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International Socialism, April/May 1971


Nikos Syvriotis

Greece: Four Years After the Coup


From International Socialism, No.47, April/May 1971, pp.24-27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The left in the west has been protesting against the Greek dictatorship ever since the military coup of 1967. But virtually no analysis has appeared of the actual forces at work in Greece, and still less about the working class resistance. This article, written for us by a member of the ASO (or Greek Revolutionary Socialist Group), should help to overcome these deficiencies.

For the last seven years Greek public life has been dominated by one outstanding feature: the collapse of any consensus on a program for future policies among the ruling capitalist groups. The coalition of interests that made up the former bourgeois parties disintegrated, and intervention by the king virtually ended formal parliamentary politics in 1965.

The chaos of the two year interregnum that followed convinced everybody concerned that no viable realignment of bourgeois political force was possible. The Bonapartist takeover by the Colonels came as a relief to the leading bankers and industrialists, if not to their political lieutenants.

The breakdown of any programmatic consensus within the ruling class came to the fore between 1963 to 1965. In this period there was increasing and general disagreement between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ capital over terms of collaboration. There was also controversy concerning the overall direction of economic policy in Greece. Financial, commercial and industrial interests based on the domestic market wanted expansion based on liberal wage and tax policies. They formed a short term alliance with newly rising groups of the technical intelligentsia, which tried to play a role in public affairs for the first time in Greek history. On the other side were internationally oriented sections of finance, industries based on foreign funds and oriented towards exports, and the state bureaucracy (dependent on international finance for foreign loans), all of whom diagnosed that they could not afford selective concessions, and deployed forces to combat approaching financial storms.

Each faction of the ruling class tried to form a viable coalition of forces to implement its policies. And each failed.

Simultaneously, the working class was held back from effective action by the traditional left parties – the KKE (outlawed Greek Communist Party) and the EDA (the CP’s legal front organisation). Both were taken completely by surprise when a mass strike situation developed from 1963 to 1966, and led the movement into parliamentary-reformist channels.

Against this background, an inexorable tendency towards Bonapartism was evident as far back as 1965. The right wing National Radical Union Party used the conservative wing of the reformist Centre Union Party to topple the government of that party’s leader, the elder Papandreou; the remnants of the National Radical Union were used in turn by the Palace to replace the moderate right by an extreme right government; the Palace and the extreme right were then used as props in the junta’s capture of power in July 1967; and finally in December 1967, the junta expelled the king, persecuted Court politicians and generals, and dropped its right wing political allies.

For the first time the regime was suspended in mid-air with no class support, irrelevant to society and itself, solely concerned with retaining power. In the Bonapartism depicted by Marx (of the Second Empire in France) the bankers ruled. In Greece it is not the international bankers themselves who guide the colonels, but the large bureaucracy at their disposal – the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon. The regime is trying to generate political support for itself – but has so far failed.

The Greek Economy

The capitalist class in Greece controls an economy which is chiefly based on agriculture – 45 per cent of the produce of which is exported, 35 per cent sold inside the country, and only 20 per cent consumed by the producers themselves. Production and distribution within this agricultural sector are controlled by the Agricultural Bank of Greece – a united front of the two major commercial banks, the Central Bank, and the State bureaucracy. The purchase of seed, fertilisers, pesticides and so on is minutely regulated. The only gap in this system of state direction occurs after each harvest, when a handful of commercial monopolies are allowed to blackmail producers to sell their produce at below cost.

Extreme land fragmentation (the average holding is only one third of an acre), poor equipment and lack of educated manpower mean that productivity in agriculture is extremely low (being a quarter to an eighth of the European average). The owners of such small holdings only survive by living at below the subsistence level and by perennial indebtedness to the Agricultural Bank, which charges 10 per cent interest and up to 14 per cent on overdue bills.

