Shaking the Casket: Revolutionary Organization 17 November and the Art of Radical Anachronism

On the night of December 23rd, 1975 three unmasked gunmen stalked American CIA Athens station chief, Richard Welch as he returned from a Christmas Party to the Athenian suburb where he lived with his wife. While two operatives covered his wife and driver, a third shot Welch at point-blank range with a .45 caliber pistol, fleeing into the Mediterranean night. A previously unheard of group calling itself Revolutionary Organization 17 November, a reference to the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising that led to the fall of the 1967-74 military dictatorship, took credit for the assassination in a communiqué to French newspaper, Libération. In the decades that followed, the group evolved into a fanatical and isolated terrorist group, espousing an intransigent fidelity to a misguided interpretation of the historical dislocation presented by the 17th of November Uprising and disregarding democratizing political conditions of Greece’s Metapolifersi, or “Metamorphosis” after the fall of the Junta. Revolutionary Organization 17 November, therefore, sacrificed a considerable opportunity to influence Greek policy towards socialism by navigating the country’s newly-affirmed process of democratic participation, choosing instead a violent path driven by an extreme nihilism and inflexible ideological elitism that alienated them from the very working masses that they desired to lead to justice and prosperity.

The Revolutionary Organization 17 November was, in its broadest classification, an extra-parliamentary organization functioning outside of the realm of state institutions and legally accepted forms of political organization. Its format, a small, lethal, urban cell, was characteristic of the peak years, described above, of the European Fighting Communist Organizations, or FCOs as Yonah Alexander and Dennis Pluchinsky classify them in “Europe’s Red Terrorists.”[i] The group functioned in total clandestinity, arming itself with its signature weapon, the .45 caliber pistol, as well as a cache of incendiary devices and rockets that would be used in assassinations, bank robberies, and attacks against public and private property.

The group operated through a series of cells consisting of 4-5 members each. Each cell would elect a leader who functioned as liaison with other cell leaders and the 17N leadership.[ii] Two governing bodies, the “Assembly” and the “Executive Secretariat,” dictated the actions of the core cell membership. The Assembly, the highest body of the organization, was the architect of grand strategy, including the nature and chronology of operations. The Executive Secretariat was elected by the Assembly, and was charged with more mundane matters of logistics and everyday organization.

This form of democratic centralism is a key component of FCO organization according to Alexander and Pluchinsky, and is significant because it represents a microcosm of the centralized [but technically leaderless] democratic idealism that would theoretically form the structural basis of the communist utopia present at the end of international communist revolution. Of course, such a structure has a more practical basis. A need for total secrecy necessitates the blind obedience of cell members to the high command, a condition that inhibits total egalitarianism. In fact, a combination of methodological indecision and an unwillingness to engage in hierarchical structuring led to extreme splintering and proliferation among the various wings of the extra-parliamentary Left during the Metapolifersi, undermining their influence and opening up a forum for more violent means of political expression. [iii] 17N persisted, perhaps, due to its judgment that a Machiavellian-Stalinist sacrifice of equality in the now was required to channel political and ideological energy into direct action in the future—a historical necessity that would eventually create the conditions necessary for total egalitarianism.

Testimony by Revolutionary Organization November 17 operative Patroklos Tselendis outlines the group’s recruitment process in a three-stage model, a design that ensured total secrecy and security. [iv] The courting process initiates with a 17N member discussing with a potential recruit, in broad terms, contemporary Greek political affairs, gauging the recruit’s level of acquiescence to violent activity as a means of confronting the oppressive capitalist-imperialist system. If this primary interview was satisfactory in convincing the existing member of the prospective recruit’s ideological and operational potential, the member would then present the case before the high committees. A positive vote by the group would segue into a trial period in which the member would begin to engage in small, menial tasks of loyalty without knowing that he or she was working with 17N. Only after completion of this trial period would the name of the group be mentioned, at which point the recruit would join a cell and enter the official hierarchy. This method of intense secrecy and scrutiny made infiltration of 17N impossible, inspiring the group’s ominous nickname—organossi phantasma, or phantom organization. That until 2002 no arrests were made of 17N members, and there had, at the time, been no interviews of present or past members, no successful infiltrations by state security or media, and no credible informers to shed light into the dark corners of the organossi phantasma is testament to these tremendous measures to ensure functional and organizational security.

