The Ideology of the Metaxas Regime
The first and most crucial question to arise in any examination of the “Fourth of August” regime is whether and to what extent it was influenced by contemporary European totalitarian systems. More specifically, since fascist regimes constituted the fashion of that time, could the “Fourth of August” be considered one of them? During the interwar years fascist tendencies had been manifested in various ways in Greece and admiration had been repeatedly expressed for the Italian and German systems, all the more as these seemed to possess precisely what Greece was most lacking: administrative efficiency and internal order.
At the theoretical level, Ion Dragoumis had developed national-socialist ideas just before his death and Ioannis Sykoutris openly advocated the need for drastic change towards a militant totalitarian system, while Fotos Politis regarded the fascist and Nazi regimes as agents of a “positive new way of thinking”. In everyday politics acclaim for fascism, and in particular Mussolini’s Italy, came from such staunch republicans as the Liberal leader Venizelos, as well as the head of the 1922 Revolutionary Committee General Plastiras. The chief admirer of fascist methods, however, was the leader of the National Radical Party. Kondylis unreservedly praised Hitler and was invited by the Italian War Veterans, an organization controlled by the fascist state, to visit Italy where he eventually met Mussolini. As a climax, he was even planning to imitate on February 1, 1936 the Duce’s triumphant march to seize power. Various organizations of fascist character made their appearance at times but they remained more or less insignificant both in following and political influence.
The extremist Theodoros Skylakakis founded in Thessaloniki the “Organization of the National Sovereign State”. The man who was destined to become in 1936 Minister of Interior in the Metaxas government also chose this city and centre of a flourishing Jewish community to publish the newspaper Kratos, with both a distinct fascist colouring and an anti-semitic line. Anti-semitism was a rare but not unknown feature in Greek political life and by no means an attitude only of the extreme right. Hostility to the Jews was most noticeable in Thessaloniki, where the Jewish element was numerous and powerful. It was connected with the Jews’ mostly anti-Venizelist political orientation, which made them automatic targets of verbal attacks from the Liberal Party. On 6 September 1936, for instance, Venizelos himself in an interview in the Jewish Post criticized them bluntly and directly as unpatriotic Greek citizens who in 1913 had opposed the incorporation of Thessaloniki into Greece. The EEE, “National Greek Union”, was also an obscure anti-semitic organization founded in 1933- 1934, while the “Steel Helmets” appeared in the early thirties on the model of the German Stahlhelmers. Finally, the politician Georgios Merkouris produced in his work “The Corporatist State” the most serious and systematic exposition in Greece of fascist ideas, of which he also stood out as the champion. It was he who eventually organized a public meeting on Nov. 27, 1935, in support of Georgios Kondylis, and banners were displayed bearing the swastika and the crown. All these organizations, however, failed to make an impression on the wider public.
To what extent did Metaxas himself form part of, or was he affected by, these? Despite his openly expounded authoritarian views, the truth is he never indulged in public commendation of the fascist states abroad, neither before nor after the establishment of his dictatorship, or did he ever admit that he was in any way trying to create a similar system. Nevertheless, his rule represents the closest approach Greece ever made to fascism, and in many aspects it bore the unmistakable marks of its influence. In order to decide, however, if it really was a fascist regime, its constituent elements must be examined.
From the traditional ideological foundation of the right, Metaxas retained two principles of negative character; anti-communism and anti-parliamentarism. Both made up the counterpart of his principal undertakings. In his endeavour to introduce a new system of national ideology, these two negative elements meant the rejection of the past; in his emphatic calls for unity and national solidarity, they constituted the condemnation of both the divisive teachings of communism and the corresponding practice of party politics; finally, in his fervent campaign for a return to the indigenous tradition, they out-lined his abhorrence of “foreign imports.
Communism, parliamentarism, and the political world in general provided the villains which justified the dictatorship and were accordingly vilified as “the double yoke” or the “infection” under which the people suffered. Parliamentarism in particular, with the concomitant economic system of a capitalist free economy, had allegedly reduced the people to a corrupt selfishness and materialism. Even Rousseau was invoked to back up the “logical monstrosity” of the bankrupt representative system.
