The right wing New Democracy (ND) party won last week’s general elections in Greece, defeating the ruling social democratic PASOK party. However, this does not represent a defeat of ‘socialism’ as much of the international media have stated. Rather it is a massive rejection by working people of the neo-liberal policies of the previous PASOK governments
12 MARCH 2004
PASOK leader, Kostas Simitis, was able to win the last two elections (1996 and 2000) by taking advantage of a favourable combination of circumstances and calling early elections. This time he failed. Neither his last minute promises of increases in wages, pensions etc, nor the use of new ‘Messiah’, George Papandreou, the son of the former PASOK prime minister, was enough to save Simitis.
This was the most non-political electoral battle of the last 30 years. The media concentrated on the personal characteristics of the two party leaders, Papandreou and Karamanlis. G. Papandreou attempted to fight the elections mainly on the basis of his personal ‘charisma’. Not accidentally, the top ranking in personal preference votes for candidates went to “stars” like P. Fasoulas (an ex basketball player) A. Gerekou (an actress) and J. Ioannidis (the coach of national basketball team).
This reflected the fact that there were no significant differences between PASOK and ND. PASOK is a party of big capital, just like ND. Those on the left who still consider PASOK a ‘left party’ are simply denying reality.
Workers and youth used their vote to “punish” PASOK — this is the basic explanation for the electoral result. It is not this or that specific ‘mistake’ –as the leaders of PASOK are arguing– that stopped them winning. It was PASOK’s general neo-liberal policies which guaranteed their defeat.
Nobody can seriously claim that there are massive illusions amongst the working class and the youth about the policies that ND will follow. The huge majority of society, as all the recent polls show, believes the politicians “are all the same”. Nobody expects better times under an ND government.
In this sense, the explanation provided by some, especially from inside PASOK, that the election result represents a shift to the right by society, are wrong. PASOK included on its electoral list Manos and Andrianopoulos, the extreme neo-liberal ex-ministers of the hated Thacherite Mitsotakis government in the early 1990s. Colin Powel, spoke in favour of George Papandreou during the election period, which is not surprising, since Papandreou supported the Bush administration in whatever they said and did in the last few years. The ND would have to try extremely hard to be more right-wing than the present day PASOK.
It is more correct to say that it is the extreme right wing turn of PASOK that ensured the ND’s victory. For some time, the ND has tried to present a more friendly face to working class people, speaking out against poverty, unemployment, inequality, and in favour of social provisions, better pensions, and in defence of the public health service etc!
The media reported that tens of thousands of traditional left wing voters polled in voted of ND in order to punish PASOK. They wanted to make PASOK “understand” that it cannot carry out anti-working class policies and get away with it. These voters also cast the way they did to express their disgust at the arrival, through Hollywood-style fiestas, the new PASOK “Messiah”, George Papandreou junior.
At the base of society, extremely important processes in the direction of radicalisation are taking place, especially amongst the new generation. The large anti-war movement, the huge general strikes against the attacks on social insurance, all the struggles of workers and youth over the past few years, they have all been extremely important in developing a new radical consciousness.
Radicalisation at base
“And how are all these struggles reflected on the electoral front?” many workers and youth are asking.
Many working people also ask, how is it possible, after all these struggles for the establishment parties retain about 86% of the votes cast, while the two parties of the left, the CP and Synaspismos (Left Progressive Party), received only 5.9% and 3.2% respectively.
The truth of the matter is that these processes are not reflected on the electoral level, at least not yet.
On the one hand, the electoral system is designed to promote the two-party system. This distorts immensely the real feelings and wishes of hundreds of thousands of left voters.
On the other hand, and even more importantly, the election result is due to the state of the mass parties of the left.
The traditional party of the left, the communist party (CP), is a Stalinist party. It refuses any kind of collaboration with the rest of the parties of the left, and considers itself to be the only left party. It is therefore completely unattractive.
Synaspismos is extremely mild in its criticisms of capitalism. During the election, ‘socialism’ was never mentioned, and neither were the words ‘capitalists’ and ‘workers’. The party only managed to discuss the struggle against neo-liberalism.
The mass parties of the left blame the two-party system for the mess in which they have find themselves. They are wrong. Actually it is their political and ideological mess that is responsible for the strength of the two-party system.
These elections have confirmed, once again, what Xekinima has insisted on, time and time again, in our articles. The Greek workers’ and youth movement need a new left, based on clear class lines, defending genuine socialism and internationalism.
Karamanlis and ND won the elections on the basis of promising everything. Karamanlis promised to cut unemployment, better wages, better pensions, better health and education, and a “flourishing” Greece, which will be built by “all the Greeks together”.
Karamanlis’s vision will never come about, of course. And his honeymoon period in office will not last long.
The logic of capitalism, based on greed and competition for profit, will soon lead to new attacks against the working class. This is especially so as the state of the Greek economy is weak, the economies of the EU are stagnating, the Olympic games in Greece will be over in a few months time, meaning a loss of revenues and building works in Athens, and funds from the expanded EU will be drastically cut after 2006.
Life under a ND government will not be good for working people. They will more unemployment, inequality, poverty, and also massive privatisations and new attacks against public education, health and state provisions.
But there will also be new struggles.
All those who might expect PASOK to lead these struggles and to defend workers’ interests will be severely disappointed. PASOK will not provide a left opposition to ND either on the political front or on the industrial front.
The development of struggles over the next period will depend more and more on rank and file initiatives. The need to coordinate struggles from below, through action committees and networks of struggle, the need to develop new fighting workers’ leaders, to replace the old trade union bureaucrats, who have become part of the corrupt establishment, the need for new fighters at the head of local and industrial movements — these are the most important tasks for socialists during the next period.
This is a task that goes, hand in hand, with the need to built a new left to replace the bankrupt workers’ movement leaderships; a new left based on socialist ideas, internationalism and workers’ democracy.