Greece: a gutted economy fuels fascist threat
FSP envoys meet in Athens with organizers against Golden Dawn
Luma Nichol
volume:  
volume 34
issue 6
December 2013
imagestuff

Petros Constantinou of KEERFA and Muffy Sunde of FSP. Credit: FS

Tension was high in Greece in October 2013 when two comrades and I — Los Angeles Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) Organizer Muffy Sunde and San Francisco poet Nellie Wong — traveled to Athens to meet with socialists active in the anti-fascist movement. A few weeks earlier, anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fissas had been stabbed to death by a gang of Nazi thugs from the Golden Dawn Party (GD).

In response, the Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA), appealed to striking public workers to convert their work stoppage into a strike against fascism. In quick solidarity, a rally of 50,000 unionists, students and leftists marched to Golden Dawn headquarters. Petros Constantinou is the head of KEERFA and one of the people we spoke with.

KEERFA Counters Golden Dawn. We met Constantinou on a warm October evening. He is with the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left (ANTARSYA) where he represents the Socialist Workers Party of Greece (SWP). In 2010, he was elected to the Athens City Council at the same time as a member of Golden Dawn. (Athens permits minor party candidates to run and win.)

In recounting the history of KEERFA, Constantinou explained that after severe economic and social upheaval hit his country in 2008, the Greek government intensified anti-immigrant checkpoints and detentions. The SWP launched KEERFA to counteract Golden Dawn’s mounting attacks on immigrants.

KEERFA sounded the alarm on the fascist danger. With their Trotskyist allies, they overcame the reluctance of former Communist Party supporters and Maoists to take on Golden Dawn and won the backing of ANTARSYA, students, teachers and unionists. They concentrated on organizing with immigrant communities and won broad support, especially among Pakistanis.

KEERFA now has chapters around the country. In January 2013 they sponsored a massive rally, “Athens will be Nazi free.” They supported migrant strawberry pickers shot by their foremen for demanding their wages, and defended immigrants in revolt against inhumane detention centers. Shortly before we arrived, KEERFA hosted an international anti-fascist conference attended by 600 participants from 15 nations and supported by the FSP.

European fascism’s alarming growth. Today, scapegoating of immigrants is spreading as millions are displaced by capital’s global march. Fascists gain adherents by immigrant bashing, but, like Golden Dawn, most deny their Nazi ideology, presenting themselves as über-nationalists. However, Greek thugs have desecrated synagogues, and beaten queers and Romas (Gypsies). This year’s gay pride parade in Athens erupted into a bold anti-fascist demonstration. In early September, as part of a campaign to blame unions for Greece’s economic woes and ‘smash’ labor, GD goons accosted Communist Party members and sent nine to the hospital for leafleting workers.

Financially backed by large industrialists, Golden Dawn stunned the nation in 2012 by receiving 7 percent of the national vote, earning 18 seats in parliament. Its popularity grew and the party was listed as Greece’s third largest, until the murder of Fissas cost them massive support. As a tour guide in Olympia lamented, “My grandfather was killed by Nazis, how can they be in parliament now?”

It’s the economy. Greece is in a world of hurt. Unemployment is nearly 30 percent — for youth 60 percent — and sky-high taxes go to pay off International Monetary Fund loans. Our guide at the Acropolis, a 63-year-old who returned to work when her pension was slashed 40 percent, pays €47 in taxes for every €100 she earns.

A university professor we met, and his colleagues, had their wages slashed 60 percent. So, his union went on strike and was occupying the college. A reproductive rights advocate told us the national health system has collapsed and that she and other healthcare workers have started free clinics trying to fill the need. Housing, goods and services are all exorbitant. Our taxi driver on the isle of Santorini summed it up, “They intend to bleed us dry and then abandon us.”

Union busting is high on the Greek rulers’ austerity agenda. All public workers are unionized as are a high percentage in the private sector. Over the past two years, workers have staged a phenomenal 28 general strikes, but have been unable to win back what has been lost.

Economic chaos is the breeding ground of fascism, a repugnant reaction to the enormous capitalist economic crisis sweeping the world. In order to drive down the living standards of the working class and prevent revolution, the ruling class allows fascist groups to carry out violent campaigns against the most marginalized and militant members of society, thereby spreading divisions and fear among workers and the poor. Hence the growth of the not-so Golden Dawn.

Wrong and right strategies. The ruling Greek capitalist parties have lent Golden Dawn legitimacy, even considering the fascists for a coalition government. The group’s violence has mostly been downplayed by politicians and ignored by police, many of whom are sympathizers, if not outright members.

There is no such government tolerance for anti-Nazis. Outrageously, officials have brought charges against Constantinou under a criminal statute previously used to outlaw the Communist Party. He is convinced that Golden Dawn is behind this attack.

SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, a multi-tendency formation that polled third in national elections, opposed the march to GD’s headquarters protesting Fissas’ killing, and proposed a concert elsewhere instead — a fainthearted liberal approach familiar to anti-fascists in the United States.

With Fissas’ murder, previously silent officials rushed to condemn Golden Dawn. Police arrested twenty, including six representatives in parliament, charging them with being a criminal gang, and with the January 2013 killing of an immigrant. Although the party has not been banned, as some officials demanded, parliament cut off their state funding.

Then on Nov. 1, three party members were shot, two killed, in front of their headquarters. Counter-terror police are now investigating numerous far left groups. Clearly they are anxious to use the murders as an excuse to launch a witch-hunt against the very forces that have been opposing Golden Dawn. Claiming the problem is extremism — both left and right — is the establishment’s way of using right terror to attack the Left. Individual acts of violence against Nazis only feed the flames of these government reprisals.

Fascism is a political movement; it rises to power on the back of an impoverished petty-bourgeois mass movement and requires a workingclass counter-movement to stop it. Banning Nazis or expecting the police and courts to resolve what is a social problem is useless. The only solution is to build a mass, anti-capitalist workingclass movement capable of countering the divisiveness and thuggery of the Nazis by defending the most oppressed and explaining fascism’s roots in the profit system.

Readers can donate to KEERFA’s legal fund and support their call for an International Day of Action Against Racism and Fascism, March 22, 2014 by visiting www.antiracismfascism.org.

Luma Nichol, a co-founder of the United Front Against Fascism in the Pacific Northwest, can be contacted at luman2@earthlink.net.