Countering Captain Correlli

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Review of 'British Intervention and the Greek Revolution', John Newsinger, Socialist Historians Society £2.75

The Second World War was fought to make the world safe for freedom and democracy. That is the claim made today, just as it was at the beginning of 1946 when the regiment I was in was posted to Greece. The war being over, troops in the Mediterranean were expected to be sent home and demobilised. They were bemused--but not amused--to find themselves being used to keep in power a right wing government of black marketeers and Nazi collaborators. At the same time they were used in the relentless persecution of the Resistance.

The Resistance had fought against the Nazi occupation for years, eventually driving them out with very little in the way of help from Britain and the Allies. But even before the last of the German forces were withdrawn, the Resistance found themselves fighting for their lives against British troops. Troops were sent in to ensure the destruction of the left wing forces and the return of an authoritarian right wing government, complete with a particularly reptilian royalty. It was a government fully prepared to encourage and protect foreign investments, and to accept British domination.

The Resistance started with numerous small groups who, on the initiative of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), came together in September 1941 to form the National Liberation Front (EAM). It was a broadly based movement committed to a programme of social reform, women's liberation, national liberation and parliamentary democracy. They organised food production, set up soup kitchens, and prevented hoarding and profiteering. Health workers organised healthcare, teachers organised education and, would you believe it, these services all got better without a target, league table or test to be seen.

Unfortunately the politics of the leadership did not match the radical self reliance of the rank and file. They were still tied to Stalin's stages theory whereby a bourgeois state complete with parliament and respect for private property must precede any struggle for socialism. The weakness of KKE politics, however, did not stop EAM growing into the biggest mass movement in Greek history. It claimed a membership of 2 million, almost a third of the adult population, with popular committees organised in every town and village. It established a guerrilla army (ELAS) in the mountains which fought a continuous war of harassment against the German army, eventually taking control of most of the country.

This pamphlet shows what this control meant with a quote from Chris Woodhead, the chief British agent in Greece, and future Tory MP and junior minister: 'They had given it things it had never known before. Communications in the mountains by wireless courier and telephone have never been so good before or since--even motor roads were mended. The benefits of civilisation and culture trickled into the mountains for the first time. Schools, local government, law courts and public utilities which the war had ended worked again. Theatres, factories, parliamentary assemblies began for the first time. Communal life was organised... EAM/ELAS set the base in the creation of something that the government of Greece had neglected: an organised state in the Greek mountains.' It was hardly a socialist utopia, but enough to earn the undying hatred of reactionaries like Winston Churchill. But when I and my fellow conscripts were sent there we were not sent by Churchill. We had a Labour government in power with a massive majority.

How did EAM/ELAS, who had shown such determination and tactical skills in the fight against German occupation, become so hesitant and indecisive that they failed to make any progress against the British? The answer lay in the politics of the Greek Communist Party. In October 1944 Churchill and Stalin had done a deal that accepted British domination over Greece. So instead of carrying out a revolution the KKE argued for a compromise with the British. The EAM/ELAS rank and file were being told to welcome the British army even as that army went in shooting, with the express aim of destroying the Greek left and maintaining in power a right wing government riddled with Nazi collaborators. The Greek working class paid a terrible price for the failure of British Labourism and Greek Stalinism.

Presumably John Newsinger wrote this pamphlet as an answer to Louis de Bernieres' 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin', a pathetic work of fiction which seeks to justify British intervention against the Resistance. This intervention made Greece the only country in Europe where Nazi collaborators were rewarded while Resistance fighters were faced with imprisonment and even execution. He tells the true story brilliantly in this pamphlet.