Can Europe Make It?

The rise and fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement

Once a hegemonic presence in Greek politics, PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) is now on the verge of extinction. What happened?

Symeon Andronidis
15 September 2014

…In the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’II go on…

- Samuel Beckett. (The Unnamable, English Edition 1958).

The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) is celebrates 40 years since its foundation (1974-2014). This political party, which became hegemonic, affected the social and political transition in Greece, especially after the electoral triumph in 1981 (PASOK won the 48% of the votes). The Panhellenic Socialist Movement is connected with the period of transition known as Metapolitefsi, which followed the collapse of the military junta that had ruled Greece since 1967.

As Mark Lowen said, "the Panhellenic Socialist Movement has dominated the Greek political scene for more than three decades. It soared to power in 1981. The dictatorship had just ended here; PASOK created a welfare state, transforming Greece into a modern, European country."

In this historical and political period, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement ruled for 21 years (1981-1989, 1993-2004, 2009-2011). Now, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement is scarcely a shadow of what it was. In recent elections for European Parliament, the party, which participated under the political front of ‘Olive’ (Elia) won only 8% of the votes. In this context, the social, political and electoral fall of PASOK must be connected with the management and stewardship of the deep economic crisis befalling Greece and Europe.

The austerity measures adopted by the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou (2009-2011) - measures such as the reduction of salaries and pensions, the abolition of collective labor agreements, the deconstruction of welfare state, contributed to the political and electoral fall of the party, something that occurred in the double parliamentary elections of 2012 (May: 13.18% of the votes; June: 12.28% of the votes under the leadership of Evangelos Venizelos).

Instead, the left-wing SYRIZA (Coalition of Radical Left) obtained the 26.89% of the votes (June 2012). And in the recent European elections (May 2014) the party of SYRIZA became the largest party, obtaining 26.58% of the votes. Many voters who previously voted for PASOK now support SYRIZA.

In the field of social and electoral ‘geography’, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement has lost the support of the lower classes of Greek society, especially the support of workers in both the public and private sector. The lower classes had developed strong organic ties with the party, especially under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou (father of George). In the double elections of 2012 (May-June), sections of the middle classes supported PASOK.

Now, since the elections of June 2012, the party have participated in a coalition government with the parties of New Democracy (N.D) and Democratic Left (DL). The party of Democratic Left withdrew from the government in June 2013. Now, the political organization which is called PASOK, participate in a coalition government as a minor partner. The major partner is the party of New Democracy. The coalition government (Prime Minister: Antonis Samaras), continues to take austerity measures which aggravate the living standards of workers. After the withdrawal of Democratic Left from the coalition government, PASOK continued to actively participate in the government. The president of the party, Evangelos Venizelos became vice-president of the government as well as minister of foreign affairs.

After a period of political and ideological transformation, which began under the leadership of Costas Simitis, Prime Minister οf Greece and President of PASOK between 1996-2004, the party has no organic ties with the early PASOK of Andreas Papandreou. Today, in the era of the crisis, the party has no relation to the classical European social democracy, which emphasized the redistribution of wealth.

The political parties of European Social Democracy, (parties such as the British Labour party, the German Social Democratic party, and the Swedish Social Democratic party) had signed a social contract with lower classes. The social democratic social contract, contributed to the building of the welfare state. In a small ‘corner’ of European south, the Social Democratic PASOK contributed to the creation of a welfare state. The culmination of this effort was the creation of National Health System in 1982.

Many Greek citizens had access to the National Health System. Other measures, such as the increase in the minimum wage, the democratization of the trade union movement, the extension of franchise to eighteen year olds,  the modernization of family law, the recognition of the communist national resistance (during the Nazi occupation in Greece, 1941-1944), showed the reformist Social Democratic ideology of the party.

In this context, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement followed the traditional European Social Democracy. We can say that the political and ideological transformation have also have affected other European Social Democratic Parties. The removal of Social Democracy and the adoption of the principles of neoliberalism, define this transformation.

In the period of deep economic and humanitarian crisis in Greece the party has been recognized by many political scientists as a ‘cartel party’, a party which has organic and strong ties with the state apparatus. As we saw, the rise and fall of PASOK, defines an entire social and political period.

The deep economic crisis, which has been transformed into a humanitarian crisis, ‘brought’ the fall of a big Social Democratic Party. Now, the ‘small’ Panhellenic Socialist Movement just participates in a government with a right political party. (New Democracy). The rise and fall of a hegemonic party is equivalent to the end of an era for an entire political and economic epoch.

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