PART 3: RIDING THE TIGER By Roger Silverman.
The workers were defeated. But their will was not crushed. For all the horrors, their political memory had not been obliterated by the systematic annihilation of the labour movement accomplished in fascist Spain or Germany. In the 1950 elections, the left already scored 10%, and the far right less than 20%.
But as the cold war intensified, the US embassy intervened to appoint as prime minister Field-Marshal Papagos, drenched in blood from the civil war, head of the generals’ sinister secret society IDEA. On a vote of 49%, he won 82% of the seats. On his death in 1955, he was succeeded by an obscure backwoodsman hand-picked by CIA chief Allen Dulles as a pliant tool – Karamanlis, who was prime minister from 1955 to 1963.
Karamanlis presided over the devastated battlefield of Greece as the IDEA perfected a shadowy police state under the camouflage of “emergency legislation”. The officers exacted revenge on workers who were blacklisted, on militants who were assassinated, and on the political prisoners, of whom there were still 1,000 left in 1963.
In the early 1960s, urban unemployment was 11%, and in the countryside anything up to 25%. Net emigration overtook the birth rate and the population actually declined. Wages were clamped down and Greece became a profit haven for foreign investment which poured into construction, shipping and the tourist industries. On the basis of cheap labour, the national income grew by 5.5% a year.
The wounds of the civil war were quickly healing. The feverish boom gave the workers a new sense of their identity as a class. As early as 1958, EDA (the front for the banned CP) won 25% of the votes. To soak up the opposition into safer channels, the ruling class scraped together a new party, the Centre Union, under the leadership of the “old fox” George Papandreou and the royalist Venizelos.
Meanwhile, a new terror campaign was unleashed, paving the way for the rigged elections of 1961 in which Karamanlis increased his majority by 10% at the expense of EDA. This remarkable result was achieved by a military plan, “Operation Pericles”, involving the whole state machine, masterminded by the intelligence agent and liaison officer with the CIA, Colonel Papadopoulos – the same man who later became dictator.
In the towns, 500,000 false names were added to the register. In the country, a wave of violence intimidated the voters. The Centre Union led a campaign of protest. Popular discontent reached boiling point when the EDA deputy Lambrakis was murdered with police collusion. Half a million people followed his coffin.
As tension mounted, the king dismissed Karamanlis, who had to slink out of Greece on a false passport. That is how he managed to avoid being tainted with the intrigue of 1963-7, and could pose in 1974 as the saviour of Greece from the dictatorship imposed by his former arch accomplice Papadopoulos.
By 1964-5, EDA had at least 90,000 members and a youth movement of 60,000, and was winning 33% in municipal elections. It was necessary to let off steam by cautiously allowing the Centre Union to come to power. In the elections of February 1965, the Centre Union won a stunning 53%. But in semi-bonapartist Greece, even a mildly liberal government, by boosting the workers’ morale and curbing the worst excesses of the police, posed a threat to the precariously balanced power structure which kept the revolution at bay.
Andreas Papandreou, George’s son and a minister in his government, admitted later: “We did not estimate correctly the magnitude of the task confronting us... We placed many hopes, much too many, on the possibility of mobilising the private sector of the economy.” Two banking complexes controlled 97% of finance, and 30 industrial companies 70% of credit.
Detailing certain necessary, though themselves inadequate, reforms, he continued:
“Certainly, such reforms would have led to a hostile reaction on the part of the foreign investors, the Greek industrialists and the big merchants... What happened in fact is that our much milder programme – which had been intended to prevent the alienation of the establishment – created no less hostility... Since any reform was poison to them, we might just as well have gone further.”
Karamanlis’ successor Kanellopoulos appealed for renegades to split the Centre Union. Papandreou retaliated by exposing the facts of the 1961 Pericles plot. Little did he realise he was playing with fire. By exposing the role of the generals, he spotlighted the rottenness of the state machine, promoting a scandal of the dimensions of the Dreyfus affair. Like a cornered rat, the king demanded the punishment, not of the Pericles criminals, but of the officers who had investigated them. They had “violated the hierarchical principle of army organisation”!
While Papandreou stalled, the officer caste countered with the “Aspida” frame-up. A handful of junior officers had set up a protective organisation – Aspida (the shield) – against a future military coup. The right raged about a “red plot” and made the absurd accusation that Andreas Papandreou – a Harvard economist – was implicated.
The king brazenly refused to accept the dismissal of the army commander-in-chief who had taken part in the Pericles coup or allow the prime minister to take over the defence ministry. A head-on conflict developed between the government and the king. Using bribery, flattery, bullying and blackmail, defectors were enticed to rat on the Centre Union, and the king dismissed Papandreou in July 1965.
Let us remember that the Greek monarchy was a British import modelled on British constitutional practice, and that King Constantine’s actions were later repeated by the Queen’s representative in Australia.
The masses rallied against the king. One million people flooded the streets to greet Papandreou after his dismissal. A general strike was called. The building workers marched through the streets shouting “give us arms!” As one government toppled after another, they saw clearly the danger of a coup.
The Centre Union, together with the EDA, were poised to win a crushing victory in new elections scheduled for 28th May 1967, with a popular mandate at least to curb the rule of the palace, the army and the US embassy.
Andreas Papandreou was even warned by a top US diplomat that “unless the Centre Union were willing to lose the next election... it was inevitable that we would face a dictatorial solution; for the establishment would not tolerate an out-and-out victory of the Papandreous.”
The palace and the IDEA generals were faced with a delicate situation. If they allowed elections to go ahead, giving the Centre Union and EDA a massive majority, that would be a rebuff to the king, a denial of his right to maintain a state machine unaccountable to parliament. It would open the floodgates to revolution.
On the other hand, as they were advised by Tsirimokos, a former EAM leader and a turncoat, “when the people are on the go, one cannot tame them with dictatorships.” It would be necessary first to compromise the liberals, who after all were no less frightened than the conservatives at the tiger that they found themselves straddling.
Papandreou could not capitulate without losing all credibility, but he did all he could to appease reaction. He supported the reactionary Paraskevopoulos government. He limited himself to neutral slogans like “the king reigns, the people rule”, “the army belongs to the nation”, and “allies of the USA yes; satellites, no”.
According to his son, “his tone towards the king was respectful, reserved. Every so often he would attack the left so as to offer palpable proof that a popular front was not in the making.” By avoiding a showdown he “gave time to the king, IDEA and the para-government of the right to prepare their counter-attack”. The EDA trailed along behind him.
But as elections approached, the eyes of the masses were still pinned on the hope of striking a blow at the right.
The palace worked out a tentative contingency plan – elaborately prepared for use in all NATO countries, known in Greece as “Operation Prometheus” – for a military coup, to be put into operation either just before the elections or soon afterwards, when the Papandreou government had begun to discredit itself.
But such a measure was fraught with dangers. At best, the intention was to organise a “mild” coup along the lines of Gursel’s coup in Turkey in 1960, to postpone elections for one year on the pretext of “security dangers”, organise a new party firmly under the king’s control, rig the registers, harass the opposition, and gamble on an electoral victory for reaction.
But the CIA, never renowned for its strategic subtlety, urged on the colonels organised in the EENA conspiracy – to whom they were closer, the palace being still closely tied to British influence – to set the mechanism in motion prematurely and present the king with the choice of swearing in the new junta or mobilising popular resistance. There was no doubt which course he would take.
(PART 4 - UNDER THE JACKBOOT - will be sent soon.)