The Greek courts have convicted the leaders of the fascist organisation Golden Dawn for a series of murderous attacks. This was a direct result of pressure on the bourgeois from the workers and youth, who are the only force that can stand against the menace of fascism.
On Wednesday 7 October, the day of the court ruling to decide the fate of the fascist organisation Golden Dawn (GD) and its leaders, a mass demonstration of 50,000 protesters gathered outside the Athens Court of Appeals. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the demonstration would undoubtedly have been larger. The protesters demanded the exemplary punishment of Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation, and the condemnation of its leaders.
The charges against the GD leaders and many of its members concerned the murders of the antifascist rap singer Pavlos Fyssas and Shahzad Luqman; an immigrant from Pakistan; as well as murderous attacks against trade unionist members of the KKE, fishermen from Egypt and dozens of other deadly attacks. The court decision was to convict. When the news was announced, the crowd outside the court erupted in applause and cheers.
The decision was not a foregone conclusion, despite the plethora of evidence. Just a few months earlier, the prosecutor Adamantia Oikonomou’s reccomendation was for acquittal for the leadership of the GD. Only under the pressure of the anti-fascist movement and the fear that such a decision could spark a mass movement were the bourgeois political system and the judges were forced to condemn the fascists. Thousands of young people and workers rightly saw this as their victory.
A short history of Golden Dawn
We will not attempt here to chart the historical course of this particular fascist organisation, but only to point out its role from the beginning of the last capitalist crisis until today. This brief overview will help us to see the historical role of fascism in times of historical capitalist crisis, and the destabilisation of the capitalist regime.
The beginnings of the GD’s electoral rise can be traced to the activity of the organisation in 2010 around the neighborhood of Ag.Panteleimon in the center of Athens, where they won the electoral support of a portion of the frustrated elements of the petty bourgeoisie, lumpen proletariat and backward workers. Under the weight of the crisis, they turned their indignation against the impoverished refugees and immigrants of the region. GD members formed attack squads and carried out daily assaults against immigrants passing through the square. The gradual increase in support for the GD was reflected for the first time in the 2010 municipal elections, during which the then marginal organisation elected its leader, Michaloliakos, to the Athens municipal council, receiving more than 5.5 percent of the vote.
The first memorandum and the harsh austerity package applied by the PASOK government of George Papandreou radicalised the masses of workers and petty bourgeoisie. This was expressed by the movement in Syntagma Square and in the squares of many cities in the summer of 2011. This movement led the Papandreou government to fall. But radicalisation does not take place only in the camp of the working class. Under the blows of the crisis, thousands of petty bourgeoisie are violently crushed by the capitalists and the banks, abandoning the traditional bourgeois parties, right-wing or liberal, and some of them turn to fascism and the demagogic far-right parties. Of course, due to some factors that we will present below, the GD never managed to build a mass fascist movement of petty bourgeois in order to crush the labour movement.
In the elections of May 2012, the GD managed to enter parliament for the first time with 7 percent of the vote. At the same time, the traditional bourgeois party in Greece, ND, reached 18 percent and PASOK 13 percent, while SYRIZA jumped from 4 percent to 16 percent. This was no accident. The depth of the crisis and the harsh shock measures of the Papandreou and Papademos governments turned hundreds of thousands of workers to the left: something that was reflected in a period of mass struggles in the years 2010-2012. Nevertheless, a part of the crisis-stricken petty bourgeoisie supported the fascists. This support, however, was passive; that is, through the ballot box, and expressed the indignation of the petty-bourgeois masses against the parliamentary bourgeois regime. In no sense did we see active support for Greek fascism, with mass rallies and the participation of the petty bourgeoisie in attack squads to directly confront the labour movement. But the GD’s entrance into parliament whetted the appetite of its leaders and the organisation began to escalate its murderous fascist activities with dizzying speed, which reached their highest point in September 2013 with the assassination of Fyssas.
The GD managed to create attack squads in the plebeian neighborhoods of Athens and Piraeus, terrorising immigrants and left activists on a daily basis. Nevertheless, they failed to create a mass fascist movement. At the highest point of its activity, the GD did not exceed 2,000 members (some of the defendants report 700-1000 members, others 2,000, Michaloliakos 3,000, while other sources report up to 5,000 members). The main reason for this is the objective numerical and organisational strength of the labour movement. The Greek working class is much more numerous compared to the interwar period, during which fascist movements emerged in Europe. Layers such as the teachers, civil servants, pupils and students, who in the interwar period supported fascist movements, are now militant sections of the labor movement. The petty bourgeoisie have shrunk since the interwar period and are incapable of creating a mass fascist movement.
The main role of fascism is to terrorise and then the finally crush the labor movement and establish a fascist dictatorship that will outlaw labour organisations – both political and trade union – and with an iron fist, to defend the interests of big business. However, as we explained, the objective conditions did not allow such a thing and the GD leadership, overestimating the ripeness of the opportunity, overstepped by killing Fyssas. The ruling class, fearing the consequences that the murder of Fyssas would have on the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of young people, moved to ban the GD’s action and immediately started a trial process against the organisation. At the same time, it moved towards a relatively mild parliamentary bourgeois bonapartism (raising the state above society and democratic fetters), which was reflected in the passing of unconstitutional laws without consultation in parliament, measures against demonstrations and strikes, etc.
