As was the case in 1930s Germany, Greek liberalism has revealed itself to be politically spent. In dealing with the austerity measures imposed upon the country from outside by an international troika consisting of the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank, the government has failed comprehensively in the eyes of its electorate.
When the centre-right New Democracy party defeated a coalition of left-wing forces in the elections of June 2012, the freshly appointed government promised to renegotiate the terms of the 'agreement' the troika had sought to enforce. However, the radical edge of their rhetoric was blunted by a demonstration of what they described as 'good faith'; they set up a directive by which Greece would comply with the cuts in the 2013-2014 period at a cost to the public purse of 11.9 billion euros. In seeking to gain the goodwill of their European creditors, they acquiesced to their demands. The reaction of a large proportion of the general population was predictable. Anguish and outrage manifested in a series of pickets, demonstrations, and strikes. Slogans were framed in anti-neo-liberal terms directed at the banking bailouts that had precipitated the crisis (indeed one of the key strikes was directed against the ATA [Agrarian] Bank).
On the back foot, and with a practiced cynicism, the government sought to deflect attention from its outright capitulation to the troika by playing on fears of immigration. For much of last August, police rounded up over 7,000 blacks and Asians, 2,000 of whom were detained to be evicted from the country. While the government was proactive in its persecution of immigrants, it simultaneously sought to protect a section of the wealthy elite: a group whose alleged tax evasion was compounding a crisis — the human cost of which had already been evinced daily. The cost has been experienced in terms of the increasing number of evictions from homes or the thronging cues for food in the streets; but, most seriously of all, it has been borne by those individuals whose poverty and desperation had rendered them personae non grata — people whose suffering and misery is invisible to the state such that their only chances of gaining recognition are acts of self-immolation.
Such a crepuscular atmosphere is conducive to a fascist movement. The government's clear ties to the elite and its adoption of policies designed to facilitate large financial interests both internationally and locally mean that it appears as a cold, out-of-touch entity whose patrician psychology renders it utterly indifferent to the population. Members of Golden Dawn are active in those streets which people feel the state has long since abandoned; they offer some level of food services and clothes for the desperate — provided, of course, they are 'indigenous' Greeks. The sinister physiognomy of the snarling fascist is often masked by images of local youth acting in concert to actively serve community interests, to look after those whom the national politics has turned its back upon.
But when fascist aggression becomes more nakedly visible (as is increasingly the case), it is bolstered by the demonization of foreigners through state policies and the xenophobic sentiments of much of the mainstream media. It is further encouraged by the friendly neutrality of a great proportion of the police and the active support of some. In the aftermath of the government's clampdown on immigration, fascist thugs carried out attacks on immigrants almost daily, culminating in the killing of a young Iraqi on the 12 August.
The fascist movement seeks to synthesize these two moments; it aims to use the xenophobic (in particular anti-Islamic) political themes as a means to galvanize and unify disparate elements at the street level. The ultimate ends of the Golden Dawn party are not about winning seats but constructing a mass movement with a social basis constituted from business employers and entrepreneurs; the unemployed; skilled artisans whose labor is often sporadic and impermanent, making it particularly susceptible to fluctuations in the market; and finally those unskilled workers who are part of a collective working class but nevertheless subsist, politically speaking, on its outer edges — i.e. those who, non-unionized and often recently assimilated to the class, lack traditions of radicalism and resistance.
It is these social fragments Golden Dawn seeks to filter through the prism of its ideology, through the forms of belligerent nationalism and militant xenophobia, into a cohesive political movement which will sweep through the country while the parliamentary democracy stalls and chokes. "Voting for us is not enough," says the Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos — "We want you to join the struggle for Greece. Don't rent your house to foreigners, don't employ them. . . We want all illegal foreigners out of our country, we want the usurers of the troika and the IMF out of our country for ever."
All of this inevitably invites further comparison with Weimar Germany. But there are substantial differences too. A large number of the population still retain the living memory of the military junta of 1967-74, and this perhaps explains why support for Golden Dawn is at particularly low ebb among the elderly. Most importantly of all, working-class power and resistance in Greece remains considerable and potent. In the same 2012 election where Golden Dawn experienced a surge in the vote, Syriza — a coalition of left forces — polled extremely high, achieving second place, on a platform based on an outright rejection of the bailout.
Scoring almost 27%, Syriza managed nearly four times that of the fascist vote. This is all the more remarkable when one considers the collective scare tactics employed by EU leaders designed to threaten and cow the Greek population into voting against the coalition of the left. In addition, as mentioned above, members of Golden Dawn have been actively supported by swathes of the police force, and their ideas have been echoed and encouraged by much of the media.
The current state is embroiled in what Antonio Gramsci described as 'a crisis of authority'. Of the ruling classes only a tiny minority will manage to benefit economically from the European-imposed austerity measures; but at the same time the Greek elites are increasingly perturbed by mass mobilizations on the part of the working classes. It is this specific balance of forces which has led to a level of paralysis on the part of the state and partially explains why certain of its functions have devolved to Golden Dawn militias in and through their community activities.
But despite such favorable external conditions the fascist activity has not yet coalesced in a broad-scale popular movement; it has not embedded itself in workplaces or at the street level — precisely because of the great shift to the left on the part of an increasingly militant working class. This fundamental process is refracted through a vast network of progressive, anti-fascist, and radical groups and community organizations possessed of the political impetus to interrupt, distort, and disrupt the process by which the fascist forms coagulate. At this point there remains everything to fight for.
Tony Mckenna is a writer based in the UK. His writings have appeared in Ceasefire, Counterfire, CounterPunch, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, MRZine, The Philosophers Magazine, and many others.