Socialist Worker

1973: the student uprising that drove out the colonels in Greece

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2132

A tank prepares to crash through the gates of Athens Polytechnic in 1973

A tank prepares to crash through the gates of Athens Polytechnic in 1973

One of the high points of resistance in Greece is the Athens Polytechnic uprising of 1973, which helped to sweep away the right wing dictatorship that ruled the country.

A coup by a military junta overthrew the Greek government in 1967. The West backed the colonels, who imposed an oppressive regime on the country.

The victory of dictatorship demoralised left wing forces in Greece. For six years there was little resistance to the colonels’ rule. But then students, influenced by the mass movements that broke out across the world in 1968, began to move.

Protests spread against the regime’s rigging of student elections. On 14 November 1973 students occupied Athens Polytechnic over this issue – and against the hated regime of the colonels.

At first the regime hesitated to unleash the police on the students. This allowed the occupation to become a rallying point for an uprising against the junta.

Thousands of workers and students from working class districts and schools flocked to the polytechnic to express their support for the students.

By the evening of 15 November, some 300,000 people had taken over the centre of Athens. The colonels’ regime was threatened – and they reacted with brutal force.

Tanks, armoured vehicles and troops began to move through the streets of Athens late on 16 November, firing at demonstrators. Pitched battles followed – but the state’s military forces were too strong.

Eventually a tank smashed through the gates of the polytechnic at 3am on 17 November.

Troops murdered dozens of students. This repression quelled the immediate uprising – but the regime was mortally wounded.

It limped on for another eight months, but its 1974 attempt to invade Cyprus to try and build up Greece’s prestige would be its final act. The attempt to recruit for war was a disaster. It revealed the junta’s weakness and rival officers deposed the colonels and handed power to a civilian government.

This was not the end of the movement. Mass radicalisation continued to sweep the country.

Workers struck demanding better rights. There were many demonstrations against imperialism. Tens of thousands of people joined left wing parties.

The legacy of the polytechnic uprising still inspires Greek activists today.

One consequence of the uprising is that to this day the police and military are not allowed onto university campuses in Greece.

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