No party without barbarians

Evangelos Venizelos’s announcement scrapping the idea of a think tank within the PASOK party did, on one level, add to George Papandreou’s leadership profile, but it also deprived the party chief of a good excuse. In the words of C.P. Cavafy: «And now what shall become of us without any barbarians? Those people were some kind of solution.» It is difficult for Papandreou to claim that his party is faring repeatedly badly in opinion polls because, for example, Venizelos is overweight. Who knows what other excuse we will hear next. All that Venizelos can do now is fire broadsides at anything on the right, because the hierarchy at PASOK headquarters is poised to expel him from the party at any moment. Venizelos backed down because he realized that had he insisted he would lose valuable political ground, not because the think tank is undesirable, but because in politics what counts is the balance of power and here Papandreou still enjoys the advantage. The «enemy within» is a tried and tested mechanism for rallying forces. In PASOK’s case, turning policy-making into a witch hunt aims to blame the Socialists’ electoral freefall on Papandreou’s party rival. Papandreou, however, also has the advantage because Venizelos did not introduce himself into the race with a specific strategy for revamping the party nor with a platform for winning over the electorate. He simply promoted himself as the man more able to lead the «green hordes» in their charge against the bastion of power. When he eventually did present a platform, it was an indifferent one. By focusing on the mechanics of power, Venizelos gave Papandreou a significant edge. When the internal party struggle does not take place on the level of specific ideas and proposals, the apolitical criteria of the party/tribe take over. Favor will lie with the man who is already on the horse, and what’s more, with the right name.