The fact that a Nazi party – namely “Golden Dawn” – made it to the Greek Parliament is part of the broader phenomenon of the rise of far-Right in Europe; it reveals nonetheless some special dimensions of the political and financial crisis in Greece.
The question we want to investigate is the reasons for which a Nazi party, with violence as an elementary component of its inner structure, succeeded in working off the marginal character it maintained for years, and gained parliamentary representation. Golden Dawn was founded in 1980, but became more active during the decade of 1990s, taking advantage of two issues that were overstressed by the media as “problems of major national importance”: the Macedonian question and the immigration from the Balkans. The Greek Left had taken a stance towards those issues, while the bourgeois parties were uneasy.
Golden Dawn, despite the bloody attacks against leftists and foremost immigrants, despite its penetration in schools from the 2000s and onwards, has never been subjected to serious parliamentary or judicial inquiry. When the Nazism was baptized Greek nationalism, it was allowed to this party to participate in elections, first in municipal elections in Athens in 2010 and two years later, in the parliamentary elections of 2012, where they soared by almost 7% in both.
The reasons why a Nazi party gained such momentum in Greek society was generally due not to the economic crisis as such, but mainly to the dominant, national and European narrative about the crisis and its management. Extreme Right played an important role in this narrative. First, before Golden Dawn, LAOS was the parliamentary spokesman of the Far Right in Greece from 2000 onwards. LAOS rallied until then the Greek Far Right, which remained fragmented after the fall of the dictatorship, including even at times some Golden Dawn members. Already, since 2008, this populist, far-right party – marginal until 2007 – began to gain a central role in the political system. It was during the time when major riots broke out in Athens and other urban centers, that a radical shift on the sidewalks was recorded in Greek society, which had been simmering since the late 1990s and was expressed by SYRIZA. Throughout the period that followed the fall of the dictatorship, when the divisional balance between the Left and the Right was dominant and PASOK prevailed the space of the Left, the Left constituted the power of historical warranty of division. During the late 90s, when PASOK solidified its role as the carrier of neoliberal modernization in Greece, a new division started to appear: that of modernizing vs. anti-modernizing space. This new modernizing space, that included both PASOK and New Democracy, did not leave any room for the Left. On the contrary, it paved the way for the inclusion of far right-wing into its ideology.
With the outbreak of the financial crisis at the end of 2009, the far-right party of LAOS gained an enhanced mission at the national and European narrative of crisis. The reason being, that the narrative for the crisis, at a national and a European level, was established outside the notion of classes and in terms of national responsibility rather than class responsibility. Within this narrative, the citizen concept shrank to a vague notion of a common, classless identity, while the democratic rule of the state was not defined in terms of commitment to guarantee civil, political and social rights, but in terms of reproducing the “mystical” identity of the nation and its European nature. Therefore, narrative for the crisis, according to which the citizens and their rights were responsible for the crisis, presupposed and entailed the construction of a neo-liberal nationalism: the salvation of the nation (ie of its “Europeaness”) first and foremost. This salvation was to be undertaken by the “excellent” – the responsible spokesmen of the European identity of the nation, irrespective of whether those same “excellent” were the ones who led Greece to the crisis. In Greece, from 2009 onwards, SYRIZA undertook dynamically the historical role of the Left: the continuous struggle to preserve the rights of the citizen in order to maintain the democratic state itself. Within this tough battle, the ruling political elite counter-attacked in two ways: First, they allied with the far-right LAOS party in the government of Lucas Papademos (former banker), a product of partnership between PASOK, LAOS and ND. Second, they legitimated the traditional (old) nationalism, as well as the anti-immigrant discourse of LAOS, as a reason for saving the nation’s “Europeanness” (European identity). Thus, they created the historical depth that neoliberal nationalism so desperately needed. LAOS, by offering national historicity to neo-liberalism, gave historical legitimacy to depoliticizing the citizenship concept, historical legitimacy also to anti-immigrant fury, which in the name of emergency, was expressed with “concentration camps” for the immigrants, with their exclusion from the public health system etc.
