Left revival in Greek elections

October 23, 1996

By Michael Karadjis

While the victory of the "new image" PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) of Costas Simitis in the September 22 elections confirmed and deepened Greeces capitalist integration into Europe and the Maastricht Treaty, the elections also recorded the biggest left-wing vote, in protest against this trend, for years.

The combined vote of the old-line Communist Party (KKE), the Coalition of the Left and Progress and the new Democratic Social Movement (DHKKI) was almost 15%. The only time in the last two decades the left vote approached this figure was the 13% won in 1989.

For the KKE there was a significant increase over 1993, while the Coalition, doubling its 1993 vote, regained parliamentary representation, which it had lost three years ago.

DHKKI, a recent split from PASOK led by Dimitris Tsovolos, has almost immediately been thrust into parliament, taking some of the votes of PASOKs traditional base, increasingly alienated by PASOKs new right economic rationalist agenda.

This agenda of austerity and privatisation, dictated by Maastricht, has led to massive unemployment (officially 11%) and collapsing living standards. One hundred and eighty thousand families in Athens alone live in poverty, and the average Greek has to work seven times as much as European counterparts to buy the same consumer goods.

Meanwhile the rich continue a profit rampage and the billionaire ship-owners, who also own most of the media, are legally exempted from 75% of the taxes they owe. Tax evasion by the rich is estimated at $6.3 billion, more than half the budget deficit.

PASOKs rightward evolution had been led for years by its founder, Andreas Papandreou. However, Papandreou was able to combine this with an extravagantly populist line and charismatic style, which, together with his status as founder of PASOK, managed to hold the disgruntled popular base. Papandreous grip was further enhanced by considerable overuse of the massive system of corruption and patronage endemic to Greek capitalism.


Papandreous populist rhetoric was put to good use during the nationalist hysteria of recent years, centring on the improbable "threat" to Greece posed by the landlocked, poverty-stricken Republic of Macedonia to its north. While the anti-popular economic policies were necessary for Greeces integration into capitalist Europe, and hence Papandreous rhetoric about defending the working class grew thin, he could at least claim to be aggressively countering the "mortal threat" posed to the Greek nation and its entire culture and history by a swarm of "enemies".

The traditional right-wing party, New Democracy, also found it useful to foster this climate in order to divert popular anger from economic hardship to imaginary foreign enemies. Elections became a competition over who was the most "patriotic." The chauvinist atmosphere spread from Macedonia to a campaign against the poverty-stricken Albanian refugees in Greece, and then to aggressive support to the anti-Muslim genocide being carried out by Bosnian Serb fascists, reborn as "Orthodox brothers".

However, at a certain point this fantasy world came into conflict with the real interests of Greek capital to expand into the Balkans and further integrate into Europe — the nonsense that the west was backing Greeces "enemies" was becoming counterproductive. The nationalist spirit had to be toned down, and this was signified by last years treaty with Macedonia and the conciliatory way the crisis with Turkey earlier this year was eventually resolved (for a short time, the Greek and Turkish ruling classes talked of war over a little hunk of unpopulated rock in the eastern Aegean).

With the death of Papandreou and the rise of Simitis as PASOK leader, all the new directions are confirmed: a straight economic rationalist line without the populist rhetoric, a pro-European policy without the blemishes of nationalism and, in theory at least, a drive to clean up Greek capitalism to make it more "modern".

Hence the apparent shift to the left in the elections, as many protested against the austerity policies of the "new Europe." For Greek capital, forcing down real wages and "rationalising" industry (i.e. mass sackings) are necessary in the more competitive environment of a Europe without economic borders. European capital is in full agreement, in that it wants a more modernised and "streamlined" Greek economy if it is to invest there.

PASOK and New Democracy are in full agreement on these policies, differing only on details, as in most western countries. However, while in the last elections, these two parties took 87% of the vote, this time their combined vote dropped to 80%, most of the rest going to the left.

The toning down of the nationalist spirit also led to the collapse of the ultraright Political Spring party of Antonis Samaras, who led a split from New Democracy several years ago, claiming to be the true defender of the threatened Greek nation, which the major parties were forever about to "sell out". The atmosphere of hysterical nationalism propelled this party into parliament in 1993; happily, this time it was dumped.

Political Spring had sought to wed its chauvinist and racist policies with some talk against austerity and the big parties monopoly on power. While its large vote in 1993 did reflect the nationalist wave, this wave had been cynically engendered by the major parties, the media, the church and the military for political ends. Once they stopped pushing it, the Greek public as a whole largely forgot about the issue: the idea of the "threat" from the north was so unreal that it required daily convincing in massive doses to be effective.

Left differences

The left parties differ widely on many issues — the KKE representing old-style pro-Soviet positions, the Coalition offering a range of views, including some so "modern" that they differ little from those of Simitis, as they throw the socialist baby out with the Stalinist bathwater. DHKKI is pushing left populist policies and claiming to be incarnation of the original socialist PASOK, but its program is not really clear. While it also used some nationalist slogans, this was not the centrepiece of its politics.

According to Panayotis Vovou, from the Communist Renewal Organisation, people voted for the DHKKI for its left economic policies in protest against austerity, not for its nationalist asides. Whatever the problems of and the differences between these left parties, of more importance are the reasons for the big vote for them.

Indeed, according to Vovou, the left pressure forced even the dry Simitis to start making promises about increasing spending on health, welfare and the like towards the end of the election campaign. Possibly this last ditch attempt to prevent too many working-class votes going left is what put PASOK a couple of points ahead of New Democracy. However, Simitis has no more intention than any western leader after an election victory of keeping such promises made in haste — especially since the dictates of Maastricht include $1.2 billion in spending cuts in the next budget.

This reality may drive more people to the left. It remains to be seen whether the new left bloc in parliament will manage to put aside largely historical differences and take full advantage of this leftward drift, by campaigning around real answers to the crisis — a shorter working week, trade union rights for immigrant workers and massively increased taxes on the rich being the most pressing.

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