Against these “evils”, Metaxas concentrated primarily on two positive objectives; the initiation of a Regeneration and the achievement of National Unity. The first formed the object of a campaign for a “New Greece launched from the earliest days of the dictatorship, and soon became a dominant theme of the four-year rule appearing even in the hymns of the “Fourth of August and EON (National Youth Organisation). It included primarily the creation of a new national civilization as well as such tasks as the raising of the nation’s morale, improving national education and securing respect for the country internationally. The strength necessary for the general mobilization was to be drawn from a return “to the roots and sources” an indication of the dictator’s predilection for the “beautiful Greek tradition” which came side by side with his rejection of foreign influences.
The new civilization to be moulded was soon defined as the “Third Hellenic Civilization“, succeeding the ancient classical and Byzantine tradition and combining in itself the finest elements of both. But, even though this was fixed as one of the foremost objectives of the regime, its content was never sufficiently developed; it remained at the stage of vague generalities, remote inspirational dream of the dictator. It was accompanied by explycit references to the “Greek race” and its claim to be a “chosen stock with a destiny to civilize the world.
On other occasions, Metaxas defined the guiding norms of his regime, from which emerges an outline of his ideal and the civilization he contemplated. It is an austere model demanding from the individual an idealistic dedication and unreserved commitment to the Nation and the Whole. From his first message, he called for self-control “as the Spartans knew it”, i.e. a conscious and voluntary self-restriction and obedience to the state, which gives to the individual greater but “disciplined freedom”. This was precisely what Greece had lacked for the past 100 years. Metaxas combined this concept with an anti-materialistic and anti-individualistic idealism to give a strong ethical character to the exemplary society and civilization he envisaged. In this rigorous and moralistic model, work became another indispensable component, not simply as a duty but as “God’s blessing on men” with a spiritual content which “makes us independent and free”. The message was clear. Every Greek citizen must work; there was no room for idle people, because “our motto is order, discipline and work!”
Such a telling motto would be sufficient to illustrate the militant character of the new orientation with which Metaxas wanted to [provide the nation. The picture is completed by another major aspect of his nationalistic ideology, collectivistic nationalism. Closely connected with national regeneration, this principle redefined the individual’s position in society and the nation, and called for the willing acceptance of hard sacrifices.
The basis consisted of the organic conception of the State, which was considered a “living organism”, a force with an independent existence and interests, founded on the idea of an “organized national mass”. All inner conflicts, for example between state and society, would be eliminated. The reason was that the organic whole now made up society itself, and being a homogenous unit composed in effect the nation. In turn the nation would be represented by the new national state. The individual must merge with the whole, and his own will was to be submitted to that of the nation. No one would be absolutely free and no individual could exist outside the state. Everything constituted part of the state, through which alone the will of the Greek people would be ex-pressed. And this collective national will transcended the present and was independent of the living components of the nation, since it represented the volition not only of this era but also of the people of previous generations through thousands of years of history. Furthermore, individuals would subordinate their interests and suppress their own appetites and selfishness before the national collective welfare; only thus could they be powerful and consequently free. By merging with the whole they would render it powerful and free, and these two qualities would then be enjoyed by the individual members in their turn, though always within the framework of the whole. In other words, nothing other than fusion between the whole and the nation could offer real freedom and only through such a process could self-fulfilment be achieved.
Closely knit with Metaxas’ ideas on national collectivism were, first, his preoccupation with unifying the nation and, second, his egalitarianism, both expressed in the catch-word “Greece of Unity and Equality”.
The quest for Unity led him to a series of steps, including the promotion of an “apolitical” image for his government, followed by an approach to the Venizelists, the parallel persecution of anti-Venizelist extremists, and his relentless polemics against the old political world as well as the communists. Outside the political field, however, his effort to unite the nation under his dictatorship was mirrored well in his social theories and policy. His favourite concept, that of astikon kathestos (bourgeois establishment), or astiki taxis (bourgeois class), acquired now a particular context to serve the guiding cause of national unity. It continued to be the “main bearer of national tradition” and the bulwark of society. But Metaxas at this point extended it to embody not only the farmers, whom he had earlier incorporated, but, also the workers. For the dictator, apparently the astiki taxis was not determined by the socio-economic position of its members, but by the zest of their nationalism and their loyalty to tradition, in brief, by their attachment to what he called astikos civilization as was “bestowed on us by history”. The “astikos”population is based essentially on the national feeling, on the love for the Fatherland, on religion, the family, and the civilization whose fruits we enjoy today. The “astikon kathestos” was identified with the nation but the astiki taxis of the new-age was intended to be militant, mobilized and hard working, and Metaxas was crystal clear in rejecting its former image as a propertied leisured class.
