Recent 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).
THE BIRTH OF PASOK:
What were the options for the ruling class? The bourgeois paper VIMA pointed out: “the maintenance of democracy has become dangerously difficult as the government becomes daily weaker, with no sign of any alternative.” Karamanlis himself pointed out: “Democracy in Greece was always unstable. Periods of democratic government were brief, few and far between. Greece may be confronted with the dilemma between communism and dictatorship.”
The right wing hankered after a new dictatorship. But after the lessons of 1967, such a measure would be resisted to the last drop of blood. Never again would the Greek workers submit without a fight. In any case, the army today would be entirely unreliable. A conscript army composed of radicalised young workers, repressed by the fascist officer caste bequeathed from the civil war, it could never in current conditions be used against the workers. A new coup would blow up in the generals faces, like that of Spinola in Portugal in March 1975. The only prospect for the ruling class was a succession of weak coalitions, intriguing and jockeying for position in the shifting quicksands of parliament.
Sooner or later, the ruling class would have to cede power to a government encompassing some or all of the workers’ parties. In Greece, this could have earth-shattering repercussions. Quite alone in Europe, Greece had never had a government in which any workers’ party had ever been allowed anywhere near the levers of power. It would be seen by the workers as a green light for a wave of strikes and occupations. It would hold back the workers’ fury for barely a moment before throwing their parties into even deeper convulsions. Under the smokescreen of such a government, a new coup would be plotted.
Finding themselves without a stable traditional political channel, the workers were fighting out their battles on the industrial front. At the same time, without a unified independent trade union organisation either – since the civil war, the frail trade union movement had been controlled by the government – there had been a spilling over of industrial militancy into ad hoc action committees and semi-official factory councils, and partially a localised recapture of the official trade union bodies. That is another factor making for an explosive movement.
The working class had a high political consciousness that was at variance with the programmes of its political parties. Its awareness derived from its rich and varied experience, the sharp alternation of political regimes,. The modern history of Greece is a study on the role of the state. The workers understood the role of the monarchy and also the impotence of the bourgeois republic. They understood the limitations to the power of the military, and they had valuable experience of the fraudulence of referendums and parliamentary elections. At every election in Greece, a different system of proportional representation had been used, to tilt the balance on every occasion to the right, in keeping with current circumstances.
They had a clear memory of the record of the political dynasties. They remembered what Karamanlis had stood for in the days before the junta – and they remembered too the failures of Papandreou’s leadership in the 1960s. They had learned the need to resist a future coup – but they had learned also that even the most heroic sacrifice in civil war is not enough, unless the workers were armed also with a clear programme and a leadership that can be trusted.
They were fighting now with every nerve and sinew, because they realised instinctively that unless they won their historic goals and overthrew the bloodthirsty capitalist system now, while the relationship of forces was favourable to the workers, then it would not be long before they were menaced by a new dictatorship so ferocious that it would make the colonels’ regime look positively liberal by comparison.
Thus, a gaping vacuum existed to the left of the CP. The workers and the youth with their instinctive revolutionary aspirations were disenfranchised. But history moves in the most circuitous routes to overcome the obstacles put up by encrusted bureaucracies. It was the unlikely personage of Andreas Papandreou – Harvard economist and radical demagogue, his head swelled by the ovations of 1965, his prestige built up among the workers by EDA itself, and sniffing the chance to stake a claim to leadership of the left – who became the pole of attraction to the radicalised youth.
At the decisive moment, he had entirely misjudged the situation, and shrugged off the junta’s collapse as “the NATO solution”. Like many of his kind, he correctly read the minds of the professors and politicians with whom he rubbed shoulders, but assigned to the masses at all times only a passive role.
The key to the future seemed to be PASOK, the party founded by Andreas Papandreou to fill the vacuum left by the break-up of the CP. As with other southern European socialist parties at the time – parties swept forward by the energies of youth seething with radical ideas, new parties which had no crystallised hierarchy of trusted functionaries who could contain and dampen down the creative exuberance of the rank and file – the youth flocked to its banner and tore it initially to the left.
Within months of its foundation, Papandreou the Harvard economist found himself talking in a language no less unfamiliar than Karamanlis did. “We are not social-democrats. We must pass beyond capitalism to a socialist transformation. The fact that we have chosen a democratic path does not mean that we are historically naive. We put the burden on the shoulders of the opponent.” Meanwhile, at other times Papandreou called for “the co-operation of the ruling party in the establishment of national unity”.
For a time, PASOK was undoubtedly the furthest left mass party in the world. However, as a volatile centrist party it lurched from left to right, adventurist to chauvinistic. Always unstable parties in transition between the poles of revolution and reformism, PASOK was even more peculiar, being based on a single personality, focussing the workers’ hopes for a new leadership.
In his first gush of enthusiasm, Papandreou had promised: “It is imperative that differences and tendencies exist. If somehow we had managed, either with brainwashing or policing, to agree unanimously, then we would end up with a bureaucratic type arrangement, something which our movement condemns explicitly.” However, Papandreou was terrified of any spontaneous activity by the rank and file, and in particular of the Marxist wing which could act as a catalyst in polarising the party. In reality, this self-proclaimed democratic party embarked on a savage wave of arbitrary expulsions and mass closure of branches, as soon as a coherent opposition tendency developed. So afraid was Papandreou of the rank and file that he even appointed non-members of the party to police it as regional officials!
Nevertheless, he was dragged after three years, grudgingly, to the construction of a genuine stable party with a secure framework. Area and pan-Hellenic conferences were held – the precaution being first taken of a blood purge of Marxists, the dissolution of some of the best branches, the appointment of phoney delegations, with rigged discussions, appointed chairpersons, the bullying and restriction of delegates from the floor... Nevertheless, a forum for mass participation was being painfully erected at last.
Despite its early protestations, the party apparatus soon proved to be viciously bureaucratic. The leadership got away with these measures by a combination of factors, including its largely petit-bourgeois active composition, the small-scale artisan nature of wide strata of the working class, and above all the absence of any political traditions of workers’ democracy.
The monopoly of a vicious Stalinist bureaucracy on the labour movement for four decades had left deep scars. On the death of the Stalinist leader Zachariadis, his house was found to contain a private cell in which was found the corpse of a Communist Party central committee member who had raised criticisms of the party’s civil war strategy! The tradition of merciless victimisation of political opponents is powerful.
The creation of PASOK could turn out to be a gigantic stride forward for the working class. By thrashing out a policy corresponding to the militant mood currently sweeping the working class – and that is the force that had really created PASOK, not the whim of a political celebrity – it could have been transformed into a mass revolutionary party. But on the basis of erratic zig-zags by an uncontrolled bureaucracy, it could only disintegrate.
Had the time come at last to build a party worthy of the heroism of the Greek working class?