‘Curse of Papandreou Dynesty’ and the Left

In a recent television interview, Alpha news anchorman Nikos Hadzinikolaou asked Greek Communist party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga to explain the fact that the «curse of the Papandreou dynasty» seems to have fallen upon the Greek Left for the third time, referring to the parties left of PASOK, including the Communist Party and smaller groups. The answer he received was not unexpected, but the question touched on deep wounds among successive generations of left-wingers, from the wartime National Liberation Front and the Lambrakis peace movement to the generation of the Polytechnic and the post-dictatorship return to democratic rule. As prime minister, Georgios Papandreou managed to decimate the Left with his «People’s Power» slogan and his «relentless struggle» against electoral fraud. Andreas Papandreou had his banner of «change» and his promise of socialism. Now George Papandreou is threatening to repeat the achievement of his forebears, but with a smile and a scarf. Unconvincing discourse The usual justification of leftist leaders is to cite the inequitable conditions of the elections and the «objective» difficulties of each political conjuncture. But such talk won’t wash this time. The Left is given unacceptably little media attention, but on the few occasions when its representatives appear in television windows, it’s hard to say whether their views and discourse (with few exceptions) win or lose votes. The electoral law does favor the notion that a vote for a small party is lost, but when the system was almost proportional, the Left’s share was practically unchanged. The sense of a two-way race does favor the growth of the two-party system. But the image of polarization is deceptive in many ways, being arithmetical rather than political. Voters for the two big parties are more easygoing than ever before; they choose the lesser evil with a cold heart and few hopes. There is no connection with the dynamic wave of socialist-type change inspired by Andreas Papandreou in 1981, or the triumphant global current of neo-liberalism which Constantine Mitsotakis managed to express in Greece in 1989-90 when state socialism was collapsing. The political circumstances of this (2004) election should have been favorable to the Left. First, because in the preceding four-year term it faced the most right-wing PASOK ever – Simitis’s reformist PASOK – which alienated much of its grass-roots support and was particularly vulnerable to criticism from the Left. But PASOK’s leadership offered the Left new ammunition, as it is unusual for the leader of a socialist party to receive the congratulations of former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and her successor Colin Powell. Above all, Greece has recently seen significant waves of left-wing social protest, such as workers’ opposition to social insurance policy and the radical awakening of young people by anti-war rallies. So how can one justify the image of a Left that seems to be letting go of a whole river without retaining one drop of water? The real enemy In his statement in favor of the Left a week ago, composer Mikis Theodorakis expressed the anxiety of a large number of left-wingers, people who don’t belong rigidly to one or indeed any party, about the formation of a «third political pole,» which could represent the interests of wage earners, the radicalism of youth, the culture of critical thought, and the vision of a different society. A pole that could offer a political home to broad groups of citizens, especially young people, who reject both versions of the two-party system and feel political and ethical revulsion for the former leftists who voluntarily donate their bodies to PASOK solely in order to keep their seats. The reaction that Theodorakis aroused indicates how strongly affected a large portion of the Left still is by the disastrous notion that the worst enemy of a left-wing party is not on the other side, in establishment parties, but among other left-wing forces. In the past this approach, now most typically expressed by the KKE leadership, cost the Left painful breakups that had little ideological or political legitimacy. Apart from its party chauvinism, the KKE cannot break out of its political encirclement for equally serious, if not more serious, reasons. These include not just the deep political and psychological rupture with PASOK supporters caused by the KKE’s opportunistic decision to rule in coalition with New Democracy under Tzannis Tzannetakis during 1989-90. Perhaps even more significant were the long-term effects of the double split in the party in that period (first by the Grapsas group and then the Farakos group), which was accompanied by the serious double loss of the great majority of the KKE’s young supporters and nearly all of the communist intelligentsia. The KKE managed to survive the ice age of the very difficult years since the collapse of state socialism, but at the cost of its own withering as a political organization, alienated from the freshness of the younger generations and from the creative spirit of critical left-wing thought. Last-minute try For its part, the Left Coalition has never convinced people that its independent existence represents any more than the need for its officials’ personal political survival. Until recently it vacillated between being the left wing of PASOK’s center left and the reformist wing of the post-PASOK left; even in the last municipal elections it ran in most areas with PASOK, allowing its subsequent electoral pillaging. Left Coalition leader Nikos Constantopoulos’s overture to other left-wing groups and social movements, alongside his calls for a united left front, acted positively for the coalition and is its strongest ace in its battle for parliamentary representation. But all that would be much more persuasive if it had been set in motion responsibly and in good time, not at the very last minute after Papandreou rose to the leadership of PASOK, which inevitably lends its initiatives the complexion of a desperate attempt at political survival. Above all, what is missing from the Left today is not an artificial unity for electoral purposes. Such a supposed unity arose in the Left from the creation of the united Coalition in 1989-90, to be followed by the split of its two components (the KKE and EAR). What is missing from the Left is a real re-establishment in terms of ideas, platforms and leaders, so that it stops acting as the party of honorable defeat and promotes itself as a party that can provide answers to the difficult present, drawing optimism not from the past but from the future. These are not just indefinite wishes and vain desires. The examples of the French radical Left (winning 10 percent of the vote in the recent presidential election, outperforming the Communist Party of France, which was in the ruling coalition), the Swedish Left (neo-communist) Party, the Italian Communist Party and a series of Labor parties in Latin America show that parties which have attempted to re-establish themselves, without relinquishing their character and history, and despite some inadequacies and contradictions, have managed to strike significant veins in the living body of social radicalism.

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