|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Greek conservatives election victory
THE RIGHT-WING New Democracy party (ND) won a decisive victory in the March 7 general election in Greece, winning 165 seats in the 300-seat parliament against 117 seats for the ruling social democratic PASOK party. This is not a defeat for ‘socialism’, however, as most of the international media have claimed. Rather it is a massive rejection by working people of the neo-liberal policies of previous PASOK governments.
The former PASOK leader, Kostas Simitis, had been able to win the previous two elections (in 1996 and 2000) by taking advantage of a favourable combination of circumstances and going early to the polls. This time he failed. Neither Simitis’s last-minute promises of increases in wages, pensions etc, nor his handover in January to the new ‘Messiah’, George Papandreou, the son of the former PASOK prime minister, Andreas Papandreou, was enough to save the government.
This was the most non-political electoral battle in 30 years. The media concentrated on the personal characteristics of the two party leaders, Papandreou and Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of a previous prime minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis. Papandreou attempted to fight the elections mainly on the basis of his ‘charisma’. Not accidentally, the top-ranking in personal preference votes for candidates went to ‘stars’ like Panayotis Fasoulas (an ex-basketball player), Antzela 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 was 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 young people about the policies that ND will follow. The huge majority of society believes, as all the recent polls show, that politicians ‘are all the same’. Nobody expects better times under an ND government. It is in this sense that the explanation provided by some, especially from inside PASOK, that the election result represents a shift to the right in society, is wrong. PASOK included on its electoral list Manos and Andrianopoulos, extreme neo-liberal ex-ministers from the hated Thatcherite Mitsotakis government in the early 1990s. Colin Powell spoke in favour of George Papandreou during the election period, which is not surprising since, as foreign minister, Papandreou had supported the Bush administration in whatever they said. The ND would have to try extremely hard to be more right-wing than the present day PASOK.
The media reported polls showing that tens of thousands of traditional left-wing voters voted 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.
On the other hand, 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, the struggles of workers and youth over the past few years, have all been extremely important in developing a new radical consciousness. ‘But how can all these struggles be reflected on the electoral front?’, many workers and youth are asking.
Many working people also ask how it is possible, after all these struggles, for the establishment parties to retain about 86% of the votes cast, while the two parties of the left, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and Synaspismos (Left Progressive Party), only won 5.9% (12 seats) and 3.2% (6 seats) respectively.
The truth 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 more importantly, the election result is due to the state of the mass parties of the left.
The traditional party of the left, the KKE, 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 completely unattractive. Synaspismos, on the other hand, 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 left parties blame the two-party system for the mess in which they 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 our paper, Xekinima, has consistently argued: the Greek workers’ and youth movement needs a new left, based on clear class lines, defending genuine socialism and internationalism.
The ND won the elections by promising everything: to cut unemployment and provide better wages, pensions, health and education, in a ‘flourishing’ Greece 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 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 the end of the Athens construction boom – while 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 face more unemployment, inequality and poverty, and massive privatisations and new attacks against public education, health and other 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 the 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, to develop new fighting workers’ leaders to replace the old trade union bureaucrats, who have become part of the corrupt establishment, 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.