Early descriptions of the group in academic texts on Leftist terrorism, therefore, such as that found in Alexander and Pluchinsky’s 1992 book, “Europe’s Red Terrorists,” are palpably less precise than those depicting groups such as Italy’s Brigate Rosse or Frances Action Directe. Italian and French security forces had, by 1992, rendered crippling blows to these groups by arresting leadership cadre, oftentimes exposing ideological schisms and strategic disagreements that illuminate the fragile inner workings of such groups and undermine public acceptance of their practices.[v] Without concrete intelligence on 17N’s ability to regroup after such arrests, or knowledge as to whether in that case a sympathizer base would mobilize to sustain armed struggle, authors such as Pluchinsky could do little more than offer theoretical scenarios for 17N’s demise based on the experiences of groups like BR or AD, stating, “The Achilles’ heel for the 17N, however, may be the absence of any known supporter or sympathizer base” and “In essence…the 17N has not demonstrated an ability to reorganize after police arrests,” despite the fact that at the time of his writing the group had yet to experience such a scenario. [vi] Without successful arrests by Greek security forces, 17N was able to remain in intentional darkness, continuing its violent missions through fortification due to the particulars of its own successes and modifications of operational methodology based on insights offered by the failures of fellow FCOs who one by one fell victim to either intragroup breakdowns or the successes of state security.

While the operational strategy of Revolutionary Organization 17 November revolved a meticulously “calculated…utilization of physical force and psychological intimidation” in order to shock Greek society into a state of revolutionary fervor, the group polemically refused self-identification as terrorists. [vii] Rather, 17N actively construed themselves as a combination of pallbearers of a historical tradition of power and violence as pertaining to Greek history since 1940 [viii] as well as a manifestation of reactivity against current-day trends of latent fascism and imperialist-capitalist domination. 17N’s definition of terrorism is typical of FCO self-narratives, which identify terrorism in their contemporary socioeconomic and political landscapes as both a structural and physical threat to the people. In the words of a 17N writer, such a system structurally “perpetuate[s] the system of working-class exploitation,” and engages in systematized terrorism on the streets such as “when tanks and riot vehicles are mobilized against the people” [a reference to the Athens Polytechnic Uprising of November 17, 1973] or when the state uses “thousands of tear gas against street demonstrators and by-standers, against men on strike in factories and farmers in rallies.” [ix] From the start, 17N articulated this inversion of the state-narrated definition of terroristic violence in order to raise to the consciousness of the masses as well as to further radicalize the extreme-Left into its role as a progressive vanguard, using France’s Action Directe as a model of terrorism as a “form of expression for those humiliated and ridiculed by the mechanisms to the capitalist mode of production.” [x]

17N’s operational campaign can be divided into three stages based on the level of intensity of attacks, the nature of their targets, and their articulations in attack communiqués, letters to media, and commentaries. 1975-80 witnessed the first phase of 17N operations, a period in which the group sought to force itself onto the political map, gaining credibility as a militant force and mobilizing sympathy through targeting widely despised societal figures. The strategy to achieve these goals was the infliction of violence against members and associates of the military Junta of 1967-74 as well as American targets—acts of revenge on perpetrators of oppression against Greeks, especially the Left, throughout the 20th century. The two attacks that exemplify this period are the assassination of Richard Welch, described above [xi] and the assassination of Evangelos Mallios, police torturer during the military dictatorship on December 14th, 1976, both perpetrated with the group’s signature weapon, a .45-caliber pistol that would prove their involvement in subsequent operations. The motivations behind targeting Welch were articulated in a corresponding communiqué sent to the journal, To Elliniko Anartiko, which stated that this act would be the “first time in Greece that [the US] paid for…decades of innumerable humiliations, calamities, and crimes,” reminding Greeks that the “CIA was responsible for…supporting the military junta.” [xii], [xiii] The assassinations of Welch and Mallios established 17N’s earliest pattern of violence, which exploited local disdain for the United States and the military Junta in order to gain national recognition.  

The vague semblance of radical justice represented by 17N’s first wave of violence, based on reflections of “popular demands for catharsis” [purging Greek society of the legacies of the military Junta], and a desire to “cultivate a Robin Hood image” gave way to the escalating militant intensity that characterized the second phase of 17N violence and set the tone for an increasingly hostile relationship with Greek society. [xiv], [xv] A landslide Socialist victory in general elections in 1981 inspired a period of latency as the group assumed that a victory by Andreas Papandreou’s PanHellenic Socialist Movement [PASOK] would usher in a shift in the balance of power to the socialist left and working-class movement, therefore rendering the need for militant leftist action obsolete. [xvi] Such expectations fell spectacularly short, as deepening economic malaise, characterized by a 64 per cent devaluation of the drachma and 10 per cent urban unemployment, warranted PASOK’s adoption of an increasingly rightist policy of austerity and neoliberalism. In the midst of this dismal economic backdrop, Papandreou’s renewal of the US bases agreement in 1983 and unfulfilled promise to withdraw from NATO and the European Community led to a rapid decline in the government’s popularity, pitting previously dormant extreme-left elements against a government that had at one point given them faith in a democratic path to socialism.

