The 4th of August – Towards a corporatist state

Metaxas’ willingness to stake the country’s social stability on the German option made it a condition sine qua non that the regime be able to gather some degree of popular support, or at least prevent the people from turning against it.

This view was reflected shortly after the establishment of the dictatorship, when in an interview published in the Vradini newspaper, Ioannis Metaxas declared his intention to win over supporters of the Greek Communist Party (KKE). As we shall see, his subsequent decisions demonstrated how seriously Metaxas took his declaration as he entered into an almost permanent state of shadow boxing in the areas of social reform and labour legislation with the now outlawed KKE.

The regime sought to promote an anti-plutocratic image as an alternative to trade unions, political parties and professional and industrial bodies. The first of May became a national holiday, renamed and promoted as national celebration of work day.

It was in its very nature as a dictatorship that made the regime differ from previous governments and it was in its attempts to establish the corporatist organization of the labour market, and by seeking to organize the political apparatus and society according to the same principles, that it departed from the polities followed by previous governments.

Legislation was introduced sanctioning compulsory arbitration and there were plans to increase the minimum wage and improve social welfare. The regime paid a great deal of attention to the enforcement of labour legislation, and the labour ministry did not hold back from fining employers who broke the rules.

The regime was adamant on this point, to the extent that in 1938 it chose to confront the Athens-Piraeus Electricity and Electric Transport Company (known locally simply as ‘Power), owned by the British companies Prudential Assurances and Whitehall Securities Co-operation, and which supplied Athens with electricity and operated its trolley buses and trams. When Power refused to conclude a collective agreement, as stipulated by Greek law, its managing director was arrested and the firm ordered to pay a considerable fine.

This raises the question to what extent these societal and constitutional arrangements may have been inspired by corporatist models. While the regime never developed any coherent theoretical approach either to Italian corporatism or to the Portuguese New State, it demonstrated a keen interest in both examples.

In fact, the regime embarked on a program of ‘horizontal’ restructuring of economic and labor relations in a pattern that revealed the influence of the Italian Fascist and Portuguese Salazarist experiments with corporatism, with this latter being particularly evident in his plans for constitutional revision. The plans became more concrete in the political arena when Metaxas designed a new system of national delegation supported by two bodies: the Great Council of National Labor and the Assembly of the Professions. According to several sources, the king’s strong opposition to corporatist representation led to the postponement of the project.

The King was also against shaping a single party following the dissolution of parliament and the political parties, and Metaxas instead did place great hope in the creation of an official youth organization, the National Youth Organization (EON – Ethniki Organosis Neolaias), which was inspired by the fascist model. A few weeks after the 1936 coup, Metaxas’ program was clear, with its 14th point indicating ‘the remodeling of society by easy stages on a corporatist national basis so that a truly national representation may emerge’.

During the first 14 months following its launch in September 1937, the regime’s theoretical flagship To Neon Kratos”, which means ‘The New State’, invited a number of foreign ideologues to present various aspects of corporatism. One was an introduction to the theoretical and practical aspects of corporatism, three praised the Portuguese dictator Salazar and one was a critique of Italian corporatism.

This fits well with a statement made by Metaxas in which he said he resembled Salazar more than Hitler and Mussolini because the Portuguese leader was sent for through the merit of his ‘scientific qualities’ to improve his people by reforms from above and not raised to power by the support of a mass movement.

It is also worth noting that in 1937 “To Neon Kratos” published two articles on the Soviet Union, one on the Soviet utopia and another one on Soviet education, while the July 1939 issue featured an article on ‘the regulation of the national labour market in Germany’.

According to official figures, 616,000 workers and 141,000 public servants were covered by the 1939 labour legislation. Wages increased on average by 50 per cent between 1935 and 1940, yet, due to consumer price inflation, the real increase was little more then 5 per cent.

According to figures published by the regime, social fund assets totalled 3 billion drachma, and around 37 million drachma was paid in unemployment insurance to former tobacco workers between 1937 and 1939. However, Spiros Linardatos claims the figure was only 650 million drachma, since the regime used these funds to finance the rearmament programme.

Job creation was an issue of central importance to the regime. According to the German legation, the Greek govemment succeeded in reducing unemployment from 1213,000 to 26,000 during its first year in power, and according to the same source by 1939 unemployment had been brought as low as 15,000.

Metaxas believed certain aspects of Nazism and Fascism – unlike the parliamentary regime he had overthrown – offered answers for the future that could be applied in Greece. Apart from appreciating the pragmatic value of these models we should recall Metaxas and his political clique also showed interest in their ideology and that the principles of corporatism’s organic conception of state and society were known to Metaxas and that he saw a clear affinity between Salazar and himself. We also know he was acquainted with Paul Krannhat’s Das Organische Waltbild and kept a copy of the work in his library.

Furthermore, by relying on corporatism, Metaxas attempted to substitute a single citizen-state relation for the kind of party-voter bipartisan clientelism that had dominated Greek politics since the beginning of the National Schism. It was In these efforts that Metaxas turned to the Nazi and Fascists mass-mobilization models and attempted to transplant them to Greece.

The creation of top-down organizations to mobilize the party-less masses and to organize the workers and peasants who had lost their independent unions must be seen as long-term investments in the social and political future of Greece. However, because of the shod duration of the regime, they would remain ersatz mass movements, representing the efforts of a regime that attempted to win from future generations of Greeks what their contemporaries never provided: mass support.

The regime did adapt a number of model and symbols from Nazism and Fascism. This was true in respect of the regime’s new and carefully designed modes of communicating itself and its messages to the public: symbols such as the Roman salute and the Cretan double axe symbol, which in its simple outline and pre-Christian pagan inspiration resembled the German swastika and the Italian fasces.

Furthermore, Metaxas’ titles -First Peasant, First Worker, Chief- call to mind the titles Führer and Duce, which were adopted by Hitler and Mussolini, respectively. Finally the regime’s symbolic claim that the Greece of the Fourth of August was the third Greek civilization bears a close resemblance to Hitler’s declaration of the German Third Reich and to Mussolini’s discourses on subjects concerning Italy’s destiny as heir to the Roman Empire and the idea of a new Rome. Its palingenetic thrust is evident in a number of Metaxas’ speeches when he referred to Sparta, calling the Greeks to commit themselves to the nation in the same manner as did the Spartans so that Greece could regenerate itself into a new state.

Finally, some of the regime’s ostensible use of Nazi and Fascist symbols, and its allegiance to the values they espoused must also be seen as a way to prepare Greece for Hitler’s emerging new European order. While pragmatism undoubtedly played a role here, we should not forget that the ideological content of a number of the new institutions the regime imported from Fascist Europe did correspond with values that were intrinsic to Metaxas’ world-view, first of all corporatism.

The same is also true of some of the practices and institutions his regime established. Here we should mention the Labour Battalions and the youth organization, the National Youth Organization (EON, Ethniki Organosi Neolaias), which resembled the Hitler Youth. As a declaration of the affinity between the Greek and German system, Metaxas indicated his support for an exhibition in Athens in 1938 organized by the Nazi organization, Strength through Joy (KdF, Kraft durch Freude), by being present at its official opening by Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front (DAF, Deutsche Arbeitsfront).

This demonstrates that Metaxas was willing to make some aspects of these models his own. It is also a fact that Metaxas demonstrated a strong inclination to learn from Nazism and Fascism and that the regime did adopt a number of their models. It was in the midst of this learning process that the war demanded his full attention, leaving it a moot point how far along this ideological path he would have pursued.

– By Mogens Pelt