Resisting the rise of the fascist threat
The need to fight back against the far right and its fascist components has taken a new urgency in recent years. In country after country we have seen electoral successes for political formations with more or less open links to neo-nazi or “post-fascist” parties. The victory of Bolsonaro in Brazil helped by the presence of Donald Trump at the White House in the US has given added impetus to this process that has been at work in Europe for a longer time. LePen- father and daughter in France, the FPO in Austria, Wilders in Holland are long standing examples. More recent is the emergence of AfD in Germany and the possibilities offered to fascists by the rise of Slavini in Italy. We have seen also attempts to translate such successes into street-fighting gangs organizing racist attacks along more openly fascist traditions.
Fortunately, there has also been a rising fightback. Every sexist and racist provocation by Trump has met with explosions of anger by women, Blacks and a rising left radicalization among the young and the not-so-young. In Germany, mass demonstrations in Chemnitz, Berlin and recently in Dresden have responded magnificently. In Austria, the FPO participation in the government collapsed amid scandals. In Britain, the traditions of the Anti Nazi League live on. In Greece, Golden Dawn is disintegrating.
All this provides a rich background for the debates on the Left over strategy and tactics in the antifascist movement. There is no room for complacency but there is a lot of experience on which to base our conclusions. One document that sums up successfully the overall picture is the article by Mark L. Thomas in the spring 2019 issue of the International Socialism Journal:
“The ghosts of the past are re-emerging. Nazis are again growing, entering parliaments, gathering millions of votes and polluting the political atmosphere with their racist poison. For the first time since the liberation of Auschwitz and the destruction of Mussolini and Hitler’s regimes it is possible to imagine the victory of such forces. The fascists today remain much weaker than during the inter-war period, above all on the streets, but renewed economic crisis and the political upheavals it leads to can further accelerate their growth and move them further down the road.
We have time, provided we act and act effectively. That places a responsibility on revolutionary socialist organizations to build united fronts against fascism, not based on generalized political progammes or restricted to those who identify as anti-capitalists, but based on mobilizing all those horrified at the rise of the racists and fascists. Indeed revolutionary organizations, precisely because they are orientated on extra-parliamentary mobilizations and are uncompromising in their opposition to racism, are often able to initiate such united fronts. The International Socialist Tendency across Europe has thrown itself into this task.”Mark L. Thomas, International Socialism JournaL. Spring 2019
In this article I would like to try and expand on the experience of fighting Golden Dawn in Greece.
The first point we need to reiterate is that there is no automatic link between economic recession, rising poverty and the rise of the far right including the neo-nazis. The political crisis and the way the Left responds play a crucial role in shaping developments. If we fail to confront the racist agenda this increases the opportunities for fascists. This is an important clarification because there are sections of the Left that argue in a reductionist way — roughly that if we fight austerity and raise “bread and butter” issues, the fascist threat will go away.
In Greece, the first electoral breakthrough of the far right since 1977 came in 2007, when LAOS polled 3.80% and entered parliament. According to official statistics greek GDP then was at its peak. The official racist campaign against refugees and migrants, however, was taking off. In 2009 LAOS moved up to 5.63% but three years later was replaced by Golden Dawn that received 6.97% while LAOS dropped out of parliament.
LAOS was a political formation of the far right that was trying to give a respectable face to assorted fascist groupings. It was in competition with Golden Dawn that insisted on building a neo-nazi street fighting force (without much success till then). When LAOS was discredited in 2012 by joining a coalition government along with the mainstream parties headed by a former banker, the “respectable” version collapsed and Golden Dawn seized the opportunity.
This is a clear example of how the interplay between different tendencies of the far right operates and why there is no room for underestimating the fascist threat. In Greece, KEERFA- the Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat as is its full name — was launched in the summer of 2009, ten years ago. It brought together activists, trade unionists, migrant community people and personalities from a broad spectrum of the Left with SEK (Socialist Workers Party / GR) playing an important role. But at first it had to deal with two objections: (a) it exaggerates the threat of fascism (b) it “narrows” the scope of uniting antifascist forces by raising antiracism at the same time.
Events since then have proved that KEERFA was right. These have been years with hard struggles to stop the growth of Golden Dawn and it is impossible to imagine these efforts without KEERFA.
Let us look into some examples.
In 2013, the Racist Violence Reporting Network (RVRN) recorded 166 incidents involving at least 320 victims. Most victims were immigrants and refugees, including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and recognized refugees. Most were also Muslim. In many cases, victims were approached and asked to produce identification to show they were legal residents. When they could not, they were assaulted. Most of these attacks occurred in public places by vigilantes in groups of two to twenty. In 15 cases, victims or witnesses said they recognized Golden Dawn members or associates among the perpetrators, or saw the Golden Dawn insignia. (…) According to an investigation by the Internal Affairs Department of the Greek Police, police involvement in racist attacks rose sharply between 2009 and October 2013, with the peak in 2012. In all, 203 police officers and 3 civilians were involved in incidents of racist violence. Read more on that here.
In the face of such developments KEERFA had to organize again and again in defense of migrants and against the attempts of Golden Dawn to create no-go areas for them. Mass demos in Aghios Panteleimonas in central Athens in 2011, in Nikaia near Piraeus in 2012, in Aspropyrgos to the southwest of the greater Athens area in 2017. The other side of this coin is that KEERFA made sure that migrants are involved in the trade unions, with large contingents marching alongside strikers during the repeated general strikes against the “bail-out memoranda” imposed by the EU and the IMF.
This orientation provided the basis for the explosion of the antifascist movement in 2013 that forced the authorities to jail the leaders of Golden Dawn after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. KEERFA organized a crucial demo in January 2013 after the murder of a Pakistani worker, Sahzad Luqman by Golden Dawn thugs and was at the forefront of the mass mobilizations in September of that year that finally broke the protective shield of the state, the de facto immunity of the neo-nazi murderers. As a statement by the CC of SEK explained at the time:
The arrest of Michaloliakos is only the beginning to dismantle the murderous neo-Nazi mechanism and their protectors!
1. The apprehension of Michaloliakos, Kasidiaris and other leaders of Golden Dawn is a victory for the magnificent antifascist movement that took to the streets after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. It finally breaks the provocative immunity of neo-Nazi murderers and those who protect them are forced to pretend to be late-coming persecutors.
We celebrate this development and we organize the next steps.
2. Our first demand is to extend the dismantling across the width and depth of the murderous apparatus. The killers and their masterminds are not only 34. In every neighbourhood, in every place where offices of the Golden Dawn operated, we demand the unravelling of these networks in all their extent.
This anti-fascist cleansing must include officers of Hellenic Police who generously gave their cooperation, prosecutors who violated their duties and their funders who provide the means for the operation of these murderous gangs.
3. At the same time, we demand the resignation of all high ranking officials who gave generously their help and who are politically responsible for the spreading of neo-Nazi links with state mechanisms. Who brought in the National Intelligence Service (EYP) the cousin of a Golden Dawn member to the position he held and was involved in the scandal of kidnapping Pakistanis for ex minister Voulgarakis in 2005, if not Samaras himself? Who was leading the police if not Dendias?
The PASOK – New Democracy coalition, instead of claiming to represent the leadership of the “constitutional spectrum”, must submit its resignation. Not only for direct involvement in the protection of neo-Nazis, but because they paved the way for spreading poverty through the Memoranda and playing the card of racism. It is the government that closed schools and hospitals and opened concentration camps. It’s time for them to leave.
4. The Left has an obligation to be at the forefront of these struggles, linking workers’ resistance to layoffs, closures and privatization through the Memoranda with the anti-fascist struggle. It should be building a strong workers’ movement against the troika of IMF -EU – ECB, who together with local capitalists are the directors of the system that generates crises, poverty, racism and neo-Nazis.
The steps made these days with the strikes, combined with the anti-fascist demonstrations showed that thousands of activists oriented towards such a movement. We welcome the pioneering role of ANTARSYA both in the strike front and to the anti-fascist uprising these days and we call for rallying to the ranks of KEERFA that paved the way to reach the anti-fascist movement here. The Nationwide Assembly and the International Antifascist meeting on October 5 to 6 is a milestone to organize the follow up to victory.Athens September 28th 2013, Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party (SEK)
It was not all plain sailing, though. We had to organize the intervention of antifascist lawyers to make sure the prosecution of Golden Dawn was properly documented and all the evidence accepted by the court. That was no easy task. A leading MP of SYRIZA, Nikos Voutsis who would become Speaker of the greek parliament in September 2015, was claiming in 2014 that “the evidence the Greek state had collected against them was laughably inadequate and “had no chance” in court”.
There was a massive swing to the left when SYRIZA won the elections in January 2015. As I observed back then: “After the election, there’s been a continuation of the move to the left, so opinion polls show that SYRIZA now leads the Tories by over 20 points—New Democracy is under 20 percent and SYRIZA is over 40 percent. If anything, the election result has moved the radicalization forward”.
However, the first speaker of parliament when SYRIZA won the election, Zoe Konstantopoulou: “On 24 February created uproar when she postponed a vote on lifting the immunity of New Democracy MP Adonis Georgiades on the grounds that imprisoned Golden Dawn MPs had been prevented from attending the vote. On 5 March she argued that parliament had been operating illegally over the previous few months because the imprisoned MPs were absent.
On the same day she was reported as telling ERT Open in an interview that criminal behaviour by some did not mean that “Golden Dawn is politically an unacceptable party. That there are indications of Nazi ideas doesn’t mean we can impose discounts on democracy”. Later on “Included in the invitation to participate in a National Council of Foreign Policy meeting, on Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue, was Golden Dawn—who have publicly called on the Greek army to invade Istanbul! Kotzias, who chaired the meeting, justified the presence of Golden Dawn on the grounds that he was following the practice laid down by the parliamentary president, Zoi Konstantopoulou.
As the anti-racist and anti-fascist organization, KEERFA, noted, in condemning this challenge to our collective freedoms: “the invitation is a mighty stab in the back of the anti-fascist movement battling to put the criminal Nazi organization on trial and sentence the murderers of the assault battalions of the Golden Dawn”.
So we had to operate in a context where people had moved to the left but the party that benefited from this and was in office had policies which went against popular hopes and expectations. We had to mobilize together with people who had voted for SYRIZA and at the same time oppose the actions of the SYRIZA-led government. An antifascist united front that brings together revolutionaries and reformists is not a smooth operation that moves linearly forward. This has been a clear warning to avoid electoral illusions as a short-cut to fighting the fascists.
Many people were worried that opposing SYRIZA might benefit Golden Dawn. The SYRIZA leadership played openly on these fears by saying that if the SYRIZA government fails the beneficiaries would be the fascists: “Don’t strike and demonstrate against government policies, you only make it easier for the neo-nazis to grow”.
Some people on the left were so angry with this that they started to assume there was no place for SYRIZA activists on antifascist demos. Sectarianism became a real problem reinforced by other mistaken strategies. Young anarchists tended towards squadism — beat up your local fascists by organizing a more or less clandestine group of dedicated fighters. Neo-stalinists reverted to “third period” politics, forgetting the lessons of the defeat of the German working class in the 1930s.
Despite these problems, the antifascist movement with KEERFA at the forefront succeeded in pushing back Golden Dawn. The trial continued despite the delays and it provided a constant hammering of the neo-nazi leadership. Michaloliakos complained that they face a barrage of accusations. Local GD offices started to close down as more and more people were convinced that these were in fact places where nazi thugs met to organize their attacks. A huge blow came with the elections in July this year when Golden Dawn failed to elect any members of parliament. Since then there are splits and defections as the trial edges towards its end. The evidence is so overwhelming that the only open question is just how heavy the sentences will be.
We are not there yet. And there is another far right group, “Greek Solution” that has entered parliament. It does not have the organized gangs of fascists that Golden Dawn had built, but there is no reason to be complacent. Antifascists in Greece can be proud of their efforts but we still need to coordinate with all the antifascists internationally to make sure we put an end to the fascist threat everywhere.
Panos Garganas is Editor at Workers Solidarity newspaper and a leading member of the Greek Socialist Workers Party (ΣΕΚ)