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Greek and Bulgarian Peasants: Aspects of Their Sociopolitical Situation During the Interwar Period

  • Nicos Mouzelis (a1)


One of the most interesting features of Balkan politics during the interwar period has been the spectacular rise of peasant movements and parties which have had a profound influence on the social structure of these societies. The only Balkan country which did not experience a strong peasant movement was Greece. As I will try to argue below, the development of Balkan peasantism can be seen to a large extent as a political reaction to the strains and disruptions created by the increasing penetration of Western capitalism into this underdeveloped part of the world. Since this penetration was as strong in Greece as in the other Balkan countries during the interwar period, the failure of Greek peasants to organise themselves politically poses an interesting problem for anyone concerned with the past and present development of modern Greek society.



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I would like to thank Dr. R. J. Crampton, Professor K. Hopkins and Mrs. M. Serafetinidi for reading this paper and making helpful and encouraging comments. I would also like to thank Ian White for his help in translating Bulgarian material.

1 For an account of similarities in Balkan societies see Stavrianos, L. S., The Balkans since 1453 (New York, 1958), especially pages 96116, 137–53, 198214, 413–24;Seton-Watson, Hugh, Eastern Europe between the Wars, 1918–1941 (Cambridge, 1945);Iorga, N., Le caractere commun des institutions du Sud-Est de I'Europe (Paris, 1929), p. 138.

2 For statistics on railway, road and sea transport during the interwar years in the Balkans, cf. P.E.P. Economic Development in S.E. Europe (London, 1945), pp. 6079.

3 Cf. Stavrianos, , op. cit., p. 417; cf. also May, A. J., Trans-Balkan Railway Schemes’, Journal of Modern History, 12 1938, 496527.

4 It was calculated that in 1932 the total foreign debt per head of population was 378 Swiss francs for Greece and 118 for Bulgaria, (cf. Royal Institute of International Affairs, The Balkan States, London, 1936).

5 Cf. Stavrianos, , op. cit., p. 445.

6 Cf. Tsouderos, E. J., Le Ré lèvement Economique de la Grèce (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1920). For an account of Greece's financial position in the nineteenth century, cf. Levandis, A., The Greek Foreign Debt and the Great Powers 1821–1898 (New York, 1944).

7 A good indication of this is the predominance of an indirect system of taxation in all Balkan countries before and during the interwar period; Angelopoulos, cf. A., ‘Les Finances Publiques d'Etats Balkaniques’, Les Balkans, vol. 2, 09 1933, pp. 629ff.; Royal Institute of International Affairs, The Balkan States, London, 1936, p. 50.

8 For the interwar agrarian reforms in the Balkans, cf. Mitrany, D., Marx against the peasant (Chapel Hill, 1951);Evelpidi, C., Les Etats Balkaniques (Paris, 1930); for a survey of land tenure systems in various Balkan countries during the interwar period, cf. Moore, W. L., Economic Demography of Eastern and Southern Europe (Geneva, 1945), pp. 210–67.

9 Cf. Moore, W. L., op. cit., pp. 250–1;Bell, J. D., The Agrarian Movement in Bulgaria, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, 1970, ch. 1.

10 Cf. Mitrany, D., op. cit.,Morgan, O. S. (ed.), Agricultural Systems of Middle Europe (New York, 1933);Evelpidi, , op. cit.;Sideris, A., The Agricultural Policy of Greece 1833–1933 (in Greek), (Athens, 1934).

11 Cf. Moore, W. L., op. cit., pp. 1728.

12 Cf. Moore, W. L., op. cit., pp. 63, 71–2. For a more optimistic calculation of the labour surplus, cf. Spulber, N., The Economics of Communist Eastern Europe, pp. 275–6. For statistics on number of people per 100 hectares of cultivated land, cf. Tomasevich, J., Peasants, Politics and Economic Development in Yugoslavia (Stanford, 1955), p. 309.

13 Cf. Stavrianos, , The Balkans since 1453, op. cit. pp. 599ff;Spulber, N., The State and Economic Development in Eastern Europe (New York, 1966);Gerschenkron, A., Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (New York, 1962), pp. 198234;P.E.P., Economic Development in S.E. Europe, op. cit., pp. 39140.

14 For the concept of disarticulation which, I think, is very useful for characterising the Balkan economies of the interwar period, cf. Amin, S., L'accumulation du Capital a Vechelle mondiale (Paris, 1970), pp. 321ff.

15 Sectoral imbalances in the sense of having an overinflated service sector and a weak industrial sector; cf. Mouzelis, N. and Attaiides, M., ‘Greece’, in Archer, M. S. and Giuer, S., Contemporary Europe: Class, Status, Power (London, 1971).