The astikon kathestos should embrace and unite all nationally-thinking Greeks, and the New State represented them without distinctions or privileges. For the sake of this unity, and considering social strife to be “the greatest misfortune that can befall a country”. he laid special emphasis on achieving the cooperation of capital and labour. Capital, in fact, was regarded as accumulated labour and was recognized as necessary so long as it was managed properly and for the benefit of society. Its social role was further accentuated by the sacrifices that were asked from it for securing unity. But beyond this necessary cooperation demanded of capital, Metaxas reserved some of his harshest language for the plutocrats and the upper classes, reproaching them among other misdemeanours for tax evasion, profiteering, and political opportunism.
Though tied into a system he could not drastically alter under the circumstances -mainly the external crisis -Metaxas’ sympathies seemed to lie on the side of the lower classes, in particular the farmers and the workers. Actually, in contrast to the upper social strata, these seemed to enjoy privileged treatment from Metaxas, especially so in his public pronouncements. They were repeatedly called “pillars of the nation” or “of society”, while the dictator more than once affirmed that the “Fourth of August” regime was established for their benefit. He was especially flattering towards the workers, whom he often addressed as “colleagues” or “comrades”. The “Fourth of August” was a “workers’ regime” based on a “national, astiki, workers’ society”. May 1, 1940 he declared as the National Day of Work, and, in front of a workers’ rally he delivered on that occasion his longest speech.
His sympathy towards the farmers, on the other hand, was connected with the return to the roots and the survival of tradition. People in the countryside were considered “pure” samples of “our race”, guardians of the national heritage, unspoiled by the influences to which urban dwellers were subjected. In concrete terms, this attitude of Metaxas was translated into policy measures bearing a distinct populist character. He declared at first that one of the government’s prime objectives was this “social reform” for a “fair distribution of wealth” and primarily the improvement of the working people’s lot, though always within a society maintaining its national character, peace, and solidarity.
He set out accordingly, to put into effect a fairly extensive program of social welfare and economic measures to benefit the poorer classes. The most important measures included, firstly, in the sector of agricultural policy, the moratorium on farmers’ debts (Law 6771 1937), the granting of full property titles for the land allotted to refugees (Law 182211939), and the abolition of the taxation on olive-oil production (Law 14621 1938). Measures in Labour included the establishment of collective labour contracts and of compulsory arbitration for industrial disputes (Law 8661 1937), enforcement of an eight-hour working-day (Law 547/1937), the fixing of minimum wages, the application of the Law on Social Security (Law 62981 1934), the creation of the Organization of Social Security by the end of 1936, and measures to combat unemployment, including the establishing of a public employment agency. The Workers’ Centre was also founded as an organization designed to look after the workers’ housing, recreation, and cultural betterment.
Most of these labour laws were never fully implemented during the Metaxas rule. They presupposed sweeping institutional and economic reforms, which the dictator did not appear inclined to put into effect in such times of crisis. As a result, the above laws remained at an embryonic stage of development and brought only limited advantages to the country’s economic life. Another aspect of this populist policy was Metaxas’ attitude on the language issue. This had been in the past a matter of long and often violent controversy between the supporters of two versions of the Greek language, the “katharevousa” and the “demotic”. The first was formalistically modelled on the ancient rules and “purified” of later “malformations”, while the second consisted of a variant closer to the spoken popular idiom as it had evolved after centuries of use. The whole problem had become inbly intermingled with politics, the “conservatives using the “katharevousa” and the “progressives” the demotic”. Metaxas personally rejected the artificiality and rigidity of the dispute, which he believed would be settled in time by an ultimate fusion of the two versions. Nevertheless, he exhibited a preference for the more popular idiom in a variety of ways. He ordered the strict observance of the education program’s directive about the teaching of the “demotic” in elementary schools, and he set up a committee to compile its grammar. Besides, on many occasions, and especially when addressing mass rallies, he himself employed a language if not “demotic” at least remarkably close to it.