On November 15th, 1983 two motorcycle-riding 17N commandos fired the trademark pistol, which had been three years silent, at US Navy Captain and head of JUSMAGG [xvii]  naval division George Tsantes as he was stopped at a traffic light. This attack, and a subsequent unsuccessful attack on JUSMAGG M. Sergeant Robert Judd on April 3rd, 1984 attempted to shift public attention towards PASOK’s invitation of a US military presence in Greece, illuminating PASOK’s subservience to international capital interests by targeting a supposed symbol of American imperialism. Thus marks a distinct shift in strategic aims away from simple revenge-killings to a systematized terrorist campaign against PASOK-type parliamentary socialism, US imperialism, and anyone who was perceived to serve the interest of these political establishments. [xviii] Increasingly sophisticated car-bomb and firearm attacks against conservative media publishers, Greek police, prominent industrialists, US military figures and property, and governmental establishments, spurred the first of a series of futile attempts by the Greek government to contain the escalating violence, which was now occurring in broad daylight in central Athens streets and making an international mockery of Greek security.[xix]

The hostile climate between PASOK and the extra-parliamentary leftist opposition at this time climaxed with the killing of a 15-year-old student, Michalis Kaltezas, by police bullets on November 17th, 1985 during an anniversary occupation of the Athens Polytechnic Institute. In its circumstances and subsequent effect on inspiring violent left-wing backlash, this extra-judicial killing resembles the death of West German student, Benno Ohnesorg by policemen during demonstrations in West Berlin in 1967—an event of particular importance in fomenting the Red Army Faction’s urban guerrilla campaign against the West German state. Capitalizing on this crude and public display of police brutality against the Athens Polytechnic Uprising revivalists of 1985, 17N initiated a heightened campaign of armed struggle propaganda in an attempt to exert direct influence on Greek political life, situating itself as the “military extension of the movement” for which Michalis Kaltezas was martyred. [xx] Accelerating its campaign against governmental structures such as tax revenue offices, 17N sought to sharpen the contradictions between the exploiting class and the exploited, who chafed under PASOK austerity measures while state subsidies and tax exemptions cushioned the luxurious lifestyles of oligopolistic interests.

As industrial barons and bankers fled Greece amidst the economic chaos, leaving behind massive debts and broken companies with little to no consequences, 17N diversified its operational targets to focus on Greece’s judiciary, taking on the role of judge, jury, and executioner for those it deemed to have neglected legal defense of the Greek people. An absence of justice implemented against characters such as George Koskotas, owner of Greece’s largest private bank, exposed a failure by the Greek government to hold the country’s capitalist interests accountable for the corruption and mismanagement that contributed to the economic crisis. Fixating upon these conditions, 17N brazenly targeted two public prosecutors, inspiring the resignation of two Supreme Court justices. This brazen but hyper-calculated approach characterizes this era of 17N operations, in which the group ceaselessly engaged in assassinations, bombings, and propaganda campaigns, even dropping hundreds of leaflets in several Athenian suburbs a week before election day and, according to eyewitnesses, walking casually away from their first assassination of an active politician—New Democracy party parliamentary spokesman, Pavlos Bakoyiannis—in a display of incredible conspicuousness.

The Revolutionary Organization 17 November had by 1990 established itself as an experienced terrorist group with adequate resources, including a printing press and a large stock of weapons stolen from a suburban Athenian police station without firing a shot, to continue to bolster its impressive résumé of complex operations and high-profile targets. US State Department official, Alvin Adams, said in 1989 “while considerable advances against urban terrorist groups ha[ve] been made throughout Europe, 17N…continued to give a particular cause for concern.” [xxi] Bakoyiannis’s assassination had inspired a shift from a non-politicized reaction to terrorism to an era of politicization in the state’s treatment of leftist violence, characterized by “the end of an attitude of tolerance in both the political establishment and the public” and increasing pressure by the United States to make progress towards silencing 17N’s brutal brand of dissent.[xxii] Suddenly, politicians required 24-hour armed guards, the police leadership was frantically reconfigured, and a draconian anti-terrorism law was passed in December of 1990 in an attempt to invigorate anti-terrorism efforts. [xxiii] This new law polarized society, condemned by the opposition and in legal circles as “an abrogation of the fundamental provisions of the constitution” as well as “the beginnings of a police state.” [xxiv] According to Georgios Karyotis, “Public opinion treated the increase in police powers with suspicion and concern over potential infringements and restrictions on liberty, including an intense public reaction [regarding] the banning of terrorist communiqués from being published in the Greek press.” [xxv] Such a reaction by the state was considered a victory the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, whose operations sought to expose the latent fascist tendencies of the post-Metapolifersi Greek political establishment, raising public consciousness to the oppressive continuities from the dark days of 1967-74.