The low productivity of the agricultural basis of the Greek sector of capitalism has produced serious difficulties for bankers and financiers who want to maintain an agreeable rate of profit. Ruling circles maintain that only the replacement of fragmentation by large land holdings can permit the raising of productivity through the introduction of modern equipment and techniques in the countryside. They aim to attain such an objective through tax and price policies which force large numbers of farming households into bankruptcy and emigration. As a result of such policies, 250,000 people have abandoned the countryside during the three years of military rule.

But such policies have not resulted in cheaper foodstuffs or other commodities for the cities. In the first thirty months of the junta, consumer prices rose 20 per cent – water (a British owned firm) and electricity (owned by an international consortium and the Greek government) by a hundred per cent, olive oil (a staple food in Greece) by 200 per cent, and potatoes by 80 per cent. At the same time production costs have been rising for industrial producers, who have, moreover, been facing a bad international climate.

Industry in Greece is a recent development, and still only accounts for 28 per cent of the gross national product. The most important units are those built in the 1963-65 period, mainly in chemicals, oil refining and metallurgy, although there have been some small, nineteenth century type enterprises since the twenties.

The policy of developing manufacturing, which has been the long term policy of capitalism for the last decade, would require cheap foodstuffs, cheap raw materials and energy resources. These objectives have been destroyed in the last three and a half years. The bankers have dropped their long term aspirations in order to solve short term problems. But this has not left all their partners happy.

As a matter of fact the whole story of the junta’s policy in the economic and social field has been one of bewilderment, indecision and vacillation.

The junta took power during a period of inflation and recession. It immediately adopted a policy of credit expansion and wage freeze. Hoping to attract foreign investors, the regime imposed a series of legislative measures declaring an open season for international speculators such as Litton and Onassis.

However, these measures did not bring an immediate end to the recession, which carried on through 1968 and into the beginning of 1969. The only ‘foreign investors’ attracted were international banking concerns such as the Chase Manhattan and the First National City Bank. But almost no new manufacturing investment arrived. The Greek shipping magnates, Onassis and Niarchos, were happy to sign half billion investment contracts, but have not yet been able to find financiers to back them up. The only investments to take place during this period were of a speculative nature – mainly international loans to the government and the uninhibited flotation of public issues.

Hardly had manufacturing production recovered by mid-1969 than the banking system was forced to put a two per cent increase on interest rates, as a result of conditions prevailing in international money markets. There was an uproar from merchants and industrialists which government censorship of the press could hardly contain. The Association of Greek Manufacturers were very outspoken. Dissent was apparent among those bankers who were seriously committed to the long run development policy.

Under the circumstances 1970 seems to have been a year of no policy. Tight credit was maintained over all, except for a few sectors (such as speculative construction and trade). The argument over long run policy still rages, and a number of controversial reports, such as one by the director of the National Bank, have come to light.

In the meantime the squeeze on labour and farm incomes has been still greater, since this is the one approach with which all sections of the ruling class can concur. But even this policy is being undermined as there is increasing disunity within ruling circles, including the junta, and as there is a growth of militancy among the ranks of labour.

Last summer marked the first defensive stirrings of workers since the 1967 coup. Although still within the ‘legal’ framework of the regime, a feverish atmosphere, accompanied by agitation for strikes, was observed in the public utilities, in construction, in transport, among dock workers in Peiraeus, and among ceramic and bakery workers. The regime, still testing the slippery ground, was unable to control these spontaneous protests, and on at least four occasions was forced to retreat. It temporarily abandoned measures to end social security and modest provisions to laid-off workers, and it agreed to ten per cent wage increases for bakery and construction workers (although it also imposed longer work-weeks).

Nevertheless, the way is open only for more conflicting policies and proposals among the capitalists, more disunity inside the junta, more austerity measures, inflation and the erosion of workers’ incomes, which will inevitably lead to more daring – if fragmented – responses from the working masses.

The Politics of the Junta

In the first period after the coup the junta tried to give the appearance of only having a transitory character. It claimed the king’s support and stated that it was preparing the conditions for a return to ‘healthy’ parliamentary life – a necessary pretence meant to win the neutrality of right wing politicians. In the time gained the ‘revolutionary council’ – composed of thirty middle rank officers – consolidated its position in the army and the civil administration by massive purges of unreliable elements – which mostly meant royalist and conservative officers and civil servants.

