Publication Spotlight: ‘Militant Around the Clock?’
September 4, 2015 Leave a comment
Nikolaos Papadogiannis’ monograph Militant Around the Clock? Left-wing youth politics, leisure and sexuality in post-dictatorship Greece, 1974-1981 was published in May 2015 by Berghahn Books. An important impulse for the topic was Nikolaos’s discussion with H.Z. in the early stages of his PhD research. H.Z. as a university student in Salonica in the 1970s was affiliated with a Communist youth organisation. H.Z.’s claim that ‘watching progressive, high quality [sic] films, reading classics, these were among the three to four habits that distinguished [left-wing] people” was an eye-opener for Nikolaos. Youth politics in Greece clearly did not just revolve around manifestos and speeches after the collapse of the dictatorship in 1974. This view was confirmed by several other oral and written sources that Nikolaos subsequently collected. His book considers the impact of the growing youth involvement in left-wing politics, especially after 1974, on leisure and sexuality. It shows that left-wing groups in many ways dealt with the growing internationalisation of leisure, which reached Greece from the 1960s onwards. It also demonstrates that in the post-1974 years, in a way similar to the 1960s, young left-wingers largely construed leisure as interconnected with sexuality. The book aims to situate the analysis of Greek youth in the historiography of youth lifestyles in Europe. Historical research on youth in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s tends to stress the impact of American popular culture. Dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, for instance, was a core component of several youth subcultures in both Western and Eastern Europe at that point. But how did transnational flows affect youth identities in Europe, including Greece, in the 1970s? Militant Around the Clock? argues that the appropriation of American cultural products played a key role in the construction of youth identities in Greece during those years. Still, the variety of flows within Europe, as well as the non-Western transfers that shaped young Greek left-wingers, may require us to avoid defining them simply as ‘Americanised’. The leisure patterns of a significant segment of the post-dictatorship Greek left-wing youth were predicated on representations of the USSR as a role-model society, a phenomenon Nikolaos calls Sovietism. The latter was largely a grassroots and, to an extent, selective trend, since not even the young pro-Soviet Communists in Greece accepted the prerogatives of official Soviet cultural politics uncritically. As in other European countries, such as Sweden, the ‘invention of tradition’ also shaped the leisure pursuits of young left-wingers in Greece already in the 1960s and certainly in the early and mid-1970s, particularly in the domain of music. While they may have danced wildly to rock music in the early 1970s, the vast majority of young left-wingers would scorn this genre between 1974 and 1978, when the collective singing in tavernas of Greek folk and partisan songs from the early 1940s became widespread.
Moreover, Nikolaos critically reflects on the argument that Arthur Marwick developed in his influential work on the 1960s. According to Marwick, what appeared at that point and continued in the following decades was a proliferation of sexual freedom. Militant Around the Clock? clarifies that what transpired in Greece was not a carbon copy of sexual transformations that occurred elsewhere in Western Europe and North America; for example, the use of the contraceptive pill never became widespread in Greece. More importantly, these changes to sexual norms and practices in Greece and elsewhere in Europe involved multiple and contradictory transformations, dependent on a wide array of factors, such as gender, ideological differences, geographical origin and social class. For Maoist students in Greece, it was important to go to working-class suburbs upon marriage and to ‘carry your babies with you, rather than remain a bachelor student’, as one male interviewee told Nikolaos. By contrast, anti-authoritarian left-wing students in the late 1970s avoided marriage; several of them opted for overt parallel relationships. These are just some of the variations in the approaches of Greek left-wing youth towards sex in the 1970s.
While conducting this body of research, Nikolaos kept in mind David Caute’s argument that membership of the so-called ‘Old Left’ (pro-Soviet Communist and Social Democratic groups) during the 1960s and 1970s was ‘dull’, confined to ‘occasional demos, [and] sending small cheques to good causes’. But the more Nikolaos proceeded with his research, the more complex a situation he encountered. The activity of young left-wingers of all stripes was not devoid of emotions. These emotions reflected, but also shaped, power relations within those groups. This was manifest not only in their publications, but also in the oral testimonies he collected in the course of his research. The latter were particularly helpful, since the interview, according to Stuart Hilwig, is a ‘deep exchange’: it involves verbal and nonverbal methods of communication, all of which contribute to the uncovering of the emotions that the interviewee has experienced. Notably, U.L., who was aligned with the pro-Soviet Communist youth as a young man in the 1970s, was quite emotional, to the point of tears, during the interview when it came to the issue of sexuality:
This may sound dogmatic, but it is based on sensitivity. I remember that we cared for each other, among comrades that we shared a common past since the dictatorship years [1967-1974]. When somebody was involved in a long-lasting relationship, we would encourage him to get married, as a group of friends, not through the Party apparatus.
Of course, in using oral testimonies, Nikolaos considered the impact of the interview relationship as well as the passage of time.
The publication of this monograph marks the beginning of Nikolaos new research project, which is a study of the link between the rise of youth tourism in Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s and the development of new sexual practices. The project will explore the encounters of young British, West German and Greek tourists from diverse gender, social class and ethnicity backgrounds. Nikolaos, part of the School of History, will this semester contribute to courses on ‘Dictatorship and Everyday Life in the 20th Century’ and ‘Scotland, Britain and Empire, 1500-2000’. He is also contributing to the MLitt module on ‘History in the Making: Theories, Approaches and Practice’.
To celebrate this new publication, the School of History will hold a book launch event at 5pm on 28 September, in 1.10 St Katharine’s Lodge. Join us as Dr. Papadogiannis introduces his new book, Dr. Bernhard Struck offers some comments on the work. This will be followed by an open discussion with participants.