On the sixth anniversary of the murder of anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by far-right forces, KEVIN OVENDEN reports on how the Golden Dawn is in crisis.
GOLDEN DAWN closed its national headquarters in Athens on Saturday.
It is a further, massive blow to the Greek neonazi party whose trial for organising serious criminal activity is drawing to a close after four-and-a-half years.
That and other news from Greece in the last few days should provide inspiration and some pointers to the anti-fascist movements on both sides of the Atlantic.
The neonazis moved into the five-storey building on Mesogeion Avenue in Athens in 2012.
It symbolised Golden Dawn’s breakthrough in entering the parliament that year. With it came expanding its street-fighting capacity and a claim to a mass following, to become “the national party,” in the depths of the Greek economic crisis.
Now it has had to abandon the prestigious location and move back to the smaller offices near Larissa train station that it had dedicated to local organisation in Athens and Piraeus. There are redundancies, feuds and fallings out.
It is the latest retrenchment. Dozens of party offices around Greece have been forced to close in the last two years as a result of campaigning by anti-fascist forces, such as the Keerfa coalition, and due to internal and financial crises.
In July’s general election, which saw the centre-right New Democracy replace the outgoing Syriza government, Golden Dawn failed to reach the 3 per cent threshold and lost its parliamentary representation.
Overnight the fascist organisation had to say goodbye to the income of 15 MPs and over 50 members who were on the parliamentary payroll.
That accelerated a crisis that had already seen bitter splits and defections of MPs, MEPs, councillors and cadres across Greece.
It is a stunning fall from even a few years ago when Golden Dawn’s success made it a point of reference on the European far right.
Filip de Winter of the far-right Vlaams Belag, now topping opinion polls in the Flanders region of Belgium, was revealed in 2016 to have visited Golden Dawn leaders.
It was recently discovered that the leader of the German AfD in Brandenburg, Andreas Kalbitz, took part in a neonazi rally in Athens alongside Golden Dawn in 2007.
It was when the party, which has a record of neonazi violence going back to the 1980s, stood on the brink of major advance through exploiting the fears and distress thrown up by the crisis that hit Greece the following year.
What Golden Dawn offered the European far-right scene was a model that combined violent street fighting with, from 2012 onwards, big electoral gains. By 2015 it was the third party in parliament.
It thus appeared to provide a way forward for the fascist wing of the European far right looking to synthesise “militant” and electoral tactics. The two have tended to pull apart and cause schisms in other countries.
Of those two, the dominant tactic of Golden Dawn was to create a climate of terror in neighbourhoods through attacks on immigrants, leftists, trade unionists and opponents of all kinds.
The basic units of the organisation are its “battalion squads,” modelled on Hitler’s Brownshirts.
Thus, electoral success in 2012 was cashed in to ramp up its paramilitary organisation. It unleashed a rising wave of violence culminating in the murder of anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.
It was part of a Septemvriana — a forensically organised “September of events” — aimed at terrorising opposition and even intimidating more conventional rivals on the far right.
Tonight, anti-fascist protesters will gather in the Keratsini neighbourhood of Athens-Piraeus to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Pavlos’s assassination.
His case is at the base of the trial of 69 Golden Dawn leaders and hardcore members that began in April 2015 and is now in its final stages.
It is not a trial of ideas or under constitutional provisions to protect democracy. It is a criminal trial.
Golden Dawn members stand accused of the Fyssas assassination, the attempted murder and attack on a group of Egyptian fishermen and the near fatal assault on trade unionists of the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) near the shipyard zone of Piraeus.
The leadership as a whole is accused of running a criminal organisation that commissioned and directed those and other felonies — in the way that a mafia don directs the actions of his footsoldiers.
Many other crimes have come to court and resulted in guilty verdicts. Those judicial decisions are also evidence in the big trial.
One of them is for the attack in 2013 on the Synergeio autonomous social space. Seven Golden Dawn members were finally found guilty of that last Friday.
That was despite pressure by a representative of the Athens district attorney’s office to have the case dismissed on technical grounds arising from recent changes to the penal code.
Nevertheless, the court found a Golden Dawn MEP and a former MP, both also accused in the main trial, guilty of incitement to commit grievous bodily harm, and five others guilty of the assault itself.
The Synergeio verdict will enter the main trial today as the process of defendants giving their “apologias,” responses to charges, continues.
It is highly significant because the modus operandi of that attack is identical to the others the main trial is considering.
The last stage will be the apologias of the central leadership next month.
Anti-fascist lawyers have lodged a formal complaint against a government spokesperson for making a blatantly political intervention into the Synergeio trial by arguing before the verdict that the case should be dismissed.
That points to a second aspect of this long legal process. It has uncovered something of the collaboration of authoritarian parts of the state and of the “respectable” right with Golden Dawn.
It has allowed it to commit these crimes in an atmosphere of near impunity for years.
Golden Dawn has conceded that the court case, an extension of the anti-fascist movement that is represented in the trial, has played a major role in incapacitating it.
Verdicts are expected early next year. The threat of fascism and violent racism will not, of course, disappear even if Golden Dawn’s root and core is jailed.
But the news from Greece this last week is that there is nothing inevitable about the victory of fascist forces out of a combination of political breakdown and economic slump.
That was not the message from several quarters four years ago. As the Greek government clashed with the EU the foreign minister and the then finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said that the only beneficiaries of the EU crushing Greece would be Golden Dawn, Marine Le Pen in France and other fascist or far-right forces.
It was a reckless thing to say. It is one thing to contemplate what serious fascist advance could look like. We have the historical imagination and contact with those still with us from the generation of the 1940s to do that.
It is quite another to invoke it as a fait accompli, to contemplate it as victorious, idly and fatalistically.
The refusal of fighting elements of the Greek left to do that is the central reason for the halting and now throwing back of Golden Dawn.
The government did capitulate in 2015. The fascists hoped to gain in the slipstream with false claims to be a militant force against the imposition of yet more austerity.
The following year the government signed up to the EU-Turkey deal of shame to stop refugees reaching safety in Europe. In so doing it authenticated racism and put refugees in camps on islands that this week Medecins Sans Frontieres reveal to be utterly inhuman.
More recently the nationalist right launched a huge wave of chauvinist agitation over the Macedonia-naming issue. Then the one-time party of the radical left, Syriza, lost the general election.
All of these factors were held in advance to provide big openings for Golden Dawn, and that was the fascist strategy.
Instead, it is in crisis. That is down to the systematic effort, through mass and combative means, to drive the fascists out of the workplaces and neighbourhoods, and to isolate them through a popular, democratic cordon sanitaire.
It involved a sharp anti-fascist focus — thus avoiding the temptation to label all forms of reaction as fascist — with a firm anti-racist grounding that put the case against Islamophobia and anti-refugee policies.
The fact that at the heart of the trial stand three types of fascist target — radical youth, immigrants and militant trade unionists — underscored how fascism is aimed at the working-class movement as a whole, in all its diversity.
If racism is a poison used to dull the senses of the working class, fascism is a dagger plunged into its body.
Political breakdown is advancing in Europe, even before the anticipated next slump.
Factions of the AfD are clashing in Germany over whether to try to turn increased votes into coalitions in the East with the conservative right or into more “radical,” direct and fascistic strategies.
Hard right forces and worse in Britain are hoping to gain from the Brexit crisis if the labour movement proves incapable of offering a democratic way forward uniting the majority of working people.
And yet — the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht titled his satire upon the rise of Hitler “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.”
A resistible rise. Fascism can be stopped.