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The Communist Party of Greece after the collapse of

Communism (1989–2006) : from proletarian

internationalism to ethno - populism
Nikos Marantzidis

I. The Communist Party of Greece until 1989

Unique in the European context until 1974,1 the Greek Communist Party was
hegemonic within the Left. Up to 1974, the country lacked a strong socialist or
social - democratic party – the term “Left” in Greece was and partly remains ex-
clusively associated with Communism.2 This was due to sociological ( weak la-
bor movement reflecting a small industrial working class ) but also to historical
reasons. The latter were in strong connection with the civil war (1943–1949)
which produced a polarized political environment leading to the isolation of the
communist party from the rest of the political system.
Until the military coup d’ Etat in April 1967, even if the Greek Communist
Party was outlawed, its legal political representation, the United Democratic Left
( EDA ), was able to win a substantial degree of political and electoral influence
and for a short period it even became the main opposition party gaining in the
1958 parliamentary elections 25 % of the vote. In 1968, the party split because
of a continuous and intense interior crisis. The soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia
played a catalytic role leading to the creation of a new renovator communist par-
ty, more independent from the Soviet Union. This party named Communist
Party of Greece – Interior ( KKE Esoterikou ) became later on the Greek version
of the euro - communism. Despite the fact that this party had the support of an
important part of the country’s intelligentsia and youth organizations, the KKE
Esoterikou never developed into a real threat for the orthodox communist par-
ty, the KKE.
Apart from the first elections after the collapse of the dictatorship where the
two parties formed an electoral coalition, the relations among the two commu-
nist parties were inimical. The two parties faced each other for the first time in
the 1977 elections. The KKE succeeded in dominating the Communist space

1 The fist part of the article is based on an analysis written by Kalyvas / Marantzidis, Greek
Communism 1968–2001, pp. 665–690.
2 Kapetanyannis, The Communists, p. 145.
2 Nikos Marantzidis

Table 1 : Electoral Performance and Proportion of Seats in the Parliament

Elections KKE KKE Interior
1974 9.5* (2.0) – (.6)
1977 9.4 (3.6) 2.7 (.6)
1981 10.9 (4.3) 1.3 (0)
1985 9.8 (4.0) 1.7 (.3)
* In 1974, the two parties participated in the elections in the context of the United Left
(Enomeni Aristera ) electoral coalition.

and marginalizing the KKE Interior ever since. Whereas the KKE obtained elec-
toral scores ranging between 9 and 11 percent from 1977 to 1985, the KKE
Interior hovered on the edge of relevance getting less than 3 percent ( Table 1).
The KKE’s dominance was also reflected in the organizational field. Its esti-
mated membership in 1987 was 100,000 to 120,000 compared to KKE Interi-
or’s meager 12,000 to 14,000.3 Its domination was due to the endorsement of
the Soviet Union, which was considered by many Greek Communists as the “re-
al socialist” incarnation. What probably helped this endorsement was a consid-
erable financial component.4 Moreover, the KKE was in control of a valuable
brand name with considerable resonance among Communist voters.
For the first time since their appearance the communists felt a strong com-
petition from a Socialist Party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement ( PASOK ).
Created in 1974 by A. Papandreou ( the son of a prominent centrist politician ),
PASOK adopted a radical discourse, rather not compatible for a European so-
cialist party. With this way he was able to expand the party’s audience towards
the left electorate. At the beginning socialists and communists had the same po-
litical impact, but during the years PASOK proved to be extremely efficient.
From a small party in the first post - Junta elections it became a powerful party
in a few years ( Table 2). Generally, the relations between the two main political
families of the left pass through different stages : from cooperation to open strug-
In 1981, PASOK won a resounding electoral victory and formed the first so-
cialist government of Greece. Its victory was a double - edge sword for the
Communists.5 On the one hand, PASOK’s victory was based on an electoral
platform that granted the Communist Left many of its wishes : it was against EEC
membership, against NATO, and against allowing the US military bases to stay
in Greece. On the other hand, as it turned out, PASOK was not serious about
implementing its radical program; yet, between 1974 and 1985, PASOK devel-

