The Democratic Army of Greece: Foundation, Units, Officers, Forces, Losses, Social Composition
By Nikos Kyritsis
Book Review, Rizospastis, 9 February 2014
Transl.: Lenin Reloaded
Transl.: Lenin Reloaded
"They should have marched at once on Versailles [...] The right moment was missed because of conscientious scruples. They did not want to start the civil war, as if that mischievous abortion Thiers had not already started the civil war [...] However that may be, the present rising in Paris [...] is the most glorious deed of our Party."
Comrade Nikos Kyritsis chose these words of Karl Marx (Letter to Kugelman, April 1871) as an epigram for the first chapter of his book, capturing, through this parallel, the essence of the struggle of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) as the apogee of the class struggle in Greece. With this book, comrade Nikos Kyritsis defends in writing what he had defended with the rifle as a fighter and an officer of DSE, as a member and a cadre member of the KKE.
This book was not written as a study by a historian divorced from the contemporary class struggle, but as a contribution to the front against bourgeois and opportunist historiography. "My work doesn't aim to represent the entire course of the creation and development of DSE, for that work would demand collective effort. My research is a humble contribution to the presentation of the general principles of unit organization, of military administration, and of the gestation of a revolutionary generation of officers, as well as of DSE operations. It is also a rebuttal of the distortion of the history of DSE, as this has continued unabated, in different forms and with different excuses, by the bourgeoisie, the reformists and the renegades of the revolutionary movement" (p. 9).
From its first pages, the book reflects the class balance of forces and the political climate of the era -- the fact that the revolutionary movement originally lacked a clear goal for the seizing of power, for the crushing of the bourgeois state apparatus and the conquest of revolutionary worker power. In the early pages of the book, the author notes the slow pace of DSE development, initially in the form of rebel groups composed by persecuted militants, groups that as their name suggests were originally a form of responding to state violence and repression. The bourgeois state unleashed the most savage terror against the people's partisans, against the communists. It exploited the so called "parastate", that is to say armed forces that were guided directly by the state apparatus and had a far greater freedom than the official state to murder, steal, torture and commit any sort of crime.
The book follows the organization development of partisan struggle until the foundation of the Democratic Army of Greece, from the original organizational structure of rebel groups to the second organization structure of DSE, the creation of coordinated group activity, to the third organizational structure, the constitution of military headquarters. In October 1946, the General Staff was constituted, and on 22 December of the same year, the General Staff, through its orders, changed the name of partisan groups to "Democratic Army of Greece."
The author defends this choice against the opportunist critique that succeeded it (by Vafiadis, Partsalides, et al). The book politically and militarily defends the creation of DSE as a popular revolutionary army. To this end, it deploys the theoretical legacy of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Among others, this passage from Engels's text "On Authority": "A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough? Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction."
As comrade Nikos writes, and as he himself witnessed when he fought in DSE, rifle in hand:
The strength, the stamina, the morale and the heroic deeds of DSE forces, the virtues of the partisans, their ethical and psychological superiority, their faith in the justice of the struggle and in high ideals derived from the character and the aim of the new-born popular revolutionary army. The women and men fighters of DSE had a consciousness; they knew why they were fighting and giving their lives. Our popular emancipatory movement and the struggle of DSE were part of the international revolutionary movement and contributed to it, particularly in the defense and solidification of popular power in neighboring countries.
High virtues, values and ideals gave the great stamina and strength to DSE fighters to cope, for three and a half years, with the English, the Americans and their own bourgeoisie.
I consider correct the decision of the DSE leadership to create a Revolutionary People's Army; the evolution of the rebel groups that led to DSE staffing. This was demanded by the conditions and needs of the struggle. The opponent had as their goal the dissolution and extermination of rebel groups. DSE effectively cancelled out this bourgeois state plan by upgrading the partisan struggle to a higher level, to DSE.
In my humble view, the foundation of DSE came one year too late. It should have been founded in early 1946. Additionally, the decision to create DSE and its creation was not consistently accompanied by the development of its forces and of its supply. There were unjustifiable delays and some wasting of time in this aspect" (p. 198).
DSE as an organized army
It's worthwhile to observe the constitution of the Democratic Army as an organized army (within the framework of then existing capacities) through this book. Comrade Nikos, using his own technical military knowledge, moves to a comparatively extensive presentation of the structure of the different levels of the construction of the Democratic Army of Greece, (its staffing and technical equipment), from the basic group to the unit and to the military reserves of the General Staff. He also elaborates on the different special units and services (provisions, communications and information, health services, etc) within DSE, all of them necessary in the struggle.
The International dimension of DSE
The struggle of the Democratic Army had its own special weight on the defense of socialism against imperialism; so the DSE struggle was also an internationalist reference point in the peoples' struggle. On the other hand, DSE was the recipient of international aid, not only from the USSR and the People's Republics, but also from the people of other countries: France, Canada, etc. At the same time, the book provides data to underline the insufficiency of this aid, particularly in military equipment, which was less than that recorded in diferent archival sources from the period. Based on his immediate experience, the author poses the question: "Was the aid given to DSE from abroad in correspondence to the real needs, to the possibilities of its use for the class-based, anti-imperialist and internationalist character of DSE struggle?" He responds: "In my view, it wasn't. It ought to have been more, delivered in more timely fashion, and more productive."
Nikos Kyritsis also dwells on the further opportunities for DSE development that were not ultimately realized, for instance the use of an airforce, etc. He dwells quite extensively on the issue of foreign volunteers, something DSE didn't have, despite its initial interest in incorporating foreign volunteers in its ranks. This was ultimately rejected due to the intervention of parties from the People's Republics. The book responds to bourgeois propaganda on foreign volunteers but underlines the fact that there were hesitations in supporting and in generalizing the DSE struggle. Among other objective factors, it highlights the situation of the international communist movement: "The Third International had been dissolved. There was no decision center or center for coordinating the provision of aid to DSE. The information office that was founded at the end of 1947 was below par and could not fulfill the role of a coordinator" (p. 508).
Despite this fact, internationalist aid was a major chapter of DSE struggle and had many facets (diplomatic, economic, promotional, etc.). Also important was hospital aid in different countries. From the book's provided data, we isolate the reference to the biggest, if comparatively unknown DSE hospital, code named "250", which operated in the People's Republic of Poland, and specifically in Volin island in the Baltic Sea. In the location of an old German base, 27 buildings with a total size of 125.000 sq meters were repaired, and there 2,500 wounded fighters of DSE were hospitalized, particularly those bearing very heavy wounds in bones and skulls. As Nikos Kyritsis mentions, there were 7 specialized departments in "250": bone surgery, neurology, internal disease, general surgery, and a seventh department that included 12 specializations -- mouth disease, urinal disease, gynecological diseases, pediatric care, an X-ray section and others.
The "250" employed many dozens of doctors and 500 nurses (p. 262).
****Nikos Kyritsis passed away about a week before the publication of the above review.
Apart from this book, he wrote:
Democratic Army of Greece: Major milestones of the struggle (2003)
Inflation in contemporary Greece (1985)
and contributed to the following volumes:
Approaches to the state of the Greek working class (2000)
Changes in the economy and the class composition of Greek society, 1980-1994 (1996)
Contemporary issues in the Greek economy (1992)
Work and unemployment in Greece (1991).