A look at the perils of underestimating fascists’ danger to democracy
By Kevin Ovenden
Published on MorningStar, May 10,2019
Major developments in three trials in Athens concerning Golden Dawn this week have shone a spotlight on the specific nature of the neonazi threat.
They provide important lessons for the anti-fascist movements internationally.
On Monday the Court of Appeal upheld the convictions of the two racist murderers of Pakistani retail worker Shahzad Luqman.
They set upon him in the early hours of a cold January morning in 2013 as he bicycled to his workplace, a market stall from where he sent much of his meagre wage to help support his parents and siblings back in Pakistan.
The killers stabbed him seven times, once through the right ventricle of the heart. The campaign for justice was a turning point.
Racist attacks and even murders were soaring at the time. On this occasion the Pakistani community and anti-racist movement in Greece were able to galvanise support across the country in the wake of shock at the big electoral breakthrough by Golden Dawn in two general elections the previous summer.
The two killers — who were quickly identified thanks to witnesses — denied any connection to Golden Dawn, but stacks of fascist leaflets were found at the flat of one.
They also denied any racist motivation and contemptuously claimed the frenzied killing was the result of an altercation, a road rage incident — a line the police were initially inclined to accept.
So this week’s confirmation of the guilty verdicts was a milestone: murder in the first degree with premeditation, pre-organisation and racist motivation.
It is, remarkably, the first case in Greek legal history to have racist intent recognised as an aggravating factor to a crime.
Unfathomably, the majority of the court also agreed to grant some mitigation of the sentence on account of “good behaviour” since the conviction.
Anti-fascist lawyer Thanasis Kampagiannis acting for the family issued a statement saying: “The court’s decision on the appellants’ guilt justifies entirely what the family of Shahzad Luqman, the civil prosecution, the Pakistani community and the anti-fascist movement have said from the outset: the death of Shahzad arose from a horrific racist murder planned in advance…
“Recognising mitigation sends the wrong message and is inconsistent with the basic conclusion of the evidentiary process that the murder was premeditated with racist intent.
“Definitive justice will come only when the leaders of the criminal Golden Dawn nazis who pumped out racist poison are also behind bars.”
That big trial of Golden Dawn to declare it a criminal organisation began in April 2015 and is finally approaching a conclusion as the 69 neonazi defendants run out of delaying tactics.
It provided a second significant development this week. The neonazis are in the process of calling defence witnesses, but it has not gone well for them.
On Tuesday a witness called by Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos with the aim of demonstrating that he knew nothing about the many and varied felonies his organisation is charged with orchestrating, or members already convicted for, ended up giving evidence of the opposite.
Through pseudo-anti-system rhetoric,
it [Golden Dawn] can become able to penetrate into layers such as young unemployed
Crucially, he confirmed that in one of the most important cases — the murder of anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 — Michaloliakos, far from not knowing about it until the afternoon of the following day, was trying to cover Golden Dawn’s tracks within hours of the assassination.
He was in contact with the local Nikea “branch” — that is storm-trooper section — that was responsible for the attack.
When not directly incriminating the core leadership in this way the witness offered the most risible and contradictory explanations.
That Golden Dawn operates a strict hierarchy of one-man rule from the top — the National-Socialist fuehrerprinzip, a key point of the prosecution — but at the same time the leader “could not be expected to know what was going on lower down the organisation.”
So: omnipotent — yet also innocently ignorant. In words that will be familiar to any student of the history of the Third Reich, the witness added that “still, everyone knows what the leader’s view is.”
Other defence witnesses have also either ended up incriminating the organisation or providing laughable evidence that undermines the defence, such as apparently not being able to recognise family members in clear, incriminating photographs.
A woman who had transferred allegiance from the respectable Tory right to Golden Dawn also this week inadvertently confirmed some political truths about fascism and its relation to parliamentary reactionary politics.
