✍ Resistance and Revolution in Mediterranean Europe, 1939-1948 [1989]

por Teoría de la historia

me8hHD-AV9TvqVGUzusO9LAThe historical importance of the resistance movements in Europe during the Second World War is to be found not in their contribution to the defeat of the Axis occupiers, which was marginal at best, but in the powerful political forces they unleashed upon their national arenas. Because communist parties played a key role in the promotion of large-scale wartime underground and guerrilla activity, national resistance legitimized the entire extreme left and emboldened it to challenge the prewar order. But if resistance brought communist parties out of relative obscurity and banishment into the political inner circle, the tasks faced by their leaders were dangerous and daunting: fighting the foreign enemy was the least complicated of their undertakings. To establish their credibility, they had to offer the promise of radical change basically consistent with their revolutionary vision—thus attracting a mass following—without, however, setting off an anticommunist reaction which could play into the hands of their domestic adversaries. Operating in Britain’s wartime sphere of influence, they had to assuage London’s traditional suspicion of them as Soviet agents and avoid giving the Churchill government an excuse to bolster their right-wing opponents even more than it was already doing. Finally, as communists, they had to balance their nationalist ambitions and urge to exploit opportunities at home against the wishes of Moscow, whose ideological authority they could never openly challenge, but whose infrequent signals were unhelpful and confusing. In the end, during the course of the war and in the early post-liberation period, communist leaders had to decide for themselves whether revolution was to be pursued as the immediate goal or merely as a distant aspiration. Choosing to follow totally different courses, Yugoslavia’s Tito and Italy’s Togliatti were remarkably successful, whereas the French and Greek communists fumbled and vacillated, with disastrous results for their movements. Whatever the outcome, and in dramatically different ways, the communists helped change the political landscape in their respective states and in the process added fuel to the emerging Cold War. Resistance movements and their political ramifications have, of course, been the subject of exhaustive scholarly study, and the resulting literature is by now enormous. With very few exceptions (an outstanding example is Henri Michel’s 1972 The Shadow War: European Resistance, 1939-1945), these studies deal with specific cases examined in isolation and make no attempt to compare the dynamics, leadership, tactics, and effectiveness of national resistance activity in different states. However valuable their findings, such narrow approaches result in a misleading perception of resistance as a unique and exceptional phenomenon. Therefore, Resistance and Revolution in Mediterranean Europe, 1939-1945 is a particularly welcome addition to the literature. Although the communist-led resistance activity in France, Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia is reviewed and evaluated in four separate chapters, a penetrating introduction and an informative section on the Comintern and Southern Europe are rich in comparative analysis. Moreover, the specialists dealing with the four case studies have adhered to a basically similar scheme, allowing the reader to draw conclusions of a comparative nature with relative ease. Thus credit for this well-written and useful volume belongs first of all to its editor, a professor of history at New York University. In his introduction, which offers the volume’s principal comparative findings, Judt shows that in sharp contrast to their marginality in prewar politics, Southern Europe’s communist parties came to command a powerful political force through the highly popular resistance organizations they created. As the day of liberation approached, they grappled with the question of what kind of revolution they would seek to usher in. Although their ideological character and ultimate objectives were not in doubt, these could not be translated into a blueprint for action, making it necessary for the leadership of each communist party to chart its own course and decide the strategy and tactics to be pursued. One of the more valuable points made in this volume, therefore, concerns the critical role played by party leaders in confronting the dangers and opportunities of the post-liberation power struggle. Thus the Italian communists receive high marks for their flexibility and moderation and the Yugoslavs for their boldness and unswerving determination to seize power immediately. The French and Greek party leaders, however, are depicted as confused and uncertain, contributing to the failure of the movements they spearheaded. All in all, nevertheless, “In the conditions of compromise and cooperation obtaining for most of the period 1935-48, the Communists had not much better idea of where they were going than did their opponents.” As for Stalin, what he demanded in the liberated countries was not a genuine revolution from below but Moscow-imposed regimes that were “servile and politically docile.” Geoffrey Swain’s chapter on the Comintern deals mostly with efforts to guide and control the Yugoslavs, with whom the headquarters of international communism had regular and direct contact; it has little specific to offer on similar efforts concerning the French and Italian parties. It contains virtually nothing of substance on the Greek party, presumably because in Moscow’s view it was the least important and most expendable of the four considered here, especially as it was operating within Britain’s sphere of responsibility. The author, who teaches history at Bristol Polytechnic, shows that throughout the period under review the Comintern was cautious in the extreme, seeking to dampen any enthusiasm for revolution and violent confrontation with the ideological opposition. Communists were instructed to cooperate with the bourgeois parties in promoting national resistance against the occupiers and to avoid all talk of revolution. In fact, the Comintern’s formal dissolution in May 1943, which came as an unpleasant surprise to Europe’s communists, was very probably Stalin’s signal of opposition— intended not only for his wartime Western allies but for his ideological underlings as well—to concerted communist revolutionary activity. The French communists’ wartime record, analyzed here by Lynne Taylor, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, is described as one of division, confusion, and lack of enthusiasm for the rigors of resistance activity. In the end, under Thorez, the party abandoned any lingering thought of revolution and supported De Gaulle so as not to be left out of his government. As a result, it lost its ideological legitimacy, together with whatever popular support it had earned during the war. The chapter on the Italian communists, by David Travis of the University of