New leader, alone, in search of a party

George Papandreou’s great «march to the people» has come to a head with the weekend’s PASOK congress and the referendum election for a new party leader. «Give me the power to move ahead and break with the past,» has been the leader of the democratic camp’s message to the people, in a manner reminiscent of Mao Zedong who, when he felt himself short-circuited by the party nomenklature, appealed directly to the people, launching the Cultural Revolution to change the correlations of power «from below.» The recent plethora of proclamations regarding splits, reversals and revolutions, made with a passion that the Genoa demonstrators might envy, indicates the (unfairly) underestimated influence of neo-Marxists such as (former Left Coalition veteran) Maria Damanaki and (current Deputy Interior Minister) Nikos Bistis in the new effort. Given that every real revolution is, historically speaking, without precedent, the particular nature of the world-shattering changes now under way should not come as a surprise to the broad-minded observer. It is true that the old-time Marxists believe that the first step in a revolution is to overthrow the existing political power, and they cannot comprehend how a party already in power for two decades could bring about a revolution. It is also true that the price paid by the rebellious «friends of the Movement» was unexpectedly low, 2 euros per head to be precise, but this was obviously only the first stage of the revolution. In the near future, the participation of «friends» will become more demanding, with the help of electronic archives, and naturally at a price. Perhaps the eternally suspicious will wonder why, now that the revolution has begun, «foreign and domestic centers» have not only gone on the alert but have undertaken to propitiate its leader, with familiar expressions of praise from American officials for his foreign policy and from business leaders for his economic philosophy. The more naive are unaware of the famous phrase by Lenin regarding the «stupid bourgeois, who will sell us the rope to hang them with.» The only characteristic that does, in fact, present some difficulties of interpretation has to do with the determination of the strategic target against which the rebels have concentrated their fire. Logically speaking, one would expect a revolution in two stages – first the seizing of the prime minister’s office and then the former Royal Palace (now the Presidential Mansion). Strangely enough, George Papandreou has been directing his troops toward PASOK headquarters. The «beheading» of the nine (PASOK parliamentary deputies) in the «Pachtas group» was the first spoke in the party wheel. The gist of Papandreou’s recent speeches makes it clear that the party – its symbols, its government record, its cadres – is for the new leader the problem of all problems, the enemy of enemies, that are preventing him from proceeding with his breaks with the past. On the contrary, the New Democracy party leader is being dealt with as a potential ally in the common struggle, a well-intentioned ally, albeit vacillating due to a lack of decisiveness. «Costas Karamanlis might have good intentions to break with the past, but he will not be able to because he is bound to maintain an equilibrium within his party,» said Papandreou a few days ago. So the elections of March 7 have acquired the character of noble rivalry between two similar parties which are both in joint opposition to Simitis’s PASOK. To the careful observer, this unconventional choice of a target reveals a courageous policy of alliances. George Papandreou has ambitions of building a strong united front of all the rivals of Simitis’s PASOK, both those who reject it out of nostalgia for the time of Andreas Papandreou, as well as those who are tired of the «party state» that is at risk of developing into a «party establishment.» The problem, for those who have any kind of memory, is that George Papandreou himself has had the most to do with setting up and maintaining the PASOK that he is now trying to revolutionize. George Papandreou’s last-minute move over to Costas Simitis’s camp gave the latter the prime-ministership by a narrow margin after the resignation of Andreas Papandreou. His support for Simitis against the Tsochadzopoulos-Laliotis bloc at the PASOK congress at that time led to the creation of a «man of principle» within the party and government. His unconfessed part in the ousting of Theodoros Pangalos as the scapegoat in the Ocalan affair and then in the replacement of Costas Laliotis as party general secretary with Michalis Chrysochoidis (in fact, where has the party secretary been in these crucial times?) was based on his intention to take over a party that had been purged of any kind of internal conflicts when the time came. So one is justified in asking exactly what the «new» PASOK actually is, when it is proclaimed by the one person who contributed more than many others to constructing the old. Andreas Papandreou’s «new» PASOK was created as a sui generis «party movement» that tried to transcend the traditional, pro-dictatorship parties of officials (for a long time the only true party was the Communist Party of Greece). His rivals attacked it as «Third World,» founded as it was around a powerful leader and because of its flirtations with leaders of national liberation movements such as Yasser Arafat, Daniel Ortega and Muammar Khadafy. In reality, «Third World Socialism,» mixed with equal doses of Swedish Social Democracy, (Greek left-wing resistance leader during World War II) Aris Velouhiotis and (statesman) Eleftherios Venizelos, was only a form of ideological folklore to surround a deliberately nebulous party that encompassed the Center and Left with the aim of including the National Liberation Front (EAM) bloc. That was what Andreas Papandreou meant by «participation of the people» – a promise to those defeated in the civil war that they too would find a place in the sun that would vindicate their more mature visions, if not those of their youth, the «peitit bourgeois dream» of every Greek householder, as Theodoros Pangalos recently said. Costas Simitis tried to transform this «immature» PASOK of the post-dictatorship period into a European Social Democratic party. Although he never managed to inspire the masses, there is no doubt that he consistently followed a political philosophy which he had already espoused from the period of the dictatorship. His problem was that when the time finally came for him to turn his vision into reality, in Europe the vision had already faded. At the same time, PASOK had irretrievably degenerated due to its long stay in power and by the only «socialization» it had managed to achieve: that of the entangled interests. The result was the transformation of the supposedly «Third World» PASOK into a supposedly Social Democratic party of officials with conflicting personal strategies. George Papandreou’s «referendum» is an attempt to respond to the crisis of political mediation that PASOK is experiencing, but which really concerns the entire political system. The «son of Change» is trying to transcend not only Andreas Papandreou’s quasi-Third World party movement but Costas Simitis’s quasi-European party state within the framework of a quasi-American democratic party camp. A spineless, fluctuating electoral alliance is being set up around a leader who is restoring relations (by direct, basically clientelist, means) with the «people» and with interest groups, «liberated» from ideological principles, political commitments or democratic party processes. The parody of a referendum to elect that leader might in fact be a cheap substitute for the people’s participation, but it could well mark the beginning of a transformation of the whole political system toward that of the American model of a presidential, two-party republic. Unfortunately for George Papandreou, on March 7 the people will be called to chose between electoral lists that do not read «Papandreou, Karamanlis, Papariga and Constantopoulos» but «PASOK, ND, KKE and Left Coalition.» In trying to resolve that contradiction, the new leader of the «camp» appears to be inviting citizens to vote for PASOK while holding their nose. He is like a person up a tree and, unable to get down again, calling vainly for help while sawing off the branch on which he is sitting. Judging from the polls, people have woken up to the strategy and are voting against PASOK while giving Papandreou a high rating – probably out of gratitude!