16 For an analysis of Balkan peasant ideologies, cf. Peselz, Branko, Peasant Movements in South-eastern Europe, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Georgetown University, 1950.Dimitrov, G. M., ‘Agrarianism’ in Gross, F., European Ideologies, (New York, 1948); and Mitrany, , op. cit.

17 For a detailed history of Bulgaria's agrarian party, cf. Bell, J. D., The Agrarian Movement in Bulgaria, op. cit;cf. also Oren, M., Revolution Administered: Agrarianism and Communism in Bulgaria (Baltimore, 1973);Omelianov, A., ‘A Bulgarian Experiment’, in Sorokin, P. A. et al. , A Systematic Source Book in Rural Society, vol. II (Minneapolis, 1931).

18 For a short history of the Greek Agrarian Party, cf. Pournaras, D., The History of the Agrarian Movement in Greece (Athens, 1931).

19 For a very good historical account of the development of the Balkan merchant classes, cf. Stoianovich, T., ‘The conquering Balkan Orthodox merchant’ in Journal of Economic History, 1960, pp. 269–73.

20 Bulgarians and other Slav merchants started to challenge Greek commercial supremacy in the Eastern Balkans only after the treaty of Adrianople in 1829. By this treaty the Danubian principalities were allowed to engage in international trade.

21 Not only the Aegean coast but even the coastal areas around the Black Sea were predominantly inhabited by Greek, Jewish and Armenian people; cf. Stoianovich, , op. cit., p. 310.

22 Op. cit., p. 311.

23 Greece's cultural hegemony in the eighteenth century Balkans was not only due to its powerful merchant class. The position of the Greek Orthodox Church was another contributing factor. Before the establishment of autocephalous Slav nationalist churches the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople was administering the religious lives of all orthodox Christians, Greeks and non-Greeks. All important ecclesiastical positions were monopolised by Greeks, the Greek liturgy was imposed in all churches and Greek was made the language of instruction at schools; cf. Stavrianos, , op. cit., pp. 368ff.;cf. also Iorga, N., La Revolution Francaise et le Sud-Est de L'Europe (Bucharest, 1934).

24 The Greek war of independence (1821–27) brought a temporary halt to the commercial activities of the Greek merchant class. But this decline was temporar—at least as far as the Mediterranean trade was concerned. It recovered and flourished again after independence. As far as the overland inter-Balkan trade is concerned, due to the emergence of Balkan nationalisms and to other unfavourable conditions (e.g., brigandage), it declined in a more or less permanent way at the beginning of the nineteenth century; cf. Stoianovich, , op. cit., p. 312.

28 The term modernisation is used here in a rather specific way. It refers mainly to ‘the process by which an underdeveloped region changes in response to inputs (ideologies, behavioural codes, commodities and institutional models) from already established industrial centres; a process which is based on that region's continued dependence upon the urban-industrial metropolis’. In contrast to this, development refers to the process by which an underdeveloped region attempts to acquire an autonomous and diversified industrial economy on its own terms; cf. Schneider, P. et al. , ‘Modernisation and Development’ in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 06, 1972, p. 340.

29 For instance the first Greek constitutions were inspired by the French experience; and, although Capo d'Istria and later King Otto tried to implement a more traditional absolutist model of government, their efforts were ultimately frustrated.

27 Cf. Stavrianos, , op. cit., pp. 364ff.

28 A turning point in the cultural relationships between Greece and Bulgaria was the establishment of an autonomous Bulgarian church in 1870 which put an end to the religious hegemony of the Greek Patriarchate at Constantinople; cf. Karpathios, E. S., ‘Bulgaria, Church’ in Great Hellenic Encyclopaedia, VII, 672–82.

29 This difference is even reflected in the actual content of Bulgarian nationalist ideologies which have a rather ‘defensive’ character; for instance Father Paisii, who wrote the first Bulgarian history, makes a continuous effort to persuade his readers that Bulgarians are as good or even better than the Greeks. There is also an attempt to contrast Bulgaria's rural virtues to evil Greek urbanism (cf. Pundeff, M., ‘Bulgarian Nationalism’, in Sugar, P. and Lederer, I. J. (eds.) Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Washington, 1969), p. 102.

30 Cf. P.E.P., Economic Development in S.E. Europe, op. cit., p. 129 and Deldycke, T. et al. , The Working population and its structure (Brussels, 1968).

31 Cf. Karavidas, K. D., Agrotika (in Greek), (Athens, 1931), pp. 125–36 and 201–68.

32 On the Zadruga family system, cf. Mosely, P. E., ‘The Peasant Family: The Zadruga or Communal Joint-Family in the Balkans and its recent evolution’ in Ware, C. F. (ed.), The Cultural Approach to History (New York, 1940), 95108. For a contrast of Greek and Bulgarian family institutions during the interwar period, cf. Karavidas, , op. cit., pp. 201–68.

