Greece has a proud anti-fascist history and yet, in 2012, a neo-fascist party, Golden Dawn, won 7% of the vote (over 400,000 votes), and 18 members of parliament. Even in villages that had been wiped out by the Nazis in the second world war, such as Distomo and Kalavryta, Golden Dawn averaged 6%. Why is this happening? Can it be stopped, and how?
Golden Dawn is a neo-fascist party, a gang of thugs and criminals. Their leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, has a criminal record, most notably for planting bombs in cinemas that showed left-wing films. Recently, it was revealed that he is the co-owner of a hotel that operates as a brothel. Other members of Golden Dawn’s leadership have also been convicted for criminal offenses. Currently, there are court cases on-going against four of its MPs.
Many commentators expected Golden Dawn to moderate its public violence upon entering parliament. In fact, its hooligan behaviour has increased, with 63 attacks within two months. It followed up its electoral success with a near-fatal arson attack on an abandoned factory used as a refuge for immigrants in Patras. There are daily reports of attacks against immigrants and anti-fascist activists. In parliamentary speeches, Golden Dawn MPs have threatened school student occupations. Its members have leafleted gay bars with the sinister threat ‘you are next’.
Even the international media were forced to take notice when Golden Dawn members attacked a theatre cast and audience of a play it judged to be blasphemous. In an echo of the 1930s they have injured members of left parties and organisations during activities to build for the last 48-hour strike (6/7 November). This follows on from the infamous scenes of Golden Dawn spokesman, Elias Kasidiaris, physically attacking Rena Dourou, a woman candidate for the Syriza radical left coalition party, and Liana Kanelli, a female MP for the KKE (Communist Party), live on TV.
The turning point for Golden Dawn, however, was not the most recent general elections in May and June. It was the municipal elections in Athens in 2010. Its leader, Michaloliakos, was elected as a councilor with 5.27% of the vote – in contrast to the 0.51% it got in the 2009 national elections. This gave Golden Dawn a certain legitimacy in the eyes of some Greeks by changing the image they had of being merely a marginalised group of extremist thugs.
Undoubtedly, the desperate social and economic situation in Greece has fuelled the rise of Golden Dawn. But the crisis alone does not entirely explain its sudden growth. It is also necessary to understand the tactics that Golden Dawn has used and the failings of mainstream and left parties to offer a way out of the crisis. As long as there are absolutely deprived areas with massive poverty and unemployment then problems will arise in relation to criminality and general social breakdown. In these conditions, Golden Dawn and fascism in general have a golden opportunity to rise.
Golden Dawn’s electoral success in 2010 was the result of consistent local campaigns it had launched in the deprived neighbourhoods. Whose fault is it, they endlessly asked, that these areas are deprived? Whose fault is it that there is such extreme poverty, unemployment, criminality, and no hope for the future? Its answer, of course, is to blame immigrants and foreigners, not the big-business bosses or capitalists. On the basis of this propaganda, Golden Dawn intervened in schools. It went petitioning. It went door to door and organised demonstrations. This was the way it built its electoral profile and recruited supporters.
Golden Dawn has also been aided in its rise by the use of anti-austerity rhetoric. In Greece, support for the far-right over the past few years was expressed in a party called LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally). But LAOS voted in favour of the first memorandum of cut-backs dictated by the troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. It also participated in the coalition government of the appointed technocrat prime minister, Lucas Papademos (in office from November 2011 to May 2012). Following this, LAOS was seen as an ally of the troika and on the side of the memorandum. As a result, it plunged into crisis and lost out to Golden Dawn. The more traditional far-right currents moved towards Golden Dawn as the ‘most authentic’ version of Greek nationalism.
Golden Dawn clearly understood that allowing the left to monopolise the anti-austerity movement would give it a huge advantage in the battles for hearts and minds. Positioning itself against the memorandum meant being on the side of the massive anti-austerity current that is developing within Greek society. This is how the Golden Dawn had the chance to have, according to its own website, its “most militant sections acting in the, until now, ‘red areas’.”
Most of its supporters are young people who have nothing left to hope for. Over half of the youth in Greece are currently unemployed. Those in employment mostly work in horrible conditions, in precarious jobs and on extremely low wages. Golden Dawn had its best results among students and youth (9.5%), farmers (9.3%) and unemployed (9.1%). It is seen as providing easy answers to their problems – blaming immigrants – and as a party that is against corrupt politicians.
