Wednesday, December 8, 2021

EAM: Notes on Greece's National Liberation Front

 By Nikos Mottas.

The 27th of September marked the 80th anniversary of the foundation of EAM, Greece's National Liberation Front, which played the leading role in the struggle against the country's Axis occupation. The major force behind the foundation, organization and activity of EAM was the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which led the popular, anti-fascist struggle during the 1941-1944 period. 

In the inter-war years, before the beginning of the Nazi occupation, all the bourgeois Greek governments, including the “democratic” government of Eleftherios Venizelos and the dictatorial regimes of Theodore Pangalos and Ioannis Metaxas, had launched waves of persecutions against the KKE and communists. Most of the party's cadres and members, like General Secretary Nikos Zachariadis, were either imprisoned or sent into exile. It is characteristic that from August 1936 to October 1940, when Italy declared the war against Greece, the fascist Metaxas regime had captured and imprisoned 45,000 communists.

When Mussolini declared war to Greece on October 1940, Zachariadis wrote an open letter to the Greek people invoking them to fight against the Italian aggression, so that “every rock, every hillside, every city, house by house, must become a fortress of the national liberational struggle”. On the back of such a popular resistance, Zachariadis was pointing out, a new Greece would rise, the Greece of “work and freedom, liberated from any foreign imperialist dependence with a true popular culture”.

Subsequently, when the German troops entered Athens on April 27, 1941, some of the communists managed to escape from exile and joined their comrades who were operating clandestinely in order to re-organize the KKE and lead the anti-fascist struggle. The Sixth Plenary of the Central Committee of the KKE, which was convened on July 1, 1941, declared the need for a nationwide front for Greece's liberation and called all parties to participate. A first outcome of this was the foundation, on July 16, 1941, of the National Workers' Liberation Front (EEAM) which co-ordinated the activity of the country's labour unions.

EAM was founded, under utmost secrecy, in a tiny house in the center of Athens on the evening of September 27, 1941. The participants in the Front's founding meeting were the representatives of four left-wing parties: Lefteris Apostolou from the KKE, Christos Chomenidis from the Socialist Party (SKE), Ilias Tsirimokos from the Union of People's Republic and Apostolos Voyatzis from the Agrarian Party (AKE).

According to the founding declaration, the major aims of EAM were the following:

1) The liberation of our Nation from the current foreign yoke and the achievement of our country's full independence.

2) The formation of an interim government, the aim of which will be to call elections for a Constituent Assembly, based on proportional representation, so that the people can decide in sovereign way on the issue of their governance.

3) The securing of the Greek people's sovereign right to decide on the way of its governance, despite any reactionary attempt that will tend to impose on the people solutions that are contrary to their wishes and despite any attempt to annihilate EAM and its component organs.

The initiative of the KKE for the organization of the people's resistance had to face not only the savage terrorism of the occupation forces, but also the position of the bourgeois parties which were cultivating a notion of submission and defeatism. During the 1941-1944 Axis Occupation the leadership of the Greek bourgeois parties choosed either to openly collaborate with the Nazis or to flee abroad in secure places where the British forces were dominant. On the contrary, EAM and the Communist Party remained fully loyal to the struggle against the forces of occupation.

Partisans of ELAS in 1944.
The military unit of EAM, the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) was founded on February 16, 1942 under the leadership of the legendary Captain Aris Velouchiotis and Major General Stefanos Sarafis. Other wings of EAM were: The United Panhellenic Organization of Youth (EPON) which organized the resistance of the Greek youth, Greek People's Liberation Navy (ELAN) and the Organization for the Protection of the People's Struggle, known as OPLA, a military security force which aimed at protecting resistance fighters from Nazi collaborators and traitors.

