As events in Greece open up a new epoch that could change the face of Europe and the world, it is important to trace the historical roots of the Greek crisis. Before the current crisis, the last period of major social upheavals in Greece was the 1970s – notably the time from the overthrow of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974 to the election of the first PASOK government in 1981. During that period, the author made several visits there and made a special study of modern Greek history. The following article was first serialised in the British newspaper MILITANT in 1977. Viewpoint is sharing this document with WIN (Workers’ International Network).
That is how the semi-dictator of 1955-63, forced to flee the country in disguise and under a false name eleven years previously, managed to fly back to cheering crowds in 1974. He flew back in the private jet of his friend Giscard d’Estaing, and was sworn into office by the gangster president Gizikis, still wearing military uniform and dark glasses, Pinochet-style. Karamanlis’ plan was clear.
The disgraced crook of 1963, awkwardly draped in the mantle of democracy, was the best Greek capitalism could come up with as a “symbol of unity”. He posed as the saviour of Greece from the dictatorship installed by Papadopoulos – his partner in crime of 1961. He was no less uneasy in this unaccustomed role than his counterparts further west in Portugal and Spain. Like them, he prattled about democracy while plotting counter-revolution. All the squabbling factions of the ruling class gratefully clutched at this straw. His party was hastily scrambled together out of monarchists and junta supporters, “resistance democrats” and conservatives. It was graced with a remarkably appropriate title: the “New Democrats”. (Certainly, democracy was a new departure for Karamanlis.)
The state machine had disintegrated. The whole population were dancing in the streets; the police were skulking in hiding; and the officers had locked themselves up in the barracks to protect themselves from the troops. The workers could have taken power without a shot being fired.
However, the fall of the dictatorship had found the ruling class far better prepared than the workers’ political parties. Its perspectives had been clearer. The Portuguese capitalists, enmeshed at every level with the overthrown fascist regime, staved off elections as long as possible and even then saw the workers’ parties between them win two thirds of the votes. In Spain, fake “democratic” parties were evolved over prolonged negotiations at the dinner tables and in the clubs, which even then would have fallen flat on their faces but for the credence lent to them by the leaders of the workers’ parties. In contrast, the Greek capitalists rushed to organise elections before the workers’ leaders had woken up to the new situation.
The betrayal of 1967 had wrought great changes in the underground workers’ movement. The memory of the betrayals of the civil war era still remained in the minds of living workers. The junta had not been strong enough to massacre a new generation of workers, as under a fascist regime or even like the Chilean junta, which had first prepared for itself a certain social base. The lessons of the turbulent ‘60s remained fresh in the minds of the Greek workers.
The younger generation in particular felt a revulsion against the role of the CP leadership. Within a year of the coup, the activists resisting inside Greece vomited out the old leadership, safe in their Bulgarian exile, and formed the “Communist Party (Interior)”. This was the only effective resistance force, operating mainly in the student field, though also attracting many of the healthiest fighters to its banner. Its leaders, however, while rejecting domination from the Kremlin, adopted instead a reformist “Eurocommunist” posture, slavishly trailing behind Karamanlis and other “patriots and progressives”. Those members who questioned these policies were actually denounced to the police. (In that respect, at least, the new party was faithful to the traditions of the old CP.)
Meanwhile, the old CP, propped up by Eastern European funds, retained a tradition among industrial workers. To complicate matters further, the EDA – front for the banned CP in the ‘50s and ‘60s – also hastily extricated itself from the CP. But each of the three fragments of the old CP scrambled to compete for the approval of the capitalists.
On Karamanlis’ return, Drakopoulos of the CP (Exterior) called on “all Greeks to unite to face the national crisis over Cyprus”. The CP (Interior) expressed the hope that elections would be held “in an atmosphere of responsible dialogue”, and Eliou of EDA “voiced support for the efforts of Mr Karamanlis and urged on his followers patience and prudence”.
The political confusion on the left; the decisive action of Karamanlis; the use of rigged election registers dating from the junta days, excluding the youth under 21, the hundreds of thousands of Greek workers in exile and known militants, and in particular the bullying tone of his slogan “it’s me or the tanks!”, all combined to give Karamanlis a 54% vote. Without enthusiasm, the peasantry and middle class weighed up the alternatives and plumped for Karamanlis. Their eyes still blinking in the sudden glare of democracy, they blindly followed the strongest lead. And yet it was a hollow victory.
Karamanlis used all his considerable cunning to carry through a tricky operation and impose a mildly authoritarian constitution which, on paper seemed tailor-made for his purposes. He had argued previously that the colonels’ coup could have been avoided “if the political parties had followed the example of certain political formations in 1958 in France”. In other words: he proposed a Gaullist solution. Cautiously avoiding any commitment to the hated monarchy, Karamanlis held a referendum which revealed the true balance of forces. 68% voted no. Like Alfonso of Spain in 1931, and as Constantine had feared, despite his perfunctory protests against the regime he sank together with it. Then, refusing to consult the electorate, Karamanlis used his packed parliament to rush through his Gaullist constitution bestowing considerable powers on the president.
But if concentration camps are not enough to tame a revolution on the move, paper constitutions are powerless. What Karamanlis had failed to reckon with was the actual objective pre-revolutionary crisis gripping Greece. Instead of tricking history, he became its victim. An explosion of industrial struggle swept Greece. In 1975, 380,000 workers went on strike; in 1976, 1,250,000; already in the first half of 1977, one million. The strike wave flooded light and heavy industry, telecommunications, transport, steelworks, banking, building, the mines and shipyards, the power stations and printing, the civil service and every other sector of employment. Many were bitter and prolonged strikes against overwhelming odds.
Against this tornado, Karamanlis’ strong-man act was pitiful. He sent the gendarmerie and police tanks against striking miners, put airport workers under military discipline, used fascist thugs against union militants, invoked laws to threaten strikers with the sack and their leaders with jail, and in the aftermath of a general strike sacked 1,800 militants including 240 elected trade union officials.
The government meanwhile intervened to nationalise airlines, oil refineries and banks, and take a share in numerous other industries, in a huge rescue operation for capitalism. The employers’ federation SEV protested against the government’s “social mania”. They responded with an investment strike. But the level of state intervention reflected precisely the ruling class’ anxiety at the threatened collapse of the economy. All it could achieve was isolated sorties against individual groups of workers.
The ruling class was veering between reform and repression, undecided which way to turn. It was thrown into confusion by this explosion of pent-up rage. New Democracy was bursting at the seams, its various factions thrown apart.
A long trial of strength was in prospect, on political as well as economic issues. The workers felt enraged – at the fact that the former dictators were lounging in luxury “prisons” biding their time until their recall in more favourable conditions; at the nominal sentences passed on the murderers who had killed a hundred youths at the polytechnic, and thousands in the abortive Cyprus coup; at the gentle treatment accorded to the torturers who at their trials interrupted harrowing accounts from their former victims with a display of raucous jeering from the dock; at the brutal police attacks on public demonstrations, and the free hand given to fascist provocateurs to disrupt them; and at the murder of the heroic Panagoulis, a left-liberal MP who was about to expose the complicity of Averoff and other ministers in the crimes of the junta.
Every revolutionary lesson was hammered home in their minds. Time and again, Athens rang with the tramp of a million workers marching the streets – out of a total national population of nine million.
(To be continued)