From outlaws to parliamentarians

When EDA was founded on August 2, 1951, the National Army was still hunting down the last few rebels in remote mountain areas. The diehard remnants of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), who fell one by one into the regular army’s traps, were a dramatic illustration of the demise of a once powerful movement. It was two years since the military and political defeat of the KKE, and the majority of the DSE’s rurally based combatants had left the country and gone to the peoples’ republics of the Soviet Union. Any urban-based Communists, who had not been imprisoned or exiled, lived in a politically suffocating environment. All Greeks, the winners and the losers – with the exception of those who had grown rich during the occupation or managed to siphon off abundant American aid, provoking tirades from the American mission – were struggling to make good after the damage done by the civil war. Thousands of families from both sides of the political fence were mourning their dead while struggling to improve their lives. The average per capita income had risen from $80 before the war to $112, as the Marshall Plan built up the weakened non-Communist countries of Europe. American officials in Greece stressed the need for a more equitable distribution of wealth, perceiving that the greed of the wealthy could damage the political and social structure which the Americans themselves had helped build. So, they preferred the creation of a government which, apart from having a clear policy that did not diverge from anti-Communism, would be broadly based on a large part of the electorate, so that it could competently manage social conflict. The party chosen for this was the Greek Rally of Marshal Papagos, founded four days after EDA, on August 6, 1951. EDA was not the first party that the KKE had tried to form since 1949. In late 1949, Nikos Ploumbidis, leader of the outlawed party machine in Athens, started making efforts in that direction. This was difficult, not only because of the skill of the security services and the triumph of the government, but also because of the line taken by some in the KKE. As KKE leader Nikos Zachariadis told the 6th Plenary Session of the Central Committee on October 8, 1949: «Despite the monarchist-fascist victory at Vitsi and Grammos, the bulk of the DSE forces are intact, gun at the ready.» The slogan «gun at the ready» maintained the political isolation of the left and proffered political ammunition to the police and judicial authorities, even though military law had been abolished in February of 1950. Yet the KKE managed to found the Democratic Party on February 2, 1950 from three small center-left parties, and the KKE subsidized Ioannis Sofianopoulos, Neocosmos Grigoriadis and others in the March 1950 elections. The party was doomed, however; the KKE failed to supervise it properly and eventually dissolved it. But conditions improved for a further attempt when the center parties won the election and initiated a policy of making overtures to the losing parties. The KKE grabbed the opportunity. Nikos Beloyiannis worked on the conception and formation of the next party grouping, the Democratic Rally, which scored notable successes in large towns in the April 1951 municipal elections. It was time for the foundation of a new left-wing party. On the surface, the initiative apparently came from Yiannis Passalidis, leader of the small Socialist Party of Greece, but, in fact, it came from the KKE, through the legal Democratic Rally, with outlawed Nikos Ploumbidis as the negotiator. Following numerous objections from small center-left parties involved in the negotiations, the United Democratic Left was formed on August 2, 1951 as a coalition of parties, with Passalidis as president. The party also began publishing the newspaper Avgi. Fresh parliamentary elections were set for September 9 and the first major problem the new party had to face was the KKE’s requirement that Beloyiannis and Ploumbidis be included on the ballot sheet. Both were wanted for alleged spying, and, if caught and tried, were bound to be sentenced to death. Passalidis refused to accept their names but did accept the candidacy of some individuals who were in exile, including Sarafis, Iliou and Glezos, whose elections were invalidated by the electoral court. The center parties won a majority of votes in the election, while EDA gained 10.6 percent of the vote and 10 seats. The leadership’s refusal to accept the candidacy of Beloyiannis and Ploumbidis, its acceptance of the exiled members, and its electoral gains set their mark on EDA’s progress until 1967. For the duration of that period, EDA oscillated between going for and against the KKE, while retaining a steady percentage of the vote. But the electoral system was rigged in such a way as to either limit EDA’s parliamentary strength, or reduce it to nothing, as in 1952. The one exception was in 1958 when EDA won an astonishing 24 percent of the vote, which gave it 79 seats in Parliament and made it the official opposition in 1958. Legitimacy But EDA did not dissolve when its parliamentary strength was reduced to nothing, because it received strong support from communist voters. In fact, the election that gave victory to Papagos dissolved the Center Union party and kept it out of power for 11 consecutive years. EDA’s survival and its political and social action made it a force to reckon with. In 1956 – following the foundation of the National Radical Union (EPE) by Constantinos Karamanlis on January 4 – EDA was able to discuss cooperation with Spyros Markezinis and cooperate – on an electoral if not governmental level – with the Democratic Center of Giorgos Papandreou and Sophocles Venizelos, forming the Democratic Union which won the most votes in the February elections, though not the most seats; EPE won 165. This was a great moment for EDA, which in this way secured its own political legitimacy.

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