Yet, despite its boasts, Golden Dawn has not even touched a hair of any government politician, bankers, etc. The only ones its members threaten, and have physically attacked, are politicians of the left parties. Alarmingly, one out of every two police officers voted for Golden Dawn. It is widely known that the Greek police, especially the riot police (MAT), have close relationships with Golden Dawn. Recently published documents prove this. This is illustrated by the fact that when Golden Dawn members are on the streets they do not get attacked by the police like other demonstrators. On the contrary, they are being protected by the MAT.
Golden Dawn’s obvious slogans are ‘foreigners out’ and ‘Greece for the Greeks’. It also proclaims ‘Golden Dawn against everyone’. That slogan should really be ‘Golden Dawn against anyone that fights back’. The rest – ship-owners, big business, and capitalism in general – have nothing to fear. In parliament, Golden Dawn has backed increased tax relief for the ship-owners while, in Athens, it allocated publicly-owned municipal parking for use by private companies. Many other similar examples could be listed.
Last spring, Golden Dawn members provoked media workers by circling their demonstration on scooters, insulting the workers, giving Nazi salutes, and making obscene gestures. On 7 November in Volos, they were waiting outside of their offices for the participants of the general strike demo, holding clubs in their hands. On this occasion the demo was too big for them to be able to attack it. They also threatened teachers’ union officials because of their support for anti-fascist action.
This also has a theoretical expression. In a number of Golden Dawn website articles it is made clear that it is against strikes on the grounds that strikes create “hatred among fellow Greeks”. It has declared publicly that it opposes specific strikes in specific workplaces, factories, etc. Its dominant theme is that all Greeks are of the same nation, blood and race – not that there are poor and rich, workers and bosses, oppressed and oppressors. According to Golden Dawn, therefore, Greeks must sit tight because, when they strike or demonstrate, they “serve the division that the system wants”. This position is not at all different from the government’s and the bosses’, of the system and the establishment.
The clearest proof for all of the above is the consistent absence of the Golden Dawn from the mobilisations of the workers’ and youth over the past two-and-a-half years, in all the general strikes, massive demonstrations, occupations of the squares, etc.
Refugees, immigrants and ultra-nationalism
Golden Dawn’s ultra-nationalism finds its expression in a virulent and xenophobic campaign against refugees and immigrants, demanding their complete removal from Greece. It claims that this is the only way to solve unemployment, poverty and criminality. Golden Dawn tries to present itself as a solution to these problems in an utterly racist fashion. For example, it accompanies old ladies to cashpoints and to the banks to collect their pensions offering them ‘protection’ against so-called ‘foreign thugs’. Yet, over the last two years, unemployment has tripled without a respective increase in the number of immigrants and refugees. In fact, many have sought a better life elsewhere.
Golden Dawn says: “Big problems demand extreme solutions. A revolutionary vanguard is necessary to destroy the rotten political establishment. This vanguard, after the disappearance of the so-called ‘revolutionary left’, can only be nationalist”. Its demagogy is full of nationalism, with scenarios denouncing ‘traitors’ and ‘conspiracies against the nation’. The irony is that Greek capitalism (the ruling class) has already compromised with the neo-colonialism of the troika and its lenders. This is not unique to Greek capitalism, as it is a central characteristic of the way global capitalism functions. The weaker bourgeois classes historically survived by choosing more powerful bourgeois classes as their ‘protectors’.
Golden Dawn’s ‘revolution’, and its view of the ‘destruction’ of the establishment, sees no role for the millions of workers, oppressed and young people. It sees it as the work of the ‘nationalist vanguard’, which will impose the model of Mussolini, Hitler and the junta of the colonels, which ruled Greece from 1967-74. In reality, the role of Golden Dawn in the event of counter-revolution, would be as a deadly auxiliary to the military and other reactionary state forces.
In relation to the central question of the Greek crisis and austerity, Golden Dawn’s position really is for a renegotiation of the memorandum. It does not call for a repudiation of the debt because it does not want to clash with Greek capital, which it considers as the locomotive of the economy. Greek capital, for its part, does not want to and cannot clash with its bosses in Germany, the EU, the USA, etc.
Failure of the left
The rise of Golden Dawn – and, generally, of the rise of racism, nationalism, the far-right and neo-fascism throughout Europe and elsewhere – is also the result of the failure of the left to respond to the urgent needs of the workers in the worst crisis of capitalism in a generation and the consequent defeats of the movement.
In Greece there was an underestimation of Golden Dawn and the dangers it represented. The left often merely denounced violent attacks, pointing at the historic experience of fascism, or limited itself to a narrow ‘humanitarian’ and not at all class-based and internationalist understanding of immigration.
Additionally, the left’s political absence in the deprived neighbourhoods left a vacuum to be filled by Golden Dawn, which had a consistent presence and daily activity in those areas. There was also a superficial belief that a demonstration through those neighbourhoods would be enough to ‘exile’ Golden Dawn from the area.
