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On the folly of yearning for the Pasokification of Labour

gr}pasokNot a few superannuated Bennites, and indeed anybody who prefers their social democracy served straight no chaser, will be entirely entranced by Greek politics right now. Here, for the first time in three decades, is a leftwing European government locked into a collision course with neoliberalism.

Circumstances specific to that country have enabled Syriza to win an election on a radical economic platform somewhere towards the outer limits of anything that could successfully be advanced anywhere in Europe.

Indeed, some of the proposals put forward by its finance minister Yanis Varoufakis were drawn up with input from Stuart Holland, late of this parish and a key architect of the Alternative Economic Strategy once favoured by the Labour left.

Yet Syriza faces oppositional forces far greater than those that derailed the Mitterrand administration in France between 1981 and 1983, an experiment generally hailed as the last hurrah for the parliamentary road to socialism.

To update Marx, it is as if all the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre; central banker and bond trader, Schulz and Juncker, French prime ministers and German chancellors.

Anyone who believes that citizens have the right to decide their country’s economic direction without facing a veto from finance capital will be hugely sympathetic to what Syriza is trying to pull off, whatever doubts they harbour as to its ability to achieve its stated goals.

But some go further and contend that what is happening in Greece offers some sort of alternative prospectus for Britain.

The buzzword Pasokification – coined by Labour activist James Doran – has gained currency online as a prognosis for the future of Labour. Its use is gaining ground, too. It has even made it into the Guardian, while Michael Meacher has employed the term it in a recent post on this very website.

As far as I know, a rigorous definition has yet to be established. But the basic connotation is clear enough; following Pasok’s virtual wipe-out at the ballot box, the word is intended to describe sudden collapse of a previously dominant social democratic party, much in the manner of a jerry-built Bangladeshi textiles factory.

Some sections of the far left salivate palpably, in the belief that the Pasokification is both inevitable and desirable.

The idea is that if only Labour would gulp down the single malt, clasp the pearl-handled revolver and do the decent thing, then a mass radical left formation would spring up to take its place.

Proponents of this thesis should be careful what they wish for. If Labour does succumb to Pasokification, there is no guarantee that Britain will Syriza-ise in consequence.

Of course it would be complacent to dismiss the disintegration scenario out of hand. That Labour is a hollow shell in many constituencies is beyond dispute.

The situation is particularly acute in Scotland, thanks to a triple whammy of the Falkirk imbroglio, the alliance with the Tories over the independence referendum and the branch office’s subsequent ‘crisis, what crisis?’ reaction in plumping for a Blairite leader. Little wonder that the SNP is eating up the Labour vote north of the border.

In the rest of the country, the Greens are making headway among the Guardianistas and – horribly, unimaginably – UKIP’s ugly rehashed Thatcherism on racist steroids is eroding chunks of what the Blairites sniggeringly designated by the euphemism of the ‘heartland vote’.

Labour obviously has no any greater claim on immortality than any other sublunary phenomenon. Political parties evolve over time, as the long view of British history makes plain. What Labour will look like five or ten years from now is an open question.

But it also needs to be stressed Labour is a qualitatively different entity from Pasok. Not the least of the distinctions is its far deeper roots in past mass movements in British society, stretching back to the Chartism of the nineteenth century.

Pasok, by contrast, is pretty much a one-man job, being the relatively recent creation of the late Andreas Papandreou, a scion of the Greek political elite who never knowingly let principle stand in the way of opportunity.

Launched at the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974, it initially positioned itself as a national liberation movement, to the point of developing ties to Gaddafi’s Libya and Ba’athist Syria.

It did not gravitate towards the Socialist International mainstream until as late as 1980, the year prior to its first electoral victory and Greece’s accession to the EU. Even at that time, its politics were marked by strident nationalism.

Nor has it ever been hegemonic in the Greek labour movement, with Greece’s unabashedly Stalinist communist party KKE always the strongest ideological force in the trade unions.

Pasok was, in short, a rather flimsier edifice than Labour, and if its existence proves more ephemeral, that can come as no great surprise.

Meanwhile, it is more likely than not that Ed Miliband will be Britain’s next prime minister. At the very least, Labour will come out of May’s general election with about 300 seats, give or take a few dozen either way. Talk of its impending death is has seemingly a greater basis in wishful thinking than in boring old reality.

