Members of the neo‑Nazi Golden Dawn march through the streets in their blackshirts. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis. Below, Hitler on the cover of Golden Dawn magazine
Golden Dawn is not exactly subtle in its Nazi allegiances. This is a group that in 1989, four years after it was founded, decided to put Hitler on the cover of its magazine (pictured right). Even as late as 2007 the publication led on a big picture of Rudolf Hess.
In 2005 the magazine ran an article headlined ‘May 1945-May 2005: We have nothing to celebrate’. It read, ‘[The real] winner is the young fighter of the Hitlerjugend, who fell fighting in destroyed Berlin. The soldier of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, against the forces of nature and the forces of the enemy.’
Yet somehow Golden Dawn continues to deny that it is a neo‑Nazi organisation. ‘Let everyone know that they should not speak of neo-Nazism,’ says Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn MP best known for punching left-wing MPs on a TV chat show. ‘For us, this is hubris and criminal defamation. We are Greek nationalists.’ This is a man who, in an article written for Hitler’s birthday just last year, wrote that the Nazi leader was ‘a great social reformer and an organiser of a model state’.
While the veil might seem transparent, and the international media hasn’t been slow to build up the threat from Golden Dawn, 425,000 people in Greece still voted for this neo-Nazi party. How did that happen?
To answer this question, we need to look back at where Golden Dawn came from, the base of its support and how it has built a following during Greece’s crisis. Only then can we look beyond the horror story to see who is really threatening democracy in Greece – and how we can stop them.
Golden Dawn was founded in 1985 – but its roots stretch back much further, to the fascist dictatorship of General Metaxas that ruled Greece from 1936 to 1941, and more directly to the colonels’ junta of 1967 to 1974.
The personal political history of Golden Dawn’s founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos shows the links. At the age of 16 he joined the ‘4th of August Party’ – named after the 4 August 1936 coup that brought General Metaxas to power. Then in 1984 he became the head of the youth organisation of fascist party EPEN, a group openly nostalgic for the colonels’ regime. Michaloliakos was put into the position on the order of the chief of the deposed colonels himself, Georgios Papadopoulos.
Since 1980, Michaloliakos had been publishing a magazine called Golden Dawn. When EPEN failed to make the electoral breakthrough that had been predicted in 1985, he decided to split and turn Golden Dawn into a new party.
He was helped by the fact that large parts of the state were left unchanged despite the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. The extreme right remained strong in the police and the security forces in particular.
Today Golden Dawn’s ties with the police and the secret state are becoming more and more obvious, as anti-fascists and migrants are constantly harassed and physically attacked but the neo-Nazis remain uninvestigated and unpunished.
This September, for instance, supposed ‘indignant residents’ backed by Golden Dawn completely destroyed two shops belonging to migrants and a Tanzanian community centre. The police pressured the migrants not to identify those who had been involved in the attack. When one insisted on doing so, he was arrested – while his attacker was set free. Ioanna Kurtovik, a lawyer who went there to support the migrants and was attacked, reports that Golden Dawn members and police officers could be seen chatting all over the police station.
More recently, arrested anti-fascists reported police bluntly telling them: ‘We will send your names and photos to Golden Dawn and they will come after you.’
Over the last few years there have been two factors that have helped Golden Dawn’s rise. The first was Italy and Spain’s crackdowns on migrants, in particular Italy signing a treaty with Libya’s then-dictator Gaddafi to close the ‘Libyan corridor’. This has meant that nine out of ten ‘irregular’ migrants trying to make their way to Europe now come through Greece.
Then, in 2009, Greece became the epicentre of the global economic crisis, and the Eurozone debt crisis in particular. Greece’s two traditional governing parties, New Democracy and the social democrats of Pasok, both turned to scapegoating migrants to try to divert anger away from the austerity measures that the EU, finance and employers demanded.
New Democracy leader and current prime minister Antonis Samaras claimed that migrants were ‘taking the places of Greeks’ in council-run nurseries. He was exploiting the fact that publicly funded nursery places are limited by income to the very poorest. Migrants are often the poorest of the poor, meaning they get places that used to go to low-paid workers. Much like the issue of housing in Britain, this has become explosive.
Once Samaras had opened the door, Golden Dawn ran through it and went much further. The party pledged to go into the nurseries and violently throw out migrant children.
With stunts like this the neo-Nazis try to pose as an ‘anti‑capitalist’ force that is on the side of the middle and working classes against ‘corrupt’, ‘traitor’ politicians. Their answer to austerity is an awful form of ‘direct action’ that claims to win more resources for struggling Greeks by taking away migrants. For example, Golden Dawn often barges into businesses and threatens employers, telling them they must fire their migrant workforce and hire Greeks instead.
But in truth this does not threaten the bosses’ system – in fact it helps it. The businesses are more than happy to hire Greeks at the same wage they were paying the migrants, not least because doing so undermines collective labour agreements along the way – which the trade union movement is struggling to defend. And Golden Dawn, for its part, doesn’t limit its attacks to migrants – it has also attacked left wing activists, as well as journalists, gay people and all the other long-established targets of fascists.
So who is voting for Golden Dawn? Are there really 425,000 Nazis in Greece?
According to pollster Christophoros Vernardakis, Golden Dawn’s primary audience is the traditional lower middle class: small business owners, shopkeepers, lower middle class unemployed people, and of course the police.
As well as making political capital out of immigration, Golden Dawn has also been able to tap into the general ‘anti-political’ mood. Nikos Michaloliakos frequently declares at rallies that ‘democracy hasn’t worked’. In today’s Greece, with the austerity-pushing troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF undermining democracy at every turn, and those who claim to speak in the name of democracy daily demonstrating their disdain for the people, that’s a message that appeals to many.
Meanwhile the media whitewashes the Nazis, reporting on the marriage of this Golden Dawn MP or the love affair of the other one. They are legitimising Golden Dawn’s anti-democratic views through day to day banality.
But none of this means that it is too late to stop Golden Dawn. This is a country, after all, that will have seen at least four days of general strikes this autumn alone. And the marches during these strikes, and the local committees organising people’s everyday struggles against austerity, are places where Golden Dawn never goes.
Indeed there is a constant struggle taking place over public space. In many places, people have mobilised to stop Golden Dawn’s marches and anti-migrant raids.
But the labour movement and the left in Greece is in a battle against time. Progressives need to hurry up in not just bringing down the government but agreeing an alternative programme to the anti-democracy of the troika: more public services, more rights, more power to working people. All over Europe and the world, we need to put an end to austerity and privatisation – before more racist gangs like Golden Dawn get in our way.
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram