- The British Labour Government and the Greek Civil War: The Imperialism of ‘Non-Intervention’
The postwar Greek crisis and its international dimensions have been the focus of much scholarly attention and the resulting literature is extensive. Thus the need for yet another full-scale study of the subject may not be obvious, particularly since virtually all the relevant primary sources—including the British and American diplomatic records—have been available for more than two decades while Soviet and other communist sources are not yet accessible. That such a conclusion may be hasty and unwarranted is amply demonstrated by this impressive volume by Thanasis D. Sfikas, who teaches European political history at the University of Central Lancashire. The book’s major theme is that Britain continued to play a key role in Greek developments even after the Truman Doctrine (March 1947) had brought the more highhanded (and richer) Americans actively on the scene. In the process of building his case for Britain’s “imperialism of ‘non-intervention’” (which he contrasts to Churchill’s wartime full-fledged interventionist imperialism) the author explores all domestic and external aspects surrounding the Greek civil war. Making excellent use of archival records and other unpublished sources, he presents a meticulous account rich in detail and analysis. Although its conclusions are neither particularly startling nor likely to persuade every reader, the book informs and challenges all who study contemporary Greek history and the origins of the cold war in Europe.
The opening chapter offers a brief introduction to Greek politics in the interwar period when the nation’s hopelessly divided and small-minded party leaders brought about their own banishment at the hands of Metaxas, who imposed his dictatorship with the support of King George II. Following the country’s defeat and occupation, the communists emerged as the driving force behind a mass resistance movement (EAM/ELAS), which offered the only coherent program for national recovery and reconciliation—even if its “assertion of authority” at times involved excesses and “ruthlessness.” However, the Greek Left was destined to be defeated as Britain’s traditionally powerful role in Greek public affairs became predominant in the course of World War II. With “apostolic zeal,” Churchill engineered the return of King George and the crushing of the Left, thus retaining Greece firmly in Britain’s strategic hold. Examining the December 1944 violent upheaval in Athens, the author criticizes all protagonists, and especially George Papandreou, for their ineptitude and duplicity, but reserves his harshest comments for Churchill, whom he describes as intentionally precipitating a military showdown with EAM/ELAS. In the end, superior British power decided the outcome and set the stage for the British “protectorate” that was to follow, even after the Conservatives Churchill and Eden had been replaced by Labor’s Attlee and Bevin.
In his review of the pivotal period between the Varkiza agreement (which ended the December 1944 fighting) and the national elections of March 1946, Sfikas argues that all hope for compromise and reconciliation was dashed by the [End Page 373] “White Terror” unleashed by the Greek Right and condoned by the British, who found it offensive but preferred it to the alternative of permitting the empowerment of the Left. In the transition from occasional violence to full-scale civil war, the Left is depicted as simply the victim of rightist brutality, while the communists’ “self-defense” tactics are found to be justified. More important to the author’s central theme, the Labor government is described as pursuing its predecessor’s imperialistic policy of keeping Greece outside the Soviet Union’s expanding sphere and on Britain’s “side of the fence.” The victory of the Right in the 1946 elections is blamed on Bevin’s refusal to allow a postponement that would have produced a fairer outcome and been the basis for eventual national reconciliation. With King George restored to his throne and the Right in power, the Labor government appeared content to exercise its control of Greece indirectly (thus “non-intervention”), through...