33 Daniilides, D., Modern Greek Society and Economy (in Greek), (Athens, 1934), pp. 126–42.

34 Mitrany, , op. cit., pp. 118–9.

35 Cf., for instance, Wolf, E., Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (London, 1971), pp. 276302; cf. also Alavi, H., ‘Peasants and Revolution’, in Miliband, R. and Saville, J. (eds.), The Socialist Register (London, 1965), pp. 290ff.

36 On the foreign origin of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie, cf. Stoianovich, , op. cit;cf. also Pasic, N., ‘Factors in the Formation of nations in the Balkans and among the Southern Slavs’, International Social Science Journal, 1971, No. 3, pp. 419ff.

37 Cf. Karavidas, , op. cit., pp. 125–6.

38 Iorga, N., ‘The French Revolution and South Eastern Europe’ in Fischer-Galati, S. (ed.), Man, State and Society in East European History (New York, 1970), p. 131.

39 Cf. Popoff, K. G., La Bulgarie Economique (Sofia, 1920), pp. 83134.

40 Cf. Kunin, Petko, The Agrarian and Peasant Problem in Bulgaria (in Bulgarian), (Sofia, 1971), Ch. 1.

41 Kunin, , op. cit., pp. 61ff.

42 Cf. Kordatos, J., Pages from the Agrarian Movement of Greece (Athens, 1964), pp. 143ff.

43 Cf. Afendakis, D. N., Agricultural Credit in Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece (in Greek), (Athens, no date);Evelpidi, M. C., ‘La Cooperation aux pays Balkaniques dans le domaine du credit agricole’, Les Balkans, vol. 4, pp. 732–46,Popov, K., Aspects of the Creation and Development of the Cooperative Movement in Bulgaria (in Bulgarian), (Sofia, 1924).

44 Gerschenkron, , op. cit., p. 222.

45 Shanin, T., The Awkward Class (London, 1927), part two.

From Popoff, K. G., op. cit., p. 97.

47 Cf. Moore, W. E., op. cit., pp. 7791 and 250–2.

48 Cf. Sideris, A. D., op. cit.;Servatis, G. and Pertounzi, C., ‘The Agricultural Policy of Greece’ in Morgan, O. S.(ed.), Agricultural Systems of Middle Europe (New York, 1933), 137200;Evelpidi, C., op. cit., pp. 89ff.

49 Cf. for instance Lipset, S. M., Agrarian Socialism (New York, 1950);Wolf, E., ‘On Peasant Rebellions’ in Shanin, T. (ed.), Peasants and Peasant Societies (London, 1971) pp. 264–74.

50 For instance, L. Sayles argues, on the basis of a study of several hundred groups within industrial organisations, that groups whose members were ‘homo-genous’ (in the sense of having the same economic position and interests and of sharing other social characteristics) showed a very high degree of solidarity and were more prone to engage in collective action for the promotion of their interests (cf. Behaviour of Industrial Work Groups, New York, 1958). As far as trade union organisation is concerned, a similar link between ‘homogeneity’ and working class militancy is made by Kerr, C. and Siegel, A. cf. ‘The Interindustry Propensity to Strike’ in Kornhauser, A. et al. (eds.), Industrial Conflict (New York, 1954), pp. 189212.

51 Figures taken from Lineton, M. J., Mina Present and Past—Depopulation in a village in Mani, Southern Greece, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Kent, 1971, p. 276; cf. also Moustaka, C., The Internal Migrant, Social Sciences Centre Monograph (Athens, 1964);Hazoglou, S., ‘Internal Migration’ (in Greek), in Spoudai, No. 4, 19651966;Baxevannis, J., ‘Population, Internal Migration and Urbanization in Greece’, Balkan Studies, 6 (1965), pp. 8398.

52 For the relatively high percentage of peasants' sons in higher education in Greece, cf. Lambiri-Dimaki, J., ‘Les chances d'accès a l'enseignement en Gr' in Castel, R. and Passeron, J., Education, Development et Democratie (Paris, 1967).

53 Lineton, , op. cit., p. 175.

54 Cf. Stefanov, I., ‘Socio-economic Changes and Internal Migration in Bulgaria’, in Frijling, B. W. (ed.), Social Change in Europe (Leiden, 1973), p. 40. According to the last pre-Second World War census the Bulgarians living in localities with over 20,000 inhabitants amounted to only 12.7 percent of the total population. (cf. P.E.P. Economic Development in S.E. Europe, op. cit., p. 81). Even as late as 1955 the percentage was 15.3 percent, cf. Russett, , World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators (New Haven, 1964), p. 52.

