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Polytechnic Uprising 50 years ago even today inspires radical Greek youth movement

By Harsh Thakor* 

On November 17, progressive sections in Greece marked the 50th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising of 1973. A massive rally from the Athens Polytechnic passed through various parts of the city, including the US Embassy.
Thousands of activists from the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Communist Youth of Greece (KNE), Students Struggle Front (MAS), Federation of Greek Women (OGE), Hellenic Committee for International Detente and Peace (EEDYE), and All Workers Militant Front (PAME), among other groups, participated in the march denouncing imperialism, fascism and military dictatorship.
The marchers expressed solidarity with Palestine and demanded that the Greek government end its support for Israel’s ongoing genocidal war in Gaza.

Historical Background

The events at the Athens Polytechnic in 1973 represented one of the most significant developments of class struggle in Greece during the second half of the 20th century. The uprising marked the advent of the end of the Greek military junta’s rule and was a manifestation of resistance to tyranny. A students’ strike in Athens Polytechnic on November 14, 1973, ignited o an open revolt which extinguished the US-backed military junta .
It was one of the most defining moments and spectacular acts of revolutionary heroism in the last century in extinguishing fascism and shimmering the flame of true democracy.
In his article in Katiousa.org, Raphael Papadopoulos said that “the Polytechnic uprising was the combination of contestation of the established order and mass character. Previous acts of individual protest against the junta or armed action by anti-dictatorial organizations targeting regime officials had the first element, but not the second. Thanks to the combination, the Polytechnic brought about the first serious and unmanageable destabilization of the junta at home.”
On the night of the 20th to the 21st of April 1967, the reactionary military circles of the country, which were closely connected to the secret services of the USA and NATO, launched a military coup. The operation of the surrender of power to the army had been built at the staff of NATO, under the code name "Prometheus". Colonels G. Papadopoulos and N. Makarezos, who were actively involved in the preparation of the coup, became known as "the black colonels".
During the fascist occupation 1940-44, several of these officers were engaged in the security forces and the cleaning up operations against communists; some of them even worked with Gestapo and were later connected to the secret services of the English and Americans. The military junta, headed by G. Papadopoulos, N. Makarezos and the generals S. Pattakos and G. Zoitakis, having planed a conspiracy with the king and based on the article 91of the Constitution of Greece, published a decree declaring the possession of all of the power to the army and the abolition of a series of articles of the Constitution, concerning democratic rights.
.Every democratic right in the country had been abolished, a martial law had been imposed, strikes and meetings were banned, harsh censorship was introduced, political parties and progressive social organizations were also banned. The army mercilessly executed its authority, with arrests and searches a routine happening.. Thousands of political and social fighters of our country were arrested, first and foremost cadres of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the legal, until then, political party, United Democratic Left (EDA), through which, communists also fought. According to statements by the officials of the dictatorial regime, more than 40 thousand communists had been arrested till the May of 1967.
In order to misguide people, the colonels named their coup "national revolution", which was supposed to have been conducted "for the benefit of all the classes of the Greek society". The army and especially the officers, were declared "driving force of the revolution", and the struggle against communism had been set as the main goal.
The coup arose in Greece, because the military forces of the country were strangulated by the strict grip of the reaction. The labour and democratic movement had not yet reorganized its forces after the defeat in the civil war of 1946-1949. The germination of the mass movement in Greece was obstructed by the emergency laws, which first of all prohibited the action of KKE. The leaders of the "Centre Union" Party followed a policy of disintegration of the democratic forces, breaking any common stance of the opposition, aiming at the repulse of the reaction, thus enforcing it. The opportunist elements that existed inside KKE during that period had implemented in 1958 a decision for the dissolution of the illegal party organizations, to be taken, supposing that KKE, could be replaced by a broader structure of the Left, EDA. EDA, not only was unable to build a genuine alternative, but even failed in reorganising the scattered party forces, before the coup.
The regime of the 21st of April of 1967 was a military-fascist dictatorship of the domestic and foreign monopolies. A characteristic feature of the military-fascist regime has been no other than the penetrative role of the American imperialism, in the preparation and the establishing of the dictatorship.
Straight after the coup, KKE consolidated its' struggle for the mobilising of all of the democratic and patriotic organizations. It summoned all the patriots, despite their party belonging, at factories, neighbourhoods, villages, universities, schools and state institutions, to organize in resistance committees, in order to overthrow the fascist dictatorship. On the initiative of KKE and EDA, the Patriotic Anti-dictatorship Front (PAM) had been formed on the May of 1967. Later, other anti-junta organizations made their appearance, such as PAK and the "Democratic Defence".

