A critique of Papandreou’s ‘new politics’

When he became leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party in January 2004, George Papandreou had a clear project in mind, if not a clear way of implementing it. He planned to transform the party from one ruled by political hacks, most holding cushy public sector jobs, into one of responsible, caring individuals who were bent on self-improvement and helping others and were not afraid to move with the times. This may sound too good to be true, or even naive, but it is something the current PASOK leader has believed in and advocated ever since the 1980s, when the party was dominated by his charismatic and cynically populist father, Andreas Papandreou. Andreas Pantazopoulos, a political science professor at Thessaloniki University, provides the first detailed study and critique of the younger Papandreou’s project. The title, «With the Citizens Against the People: The New Era PASOK» (pub. Hestia, in Greek), is a dead giveaway of his viewpoint. Pantazopoulos says that by promoting the notion of responsible individuals within a civil society, Papandreou has given up the «politics of confrontation» for mere management of a society «increasingly fragmented, dominated by a hedonistic individualism, unable to identify, through organized collective action, the key elements of its collective interest, beyond (self-limiting) retreats into identity politics or the politics of subsidized, fanatical interest groups.» He thus seems, like many old-school leftists, to place civic action and the striving for individual self-realization at odds with collective action. His analysis is not as simplistic as that but, unfortunately, is often hidden behind layers of stilted prose and cliches, such as the observations that Greece’s economy is «ultra-liberal» or that any interaction between a political party and other social agents is suspect of «entangled interests.» It is a pity that what could have been an interesting analysis of the possibilities of political action becomes a lament on behalf of those with a phobic aversion to the new social and economic realities.

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