Let’s say Miliband loses and is ousted by the Progress tendency, which proceeds to deepen Labour’s disconnect with a public that has repeatedly made clear that it positively craves more social housing, railway nationalisation and a higher minimum wage.

Even in that case, there is no evidence for the proposition that a Syriza-style alliance of the radical left would emerge as a credible formation in a country where Elvis impersonators routinely enjoy greater success than the sundry Trotskyist electoral vehicles.

Syriza’s culture, after all, is based on eurocommunism, a doctrine in which the idea of broad alliances with amenable sections of the right is central. Not even having to get into bed with ANEL was considered out of bounds by Syriza’s majority.

By contrast, initiatives such TUSC are dominated by two groups have been at daggers drawn throughout their entire respective existences. This town ain’t big enough for the both of the central committees.

The greater likelihood is that a Pasokified Labour Party’s electoral support would dissipate among the new contender mentioned above, with the bulk of union political funds continuing to go to whatever rebranded post-Labourite formation Mr Umunna or Ms Reeves find themselves heading.

As a result, British politics would see itself ratcheted permanently even further to the right of where it is now.

Without a meaningful Labour Party, Britain would face permanent rule by the Tories or by Tory-led coalitions, perhaps including UKIP. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the face of a benefit claimant – forever.

Given the weather in Britain this February, daydreaming about a summer holiday spent knocking back chilled retsina in a Greek island taverna as bouzoukis chime in the background is a harmless enough indulgence.

But just remember that a Greek transformation of British politics is a destination somewhat further away than anywhere to which easyJet currently flies.

 

22 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    The Labour Party is busy Pasokifying itself.

    It is in the process of dumping the link with the trade unions.

    And the Labour Party is without any form of democratic policy-making process.

    Having turned its back on the institutions and institutional processes which give voice to the interests of the electorate the Labour Party will become increasingly detached from life as it is lived by most people.

    Labour’s Westminster elite will just have to make it all up as they go along. Though, as happens now, they’re sure to take advice from the likes of PriceWaterhouseCooper. Perhaps Miliband will achieve his ambition for Labour to become the party of business.

    But as far as most people are concerned, the Labour Party will be increasingly irrelevant.

  2. Robert says:

    Big C or little c I do not think the people care much any more.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I have to agree, so why exactly do Post Blair Labor think the UK needs another conservative party.

      The answer is of course we don’t.

      Depressing as it is; with labor completely abandoning it’s working class supporters, (including the disabled and the unemployed,) to Tory policies and exploitation by various various sleazy commercial rackets, (such as wretched Work Program, actually borrowed directly from Nazi Germany,) many of which they actually introduced it’s increasingly difficult to understand what the point of them really is anymore.

      Completely contrary to your argument there is a definite gap in the market, so to speak, for a genuinely left wing/Socialist/Marxist party in the UK and Dead Milband and all his sticky finger mates ain’t it.

  3. Chris says:

    I support PASOK

    1. Robert says:

      So will most socialist, I mean real ones not these New labour lot.

  4. Patrick says:

    Social democracy and neoliberalism are both in profound crisis because Capitalism is reaching its limits; with zero growth since 2008 no longer can the ruling elites buy off the proletariat of the core as they did post ww2. Authoritarian control is the response combined with mass media manipulation and distraction ( the wallising of Miliband being a prime example).

    Party disintegration is occurring across Europe; I expect a new Left to emerge to confront the crisis and the new Right, and it may occur more suddenly that appears likely now. Podemos and the SNP have arisen as mass popular movements overnight using the jet fuel of social media. Neoclassical economics may still hold sway but it’s foundations are looking shaky as its orthodoxies don’t deliver for the majority . Who is would have thought that a tiny “failed” state on the periphery called Greece could pose such a threat to Finance Capital.

    1. Robert says:

      The SNP were to start with center right, it was over crowded and it soon become obvious what was missing was a center left. The problem was labour were so new labour so center right they did not see it.

      The SNP moved to the left labour moved further to the right and here we are today.

      the issue is the same in the rest of the UK in Wales we have a labour party which cannot lose doing as it wished under the guise of being to the left , in England the Tories and labour offer sound bites and bribes nothing much else. Vote for us we will get rid of the bedroom tax cheap does not cost much but looks like your a socialist yet the private renters will still pay.

      Tories in Cameron or the soft Progress party actually none of them.

  5. aaron says:

    You’ve been Pasoked.