The brief stabilisation of Greek capitalism with the anemic recovery of the period 2016-2019 and the betrayal of the SYRIZA leadership in 2015 regrouped the petty bourgeoisie around the traditional bourgeois parties and undermined support from the GD and the demagogic far right (with the sole exception of the unstable formation around the right-wing demagogue Velopoulos called “Greek Solution”). However, the escalation of the crisis of Greek and world capitalism that has already begun and will continue with greater intensity in the coming years will again create the conditions for the strengthening of the far right.
The multiple splits of the GD and their prospects
The dissolution of the GD’s local organisations after the start of the trial and the imprisonment of its leaders created rifts within the organisation. In recent years, we have seen dozens of leaders leave and turn towards demagogic bourgeois parties, while others have created new far-right organisations. The only organisation that seems to have a future is a new party set up by Kasidiaris (one of the main leaders of GD) called “Greeks for the Fatherland”, which was formed after he left GD last May. The prospects for GD with the remaining “old” leaders – mainly its founding generation, including Michaloliakos and Pappas – are not promising.
Because of his popularity, Kasidiaris can bring together in his new organisation some hundreds of young fascists who formed the GD attack squads, and mobilise them again in the near future under a guise of civil legitimacy. Kasidiaris himself, as well as the hundreds of members who come from the GD and support him, are unrepentant fascists and not just demagogic far-right politicians. Their purpose remains the same as that of the GD: the crushing of the labour movement and the militant youth.
In addition, the possible collapse of Velopoulos’ party, that relied on votes in northern Greece on the Macedonian question, is likely to further strengthen Kasidiaris' organisation, which will unite the far right. Combined with the possibility of a failure of the working class to seize power, this will once again bring forth the fascists (with or without Kasidiaris as their leader), who rely on the crisis-torn petty bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat in order to attack the working class.
The role of the Left and the labour movement in crushing the fascist threat
The main thing that allowed the GD to terrorise and kill immigrants and leftist activists was not its strength and numbers but the passive attitude of the leaders of the labour parties, i.e. the KKE and SYRIZA, and the trade unions, which did not take any initiative nor serious measures to protect immigrants and activists. The role of political and trade union organisations and the labor movement in general is crucial in crushing the fascist threat.
Thousands of people are outside Athens Appeals Court where the Golden Dawn trial verdict is expected today.— Xavi Ruiz (@xruiztru) October 7, 2020
The leaders of the workers’ organisations cultivate illusions in the anti-fascist and workers' movement about the role of civil justice in the fight against fascism, instead of fighting with militant methods against it and preparing its final elimination by overthrowing capitalism. It must be made clear to all militants that we can have no confidence in the mechanisms of the bourgeois state to crush the fascists. The police, the army, the courts, the parliament and the government are official state institutions of the capitalist class for their domination over the working class. Fascist organisations are unofficial reserves of the bourgeois state to terrorise the labour movement. In times of capitalist crisis, when the ruling class can no longer rule with democratic methods, the role of the fascists is enhanced, and they begin to carry out attacks not only with immunity from but the support of the state. It is enough to say that the murderer of Pavlos Fyssas, named Giorgos Roupakias, killed him in the presence of police officers, who did nothing. When a police officer finally arrested him, Roupakias said: “I did it, but don’t tell anyone, I’m one of you”. The policeman then asked: “Are you a police officer?” and Roupakias replied: “No. I’m a member of the Golden Dawn”.
The fact that the fascists work in close collaboration with the state does not mean that their action is strictly dictated by the bourgeoisie. To a certain extent their action is independent and out of the close control of the bourgeoisie. That’s why they got “big ideas” and their bosses finally had to punish them. But because fascists are a valuable reserve for the bourgeoisie, the ruling class does not want to completely destroy them, although they were forced to convict them.
Unfortunately, the reformist leaders of the mass workers' organisations are cultivating these illusions by taking no effective action for the self defence of workers and immigrants against fascist attacks, and by blindly trusting the bourgeois state to neutralise the fascist threat.
The labour movement, beyond demanding the harshest punishment (the members of GD have been found guilty and the party itself was condemned as a criminal organisation but the penalties haven’t been decided yet), must be ready for the rising prevalence of the fascists in the coming years. The united front of the workers' organisations and the creation of self-defence groups of the workers in strikes and rallies against the fascists is a necessity. Fascist violence must be met with mass and organised action by the labour movement. At the same time, it must be understood by every worker that the final crushing of fascism can only come with the overthrow of capitalism, the system that gives birth to fascism in order to crush the labour movement. The struggle against fascism is a struggle against capitalism and it is linked to the preparation of workers' power and the victory of the socialist revolution, which will sweep the fascists and the capitalists who finance and support them.