At the 12th plenary session of its Central Committee, which met between the 3rd and 12th February 1968, the Greek Communist Party split. A captive of its myths, transplanted into a foreign environment, institutionalized in the framework of a dubious legality, cut off from the political and social life of its own country, the Greek Communist Party had traditionally assimilated into its own work the deformed practices of the Eastern European countries. The split, which has occurred at a time when the entire Greek Left is engaged in working out a common programme adapted to the special conditions of the struggle against the dictatorship, was doubtless inevitable. It is itself a positive phenomenon because for Greek Communists abroad it is the beginning of an acknowledgment of reality, and for Communists at home of spiritual liberation. But above all it is the end of a myth.

Since 1949 the Greek Communist Party has been based abroad, following the collapse of the Democratic Army when thousands of Greeks left the country. The ‘Romiosini’, (Democratic Army) dispersed through all the peoples’ democracies and the Soviet Union, turned inwards upon itself politically and from that moment on regarded its very existence alone as a political act. Unlike Greeks living in other parts of the world, its members refused to establish links with local life but lived closed in within the environment of the Greek Party which was underpinned by a legal party organization, resting on the firm basis of devoted cadres who automatically approved every party decision. The party thus established for itself a position of unassailable power, and on the basis of this make-believe power and an artificially created reality carried out its policy.

An examination of the background to the errors of the Greek Communist Party is important not only for an understanding of the disruptive process within the party, of the February 1968 split, and its ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ problems, but also because it sheds light on one of the principal aspects of the crisis now shaking the Greek cp and the entire Greek left.

During the German occupation, the Greek Communist party played an outstanding role in organizing the resistance movement. Under its leadership elas and eam came into existence. Most of the underground network was directed by Communists and, because over half of the territory of Greece was under the control of elas, in the liberated areas power rested for all practical purposes in the hands of the Communist Party. Thus the inhabitants of poor and backward mountainous regions, who until then had lived in conditions of medieval oppression, overnight found themselves masters of their own fate. Intensive recruitment of new members rapidly changed the composition of the party. From below upwards the worker and intellectual element gradually disappeared, and a system of village committees, self-management bodies and various formations of civilian defence organizations set up in the liberated areas enabled thousands of party members of peasant origin to wield institutionalized power and receive schooling in an atmosphere in which the cult of the party reached its peak. In this period there was born a whole style of work and arose a new mentality; in conditions under which law was wholly subordinated to the party, or rather was wholly in the service of the party, the new members and officials regarded every manifestation of a critical or creative spirit as treachery. This was a kind of a prototype of the mentality which in the ensuing years was to be predominant in the party. It was in this period, too, that the myth of the infallibility of the party leadership was born. Its peasant basis became the fertile soil in which complacency and intolerance flourished.

The towns, which were occupied by the Germans, and which called for a style of work completely different from that illegal activity, remained untouched by the ‘spirit of the mountains’. The party organization thefe was confronted by an entirely different situation: differences of opinion, the activity of the non-Communist network, the broad spectrum of political parties and organizations associated within eam, required from the Communists the highest degree of adaptability to political reality. The first signs of the conflict between ‘towns’ and ‘mountains’, between two concepts of power began to appear: the first took into consideration the plurality of political life, while the second was based on the principle of relentless armed struggle under any conditions whatever. This second conception had its origin in the extraordinary situation that existed in the mountains in the period of the occupation and in which the Communist party held a political monopoly. This conception, which was turned into a dogma—later modified for psychological and ideological reasons—lost all tactical virtue and in the end became the well which fed the self-delusion of officials and members of the party who imagined that they disposed of unlimited power under any circumstances. The ‘mountain spirit’ which at one time had developed naturally in Greece, only later on became symptomatic for the ‘foreign’ section of the party. It should be emphasized that the differences between the ‘towns’ and ‘mountains’ were at that time hardly perceptible at first glance.

Although it had the support of the great majority of the population, and although it possessed an armed force (elas) which in 1944 governed almost three quarters of Greek territory, the leadership of the Greek Communist Party signed an agreement with the Greek exile government (the Lebanese agreement), opening the door to a series of compromises with the rightist forces which led to the whole fateful development of post-war politics in Greece. The armed struggle between units of the elas and British forces in Athens in December 1944, the capitulation of elas and the signing of the Varkis agreement at the beginning of 1945 put an end to the efforts of the Greek Communist Party: the power which was almost within its grasp eluded it. Instead of drawing conclusions from these defeats and trying to find the most effective method to engage in post-war political life as an opposition party and continue the fight at parliamentary level (to have done so would have given Greek developments an entirely different trend and saved the country from almost 15 years of fascism) the party leadership prepared for further armed struggle. The period between 1945 and 1947 was also marked by a feeling of frustration in the ranks of the party at all levels. This was especially so among the peasantry. The legends about elas, the return from the detention camp of the party’s general secretary, N. Zachariades, and the atmosphere of terror created by the monarcho-fascist persecutions generated a spirit of revenge which made it impossible to attempt a sober analysis of the political situation. This period also witnessed the emergence of the ‘spirit of the exiles’ which was to replace the ‘spirit of the mountains’. The myth of the power of the Greek cp, especially strong among the peasants and the mountain dwellers, grew to unprecedented proportions.

The history of how the Greek cp became established abroad is practically unknown to Greek Communists, and most of them date it from the year 1949 when the civil war finished. In fact the first groups of Greek party leaders left Greece as early as February and March of 1945. Most of them were former members of elas and of commando squads which the party had organized in the towns during the occupation and who, because of their previous activities, were being persecuted and had to leave the country. The Yugoslav government put the village of Bulkes in the Voivodina at the disposal of the Greek cp (this fertile area had previously been inhabited by Germans who were expelled after the war). Bulkes and its environs became ‘Greek’ territory over which the Greek Communist Party exercised power. It was a State within a State, with its own administration, bureaucracy, public and social services (schools, medical care, and canteens), economy and finance (Bulkes currency was valid only within the enclave). Bulkes was a kind of miniature version of a socialist régime with all the contemporary deformations. There was only one law—the will of the party. A peculiar situation: no-one asked questions in this village, the para-military discipline precluded any breath of democracy, the only source of information was the newspapers issued by the party, the cult of the party leaders knew no bounds, and the word of the leader (the archira)—in this instance Zachariades—was sacrosanct. This is how Bulkes became the school for party leaders. The importance of the enclave grew markedly after 1946 when, as a result of the widespread persecution of the party by the monarcho-fascist government in Greece, the population of Bulkes sharply increased. Thousands of Greeks, mostly from the mountainous part of northern Greece, left for Bulkes at the orders of the party. Bulkes also served as a rear base for the Democratic Army in the 1946—49 civil war, ensured supplies and maintained the fighting strength of the units whose ranks were sharply depleted after every battle. (It should be remembered that the slogan of the nation-wide armed struggle against monarcho-fascism was first issued by Zachariades in 1947, when all the towns were already in the hands of the authorities, when thousands of the best party workers were in prison or in concentration camps, and when there no longer existed any practical possibility of going into the mountains and joining the partisan units. The Democratic Army, deprived of its popular reserves, could now rely only on the mountain population.)