17N entered their third phase of activities, which spanned from 1991-2000, energized by a series of operational successes but plagued by a confused, nihilist analysis of Greek society. Their propaganda campaign, embodied by jargon-ridden communiqués and expansive, rambling polemics, alienated the public from their already shocking campaign of violence and put the group on the defensive as they found increasing difficulty in justifying controversial actions such as the accidental killing of an civilian in a failed rocket attack against New Democracy Finance Minister, Yiannis Paleokrassas. An increasing intensity of 17N activities was met with a decrease in public tolerance, a deviation that would deepen in the coming years, isolating the group from meaningful political influence and undermining gains made by the extra-parliamentary left. While many Greeks agreed with the group’s critical articulations, demonizing American economic and political imperialism, the brutality of neoliberalism, and the failure of the Greek state to provide adequate basic services such as healthcare and pensions, they did not support the armed struggle as a panacea to all of Greece’s ailments. Shielded from the realities that impeded their operations from political significance, 17N’s violence had exhausted its political relevance, habituating violence through a lifestyle in which, in the words of 17N expert George Kassimeris, “terrorism became a way of life from which they found it impossible to walk away.”[xxvi]

Ideological entropy characterized the group’s behavior throughout the 1990s, as the analytical rationality of prior operations and propaganda was lost to an “emotional and nihilistic rationale.”[xxvii] Attacks on soft targets such as luxury hotels, foreign business, fast-food restaurants, and media establishments suggested that the group was searching for a “major city-center atrocity or a high-profile assassination”—a desperate grasp for attention and influence symptomatic of their fleeting relevance to the Greek political sphere. [xxviii] 17N developed a flair for careless, exhibitionist operations, such as the July 1992 firing of a rocket at Finance Minister, Yiannis Paleokrassas’s car during afternoon rush hour in downtown Athens, resulting in the death of a 20-year-old student. This disregard for the wellbeing of innocent bystanders is evidence of the paranoid decay of the group’s strategy. With these performative displays of violence, the urban guerrillas carelessly navigated the narrow spectrum between public disapproval and tacit tolerance, as the Greek people grew weary of this fruitless and crude form of political mobilization.

By the time of their capture in 2002, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November had carried out more than 100 attacks without losing a single member. Nor had they fallen victim to penetration by security forces or informers, leaving the massive reward offered by Greek and American authorities unclaimed. Vehemently critiquing contemporary domestic politics in an effort to raise the consciousness of the working class to sources of oppression where they could direct their frustration, the group significantly misinterpreted the democratic opportunities presented by the Metapolifersi, reading the legacy of the 17th of November Athens Polytechnic uprising as a violent, terroristic event despite the peaceful basis of the demonstrations, which are described below. The group’s narrow, fanatical view of the world order, informed by a rigid interpretation of Marxist ethics and theories, isolated them from offering a viable path to socialism in a country that did indeed have enormous revolutionary potential due to its extreme state corruption, rampant inequality, and subservience to American and capitalist interests. Therefore, while their early analysis of the challenges facing Greek society in the form of the residues of the authoritarian 60’s and 70’s may have had some credibility, they foolishly sought to extend the black-and-white divisions that had violently pitted the Greek Left vs. the conservative Right wing forces throughout the Greek Civil War and into the military dictatorship. In doing so, they overlooked the fact that the Metapolifersi era had heralded the opening of a peaceful political space in which the brutal extra-legal violence of terrorism was not a productive mode of purveying a radical socialist agenda.

17N fixated upon the Athens Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 as a moment of singular importance in Greek history—a historical opening that was capable of irrevocably altering pre-existing patterns of political, social, and economic organization. William H. Sewell, Jr. argues in his book, “Logics of History,” that certain conditions give such events the power to initiate a temporal acceleration of history. Sewell asserts that these events “are sometimes the culmination of processes long underway.” [xxix] Surely the contradictions between political freedom, economic egalitarianism, and authoritarian oppression that defined Greek politics and society since the Civil War boiled over with intense clarity during the Athens Polytechnic Uprising. However, Sewell distinguishes the simple boiling-over effect implied in this minimalist definition from events that actually “transform social relations in ways that could not be fully predicted,” giving the taking of the Bastille in the French Revolution as the quintessential example of this remarkable historical phenomenon.[xxx] Sewell is concerned with delineating the mechanisms that generate such situations, mapping out a chronology that commences when a rupture in one location catalyzes a series of occurrences in other locations, resulting in a “durab[le] transform[ation of] previous structures and practices.” [xxxi]

