An excerpt from Giorgos Oikonomou’s book “Polytechnic 1973: The beginning of the autonomous movement”. The Athens Polytechnic uprising began in November 1973 as a massive grassroots student demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. Oikonomou was participant in the uprising and was wounded by a gunshot from the forces of repression.
An important issue that needs to be clarified about the occupation and uprising of the Polytechnic University of Athens in November 1973 is its political character and significance. Without the investigation and understanding of these basic issues we remain imprisoned in the facts, personal emotions, and the “celebratory” character imposed on this date, immediately after the fall of the dictatorship, by parties, state agencies and media. This clarification will restore the uniqueness and originality of the insurgency, which transcends precisely these bureaucratic entities.
The political character
What characterizes the three days of the uprising is the direct participation of the people in this attempt at reclamation of freedom. An act possessed by passion, rage, and action. At the same time, however, it was marked by the realization that in this struggle the participation of the broadest sections of society is needed. After all, this is the importance of the occupation of the Polytechnic University: to be a rallying point for those who do not want the dictatorship and want its overthrow. However, this perception meets with reactions from the traditional parties, mainly those on the Left, because it goes beyond their logic of control, which they by definition, want to impose on every mass event and political mobilization. And here is a feature of the Anti-dictatorual Student Movement: it opposed party tactics and transcended narrow pre-defined horizons of any form. In this sense, it was self-instituted, self-organized and self-defined. It is within this context, contrary to the opposing party “lines”, that the occupation of the Polytechnic University takes place.
The occupation and uprising are not controlled or led by any party or organization. It is the only political event of major importance in modern Greek history that is due to the spontaneous and self-organized action of the people. As a response to the appeals made by the Polytechnic pirate radio station, people flock to the Polytechnic to support it, become active, take initiatives.
For the first time since April 1967, the population expresses itself in any way it can: people shout slogans against the dictatorship and the Americans who support i, write slogans on posters, on passing buses and trolleys that carry them all over Athens, talk, think freely for the first time, erect barricade, clash with the forces of repression. Society has broken the dictatorial crust of silence and fear, the shell of mistrust and apathy. The people has thrown off everything that held them captive and for the first time expresses themselvs freely, act, help, contribute in any way they can. This first expression as an autonomous movement in Greece manifests and utilizes the best sides of itself: solidarity, friendship, selfless giving, imagination, love, creation. An amazing phenomenon that seduces you, permeates you completely, makes you friend with the person next to you, the one you didn’t know a moment ago.
Everywhere overflows the pleasure of freedom, the joy of action, the intoxication of creation, the consciousness that you are creating history.
The situation inside the Polytechnic was the same. The dynamics and operation of the occupation is based on self-organization and self-management. Permanent assemblies of the faculties, election of committees and a Coordinating Committee with a twenty-four-hour term. Formation of committees for feeding, guarding, first aid and pharmacy, fundraising, etc. The people who make up the Coordinating Committee are trustees of the general assemblies, which are the sovereign bodies that make the decisive decisions. This is how the will of the people, of the grassroots, is ensured. No party organization guides, no “leader” manipulates, no outside power pulls the strings. Direct democracy in practice – autonomy.
The political significance
The occupation and uprising highlighted some important elements for political reflection and future actions. It highlighted the power of self-organization and self-determination. These constitute the political significance and legacy of the uprising, which must be used as a springboard for future actions. Self-organization and self-determination were the generative causes for the dynamic emergence of the Anti-dictatorial Student Movement, which was the only force capable of opposing the military junta and shake its foundations. These were the factors that led to the occupation and the rebellion, the creation of an explosive dynamic, which released hidden forces, unconscious potential, imagination, creative passion and political effectiveness. Collective abilities and virtues are expressed only in public collective space and not in private gatherings, party organizations and parliaments. They are incomparably superior to the “techniques” of professional politicians, bureaucrats and party officials.
Self-determination and self-organization are the only way for people to get out of institutionalized and internalized heteronomy. To break free from the tyrannical rule of parties, “representatives”, media and ideologies. To be freed from the economic and political oligarchy that plagues social, cultural and political life. To become the subject of history and not remain its object. Self-organization and self-determination is the only way to achieve self-government, autonomy, direct democracy. But this is only achieved through autonomous action, this is the greatest political message of the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973. Only praxis leads to democracy and freedom.