Colonel G. Papadopoulos, a darling of the CIA, emerged as the figurehead in the ‘revolutionary’ council during this time, playing the role of arbitrator, head of the cabinet and the armed forces, and compromise man of the ruling factions with the ‘council’. He was the first to sense the precarious balance on which the regime was based and the first to propose measures to deal with the situation.

The wage freeze and inflation policy precludes any attempt to stabilise the regime on labour support at the moment. The agricultural policy forces the peasants away from the junta’s tiny field of influence. Papadopoulos can only count on traditional capitalist groups for ultimate political support. Overtures have been made to the Palace, which represents mostly the old compradors and the early industrial groups that grew in the inter-war years. At the same time there has been a selective lifting of the censorship on certain Radical Union politicians (representing interests that grew out of the wartime blackmarket and Marshall aid years), which has enabled them to pose as a ‘loyal opposition’ to the regime.

Such initiative has come exclusively from Papadopoulos and his hand-picked personal staff. At each step they have been bitterly opposed by his fellow conspirators on the ‘revolutionary council’. These men are, for the most part, hard core old-fashioned fascists, with long records of service in Hitler’s armed forces during the German occupation. What they lack is a genuine grass roots fascist movement, and they are quite insensitive to today’s realities of political power. They are vaguely aware that they represent a future option for the ruling class, but have got their timetables wrong.

Constant exposure to the practical necessities of power, but also understandable sensitivity to the CIA’s search for a more stable formula, have forced Papadopoulos to seek alignments with non-military circles of political influence (previously denounced by the ‘revolutionary council’ as corrupt). The premier is enough of a conspirator to realise that he could not carry out his intentions if he lacked the raw power to curb the anti-Papadopoulos faction inside the the ‘revolutionary council’. Hence persistent efforts to create his personal power apparatus both in the government bureaucracy and the armed forces.

He has appointed relatives and old personal acquaintances to key government and army positions, and lifted a good number of nonentities to positions of power, making them wholly dependent on his person. Such are the cases of ministers of agriculture (Papavlachopoulas) and of propaganda (G. Georgalas, a former Stalinist functionary), of the former minister of security (Totomis) and of the chief of the newly Marine Corps (Papadopoulas’ brother, Constantine).

At the same time, the premier had been accumulating a number of ministries under his personal control. He is, now, prime minister, minister of defence, of foreign affairs, of education. In his last expansion-consolidation cycle, in July 1970, as soon as he had acquired the ministry of foreign affairs, he passed a ‘Royal Decree No.500’ (R.D. No.500) on the composition and function of the Cabinet. According to the decree ‘the premier determines and expresses the policy of the government’ (article 2). Article 4 defines the composition of the ‘Government Political Council’ which ‘elaborates and enforces programs of economic, fiscal, social and national policy’. This council is made up of nine ministries, four of which are in the hands of Papadopoulos.

With this additional power he took the offensive in midsummer, opened negotiations with the king, promised early ‘elections’ and replacement of the ‘shadow’ of martial law by the 1968 ‘constitution’. He also released 500 political prisoners, and eased censorship on the ‘loyal opposition’. Most significant of all was the formation of a personal Papadopoulist political party, the ‘Social Union of Scientists’ – a gathering of about a thousand engineers, doctors, specialists and lawyers – a Greek version of the Spanish ‘Opus Dei’, whose presence indicates the premier’s intentions to broaden the political arena and institute some kind of elections in which he would take part, and which would somehow legalize his rule.

The reaction of the junta’s hard-liners was heavy and prompt. Reliable underground sources reported a secret meeting of the ‘revolutionary council’ on August 26 at the National Defence Headquarters, during which the anti-Papadopoulos bloc protested at the ‘liberalisation’ measures, made charges of nepotism, and attempted to annul the R.D. no.500.