The exercise of marginally legitimate state violence against the grandiose demonstrations – an expression of legitimate resistance and disobedience of the Greeks – transformed the state from a field of democratic consultation to a carrier of power and suppression. Papademos’ government violently delegitimized the democratic ways of resistance and disobedience by calling them extreme and anti-national and by presenting SYRIZA as an extreme party. In this context, where democracy was designated as the essence of the problem, Golden Dawn found the ground to act openly. It is worth noting that Golden Dawn never took part in any demonstration but on the side of the police against demonstrators. At the same time the government, in order to divert the justified wrath of the citizens, pursued political pogroms against immigrants, thus familiarizing the Greeks with the anti-immigrant racist activity of Golden Dawn. Simultaneously the brutality of Golden Dawn – which did not puzzle the government at all – was very useful to construct the theory of the two extremes. This theory was and still is used in the most vulgar way with the single aim to marginalize, not the Golden Dawn of course, but SYRIZA. What’s more, this theory suits perfectly Golden Dawn since the system used the theory in order to endow Golden Dawn with an anti-memorandum baggage that the party did not carry until then and thus making it more appealing to the eyes of the voters. The criminal, racist, undemocratic activity of Golden Dawn has been identified with the democratic, anti-capitalist, and therefore the anti-austerity policy of SYRIZA.
However, as it was recorded during the critical elections of 2012, SYRIZA claiming an alternative governing mandate, brought again to the surface and at the same time deepened the historical division between the Left and the Right. The Greek citizens after many years voted absolutely driven by class criteria, which resulted in the division of the country based on the following factors: geography, age and economical status. Half of the country was under 55 years of age, resided in large urban centers (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion and others), and its social groups were affected by the crisis (unemployed, public and private sector’s employees, impoverished middle-class, etc.). This half of the country was expressed by SYRIZA with 27%. The other half of Greece was much older age-wise, and rich thanks to the clientele practices of PASOK and ND. They perceived the rise of SYRIZA as a threat. This democratic, “class division" imposed by SYRIZA, overthrew to a large extent the national division the neoliberal forces wanted to impose, and from which Golden Dawn benefited. The latter used the dominant discourse of national disaster in its own context, and undertook the duty to express against SYRIZA (and not next to SYRIZA) the national rage against the political forces of the system.
We need to carefully observe that: the Golden Dawn spoke the dominant system’s own language, not SYRIZA’s language, in the sense that it suggested a national, classless rage for the national, classless disobedience to the system. We would say that Golden Dawn became the carrier to reduce the class character of the vote, it became nevertheless the oppositional, violent both in expression and action, version of neoliberalism. During the two elections held in 2012, mainly during the period between the two elections, Greece experienced an unprecedented intervention in the history of democratic Europe, of European leaders and officials in our internal political life. By directly threatening that Greece would get expelled from the euro zone in case the Greeks voted for SYRIZA (not for Golden Dawn), SYRIZA was connected in political advertisements with the lowering of the Greek flag and with Greece in ruins leaving the EU. In this dark climate SYRIZA claimed the mandate to form a government in the name of a leftist, democratic “Europeaness” of societies in solidarity. So while the sovereign Greek political system, with the full support of EU leaders and officials, marginalized SYRIZA as an extreme, anti-European power, because it was against the austerity measures, and strengthened the theory of the two anti-European extremes, the vote for SYRIZA by the Greek people, proved to be European because it was against the austerity measures. In this sense SYRIZA determined the intersection between the class awareness of European consciousness of the citizens and the neoliberal classlessness of European identity of the nations.