3 Kapetanyannis, The Communists, p. 166.

4 Afinian, Oi scheseis KKE kai KK Sovietikis Enosis, p. 260.
5 Marantzidis, Partis et élections, pp. 7–25.
The Communist Party of Greece 3

Table 2 : Comparative table of the electoral performance of Socialist and

Communist parties (1974–1985)
Elections Socialist Party – PASOK Communist Parties
1974 13.5 9.5
1977 25.3 12.1
1981 48.0 12.2
1985 45.8 11.5

oped a strategy that has correctly been described as “populist”.6 This strategy
combined a moderate set of policies ( pro - EEC and pro - NATO – even with some
reservations ) and a highly radical discourse directed against the Right. PASOK’s
ability to sustain this contradictory strategy was contingent on the combination
of the charismatic personality of its leader, Andreas Papandreou and the well -
greased operation of a very extensive clientelistic machine.7 A key implication
of the populist strategy, greatly enhanced by the electoral system of “reinforced
proportional representation” that penalized small parties, was PASOK’s consis-
tent ability to “plunder” the electoral reservoir of the two Communist Parties by
raising the specter of a return of the Right to power, which was painted with the
appropriate references to the Civil War and the dictatorship.
Between 1986 and 1989, the relations between the communist party and the
socialists deteriorated. The KKE shifted its strategy following the 1985 elections
( and PASOK’s electoral victory ), when it failed to make any inroads among dis-
gruntled PASOK voters. After PASOK implemented an austerity and stabiliza-
tion program, it faced the sustained and unrelenting opposition from the KKE-
controlled trade unions. In 1986, the party refrained from supporting the
PASOK mayoral candidate in Athens, making it thus possible for the New
Democracy opposition party to carry the city for the first time since 1974. Still,
the 1986 municipal elections demonstrated the party’s inability to gain signifi-
cant ground despite its shift in strategy.
In 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the KKE and the new party
created by the former KKE Esoterikou named Elliniki Aristera / EAR ( which
means Greek Left ) decided to form a grand coalition of the communist and post-
communist Left. This coalition was to have as broad a profile as possible and,
indeed, included some disgruntled but high profile PASOK politicians. This
move was spurred by two factors. First, the liberal winds unleashed by the per-
estroika reforms in the Soviet Union helped decide the KKE to move toward its
erstwhile rival. In fact, it appeared at the time that the KKE would enter into a
phase of liberalization, following Moscow’s lead.8 For the first time, some young
6 Mavrogordatos, Civil Society, pp. 47–64; Lyrintzis, The Power of Populism, pp.
7 Mavrogordatos, From Traditional Clientelism, pp. 1–26; Lyrintzis, Political Parties, pp.
8 Smith, The Greek Communist Party, p. 87.
4 Nikos Marantzidis

up - and - coming party cadres began criticizing past Soviet policies. In July 1989,
just after the elections, the KKE replaced its long - standing party secretary
Harilaos Florakis with Grigoris Farakos, who immediately proceeded to shed
his orthodox reputation and reinvented himself as a modernizer.9 Second, a se-
ries of financial and personal scandals, in 1988, had weakened considerably the
prime minister and PASOK leader Andreas Papandreou and undermined his
government, thus generating high hopes of a major defection among the left -
leaning segment of PASOK’s electorate. The goal was to take advantage of
PASOK’s weakness and turn the Left into a key player in Greek politics. Indeed,
the decision to form a coalition was supported by a number of electoral surveys
conducted in 1988, suggesting that whereas the KKE and EAR could not hope
to dent PASOK’s electoral base as separate parties, they stood a good chance
to do so as a combined party of the Left. In short there was a lot of enthusiasm
and anticipation. The KKE - EAR alliance adopted the name Coalition of Left
and Progress ( Synaspismos tis Aristeras kai tis Proodou—or simply Synaspismos).
Its leaders even declared that their intention was to turn this coalition from a
temporary electoral alliance into a permanent political party.
In the critical June 1989 elections, Synaspismos garnered 13.1 percent of
votes. Although this was only 1.6 % more than the combined vote of the two
parties in 1985, it was well below the expectations of its leaders who had based
their hopes on surveys that credited the new party with 20 percent of vote in-
tentions when it was formed. The embattled PASOK had proved surprisingly re-
silient. Nevertheless, Synaspismos found itself at the center of the political ma-
neuvering that followed the failure of either PASOK or New Democracy to win
a parliamentary majority. As the third major party, the leaders of Synaspismos
took the historical decision to ally with the right - wing New Democracy party.10
The stated reason for this unusual decision was that the Left could not possibly
ally with a party ( and a leader ) that was involved in so many egregious scandals.
The real reason, however, was the combination of the frustration that the
Communists, both hardliners and reformists, felt vis - à - vis PASOK’s consistent
ability to plunder their electorate, as well as their perception that PASOK’s
weakness finally opened - up the opportunity for a major electoral realignment
within the center - left. It is important to note, that the decision to ally with the
Right was greatly influenced by the younger modernizing cadres of both parties
against the reservations of the older leaders who had ostensibly a better under-
standing of their electorate.

