Greek political forum "You become the change": some thoughts
I recently got around to watching the interview of Michael Albert to the Greek political forum "You become the change". Up to the 8th video I was thinking how great these interviews were, and how I enjoyed them. However, alarm bells began ringing during the 9th video, when the interviewer stated among other things: "For us, as active members of PASOK, the biggest progressive party in Greece …". Then I got suspicious.
When, as a tourist, you visit a village you may say "What a beautiful little village!", and when you meet the people you may say "How hospitable and amiable they are!". However, only if you were born and raised there could you know about the skeletons in each person’s cupboard. And then you could demystify them back into ordinary people with their virtues and vices. So, being a citizen of Greece and knowing relatively well the "village" folks, my suspicion of the YBTC forum was almost reflexive. Why?
PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) was founded in 1974 by Andreas Papandreou as a socialist party with patriotic visions ("Greece belongs to the Greeks", "Out with the NATO bases" etc). Its slogan at the time was "Change", marking the Greeks’ desires to escape from the conservative political establishment. PASOK overturned the conservative government of New Democracy in the 1981 elections, and has since shared power with it on a relatively comparable basis (20 vs 14 years, resectively) since the collapse of the military junta in 1974. However, the visions proved to be just rhetoric and PASOK was to become to the ND what the Democrats are to Republicans in the USA, and what Labour are to the Torries in the UK: the other side of the same coin. Similar capitalist policies, similar aptitude for corruption, and the same hierarchical structures, only with different rhetoric.
In the 2004 elections, and on the verge of a landslide victory of ND, the founder’s son Giorgos, was handed the chair of PASOK by the stepping down PM Kostas Simitis. In a Stalinist type election, similar in style to the US primaries but with only one candidate, he was predictably elected at the Chair of PASOK. His visions included what he called a "Participatory Democracy". At the time too, this had made bells ring. I imagine one of his advisors familiar with Parecon telling him: "Here’s a nice slogan: Participatory Democracy. We can use that for your speeches."
Equally predictably PASOK lost the 2004 elections to ND; and it lost them bad. After two consecutive terms of PASOK government, Greeks were deeply angered by the administration’s achievements, e.g.:
-a stock exchange rip-off in 1999 that resulted in the greatest redistribution of wealth from the lower to the higher classes, and in which the government encouraged people to borrow money to gamble in stock;
-the provision of safe passage for the NATO occupation forces of Kossovo in 1999;
-the 2004 Olympic Games preparations which were left to stagnate until the last moment so that the works could be directly assigned to contractors at highly inflated prices;
-countless "socialist" privatizations of pulic companies;
-the increase of household debt from 4.5 bn Euro (1996) to 60 bn Euro (2005), i.e. a 1400% increase (for an increase in inflation of only 55% in the same time period);
etc, etc…to mention but a few.
But most of all, what angered Greeks the most was the creation of the most massive political-mediatic-corporate complex ever seen in Greece, and designated either by the more polite term "entanglement", or the more vulgar term "pimps" (referring to the owners of big business dictating state policy). Evidence of new scandals continue to surface at a constant pace even today, with the latest regarding Siemens’ bribing of Greek government officials (most of whom seem to be members of PASOK, while ND members may not be excluded).
The frustration of Greeks is still so great with PASOK, that even after numerous flops of the ND government which led to premature elections in 2007, it still lost, with the lowest rating of its history. This caused another of the Party’s dauphins, Evangelos Venizelos, to contend GP for the party’s Chair. But the blatant support of the mass media to Venizelos was so scandalous, that it backfired and GP was reelected. All these have been recounted in greater detail and very comprehensively by Stylopoulos.
The gist of it all is that PASOK is, in essence, a mainstream bourgeois party, that has followed in the footsteps of the European social democratic parties, i.e. only using Socialism as a label. In light of this reality GP has been assigned the task by the party’s grassroots to "Change it all", i.e. bring PASOK back to its socialist principles and restore its integrity. However, here lies the problem: from 1987 to 1999, Giorgos Papandreou has served (among other positions) as Minister of Culture, Minister of Education and Minister of Foreign Affairs in four different administrations, two under his father and two under K. Simitis (see here). During all these years he never once raised his voice against what angered Greeks (PASOK supporters included), but went quietly along with it. One might argue that he is not part of the solution but part of the problem.
From browsing the YBTC forum, it is clear that it is a concerted effort by various bloggers affiliated to PASOK to form an alternative "participatory" forum. As is clearly stated, the forum has been created upon call from Giorgos Papandreou. Browsing through its various posts one gets the feel of an instrument designed to lift GP’s profile and attack the wings of PASOK close to the previous PM, K. Simitis and the contender Evangelos Venizelos. But above all, it is a PASOK initiative.
Even taking for granted the good intentions of the YBTC forum bloggers (which I have no reason to question), a straightforward conclusion is reached: as you cannot drive your car inside a house (less you want to wreck the car or the house), you can neither participate in a non-hierarchical, open movement as an affiliate of a mainstream political party. Their structures (hierarchical vs horizontal), their processes and institutions (centralized vs decentralized) and their aims (serving big business vs serving the people) are simply so different, that a miraculous tranformation would have to occur. It can only be wishful thinking to believe that a mainstream political party (both its people and its institutions) are capable of such a transformation. And the YBTC members would soon realize this had they bothered to listen to Michael Albert’s replies to their questions.