Using this theoretical architecture as a metric for whether or not the Athens Polytechnic Uprising constituted such an event, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November’s conscious historical narrative can be situated and contextualized in a greater tradition of event-inspired vanguardism, exemplified by the Bolsheviks and the Movimento 26 Julio in the Russian and Cuban Revolutions, respectively. A prominent condition of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 was the climate of fear that pervaded Greek society during the military dictatorship, a time in which 10 per cent of the Greek population was living in internal exile at the hands of the state and the omnipresent possibility of being labeled an illegal alien and shipped to concentration camps on the islands of Micronissos and Syros haunted daily life. Sewell asserts that a climate of fear and insecurity such as this “raises the emotional intensity of life,” contributing to a generalized necessity for “cultural creativity” in confronting the well-entrenched sources of anxiety, fear, and exhilaration. [xxxii] Furthermore, historical events are precipitated by distinct “dislocations” that destabilize the status quo and offer in their fall-out salient opportunities for creative forms of political and social mobilization. The students who occupied the Athens Polytechnic Institute were profoundly conscious of such dislocations in Greek politics and society, including dictator, George Papadopoulos’s decision to reevaluate the drachma [Greek currency] and to halt the giving of credit in order to curb inflation—policies that threatened the overthrow of the despised leader.[xxxiii] The students were also aware of the international nature of these dislocations, and, inspired by the French and Italian student riots of 1968 and the robust student movement in West Germany, no more than 1,500 students occupied the Polytechnic Institute with three simple demands—elections, a third examination period, and a restaurant. This decision in itself can be considered a profound historical dislocation; for the first time since 1964 political freedoms were vocally demanded, and not just anywhere. This dissent was occuring in the administrative and psychological epicenter of the Greek power structure—central Athens.

The events of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising accelerated when police withdrew from their blockade around the University, creating an unprecedented opportunity for the occupation to gain a critical mass. At this juncture approximately a thousand workers entered the school, a radio station was able to establish streaming communication tightly controlled by the Coordinating Committee [xxxiv], and 15,000 people gathered on the streets surrounding the school to voice support for the courageous student-worker vanguard. In “Logics of History,” Sewell states that the spontaneous achievement of mass political mobilization, such as occurred when Parisian citizens assembled with arms at the Palais Royale, gives an event a sensational quality that is a necessary prerequisite for marking an event as the distinct and credible manifestation of the people’s will. [xxxv] Realizing that the crowd gathering, which had reached 30,000 by the next morning and climbed to tens of thousands by that evening, constituted a veritable Bewegung, a German term meaning “a swelling of the human sea, something supraparty and suprapolitical, a surge that does not, at the time, evoke analysis or afterward, yield to it,” the military dictatorship decided to seal off the Polytechnic, letting no one enter or leave, therefore creating a black-and-white environment for focused political theater to develop. [xxxvi]

It was at this moment that a fundamental characteristic of Sewell’s theory of historical events was achieved by the Polytechnic Uprising—the distinct rupture occurring in central Athens had inspired students in Thessaloniki and Patras to demonstrate in a similar fashion. On a mundane basis, as well, the sentiments of the Polytechnic Uprising had opened up a new political space in which the common Athenian could voice disapproval of the Papadopoulos regime. One Athenian, recounting his experience of the days of the Uprising, describes that at an Athens movie theatre a newsreel showing General Angelis, Chief of Staff of the Junta… “was met by an explosive boo, a gesture that would not have been tolerated before” the Uprising.[xxxvii]

The government then calculated that removing the police presence would lead to a deterioration of the situation in and around the Polytechnic, therefore allowing for a swift and “justified” military intervention. This opening, similar to King’s military’s withdrawal from Paris after the taking of the Bastille, allowed for more students to rush onto the grounds of the University to demand political changes alongside the Polytechnic students and their working class comrades, a force that including thousands of construction workers and farmers who had recently had their olive trees destroyed by an oligarchic oil company. [xxxviii] The movement within the Polytechnic also vocally referenced the Communist Resistance of 1944 with the rallying cry laokratia, or “popular rule,” therefore consciously placing the Uprising in the lineage of Greek resistance to tyranny, both domestic and international.

After the use of tear gas to disperse the crowds and inject a sense of chaos into the situation, military snipers positioned themselves in hotel rooms across the street and began firing into the crowds gathered in the central square of the Polytechnic. Police threw tear gas into the ambulances that attempted to take away the dead and injured, obstructing them from leaving and contributing to the general bedlam. The quintessential image of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising came when tanks, armored cars, and a mass of helmeted troops bearing lifted clubs thundered down Patission Street toward the epicenter of violence, smashing through the gates of the University and inflicting unspeakable destruction upon the demonstrators. Hundreds of civilians were injured by the crackdown, with approximately thirty dead, including a five-year old boy caught in the crossfire and 16 year old high-school student, Dimedes Komnenos.

Sewell asserts that for events to profoundly alter the trajectory of history they must be “transformative rearticulations of structures.” [xxxix] Alkis Rigos, an occupant of the Polytechnic, argues that while the Polytechnic Institute of November 17, 1973 was based on modes of demonstration and resistance that had been utilized previously in Greek and European history, the Uprising constituted “an ethical revelation of the Left as the essential power that withstood…persecutions and absorbed the major portion of the organized resistance. It was the re-discovery of the National Resistance, the international struggle of the time as well as the developing radicalization that led naturally to the overwhelming majority…in the enrollment in the left.” [xl] The Uprising, both in its courageous initiation by the students of the Polytechnic and the cowardly, desperate response by the Greek far-right, had modernized and rearticulated Greek traditions of resistance and conflict in an manner that could a. not have been predicted and b. permanently reconfigured Greece’s power structure, opening up a constructive national debate regarding Greece’s rigid social and economic hierarchy, and resulting in a relative closing of the political chasm that divided Greece between Right-Left polarities.

