By Mike Karadjis
Three years of ferocious attacks on living standards were decisively rejected by voters on October 10, when the ruling right-wing New Democracy party was crushed and the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), led by Andreas Papandreau, was returned to power with 47% of the vote. It has an absolute majority of 170 out of 300 seats in the new parliament.
Papandreau's last government was dumped in 1989 following a massive corruption scandal and an austerity program which lost PASOK much of its working-class support. New Democracy was supposed to clean up corruption, "modernise" Greece in line with the new united Europe and bring about "national reconciliation". Talk of the end of class struggle was all the rage; even "modernised" sections of the left joined in. These were supposed to be "new ideas".
Ordinary people didn't take long to find out what that was all about. Hardly a day went by without prices, charges and taxes being jacked up, while the millionaires, pay next to no tax. Inflation shot up to 25%, and while it has now dropped to 12%, workers have got wage rises of no more than a few per cent for years.
Pensions and social spending were slashed, rents and house prices doubled and trebled, vicious anti-strike laws were introduced, and small farmers' incomes were all but wiped out. Privatisation and massive job shedding reduced whole regions to jobless ghost towns.
The vote was "without illusions" in PASOK or its 74-year-old leader, according to Vasilis Manikakis, a former SBS journalist living in Greece. It represents the fact that all the "clever" ideas of 1989 had little relevance for the millions of ordinary people who had to pick up the bill.
While not pushing a radical program, PASOK's talk of wage justice and social protection sounded a lot better than New Democracy's openly Thatcherite practice.
However, in the new government's first economic statement, the talk of social justice was combined with pledges of improving conditions for investment. This, combined with PASOK's total support for the Maastricht Treaty on European economic union, shows that the government will be scarcely less pro-big business than its predecessor.
PASOK has moved to the right even since the 1980s. Then, its practice of austerity was combined, not too easily, with talk of socialism; now it is officially "social democratic". Then, the retention of US bases and NATO membership, despite election promises, was combined with anti-US rhetoric; now, US-Greek relations will "broaden".
PASOK's victory was made easier by divisions on both the right and the left. The ND government of Constantine Mitstakis had lost its majority with the defection of five MPs supporting the former foreign minister, Antonis Samaras, who split over the Macedonia issue and set up a new party which gained 4.8% in the elections.
While the government had whipped up Greek nationalism over the declaration of independence by the (former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia, realities were driving it towards some kind of compromise. Samaras attempted to combine a chauvinist campaign with a populist appeal to young people against the two old leaders and their old politics.
PASOK had also played the nationalist card against the ND, but did not make a major issue of it in the elections. According to Manikakis, "neither party had Macedonia flag waving as a main issue. The nationalistic atmosphere is not as bad as it was a year ago."
While PASOK ran on a harder nationalist line, and its very first action was to cut off all negotiations with Macedonia in the UN, Sissy Vovou, of the Anti-War Anti-Nationalist Coalition, believes that this amounts to a de facto acceptance of the republic, along the lines of "We won't talk to you, but the UN can do what it likes".
From a vote of 13% for the Coalition of the Left in 1989, this time the rump of that organisation got less than 3%. The Communist Party (KKE), which quit the coalition in 1991, got an only slightly more respectable 4.5%.
According to Vovou, the policies the Left Coalition put forward amounted to "nothing". An appeal to young people to vote against the old parties, lots of talk about classless "modernisation", a more total support for the Maastricht Treaty than even the major parties, no mention of socialism or the working class — the only place it got a decent vote was in the central electorates of the main cities.
Vovou said that even their 2.9% was "extremely high" for them. Parties need 3% to gain representation in parliament. Many leftists who otherwise wouldn't voted for the Coalition so that it would not be excluded from parliament — but it just missed out anyway.
The KKE, on the other hand, ran a militant campaign, emphasising workers' resistance to austerity, uncompromising opposition to Maastricht and NATO, opposition to wage cuts, opposition to war in the Balkans. It had the clearest anti-nationalist position, claiming that Macedonia's name was no problem.
While its 4.5% appears to represent some militant opposition, it is tainted by its unreformed allegiance to the former Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe, and the bulk of its votes were from the older generation of militant workers.
Most militant opposition hence voted for PASOK.