Western Imperialism and the Greek Left
When the Nazis were defeated in Greece in 1944, most of the country was controlled by the Greek National Liberation Front (EAM). The Greek Communist Party constituted the largest political contingent in the EAM, but other liberal and radical anti-fascists were part of the coalition. Most of the population supported the EAM.
The British military entered Greece to help reestablish a dictatorial government as the Nazis fled. In collaboration with the Greek military the British army put in place a coalition government in the fall of 1944. The EAM representatives resigned from the government in December when the British Army ordered the Liberation Front to disarm. Then Greek police fired on EAM demonstrators. The British, with US assistance, brought two divisions of soldiers, tanks, and planes to crush the EAM resistance. The EAM surrendered in February, 1945. The surrender was followed by a “pacification” of the countryside by the British in conjunction with participation by the Greek National Guard.
In March, 1946, the Greeks held an election for national office, boycotted by the Left, in which monarchist politicians secured 49 per cent of the vote. The new regime restored the king to the throne and expanded resources to the army and police. Meanwhile the population continued to experience the economic misery extended by the war. For example, 75 percent of the children of Greece were malnourished. The Greek government continued the program of purging former EAM resistance fighters. They replaced trade union officials with government-appointed personnel and purged former EAM affiliated personnel from public institutions.
Finally, in the fall of 1946, a rebellion led by Greek Communists and other EAM members was launched. While assistance to the rebels came from neighboring states, the rebellion was a grassroots one. Many commentators over the years insisted that the Soviet Union, still committed to a “spheres-of-influence” agreement with the British, provided little or no assistance to the popular forces, even though the US administration would claim that the Greek Civil War was an example of the westward expansion of Soviet Communism.
The Role of the Greek Civil War in the Establishment of US Cold War Policy
By 1947, the Greek popular forces were engaged in a protracted civil war against the reactionary British-supported Greek government. With growing economic crisis at home the British were forced to withdraw their material support from the Greek government. The British informed the United States that if Greece were to be saved from “communism,” the US would have to replace British support. By 1947, the Truman Administration was ready to launch a full-scale military, economic, political, and cultural assault on what would be called “international communism.” The Greek Civil War could be the excuse needed to generate support from the American people for the new Cold War.
During February, 1947, Truman mobilized his advisors to prepare a declaration to be delivered to Congress concerning the world situation. At one meeting Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson argued that “the communists” were seeking to control Greece, Turkey, Iran, the Middle East, and Italy. If they achieved their goals in these countries, France and China would fall. As State Department historian Herbert Feis wrote: “The fall of the dominoes could be heard as he talked along.” Senator Arthur Vandenberg, former isolationist Republican Senator from Michigan, told administration officials that President Truman must “scare hell out of the American people.”
In order “to scare hell out of the American people,” President Truman appeared before Congress to request $400 million in military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. The aid request provided the vehicle for Truman to articulate the government’s overall purposes of opening the world to capitalist expansion in terms of “freedom” versus “tyranny.” The language of the Truman Doctrine made it crystal clear that the struggle against socialism, the Left, and autonomous national development would be a long one. Despite the reality of the contending forces in the Greek Civil War, Truman said that the United States must “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The gauntlet was down. The United States would defend “free” countries like the reactionary Greek government, which included Nazi collaborators, against “totalitarianism,” that is, the Soviet Union and its “oppressed” allies in Eastern Europe. The term, “totalitarianism,” would be used to lump together countries and movements in Eastern Europe and later around the world which sought to construct alternative economic and political systems.
The US response to the Greek Civil War and the defeat of the EAM by 1949 was the primary force that led to the creation of political and economic institutions in that country that have constrained working class movements ever since. And the modest assistance program to the Greek government in 1947 was a prelude to the much larger Marshall Plan economic aid program adopted in 1948 that would do much to construct a Western European economic system compatible with global capitalist interests. The struggles of European social movements today are constrained by the establishment of European economic and political institutions going back to the 1940s.
(Part 2 will discuss the Marshall Plan and the construction of a European political economy compatible with global capitalism. The materials for the two essays come in part from prior blogs and Harry Targ “Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II,” MEP Publications, 1986).