The historical progression described above demonstrates why Revolutionary Organization 17 November’s tactics and self-conception were so impressively unproductive. The anachronistic nature of their diagnosis of Greek society, which disregarded the progressive political atmosphere represented by the Metapolifersi and its development of a new political vocabulary and reinvigorated national dialogue channeled through an institutionalized competitive party system, led them towards a terroristic armed struggle whose repercussions—such as the 1990 anti-terrorism legislation that threatened Greece’s democratic character—were generally negative and resulted in the worsening of conditions on the street for both leftists and any critics of post-Junta regimes. While 17N actively seized upon contemporary issues, and indeed they were one of the first political organizations to be so responsive to the issues facing modern Greece, they were unable and unwilling to forsake their particular form of revolutionary direct action while the rest of the progressive Greek population “shifted away from revolutionary politics,” relegating the group to a political margin where they could have little effect on the publicly-supported political order. [xli]

In identifying themselves as the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, the group pegged themselves to a particular moment in Greek history in which a tradition of resistance was re-affirmed and the role of the Left was canonized anew as a force of positive change in Greek politics and society. As we established above, this event does indeed constitute a significant historical opening conforming to the theoretical architecture offered by Sewell. This was a time, however, in which the opposition, represented by the student-worker vanguard which occupied the Polytechnic on the 17th of November, was confronting a clearly tyrannical, fascistic enemy whose only language was that of violence as a means to de-politicize society. In such a climate, reaching a stage of urban guerrilla warfare was a distinct possibility, and perhaps Revolutionary Organization 17 November could have been able, in this black-and-white political scenario, to confront the oppressive forces that shackled Greek society on their own terms—violence and terror.

This identification with the particulars of the era of the military dictatorship represents what Alain Badiou refers to as “fidelity,” or a faith in an event that “compels the subject [17N] to invent a new way of being and acting in the situation [radical reformation of society based on previously unfulfilled Marxist principles].” [xlii] [xlii] 17N self-conceptualized as bearers of the truth [“the real process of a fidelity to an event”] illuminated by the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, and attempted to extend the condition of truth achieved by the events of November 17th, 1973 into the post-Junta sociopolitical landscape. [xliii] Badiou uses the Cultural Revolution as such an event, asserting that if he wanted to practice total fidelity to the truth embodied by this singular event, he must “practice politics…in an entirely different manner from that proposed by the socialist and trade-unionist traditions.” [xliv] 17N’s refusal of the peaceful path of Trotskyist and Maoist elements representing the Greek extra-parliamentary left were based on a desire to take total control over the process of de-Juntafication in the name extreme evental fidelity, a strategic sentiment embodied by their early revenge assassinations.

A distinction is therefore necessary to distinguish the early actions of the group and its later decay into ideological fanaticism and self-destructive intransigence. Early attacks, such as that on CIA Athens station Richard Welch and Junta torturer, Evangelos Mallios, represent a perceived albeit shocking embodiment of the anti-tyrannical, anti-imperialist sentiment of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising. However, these ritualized acts of public demonization were quickly abandoned for more abstract and controversial operations that, when viewed in the context of the rapidly democratizing Greek state, inhibited the group from articulating meaningful political, social, and economic influence.

The core leadership of the Revolutionary Organization 17 November now sits behind bars, the result of a botched operation at the Athenian port of Piraeus which, coupled with improved anti-terrorism efforts and the assistance and cooperation of the British police, crippled the group, ending “a very unpleasant chapter in modern Greece’s political history.” [xlv] The violent revolutionary ethos, however, has not been fully eradicated from the Greek Left. Worsening conditions in the country since the economic crisis of 2009 have inspired certain events, including the killing of journalist Skoratis Giolas, that have revived a fear for a return to the extra-legal political practices of Greece’s era of domestic terrorism. [xlvi] Groups such as the Sect of Revolutionaries and Conspiracies of Fire Nuclei continue to espouse the armed struggle as a means for confronting the oppressive capitalist political and economic landscape, whose contradictions have been increasingly illuminated by worsening economic and social conditions within the country. Such groups, in the manner of 17N, deny the democratic path taken by political parties such as SYRIZA, a coalition of the radical left that is now the second most powerful party in Greece, preferring instead a radically violent approach.