She proudly told the court that she is a “bourgeois” — in Greek it means not only of the wealthy classes but educated and urbane.
She explained how she and her friends had turned to Golden Dawn to “sort out the problem” of immigrants who had moved into her area of Athens, once rather posh but now down at heel.
The intention of calling her as a defence witness was to show that Golden Dawn has respectable friends who turn to it to provide a “social service” where the police and state fail.
In fact she revealed the depravity of these self-righteous “bourgeois” layers.
Under cross-examination she conceded that she knew Golden Dawn would use terror tactics. So why did she turn to them?
“Well, we bourgeois are incapable of organising ourselves. We need people like that to do it for us.”
The leading capitalist politician in Germany in 1933, Franz von Pappen, said of the appointment of Hitler as chancellor: “We have hired him.”
A third trial this week illustrated to what purposes such hiring can be put.
Golden Dawn members are on trial for a murderous attack on a social centre — Synergeio — run on autonomous, anti-authority lines by left activists. It too took place in 2013.
Fresh evidence from police notebooks confirmed what up to now had been just a strong argument from anti-fascist lawyers in the case.
Participating in the assault were members of Golden Dawn’s premiere assault battalion from Nikea, including the neonazi MP for that area, Lagos, who drove there in his parliamentary courtesy car.
As well as the murder of the rapper Fyssas, the Nikea squad is charged with involvement in the almost fatal attack on Sotiris Poulikogiannis and a group of communist trade unionists in the same district.
It was part of an effort to smash militant trade unionism in the shipyard zone of Piraeus and, at the behest of employers, to replace it with a yellow union under joint fascist and boss control.
That attack also took place in 2013, just days before the murder of Fyssas.
A pattern emerges. Golden Dawn made a big electoral advance in 2012. From then and crescendoing in September 2013 came a campaign of organised terror.
That is because the organisation was not just a highly reactionary political force. There had been plenty of those in Greece and still are.
A Ukip-style party had previously made advances in an earlier phase of the crisis unleashed in 2008.
This time it was an actual fascist mechanism, for which the trappings of a normal party are but a shell for its core enterprise.
That is constructing a violent force that is capable of physically breaking democratic and labour movement opposition. In addition and through pseudo-anti-system rhetoric, it can become able to penetrate into layers such as young unemployed men who “respectable” right-wing politics find hard to reach.
And then to offer itself as a radical, activist solution: to the bourgeois ladies and gentlemen who “cannot organise ourselves … and would not dirty our hands” with the actual terrorising of immigrants in the neighbourhood.
To the ruthless employer for whom normal anti-union laws and practices were not enough to deal with militant worker organisation.
To reaction as a whole frustrated that it cannot throw back a radical youth culture or end the curse of squatted spaces becoming hubs of anti-authority and left-wing activity.
That is on the local scale as fascist forces seek to conquer neighbourhood and public space.
On the big scale of a major country such as Brazil, it has meant the urbane, wealthy classes throwing their support behind Jair Bolsonaro, whose authoritarian government incubates fascist forces as it turns to junta methods.
As this long, manifold crisis continues, a range of radical right breaks from the “centre” continues to emerge.
The European elections in Britain demonstrate it. A reactionary Tory Party, the radicalising Ukip, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party of “snake oil,” as Jeremy Corbyn aptly described it this week, and the pound-shop neonazi “Tommy Robinson.”
The labour movement and the left should stand against all reaction, but we must also recognise specific threats.
The case of Golden Dawn, and of those who would imitate it, is not only some loudmouths vomiting out racism, misogyny and obscurantism.
It is, quite literally, a sheaf of nazi leaflets in one hand and a dagger in the other.
It requires a mass, democratic and militant response. That is what this week in Greece has shown: in the intervention of the anti-fascist movement in the courts, but above all into every pore of society.
And in so doing, in breaking this fascist mechanism, to advance the actual anti-systemic force: the radical left and the organised good sense of working people.