9 Grigoris Farakos (1923– ) took part in the Greek Civil War and left Greece after the
KKE was defeated, in 1949. He was elected a member of the party’s Central Committee
in 1961 and a member of the Politburo in 1968. He returned clandestinely to Greece
during the dictatorship, was arrested, and condemned to prison for life. He was repeat-
edly elected in the parliament on the KKE ticket from 1974 to 1989 and on the Synaspis-
mos ticket from 1989 to 1993. He resigned from the KKE Central Committee in May
10 Pridham / Verney, The Coalitions of 1989–90, pp. 42–69.
The Communist Party of Greece 5

As it turned out, however, this move proved very costly, for the following elec-
tions of November 1989 showed that a substantial proportion of the voters that
had supported Synaspismos just four months before did not approve of it and
defected from the party, casting instead their vote for PASOK. The party’s share
of the vote fell by more than two percentage points ( Table 3).

Table 3 : Electoral Performance and Proportion of Seats in the Parliament

Elections KKE Synaspismos
1989 (June) 13.1 (9.3)*
1989 (November) 11.0 (7.0)*
1990 10.2 (6.6)*
1993 4.5 (3.0) 2.9 (0)
1996 5.6 (3.6) 5.1 (3.3)
2000 5.5 (3.6) 3.2 (2.0)
2004 5.9 (4.0) 3.2 (2.0)
In 1989 and 1990 the two parties were allied in the context of Synaspismos.

This disapproval was due to the persisting polarization along the right - left axis
and the concomitant intense emotional rejection of the Right felt by many
Communist voters. These anti - rightist feelings were skilfully cultivated by
PASOK strategists. The latest had used a civil war terminology aiming to mobi-
lize in that way the passions of the communist electorate.

II. The communist party after 1989

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. From this point on, the Communist Left
entered into a protracted crisis from which it has yet to recover. Like everywhere
else in Europe, the collapse of the Soviet bloc triggered a big crisis within the
Greek Communist movement.11 When the Berlin Wall fell, the Greek Commu-
nist movement was already in the midst of a crisis caused by its costly decision
to ally with the rightist party of New Democracy and the subsequent defection
of a substantial part of its electorate. This crisis broke out in the open, in 1990,
spurred by developments in Central and Eastern Europe. In January 1990, the
KKE issued for the first time a very mild statement on the changes taking place
in Eastern Europe. The budding reformist wing of the KKE requested that an
open discussion take place, a demand that led to a bitter conflict within the par-
ty, between hardliners and reformists. Although the rank - and - file members ap-

