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Churchill replied that valorous action against the Germans did not entitle the popular movements to become masters of their countries, adding, guiltily: ‘Democracy is no harlot to be picked up in the street by a man with a tommy-gun.’ 20 At British prompting, Papandreou ordered ELAS be disarmed and disbanded. A demonstration in Athens against the move were fired, on killing scores. Afterwards Harold Macmillan had tea with Papandreou, and noted in his diary that ‘The Greek bourgeois class is determined to eliminate the Greek Communists and will fight to the last British soldier to do it.’ 21 ELAS fighters struck back and, disastrously, took a number of hostages. A Britishbrokered peace agreement at Varkiza rubber-stamped the disarming and breaking up of the Resistance – as well as shifting the blame for the violence on the Communists.22 At the Caserta Conference Scobie had been granted authority over Greece’s armed forces. With cynical clarity Regional Command in Athens was given to the Fascist Colonel Spiliotopolous. As the Germans withdrew, they handed over command of their local Security Battalions, anti-Resistance forces that had been characterised as ‘enemy organisations’ at Caserta, to the British. Scobie’s orders to Spiliotopolous were ‘when the Germans withdraw or surrender, you will instruct the Battalions to desert to their homes (and hide) or to surrender to our forces’.
All the while that the British were demanding ELAS be disarmed, the Security Battalions and General Grivas’ pro-Nazi ‘X’ group were slaughtering resistance fighters.
Their war against ELAS would carry on for another five years.
The Greek Civil War is often claimed as the opening salvo in the Cold War. For the Americans, who took over Britain’s sponsorship of the Special Battalions’ war against the former resistance fighters that was true. For Stalin, though, there was no question that his
agreement with west that Greece should remain in their sphere of influence should hold:
‘The Greek revolution should be stopped immediately’, he told Milovan Djilas.25 The brutality of the reaction left little room for constitutional politics, which played out as a parlour game while war raged in the hillsides. Stefanos Sarafis, released from prison in 1948 was killed when a US officer crashed into his car in 1957. ELAS fighters were held in brutal torture camps into the 1960s for the crime of defending their country against the German occupation.26
Italy Many Allied officers and troops were angry at the opportunistic way that the Badoglio government had been allowed to have Italy reclassified as a belligerent against Germany, when just moments before it had been part of the Axis. Their cynicism towards the Italian Fascist Council’s anti-Fascist credentials was justified. But the Italian partisans had indeed taken up arms against the German occupation of northern Italy, at great cost. The Committees of National Liberation set up in Italian cities were a beacon to a people who had been suppressed and starved under Mussolini, and sacrificed to a pointless war.
In 1943 the Allied forces under General Alexander were pressing north against the Wehrmacht. In May Alexander told the Times that the Italian partisans were holding down six of the 25 German divisions in the country. On 6 June Alexander issued a proclamation calling on the partisans to be ready for an insurrection that summer. Emboldened, partisans declared liberated areas all over northern Italy. But as we have seen, the Allied push stopped, and the Wehrmacht and the SS exacted a terrible price from the partisans, who had been encouraged to show themselves. On 13 November Alexander broadcast to the partisans saying that the invasion would be delayed till the following year, and that they should ‘save their munitions and matériel until further orders’. ‘It was a grave setback for the resistance’, remembered Roberto Battaglia, but to the Germans ‘it was a tonic’: ‘they decided to make the most of the respite and deal the partisans a crushing blow’.27 Special Operations Executive Officer Basil Davidson judged that the broadcast ‘in effect was an invitation to the partisans to disband, and to the enemy to come up and finish them off while they were doing it’.28 Leaving the partisans to face the wrath of the Wehrmacht over the closing months of 1943 reduced the number of militants they would have to deal with later. But the Allies knew that they would have to take control if the partisans were not to get the credit for defeating the occupiers. In January 1945 British and American political advisors wrote that ‘speed in getting ourselves established is the essential factor; without this there is a real danger of extreme Communist elements taking control regardless of the AMG or the Italian government.’ 29 When the Armistice was signed with Badoglio, Nye Bevan told the House of Commons that it ought to have been signed with the striking workers and peasants of Milan.30 A survey of post-war Italy for Chatham House recalls ‘by the time the war ended, these liberation committees and the parties that composed them, had come to occupy an important position’ 31 But the Allies had no intention of handing power to the militant partisans in the North. The Allies closed down CLNs in Arezzo, Siena and Viareggio, only acquiescing to them where they were too strong to be challenged, as in Florence. ‘Care will be taken’, said US Captain Ellery Stone ‘to prevent these committees setting themselves up as alternative government’.32 Harold Macmillan, who talked to Stone in January 1945 about the danger of
Italy going the way of Greece, noted in his diary:
Unless we are very careful we will get another EAM/ELAS situation in northern Italy.