Most of all there was a refusal of the major forces of the left to unite and create common residents’ committees of both Greek and immigrants, which would develop a plan on how to face their common issues. The combined power of the different left parties and organisations was never used to develop initiatives and actions that would unite the workers and youth, including the refugees and immigrants, of these areas.
How can the Golden Dawn be stopped?
For many years Xekinima (CWI in Greece) has been active around anti-racism and anti-fascism. It called for a united front of the left, the trade unions, and the movement against Golden Dawn even before it managed to establish itself as a party with elected representatives. The situation today is even more serious. What is needed is a new big anti-fascist effort. The united participation and common action of the left is crucial. Xekinima has repeatedly called for this with concrete proposals, before the last elections and the huge electoral rise of the Golden Dawn.
After the elections, Xekinima put forward the following steps to make this a reality: the creation of anti-fascist committees in every neighbourhood, workplace, school and university; the creation of self-defence groups in areas which have become dangerous for left and anti-fascist activists; for the campaign to be systematic to counteract the neo-fascists’ daily propaganda within the neighbourhoods; and the need for Greeks and immigrants to unite in a common struggle in order to tackle their common problems.
Xekinima also proposes a motion in the trade unions calling for members of neo-fascist organisations, especially Golden Dawn, to be barred from membership. This became a tradition after the fall of the junta in the 1970s, both in the workplaces and student unions. It is important that such decisions are taken in the union branches, in order to protect the workers’ struggles that are developing and that will inevitably rise in the future.
A number of anti-fascist committees are being set up in different areas of Athens and other cities. Xekinima has taken the initiative for the creation of some of these committees. It is noticeable that local activists from different organisations are endorsing this effort. Additionally, the role that the teachers’ union has played in a number of areas is also significant, including taking the decision, officially, to take up the issue of anti-fascism in the schools and with students.
Unfortunately, the main left parties (Syriza and the KKE) have not responded to this danger urgently enough. The KKE is tackling this issue with its usual sectarian approach. Syriza had mentioned the need for anti-fascist action but without any organised initiatives, apart from those taken by some of its components separately. However Syriza’s central secretariat has recently changed its stand and is now in favour of anti-fascist committees.
In addition, there are other smaller left organisations that either do not comprehend the importance of anti-fascist struggle or, when they do participate, try to hijack them or function in such a way that they obstruct the movement instead of helping it (such as the Greek SWP).
Historically, fascism has found fertile ground to grow in times of austerity, mass poverty and unemployment. This is why it is crucial to combine our programme and tactics in relation to anti-fascist action with a programme against cuts and austerity, and against the core of this problem which is systemic. The problem, in other words, is capitalism. Capitalism, as a last resort, will again turn to a dictatorial regime to preserve itself. The capitalists will not hand over power to fascistic forces like Golden Dawn, but they will use them as an auxiliary to the military, riot police, etc, as a lethal weapon against the workers’ organisations. The working class in Greece is far from being defeated, but political mistakes can lead to defeats, as in Germany in the past. That is why the above are very important developments.
Firstly, the left in Greece must patiently explain the phenomenon of migration. Whose fault is it that there are deprived areas with poverty and homeless immigrants? It needs to explain why this phenomenon will not stop as long as there is poverty, hunger and wars. If done correctly, such an explanation can even attract sections of society that have been affected by Golden Dawn’s propaganda. Besides, Greece is a country whose population in the past had migrated in waves, and whose youth is again leaving (or trying to) to go abroad because of the crisis.
However, it is also crucial to have a socialist programme in the agenda. It is necessary to explain persistently and patiently who is to be blamed for the crisis and austerity. The real positions of Golden Dawn have to be exposed consistently. It is not against the memorandum, as it tries to present itself, but against workers’ mobilisations and the movement of resistance.
It is necessary also to oppose all cuts and austerity, to demand money for the needs of society and not for the bankers. A state needs to be organised in a way that drug and people trafficking networks are punished instead of the victims, a justice system that will also punish all police officers who collaborate in racist acts, as well as the neo-fascists. All of these must be linked with the need to develop a planned, democratically controlled economy on the basis of the needs of the big majority of the population and not a handful of families and big multinationals.
Greeks should refuse to pay the debt. Then they should move to the nationalisation of the banking system and all strategic units and big businesses, under democratic workers’ control with absolute transparency. Such a solution would act as an inspiration to other workers across Europe struggling against austerity. It would be a beginning to establishing a socialist confederation of Europe which will put an end to the nightmarish existence of a capitalist Europe united only by poverty and unemployment.