‘Polytechnic’ of resistance: 50 years of the historic uprising in Athens

A students’ strike in Athens Polytechnic on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open revolt which marked the beginning of the end of the US-backed military junta

November 20, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Massive mobilizations were held in Athens to mark the 50th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising. (Photo: 902.gr)

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. When the march reached the US Embassy, they chanted slogans calling on the US and NATO to get out from Greece. Earlier, a wreath-laying ceremony was also held at the Polytechnic Uprising Memorial. Commemorative rallies and other events were also held in various cities across the country.

50 years ago, on November 14, 1973, a students’ strike that started in the Athens Polytechnic escalated to an open revolt against the US-backed right-wing Greek military junta. On November 17, the strike was crushed with bloodshed following a series of events that started with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic building. Around 40 students were killed by the security forces.

Diomidis Komninos (1956–1973), a high school student, was the first casualty of the uprising. He was shot opposite the main gate of the Polytechnic. The uprising marked the beginning of the end of the Greek military junta’s rule and is hailed as a symbol of resistance to tyranny. 

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 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 great source of 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 mobilize against the presence of imperialist forces in the country and try to restrict Greece’s involvement in the NATO-led imperialist wars.

Taking the cue from the Polytechnic Uprising, the radical youth-student movement is active in the fight 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. 

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also strengthened its bases and increased its presence in the parliament and local governments, leading the people’s struggle against the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist policies of the incumbent conservative New Democracy government led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Meanwhile, the social democratic Syrzia which shot to prominence and power in the last decade by cashing in on the anti-austerity protests  of 2010-2012, is now in tatters as neo-liberal forces have captured the party leadership and many of its left-wing leaders and supporters have left the party.

The primary reason for the collapse of the party was the compromises it made with the neoliberal-EU mechanism and the imperialist machinations of US-led NATO, under the leadership of former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, while in power  from 2015-2019. When it was in power, it was common for Syriza’s leadership to abstain from the demonstrations outside the US embassy, even while marking their presence at the memorial events.