Britain and Greece, then and now


This video about Greece is called Our Present is Your Future: How to destroy public health services.

By Kevin Ovenden in Britain:

Athens stands on the verge of its liberation

Saturday 17th January 2015

KEVIN OVENDEN reports from the Greek capital on the eve of its historic opportunity to break with the capitalist cabal

IN THE perfidious annals of Britain’s imperial history, our treatment of Greece ranks petty close to the East India Company’s beggaring of Bengal.

Sure, Britain recognised the creation of the proto-modern Greek state in 1828.

London’s preoccupation at that time was with cherry-picking territory from the declining Ottoman empire.

But the British Establishment moved quickly to extinguish any Greek radical democratic tendencies, whether they drew on the traditions of classical Athens or prefigured the democratic revolutions which were to sweep Europe in 1848.

The British Empire orchestrated the imposition of a monarchy as the most conservative outcome of the political crisis which engulfed the fledgling state.

Not just any old monarch — a Bavarian. Otto was of course related to the Germans on the throne in London.

In he sailed on a British warship in 1833 — and out the same way to national opprobrium three decades later.

Further meddling ensued.

It’s remarkable just how modern in their mendacity were the professed concerns of the likes of Liberal prime minister Gladstone for what we now know as “human rights.”

Royal Navy gunboats were deployed in the eastern Mediterranean and British diplomats issued offers to Balkan potentates which they would be unwise to refuse.

The most monstrous betrayal of liberal ideals in order to preserve liberal — that is anti-socialist, capitalist — economic and social relations came in the 20th century.

Greece was the battleground for one of the most inspiring and effective partisan wars against the nazis anywhere in Europe.

The Greek Communist Party led the resistance.

It was the nursery for all the later developments of the country’s left, including — by way of a very convoluted history — the particular offshoot which now comprises the backbone of Syriza, the radical left party set to win the historic general election in Athens a week on Sunday.

The retribution exacted on the Greek people was greater than anywhere else outwith the eastern front.

While communist partisans ambushed the Wehrmacht, the Greek oligarchs set up a “government” in exile.

They bivouacked with the British army in Egypt, Palestine or wherever else resources were ill-served in the fight against Hitler but of supreme importance in preserving the British empire, for a few more years at any rate.

London did not wait for the fall of Berlin before firing the first shots of what would become the cold war.

On entering an already liberated Athens late in 1944, it sided with the simulacrum of a state which was the monarchy and its hangers on.

In December, Britain orchestrated the gunning down of 28 unarmed demonstrators on a massive popular protest led by the left. Thousands more were killed in the weeks which followed.

Britain and the US openly sided with wartime collaborators in the civil war against the left between 1945 and 1949. That resulted in near three decades of illegality and exile for the defeated communist movement.

The post-war Labour government in Britain did, of course, make some creditable inroads in domestic reform — the extension of the welfare state and the creation of the NHS most obviously.

No internationalist — and thus no socialist worth the name — can, however, ignore the fact that in foreign policy the so-called golden years of British Labourism were stained in the blood of freedom fighters and progressives, beginning in Greece.

Modernising social democracy of the 1960s was no better. There were no serious measures from Harold Wilson’s Labour government to defend democracy in Greece when right-wing colonels launched a coup in 1967.

And despite the presence of the deeply humane liberal Lord Caradon as the valedictory governor of Cyprus, Britain’s policy towards the island could not have been more calculated to undermine democratic progress.

It sowed enmity between its Greek and Turkish peoples.

I rattle these skeletons of our national history not to provoke a sense of Catholic guilt, nor as backhanded exculpation of the monstrous Greek oligarchs.

They needed no guidance from Washington or London when it came to quite simply murdering the Greek left, Grigoris Lambrakis, Nikos Beloyannis and so many others.

Recalling this past is not a signal to the left in Britain today to fall back on nostrums.

There is no excuse for not engaging with the manifold and living reality unfolding in Greece as it stands on the threshold of decisively rejecting the parties of austerity and breaking the pro-capitalist consensus that has dominated Europe even during the worst crisis of capitalism for 80 years.

Being mindful of this history does, however, give us a clear compass for how the labour movement and the left should react now to the imminent electoral victory of the radical left after 70 years of defeat and several missed opportunities.

EU officials rather than gunboats are the primary vehicles today for frustrating the aspirations of a people who have suffered, more than any in Europe, from the occupation of our lives by austerity and reheated neoliberalism.

Britain may not be in the euro, but the financial squeeze and capital flight which are openly touted as sticks with which to discipline the new government will be launched from London, the most important finance centre in Europe, as much as from Brussels.

And expect no latitude from the Eurosceptic Tories or Ukip for a nation facing humiliation by the unelected troika of the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and EU commission.

For Greece is moving to the left. It is set to elect a government of the left. The Communist Party of Greece is set to separately elect more than a dozen MPs. And just about every part of the variegated left is growing.

Despite the strained populism about national sovereignty from Nigel Farage or Tories facing defeat in their constituencies in May, there is a great line of division.

The labour and social movements in Greece, and the best of the left’s traditions — of the kind which defeated the nazi occupation and the Colonels’ junta — point to something far more terrible for the British right than an overweening Brussels.

They offer an internationalist rejection of all the elites of the kind which, to borrow the title of one of the most famous songs by the legendary popular singer and communist Maria Dimitriadi in the 1970s, says, “Autous tous exo varethi” (I’m sick of the lot of them).

This music video from Greece is called Autous tous exo varethi, by Maria Dimitriadi.

A deluge of questions flow from this moment in Greece. Will Syriza buckle under pressure or open a new chapter of hope? Can life for the mass of people become tolerable under the intolerable structures of the euro and EU?

In the spirit of radical, plebeian democracy I hope that the left in Britain and internationally throws itself into those debates, just as all its counterparts in Greece are.

But this must be on one condition — that we in Britain bend all of what we think, do and say in relation to Greece around resisting our own government, the City of London and all of them.

What we may do in the first instance may be symbolic. But symbols set a direction. Let’s join the hopeful debate arising from the land which gave the world democracy, but with some undisputed and unified political positions.

To the bankers and establishment in Europe and Britain — hands off Greece. To the peoples from all corners of the world suffering on our continent, all eyes to Athens.

Don’t let them fight alone.

Kevin Ovenden is being funded to cover Syriza’s general election campaign by Philosophy Football via the sales of their Syriza: Greek for Hope tees.

A critical reaction to this article is here.

3 thoughts on “Britain and Greece, then and now

  1. Pingback: Britain and Greece, then and now | The Socialist

  2. Pingback: Greek elections, international observers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Indian uprising, 1857, a bloody warning to today’s imperial occupiers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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