pdf Download PDF

Reviewed by
Polymeris Voglis (Πολυμέρης Βόγλης), Η αδύνατη επανάσταση: Η κοινωνική δυναμική του εμφυλίου πολέμου [The impossible revolution: The social dynamics of civil war]. Athens: Alexandreia. 2014. Pp. 405. 30 illustrations. Paper €19.

In this extremely informative, well-documented, and compact study based on extensive bibliographical and archival research, Polymeris Voglis examines the Greek Civil War, 1946–1949, as a conflict that extends far beyond the limitations of its conventional periodization. He begins with a review of the prolific empirical and theoretical work about the Greek Civil War over the past 20 years, criticizing the new trends that stemmed from this explosion of academic and public interest in the Greek 1940s. Shaped primarily by the work of political scientists, such as Stathis Kalyvas, these trends have tended to deconstruct the (supposedly) dominant left-wing narrative by extensively discussing the violence of the Left from as early as 1943. They also tend to [End Page 271] emphasize the nonideological aspects of the fratricide and render the turmoil more as an escalation of violence, driven on both sides by depoliticized factors and motives.

Opposing these orientations, both as empirically disputable and politically biased, Voglis reiterates the interdependence of Civil War and social revolution. Through insightful references to modern civil war theory and literature (Skocpol 1979; Tilly 1998; Foran 2005), he reads the events from 1946 to 1949 as the climactic point of a violent and multifaceted sociopolitical conflict dating back to the years of the German Occupation (1941–1944). The systematic exposure of practically all civilians to an unprecedented chain of catastrophic circumstances—famine, impoverishment and unemployment, collapse of the state, persecution, and the terror of reprisal—both mobilized and politicized Greek society on an unprecedented scale. Given the realities of the domestic political system, the communist-backed resistance of the National Liberation Front (EAM), together with it military arm, the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), emerged as a ground-breaking agent of social change that not only disproved the legitimacy of the Axis powers and the puppet collaboration government but also challenged the foundations of the social and political order in Greece as a whole.

The key point in this analysis is the concept of shortage and supply. In the Greek case, the politics of territorial control, applied by the belligerents of any civil war or intestine conflict, were predetermined by a strenuous struggle for resources, which goes back to the Occupation period and whose sociopolitical implications can hardly be overestimated. In this respect, the crisis of representation that led to the events of December 1944 (Dekemvriana)—for Voglis, the turning point of the decade—was decisively linked to the most tangible aspect of the power struggle in postliberated Greece: the ways in which each of the rival political agents should (or could) address a starving population. Despite the fact that three-quarters of the countryside were still under of the control of EAM/ELAS even after its defeat in Athens, the latter had neither the resources nor the legitimacy to determine effectively the levels of well-being for the Greek citizenry. The anticommunist forces, backed by foreign support, were those which would inhabit the vacant field of state authority and consolidate their power around the shipments of relief aid being hoarded at the docks of Piraeus. This privilege gradually mutated to a tightened central control that exposed the astounding gap between the urban areas—primarily Athens—and the rest of the country. From 1945 onwards, the anticommunist shift of the state was generated by the production of a new economic space that tended to exclude the countryside in favor of the urban centers. [End Page 272]

In chapters 2 and 3, Voglis deals extensively with the politics of postwar reconstruction through extensive research on the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) archives. Here, Voglis not only documents how heavily Greece depended on international aid but also sketches out the pathogens of a domestic distribution system, hopelessly centralized and riddled by political tensions, paternalism, corruption, and clientelistic tendencies. All these factors account for the failure of restoring economic stability and social equality in a devastated land. To this point, however, Voglis avoids the kind of oversimplified certainty that follows from a politically biased analysis or a misplaced macrohistorical perspective concentrating on the devastation of the countryside, the proletarization of the peasants, and the crisis of the state. He emphasizes that within a year after liberation, stimulated by the staggering amounts of imported UNRRA foodstuffs, seed, livestock, and machinery, agricultural production grew fast enough to reach its prewar level, while by the beginning of 1946, the state apparatus was again powerful and its armed institutions fully functional.

The interrelatedness of state control, provisioning, and territoriality shape the main line of the argument in chapters 5 through 8. From 1947 onwards, the state antipartisan policy revolved around the deprivation of huge areas beyond state control from provisioning. This policy, according to Voglis, was initiated by the British troops during the Dekemvriana and latched onto an abstracted nationalism (ethnikofrosyni) rather than civility, or any other concept that would presuppose an undisputed popularity among the citizenry for a common identity. On the other hand, the periphery was as hostile towards the center as it had ever been before. This framework provides the book with solid assumptions about the intertwinement of high-level strategic evaluations and the ideological motivation of the rank and file. For Voglis, the growing unwillingness of many peasants to enroll in the partisan army was more the outcome of both this deliberate, state-fostered, scorched earth policy and the mass evacuation of civilians from the mountainous areas, and less the proof of an ipso facto unpopular communist cause. State repression after 1945 is thoroughly discussed as a key factor, backing up the assumption of political scientists who argue that it is often state violence itself that is responsible for pushing the opposition from nonviolent dissent towards armed rebellion. All Greek governments, including the more moderate ones, were amazingly ineffective (or unwilling) at preventing political disparity from translating into a rebel movement. In chapters 3 and 6, the story of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) reaffirms the notion that joining a group trying to make its way to political power—not necessarily all the way to state takeover—can be very [End Page 273] appealing to those facing persecution, arrest, torture, or even death by state authorities or paramilitary groups backed by the government.

This book is important because it constitutes a coherent social history of the Greek Civil War, examining the period from several different perspectives. It takes up understudied topics, poses a new set of scientific questions, and rereads old sources (such as military reports) in order to set the Greek Civil War in the wider context of contemporary Greek history. It also aims to address the issue of what the Greek example can tell us about the research field of civil wars as a whole. This merge between theorization and empirical work is probably the main reason why H αδύνατη επανάσταση can already be classified as an exemplary study that will be cited extensively within and outside the borders of the Greek academia.

Iason Chandrinos
University of Regensburg
Iason Chandrinos

Iason Chandrinos is Visiting Professor at the University of Regensburg, specializing in Modern Greek History. His PhD, defended in 2015 at the University of Athens (Department of History and Archaeology), entailed a comparative study of the German Occupation in the European cities. His research interests also include oral testimonies about the Occupation and the Civil War in Greece, the Holocaust, and the trauma experienced by Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors.


Foran, John. 2005. Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Skocpol, Theda. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tilly, Charles. 1998. Οι ευρωπαϊκές επαναστάσεις, 1492–1992 [European revolutions, 1492–1992]. Translated by Kostas Theologou (Κώστας Θεολόγου). Athens: Ellinika Grammata. [End Page 274]