Golden Dawn and the Extremism of the Center
The real extremism is not of the far-left and the far-right, but of the fascist center. Golden Dawn’s strategy of tension ultimately benefits the elite.
Fascism is capitalism plus murder.
— Upton Sinclair (winner of the 1943 Pulitzer Prize)
The killing of Pavlos Fyssas by a group of Golden Dawn thugs was no accident. All the evidence seems to indicate that the leftist hip-hop artist was stabbed to death in a premeditated murder. “They didn’t like him,” a former member of the neo-Nazi party said in an undercover interview with the Ethnos newspaper. “He had some lyrics dissing Golden Dawn. For me he was brave. Anyone can write whatever they want. That didn’t put a weapon in his hand, however. He was an anti-fascist and he was singing it and they knew it.” And so Pavlos was murdered, in cold blood and in front of his girlfriend’s eyes, as the notoriously fascist DIAS police stood by and did nothing.
Now, as violent riots once again engulf the country and the anti-fascist left understandably calls for revenge, Greece’s corrupt corporate and political elite can once again play its favorite trump card: the country is descending into chaos, left and right are battling for control over the streets, and so a broad alliance of the “responsible center” is the only thing that can save democracy from the imminent threat of civil war. This narrative of the “two extremes” — also known as the horseshoe theory — is the most sinister myth facing Greece today. In reality, it is nothing but a strategy of tension that serves to obscure the violent extremism of the center that is truly ripping the country apart.
After all, who created the morbid social conditions in which fascism could rise from the dead to begin with? It’s the transnational class alliance of foreign bankers, EU leaders, IMF technocrats and Greece’s own corrupt elite who — with their dehumanizing austerity measures and rabid market fundamentalism — created the arid ground on which Golden Dawn could spread its poisonous seeds of hatred in the first place. When a country loses a quarter of its annual output in just five years, and 28% of its population and over 60% of its youth are out of work, it’s no surprise that some in the disaffected middle class will end up being driven into the arms of those promising national glory in place of economic security.
But we need to take the critique further. Not only did the corrupt neoliberal elite — personified by the political leadership of Nea Dimokratia and PASOK — create the preconditions for the rise of Golden Dawn as a fascist party; they themselves have been setting the parameters of fascist policy-making for decades, long before Golden Dawn was even elected to Parliament. As Augustine Zenakos just pointed out in a hard-hitting piece for Borderline Reports, it wasn’t Golden Dawn that created concentration camps for immigrants, criminalized HIV and tortured handcuffed detainees — it was the successive governments of the center-left and center-right that did that. They have been doing it for decades and no one in Europe ever seemed to care.
The elite-propagated narrative of the “two extremes” thus serves a sinister purpose. Most crucially, it deflects attention away from the elite’s own wrongdoings and shifts the blame for the crisis squarely onto the shoulders of the weakest members of society: the immigrants — an easy scapegoat to make up for the lack of national self-esteem. In the process, it keeps the country’s powerful extra-parliamentary left distracted by focusing almost all its attention on fighting fascism instead of fighting capitalism. As long as anarchist militias are needed to run anti-fascist motorcycle patrols through immigrant neighborhoods, the banks, ministries and Troika delegates will all be safe from harm.
By willfully breeding a climate of civil war, the ruling elite can proudly position itself as the “responsible savior” that will pull Greece back from the abyss. Here, Golden Dawn’s warmongering rhetoric and the racist and anti-leftist violence of its thugs in the streets comes in particularly handy for those in power: as long as the neo-Nazis keep the pressure on by playing “bad cop” (quite literally, as one in two cops are alleged to have voted for Golden Dawn in the 2012 elections and the party has penetrated deep into the country’s police force), the shaky centrist coalition of Nea Dimokratia and PASOK can cling to power and maintain its privileges by falsely positing as the “good cop”.
Of course, none of this is new. The US-backed military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 till 1974 make explicit use of a similar strategy of tension to keep a lid on the revolutionary left and popular resistance to the dictatorship. Right-wing terror was deployed in an attempt both to provoke a violent reaction from the left and to keep the left distracted from its struggle against the authoritarian state. In Italy, during the 1970s and ’80s, the government actively colluded with neo-fascist terror cells (most notoriously in the Bologna massacre of 1980) in order to shape the social contours of a “civil war” that would distract the left from its only real objective: revolution.
Following last week’s Golden Dawn attack on a group of Communists who were putting up posters for a KKE youth festival, Dimitris Psarras — a writer who has followed the rise of Golden Dawn ever since the fall of the military junta in 1974 — told The Guardian that the neo-Nazi organization was deliberately pursuing such a strategy of tension: “Their agenda, clearly, is to create a climate of civil war, a divide where people have to choose between leftists and rightists.” Golden Dawn’s party members and even its members of parliament often speak in exactly those terms. Last year, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros told Paul Mason that “there is already civil war”:
Greek society is ready — even though no-one likes this — to have a fight: a new type of civil war. On the one side there will be nationalists like us, and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be, and on the other side illegal immigrants, anarchists and all those who have destroyed Athens several times.
In this sense, it is utterly absurd to speak of the far-left and the far-right facing off in a civil war that threatens to undermine Greek democracy. Apart from the obvious point that the centrist elite undermined democracy a long time ago, the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset already showed back in 1970 that the horseshoe theory of political extremism is simply nonsense. Fascism, Lipset observed, is in fact the extremism of the center. Rather than the far-left and far-right bending off from the center and approaching one another in their violent means and authoritarian ends, fascism is actually the extremist perversion of liberalism, with which it shares a great aversion for the emancipatory struggles of the poor and excluded, as well as the political goal of bringing the disaffected middle class back into power.
Moreover, there’s nothing more rabidly violent and thoroughly terrorist in Greece right now than the economic policies of the “centrist” government itself. We already have plenty of evidence that austerity kills: HIV rates are up, child mortality rates are up, suicide rates are up, and with the health budget slashed in half, people are literally dying from the most preventable diseases just because they can’t get their hands on basic drugs. The measures are meant to function like shock therapy: for the past year, the people have been caught in the headlights, paralyzed by the intensity of the assault on their livelihoods. 120.000 young people simply fled the country. The millions who remain increasingly suffer from depression and anxiety.
But following the murder of Pavlos, coinciding with the resurgence of a number of struggles in the public sector, the anger is starting to brew over into the streets again. It has now become clear that the fascist para-state is the elite’s last bulwark against the rage of the masses. To further their strategy of tension and defend the capitalist state from its revolutionary adversaries, Golden Dawn will try to drag the left down into civil war with it. We must not allow that to happen. However disgusting and dangerous these neo-Nazi pigs may be, the left has bigger fish to fry. As long as austerity-loving bankers and politicians run free in government, fascists will roam the streets.
And so, if fascism is capitalism plus murder, then there is only one way to honor the memory of our murdered anti-fascist compañero: by confronting the capitalist state head on. Now is not the time to get distracted by Golden Dawn’s reactionary rhetoric of civil war. The rise of fascism is a symptom, not the cause, of the crisis that finance capital has forced onto Greek society. It’s time to go back on the offensive and remind ourselves of our one and only real objective in this struggle: to put an end to the capitalist terror that has bred the murderous climate in which Pavlos lost his life. This is our only objective: to continue the revolution for which he died. Pavlos vive!