Despotism of the parties in Greece and elsewhere

by Prof Dr Ilias Iliopoulos

In his work “Sociology of the party system” of 1911, the epoch-making German-Italian political scientist Roberto Michels introduced the “iron law of oligarchisation,” which is, in the words of the great historian and conservative theorist Moisei Jakovlevich Ostrogorski, also called “the gravitational law of the social order”. According to this “law”, every society without exception is governed by a system of oligarchy, be it a democracy or a state ruled by an autocrat – especially so if direct and unmediatied democracy is disregarded.
But even under the strictest consideration of this empirical-historical conclusion, the crystallized oligarchical conditions of the nominal parliamentary democracy of modern Hellas remain inconceivable. The Greek state was opened to exploitation by its nominal “servants”, who in their turn have degenerated into a robber band, and this is a phenomenon which St Augustine already formulated long ago. This phenomenon may admittedly be explained in light of the historical, geo-cultural and socio-political framework, the conditions and codeterminants of the Greek political system in general, as well as of the deformed parliamentarism in particular.
The present parliamentary republic, which was established in 1974 and has since then been highly glorified and talked up by generously subsidised “organic intellectuals” and a countless number of their followers as the “best” or “most perfect” democracy since the beginning of the new Greek state, has long since become the synonym for the most serious financial, economic, political and ethical crisis that Hellas has had to experience since the end of the Second World War and the Civil War.
The trust of the people in the state and its representatives has been destroyed. Yet democracy is based on this trust. Political action oriented towards the common good demands action by the people and for the people, as the American President Lincoln put it: Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. But the people in Greece neither have a real say on matters, nor do their representatives always act for them. A large number of examples show how the population was time and again disempowered on the one hand, while on the other the political actors also failed in their actions for the people; instead, the state increasingly became the object of collective exploitation.
On closer inspection, the main objectives of the parties turn out to be: acquisition of power and money as well as the establishment of a state for the benefit of one’s own family or clique. It may well be the case that a “democratic deficit” has by now become the embarrassing consequence and side-effect of modern “representative” (sic!) democracy everywhere.In today’s Greece, however, this has been turned quite openly and impudently into a sophistical euphemism to conceal the domination of the political bosses, the party machineries and clientele networks, as Ostrogorski might have been allowed to formulate.
The established parties tend to arrive at (express or implied) agreements on a cross-party basis, which constitute a kind of “political cartel” or “quasi-cartel” (according to Otto Kirchheimer’s terminology). In fact, the old Athenian parties have long ago formed cross-party political cartels, so that the citizen have no longer been able to fight back by means of his ballot paper: Whom ever he choses, they are all involved in the cartel. A typical example for this is policy funding, as it still is today.
Precisely the most scandalous arrangements for party financing are consistently based on explicit or silent agreements between the government and the opposition. Over the decades, parties and organisations have grown like all-encompassing octopuses, and there is nobody who will draw the line to any effect. Namely in the last two decades there have in addition been the so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
In the Federal Republic of Germany, “Politikverdrossenheit” (disenchantment with politics) was the word of the year 1992, according to the Duden editors. This disenchantment with politics is reflected not only in the decline of electoral participation or in the drop in membership of the established parties, but also in the fact that voters increasingly choose “extreme” parties – not necessarily because these parties correspond to their convictions, but because they want to show their protest. These symptoms are particularly pronounced in younger population groups.
All these observations can be verified by the Greek example of recent times. Representative inquiries and surveys confirm that the Greeks have become increasingly frustrated with their politicians, even angry with them. Three out of four citizens believe politicians to be unable to solve the “really important problems” – not just the economic crisis in general or unemployment, but also (and especially for the “little man in the street”) the massive illegal immigration – together with the extensive criminality associated with it, which seems appalling when compared to traditional Greek social conditions. For years now, the established policy has given the impression that it cannot solve urgent problems. Many important tasks of the community have not been tackled by the political class, but have been factored out, tabooed, or solved inadequately. Under the Damocles sword of the economic crisis, this impression has been reinforced – quite rightly: if a few years ago there was still talk of a problem-solving weakness, today every critical-thinking Greek observes a kind of state failure. The keywords are: bankruptcy – whether de facto or de jure is of no importance to the countless “small people”, who have been battered with completely arbitrary lump-sum taxes by a despotic system of Ottoman character for six years now, and who find it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water.
It was not without reason that in his day, Alexis de Tocqueville thought it appropriate to deal with the question of “what kind of despotism do the democratic nations have to fear” in his work “On Democracy in America”!    •

*    Professor Dr Ilias Iliopoulos is lecturer on history, strategy and geopolitics at the Hellenic Naval Academy; former professor of strategy and geopolitics of Hellenic National Defence College; former Policy Analyst and Head of Section Geostrategic and Defence Analyses of the Defence Analyses Institute (IAA) of the Hellenic Ministry of Defence; first degree in History from the National Capodistrias’ University of Athens; Post-graduate studies in Modern History of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and Political Science at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich; Dr phil LMU Munich.

(Translation Current Concerns)

Parties in Switzerland

mw. The political parties in Switzerland are private law associations and part of the militia system of Swiss democracy. They are neither subject to state control, nor receive subsidies from the Confederation or the cantons. In the federation, parliamentary advances with the demand for transparency of the parties’ financing haven’t had so far a majority in the Federal Assembly. In the cantons, too, there are only isolated rules for the disclosure of political donations, such as in Geneva and Ticino. Attempts to obtain legal transparency with people’s initiatives failed in Basel-Land in 2013 and 2014 in the canton of Aargau at the ballot box.
In the Swiss policy a membership of a political party is privacy in the true sense: In order to stand for a seat in parliament or for a public office, it is not compulsory. Thus, a large number of local councillors and mayors (executive members) are independent across the country, and even in the National Council and the Council of States there are individual parliamentarians without party affiliation.
In addition to this liberal handling of the parties, there are also a large number of parties in the cantonal and municipal parliaments, as well as in the Federal Assembly and in some cases parties that are only in one canton, such as the Lega dei ticinesi in Ticino or the Mouvement citoyens genevois in the canton of Geneva. There are no “coalition governments“, but the members of the governing councils elected by the people from different parties or the federal councillors, elected by the Federal Assembly, work together as a collegiate authority. It should also be mentioned that there is no party discipline in Switzerland in votes in the parliaments: It is often the case that the members of a party do not vote consistently yes or no, even sometimes they vote against the proposal of their party member in the government.