55 Cf. article on ‘Greece’, Great Greek Encyclopaedia, p. 234; cf. also Fairchild, H. P., Greek Immigration to the United States, New Haven, 1911;Krikos, A., Greek Emigration to the New World (in Greek),Saloutos, T., The Greeks in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1964).

56 Cf. Roucek, J., ‘Les Boulgares d'Amérique’, Balkans, vol. 9., pp. 5570.

57 Apart from agrarianism, communism was also a very significant political force in interwar Bulgaria; cf. Rothschild, J., The Communist Party of Bulgaria 1883–1936 (New York, 1959);Jackson, D. G., Comintern and Peasant in East Europe, (New York, 1966);Burks, R. V., The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Princeton, 1961);Seton-Watson, Hugh, The Eastern European Revolution (London, 1950).

58 Cf. Angelopoulos, A., op. cit., pp. 674–9.

59 Cf. Petropoulos, J., Politics and Statecraft in the Kingdom of Greece 1833–1843 (Princeton, 1968); cf. also Campbell, J. and Sherrard, Ph., Modern Greece (London, 1968), pp. 83126.

60 For the early struggles between the state and various local elites, cf. N, Diamandouros, Political Modernization: Social Conflict and Cultural Cleavage in the Formation of the Modern Greek State 1821–28, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 1972.

61 Dicey, E., The Peasant State (London, 1894), p. 145.

62 Of course following Michel's ‘Law of oligarchy’, one can argue that, taking into account the bourgeois origins of some of the peasant leaders and the unavoidable ‘corruption’ which followed their taking of power, the Agrarian Union was not very different from other bourgeois parties. But this position does not take into account the radical policies which the Agrarian Union did in fact pursue both on the international and the national levels. For instance, as far as foreign policy is concerned, Stamboliiski reversed completely the militaristic and ‘irredentist’ policies of his predecessors and promoted a policy of peaceful cooperation among all Balkan nations. On the national level, he tried to discourage large scale industrialisation and sought a path to development which could profit the peasants and safeguard their village communities. Of course, one could argue that a policy which tries to achieve economic growth without the painful disruption of peasant life is Utopian (cf. Moore, B., The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (London, 1967)). But the important point is that such policies were attempted and they did pose a real challenge to the traditional Bulgarian establishment.

63 Cf. for instance Stewart, A. ‘Populism: The Social Roots’, in Gellner, E. and Ionescu, G. (eds.), Populism (London, 1969).

64 For a review of such theories and an interesting reformulation, cf. Allcok, J. B., ‘Populism: A Brief Biography’ in Sociology, 09 1971, pp. 371–88.

65 Of course, it must be pointed out that being ‘drawn in’, i.e., greater integration to the centre, by no means implies a more balanced, less painful adaptation to the strains of rapid change. There is no indication that Greek peasants were better off than the Bulgarians during the interwar years. If anything, the opposite could be the case. For instance, just before the Second World War, Greece together with Portugal and Albania had the lowest calorie consumption rate in Europe: 2,300 to 2,500 calories daily per inhabitant (cf. Stavrianos, , op. cit., p. 683).

66 Concerning peasant studies, E. Wolf, for example, in examining the revolutionary potential of the peasantry in Russia, Mexico, Cuba, Algeria, China and Vietnam emphasises geographical and social isolation as factors conducive to peasant mobilisation (Peasant Revolutions, op. cit., pp. 276302). Interestingly enough, similar generalisations seem relevant insofar as non-peasant working-class organisation is concerned. For instance, C. Kerr and A. Siegel in an article examining the propensity to strike in various industries explain the high degree of trade union organisation and militancy among miners, longshoremen and of those working in the maritime industry in terms of homogeneity of economic position and of their relative isolation from the larger community (cf. ‘The Interindustry propensity to strike’, op. cit., pp. 189212). Similar points about isolation and its relevance to militancy in trade unions have been made by Sayles, and Strauss, , op. cit., pp. 148–9, 197202, and Lipset, et al. , op. cit., pp. 106–40.

67 For an attempt to produce this type of generalisations about peasants, cf. Rogers, E. M., Modernisation among Peasants: The Impact of Communication (New York, 1969).

68 Cf. for instance Pearse, A., ‘Peasants and Revolution: the case of Bolivia’, Economy and Society, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 266ft.

69 More concretely, to take the Stamboliiski argument for instance, although his charisma helped tremendously the revival of the Agrarian Union after a temporary decline in 1909, it is quite certain that a Greek Stamboliiski could have not found a similarly favourable field for developing his potentialities. Moreover, I do not think that it is accidental that Venizelos, the Greek statesman who compares with Stamboliiski in terms of charisma, did not become the champion of the peasants but of the rising Greek bourgeoisie. As far as the ‘defeat at wars’ argument, this does not explain why the Agrarian Union became the major opposition party in Bulgaria before the Balkan wars.


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