Golden Dawn on the other hand, taking advantage of the class-less, substantially nationalist “Europeanness” of the neoliberal system, claimed a vote of nationalist hatred and rage for the humiliation the nation undergoes because of its enemies, the Zionists, the immigrants and the leftists. This vote of nationalist hatred and rage in favor of Golden Dawn accurately reflects the contradiction posed by the neoliberal European class; a contradiction inherent in capitalism: while they violently create a homogeneous political-social time for all states, this time is internally fragmented into several national times, that are defined competitively to each other, and carry the dynamics of a conflict among them. The ground could not possibly be more fertile for the growth of the extreme Right, since the salvation of the nation does not depend on building institutions of solidarity and reciprocity among European citizens, but by setting forth mechanisms for the extermination of national enemies.
Golden Dawn is far more than a Nazi party that fights the system. It expresses the deeply traditional (reactionary), anti-leftist Right. Slogans calling to honor Nazi collaborators with direct references to the civil war, demonstrate its main rival: SYRIZA. Golden Dawn therefore claims a part of the historical tradition of the Right, which had incorporated all the far Right, both of the civil war and of the military dictatorship. The crisis offers Golden Dawn an opportunity to destigmatize the fascist, nationalist and anti-leftist mentality that existed in Greece under the guise of the Right. It is worth noting that in the elections of 2012 Golden Dawn succeeded its highest scores in traditionally hard-right areas, while as a far-right populist party it either infiltrated areas that were already wretched by the crisis, or petty bourgeois strata which see their life worsen day by day. Golden Dawn, using striking and shocking elements of Nazism, is trying to impose itself socially and communicatively as a power of “purifying” the political system and the society from their enemies. Thus, the goal is to gain a position as a radical right-wing party in the place of what they consider as incompetent Right, a political force that humiliated the Greeks and allowed the eternal enemy, the Left, to lift his head.
The political response to the rise of Golden Dawn, as well as of the extreme Right in Europe, is not the creation of a unified anti-fascist front of all “democratic forces”. This front, which would lead to a decisive shift from the classical division between Right and Left to the tandem Democrats vs. Fascists, will play the role of a leftist “purification” of neo-liberalism. This would be in my opinion the fatal political mistake that would dash the extreme Right to the heights and would undermine SYRIZA. The creation of a classless front, at an era when the problem for societies is predominantly tied to classes, would make the Left part of the problem. The European Left at a national level first, should claim institutionally and socially the isolation of the action and the influence of the extreme Right. It should demand the intervention of state institutions and mechanisms, such as the Police and Justice, especially when the latter idle in Greece, against the criminal activity of members of those parties. It should also socially set up solidarity networks for populations dramatically affected by the crisis. Most important however is the claim to establish a substantial, democratic immigration policy. For SYRIZA in Greece, but also for the European Left, immigration is a major political issue, because it is a matter of social struggle and battle against nationalism and racism. By demanding a new law on citizenship in Greece, SYRIZA must assert the redefinition, from a class and ideological point of view, of the nation, of the very notion of Republique.
In political terms the time has come for the Left, confronted with the neoliberal logic of entrusting politics to the “excellent”, to demand the strengthening of representative democracy with institutions of direct democracy, such as the referendum or the recall/withdrawal of elected politicians. The class struggle needs to be asserted democratically, in the sense that the society which is affected by the crisis must be directly involved in politics. Especially in European level, the Left should dynamically claim a different European narrative about the crisis, and consequently a different construction of EU. It is time to realize that the neoliberal “imperial” structure of the EU favors the rise of right-wing parties. So the problem is not only that of a coherent leftist resistance to the austerity measures, but claiming institutional change for an EU of societies in solidarity instead of nations in conflict. Specifically, the issue of national sovereignty, the nation-state, the European exercise of political power etc., should be placed at the front page of the European Left agenda. I will conclude by saying that we abandoned as Left the hegemonic discourse about concepts like Republique, nation, Europe, to bourgeois forces. In order to break the dominant European narrative about the crisis which has been constructed on the North-South division, a division that is nationally reproduced by dividing locals from foreigners, we are compelled to assert the hegemony of defining the content of these critical concepts.