The 17th of November is now a national holiday in Greece, and its psycho-political significance has been codified into the cultural consciousness of the Greek people. Annual demonstrations at the Athens Polytechnic Institute segue into a march from the University’s campus to the doorstep of the American Embassy, a reminder of the United States’ brutal influence in the country’s history. This linear progression from the mythologized point of modern Greece’s most profound historical rupture to the American embassy, a symbol of capitalist imperialism, seems to confirm Revolutionary Organization 17 November’s targeting of symbols of United States power as a reflection of the people’s will, as it was doubtful that post-Metapolifersi governments would attempt to confront US influence in the country.

That the people’s will was reflected consistently throughout the group’s reign from 1975-2002 is highly unlikely. Representing an intransigent evental fidelity amidst political conditions shifting towards democracy and a radical misinterpretation of the nature of the November 17th Uprising’s historical dislocation, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November forfeited a substantial historical opportunity, opting instead for an alienating combination of extremist nihilism and inflexible ideological rigidity. Revolutionary Organization 17 November reserved, through their counter-productive behavior, a place for themselves in the pantheon of failed Fighting Communist Organizations, a place where these groups can finally enjoy a sense of egalitarianism, having equally failed to illuminate a shining path to socialism through elitist vanguardism.



i. Alexander, Yonah, and Dennis A. Pluchinsky. Europe's Red Terrorists: The Fighting Communist Organizations. London: F. Cass, 1992. ix. Print.

ii. This form of clandestine organization was developed and utilized with lethal effectiveness by the FLN during the Algerian independence movement of 1954-1962, its compartmentalized structure later adopted by FCOs as a means of ensuring intra-organizational and external security.

iii. Kassimeris, George. Europe's Last Red Terrorists: The Revolutionary Organization 17 November. New York: New York UP, 2001. 57. Print.

iv. "Revolutionary Organization 17 November." Institute for the Study of Violent Groups. ISVG, 2012. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://vkb.isvg.org/Wiki/Groups/Revolutionary_Organization_17_November>.

v. Alexander, Yonah, and Dennis A. Pluchinsky. 41.

vi. Alexander, Yonah, and Dennis A. Pluchinsky. 48.

vii. Alexander, Yonah, and Dennis A. Pluchinsky. 1.

viii. The year the KKE, the Communist Party of Greece, organized resistance against the Axis invasion of Greece.

ix. Kassimeris, George. 115.

x. Kassimeris, George. 207.

xi. Revolutionary Organization 17 November’s claim for the attack was initially dismissed by Greek officials due to its “high precision and efficiency.” Rumors proliferated throughout the media that the assassination was the result of an FBI-CIA feud or even a Carlos the Jackal-led Palestinian terrorist operation. [Kassimeris, George. 73.]

xii. Kassimeris, George. 110.

xiii. This sentiment was widely shared with many Greeks, particularly Leftists who lived through both the Truman-backed repression of the Communists after the Greek Civil War of 1946-49 and the military dictatorship of 1967-74. A quintessential articulation of this hatred for the United States and the CIA can be found in Vassos Georghiou’s “The Unrepentant: A Marxist Journalist Confronts the CIA’s Greek Junta,” in which Georghiou questions the omnipotence of the United States based on the question, “if they are so powerful, why do they go to the extreme of installing dictatorships and dissolving political parties, popular organizations, and democratic freedoms?” [Geōrgiou, Vasos. The Unrepentant: A Marxist Journalist Confronts the CIA's Greek Junta. Bloomington, IN: AurthorHouse, 2005. 85. Print.]

xiv. Kassimeris, George. 119.

xv. Smith, Helena. "Terrorists Hold Greece Hostage." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 26 May 1999. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/may/27/helenasmith>.

xvi. The State’s ability to handle a successful electoral transition after a period of authoritarian military dictatorship is testament to the progress made in the years immediately following the Metapolifersi in the realm of democratic consolidation, similar to Argentina’s victory of democracy symbolized by the smooth transition from Raúl Alfonsín to Carlos Menem in 1989 after Argentina’s period of military dictatorship—the first time since 1916 that an incumbent government peacefully surrendered power to a member of the opposition.

xvii. JUSMAGG = Joint US Military Advisory Group in Greece

xviii. PASOK’s parliamentary democracy, according to 17N, catered to a class of “100 families attached onto the country’s flesh like leeches, sucking its labor and preventing any autonomous development.” [Kassimeris, George. 127.]

xix. The assassination of leading industrialist, Dimitris Angelopoulos, chairman of the Halivourgiki Steel company and friend of P.M. Andreas Papandreou took place in a central Athens street with a pistol attack by a young 17N operative who then escaped into the dense morning traffic on a motorcycle. The year before, a series of hijackings emanating from the Athens airport led to Jean-Luc Steiger, president of France’s Air Pilots’ Trade Union’s statement that Athens airport was “the one where arms are passed the most easily” and a $300 million dollar cost in foreign exchange to the Greek tourism industry. [Kassimeris, George. 78-79.] [The Guardian, 25 November 1985]

xx. "I nea phassi tis 17 Noemvri [The new phase of 17 November]." Anti. 1985: 24. Print.

