Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, July 1935


J.P. Martin

The Civil War in Greece

From New International, Vol. II No. 4, pp. 139–140.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


IT CANNOT be foreseen, at the hour of writing, what the outcome will be of the Venizelist insurrection in Greece. But, broken or victorious, the insurrection has brought forward problems whose study is incumbent upon the international working class.

At the very moment when Fascist Italy is concentrating its troops on the Abyssinian frontiers, new international complications break out in Eastern Europe around a Greece gripped by civil war.

Before examining the international repercussions that this civil war has provoked and which it is still likely to produce, it is well to fix the positions occupied by the two fronts at battle.

In the peninsula situated at the southern extremity of the Balkans, in Eastern Europe, the two enemy camps do not represent, as was the case in the Asturias, at the north of the Iberian peninsula, the meridional extremity of Western Europe, two clearly hostile classes. Both camps belong to the property-owning and exploiting classes and are able to contend for power with arms in hand just because of the failure of the third factor: the working class.

But it would be far too over-simplified to reduce the civil war that has broken out in Greece to the armed dispute of two clans of politicians: that of the “monarchists” and that of the “republicans”, both reactionary and both “Fascist”. Such simplifications in no way help one to understand either the scope of the Venizelist insurrection or the sanguinary acuteness of the conflict.

What are the social forces and the interests that set in motion each of the two “clans”? That’s what must be investigated. And to do it, we must return, even if very summarily, to the antecedents that prepared the new explosion.

The struggle between “republicans” and “monarchists” is a very old one: it goes back more than a century. It was precisely the bourgeoisie of the islands – the present center of the Venizelist insurrection – that financed, organized and directed the national revolution in 1821-1829 against a Turkish domination which had been weighing upon Greece since the fifteenth century. But the revolutionary struggle for national liberation came to an end, after seven years, with an enfeeblement and a great setback for the bourgeois class, exhausted and impoverished by the long war. On the other hand, the native feudal lords and the military chieftains, as well as the clergy, obtained, in exchange for “services” rendered the national struggle, the partitioned domains of the former Turkish pashas and beys. And it was these landholders who took the power into their hands, eliminating entirely the weakened bourgeoisie.

So, instead of the republic about which the representatives of the bourgeoisie dreamed under the influence of the French revolution – there came the absolute monarchy.

For a long period of time, the landholding elements were able to govern the country as its masters. But to the degree that industry developed, and commerce too, democratic bourgeois tendencies, weak at first, came to light and set themselves against the old parties of the landed property owners who were grouped around the royalty.

Starting with the opening of our century, the rise of the bourgeois class took on an increasingly accelerated rhythm. In the period from 1906 to 1909, the bourgeois offensive against) the landed proprietors and the royal family extended in scope, with the slogan of “reconstruction of the state” and “reorganization of the national army”.

The bourgeoisie demanded the power and it seized it by the coup d’etat of Gudi (1909). Venizelos, its trusted agent, was brought to power without great struggles and from that moment onward he was to dominate the whole destiny of the Hellenic peninsula.

Having Venizelos as its political head, the Greek bourgeoisie prepared to lead the country into the Balkan wars of 1912-1913. These wars, which opened up a new period for Greece as well as for the whole of Europe, ended with a victory of the Greek army and the annexation of new regions, rich and economically well developed (Macedonia, Ægean Island, etc.).

But while they helped to amass fortunes for the Greek bourgeoisie, the Balkan wars also gave the royal family and the landowning elements, who supply the greater part of the officers, a new authority. So much so that the struggle between the mercantile bourgeois class and the landed proprietors was revived.

This struggle took on a particularly acute form primarily during the great war. The bourgeois class was for participating on the side of the Entente (England, France and Russia); the monarchy, in the person of King Constantine, unable to swing Greece to the Central Empires (Germany, Austria), declared itself in favor of “neutrality”. The Venizelist party (expressing the interests of the bourgeois class) came out on top.

