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Militant Around the Clock? Left-Wing Youth Politics, Leisure, and Sexuality in Post-Dictatorship Greece, 1974–1981

1 Comment 🕔03.Dec 2015

The dictatorship of the Greek colonels collapsed in July 1974, following a bungled military confrontation with Turkey over the island of Cyprus. Nikolaos Papadogiannis’ new monograph, Militant Around the Clock? Left-Wing Youth Politics, Leisure, and Sexuality in Post-Dictatorship Greece, 1974–1981, examines the astonishing range of leftist youth activism that emerged in the wake of the junta’s demise, with a particular focus on the leftists’ politicization of leisure pursuits, culture, and sexual practices. This detailed and richly-sourced work makes an important contribution to the growing body of literature on nonconformist youth practices in Southern and Southeastern Europe.

Papadogiannis describes the robust movement of socialist and communist youth organizations that took shape in Athens and Salonica, especially, but not exclusively around the universities (74). In contrast with the cohesion of the Left under the dictatorship, the youth organizations of the post-1974 period developed a wide spectrum of orientations, including those advocating a “democratic path to socialism” (79), those embracing the Soviet model (83), Maoists, and the tiermondiste “youth wing” of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) (84). Papadogiannis argues that “culture,” which the Greek Left understood as related both to “arts and behavior patterns,” (276) was a central means by which the Left explored its own thinking about Greek “tradition,” and about foreign ideas, products, and behaviors (277).

Despite heated ideological debates over the course of the late 1970s, the various factions of the Greek Left developed largely similar approaches to most questions of leisure and sexual behavior, with differences in opinion appearing to be mostly a matter of degree. According to Papadogiannis, leftists viewed cultural activities as another instrument for political education (95), as well as a means of creating a “progressive cultural movement” (105). Chief among the leftists’ goals in the cultural sphere was the removal of American influence, which they understood as a form of capitalist “cultural imperialism” (95) that “erod[ed] social bonds and trigger[ed] ‘individualism’ and ‘careerism’” (97). Thus, leftist organizations condemned the pop music, drugs (97), apolitical films, night clubs (99), and “unstable sexual relationships (100) that they associated with bourgeois, American culture. By contrast, “progressive” culture included the voracious reading and debate of political texts and ideologically acceptable literature (127–29), the attendance and performance of political theater (131–36), the frequenting of specific tavernas based on ideological affiliation (136–37), the singing of political songs (138–40), the viewing of political films (143–47), and, to a lesser extent, tourism with ideological “peer groups,” often to socialist countries (151–53). A major theme of these cultural pursuits was that of the Greek national tradition and especially the commemoration of the anti-fascist Partisans of the 1940s (139). Even sexual politics often reflected an interest in the “morality inherent in Greek popular tradition” (157).

With the death of Mao Zedong and the rise of Eurocommunism over the course of the later 1970s, the Greek Left rethought its approach to culture, leisure, and sexuality (177). Realizing that their approach had grown “dull” and out of touch with the needs and realities of Greek youth (189), the organizations relaxed their previous disapproval of rock ‘n’ roll and “club culture,” for example (199), and began to think of tourism and travel as an escape from routine, rather than as yet another venue for political activism (192). A more playful and humorous approach to politics and culture particularly developed among the “opposition” and “unaffiliated” organizations that grew out of a series of “splits and defections” from groups across the leftist spectrum (200–03). The Choros network proved especially open to integrating previously apolitical cultural elements into their activities, for example holding “rock parties” during a 1979 university occupation (228) and opening a bar-club in Athens in 1980 (230). Papadogiannis sees much of the Left as developing a less dogmatic approach to sexual behavior in this period, although the sexual practices of leftist activists tended to rarely extend beyond nudism or monogamous heterosexuality (258). Although second-wave feminism and gay rights appeared on the leftist political scene, both movements made at best uneven progress in shifting the gender and sexual dynamics of the Left.

Militant Around the Clock? makes several important contributions to the literature on European leftist youth culture. Papadogiannis is particularly successful in disentangling the engagement with American/foreign ideas and products from Americanization. Although scholars often problematically treat the two ideas as synonymous, Papadogiannis deftly illustrates the Greek Left’s rejection of American models in favor of Soviet or local, “traditional” cultural templates. Papadogiannis is also particularly convincing in his discussion of the impact that leftist youth activism had on the creation of a reinvented Greek traditional culture, and the commemoration of the Partisan movement. Furthermore, I found the book’s periodization to be especially thought-provoking: while the 1974 collapse of the dictatorship and the 1981 accession of Greece into the European Economic Community provide a convenient window for analysis, it is notable that Papadogiannis picks up precisely where most accounts of postwar student activism leave off – the mid-1970s. Thus, we see a longer trajectory of ideas about youth, politics, and culture than is generally acknowledged in the literature.

One of the book’s more notable features is its level of detail and texture, which ultimately proves to be both a strength and a flaw. While Papadogiannis succeeds impressively in conveying the breadth of Greek leftist activity, the sheer volume of party acronyms that he uses makes the nuances occasionally impenetrable for the non-Greek specialist. Admittedly, he provides a table explicating all thirty-four acronyms at the beginning of the book, but more frequent in-text clarification of which organization was associated with what political philosophy would have greatly assisted this reader’s understanding of the various players in these debates. Another issue that rendered these debates less accessible to the reader is the insufficient explanation of where these groups stood in relation to the Greek state. Papadogiannis specifies that several of the organizations participated in parliamentary elections (72), and others in university student elections (75); however, it remains unclear whether and when all youth organizations considered had some sort of official, institutional affiliation. A more consistent discussion of the interaction between the Greek Left and mainstream political behavior would render the relative militancy of the country’s politically engaged youth easier to gauge.

Still, Papadogiannis has produced a fascinating portrait of the Left in post-dictatorship Greece. With the literature on Southeastern Europe’s youth cultures and politics largely focused on the 1960s, this book points the way toward reconceiving our timeline of youthful activism. Most importantly, he contributes an analysis of cultural politics that allows us to see the global context of Greek youth cultural politics without undercutting the significance of local histories and memories. This approach is one I hope to see deployed in future studies of the region.

Reviewed by Madigan Fichter, New York University Center for European and Mediterranean Studies

 Militant around the Clock? Left-Wing Youth Politics, Leisure, and Sexuality in Post-Dictatorship Greece, 1974-1981
by Nikolaos Papadogiannis
Berghahn Books
Hardback / 342 pages / 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78238-644-5

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