As it turned out, both factions bided their time and accepted a compromise formula by mid-October. The formula contained the promise of a moratorium on the matter of the exiled king and proclaimed a fake ‘election’, in which ten thousand handpicked ‘electors’ voted for a so-called ‘small advisory parliament’ made up of industrialists, appointed ‘trade-unionists’ and professionals, without any legislative power. The whole thing is obviously a publicity stunt, whose only function is to delay the confrontation inside the junta. It is also a poor attempt at establishing the classical fascist ‘corporate state’ – without, of course, any underlying fascist movement at the grass roots. In short, since the king’s ousting the junta continues to exist in a social and political vacuum, without any basis apart from military violence and the threat of violence; during this time, it has been transformed from a solid institution into a faction-torn collective. Without a doubt, the virus of factionalism in the ruling class has contaminated the Bonapartist regime of Athens.

The Communist Party

All the warring factions of what remains of the KKE are utterly oblivious of the problems that have been tearing Greek society apart for the last five years. A factional fight within the Party is being waged over the best way to implement a fantastic Popular Front formula that would unite all ‘patriotic anti-junta forces from the king to the CP’. The junta is explained as a ‘barbarous fascist regime’ imposed by a handful of mad conspirators with the help of ‘dark forces’, just as ‘Democracy’ was about to triumph at the polls.

There remain two main factions of the aging and decimated old guard that once led a brilliant anti-Nazi resistance and a desperate struggle for armed power in the late forties: a pro-Moscow Central Committee of exiles in East Europe and the USSR; and a gathering of dissident Central Committee members combined with former EDA parliamentarians, which leans towards the position of the Italian CP.

Although each faction is trying to outdo the other with hysterical calls for Popular Front unity, they are distinct from each other. The pro-Moscow sect still maintains a pro-working class posture in its pulpit jargon and opposes efforts to merge the KKE with the ‘fellow travelling, radical petty bourgeois’ EDA.

Both factions have to live with the daily tragedy, not just of their own disunity, but also of seeing their frequent calls for unity with the bourgeoisie go unheeded. The Popular Front has never come close to becoming a reality during the last three and a half years, mainly because the bourgeoisie is so badly fragmented and so busy trying to mend its own fences that it abhors the prospect of additional complications entailed by an impossible Popular Front with the CP. Undoubtedly many bourgeois politicians would be happy to see the Communists lead a successful resistance to the junta, and then hand power over to them. But this is just what is not going to happen.

The CP’s present leadership lacks the authority and moral capital needed to engineer such an historic bluff this time. The present adult generation has had three such Popular Front debacles in its life. The first in 1936, led directly to the dictatorship of Metaxas. The one in 1944 led to the annihilation of a fully armed popular movement that once counted millions in its ranks. And the one in 1963-67 resulted in the present junta.

Each one of these devastating defeats left deep, bloody scars in the memory of the masses. The combined weight of executions, deaths in the battle-field, concentration camps, exiles, jails, daily harassment and intimidation have left the combatant contingents of a whole generation decimated, bled to death and demoralized. No recruiting grounds are left for the leadership that is so obviously and so criminally responsible for all these bloody debacles.

The net result of this horror story is that today, those grouplets of former leaders that still keep the KKE’s cadaver unburied have been utterly denuded of the rank and file of the traditional membership. The task of the new party that will emerge, will not be to win members away from them. It will be to infuse new faith, new determination and concrete programmatic direction to the demoralized layers of workers and peasants who once formed the striking fist of the class and who are still the living and legitimate bearers of an old spirited, bloody and stubborn tradition.

These people, some with guilt, some with relief, have abandoned the present comic-tragic ‘leadership’ and are temporarily away from any active involvement. Of the handful that remains, some are regular organisation hacks and some are actual working class fighters who cannot bear the thought of living outside their traditional political organisation, and accept the consequences of having to submit to a discipline that they neither understand, nor like. One could say that they bide their time and wait for the alternative.