11 Bull, The West European Communist Movement, pp. 203–222.

6 Nikos Marantzidis

peared to have been divided into equal factions, middle cadres came in strong-
ly in favor of reforms. However, the old guard was clearly hardline. Eventually,
the hardliners wrested a close victory, during the party’s Thirteen Congress, in
February 1991. Out of the 111 members elected to the new Central Committee,
60 belonged to the hardline faction. The Central Committee proceeded to re-
place Farakos with a new party general secretary, the hardliner Aleka Papariga
who, as of 2002, remains at the helm of the party. Predictably, the KKE crisis
spilled over to Synaspismos, causing its breakup in the summer of 1991. It is es-
timated that the KKE lost close to 40 percent of its cadres following this
breakup, mainly the younger and most dynamic ones, including the most promi-
nent up - and - coming leading cadres who had been groomed to take over the par-
ty from the old guard.
In more than one way, this new breakup partly replicated the 1968 split : the
reformist side, which kept the Synaspismos label, was made up of the former
EAR with the sizeable addition of the young KKE cadres; the hardline side was
mostly made of the elderly leadership of the KKE. Indeed, the split between
hardliners and reformers exhibited the kind of generational and social cleavages
that undergirded the 1968 split : hardliners were primarily older in age ( and had
typically spent much of their lives as political exiles in Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union ), whereas reformers were younger, having joined the KKE in the
wake of the dictatorship’s demise in 1974. Hardliners also tended to come from
the ranks of the trade unions, whereas reformers tended to be intellectuals. Last
but not least, hardliners tended to have an emotionally charged set of memories
shaped by the Civil War, whereas reformers tended to be motivated by more
strategic concerns. Once more, many observers predicted that Synaspismos
would have easily prevailed over an increasingly irrelevant and marginal KKE,
particularly since the KKE could not rely any more on the ideological endorse-
ment and financial backing of the Soviet Union. They had wrong, the party
which showed a better capacity to survive in a very hostile environment was the
Orthodox, the hardliner Communist Party of Greece.

III. The strategy of the party after 1989

To understand what were the reasons which helped the Greek Communist Party
to survive we need to refer to Stéphane Courtois’ and Marc Lazar’s analytical
categories of Teleological and Societal dimension. According to them
Communism is constituted by two dimensions : The first one, the teleological,
which is related to the initial revolutionary project, comprises a doctrine ( the
Marxism - Leninism elaborated by Lenin and codified by Stalin ), an organization-
al model ( the revolutionary party conducted by the professionals of the revolu-
tion ) and a strategy ( the unconditionally defense of the Soviet Union and the
other communist states ). The second, the societal comprises all the elements of
the communist party life related to the specific society that a communist party
The Communist Party of Greece 7

belongs. The teleological dimension has a centripetal role, impose a cohesion

and homogenization to the communist parties all over the world. The societal
dimension lead to the diversification because of the different social, economic
and political conditions prevailed in each country. The communist parties try to
connect the two dimensions; when this is proved difficult or impossible, it is al-
ways the teleological dimension which prevails.12
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, everywhere in Europe the teleolog-
ical dimension faced a fatal hit. The center, the reference point of the system,
demised. The only way for the communist parties to survive was to hold on to
the societal dimension. This was not a one - way evolution. Some parties decid-
ed to abandon their communist identity like the Italian, the Finish and the
Swedish communist parties. Some others like the French PCF tried to keep some
distances from the past without totally throw away the whole system. Finally, the
Greek KKE remained loyal to its communist identity and the communist past
without showing any regret.13
In the case of the Greek communist party, this was possible because the so-
cietal and the teleological dimensions were not contradictories. From this point
of view, the communist hold on the societal dimension was not proved counter-
productive. But what exactly was this societal dimension in which the commu-
nist party found refuge for these difficult moments ? We can describe it as eth-
no - populism.
After 1974, Greek society developed some specific ideological traits and po-
litical attitudes which characterize not only the communist or the left side of the
political spectrum but the whole society. These traits were connected with two
special events considered as traumatic : the military dictatorship during 1967 to
1974 and the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, the consequent Greece’s military de-
feat and the partition of the island in 1974. These events created deep anti - amer-
ican and anti - western feelings in Greek society.14 Undoubtedly, these anti - west-
ern feelings were not created in a vacuum. A long anti - western tradition rising
from different social and political environments in Greece – among them the
Orthodox Church is by far the most prominent institution – created a specific
mental structure, familiarizing Greek society to consider the foreign powers and
especially the westerners as responsible for every ill.
During the post - junta period, the socialists took advantage of these feelings
to gain the power. Andreas Papandreou had personally promised to get rid of
the American military bases and to let the people decide about the country’s

