Skip to Content

Book Review: 'Democracy at Gunpoint - The Greek Front'

The Overthrow of Non-Democracy

'Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front', by Andreas Papandreou. (Deutsch)

Andreas Papandreou, the son of the veteran Greek republican politician George Papandreou and now a leader of the opposition in exile to the Greek colonels, here gives his personal account of the events leading to the Greek military coup on 21 April 1967.

The book starts off alright, but towards the end degenerates into a series of quotes. What makes it interesting for Socialists is that Papandreou clearly shows that even before April 1967 Greece was not a proper political democracy, i.e. a country where the State machine, including the armed forces, was under the control of a popularly-elected government. There was indeed a popularly-elected government, but this never controlled the Army. Not that most post-war Greek governments, being composed of conservative politicians favourable to the King and the Army, wanted to.

Papandreou describes the political structure that emerged in Greece after the war in these terms:

    . . .  a secret para-governmental machinery composed of army cliques had developed a solid hold on the reins of State power.

    . . .  a constitutional dualism gradually emerged, with the institutions of a democratic régime existing within the overall structure of an authoritarian State.

So in pre-1967 Greek political democracy was a façade. And when the threat of a parliamentary government that would try to establish a genuine political democracy in Greece appeared, the façade was dropped and naked Army rule established by military coup.

The 1964 elections gave the opposition Centre Union, led by George Papandreou, a parliamentary majority. Andreas, who was himself for a short while a Minister in his father’s Centre Union government, describes this party’s programme thus:

    "The Centre Union represented the party that was committed to making Greece a modern European state. Politically, we were committed to changing Greece from a garrison state to a modem democratic State."

Clearly a threat to the Army/Palace Establishment (and CIA, since America equipped the Greek Army and relied on it to play a key role in NATO). By various political intrigues, including the bribing of some Centre Union deputies, the Establishment was able to bring about George Papandreou’s resignation as Prime Minister and to replace him by a series of their puppets. But, in the end, fresh elections had to be agreed to. The date was fixed for 27 May 1967. The Centre Union, this time made even more determined by its experiences to break the power of the Establishment and to set up a political democracy in Greece, was expected to win again.

On 21 April some Colonels staged a military coup. Actually two coups were being planned; one by the King and one by these Colonels. The Colonels were first off the mark. An unsuccessful royal counter-coup in December led to King Constantine going into exile. But both groups of plotters had the same basic aim: to prevent the Greek armed forces coming under the control of a popularly- elected parliament and government.

This Greek coup has become part of the Leftist argument against our policy of trying to establish Socialism peaceably through the use of existing democratic political institutions. But, as we have just seen, the political situation in pre-1967 Greece was not at all like it is in, say, Britain or France or America or other places where there is a workable, though limited, political democracy. Parliament in Greece did not control the coercive side of the State machine. It was a façade. A coup in such a situation to stop the State machine coming under parliamentary control has no relevance whatsoever to the chances of a majority Socialist working class using a State machine already under parliamentary control as an instrument to establish Socialism.

Adam Buick