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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

The notion of George Papandreou lecturing the world on "reinventing" socialism would be laughable were it not so sad--tragic, actually, for his countrymen and -women living through the consequences of his (literally) mindless "reinvention" of PASOK here in Greece. This is neither the time nor place to engage in a critical assessment of Mr. Papandreou's strengths as a socialist theorist, let alone as a leader of a self-proclaimed "socialist" party. I only ask The Nation's readers to consider one (salient) fact.

A couple of days ago, all the member nations of the European Union held concurrent elections to the European Parliament. Two extraordinary conjunctions marked those elections, both of which were reported and commented on widely by the global media. The first was the painful rate of abstention from the polls. Roughly half of Europe's citizens decided to stay home rather than vote (the margin here in Greece was approximately 48 percent). Those who did vote, however, collectively contributed to the second remarkable event, and the one I wish to focus on here: namely, the unprecedented electoral evisceration of Western European socialism. In Britain, Labour received its worst drubbing since before the First World War; in Germany, the SPD declined to truly sectarian percentages not seen since the fall of Nazism; in France, the Socialists just managed to squeak by the Greens in their worst tally since Mitterrand revivified the party decades ago. Talk about shock and awe.

It is hardly coincidental that this massive repudiation of actually existing Western socialism occurred under Mr. Papandreou's watch as head of the Socialist International. In Greece, of course, Mr. Papandreou's party did much better--came in first, in fact--but that was for specific (and very temporary) reasons that do not mitigate the fact that the right has once again become, under Mr. Papandreou's leadership of PASOK, the "natural" formation of power here. (As elsewhere in Europe, the extreme, xenophobic right did unexpectedly well.) If Mr. Papandreou believes his party will form the next Greek government, he is truly even more deluded than his critics make him out to be.

The truth is that Mr. Papandreou's notions of socialist reinvention are as shallow, ill-considered, irrelevant, and, ultimately, destructive of a genuinely reimagined twenty-first-century democratic socialism as his PASOK party has proven to be here in Greece. In a word, PASOK destroyed the credibility of the Greek left. Under Mr. Papandreou's tutelage, I have no doubt that the Socialist International will destroy whatever credibility (and integrity) is left of the international socialist movement. Reinvention, indeed.

Peter Pappas

Athens, Greece

Jun 9 2009 - 2:52am

Web Letter

The reign of the Greek Socialist party in the past hardly adhered to the prescriptions that Mr. Papandreou presents in his article. "Reinventing the rules" must apply as much to the regulation of the global banking system as to the way that he will lead his country away from the corrupt practices and influence peddling of the past. "Reinventing the rules" should also mean reforming the disintegrating educational system and the judiciary, decentralizing decision-making away from the ministerial agencies in Athens and implementing measures that will engage the active participation of the citizens in the decision-making processes at the local level. Laws designed to protect politicians from prosecution on corruption charges that PASOK implemented in the past must be eliminated, as should the tacit understanding between the two major parties that has prevented the prosecution of any of the many corrupt politicians whose illicit activities have been presented widely in the national press.

By exercising strong leadership, instead of repeating the practices that his party had engaged in the past, Papandreou will be able to establish a lasting legacy as a reformer. To encourage competition and innovation regarding the environment, he should strengthen environmental regulation and simultaneously encourage economic development by removing the economic burden of the arcane procedures and of corrupt practices of the governmental ministerial bureaucracies from the marketplace. Given the state of the finances of Greece and the stage of the country's economic development, the best socialist practice at this moment would be to clean-up the governmental mechanisms and practices and allow the marketplace to function properly, under strict government guidance, but with little direct intervention and favoritism. Such practices will enable the entrepreneurial spirit of his constituents to replace the cynicism that now characterizes their views of the political processes in their country.

Dimitri Balamotis

New York, NY

May 2 2009 - 6:21pm

Web Letter

While socialism was found to have been wanting amid early Christians in the New Testament, those who believe in it today seem not to have learned those lessons very well. The New Testament taught that those who do not work shall not eat and that is a hard reality among everyone concerned about fairness, charity and so on. Oddly enough, conservative evangelical Christians seem to be the most generous in our society, despite the fact that they are not too prevalent among the upper-scale income brackets. Looking back to an earlier era in the United States, Marvin Olasky found that America practiced many things taught in Christianity and the result was a caring society for those less able to care for themselves. Olasky, a Jew, became convinced of Christianity's role in salvaging humanity and cast his lot with the Christian community. And today whenever there is a major crisis you will find Christians working hard to ameliorate pain and suffering. Socialism has never been so kind, simply because it does not value individual human beings enough.

Curtis Turner

Hillsdale, MI

Apr 28 2009 - 8:27am

Web Letter

In order for there to be any degree of success for any kind of socialism, there needs to be a fundamental alteration of the perception of the role of government. As long as governments are overwhelmingly concerned with maintaining the mechanics of economy and higher level governmentality/biopolitics instead of the actual well-being of the population, there cannot be any meaningful role for it.

The worldwide ecological movement is a tremendous hope because, unlike the Socialist Internationals of the past, absolutely every single human being on the earth is the movement's subject. So for the first time there is a true global movement, and a chance for responsible democratic socialism to bind itself to this movement.

If we take survival and human well-being as our primary points of concentration--that is, instead of those mechanisms and ideologies that we "believe" will ensure these things circuitously--we can accomplish greater things because of a pinpoint focus.

Eric C. Gade

Washington, DC

Apr 27 2009 - 6:58am

Web Letter

While I believe as the Declaration of Independence says that "only through government" can people's rights be protected, I am not a socialist. I am a progressive, but not a socialist. However, you can be assured that I do not regard socialism with shock, awe or fear. Your views have valuable aspects. However, in the context of defense-spending article in this magazine, I questioned the "one size fits all" concept discussing weapon's systems. I have even stronger misgivings about a "one size fits all" ideology that seeks to guide the world. There is very little uniformity of belief in the world, and a "one size fits all" approach to governance will not satisfy everyone's needs or aspirations. Ideology has its uses, but it is no substitute for thinking!

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Apr 24 2009 - 4:18pm

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