Washington, focuses on the remarkable role of Togliatti, whose progressive-democratic tactics and acumen turned the party into a major political force in the period immediately following the war. While enjoying Moscow’s approval from afar, before 1948 and the mounting tensions of the Cold War, the Italian communists were not under Soviet control but followed essentially their own political instincts. Despite a very promising start, however, their fate was not different from that of their French comrades. Haunted by their past, when they had failed to resist fascism, and compromised by their eagerness to be part of an ineffective coalition government (Togliatti served as minister of justice) and by their soft stand on the Catholic Church (support of the Lateran Pacts), the party leaders alienated their followers, brought on the electoral defeat of 1948, and ensured internal crisis. The chapter on the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which this journal’s readers will find especially interesting, is contributed by Haris Vlavianos and is based on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford. It briefly traces the party’s turbulent history through the 1920s and 1930s and shows that the KKE failed to generate popular support in large measure because of the Comintern’s high-handed control and disregard for Greek national aspirations. The cunningly brutal methods of the Metaxas dictatorship created fear and suspicion and threatened the party’s very existence. Yet with remarkable resilience, the KKE plunged into the wartime resistance and —through its political front, EAM— came to be regarded by many Greeks as a legitimate alternative to the defunct bourgeois parties. In the second half of 1944, unprepared to seize power by force as the Germans withdrew, the KKE in a series of compromises gave in to British pressure (and possibly Soviet advice) and entered George Papandreou’s government as a minor partner. Outmaneuvered by Papandreou, the communists stumbled into armed confrontation in Athens (December 1944) and were defeated by superior British troops. The failure of the Athens government and its British sponsors to honor the Varkiza agreement, which ended the fighting, and the widespread persecution of the entire republican left set the stage for renewed violence and civil war. The KICE’s chief, Zahariadis, who had spent the war years in a Nazi concentration camp, now opted for revolution. Vlavianos’s account essentially ends with the escalating violence of 1946, which marked the beginning of the four-year civil war. It treats the crisis as largely a domestic affair and attributes the communists’ defeat in 1949 primarily to the Stalin-Tito split, which deprived the insurgents of foreign assistance, while also blaming the East-West confrontation for aggravating Greece’s suffering. Like the other ones in this volume, Vlavianos’s essay is wellresearched, comprehensive, and sensibly argued. Of course, one can always find facts and interpretations to quibble about. For example, the Soviet military mission to Greece, which arrived in July 1944, did not parachute but landed unannounced at the Neraida airstrip, built and commanded by British officers who were clearly surprised and upset by the visit. More important, the “message” it brought to the KKE was hardly as clear and categorical as is suggested here (pp. 184-185). Ioannidis, on whose account Vlavianos relies, recorded that when he told one of the Soviet officers (Lt. Col. Chernichev) that if necessary the KKE was prepared to fight the British, the response was a “very characteristic grimace,” presumably expressing disdain and disapproval. As Ioannidis points out, beyond vague discouragement, such a delphic pronouncement left it to the KKE leadership to decide on how to deal with the British. Nor had the king agreed “by the end of September [1944] … to remain abroad, pending the conduct of a plebiscite” (p. 186) . Had the king agreed to such an arrangement prior to liberation, developments in Greece might well have taken an entirely different course. Finally, Vlavianos appears ambivalent on the principal cause of the insurrection in 1946. If, as he argues (pp. 196, 210), by February of that year Zahariadis had already opted for the revolutionary path, the party’s decision to boycott the elections in late March was a minor matter and a step consistent with a course already chosen, rather than a critical point, as the author would have it. More broadly, it is not clear whether Vlavianos attributes the civil war to Zahariadis’s reckless, ill-timed, and unrealistic ideological zeal or to the wholesale persecution of the left (especially the veterans of the antimonarchy resistance), which he also stresses. But these are relatively minor points of fact or interpretation in a generally solid piece of scholarly writing. The essay on the Yugoslav communist party, Tito’s KPJ, clearly the volume’s richest in both factual detail and interpretation, is by Mark Wheeler of the University of London. Stressing that Yugoslavia’s revolution was not inevitable, the author analyzes the KPJ’s differences from the other three parties covered here, the reasons why it alone among the four achieved victory, and the flexible and opportunistic tactics through which it succeeded in restructuring a multinational state under rigid communist control. Wheeler also traces the tug-of-war between the Comintern, which mistrusted and rebuffed the KPJ leaders’ revolutionary vision, and Tito’s endless and remarkably effective gyrations to placate Moscow, undermine Mihailovic and other domestic ideological foes, court the British, deflect the opposition of the Yugoslav government in London, and prepare to seize power at the moment of liberation, all the time fighting and evading the Axis occupation forces. In one of his many well-phrased conclusions, Wheeler sums up the crux of the controversy between the Yugoslav communists and Moscow, whose faithful disciples they wished to be: “Their problem—and Stalin’s— was that they also believed in themselves, their power, and their own revolution. Time was to show that communists desirous of keeping in communion with Moscow were permitted to believe in only one revolutionary incarnation” (p. 150). This is one of those rare collections of essays written for both the generalist and the specialist. Its chapters, which stand nicely separately, blend effectively into a coherent whole and combine factual description with useful comparisons, sophisticated analysis, and original interpretation. This volume makes a serious contribution to the understanding of twentieth-century European communism; resistance, revolutionary strategy, and tactics during the Second World War; Moscow’s efforts to guide and control communist parties; and some of the more obscure but important elements of the Cold War.

[John IATRIDES. “Tony Judt, editor, Resistance and Revolution in Mediterranean Europe, 1939-1948. New York: Routledge, 1989, pp. 221” (reseña), in Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora (Haverford), vol. XVII, marzo de 1991, pp. 131-135]