Metaxas also had plans for decentralization to ensure that “healthy centres of local vitality, culture, and wealth are built up in the provinces”. His belief in the importance of local communities and the role these could play as economic cells, provided the inspiration for the most important novelty in the regime’s socio-economic policy. It consisted of a scheme for the gradual organization of all “productive classes” into cooperatives, starting from the boosting of the already existing agricultural cooperative units which would serve as the backbone of such an order. The ultimate target was the setting up of a system of representation, most probably in the form of a corporative assembly based on the above organization. The overall result would be a sort of corporatist state, which harmonized perfectly with Metaxas’ convictions on social and national solidarity as well as his rejection of individualism and class struggle.
The idea appeared in the early days of the regime, though only as a vague allusion to a “new system of representation”. Before long, however, -Metaxas became more precise. First he talked about a “cooperative structuring of society into a system of national delegation”, and then he enlarged upon the manner in which the interests of the economic classes would be voiced through two bodies, the Great Council of National Labour and the Assembly of Professions. On 22 November 1936 Constantine Zavitsianos, deputy Premier and Finance Minister, published details about a horizontal (according to branches of production), not vertical (according to social class), syndicalist organization. Nevertheless, despite the initial enthusiasm when the corporatist state was declared to be one of the government’s main objectives, references to it gradually decreased and no further details were mentioned again. To all appearances, the plan was abandoned temporarily and all that survived from it was the emphasis on the agricultural cooperatives. In all probability, the King’s strong opposition to corporatism together with the external crisis, which did not allow such a sweeping internal change or experimentation, induced Metaxas into postponing it, but certainly not into forgetting it entirely.
The populist policy of the dictator, and in general his behaviour and feelings towards the lower social strata especially the workers and farmers, demonstrate a more general and fundamentally paternalistic attitude towards the people. It had its origins in the dictator’s attitude towards his family and was expressed in his sentimentality his constant anxiety over its members and the inant concern with their welfare, but also in the rigid hierarchical rules that were strictly observed which did tallow his authority and decisions to be ever challenged. ring the dictatorship, Metaxas envisaged the populace a similar way, though on a much wider scale. The fact at at that time he was already old made it easier for to think of himself, and for others to accept him, as g “father”. Indeed, his paternalism was to chare his whole rule and the “Fourth of August” regime. Directed primarily towards the poorer classes as the weaker members of society, and naturally the young, it was epitomized in his note, “My joy are the poor and the children” and was reflected both in his diary entries and his speeches. The latter were often delivered in a mild fatherly tone fit for an elderly father rather than a dictator who wanted to mobilize the nation. Sometimes he addressed the workers as “my children” but it was mainly in EON that he found the ideal outlet for his feelings, because this organization combined both the elements of youth and the popular origin of most of its members. All his dreams and expectations for the country’s youth were personified in the National Youth Organization EON. This represented the most systematic effort to build a force devoted to the regime and the principles of the new state. It was also an attempt to make real an idealized conception of youth and, on a large scale, of the new country as Metaxas wanted to construct it: youthful, militant, patriotic, disciplined, committed, egalitarian, non-individualistic, high minded, and virtuous. EON depicted Metaxas’ major aspiration for the future of the nation, and as such it became one of his major preoccupations.
EON was established soon after the imposition of the dictatorship under Law 334 of 7 October 1936, and immediately Metaxas began to define its aims. Initially, it was only “a youth organization to cultivate solidarity among comrades”. As EON gradually grew, however, Metaxas demanded of its members absolute discipline, tougher than the military one and total devotion to the principles of the New State “for all your life”. Thus the members of EON would serve as “the model of honour and duty”, because “our organization consists of combatant young people conscious of the need for struggle and victory”. In 1938 after a clash with his Minister of Education, Metaxas assumed personal control of this Ministry, under whose authority EON fell as did the problems of youth in general. At the first congress of EON on 5 January 1939, Metaxas fixed the ideals, on which there “needed to be no discussion”: King, Fatherland, Religion, Regeneration of Greece. Soon the purpose of the organization was openly declared to be the embodiment of the new state spirit, “an institution to enter into the life of the State in order to feel, understand, love and continue it” as its members were taught “the ideology on which the new state is founded”.
By the end of 1939, membership in EON became almost compulsory for young people, and other youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and the Labour Battalions, had merged with it. Metaxas was by then secure in his position. His ideology had been sufficiently developed to appear as a coherent system, and the Third Civilization scheme had been launched. From late 1939 until the dictator’s death, the directives to EON included the principal components of the regime’s ideology: unity, solidarity, equality, hard work for a New Greece, and finally sacrifices as well as struggle for the supreme national ideals and the realization of the Third Hellenic Civilization.