The uprising of the Polytechnic

The escalating of the socio-economic contradictions in Greece and the rise of the anti-dictatorship movement, in 1973, precipitated the deep crisis of the regime. The discontent grew even in the army, the regime's main support. The Athens Polytechnic uprising occurred on November 17, 1973, as a massive student demonstration of the popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967 to 1974. The uprising that erupted on November 14, 1973, ignited into to an open, anti-junta revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17th after a series of events, starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic.
In the mid of 1973, the demonstrations of the workers backed one branch of the economy after the other. One federation after the other gave notice of termination of their collective contracts and demanded a 45-50% rise in their salaries. These mobilizations were characterised by the enthusiasm and unity of workers, independently of their political beliefs and lead to the isolation of juntas' people in the trade union movement. A Spark turned into a Prairie fire.
The struggle of the university and technological institutions students was defining element of the political developments in Greece, especially in 1973. Their main demands were the progressive reforms in the educational system, the restoration of trade union, academic and political liberties. The students of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Ioannina, conducted meetings, assemblies, demonstrations with slogans such as: "Democracy", "Down with fascism", "Down with the dictatorship", "One is the leader, the sovereign people", "Freedom to the political prisoners".
Due to deterioration of the financial state of the poor peasantry, mass manifestations unfolded through the whole of Greece, and took the shape of refusal of handing the goods over to the trade. The solidarity with the political prisoners and their families' movement, aiming at the release of the political prisoners, also developed.
In order to eradicate the pressure towards the regime, the military dictatorship, Papadopoulos went on to remove several of their collaborators from the government and to form a "political" government headed by the leader of the 'Progressive Party' S. Markezinis. The main task of the new government (October 8 1973) was to prepare 'parliamentary elections'.
The political manoeuvres of Papadopoulos created chaos within their country. The anti-government manifestations persisted. The opportunist fraction that split from the party in 1968 and created the euro-communist 'KKE-interior' supported the step of 'politization' of the dictatorial regime.
Greek students began the first demonstrations against the regime in February and March of 1973. On November 14, 1973 students demonstrated at the School of Law and entered the Polytechnic School (Polytechneio) building on the corner of Patission and Sournari Streets about one hundred meters away from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
A defining moment had been the uprising of the students of the Polytechnic University of Athens and of the young workers of Athens, on the 14-17 November 1973, which struck a blow to the attempts to disguise the regime. The main slogans of the uprising were: 'Bread, Education, Liberty', 'National Independence', 'Down with Papadopoulos', 'Out the Americans and NATO' e.t.c. Large masses of workers supported the students and the young workers. The students' mobilizations took on the form of university building occupations, in Thessaloniki and Patra. Demonstrations had also been organized in Trikala and Drama.
In Athens, the students formed a radio station and inform people from the building of Polytechnic of the mass manifestations. KNE in Athens and the Anti-dictatorship Students' Union (Anti-EFEE), played a special role in the organization of the struggle.
On the 17th of November, at night, 56 people were killed, according to official records. According to police records, 1103 citizens and 61 policemen had been injured. As it became known after the fall of the dictatorship, 34.000 bullets had been used by the police, in addition to the 300.000 cartridges of all kinds, used by the army, so as to repress the revolt. In the days of the revolt, the regime went on to arrest 2.500 people, although it announced merely the arrest of 866, having made the following presentation of their social status: 475 workers, 268 students, 74 pupils, 49 Polytechnic students.
Diomidis Komninos (1956–1973), a high school student, was the first martyr of the uprising. He was shot opposite the main gate of the Polytechnic. Although the revolt had been suppressed in cold blood,, the overall reaction to the regime intensified.. Eight months later (24 July 1974), the dictatorship was toppled due to its treason and adventurism in Cyprus, where the coup, that it had organized in cooperation with the secret services of NATO, aiming at the extermination of the progressive regime of President Makarios (15/7/1974) led to the Turkish invasion and occupation of the 37% of Cyprus.
Then, mass demonstrations against the dictatorship were staged in a lot of cities of Greece. The pressure of the masses had been so intense that the Greek oligarchy was shaken, and decided to remove junta and to hand the power over to a coalition of bourgeois parties, in which right-conservative elements persisted, in order to avoid the worst consequences.. This coalition was a compromise among the junta supporters, the imperialist circles of NATO and USA, as well as of the bourgeois political powers of Greece, for the 'legal' transferring of the power to the latter.
Without waiting for the release and return of the comrades in exile and from abroad, the illegal organizations of KNE and KKE regained legal status. The new bourgeois government had to abolish the anti-communist law 509, through which the political activity of KKE had been prohibited for whole decades, since 1947.
Every year, programmes are staged in memory of the students and workers, who revolted in the November of 1973. The culminating moment of these annual manifestations is the demonstration to the US embassy on 17th of November.
On November 17, the general secretary of the Central Committee of the KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumpas stated that “the Polytechnic, 50 years later, is a source of inspiration, a support for current and future struggles. Today the slogan “Bread-Education-Freedom” meets with the struggles of workers, self-employed professional traders, scientists, and youth, against high prices, against the government’s policy of overtaxing the weak, the struggle against auctions, for modern education, for health.”
The legacy of the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 continues to be a major inspiration for the militant, progressive student youth groups, anti-imperialist sections, and above all the Greek working class movement. Militant working-class sections in Greece organized in PAME continue to shimmer spark of revolt against the presence of imperialist forces in the country and try to combat Greece’s involvement in the NATO-led imperialist wars.
Inspired by the Polytechnic Uprising, the radical youth-student movement is active in the resistance against fascism, privatization and militarization of the campuses, and for the democratization of academic spaces. The communist-backed students’ group Panspoudastiki KS has emerged as the leading force in student unions of universities across Greece.
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*Freelance journalist

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