12 Courtois / Lazar, Histoire du Parti Communiste Français, p. 12.

13 Marantzidis, Les stratégies des partis communistes, pp. 169–194.
14 Different researches show that Greek public opinion is the most anti - American in
Europe. Around 85 % of the population consider the American policy as harmful for
the interest of Greece. These negative feelings towards the USA continued to prevail on
the public opinion even after the 11 of September 2001. The main slogan was “serve
you right”. Even the archbishop of the Greek Church declared that it was a punishment
coming from God.
8 Nikos Marantzidis

membership in the European Community through a referendum.15 The Commu-

nist Party played on the same ground. Fearing to be exceeded by the socialists
in the anti - western rhetoric, the communists made use of the same type of na-
tionalist and populist discourse. For them, the “only enemy is imperialism”,
American as well as European. Since 1989, this hasn’t changed what so ever.
Following 1989 and 1991, the party has enlarged the nationalist context, wide-
ly employed to fit feelings of hostility to globalization, but also to appeal to tra-
ditional anti - Americanism. This move paid off after NATO’s bombing campaign
of Yugoslavia, following the Kosovo crisis. In contrast to other European publics,
Greek public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to the NATO campaign. The
KKE emerged as the most vocal representative of this opposition, organizing
demonstrations and all kinds of public agitation against the NATO campaign,
effectively tapping into the widespread public feelings of indignation. The par-
ty further capitalized on this event, by offering two safe positions on its ticket
(leading to parliamentary seats ) to two prominent non - Communist journalists
who stood as opinion leaders to the bombing opposition. US bombing in
Afghanistan, following the New York September 11 attacks, offered another op-
portunity for the organization of “antiwar” agitation. The KKE’s nationalist turn
is generally perceived as being credible because of the party’s long history of
anti - Americanism – and more generally “anti - Westernism.”
In fact it was ideology which had an important role in KKE’s survivor. Rather
than Communist ideology, however, which has been discredited in Greece as
much as everywhere else, it is nationalism that has been emphasized.
The second resource deployed by the KKE is its sponsorship of social protest.
Even though its organization was severely weakened after 1991, the party still
has a national machine at its disposal coupled with considerable organizational
know - how. It is a national actor with the ability to give shape and form to all
kinds of otherwise local and shapeless forms of social protest. One would imag-
ine that the KKE would be successful when it comes to workers, but in fact the
party reaches further extends. For example, it has been able to sponsor and help
organize widespread ( and extremely disruptive ) protests by such disparate
groups as farmers and high school students. The party also mobilized numer-
ous contingent members in the 2001 Genoa antiglobalization demonstrations.
The sponsorship of social protest takes place under a vague anticapitalist and
antiglobalization ideological cover, which has replaced the tenets of orthodox
Marxism. Although this activity does not translate into votes, it helps keep the
party active in the agenda. Moreover, it provides KKE with considerable black-
mail potential, which could prove to be a substantial bargaining tool.
In more than one way, then, the KKE is trying to replicate PASOK’s distinc-
tive brand of ( early ) populism that was based on a combination of nationalism
and social protest. However, this strategy has failed to bring in significant elec-
toral returns. The party lacks the charismatic leadership that is essential in mak-

15 A pragmatist politician Papandreou did not accomplish both.

The Communist Party of Greece 9

ing this brand of populism work. Although this strategy has allowed the party
to carve out a niche and survive, it is very doubtful that it will provide it with
the ability to expand over and above its present six percent reach.

IV. Social Bases and Organization

Communism was never based in Greece in important social classes’ cleavages.

The country had never seen an important labor movement like the Scandinavian
countries, or Germany in which the communist party could find a support base.
It is true that an agrarian movement during the first decades of the twentieth
century helped the communist party to take roots in the interwar period. This
is clearly observed, for example, in the rural region of Thessaly, in Central
Greece, where the Party has a considerable political and electoral influence.
Beyond that, the electoral influence of the KKE has no special variation.
Certainly, its power is based on the labor class inhabited in the popular suburbs
of Athens and Piraeus, the unemployed and the retirees. However, there is no
social group which constituted an electoral bulwark for the party.

