On 19th January
, the Greek left is seeking to organise a broad, internationalist coalition against the threat of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, and thus implicitly the wider threat that fascism poses in this era of Depression and austerity. On the day in question, the hope is to rally the widest possible coalition of forces opposed to fascism in Syntagma Square, while solidarity events are held outside Greek embassies. This will hopefully concentrate and amplify the social forces involved in regular antifascist work
, and form a turning point in the struggle to break the fascist surge. And this is a good time to do it because the Golden Dawn, despite their
shocking growth, are still at a relatively primitive phase in their
development. They may be encouraged and supported by judges and cops,
they may be terrorising immigrants and leftists, they may be indulged by mainstream journalists and politicians, but their roots in workplaces and streets, where fascists really build, are still tentative.
It's very clear what has happened. The temptation to perceive this situation through the optic of the 1930s has to be resisted to an extent. The global architecture is profoundly different. The world of the 1930s had just experienced a series of crises of liberal capitalism - WWI, the Russian Revolution, and then the Depression. The capitalist states had successfully prevented the spread of the revolution across Europe, and encircled Russia, but there remained a state covering a sixth of the world's population that called itself a socialist state. The working classes of Europe were still expanding, and many of the old ruling classes and states had yet to reorganise and adapt to the new forms of politics emerging from the labour movement. There were still large pre-capitalist classes, peasants, artisans and landlords, aristocrats and royals, each of which was forced to adapt in their own ways to industrialisation, globalisation of a sort, and the developing power of the bourgeoisie. The traditional order was decaying even though capitalism seemed a lot more precarious than it does today. Colonial empires were predominant, race ideology in its most virulent biologistic sense was still ascendant, and popular cultures of militarism were both more popular and more militaristic than the embarrassing, kitschy rituals we see today.
Today's crisis is very different. The global Depression has interrupted and thrown into crisis a wave of post-Cold War triumphalism - but the precepts of liberal capitalism are seriously challenged only at the margins of the system. Europe's independent centres of capital accumulation have been more or less stabilised, even in the 'transitional' east. Its class systems have been greatly simplified in at least one sense, as precapitalist classes have dwindled. The social bases of fascism would be very different today. No ruling class seriously fears a socialist revolution in the immediate future. The colonial systems are gone. The imperialist system that is dominated by the US today organises territory in a very different way. 'Lebensraum' today would almost be beside the point. The way in which imperialisms and sub-imperialisms work is not by colonising a space but by exercising political and economic strength in a region (with violence always held 'in reserve') to maximise surplus extraction. Greece, for example, is not a thwarted colonial power whose global and territorial
aspirations have been broken in a punishing world war, leading to social
revolution. It is a regional sub-imperialism, which spent about 7
billion euros on arms imports last year. Its position within the EU may
be 'peripheral' and subordinate, but the Greek ruling class has benefited from this arrangement, and has tried to
turn the country into a sort of local metropolis, attracting trade and
investments from across the Mediterranean. And in addition to its EU membership, Greece remains a NATO member
with all the commitments and arguable advantages this implies for the country's bourgeoisie.
Still, fascism has been resurgent in the continent, and in Greece it has arisen in its most brutal, neo-Nazi form to become potentially the third party of Greek politics. And the broad outlines of the crisis resonate with some features of the past. First, of course, whatever the context, a capitalist crisis of this magnitude could not but have a shattering impact on living standards, particularly among the poorest and most precarious. It is not the case that contemporary fascism arrived on the scene as a result of the crisis - it has been a more protracted and durable effect of neoliberal politics. But the polarising effect of, not the crisis in its first appearance but actually the austerity remedy adopted by the European ruling classes, has created the momentum from which the Golden Dawn have been catapulted out of obscurity. Second, while the colonial forms of race politics may be superseded to a large extent, contemporary forms of racism have been fertilised by the social dislocations and stresses of capitalism, as well as by various racial projects of neoliberal capitalism itself - anti-migrant and anti-Muslim racism being the dominant registers of Fortress Europe today.
Third, Greece may not be on the brink of revolution tomorrow, but it has undergone years of class struggle bordering at times on insurrection. The capacity and political authority of the state has been dramatically weakened, and its dominant apparatuses might have been suicidally deadlocked at several points in the administration of this crisis were it not for the intervention of the troika. The more the crisis goes on, as it will go on as long as Greece is a member of the Eurozone, the weaker the political control of workers will be. The counter-revolutionary thrust of the Golden Dawn, its promise to remedy the weakness of the national state and finally deal with the marxists and foreigners, 'reclaim the city', is a recognition of this.
Fourth, while it would be wrong to draw too strict an analogy between the situation of Greece in crisis and under EU rule, and that of Germany under Versailles rule, it is certainly true that Fascism has always benefited from being able to articulate its nationalism in the language of 'liberation' from imperialist domination. Recall that Strasser evoked the liberation of Germany from 'international Finance Capital' as a precondition for the social liberation of German workers. Or think of the self-pitying discourses about Italy the 'proletarian nation' during Mussolini's reign. Even if Greece's situation is markedly different, it is nonetheless true that the demands imposed by the EU leadership have been so devastating for social classes across Greece, barring a tiny ruling minority who can expect to benefit, that the struggle has acquired a national dimension. This is amenable to chauvinist and racist articulations even if that isn't the dominant tone.
Finally, what is the social basis of the Golden Dawn? Judging from the June poll results
, the Nazis, aside from receiving the disproportionate support of the repressive apparatuses (police, mainly), have assembled a cross-class coalition of, for example, employers, self-employed professionals and farmers, middle managers, and employed workers - particularly 'unskilled', private sector workers. The stronger support of workers is one of the things that distinguishes the Golden Dawn from LAOS, the far right party which went into eclipse after its participation in an austerity government. In this respect, Golden Dawn has stronger similarities to historical Nazism than one might imagine. The disproportionate support of employers and 'entrepreneurs' should not be taken to mean that the main Nazi bulwark in Greece is among big business - on the contrary, it is most likely that these are small business owners who, alongside the self-employed professionals and farmers, and middle managers, would form part of a petty bourgeois class. This is quite typical. It is also a notable feature of the Nazis' support in the working class that it was based among the least 'skilled' and poorest workers - typically those who had recently migrated from the countryside to the city, but by and large those who had least direct experience of class struggle. I think in the current period, this would include many private sector workers who are less likely to be unionised and more likely to be precariously employed or on poor wages. And this is in some ways the biggest danger. The Nazis could never win with just the support of the lower middle class - no more could the Golden Dawn. It is their popular base
, their support among poor workers, however fragile, that makes them a threat.
This thumbnail sketch to one side, and apart from the factors I mentioned above, one outstanding difference between fascism in Europe in the 1930s, and fascism in Europe in the 2010s, is that the place where it is a most pressing threat is exactly the one place where the working class is at its most insurgent. This obviously was not the case when Fascism took power in Italy or in Germany. On the contrary, fascism followed from the defeat of the working class, their pacification, even as the crisis continued and even as the state broke down. This, coupled with the abject political strategies of the dominant parties in the working class, accounted for the passivity with which Fascism was received. Greece will not be the same. The working class is still fighting, still militant. The shift to the left is still the dominant trend. It is in this context that a united front of Greece's radicals, militants and antifascists of all stripes, is forming around the single agenda of breaking the fascist threat. On 19th January
, this united front takes a big step forward.