Two events—the April 1967 military coup d’état and the outbreak in April 1968 of the rift in the Communist Party—have opened a new period in Greek politics. They have also focused international attention on the situation in Greece. The circles of opinion that registered the impact of these events were not, of course, identical, the April coup affecting a far broader circle than the communist party rift. As a departure from the past, however, and as an omen for the future, the latter event may in the long run prove more significant than the former. It is, in any case, important enough to justify a new look at the history of the communist party and the revolutionary struggle in Greece.

The Kapetaniosfootnote1 is essentially an attempt at such a new look. In the sense that it offers a systematic critique of the record of the Greek communist leadership between 1941 and 1949 (with an epilogue which extends the critique to 1967), and by virtue of the fact that it presents the views of dissident members of that leadership registered while the events which led to the defeat of the revolution in Greece were still taking shape, Eudes’ book constitutes an important political event first and foremost for the Greek Left. But its interest is not exclusively Greek. The torment of the Communist Party of Greece and those who followed it is inextricably connected with political events and currents of history of much wider than Greek dimensions. Events like the October 1944 Stalin–Churchill understanding on spheres of influence, the February 1945 Yalta agreements, the start of the Cold War and the Truman Doctrine of March 1947, and the Stalin–Tito clash all had immediate repercussions on the course of events in Greece. From the point of view of a British public, finally, this book has particular interest in that it was Britain which acted as the predominant foreign power on the Greek scene, in contest with Nazi Germany in the 1940–4 period and in conflict with the Greek people and its national resistance movement, eam, in the 1944–7 period. In fact, British imperialist policies were the main cause both of the defeat of the Greek communists and of the subjugation of the Greek people to a reactionary regime whose most recent product is the 1967 military dictatorship.

Eudes begins his story with the emergence, in the summer and autumn of 1942, of elas, the National Popular Liberation Army, a guerrilla force which sprang up as a response to the Nazi occupation of Greece (1941–4) but soon assumed the character both of a national liberation movement and (since its leadership was in the hands of the Communist Party of Greece), socially revolutionary force. elas was the military arm of eam, the National Liberation Front, which was also communist-controlled. The resistance record of these two organizations was a brilliant one. eam grew to be a political organization encompassing millions of members. Its prestige and authority made it the virtual wartime government of occupied Greece, which prevented collaborationist politicians from gaining any sort of foothold among the Greek people. This, in its turn, had the further consequence that Greek resources in manpower and, to a large extent, also in materials, were forbidden to the Nazis throughout the war. Of all countries of occupied Europe, Greece has the distinction of being the only one which sent neither workers to German factories nor expeditionary forces to fight on the Eastern Front. How the former of these feats was achieved, despite a mobilization order of the German military commander of South-Eastern Europe, is related in Eudes’ book (pp. 33ff). It is, to say the least, remarkable that eam, under a ferocious foreign occupation, was able to force the Nazi government to officially quash its labour mobilization order, by means of mass demonstrations in Athens which assumed almost insurrectional dimensions.

It was eam which created the political climate which enabled elas to move among the Greek people like Mao’s famous fish in the water. This is not to say that elas did not generate its own momentum or that its action did not have important feedback effects on eam. But the political organization, eam and the popular army elas fought side by side and mutually complemented each other. From the strictly military point of view elas, on the estimate of Field-Marshal Alexander (Eudes p. 208), had managed to pin down in Greece between six and seven divisions, in addition to the equivalent of four on the Greek islands. These forces the Nazis were unable to use on the main operational theatres. In addition elas undertook specific sabotage operations, planned by the Middle-East Allied Command and executed with the help of British saboteurs parachuted into Greece throughout the occupation. These operations were important, both with regard to hampering the flow of supplies to the German forces in North Africa and in creating a diversion during the Allied landing in Sicily in July 1943—a contribution for which General Wilson, the British Commander of the Middle-East Allied Forces, felt he had to send a special message of congratulations to the Greek guerrillas.

These distinguished services of eam–elas in the Allied cause did not win for them any gratitude on the part of the British government. It was Churchill’s view, which prevailed in the British War Cabinet, that Britain must first and foremost safeguard its long-term political interests in Greece. This implied the restoration of the King of the Hellenes, who had taken refuge in Britain after Greece had been overrun by the Wehrmacht. The British Military Mission in occupied Greece was accordingly instructed to support in preference royalist guerrillas. It was unfortunate, from that point of view, that scarcely any such guerrillas were available on the Greek mountains. The only non-communist formation worthy of consideration was edes headed by Napoleon Zervas who, as a former republican officer, ought in principle to have been as opposed to the return of the king as eam–elas. King George II, and the institution of monarchy in general, were not particularly popular among the Greek people. Moreover, they had lost all claim to legitimacy by openly conniving in the imposition of a fascist-type dictatorship on pre-war Greece, in 1936. No democratic movement emerging from the flames of the Second World War could possibly have tolerated the restoration of such a monarch.

Nevertheless, the British Military Mission in Greece and the British Foreign Service outside Greece managed to assemble a motley crew of former politicians, and to push the careerist Zervas on to pro-royal positions. They thus confronted eam–elas with a Greek opposition which, although representing almost nothing in terms of material strength or popular support inside Greece (let alone their practical non-existence as a resistance force), could nevertheless be vested with British recognition and presented as the prospective government of Greece, with which eam–elas, the actual governing force in Greece during the occupation, ought to come to terms, voluntarily giving up its political and military predominance. Eudes goes so far as to hint at an underhand British–German co-operation during the war, in setting up collaborationist armed units to oppose the guerrillas. The evidence he invokes to support this argument consists of certain statements of the collaborationist Prime Minister John Rallis in his trial after the liberation of Greece, in October 1944, together with certain suspect contacts of one member of the British Military Mission during the occupation. The evidence is not new and cannot take one beyond suspicions. (It is, of course, generally admitted that collaborationist militiamen were widely used against elas, with the full support and knowledge of the British representatives in Greece, in the clash that followed the liberation.)

The Greek communist leadership allowed itself to be drawn by Britain into negotiating with the straw men whom British foreign policy put up. They were also prevailed upon to spare the Zervas guerrilla total disbandment, in the name of the common struggle against Nazism. On the basis of these two key concessions, Britain managed to manoeuvre the eam–elas representatives into so weak a position on the front of political negotiations that they were made to accept a government of so-called national unity, under George Papandreou, in which they, the real masters of Greece, the founders of eam’s popular state that had by 1944 liberated the whole of the Greek countryside and represented the only real force in the still occupied cities, were reduced to the position of poor relations. With regard to the armed forces, the programme of the Papandreou government was to disband all guerrilla forces and absorb the fighters into a new, allegedly national, allegedly non-political army. Such was the content of the so-called Lebanon agreement, reached in May 1944 between an eam delegation from Free (i.e. guerrilla-liberated) Greece and clutch of former politicians who had fled under British protection to the Middle East, where they offered themselves as willing instruments of British imperialist policy against the Greek people. As the part of the agreement that provided for the formation of a national army proved too manifestly unrealistic, it was supplemented in September 1944 by a further agreement, which provided for the creation of respective zones in which, after the withdrawal of the German troops, the elas forces, the edes forces and the forces of the Papandreou government-in-exile supported by British troops, would take over. elas was, of course, excluded from taking over Athens and Salonika, the governing centres of Greece.