Many significant figures of modern Greek culture, arts and literature fought the occupation forces under the banners of EAM. Among others were composer Mikis Theodorakis, poets Yannis Ritsos, Kostas Varnalis, Angelos Sikelianos, Tasos Livaditis, Nikiforos Vrettakos, Fotis Aggoules and Nikos Kavvadias, authors and essayists Dimitris Glinos, Menelaos Lountemis, Iakovos Kampanellis, Yannis Skarimpas, Elli Alexiou, Melpo Axioti, Dido Sotiriou, educator Roza Imvrioti, actors Manos Katrakis, Aimilios Veakis, Mimis Fotopoulos and others.

The National Liberation Front was the force that saved the Greek people from annihilation and starvation. The liberated by EAM regions of Greece became “sprouts” for people's power. The administration of these regions belonged to the Political Committee of National Liberation, also known as the “Mountain Government”, which was established on March 1944. The elections in the liberated areas, where 1,800,000 million people participated, became a milestone in Greece's political history, as it was the first time that women and young people over 18 were able to vote. In a period when society continued to treat women according to pre-modern ethics EAM introduced gender equality.

British Colonel C.M. Woodhouse, who served in Greece during the Axis occupation, wrote in his memoirs: “The benefits of civilization and culture trickled into the mountains for the first time. Schools, local governments, law courts and public utilities... Theatres, factors, parliamentary assemblies (were introduced) for first time” (C.M. Woodhouse, Apple of Discord, Hutchinson & Co., 1948). 

The heroic activity of ELAS against the Nazi forces was extraordinary. The Liberation Army managed to inflict enormous damage on Germans: More than 30,000 dead troops and 6,500 prisoners. The enemy's infrastructure was also extensively damaged while ELAS seized a large number of weapons by the German and Italian troops. By the spring of 1944 the EAM-ELAS forces had already liberated 2/3 of the country. During the liberation days (October 1944), the organized members of the KKE were more than 430,000 while EAM had over 1,500,000 members. 

The bourgeois political forces

Τhe interests of the Greek bourgeoisie at the time of the Nazi invasion were not unified. The part of the ruling class that had strong economic ties with Britain and France chosed to leave for the Middle East, while another part openly supported the Germans.

More specifically, a major part of the bourgeois political forces decided to flee the country, in order to organize the resistance from abroad under the guidance of Britain. Cairo became the basis of the Greek leadership under George Papandreou. A smaller part of bourgeois forces remained in Greece and collaborated with the Nazis. The so-called “Hellenic State” was the collaborationist government in occupied Greece during the 1941-1944 period, with appointed Prime Ministers being Georgios Tsolakoglou, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos and Ioannis Rallis.

The organization and activity of EAM, under the guidance of the KKE, was an alarming development for the bourgeois interests. The collaborationist governments, with the support of the Nazis, founded anti-communist military groups known as “Security Battalions”, which are responsible for some of the most atrocious crimes during the Axis occupation. These criminal groups were supported not only by the extreme right and Nazi sympathizers, but also by some centrist politicians who were deeply concerned about the dominance of EAM-ELAS.

It must be noted that the most prominent Greek bourgeois politicians had actually no participation in the resistance, being absent from the struggle as they were entirely based on the outcome of the allied war against the Nazis. Such political figures included George Papandreou, Nikolaos Plastiras, Themistocles Sofoulis, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, Sofoklis Venizelos, Konstantine Karamanlis, Georgios Kafantaris and others.

When the KKE asked Kafantaris to participate in the resistance he responded: “The Greeks should not care. The issue will be resolved by the allies (British)”. Papandreou refused to lead EAM and Plastiras, who had fled to France shortly after the invasion, openly called the people to collaborate with the Germans. “I believe that a pro-German government must be formed, so that the defeat will be less painful. This should be done even if we knew that the war would end after a month with the complete defeat of the Axis (which is unlikely)”, he wrote in a letter dated April 1941.