In the course of the war of 1914-1918, Greek capitalism passed through a decisive stage of its evolution. Enormous profits were amassed, especially by the armaments men. New plants were set up. The total motor power of industry and manufacture, which stood at 1,887 horse-power in 1875 reached more than 110,000 horse-power in 1920. Two hundred thousand workers were engaged in industry. Parallel with this, the concentration of production made significant progress.

At the end of the great war, and under pressure from the threat of an uprising of the peasants returning from the trenches, the bourgeoisie proceeded to the expropriation of the big landed properties. And finally, the great historic match between “republican” bourgeoisie and “monarchist” feudal lords, begun in 1821–1829, was decided by the removal from the throne of King Constantine. On March 25, 1924, the republic replaced the monarchy.

But the bourgeois class which, at the end of its triumph over feudal survivals and the landholders, had had to encourage a beginning of the labor movement so as to gain a support, was not long in perceiving that it had made a bad calculation.

The Greek proletariat, developing at the same time as capitalism, fought courageously against the bourgeoisie which, unable to exercize its dictatorship by means of democratic forms, found itself compelled to evolve rapidly towards the forms of open, reactionary dictatorship.

Venizelos, the “democrat”, the “republican”, hoisted the flag of anti-parliamentarism; he made himself the man of the anti-labor laws, the symbol of capitalist reaction (whence his identification with Fascism).

By virtue of this fact, the Venizelist party, weakened in the country by an anti-peasant policy, and in the city by an anti-labor policy, found itself weakened at the same time with regard to the monarchist elements and the old landed classes. In its turn, it was compelled to yield to the “royalist” uprisings, alternating with military coups d’état of the “republicans”.

The Venizelist party, removed from power, was replaced by a government of the Right, from which emerged the present Tsaldaris cabinet, constituted mainly by monarchists.

Two facts surely contributed to precipitate the Venizelist insurrection of March 3: the recent “purge” undertaken by the Tsaldaris government in the ranks of the army (that is, the purging of the army of Venizelist officers), and the threat to dissolve the Senate, a majority of which still follows the party of the old Cretan politician.

By these two operations, the Venizelist party was threatened with being removed for a long time from the exercize of any power. But is it really for the simple reason of being put on the “retired list” that Venizelos and his partisans decided to play the great game of arms? It is not this reason alone. It cannot be this reason alone.

Behind Venizelos, today as in 1909, as in 1916, as in 1924, stands the bourgeois class, especially the big munitions men; whereas on the other side still stand the landed proprietors and the monarchist elements looking for revenge. The opposition of the islands, where the insurrection started, to the mainland, on which the “governmentals” rule, causes one to think of such a disposition of the forces.

The lesson which follows is by all means the same as can be drawn from the recent events in Spain: as in Spain, so in Greece, the bourgeoisie is powerless to carry out to the end the fight against feudal survivals and for the liberation of the oppressed nationalities (Macedonia, etc.). Only the proletariat, when it seizes power, is able by the same stroke to resolve: both the problems left unsolved by the past and the present problems engendered by the capitalist regime.

Where the working class is weak and impotent, like the Greek proletariat at the present stage, you have, as the Manifesto pointed out, chaos, the destruction of the nation.

The victory of either one of the two camps can only bring new misfortunes to Greece, accentuating the oppression and the exploitation of the laboring masses. Similarly, the victory of either of the two camps can only generate serious perturbations on the question of foreign policy.

It is known that the Tsaldaris government recently signed the Balkan Pact, embracing Greece, Yugoslavia, Rumania and Turkey. The axis of the Balkan pact passes through France, inspiring power behind the Little Entente. Against the Balkan Pact the Venizelist party has conducted a most active struggle, which, it is hard not to believe, was inspired by Rome (Mussolini) and by England.

That is why, as soon as the Venizelist insurrection broke out, Bulgaria (adversary of the Balkan Pact) on the one side, and Turkey (signatory of the Pact) on the other, mobilized troops on the Greek frontiers, while Italy, with France and England following suit, sent cruisers into the Ægean.

A new demonstration of the extreme precariousness of the present equilibrium, and of the striking reality of the danger of another world conflagration.

Paris, March 8, 1935

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 February 2016