, free market economic reforms were put in place in the early 1950s, and life improved dramatically. In the 1983 edition of Modern Times, Paul Johnson wrote that “during the 1970s, the Greek economy’s growth-rates, averaging 5-6 per cent, with only 2 per cent unemployment, were much superior to those of Western Europe. By the early 1980s, Greece was quickly approaching West European living-standards, and that was an added reason to suppose her new political and social stability might be lasting.”

Unfortunately, it was not to be. While the economy did enter a remarkable era of prosperity, post-Civil War Greece was also a time of turbulence – the most extreme example being the thuggish Military Junta that took over the country in 1967, which ruled until finally being ousted in 1974 (the Mitsotakis family was a target of this regime and was forced to flee the country to escape political repression, which is how my father came to America). The turmoil created an opening for Marxists to take advantage of opposition to the Junta to join the mainstream. And so it was that Andreas Papandreou started the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK. As Papandreou described it: “Are we Marxists: Yes or no? … we must say yes.”

Robert Kaplan, in his classic Balkan Ghosts, wrote of Papandreou:

In his study, prominently displayed, were photographs of Fidel Castro and Marshal Tito. Papandreou … saw nonaligned Communist Yugoslavia as the ideal model for Greece. PASOK forged early links with the Syrian Baath party “based on our common ideological-political positions,” explained Papandreou in 1975. In February 1977, eight months after the hijacking of an Air France planeload of Israelis from Tel Aviv to Entebbe, Uganda, Papandreou praised Ugandan leader Idi Amin: “He is a fighter of the metropolitan centers of the West and he himself is  their target. This by itself places him on the global chessboard in the area of the anti-imperialist forces.” Later in 1977, Papandreou traveled to Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, whose regime Papandreou declared was “not a military dictatorship. The contrary is true. It is governed on the model of the demos of the ancient Athenians.” Consistent reports, in both the Greek and foreign press, alleged that Qaddafi helped fund PASOK’s successful 1981 campaign, in which Papandreou was elected Prime Minister. In 1984, publicly addressing Papandreou in Athens, Qaddafi’s second-in- command, Major Abdel Salam jalloud, said, “Brother Papandreou, we have examined you carefully, we have tested you and we trust you. We are determined to do everything we can to strengthen your position because it is in our interests that you remain in power.” 

Greek state television and radio, by 1982, had become carbon copies of the party-controlled media in the Communist countries to the north. Greek television and radio had never been free, but under the conservative leader Karamanlis, the practical control amounted to keeping the left-wing opposition off the air; the broadcasts lacked any aggressive, ideological tone. Papandreou, moreover, campaigned for allaghi (“change”), including a pledge to liberalize the media. Under him, however, the evening television news became a parade of Papandreou speeches and ribbon-cutting appearances. Nothing was neutral. Every group mentioned–Palestinian guerrillas, Nicaraguan contras–were either “freedom fighters” or “fascists,” whatever the PASOK world view demanded. When an American naval officer was assassinated by terrorists in Athens, PASOK newspapers labeled the murder “a CIA conspiracy,” explaining that the Central Intelligence Agency had its own man murdered “in a deliberately timed effort to create anti-Greek sentiments in the United States.” Papandreou told his audiences at televised rallies that America was “the metropolis of imperialism.” The American military bases in Greece were, this veteran of the U.S. Navy maintained, “the bases of death.” Papandreou was then traveling to the Eastern Bloc more often than any other NATO leader. During a visit to Poland, still under martial law, Papandreou derided Solidarity as “negative, dangerously negative.”

Under Papandreou’s Marxist leadership, the government grew to control a very large portion (two-thirds) of the economy, employ one of every five workers, and quadruple the national debt. Large-scale government monopolies were everywhere, run by massive public-sector unions. And on top of all that, it became law that civil servants, the number of which was skyrocketing thanks to a grand patronage system, could not be dismissed unless they were caught in a criminal offense.

The process has proved near impossible to reverse. Thus, the Greek economy crashed and is still burning. 

Today, Greek politics revolves around a centrist-Socialist alliance and a hardline coalition of pro-Moscow communist groups. The Reds’ chief economic advisor, Euclid Tsakalotos, was reported by Businessweek to believe that “the cure to Greece’s depression is what Germany received after World War II, when its economy was in a shambles: a Marshall Plan to put it back on its feet, forgiveness for some of its debt, and a payment scheme that takes into account the state of the economy.” As usual with Marxists, he is way off the mark. It wasn’t the Marshall Plan that fixed Germany. As Steve Forbes writes, Germany’s “post-World War II economic savior” was Ludwig Erhard. “Against the wishes of the Allied occupiers, Erhard in the late 1940s threw off all of West Germany’s economic and rationing controls. He brought in a new currency, the deutsche mark, and launched the process of dramatically reducing Germany’s crushing wartime tax rates.  Sound money, lightening the tax burden, removing government barriers to doing business-these were the ingredients for Germany’s postwar economic miracle.”

Greece dodged a bullet 70 years ago. They have since managed to shoot themselves in the foot. With any luck, the Greeks will be able to save themselves before the Lenin-wannabes among them gain the power to set up the Secret Police and firing squads the Communist Party was so fond of.