xxi. Kassimeris, George. 88.

xxii. An inability by the Greek government to crack down on domestic terrorism fueled conspiracy theories that PASOK was intentionally refusing to take action against the group. Former CIA Director, James Woolsey, is quoted as saying “[The US government has] strong reasons to believe that high-ranking members of the Greek government known how to go after this organization, if they wanted to, but they refuse to act.” [Karyotis, G. "Securitization of Greek Terrorism and Arrest of the `Revolutionary Organization November 17'" Cooperation and Conflict 42.3 (2007): 271-93. Print.]

xxiii. Kassimeris, George. 89.

xxiv. New York Times 21 Jan. 1990: n. pag. Print.

xxv. Karyotis, G. 279.

xxvi. Kassimeris, George. "For a Place in History: Explaining Greece’s Revolutionary Organization 17 November." Journal of Conflict Studies 27.2 (2007). Journal of Conflict Studies. The GREGG Center for the Study of War and Society. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/jcs/article/view/10547/11864#re1no40>.

xxvii. Kassimeris, George. 96.

xxviii. Kassimeris, George. 96.

xxix. Sewell, William Hamilton. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2005. 227. Print.

xxx. Sewell, William Hamilton. 227.

xxxi. Sewell, William Hamilton. 227.

xxxii. Sewell, William Hamilton. 229.

xxxiii. Doulis, Thomas. The Iron Storm: The Impact on Greek Culture of the Military Junta, 1967-1974. New York City: Xlibris, 2011. 226-227. Print.

xxxiv. A student-led apparatus that organized the majority faction of occupiers.

xxxv. Sewell, William Hamilton. 237.

xxxvi. Mayer, Milton Sanford. They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1955. 100. Print.

xxxvii. Doulis, Thomas. 228.

xxxviii. Doulis, Thomas. 230.

xxxix. Sewell, William Hamilton. 245.

xl. Doulis, Thomas. 234.

xli. Kassimeris, George. 206.

xlii. Badiou, Alain. "The Ethic of Truths." Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. London: Verso, 2001. 41-42. Print.

xliii. Badiou, Alain. 42.

xliv. Badiou, Alain. 42.

xlv. Dokos, Thanos. "Greece." Europe Confronts Terrorism. Ed. Hippel Karin. Von. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 69-70. Print.

xlvi. Kitsantonis, Niki. "Killing Revives Fear of Domestic Terrorism in Greece." New York Times [New York City] 21 July 2010: n. pag. Print.{C}{C}{C}{C}{C}{C}{C}



Print Sources

Alexander, Yonah, and Dennis A. Pluchinsky. Europe's Red Terrorists: The Fighting Communist Organizations. London: F. Cass, 1992. ix. Print.

Badiou, Alain. "The Ethic of Truths." Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. London: Verso, 2001. 41-42. Print.

Dokos, Thanos. "Greece." Europe Confronts Terrorism. Ed. Hippel Karin. Von. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 69-70. Print.

Doulis, Thomas. The Iron Storm: The Impact on Greek Culture of the Military Junta, 1967-1974. New York City: Xlibris, 2011. 226-227. Print.

Geōrgiou, Vasos. The Unrepentant: A Marxist Journalist Confronts the CIA's GreekJunta. Bloomington, IN: AurthorHouse, 2005. 85. Print.

Kassimeris, George. Europe's Last Red Terrorists: The Revolutionary Organization 17 November. New York: New York UP, 2001. 57. Print.

Sewell, William Hamilton. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2005. 227. Print.

Scholarly Articles

Karyotis, G. "Securitization of Greek Terrorism and Arrest of the `Revolutionary Organization November 17'" Cooperation and Conflict 42.3 (2007): 271-93. Print.

Kassimeris, George. "For a Place in History: Explaining Greece’s Revolutionary Organization 17 November." Journal of Conflict Studies 27.2 (2007). Journal of Conflict Studies. The GREGG Center for the Study of War and Society. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/jcs/article/view/10547/11864#re1no40>. 

Magazine and Newspaper:

Kitsantonis, Niki. "Killing Revives Fear of Domestic Terrorism in Greece." New York Times [New York City] 21 July 2010: n. pag. Print.

Smith, Helena. "Terrorists Hold Greece Hostage." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 26 May 1999. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/may/27/helenasmith>.

"I nea phassi tis 17 Noemvri [The new phase of 17 November]." Anti. 1985: 24. Print.

The Guardian, 25 November 1985

New York Times 21 Jan. 1990: n. pag. Print.


"Revolutionary Organization 17 November." Institute for the Study of Violent Groups. ISVG, 2012. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://vkb.isvg.org/Wiki/Groups/Revolutionary_Organization_17_November>.