The once mighty PASOK has been reduced to the smallest Party in the new Greek Parliament. In 2009, it won 44% of the popular vote and formed the Government; earlier this year, it won a under 5%. Its decision to join the New Democrat led coalition in 2010 had led to a split, with much of the left of PASOK leaving to support its eventual replacement, Syrizia. PASOK has been killed by its own austerity policies and walking away from the hopes and causes of their political base. This was compounded by the EU’s refusal to permit a referendum on those policies. The coup-de-grace was the rump of PASOK joining the New Democracy led coalition continuing to pursue the politics of austerity, policies which no-one except the German CDU and George Osborne think worthwhile but proving Merkel’s Law, “the smaller party always gets screwed”.
They are not the first social democratic party to triangulate against the right and never recover. In the case of PASOK, their leadership had been captured by an American educated, nepotist pro-capitalist elite, despite the democratisation of the party. The democratic reforms were arguably a fig leaf to pave the way for George Panandreou’s dynastic succession. PASOK is now split and nearly-defunct, its working class base and their middle class supporters have mostly gone to Syrizia. All this occured over a short five year period. It’s unlikely they’ll recover and some analysts and actors are talking about the PASOKisation of politics in other countries. Will it happen here?
There are many examples in history of business money supporting the party of the working class in order to influence the politics; particularly occurring during recessions when business wants to reduce the cost of wages, the social wage or both. This massive political hedge bet is reinforced when the parties of the left are captured politically by the ideology of triangulation and by zero ideology marketeers. Another example of the dichotomy between those who want to do something, and those who want to be something. An illustration in Britain is shown by Labour’s leaders arguing that it mustn’t be anti-business. There’s a risk that Labour will lose the trust and votes of its core support and there are too many in the Labour Party that don’t get it and are de-facto collaborators.
Apart from Greece, this has happened in New Zealand, and Germany, although the story in Germany is complicated by the separate histories of the left in East & West Germany. There is little doubt that the Schroeder (SPD) government led to a split in the SPD and has caused a loss of support, from over 40% of the vote down to 26% although it has been in Government for most of the time since the turn of the Century, something that New Labour’s nomenklatura will admire.
The New Zealand story is also instructive, with the results of a privatising Labour government, in the eighties starting a voter share slide, which may have been exacerbated by New Zealand’s adoption of a proportional representation system as tactical voters can finally vote for their first choice without fear of getting their worst choice.
Another thing, these parties have in common, is they are all affiliates of the Socialist International, they have all espoused a third way, reform agenda and are all struggling to recover the loss of popularity caused by the actions of their governments. Elsewhere in Europe, Podemos are looking over the shoulders of the PSOE; the eclipsing of the PSOE in Spain would be a political earthquake.
These are warnings to the left in the UK. It is different from Europe, it has a Labour Party, not a Socialist party, the party voted for Ed Miliband as leader and he wants to regulate Capitalism, Kinnock’s comment, “We’ve got our Party back” on learning the result of the Leaders election has some truth to it. People’s discontent is around banking regulation and failure. No-one really thinks the answer is unregulated business. There is the opportunity to win and make a difference, but allowing business to colonise the Labour Party and to pursue the politics of austerity and supply side reform are routes to the PASOKisation of UK Labour.
I wrote about the current broad left majority in Germany in an article on this blog, after the last election. I didn’t look back as far as the fall of the wall, to see that the since Die Wende, 23 years ago, the CDU have been in Government for 16 years and the SPD for 15. This is the fear I have, no matter which party wins, the winners remain the same. There are people for whom this would be a good result; not so for the rest of us.
The featured image is mine, taken in Kalamos in 2009. Dave Levy CC BY-SA 2009.
And the New Statesman explores it here…. 11th Feb 2015