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.
Jun 9 2009 - 2:52am