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Golden Dawn: can the Left seize the initiative?

09 October 2013

To the surprise of many, the conservative Greek government has launched a crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. KD Tait looks at the reasons for this and what it means for the working class movement

Six MPs and around 30 party activists, including Golden Dawn’s top leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos and his deputy, have been arrested and charged with two murders, eight attempted murders, tens of racist attacks, a bombing and the illegal possession of weapons and explosives.

No anti-fascist will shed a tear because a few dozen Golden Dawn members have been locked up. Thousands of immigrants and leftists will walk the streets safer with these thugs behind bars for a time. But no one should believe that this is more than a temporary blow to the neo-Nazis. Indeed, it could simply provide a pretext for a parallel crackdown against “extremists” on the left.

Mobilising with the slogans “Greece for the Greeks” and “Clean up the Stench”, Golden Dawn is one of Europe’s biggest neo-Nazi organisations. At the last election, it polled 7 per cent. Recent opinion polls put it on 15 per cent before the arrests. Its leaders have called for a “civil war” in Greece, and the party’s paramilitary cells prepared for this by stockpiling weapons and carrying out various murders and political attacks. Its “assault squads” patrol neighbourhoods in groups of 50 or 60 on motorbikes attacking migrants.

In Parliament, its MPs are consistent supporters of pro-business policies and the government’s persecution of immigrants. Police sweeps for undocumented workers are backed up by Golden Dawn pogroms attempting to “ethnically cleanse” Greek cities.

According to the Racist Violence Reporting Network, there were 154 racist attacks in 2012, with 104 this year already. Although Golden Dawn is behind most of the attacks, the figures do not represent the true scale of the violence. The police turn migrants who report attacks by Golden Dawn away. Most attacks are not reported.

Contrary to what many lazy bourgeois journalists think, the Golden Dawn did not “appear from nowhere” in 2012. It sprang from the political, social and cultural crisis provoked by the austerity. Behind the Nazi imagery lays an organisation with a programme that expresses real social roots.

The Greek economy has shrunk by 20 per cent. In conditions of massive social instability, the petty bourgeoisie feel oppressed by the ruinous financial policies of the IMF and ECB and are terrified of losing their social status. They are attracted to the fascist programme that promises protection against both the real tyranny of the IMF and the supposed tyranny of the organised working class.

Against a background of numerous brutal attacks, it was the murder of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas that sparked a series of mass protests and violent confrontations with police. These were an important factor in forcing the government to act to head off a social explosion.

Golden Dawn’s penetration of the police

Playing the “law and order” card first against Golden Dawn is a chance for the New Democracy-led government to divert attention from austerity and towards “stability” and “security”. The government is under pressure from the IMF to drive through even more job cuts and faster privatisation in return for the next €1 billion bailout. It faces a challenge from the right, Golden Dawn, and from the left, Syriza.

At the same time, the masters of the Greek state were alarmed by the growth of Golden Dawn influence, indeed penetration, of the police and the security apparatus. So far, a top police chief, a top intelligence chief, the man charged with investigating Golden Dawn and several more commanders, including the boss of the riot squad, have been sacked.

Amongst rank and file police, the penetration is even greater. Online footage regularly shows Golden Dawn members attacking left-wing protesters alongside police. Fascists in Dawn T-shirts can be seen jumping out of a police carrier. In the 2012 elections, ballot boxes used exclusively by on-duty police officers registered up to 40 per cent support for the party. The purge of top police officers will not fundamentally change the loyalties of the thousands of rank and file Golden Dawn supporters amongst the police.

Leftists should have no illusions in the state’s neutrality. The government will use the new situation to appeal to the “sensible” majority and try to repress equally the “two extremes”. A state ban may drive Golden Dawn underground, but if the government continues with its programme of mass impoverishment, the party’s message will retain its appeal. Only a fundamental break with the politics of making the working class pay for the crisis can start to roll back support for the fascists.

The bosses, bankers and career politicians who rule Greece are only looking out for the interests of their class. When Golden Dawn’s squads were useful in this, they tolerated them and, if they think it necessary, they will let them loose again.

Without conceding to the state the right to ban parties or endorsing New Democracy’s actions, the left must now mobilise to completely rout the fascist organisation and build up working class and immigrant defence committees and groups.

The socialist alternative

Unfortunately, the alternatives posed by the two dominant sections of the left are completely inadequate both when it comes to fighting fascism and in putting forward an immediate solution to the burning needs of millions suffering under austerity.

On the one side, there is Syriza, topping opinion polls, but progressively dumping last years intransigent rejection of the European bankers’ austerity for a more “reasonable” approach, as part of its ‘pragmatic turn’. It is seeking to persuade both the European and Greek bosses that there is nothing fundamental to fear from a Syriza election victory; the party will engage in negotiations over the debt rather than renounce it. In short, at home and abroad, the capitalist agencies are all pressurising Syriza to revert to the policies of Pasok.

Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, once called “the most dangerous man in Europe”, is doing all he can to live down his former image. Yet it was precisely when he was at his most radical in rejecting austerity that Syriza’s votes nearly quadrupled and thousands of members joined. Now the party is playing the role of a loyal parliamentary opposition rather than leader of the resistance on the streets.

The party does not see the need, or agitate for, workers’ defence squads to protect the workers’ organisations or the immigrants who are beaten and hounded by the fascists.

To Syria’s left, in terms of anti-EU language, there is the Greek Communist Party (KKE). Its sectarian practice keeps it divorced from any collective working class counteroffensive against the austerity government and its refusal to form a rejectionist coalition with Syriza last year helped New Democracy to hang on to power. This sectarianism is true also in the antifascist movement where, despite having its own defence teams, it will not take the initiative to create a force that could easily crush the thugs of Golden Dawn

The dramatic rise in the fortunes of fascism over the past year is integrally linked to the paralysis in the workers’ struggle against the crisis. More than two dozen one- and two-day general strikes have failed to shift the austerity government.

The fascists appeal to the petty bourgeoisie, small business people and professionals ruined by the crisis, and the lumpenproletariat, the unemployed who have turned their rage against the working class, the left and the immigrants. They are the party of social despair. The working class needs a party of social hope, of social transformation.

If the workers’ movement remains paralysed, passively waiting for the next elections, capable only of repeated protests but no decisive action to drive the austerity government from power, then fascism will recover from any blows the bourgeois state and the capitalist parties inflict on it.

A militant and decisive working class advance to drive out the parties of austerity and mass sackings, however, will immediately weaken and scatter the fascist forces and undermine their social base. It will draw the middle classes and the unemployed around the left. This requires an all out and indefinite general strike to drive out the austerity parties and put into power a workers’ government based on the mass organisations created to lead and defend the strike.

Greek working people could finally escape the nightmare of endless impoverishment by seizing ownership of the economy and planning it democratically to produce for the needs of all, not a tiny elite, on the basis of social need, not private profit.

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