    1. David Osland says:

      Have we? Let us not forget that Labour is leading most opinion polls right now.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”

        Jon Stewart

  6. David Ellis says:

    Nobody yearns for the Pasokification of Labour. As said above Labour is Pasoking itself. In Scotland the process is almost complete. The objective conditions for a party based on distributing a few crumbs from the imperial master’s table to a priveleged layer of workers is no longer viable. Britaiin is bankrupt. A lot of that priveleged layer are moving to UKIP in the hope that they can kick start the income streams of global exploitation so that Britain can start exploiting dark skinned people again but in general the working class is being ruined and is looking for a radical alternative. The degenerate Western left is not providing it preferring instead to cuddle up with Putin and march with his fascist thugs in London. They are more interested in being Russian imperialism’s foreign desk in Western Europe than providing a programme for transition to working class power and socialism and so demagogues, populists and chancers move in.

  7. Peter Rowlands says:

    A good article. It is worth adding that a new party of the left is very unlikely to emerge until we change to an electoral system based on proportional representation.

    1. David Ellis says:

      That’s passive. It means there will never be a new party of the left. It is just tinkering with a crappy system anyway. The left needs to come out completely against Westminster. If it stands for parliament it should make clear it is only doing so in order to expose its wretchedness and argue for a Federation of Sovereign British Nations to replace the Union. Westminster is due a big refurb. Re-open it as a museum or London’s biggest Wetherspoons.

  8. David Pavett says:

    David Osland makes a number of good points. Certainly Labour is more deeply rooted than PASOK. On the other hand Labour was nowhere more deeply rooted than in Scotland where it is now facing a possible wipe out. So, overall, I find the argument that the same thing could not happen to Labour unconvincing.

    The central question, it seems to me, is not whether we wish for the demise of Labour or not but whether there is any serious possibility of Labour being transformed into a socialist party. From where I stand that looks more unlikely than ever before in Labour’s history – and that is saying a lot.

    Labour is less democratic and more manipulated by control-freak apparatchiks and professional politicians than ever before in its history. If that is right and given the long-term decline of Labour (and the Tories) then I suggest that some sort of Pasokification is inevitable at some stage. Peter may be right that this requires electoral reform but this does not have to be direct.

    The SNP built its base on the basis of proportional representation in Scotland. A regionalising process could deliver something similar here. Or it could be some other changes. It is really impossible to know in advance. What is clear is that if Labour can’t reform itself then a meaningful alternative will eventually develop.

    So, is David Osland, or anyone supporting his argument, saying that Labour can transform itself into a radical socialist party? I have yet to hear that claim made clearly in current debate (outside of some old timers still arguing the wildly improbable thesis that the TUs will lead the charge). Can the party of “responsible capitalism” become the party of socialist transformation?

    1. David Osland says:

      No, David Pavett. I am not saying the collapse of Labour is impossible. It clearly *is* possible, as I thought I made clear in the piece.

      Nor am I saying that Labour can be transformed into a radical socialist party. I think that question is resolved by history.

    2. Jon Lansman says:

      David: Firstly on the suggestion that “Labour was nowhere more deeply rooted than in Scotland“: I think this is untrue. Gerry Hassan makes the point well here when he says “anti-Labour Scotland has always, even at the times of the party’s greatest strength, been a popular majority“:

      The real reasons for Scottish Labour’s predicament are deep-seated and long-term. Scottish Labour became the dominant party of the country without ever winning more than half the votes at any election.

      Instead, its strength was magnified by the distortions of the First Past the Post electoral system at Westminster. This guaranteed in the 1980s and early 1990s that a 40% of the vote gave the party 75% of the seats – aided by the party’s geographic concentration of support and the divisions in the non-Labour vote.”

      You could argue that Labour was nowhere more deeply rooted than in Glasgow though many parts of the north of England are up there too. Even in Glasgow, in 1966, a good year for Labour, the Tories held Glasgow Cathcart and Glasgow Hillhead and just narrowly failed to win Glasgow Pollok and Glasgow Woodside. Labour has lost it now because New Labourutterly failed its core voters, and the SNP pose as being to the left of Labour (in fact, I’d argue they occupy a spectrum from somewhat to the left of Labour to somewhat to its right). And whilst Labor’s strength was exaggerated by FPTP, I don’t think the SNP built it on PR – it had 30% of the Scottish vote in the October 1974 Westminster election to Labour’s 36% though the ratio of seats was 41:11. In the Scottish Parliament it achieved big increases in its constituency representation.