Table 4a : Social composition of KKE voters in parliamentary elections of

2000 and 2004
Sex Elections of 2000 Elections of 2004
Men 6.4 7
Women 4.6 5
18–24 5.2 5
25–34 4.1 4
35–44 6.0 7
45–54 6.3 7
55–64 5.4 6
65+ 6.1 6
Less than Elementary School 6.5 5
Elementary School 5.7 6
High School 5.2 5
Higher Education 5.4 7

Source : Mavris, ‘Oi dyo Ellades’, pp. 17–36; VPRC Institut (2004).
10 Nikos Marantzidis

Table 4b : The Social composition of KKE voters in parliamentary elections of

Profession Election of 2000
Business persons 4.2
Farmers 5.2
Professionals, High School and below 6.1
Professionals, Higher Education 5.9
Small business, artisans 5.4
Public Sector Employees (Elementary and High School Education) 5.0
Public Sector Employees (Higher Education) 4.7
Private Sector Employees (Elementary and High School Education) 7.6
Private Sector Employees (Higher Education) 6.1
Unemployed 9.3
Retirees, Public Sector, Elementary Education 6.5
Retirees, Public Sector, Higher Education 1.8
Retirees, Private Sector, Elementary Education 8.1
Retirees, Private Sector, Higher Education 7.3
Students 3.7

Table 4c : The social composition of KKE in 2004 elections

Profession KKE
Business persons 5
Farmers 7
Professionals 7
Small business, artisans 5
Public Sector Employees 6
Private Sector Employees 7
Unemployed 7
Retirees, Public Sector 6
Retirees, Private Sector 7
Students 5

If we consider the districts or the cities where the Communist Party has achieved
its more important electoral scores, we observe that the majority of these areas
are islands, or small towns with a specific relation with the communist party
during the interwar period or / and the Resistance and the civil war. In fact, look-
ing to the tables 5 and 6 we can conclude that the party has better results in the
country’s big cities without, however, having remarkable rootstalk.
The Communist Party of Greece 11

Table 5 : The bulwarks of the communist party in the 2004 parliamentary

elections (5.90 % average )
District/city %
Islands in the south east Aegean. Important com-
munist penetration during the interwar period re-
Samos-Ikaria (one district) 14.60 lated to exiled communists and specific local con-
ditions (poverty, old combatants and sailors). It
can be considered as archaic communism
Island in the northern Aegean. Important com-
munist penetration during the interwar period re-
Thassos 13.50
lated to the tobacco labor movement of the regi-
on during the 30s.
Small rural town in Thessaly near the city of
Tirnavos 13.12 Larissa. Communist infiltration during the inter-
war period and the ’40s.
Big island in the northeastern Aegean. The eco-
nomy is based on a rural economy and a light in-
dustry. Traditionally, characterized as ‘little Mos-
Lesvos 11.65 cow’ because of the very important communist
infiltration during the economic crisis of the ’30s
and the Resistance movement during the German
occupation. Typically archaic communism.
Popular suburb next to the city of Volos in the
central Greece. Inhabited exclusively by Asia
Minor refugees. An important labor movement
Nea Ionia 11.42
but also a considerable intellectual activity helped
the party’s electoral development during the in-
terwar period.
Small town in northern Greece (about 80 km
western to Thessaloniki) The city of the textile
Naoussa 11.31 factory par excellence. The city was the foothold
of a very important labor movement during the
first decades of the 20th century.
Small Ionian Island. Communist development du-
Lefkada 11.14
ring the period of the Resistance movement.
The biggest port of the country. Sailors and
Suburbs (Second District)
11.06 docks trade unions controlled until nowadays by
of Piraeus
the KKE.
Ionian Island developed a communist activity du-
Kefalonia 10.88 ring the Second World War and the Occupation
period. The island has a great number of sailors.

Source : Ministry of the Interior.

12 Nikos Marantzidis

Table 6 : The electoral score of the Communist Party in the most important
cities (2004)
City of % (national average 5.90)
Athens 6.86
Suburbs of Athens 8.78
Thessaloniki 6.60
Piraeus 5.87
Suburbs of Piraeus 11.06
Patra 7.57
Larisa 8.83
Irakleion 4.41
Volos 8.09
Ioannina 5.53
Serres 4.28
Source : Ministry of the Interior.