Finally, mention should be made of Metaxas’ attitude, towards two fundamental values of Greek society, Family and Religion. Both were recognized and highly upheld, but assigned to a subordinate place in the scale of priorities. Religion, in particular, which had always claimed precedence in Greek spiritual life, was now relegated to a lower position, below the ideal of nationalism. This was a trend that had its origins in the work of the founding theorists of the right, who refrained from incorporating religion into their doctrines and retained an indifferent attitude towards the Church. A number of them, such as P. Yannopoulos or D. Daniilides, went further by taking a firm stance on what they regarded, first, as a conflict between the eastern Christian orthodox spirit and the Greek tradition and second, as a competition of loyalty between nation and religion. They expressed their un-reserved preference for, and devotion to, the idea of the nation, and though they were restrained in expounding their views on religion itself, their comments on the church were often decidedly caustic. During the inter-war years, religion and the church were never challenged, but neither did they ever become a major issue of interest, certainly not in politics.
As his diary indicates, Metaxas was a pious man, and in his thinking religion played a not unimportant role before as well as during his dictatorship. He declared that the Orthodox Church was “never separated from the Nation” and that EON was a “Christian Organization”. But the nation would always come first. The dictatorship was imposed to salvage Fatherland, Religion, and Family in that order and the youngsters should first be “real Greeks” and then add “religious feeling” to become “Greek Christians”. When setting the goals of EON, king and fatherland came first, religion and family second. In the rough draft of a constitution he prepared in the last months of his life, religion merited no more than a passing reference. Likewise, God never featured in any of the mottoes or hymns of the regime or of EON, all of which by contrast were heavily laden with nationalist slogans. The only entry in Metaxas’ diary during his rule concerning the Church contains the repudiation, “I do not care about the Church”. His subsequent personal involvement in the election of a Primate was due simply to his feeling that the whole issue had become a challenge to his authority.
The family in its turn was recognized as “an institution closely linked with the existence of Greek Society”, of which it was the “basic cell”. But Metaxas acknowledged it also as one of the main sources of reaction to the regime and particularly to EON, as parents saw in this youth organization an influence and devotion that challenged their own. Metaxas criticized over-possessive parents who considered their children “as destined only to make them happy”, thus curtailing the young people’s role in society, and those parents who “idolize” their children, lavishing upon them an “exaggerated adoration”. In the competition between family and State for the youngsters’ loyalty, the dictator gave priority to the latter: the parents must always be ready “to offer with pride their children to the Fatherland and Society”, because “the child is not a piece of house-furniture… it belongs to Greece”. However, as a gesture of recognition of the importance of the family and its preservation, he finally asked for the parents’ cooperation and assistance.
From this analysis of the ideology of the “Fourth of August” regime, a number of points emerge concerning its character. Certain elements of it were of an undoubtedly fascist nature, and were commonly found in the contemporary leading western European totalitarian states. They either formed part of both major and minor doctrines in the theoretical foundation of the dictatorship, or they were practical applications of these ideas in the regime’s actual policy.
First came the doctrine of collectivistic nationalism with the emphasis on the general will and the idea of the nation as the highest good in which alone individual liberty could exist. This was accompanied by a great number of untested principles and ideas: the identification of the nation with the state and subsequently with the regime, the individualistic concept of “disciplinarian freedom”, the subordination to the collective interest, the organic theory of society as a “living entity”, the principle of social solidarity and internal unity in contrast to class struggle, the recognition of private property as a “social function and of work as social duty. These all formed the basic and common elements in both Metaxas’ ideology and that of fascist regimes.
Second, there were the cooperatives and the proposed corporatist state with the corresponding idiomatic Assembly of Representation, the Third Hellenic Civilization so markedly reminiscent of the Third Reich, Metaxas’ calls moral anti-individualistic civilization close to Mussolini’s Stato-Etico (Ethical State) with its spiritual and ethical character, the fierce anticommunist campaign and anti-parliamentary polemics, and the creation of a police state with its monopolistic control of mass communication. Furthermore, some organizations were set up very similar to those paramilitary ones that existed in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, such as the Labour Battalions (Metaxas’ “guard”) and most important EON with its combative orientation and military hierarchy.
