THE RESULTS of the Greek elections cannot be taken to represent in any way the actual distribution of opinion. Certainly no one will consider the Right henceforth a legitimate majority––not only because of the padding of the voting lists and the abstention of the Left, but also because many who did vote were only expressing in extremis a confused desire of self-preservation from civil war. There is no room left today on the Greek scene for free and rational political thinking.
Now that the painful ceremony is over, the Allies have only two alternatives, of which they must visualize the consequences.
1. They can treat Greece as a free country which has a legally constituted government, i.e., evacuate and let the Greeks shoot it out. In that case they would have to stand by as Russia runs weapons over the border to assist ELAS against the rightist forces equipped by the Western Allies. It would repeat the pattern of the Spanish civil war. But under present conditions, no one knows where that might lead. If the Russians move into the Dardanelles, the first act would be over quickly.
2. They can back the “legally” constituted government and prevent an outbreak by force of arms, while repeating their intention of getting out as soon as possible, which statement would, of course, become a mere fiction. The EAM and ELAS are fully prepared for this. The way they think now, they would keep scattered forces in the hills and organize the masses underground. They are confident that the mistakes and excesses (and also the incapacity) of the Right in power will push the majority of Greeks into the opposition camp, there to await the result of the coming showdown between the great powers. The Communists firmly believe that repression and suffering are prime requisites for the “politicalization” of the masses.
The Rightists on their side quite frankly admit that they will have to exert force on a large scale. This leaves little leeway for constructive reform. The Right––even granting it better intentions––would have to carry on with the present system and pin its hopes not so much on economic betterment as on the coming world war. Both so-called Populists and Liberals (they have become in practice indistinguishable) believe they can unite the Greek people only in the nationalistic ideal of “Greater Hellas,” which means conquest at the expense of Albanians, Yugoslavs and Bulgarians. This idea is not entirely senseless, for the average Greek is apt to respond to any campaign against the “Slav danger.” The net result seems to be that the whole Greek setup, from Left to Right, is organized into a detonator for world conflict.
The British admitted that the elections “were not likely to be satisfactory,” but they feel that the political situation still lends itself to “constructive” efforts. They will continue to insist on the multiplicity of viewpoints, on the guarantee of fairness presented by the Allied observers, who, it must be admitted, were valuable, but who could not be asked to stay in Greece indefinitely if the elections were delayed; besides, “we had no assurance of Leftist coöperation at any future date even if we postponed [the elections].”
The cabinet started disintegrating two months ago, as its members best known for intelligence and ability resigned. Their motive was not mere defeatism. In fact, they are Western-minded legalists who hoped to assist the Western cause by compelling the English and Americans to realize that elections could not be held while real power was in the hands of the royalist X-gangs.
But it is no use to damn the British. They are certainly not backing the thugs. If the situation is so deeply poisoned, it is because of a chain of circumstances of which the British are only one link.
YOU CANNOT LEAVE a country leaderless and exposed to ruthless repression, with hundreds of thousands dying of starvation on the bare earth and patriots roaming the hills with chattering teeth, while “the rich, the well born and the able” go on buying and selling, fattening on the profits of the stock market and of speculation at the expense of the destitute, without arousing grave doubts as to the soundness of the system. You cannot build up a government composed of those who fled abroad, or preached prudence and submission at home, without wounding to the quick the vast number of those who suffered and fought with the Popular Resistance Front. If the EAM was taken in hand by the Communists, who is the fault if not the absentees’?
The British will counter that it is not their fault if they found the EAM, which they had assisted, unwilling to coöperate in the general pacification and ready instead to risk a coup d’état. And the argument will go on in mutual misunderstanding.
But the political results are only too clear. Drastic change was urgently needed, and the Allies had no formula for that. As in Italy, they compelled the Center parties to bear the burden of an impossible status quo––“pending free elections,” or whatever the pious formula was. This, of course, meant handing back actual power (as distinguished from administrative authority) to the vested interests which bore the responsibility for past misfortunes, and who, knowing themselves threatened, proceeded to entrench themselves by any means.
In politics there can be many sides, but in a state of potential or actual civil war there can be only two. That is how we find the Greeks arrayed today, after initial swings of the pendulum, into two solid blocs, with the Center gone off into vapor. That is why we find the X-ites in actual power, and those who used to be quite reasonable moderates supporting the scandalous record of the successive British-sponsored administrations, their graft and inefficiency, their disloyalty to pledged agreements, their indifference to reconstruction, coupled with their active interest in diverting UNRRA goods to the black market. This holds for Papandreou, Kanellopoulos, Sophocles Venizelos and their kind. To have called these men black reactionaries two years ago (as the EAM was doing) would have been unfair. They certainly were not such then, and they still do not see themselves in that role. Nevertheless, they stand now, along with the Royalists, against the wall, and it is our fault as much as theirs.
What are the real intentions of the EAM? It is difficult to judge whether they would welcome some kind of working arrangement. Last year, when they had a chance to push through the Varvaresos stabilization plan, which the Right was torpedoing, they sabotaged it. As things stand now, they have more hope of uniting the masses in despair than of holding them together under a reform government. Today, the Greeks are scared: of their own violence, of their dreadful memories, of the blood-feuds which have torn families asunder, of the unpredictable consequences.
In one thing the British were right. Mere postponement of the election would have solved nothing. A solution would have been somehow to grant the EAM, even if provisionally, at least a third of national representation. If we had granted the same proportion to a revamped center, we could have built it up again into a party holding the balance of power, and the average Greek would have flocked to it with relief. For it is quite clear that the great majority in Greece are still looking for a livable solution that will not sever them from the Anglo-Saxons and from the freedom of the seas.
Now that the elections have happened, the next best thing would be to disregard them; to tell Tsaldaris and his cohorts, quietly but firmly, that they had better keep away from power for a while, and to form some caretaker government which would really start taking care of urgent drastic reform, with American help and supervision. But it could not do the job under six months. One way or the other, Greece needs a strong helping hand from outside, or she will destroy herself. And what that would mean to world stability is easy to guess.
This article appeared in the April 15, 1946 issue of the magazine.