The decade of the 1940s which bought not only occupation but also Civil War to Greece, was certainly one of the darkest periods in its long history of struggles. Some historians have argued that the Greek communists only had themselves to blame for loosing the civil war, however due to the complex circumstances of the conflict it is difficult to ignore many of the other factors which also played a large part.
Both the lack of unity of the communists, and also the rival of other resistance groups played a major role in their defeat. Furthermore the Greek Civil War occurred during the period of the Cold War where anti communist sentiments were rife and as a result many outside forces such as the United States, Britain and Yugoslavia all played a major role in the Greek Civil War. The Greek communists originally known as the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS) began to emerge predominantly after the Second World War.
They initially began fighting outside forces during the war, however when the German Army withdrew and Greece was left heavily wounded, suffering from many casualties they believed it was the perfect time to initiate rebellion. The communists projected a vision of a better future at a time of great suffering, appealing especially to people who had lacked privileges in Greece’s traditional hierarchal society. This allowed them to receive popular support in many rural areas and in particular in the mountains with the working class.
However due to their lack of unity and organization under Athanasios Klaras it was almost impossible for them to succeed successfully. Many argue that assembling a provisional government in the mountains in early 1944 was their initial mistake as it not only showed their disownment of the Greek King and his government but it also impacted heavily on their success in the general elections as they were seen by many as a non legitimate force.
As a result the communists accepted defeat after the conference in 1945 and boycotted the elections in March 1946 returning the monarchy to the throne. Although from 1942 onwards ELAS carried out some rather successful sabotage missions both together with the National Democratic Greek League (EDES) against the German Nazis and later against other political fighting groups, it was argued that their misjudgment of events and lack of legitimacy and unity resulted in their successes and defeats being very inconsistent and only occurring sporadically.
Furthermore the vast majority of its members and fighters were in fact non communists, only fighting against the government in place under Georgios Papandreou. Many were dissatisfied with the inequalities occurring in Greece and therefore eagerly looked for alternatives which offered them hope in a time of suffering. However due to this, many were in actual fact unaware of the Marxist communist ideology and therefore lacked passion and enthusiasm to the communist party which later emerged.
Furthermore although the Greek democratic Army, the successor of ELAS never had more than 28,000 fighters compared with 265,000 troops in the national army, they managed to score some notable successes particularly in the Winter of 1946- 47 with their use of hit and run tactics. However it is argued that the Greek democratic Army’s (DSE/DAG) decision to replace Vafiades with Nikos Zahariadis in 1947 and his decision to move away from guerilla style warfare to more conventional methods was one of many reasons which caused the communists to be defeated in the Greek Civil War.
The traditional style of warfare was not suited to the communists as they ultimately lacked significant weapons and warfare training compared with EAM which was backed by Britain and later the United States. As a result the communists were both outmanned and out gunned and therefore were pushed northwards into the mountains of Greece. The decisions made by the Greek democratic Army were extremely unwise considering their position and power or lack of, and as a result many argue that this caused the communists to be defeated in the Greek Civil War.
Many other factors besides the flaws made by the communists however also contributed to their defeat in the Greek Civil War. The role of communist outside forces played a particular important part. ELAS had hoped for Soviet Support throughout its being however although Stalin had interests in the Balkan region his fear of open conflict with the West and its allies deterred him from offering direct assistance to the Greek communists. Furthermore the agreement made at the Yalta Conference in 1945 further discouraged him.
However the Greek communists did obtain support from Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia this was although rather limited and failed to give them the upper hand in the conflict. In contrast it is argued that the relationships formed with other communist states however made the party “totally dependent on foreign aid” (Smith, 1993 p. 141) and as a result they became vulnerable and reliant on outside forces. Furthermore the decision by Tito to close the supply routes through Yugoslavia as part of his policy to conciliate the West in 1949 further weakened the communist’s ability to influence events in Greece.
Through the actions of outside forces the Greek communists began to lose control over their own events and many have argued that this has further accumulated to the eventual downfall of the communists in the Civil War. The major opposition, the National Democratic Greek League also played a major role in the communists defeat in the Civil War. The opposition party was not only strong in numbers but was also united in their cause of reinstating the monarchy in Greece.
Furthermore the majority of its support came from the upper class which had large amounts of resources, education and a very strong desire to not let Greece fall to the communists. Most importantly however the royalists were supported by the West and many argue that this was the primary reason for their success. After the Second World War, struggles of ideology became of particular importance throughout the period of the Cold War and both Britain and later the United States were determined not to let Greece fall to communism.
In February 1947 Britain announced it was unable to continue to support anti-communist activities in Greece and as a result the United States intervened. This was a major turning point in the Civil War especially as the United States implemented a policy of containment known as the Truman Doctrine arguing “it must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation” (Encarta online 2002, Truman doctrine).
The Truman Doctrine was implemented on March 12, 1947 and provided both military and economic aid to Greece; it did this through the means of military supplies and advisers to support the government. This had a major impact on the communist forces, as they were now even further disadvantaged in regards to military supplies and influence. However a major set back was also the fact that the United States offered relief supplies for civilians. This impacted heavily on the communist supporters as by offering civilian’s aid the support of the communists was further weakened.
Furthermore many of the communist fighters had been forced into conscription, and held no real loyalty to the communists. The strong influence of the United States proved to be the last thing needed to topple the communist movement in Greece. Many have argued that the intervention by Britain and later the United States was the primary reason for the communists being defeated in the Greek Civil War. In conclusion the defeat of the communists in Greece’s Civil War, was due to a wide variety of issues and events.
Although the communists in Greece proved to be somewhat unorganized and ineffective, factors such as EAM, and especially the impact of outside forces such as Yugoslavia, Britain and the United States all played a very significant role in the outcome of the Civil War. The Greek Civil War proved to be extremely complex and diverse making it almost impossible to generalize and argue that the communists had only themselves to blame for loosing the Greek Civil War.