Finally, there are a number of what appear as minor manifestations and secondary ideological elements of the dictatorship that indicate a clear fascist influence. These help to shed light on the regime’s nature, as well as build a more complete picture of the then prevailing climate and mood. They comprise the appeal to the youth especially through EON, a certain degree of leader cult and “earth veneration”, some preaching of “chosen race” the invoking of the people’s faith, and elements of the emotional fascist ethos in the form of efforts to arouse enthusiasm and cause emotional involvement. Also there were burnings of books, visits by top Nazi officials, even an exhibition in May of 1938 under the title “Joy and Work on the Nazi model”. Moreover, the Tagmata Ergasias (“Work Battalions” or “Labor Battalions”) and EON were clad in military-style uniforms and had adopted the fascist salute, while EOWs emblem closely resembled the fasces.
It appears, therefore, that common points did exist between the local Metaxas dictatorship and the fascist or Nazi regimes abroad. But these similarities must be accepted with some reservations, especially when determining the overall character of the “Fourth of August”. Indeed, these reservations finally substantially alter the initial impression that one might have of the Metaxas rule.
The ideology of the “Fourth of August” was never formulated into a fully comprehensive system and never acquired the sophistication of the theories of its Western European totalitarian counterparts. It lacked a founding theorist, and Metaxas had neither the ability nor the time for such a task. His statements and declarations ultimately provided the guiding principles, but the various ideas lay scattered confusedly among them. Moreover, they constituted for the most part straight forward and empirical developments of simple views of the dictator -many of them unoriginal and influenced by Greek or foreign thinkers -or some times plain copies of foreign theories. No official party was ever set up that could serve as an agent of an ideology. Nor was EON, with a largely adolescent membership, in a position to undertake such a serious mission. The task was left almost exclusively to Metaxas and a few high-ranking officials of the regime.
Lacking both the cohesion of a system and suitable institutions through which it could be expressed, the regime’s ideology could not possibly be applied on a wide scale, nor was any actual attempt made to employ it as the basis of an official and effective indoctrination. The daily bombardment of slogans and one-sided information, inevitable under a dictatorial rule, was decidedly desultory. Thus, the public remained more or less coolly detached and was never effectively brainwashed or affected to any significant degree. Consequently, there were never in Greece any of those public manifestations of ideological commitment through mass emotional involvement, mass hypnosis, or hysteria.
As to the practical implementation of the ideology, one sees that no concrete steps were taken to realize the idea of a collectivistic society, nor did the concept of the corporatist state make much progress. The “Third Hellenic Civilization” remained a rough under-developed scheme, which did not in fact characterize or dominate the four-year period of dictatorship. And despite the outward appearances of the Labour Battalions and EON, as well as the slogans they advertised, in practice there was little militancy or ideological mobilization in support of the regime. This was largely due to the lack of an official party to act as an agent for such a spirit or as a prime mover of any corresponding activism. Neither was the regime absolutely totalitarian in the strict sense of the word. Even though the nation was elevated to the position of a supreme value and identified with the regime, no total loyalty to it was demanded of Greeks; other ideals and institutions retained a certain position of importance, albeit secondary, for example the King, religion, and the family.
Furthermore, the leader-cult never acquired the mystical authority it possessed under Italian fascism or German Nazism. There was little evidence of the “Führerprinzip” here. Metaxas’ image was paternal and benevolent and, indeed, was consciously projected as such by the dictator himself. Earth was not the source of the power of the race, but was exalted and glorified simply on the occasion of the campaign for boosting agriculture. Finally, faith, together with enthusiasm, was only another way of asking for confidence; it was not pushed to extremes, neither did it imply the establishment of the regime’s ideology as a new religion. The “chosen race” slogan never became a fully credible doctrine nor was it methodically promoted. Though influences from outside were rejected, alien elements within enjoyed tolerance, and all discrimination, especially on religious grounds, was condemned. Metaxas himself undermined the “chosen race” concept by confessing explicitly to its purely utilitarian value as a means of strengthening the nation’s self-confidence and morale. People should deliberately “exaggerate” in their self-estimation and they must believe even unjustifiably that they are superior. For Metaxas then, this was not an expression of aggressive but rather of defensive nationalism to improve the people’s self-image and increase their optimism, both necessary for the hard times ahead.