The largest non-communist resistance groups was the National Republic Greek League (EDES), a highly controversial pro-British anti-communist army which was founded on September 1941 under the leadership of Colonel Napoleon Zervas. The legacy of EDES has been irrevocably marred due to the collaborations between its members and the occupation forces, while the Athens organization of EDES became a source for the staffing of the pro-Nazi “Security Battalions”. Colonel C.M. Woodhouse, who collaborated closely with Zervas, wrote that according to German documents the EDES leader procceeded to a “secret cease-fire with the occupation forces between November 1943 and August 1944”. As a guerilla group controlled by the exiled Greek leadership, EDES acted as an anti-communist counterbalance to the dominance of EAM-ELAS in the resistance struggle.

 Political conclusions on EAM

EAM's 4th anniversary at Panathenaic Stadium, 1945.
EAM became synonymous of the Greek resistance in the Second World War. Even the closest allies of the Greek bourgeoisie at that time, the British, have acknowledged the immense contribution of EAM in the struggle against the occupation. A report of the British Foreign Office on 27 July 1943 was stressing out: “While the nationalist and conservative elements were wasting their time in inactivity, EAM stepped forward to the point where it can claim that it is the main representative of Greek resistance... There is no doubt that EAM is the leading factor”.

At the time of the liberation of Athens, on 12 October 1944, EAM was by far the dominant resistance front in Greece. This did not go unnoticed by neither the Greek bourgeois political system nor its British allies. EAM, under KKE's guidance, was clearly a threat to the interests of the British ruling class in Greece and Eastern Mediterranean. The December 1944 massacre in Athens and Piraeus, when the British army firmly stood by the side of the Greek bourgeois forces and former Nazi collaborators against the popular EAM-ELAS movement, is the greatest evidence concerning the actual British interests in Greece: The dominance of a communist-led movement in Greece had to be averted at all costs.

A major conclusion is that the Communist Party, despite its enormous contribution in the formation, organization and leadership of the resistance movement, did not manage to formulate the necessary strategy that would provide a revolutionary solution in the problem of political power. The then KKE leadership did not evaluate correctly the combination of the struggle's dual content: The class warfare content and the national liberation one. As a consequence, in order to maintain and expand the so-called “national unity”, the resistance movement was driven to agreements that objectively undermined its strength, like the agreements of Lebanon (20 May 1944) and Caserta (26 September 1944).

In the Essay on the History of the KKE we read: “The action against foreign occupation was intimately linked to the class interest of every social force. The liberation struggle would either be linked with the conquest and consolidation of workers' power and its allies […] or would lead to the consolidation of the bourgeois power” (Vol II, p.489). Faced with this dilemma the bourgeois forces overcame their oppositions and disagreements and engaged in a life-or-death struggle for the post-war restoration of the bourgeois power.

The insistence on the policy of “national unity” and post-war “democratic normality” wasn't an exclusive feature of the strategy of the KKE, but an issue of the International Communist Movement. The Essay on the History of the KKE points out: “This strategy was not a special phenomenon in the KKE, but a problem of the International Communist Movement […] It is also related to the fact that the transitional reform Program, a fundamental political program of social democracy, existed, one way or another, in the strategy of Communist International as a stage of preparation for the revolutionary conquest of power […] The “transitional government” led to the realization of the necessity of conquering the parliamentary majority and this in turn to the coexistence with some bourgeois forces […[ It was mainly confirmed that between capitalism and socialism there is neither an intermediate political stage nor “peaceful” transition from capitalism to socialism, but also not a “pro-people” management of capitalism. The class struggle is objective and it is this struggle that, in conditions of a revolutionary situation, will lead to a socialist revolution, only with the conscious action of the ideological-political working class vanguard, the Communist Party” (Vol II, p.489-490).

Despite the problematic strategy of the KKE and the International Communist Movement in the 1940s, the truth is that the heroic legacy of EAM-ELAS, alongside the consequent three-year struggle of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), are the greatest and most brilliant achievements of the workers-people's movement in modern Greek history and a magnificent source of inspiration for the younger generations. 

* Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.