Former Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos has been elected leader of Pasok and announced the start of a campaign for the general election due in late April or early May.
Venizelos joined Pasok in the dark years of 1989. He was not part of the progressive left wing forces that emerged from the battle against the junta (1967-74) and formed Pasok as a vibrant movement, breaking from the Centre Party.
He was active in the Macedonia naming dispute of the early 1990s, when the darkest forces in Greece opposed the use of the name “Macedonia” by the newly independent neighbouring Republic of Macedonia.
He was in cabinet positions during all the three last Pasok governments (Andrea Papandreou, Kostas Simitis, George Papandreou).
As minister for Justice in the Simitis government (1996), Venizelos authored a law according to which ministers are practically immune to public prosecution in cases of political corruption. Not even one politician could be prosecuted effectively in the huge financial scandals that have shaken Greece the last decade.
In the 2007 Pasok leadership elections, Venizelos was defeated by George Papandreou, receiving 38% of the vote against 56% for Papandreou. Venizelos’s manifesto was for a further shift of the Pasok movement to the centre and the breaking of its links with trade unions, the conversion of Pasok into a party similar to the US Democratic Party. Papandreou gained the support of the rank and file of Pasok, its “historical” members, and the trade unions.
Now a sizeable “chunk” from the old historical Pasok and the trade union bureaucracy are shifting their support to Venizelos, in the short-term interests of political survival.
Ironically, Christos Papoutsis posed as the left wing candidate. He has been the minister for Citizen Protection; recently passed a law to protect the police against prosecution; voted for both of the two memorandum policies and laws, without a word of criticism of the Troika. That record, and his past as a maritime minister who covered up the Samina ferry tragedy that led to the death of eighty people, leaves him no space to claim left-wing credentials.
Papoutsis and the third candidate, Stefanos Tzoumakas, were excluded from the poll because Pasok’s new constitution, as altered by George Papandreou, requires each candidate to acquire the signatures of at least one third of the National Committee.
However, political pressure was exercised on Venizelos by the EU/ ECB/ IMF Troika to eliminate the other two candidates.
On Sunday 18 March Venizelos was officially elected as the new president of Pasok.
Voting took place in electoral centres that were “protected” by police forces. The much celebrated participation of the party members reached 200,000 - compared to 770,000 in the 2007 poll that led to the election of George Papandreou and the defeat of Venizelos.
Venizelos’s slogan was “We are starting again”. His only plan is the continuation of the memorandum policies and the securing of the interests of the Greek bondholders.
He stated that he intends to safeguard Pasok traditions, but in the name of securing Greece’s places on the Eurozone and consequently the interest of the most dynamic section of the Greek capitalism Venizelos has accepted the abolition of democracy, the compromise of Greece’s sovereignty, poverty, and more. And all that to get Greek bondholders their money back...
Pasok’s old division was the vague one between the progressive forces and the forces of conservatism. Pasok’s new dividing line is against the “the forces of extremism and the front of dishonesty”.
Venizelos attacks the left for a “lack of responsibility and empty promises”. He emphasizes that Greece needs a “real plan” and a powerful government; but the only plan he has is the memorandum.
Venizelos is ready to open the way to a third memorandum: the Troika and the IMF have asked for an extra €14 billion cuts in Greece for 2012 and 2013 and further reductions in pensions and wages.
Despite his proclamations that he is aiming at a Pasok victory in the coming election, Venizelos does not even believe it himself. He is ready for a new coalition government with the conservative party New Democracy (ND). ND will govern and the ministers of Pasok will play a secondary role.
It looks impossible for ND to form a government after the coming elections. It is considered feasible for ND and Pasok combined together to win 151 seats, enough for a (narrow, unstable) majority.
Venizelos’s closet political allies are stating clearly their intention to be part of a potential coalition government led by ND leader Samaras. The transformation of Pasok to a centre party, detached from the labour movement, from its grass roots, from its ideology and history, and exclusively focused on government power, may provides some rescue for its parliamentary life. But it will burn its links with the working-class people who have supported it and voted for it during the last two decades.
A lot of middle-rank “historical” party members left Pasok in protest at Venizelos and all the manipulations that took place in order to impose Venizelos as the only viable candidate. “Only Venizelos was permitted to succeed George Papandreou in a party that is under the absolute control of the capitalist elite”, stated a member of the national committee after handing in his resignation.
More grass-roots and “historical” Pasok members may shift to the new “Social Agreement for Greece in Europe” party announced by former Pasok cabinet ministers Louka Katseli and Haris Kastanidis.
Their party motto is: “Between the destructive ‘yes to all, and the left’s utopian and irresponsible ‘no to all’, there is an alternative proposal”.
They are trying to attract people that believed in a social Pasok. They believe in a memorandum with dots of social justice. Kastanidis made no word of criticism even during the most unpopular turns of George Papandreou’s government. As a minister, he viciously attacked the refuse workers’ struggle, hired strike breakers, and propagated the privatisation of the refuse collection services.
Louka Katseli was the minister of Labour in Papandreou’s government. She implemented the first memorandum anti-working class politics which led to the destruction of the pension funds and raised only a timid criticism of the second memorandum, on the abolition of the collective bargaining agreements.
The alternative solution for working-class Pasok members does not lie with Katselis and Kastanidis, or with the Democratic Left, which has been promising to conduct tougher negotiations with the Troika.
Only the revolutionary left can provide a viable alternative to the crisis of the capitalist system, by mobilising the working class to resist the offensive of the bosses on the industrial plane as well as by contributing to the creation of a political mass force to provide an alternative to this crisis-ridden system.
The revolutionary left has argued in the working-class movement for default and abolition of the debt; for nationalisation of the banks and workers’ control; against Syriza’s technical solutions about Eurobonds and renegotiation of the debt; and against the sectarianism of KKE, which first attacked the slogan of defaulting on the debt as “ruling class-opportunism” and then adopted it it later on without a word of criticism.