The operations of the SOE in arming nearly 100 000 so-called patriots will produce the same revolutionary situation, unless we can devise a system for taking them, immediately on the liberation of the territory, into either our, or the Italian Army. Then in return for pay and rations, we may be able to get hold of their weapons. The lesson of Greece is that nothing matters except “disarmament”. The political questions are the excuse for retaining armed power.33 Italian industrialists who had long collaborated with the Fascist regime briefly lost control of their factories, like Fiat in Turin that was patrolled by armed partisans. Valerio, head of the Edison electrical company called for ‘the immediate construction of a strong force for public order, composed of some 100,000 men, capable of overpowering an armed population’. Fiat Managing Director Valletta had been condemned as a collaborationist by the regional CLN, but when men were sent to seize him he was under the protection of an English Liaison Officer ‘who presented a safe conduct pass for Valletta’. Rocco Piaggio hoped that the Allies would take over Italian industry to save it from the partisans.34 According to one witness in Emilia.
Those weeks after the liberation were weeks of joy, but also of anxious and vain expectation that a substantial measure of social justice would be applied. The Allies blocked even the most modest initiative which seemed to prejudice the principle of private property. Their stay as occupiers was therefore more than welcome to the forces of conservatism.35 Italian Fascists like Prince Valerio Borghese were secured from partisan reprisals, too.
Sentenced to hang by the CLN he was rescued by the celebrated CIA agent James Angleton, on orders from US Proconsul Ellery Stone, and whisked away in a US army uniform.36 When Badoglio asked if he could put the veteran Fascist Dino Grandi into his cabinet, ‘General Mason-Macfarlane at this moment pointed out that it would be necessary to make use of some men who in the past have been associated with Fascism, owing to the twenty years that have passed.’ 37 As they were trying to stabilise the Italian order, the Allies finally won out against the radical partisans with the help of the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti, who returned from Moscow in March 1944. The Soviet Union, irked at the western Allies’ determination to keep her out of the administration of Italy, had recognised the Fascist Badoglio’s government, to gain diplomatic leverage – and Togliatti had called on all antiFascists in a radio broadcast from Moscow to ‘rally round the Badoglio government’.38 At Togliatti’s insistence the line was held, and the Committees of National Liberation too recognised Badoglio. Dogmatically Togliatti held that the stage of ‘democratic revolution’ must precede that of social revolution, and so counselled his supporters restrict their wider ambitions in favour of ‘continuity of the state’.39 Harold Macmillan noted of the Soviet delegates Bogolomov General Solodvinik, that ‘their apparently cynical support of the King and Badoglio has temporarily strengthened the latter and somewhat baffled all but the more hard-bitten and disciplined members of the Communist Party in Italy.’ 40 As the Allies policed the partisans on the streets, the PCI policed them ideologically, and instead of aiming for power, the CLNs were used as a springboard to win Togliatti a seat in a new cabinet set up by the Allies. Communist historian G. Manacorda described how the CLNs were used to pull back from factory-workers’ attempts to take over the factories: ‘a concrete case’ he said, ‘of the self-limitation of the revolution, a political intervention aimed at preventing the spontaneous movement of the working class from reaching towards socialist objectives’.
The American OSS (forerunner of the CIA) had already worked out that ‘it is doubtful whether Russia wished to convert Italy into a Communist state’.41 By 1947 the OSS had become the CIA and its assessment of the communist threat was no longer based on fact, but on the new Cold War ideology: ‘It is of vital importance to prevent Italy from falling under Communist control.’ 42 America’s ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce (wife to Life publisher Henry Luce) used Marshall Aid to bankroll the fledgling Christian Democratic Party. There was of course no Communist threat. But under the cover of fighting communism the US could justify interfering in the Italian political process for the next thirty years.
An Anglo-American Invasion of the Balkans?
The collapse of Germany’s eastern empire brought a sudden change in the balance of forces between the main Allies, America, Britain and the Soviet Union – to Russia’s advantage, and Britain’s disadvantage.
At the Allied conference in Teheran in 1943 Churchill put the plan for an AngloAmerican invasion of the Balkans, rather than an invasion of France. It was a ‘scheme for a joint British, American and Russian occupation of the Balkans.’ To Stalin, though, it seemed ‘that the purpose of his new plan was to forestall a Russian occupation of the Balkan lands’, says radical historian Isaac Deutscher.43 Churchill’s plans were transparent. Germany was already in serious trouble in the east, largely because of the resistance put up by partisans in Yugoslavia, Greece, Byelorussia and the Ukraine, and the Soviet Army was driving Germany back. The Anglo-American drive into the Balkans would have been an action against the Soviet rivals, not the Germans.
Roosevelt was not impressed by Churchill’s arguments, and told his son Elliott after the first day of the Teheran Conference ‘I see no reason for putting the lives of American soldiers in jeopardy in order to protect real or fancied British interests in the European continent’.44 Looking back, many are surprised that Roosevelt was so unmoved by the fear that the Soviet Union would dominate East Europe. General Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth US Army wrote afterwards that not backing Churchill’s plan was ‘one of the outstanding political mistakes of the war’.45 But that is to read history backwards. The United States did not have the capacity to beat Germany in the east; still less so did Britain. US policy was set out at the
Quebec Conference, august 1943, in a War Department Memorandum: