Greece’s anti-fascist struggle

October 8, 2013

Kevin Ovenden, a national officer of Unite Against Fascism in Britain, analyzes the challenges facing the left in Greece as it confronts the menace of fascism.

THE STRUGGLE against the most pernicious and entrenched neo-Nazi force in Europe is at a critical moment.

At stake in the dramatic arrests of Nikolaos Michaloliakos and other leaders of the Golden Dawn (GD) in Greece is not only the immediate future of a Nazi party that has 18 members of parliament, with 7 percent of the vote in the last general election and a considerable street-fighting arm, but also the course of the social and political resistance in the European country hit hardest by crisis.

At issue, too, is the wider struggle in Europe against fascism, racism and xenophobia--as the rise of Golden Dawn has acted as an exemplar and lodestone for radicalizing far-right forces across the continent.

The sudden turn by the state and government of Antonis Samaras against GD is testament to sustained anti-fascist campaigning in Greece and to the eruption of popular fury at the fascist murder of much-loved, anti-racist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas. Within hours of Pavlos' murder, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of dozens of cities across Greece, targeting GD, one of whose cadres wielded the knife that felled him.

An anti-fascist tag in Syntagma Square in the center of Athens

It was fear of a repeat of the uprising of December 2008--resulting from the police murder of 15-year-old school student Alexandros Grigoropoulos--intersecting with a rising strike wave and the growth of the radical left that led the government to act.

It certainly was not some inherent hostility towards the fascists on the part of Samaras and his New Democracy party. At least three leading figures of the center-right had entertained a possible coalition with the fascists (if they "moderated" slightly), as the ruling coalition dwindled to just the center-right and the zombie social democratic party PASOK.

Anti-fascist lawyers Evgenia Kouniaki, Takis Zwtos and Thanasis Kampagiannis outline the tip of a mountain of evidence linking GD to criminal activity and murder over the last few years, including to the killing of Pakistani worker Shehzad Luqman in January this year: one of his killers had piles of GD leaflets and a portrait of Michaloliakos in his flat. There were no raids of GD offices or of police stations implicated with the Nazis eight months ago.

Costas Douzinas, Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis here sketch some of the extensive links between the fascists, the center-right and elements of the state. Late last month brought revelations of paramilitary fascist training conducted by reserve elements of Greece's special forces and the collusion of a leading figure of the secret service, EYP, in obstructing investigations into GD crimes.

Additionally, this is a government that has implemented the savage austerity memorandums while deliberately stoking racism, rounding up refugees and migrants, all as it increased state repression against the social movements. As this statement puts it succinctly, "It is the government that closed schools and hospitals, and opened concentration camps."

It is also a government which--faced with the rise of the radical left, and with the main left opposition party SYRIZA the potential victor of the next general election--has sought to vilify the whole left, and by implication legitimize the fascist right, by describing both as "twin extremes," which are an equal threat to democracy.

Samaras revived that smear only this week on a visit to the U.S., comparing those in favor of an exit from the Eurozone and the European Union with GD thugs. That and the fact that the courts decided to release on bail several leading Nazi thugs--including Ilias Kasidiaris, who went into hiding after attacking two female left-wing MPs on television last year--should be warning enough that the moves by the government and state against GD will not, of their own accord, destroy the Nazis. Still less will they tear out the links between GD, the center-right, elements of the state and figures in the capitalist class.

Indeed, if the anti-fascist struggle is left at the institutional and "constitutional" level, there is a great danger that the Nazis can weather the storm and re-emerge as the anti-establishment pole in a society where there is an endemic crisis for the governmental parties.

The anti-fascist movement in Greece is contending with some key political lessons in order to avoid that and instead to turn this great upsurge into a movement that can liquidate the fascists as a political/physical force, and in so doing undermine the government and policies that have incubated GD's growth. These are lessons that have great salience elsewhere in Europe.

1. Fascism is a distinct threat, necessitating a broad yet militant response.

The Greek anti-fascist and anti-racist coalition KEERFA was formed before GD entered the parliament last year and grew sharply. It argued that while, of course, the Nazis grew out of conditions and policies imposed by the governing establishment--austerity, institutional racism, the vilification of the left using imagery from the civil war of the 1940s and so on--opposing fascism requires a specific political response rather than focusing on challenging its causes instead.

The fascist right is not merely a resultant of political and social crisis. It is an actor in its own right, with force and direction. If allowed physical and political space to grow, the result is both its rapid establishment of street terror (under conditions of generalized crisis), and with it, the radicalization of the state machine and the politics of the right as a whole.

The anti-fascist movement in Greece has argued consistently for closing down that space. It has meant popular mobilizations and the militant argument that the fascists are not a legitimate political force, but a violent gang, which should be treated as such in all arenas. On the basis of that argument, it has sought to build the widest possible fighting unity across the left, trade union movement and immigrant communities.

2. Anti-fascism requires anti-racism.

After GD broke through, many European media outlets honed in on fascist stunts, such as providing food distribution or blood banks for "Greeks only." But GD's growth was not the result of it being able to replace in any serious way state functions. Central to it was deepening institutional and popular racism. GD could say that while the politicians talked of being "overrun by immigrants," it was fascist cadres who were prepared to drive immigrants out of neighborhoods and to take direct action.

So strategies that said that it was possible to deal with GD mainly by competing from the Lleft to provide social services missed the point. Challenging GD's racism, concentrated into violent attacks on immigrants and then on the left, was central. That meant putting the mobilization and leading role of the immigrant communities who were directly under attack at the center of resistance.

In so doing, migrant communities were represented as a part of the wider social resistance--part of "us," not "them." At the same time, such united mobilizations provided a visible and material basis for a fundamental anti-racist argument directed against the government and state.

While the fascists can attract some layers who are just disillusioned with establishment politics and the impact of austerity, their core support is from those who accept large numbers of racist myths. Opposing austerity without explicitly drawing anti-racist and anti-xenophobic conclusions--which usually do not "spontaneously" arise--will not destroy the fascist base.

3. Fascism grows with the state, not against it...

It was shocking, but not a surprise, to read reports that possibly half the Athens police force voted for GD in the second general election last year.

For all the pseudo-anti-capitalist and radical rhetoric, fascist formations have only ever seized power with the support of a dominant section of the capitalist class and their state. That was true of Mussolini, Hitler and the classical fascist parties.

The growth of fascism represents an extension and radicalization of the state. The actual formation of a fascist regime comes after large elements of the state machine and ruling apparatus have already gone over to fascism as a final instrument when "normal" methods of police repression and right-wing, parliamentary politics have failed.

4. ...But it matters enormously what the state does.

That does not mean that we should be indifferent to what the state does or that the struggle against fascism is some kind of diversion from the battle against the governments of austerity and the repressive states they deploy.

To respond to the collusion between the police or government and the fascists by saying that the state and the fascists are as one is in effect to accept that the fascists are already on the road to power, or that the state is so powerful it can militarize its response to the social movements at will. The seeming radicalism of that position reveals a fatalist despair.

It's not that the establishment and the repressive forces of the state are not capable of terror. They are. It's that the extent to which they feel able to deploy repression depends upon the balance of forces in the society. A key part of that balance is the extent to which fascist gangs are able to entrench inside neighborhoods and in the social space.

The left and working-class movements have every interest in exposing collusion between the state and the fascists, rooting out fascist ties to the state and forcing the state to act against the fascists--not because the state is a reliable barrier to fascism, but because if it is forced to act, the space to delegitimize the fascists grows, and the door to weakening the repressive state itself widens.

5. The fascists are unconstitutional, but they will not be stopped through a "constitutional consensus."

Faced with the enormous backlash at the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the government temporarily dropped the language of the "twin extremes" of right and left, and called on all the political parties to form with it a "constitutional arc," rejecting the fascists.

Its aim is to usurp the very anti-fascist movement it has attacked. And what is meant by "the law" and "the constitution" is contested. Successive Greek governments have ruled "unconstitutionally" over the last two years, with the appointment of an unelected prime minister--banker Lucas Papademos--and now the increasing use of executive diktat rather than parliamentary norms.

The article of the criminal code--number 187--under which GD leaders face prosecution as a criminal enterprise has indeed been used against the left. This is not a "constitutional" axis that the left can be part of, especially as the prosecuting authorities wish to limit investigations so as to leave untouched the establishment while, for example, the district attorney of Athens has laid charges against a key leader of the anti-fascist movement, Petros Constantinou, a councilor in Athens.

None of this means that the left should somehow champion the "constitutional rights" of the fascists, directly or implicitly. Rather it means precisely cutting through establishment maneuvers in order both to liquidate the fascists and undermine the government from the Left.

The "constitution" that is of value for the left is the freedom and space that have been won for the workers and social movements, whether reflected in attenuated form in the official laws of the state or accepted as a political fact or convention on account of accumulated struggles. That is what is threatened by fascism, and it is that popular "constitution" that masses of people can be won to defend.

6. The mass movement must go beyond establishment limits.

The mass movement has political effect. It is why the Greek government has been forced to take what action against the fascists it has.

To fail to engage with the political reality the movement itself creates, to disavow its effects, is both to undermine its confidence in its own capacity and to surrender the political initiative to others.

The demands and next steps of the anti-fascist movement in Greece are directed at widening the breach it has already created. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA, last week said that he was "not for placing GD outside the law [i.e. banned as a party], but brought before the law." This week, he said he "trusted the Greek judicial authorities."

Today, the judge hearing the remand cases of various GD leaders "accidentally" gave the fascists' lawyers the name and details of the former GD member-turned-whistleblower, who has provided testimony against them.

So holding the criminals of GD to account cannot be left to the authorities, which have collaborated with them. It requires systematically arguing for the gang to be dismantled at every level, and for the trail of investigation into its violence and criminality to be pursued wherever it leads.

It means forcing the government to cut off the state funds that go to GD. If GD is a criminal gang, then its offices in neighborhoods are centers of organizing terror. They should be closed down, by any means necessary.

In other words, the official moves against GD will only have purchase if they continue to respond to an independent, militant movement that goes beyond official confines and is prepared to act.

That's why it was absolutely right at the huge anti-fascist rally outside the Greek parliament last week that the anti-fascist movement broke with the constitutional and legalistic consensus, and set out to march on the GD headquarters.

The move was not ritualistic or taken by a small ultra-radical minority. It was the political assertion of the centrality of a mass movement, by that mass movement, in driving the struggle against fascism and racism.

That movement, which held an important conference in Athens in early October, is now in a position to push forward the dismantling of GD and also--in combination with ongoing mass strikes and social struggles--to raise the pressure on the government to go.

THESE ARE some of the general lessons, put rather telegraphically, from the last weeks of struggle in Greece.

The biggest lesson, however, is that politics, strategy and tactics are not deducible from abstract schemes. Radicalism does not come from rhetoric or finding ultra-militant postures or points of distinction. They all come from concrete engagement in building a mass movement and, with it, fighting for a politics that seeks to cut through, rather than evade, the responses of the state and establishment.

First published at Left Flank.

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