      Finally, I don’t think the issue is “Labour can transform itself into a radical socialist party” but whether it is more likely that Labour can transform itself into a radical socialist party than that a new radical socialist party can emerge and break through to win. The answer to that question, in my view, is a definite “yes” which is why I agree with David Osland.

  9. David Pavett says:

    @David O and Jon L

    David, Fair does on the first point. I don’t understand your second point.

    John, you say that Labour has never had a majority of the popular vote in Scotland but that hardly counters my claim that Labour was nowhere stronger than in Scotland. Consider the election results. The figures are the percentages voting Labour for the UK as a whole and for Scotland respectively

    1979 (36.9, 41.6)
    1983 (27.6, 35.1)
    1992 (34.4, 39.0)
    1997 (43.2, 45.6)
    2001 (40.7, 43.3)
    2005 (35.2, 39.5)
    2010 (36.1, 42.0)

    If looked at over a longer period there is greater variation but even if I moderate my case to say that Labour was as well established in Scotland as anywhere else in the UK my argument still works. Despite that we appear to be witnessing a dramatic collapse of Scottish Labour.

    I think your last paragraph is strange. You say that the question is not can Labour be transformed into a socialist party but rather is such a transformation more likely than the successful emergence of a new left party. You say that your answer is a “definite no”. I guess that you meant to write a “definite yes” otherwise your argument makes no sense. But if you answer “yes” then you are saying either that Labour can be transformed or that no socialist party will ever be possible in the UK. I presume that you are not claiming the latter. This means that your your answer to my question is “Yes, the Labour Party can be changed into a genuine socialist party”.

    I understand that view. My problem is that the reality of the Labour Party, as I see it, means not only that it is further from that goal than ever but that with its internal organisation it has shored itself up against such a transformation.

    Finally I would like to say that if we learn anything from history it is that political events are often wildly unpredictable. I would not dismiss any possibility under circumstances that I currently can’t imagine, of Labour becoming a socialist. Similarly it seems to me to be a mistake to rule out the possibility of a Labour collapse and the rise of a new party. Currently Labour seems to be setting itself on the tracks for such an eventuality.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      David:
      On Labour strongholds, what about the north east, south and west yorkshire?

      You’re right that I meant to say “yes” meaning that Labour is a better prospect than the alternatives. There is no yellow brick road to socialism just some possible paths that are better prospects than others. Labour still offers the best prospects by far.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Jon,

        We surely don’t want an debate about smaller and smaller regions. All I have argued is that there is no justification for the complacency that leads one to believe that strongholds cannot collapse. We should remember that Labour is in long-term decline. We should think of various possible developments and not put our as yet unlaid eggs into one (Labour) basket.

        I know many Labour activists who, despite their doubts about Labour, have given up much of their life to it. As a result they feel an attachment, even loyalty, and cannot discuss its possible demise. It is a scenario they refuse to imagine. I think this is a mistake. We should always keep our eyes as wide open as possible.

  10. David Osland says:

    Not sure what your difficulty with my second point is. What I am saying is, Labour is a social democratic party.

    But it one of the only two parties in Britain that can potentially lead a government. Like it or lump it.

    I personally am a radical socialist, but am acutely aware of how unpopular radical socialist ideas are right now.

    Even if Labour could be moved substantially leftwards, it could not win an election on such a platform.

    The only sensible thing to do is to work to strengthen the social democratic aspects of Labour policy while arguing for, and winning converts to, a socialist project.

    Not very exciting, is it? But there you have it.

    1. David Pavett says:

      David,

      You are right, the prospect you hold up is not at all exciting, let alone inspiring. More than that it seems to me that what you offer is like walking through treacle to reach an end point even though the treacle is moving faster in the opposite direction that one is able to walk towards it.

  11. Peter Rowlands says:

    No, David Osland, Labour ceased to be a social democratic party under Blair, but has moved back in that direction under Miliband, despite fierce opposition from the Blairites.
    The reason why we do not have an overtly socialist party is not lack of support for such ideas but the electoral system which prevents Labour from being more than a social democratic partyand prevents a socialist party emerging.. Under PR that can happen , as is the case in Germany, Holland, Finland and elsewhere. True, social democracy remains a bigger force, but socialist parties in Europe are growing. That cannot happen here without PR.

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