As things stand today, maintaining the title of member does not involve any more than participation in an occasional ritual ceremony – such as signing a party document, passing resolutions for Lenin’s centenary or, if one is abroad, calling for better treatment of political prisoners. According to the best estimates, all meaningful, organised resistance and other political work inside Greece has collapsed, not so much because of the effectiveness of any policing techniques, as because of the complete indifference with which the masses greet the occasional Popular Front slogans that pop up here and there. The large mass of energetic young agitators and organisers that once, in 1967, set up the ‘Patriotic Front’, has completely withdrawn ever since a handful of apparatchiks, assisted by their own blunders, took over the clandestine machine and subsequently ruined it. Many of these younger people have expressly denounced both party factions, unceremoniously baptised their own tendency ‘The Chaos’ and have gone home, waiting for ‘something new’, as the saying nowadays goes in occupied Greece.

It must be said that the combined effect of all this demoralisation and deliberate inactivity has been the break down of the main clandestine communication arteries and consequently, whatever starts now, starts from scratch. No police force in the world could have done the clean job that the Popular Front politics have done in this country – and this is a priceless object lesson for the other European revolutionaries whose countries have yet to go through the experience of military junta and Popular Front.


The KKE systematically ignores the central programmatic issues which a tendency – as yet embryonic in Greece – concerned with independent, conscious working class action has to raise. Central is the problem of a radical orientation towards socialist industrialisation, based upon a large scale mechanisation of agriculture and the rapid formation of modern agricultural support industries, such as fertilisers, power supply, chemicals, transportation. Such an approach would start, from the outset, by creating a hundred thousand new productive jobs a year, as well as making necessary social payments in other spheres, such as health, education, housing and general culture. The resources for such an approach would have to be obtained from a redistribution of the 50-60 billion drachma annual waste in military, state and bureaucratic spending, and by a reallocation of 18-20 billion drachma annual corporate profits and interest payments.

Politically such a program has to bind the farmers to the workers, the unorganised to the organised, the unemployed to the employed. Fragmented groups from each category have been putting up worthy defensive battles during the dictatorship. What they lack is coordination (or even an awareness of one another’s existence), programmatic coherence, and actual conceptual or organisational links. At present the consciousness of the working class is completely atomised, even among groups with a crude craft-union organisation. This, of course, is mainly due to the fact that trade unionism could never flourish in a country where even modest reformist aspirations had a tendency to become politically extreme.

Police domination by the junta seems to have reinforced this atomisation. But only superficially. In fact the impossibility of reformist struggle builds up political forces that eventually erupt suddenly and powerfully. It has been demonstrated repeatedly in Greece in the last thirty years that apparently intimidated or apathetic masses are capable of sudden, sustained offensives which, if supplied with appropriate revolutionary leadership, can easily capture power. Such was the case with the Civil War (of the late forties), which started spontaneously and was imposed on a reluctant leadership; such was the case with the 1958 recovery of the movement, only eight years after its military defeat; such also was the case with the 1962-67 mass strike wave.

The question in the present period of panicky defeat is not how to infuse false hope or to bully people into ‘patriotic’ resentment against the ‘black colonels’. Rather, the task is to provide and constantly expand the programmatic links between those involved in the temporarily, fragmented defensive skirmishes. Then next eruption must find us adequately prepared for coordinated action on a national scale that would result in class alliances with a concrete platform and objectives. This eventuality would pull the rug from under the feet of a divided and quarrelling bourgeoisie.

At this point the question of the international correlation of forces becomes an urgent consideration. The very survival of a socialist victory in Greece would depend, from its first days, on the military relation of forces throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Without the effective stopping of military manoeuvres in West Germany, Italy, Turkey and the various Sixth Fleet ports, there could be no prospect of survival.

The new revolutionary movement that is now emerging in Europe must, from its very first steps, acquire a proper understanding of its tasks. Those serious Greek revolutionaries who are temporarily in enforced exile in Western countries will spare no effort to work out the perspectives necessary to lead to an integrated socialist movement not only in Europe, but also across the Atlantic.

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