The Labour Battalions, the Greek equivalent to the German Sturmabteilung, had an inglorious end, as they were soon dissolved and absorbed into EON, which for its part failed to assume any important political role. The fascist salute used by these organizations was never seen to be returned by Metaxas, who himself, in spite of being a former senior army officer, did not adopt the uniform-wearing practice common to most fascist leaders in Europe.
It must be noted here that the regime did include a number of admirers and over-zealous emulators of the methods and ideas of the contemporary totalitarian regimes. These people were responsible for a great number of fascist-inspired actions. Metaxas himself had problems with their excessive eagerness and sometimes came into direct conflict with them. And even though Theodoros Skylakakis, the most fanatical of them, was soon removed from the government, others remained who exerted a considerable influence on the dictator and on the government’s policy. For instance, Kostas Kotzias, Under-Secretary and Governor of Athens, was instrumental in the formation of the Labour Battalions, the first of which he inspected and saluted in the fascist manner on 28 November 1937 in Athens. He often played host to German visitors and, with Skylakakis, was considered an ardent germanophile. The Under-Secretary for the Press, Theologos Nikoloudis, was another advocate of totalitarianism and National Socialism. His extremism caused certain embarrassment to Metaxas, especially his insistence on the creation of a Ministry of Propaganda, which not surprisingly he asked for himself. However, these persons’ roles should not be overrated. Their activities, though they admittedly lent some colouring to the regime, were far from being the decisive factor in determining the character of the dictatorship, something which was affected primarily by Metaxas’ own policy and ideas.
Some aspects of the regime that were also to be found in contemporary fascist states were not in fact specifically fascist characteristics, but rather, they represented common features of dictatorial regimes in general. Such are anti-parliamentarism, of course, with the accompanying anti-individualism and anti-liberalism, the police state with its methods and practices including the control of the press as well as the suppression of the rights of the individual. Finally, exaltation of the leader was also a common feature of personal authoritarian governments.
By and large then, the “Fourth of August” regime did not concentrate in itself the necessary overwhelming characteristics that might place it beyond dispute in the same category with the Western European model Fascist and National Socialist states, whatever its apparent similarities and affinities with them. In other words, it should be seen as a borderline case, where both resemblances and elements of imitation are present as important aspects of the regime, but they have not been pushed far enough and are not sufficient to label it conclusively. The “Fourth of August’s hybrid nature was illustrated only too clearly by the contradiction of the final armed confrontation between Greece under Metaxas and the “kindred” regimes of the Axis. This ultimate irony was commented on with bitterness in the dictator’s last notes in his book of thoughts.
After all then, what could be considered the dominant character of the Metaxas rule? The dictator himself -again in his last notes- states that after August 4, 1936, Greece became “an anti-communist, anti-parliamentarian, totalitarian state, with the workers and farmers as its foundation, and consequently anti-plutocratic,. . . where, in addition, no governing party was established”.
If this was Metaxas’ conception and intention for the regime, it was also a very proper description of it. But all these qualities point towards not so much a fascist state as one of the new right. In fact, it appears that Metaxas’ rule might best be considered a paternalistic benevolent dictatorship of the New Right, which never reached the stage of becoming fascist. The features that support this view include the distinctive populism in policy and ideology with the emphasis on the farmers and workers as “pillars” of the nation and the concomitant anti-capitalist and anti-plutocratic undertone; the militant nationalism concentrating on the regeneration of the nation; the absence of an official state party and in its place the effort to create an all-embracing movement where “the party is d the people”, the paramountcy of internal social unity in an enlarged and accommodating astikon kathestos, and opposition to communism and parliamentarism on grounds of their divisive effects; the radicalism, moderate in social policy but more far-reaching in political innovations with an envisaged novel system of representation.
These are all undoubtedly indications of the New Right, and the “Fourth of August” should most probably be classified under it. Although some steps towards fascism had been taken, the process was never carried through to its fruition. The fascist elements remained incomplete and insufficiently developed to prove decisive. Some attribute this to Metaxas’ idiosyncrasy, largely his advanced age which made him none too eager for such drastic and demanding experiments, others to the King’s reaction, and yet others to the basic Greek disposition, which is antipathetic to regimentation.
– Written by Constantine Sarandis, “The Ideology and Character of the Metaxas Regime.” In The Metaxas Dictatorship: Aspects of Greece 1936-1940, edited by Robin Higham and Thanos Veremis, 147-78. Athens: The Hellenic Foundation for Defense and Foreign Policy, 1993.