The rise of Golden Dawn in Greece has caused shivers across Europe. It is an openly Nazi organisation that hails Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.
Its members systematically murder and wound migrants. They throw petrol bombs at mosques and say that every woman’s place is at home.
Greece hasn’t become fascist, as some commentators are too easily concluding. But support for Golden Dawn is growing.
It entered the Greek parliament with almost 7 percent of the vote in elections this June. It grabbed around 425,000 votes and is the fifth biggest party in parliament. Opinion polls show that it could become the third party in the next parliament.
Economic crisis, austerity and cuts are the motor behind Golden Dawn’s surge. But its rise wasn’t automatic. The racism of the Greek ruling class and the mainstream parties has opened the way for the Nazis.
As the economic crisis has deepened, Greek governments have increasingly used racism as a weapon against social movements and the left.
The mainstream parties blame migrants for rising unemployment, crime and poor services. For them this is a way of deflecting attention from their own damaging policies.
After a rebellion in December 2008, sparked by the police murder of a school student, they ramped up the rhetoric. They blamed migrants and the left for instability in Greece.
The political by-product of this was the rise of the far right party Laos. It didn’t build up fascist street gangs, but several Nazis found refuge in it.
Greece’s mainstream parties dealt with the rise of Laos by putting even more racism at the centre of their politics. This didn’t undermine Laos—it legitimised racism even more.
But as Laos came under pressure to act as a serious political party, the open Nazis of Golden Dawn were able to present themselves as “the real thing”.
An important turning point came in late 2011. Laos joined the “technocrat” government of Lucas Papademos, under pressure from the ruling class. This was the government that tried to impose austerity after the Labour-type Pasok government of George Papandreou collapsed.
After that Laos disappeared electorally. This collapse of the official far right cleared the way for the rise of Golden Dawn.
The collapse of the mainstream parties is critical to understanding the electoral rise of the Nazis. Pasok used to take more than 40 percent of the vote in every election.
Last June it took 12 percent—and opinion polls predict that will fall to just 5.5 percent. The Tory-style New Democracy also got its lowest ever result in June.
Millions of people who had only ever voted for these two major parties were left floundering. The majority turned to the left, but the Nazis were also able to capitalise.
Their rise hasn’t simply been electoral. The Nazis had already organised a successful experiment on the streets.
On the square of Aghios Panteleimonas, downtown Athens, they had started organising through a “citizens committee”. This was nothing more than Nazis along with racists from the neighbourhood. Its aim was to “cleanse” the area of migrants.
The official anti-immigrant rhetoric encouraged them. Well before Golden Dawn became a parliamentary party, Pasok’s public order minister declared that he could start talks with it over dealing with illegal migrants.
It was well known that Golden Dawn was calling for the annihilation of migrants. It started organising pogroms, terrorising migrants and destroying their homes and shops. The media and the government presented this as a citizens’ action.
The government’s response was to provide more police. But many cops back Golden Dawn. One in two cops voted for the Nazis in June. Among riot police the number is even higher.
When anti-fascist demonstrators were arrested recently, they were tortured in the police headquarters. Police officers told them, “We are all Golden-Dawners now. You should know it.”
So pogroms began to be organised by police and Golden Dawn. Police arrested wounded migrants instead of the Nazi gangs.
Just last month police raided two migrants’ homes and arrested them. A quarter of an hour later, Nazis raided the empty homes to destroy and steal.
The government’s current response to all of this is to talk of “the extremes” and to try and demonise the left and workers.
They say that the left, by organising militant demonstrations, strikes and anti-racist action, is as much to blame for the violence as the Nazis.
Greece hasn’t become fascist. But the rise of Golden Dawn partly reflects the panic of the ruling class. It fears the growing resistance to, and workers’ strikes against, austerity.
The anti-fascist and anti-racist movement is now at the forefront of the struggle. The fight against austerity cannot be untangled from the fight against racism and the Nazis.
Golden Dawn has the official prestige of a parliamentary party and millions of euros in its coffers coming from the state. But it hasn’t been able to reproduce its Aghios Panteleimonas experiment.
Its MPs and cadre can’t go anywhere without the cover of the police. And trade unions, one by one, are voting to stop the fascists in their workplaces.
Tens of thousands of migrants and others joined an anti-racist demonstration in August. It proved that the anger is stronger than the fear.
The newly-organised Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat organised a successful event earlier this month to coordinate action across Greece.
The slogan, “Fascists, bankers, troika—all you scum work together” is chanted louder and louder during every strike. The stakes are high in Greece. The future will depend on whether we can get rid of the scum altogether.
A history of collaboration and resistance
The far right in Greece has a history of deep cooperation with the state. The Greek government collaborated with the Nazi forces that occupied Greece during the Second World War between 1940 and 1944.
It organised paramilitary forces known as the Security Battallions to suppress anti-Nazi resistance. Greek fascists joined Nazi troops in encircling working class neighbourhoods. They murdered Communists, Resistance fighters and their families en masse.
When the Resistance won, most fascists went into hiding. But they soon became useful to the state again. From 1946 to 1949 civil war raged in Greece. The Greek government army, backed by British and US troops, fought the Democratic Army of Greece, part of the Greek Communist Party.
Fascists became useful informers and torturers for the Greek state in cities and villages across the country. They were rebranded as “Greek patriots”. Some were even honoured as Resistance fighters.
The fascist networks were kept alive during the 1950s and existed on the periphery of the police. In 1958 there was a sudden electoral explosion for the left. Following this, fascists acted as infiltrators and agent provocateurs in the labour movement.
In 1963 police looked on while a fascist gang murdered an MP of the United Left, in which the Communist Party was active, during a rally.
A military dictatorship ran Greece between 1967 and 1974. It outlawed, imprisoned and exiled left wingers. The junta started to crumble after the Polytechnic Uprising in 1973.
After it collapsed the new labour and student unions campaigned for the cleaning of fascists from all institutions. The fascists were on the margins but they didn’t disappear.
Nikos Michaloliakos, the current leader of Golden Dawn, was convicted in the 1970s for assaults and involvement in putting bombs in a cinema. He had a very short stay in prison and became an informer for the secret services.
The fascists became more irrelevant during the 1980s and Golden Dawn reshaped itself into an openly Nazi organisation.
In the early 1990s the Greek government tried to impose neoliberal attacks. It began a racist campaign against migrants and a nationalist campaign against the Republic of Macedonia.
The government and the Orthodox church organised huge nationalist rallies. They mobilised hundreds of thousands with Greek flags.
The Nazis of Golden Dawn tried to rebrand themselves as “Greek Orthodox Nationalists”. They took part in the official rallies and started building branches in some schools.
But the campaign backfired and the government fell. The anti-racist movement won gains for migrants in the following year and blocked the fascists.
In 1998 the vice-leader of Golden Dawn, in charge of an armed gang, attacked and almost killed a student member of the Anticapitalist Left.
With its vice-leader hiding, Golden Dawn made several ineffective attempts to get out of the margins in the following years. In 2005 it even announced that it would suspend its own political activities altogether.
Yet the devastating economic crisis, combined with the racism of the state, has enabled it to make a comeback.