The resistance to the Germans during the Second World War brought into existence a popular movement without precedent in modern Greek history: the defeat of the Left forces in 1945, and above all the civil war of 1946–49, not only checked that development, but also disoriented and destructured Greek political life for several years. The ravages of the civil war, the hundreds of thousands of dead and the disastrous economic situation allowed the organs of ideological manipulation which were at the disposal of the Right to carve a deep ideological and political rift between on the one hand the peasantry and the petit-bourgeoisie and on the other the decapitated remnants of the left forces—recruited mainly from the numerically weak working class. The party-political allegiances of the overwhelming majority of the people followed pre-war patterns, and the parties once again took on the character of personal fiefs. The deep social contradictions, which grew as the country developed economically and socially, did not find expression at the political level, and the discredited and isolated Left was wholly cut off from the great mass of the population. This political structure, which allowed the Right to keep power without difficulty, was only very superficially modified by the first major political regroupment of the Right in 1951, under Marshal Papagos. The ‘Hellenic League’ (Papagos’ party) further strengthened the Right when it installed a political system—something that the country had previously been without; by this means it ensured for itself a big majority of the electorate, a majority which it bequeathed to ere, the party led by Karamanlis who emerged after Papagos’ death as the new leader of the Right. Assisted by the electoral system and by fraud, the ere won handsome majorities at four consecutive general elections (1952 82 per cent of the seats; 1956 56 per cent; 1958 59 per cent; 1961 63 per cent).

It seemed that nothing could break what was in effect the electoral alliance between monopoly capital, backed by American imperialism, the overwhelming majority of the oppressed peasantry, and a sizeable section of the middle classes. The fragmentation of all other political forces prevented any challenge to the Right’s effective monopoly of political power.

The far left, socially and politically isolated, proved incapable of taking advantage of this fragmentation of the forces of the Centre to enlarge its own base. The Communist Party was outlawed, but the various attempts to re-group the remnants of the party’s cadres with whatever non-communist popular political forces existed all came up against the same fact: the apparatuses of the political organizations of the Left, and particularly those of eda (which was set up in 1951 as a party with permanent structures), were still in the hands of a political committee in exile. Moreover, the latter became increasingly incapable of grasping the political and social realities of Greece. If one adds to this the fact that the Greek working class, properly speaking, has never made up more than 10 per cent of the population, with the majority of workers in small firms employing fewer than 10 workers apiece, it is not hard to explain the fact that the Right should so easily have been able to exploit the psychological repercussions of the collapse of the popular forces during the civil war, and to isolate the Left from the body politic of the ‘nation’. With the exception of the 1958 elections,footnote1 in which eda won 52 per cent of the votes, the Left’s electoral base has fluctuated between 10 and 15 per cent—made up of working-class voters, certain middle-class strata and intellectuals.

However, it is precisely this political monopoly on the level of party representation which contributed fundamentally to changing the situation. The creation of the Centre Union in 1961 constitutes an important turning-point in Greek politics. The re-grouping of the Centre’s political personnel, whose path to power was blocked precisely by its fragmentation in small, impotent parties, was far from representing a political restructuration of the oppressed classes against big capital. At that moment, it only represented an attempt on the part of the political personnel of the bourgeoisie, not included in the ere, to win power by broadening the basis of its representativity. Almost every important political personality (apart from those of the far left) rallied to the new party, so that it presented itself as the first possible political alternative to the party which had been in power for almost 10 years.

This political alternative came at a propitious moment. Greece in 1961 was no longer what it had been immediately after the War, on account of the profound social transformations which had taken place in the meantime. Although Greece still remains essentially an agricultural country (50 per cent of the active population work on the land), nevertheless urbanization has been proceeding rapidly. The conglomeration of Athens has almost doubled, rising to 2,000,000 (almost a quarter of the population of Greece). Although the working class properly speaking has not grown fundamentally, the ‘parasitic’ middle classes have swollen out of all recognition. The social contradictions intensified, and the urban or semi-urban strata showed their discontent with increasing vehemence. These unsatisfied masses consequently rallied behind the Centre Union and, to the extent to which the traces of the civil war had begun to disappear, this party—which anyway presented itself as the heir of the old Venizelist liberal party—progressively took up positions which were clearly differentiated from those of the ruling party, above all in respect to the establishment of a democratic power structure.

It was only after the rigged elections of 1961 that the political struggle took on a more socially oriented character. The increasing pressure of the popular masses drove the leader of the party, George Papandreou, to embrace certain demands of the oppressed classes. Henceforward, the political struggle was to take on far more clearly the character of a class struggle. The petit-bourgeoisie, liberal elements of the bourgeoisie, and a certain section of the working class, found in the Centre Union a ‘representative’ capable of unfreezing, liberating their class interests, in other words of catalyzing the social contradictions. The principal contradiction still remained, however, on the political level. The challenge to the régime was still predominantly characterized by slogans concerning the corruption, incapacity and irrationality of the ere’s rule, and concerning police repression and the lack of democratic rights. The class character of the struggle was only revealed through the posing of specific demands by certain strata: the economic and social structure was in no way contested. The party was dominated by individuals from the upper bourgeoisie, and popular pressure was channelled into marginal demands. This explains the fact that at that time a large sector of big capital and of the upper bourgeoisie were able to envisage the accession to power of a Centre government without the least anxiety. Liberal parties (social-democratic ones included) have always, in Greece as elsewhere, acted as safety-valves; the Centre Union party, dominated as it was by conservative elements and having given ‘proof’ of its anti-communism, could not have caused big capital the smallest fear.

The intensification of the political struggle led to an increasingly marked polarization of social forces, and finally induced King Paul to precipitate the fall of the right-wing Karamanlis government, and to dissolve parliament. A ‘technical’ solution to the crisis which until 1963 had constituted the dominant aspect of the political contradiction would have allowed the bourgeoisie (in no way challenged by the Centre Union) to reorganize and to return to power after an interval of rule by the Centre—which they could expect would break up under the pressure of its internal contradictions. Since the principal struggle still took place at the level of political power, the right-wing forces were confident that the structural instability of the Centre, leading to political instability, would suffice to provoke a re-orientation of the electorate towards a reorganized Right: the latter would then represent the political ‘stability’ which had kept it in power for eleven years.