The impossible revolution: The social dynamics of civil war by Polymeris Voglis (review)
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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...


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