The institutional space where the communist decline is more striking is the
municipal one. Until the 1980s the communist party had a very important influ-
ence in the institutional sphere of the public life. In dozens of cities ( among
them Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Larissa ) the KKE had succeeded to conquer and
keep the power for some years. In this period, the party proved to be able to
present reliable candidates, considered as good managers for the local affairs
and created large local coalitions able to keep the local power. In general terms
the communist party was considered as the party of the local management par
excellence. After 1990, the party lost its role as effective administrator and pro-
moter of the local interests. This is probably due to the isolation of the party
from the rest of the party system. However, the main reason is related with the
scarcity of influential personalities inside the ranks of the KKE.

Table 7 : Number of major municipalities controlled by KKE ( N=61 towns

which are either capitals of prefectures or have a population over
Elections Municipalities
1990 8
1998 3
2002 2
2006 1
The Communist Party of Greece 13

After 1991, KKE’s organizational structure suffered immensely. On the one

hand, the party lost its most dynamic segment, its youth organization : most of
its cadres defected to Synaspismos or left politics altogether. On the other hand,
the party also lost the Soviet Union’s support and was left to fend for itself. After
a first phase of retrenchment, when the party was trying to reduce its losses, it
has embarked on a phase of timid expansion. For the first time since the fall of
the Soviet bloc, the party is regaining a foothold among the young and, as point-
ed out, its youth organization KNE has been rebuilt. Although far weaker than
its previous manifestation, its reconstruction is an indicator of the party’s sur-
prising resilience. At the same time, the party has been able to retain a measure
of influence in trade unions ( which, in Greece, have been associated very close-
ly to parties ).
Interestingly, this resilience has not been accompanied by an organizational
opening. The party continues to rely on the old Leninist rule of democratic cen-
tralism, a concept that translates the will of the majority ( i.e. the leadership ) in-
to compulsory party policy to be unquestionably supported by all the party mem-

Table 8 : Newspaper Readership – Nationwide circulation of Rizospastis

Year Number of copies sold
1980 21,000
1986 53,000
2001 7-8,000
2005 6-7,000
2006 8-9,000

V. Conclusion

With the notable exception of the German PDS ( and the Dutch and Swedish
parties of the Left, if classified as post - communist ), European Communist and
post - communist parties experienced a steep electoral decline during the 1990s.
In this respect, Greece is no exception. The communist party has lost about 50 %
of its electoral force, up to 60 % of its membership and 70 % of the readership
of the party’s newspaper, Rizospastis. The party lost also many of its bases on
the local administration and saw its forces diminish even in trade unions, which
it traditionally controlled. From this point of view, there is no special attention
to give to the communist party of Greece.
From another point of view, however, the communist party of Greece is in a
better situation than it was predicted fifteen years ago, when the split of the par-
14 Nikos Marantzidis

ty in 1991 leaded to the creation of a new party in the left spectrum, Synaspis-
mos tis Aristeras kai tis Proodou,16 which was a very dangerous rival. After, a
period of crisis, the party stabilized its electorate and even more showed a small
but steady increase of its influence.17 On the opposite, its main rival on the left
Synaspismos never got over the threshold of 3 %.
At the same time, while the KKE survived, it has failed to face the problem
of its electoral and political marginalization. The very features that account for
its resilience threaten its future : its membership and electorate are aging, de-
spite the infusion of younger voters in 2000 and 2004; and the sponsorship of
social protest and nationalism keeps the party in the spotlight at the price of ide-
ologically inconsistency and political marginalization. It is true that the social
cost of structural economic reforms, the demands of European integration, the
rise in crime, and mass immigration promise rewards for political actors willing
to capitalize on them. However, the comparative record suggests that Commu-
nist parties are not among the political actors who have successfully capitalized
from social discontent during the past ten years; in Europe at least, far- right pop-
ulism has proved far more successful than its far - left variant. In Greece, a small
extreme right party appeared in the political scene the last two years. Its dis-
course imitates in different aspects the communist ethno - populist rhetoric.
Could it become a serious rival for the communist party of Greece in the fu-
ture? It is too early to provide a prominent answer in such a question.

16 For an analysis of the parallel evolution of the two parties see Kalyvas / Marantzidis,
Greek Communism 1968–2001, pp. 665–690.
17 Last polls showed that the party could win more than 7 % in the next elections.