Golden Dawn and the extremism of the center

by Jerome Roos on September 21, 2013

Post image for 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 wilfully 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!


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

dave fryett September 21, 2013 at 23:12

Terrific piece.


Arturo Desimone September 22, 2013 at 01:00

My questions unanswered after reading this article, as someone far from Greece:
What part of the Greek population supports fascists like Golden Dawn and the Center government?
What is the popular support for the left wing movements? What is the public reaction to the murder?
Your only brief mention of the junta immediately concerns its US backing. To refer to the Latin American memory
on junta regimes here: yes, US support was crucial and relentless. But only explaining the junta with its US backing is disempowering and
overlooks powerful elements in the tragedy, such as the local oligarchies, and some forms of popular local support of fascism.


Michael September 22, 2013 at 11:18

“What part of the Greek population supports fascists like Golden Dawn and the Center government?”
As far as the GD you can see here
still in the same article you can see that the left-wing party SYRIZA came second in the previous elections, whilst right now polls as first.

Regarding the center, it is mainly supported by people who have been frightened by the EU rules, that if you don’t vote for New Democracy Greece will collapse.

“What is the public reaction to the murder?”
Golden Dawn was growing rapidly. It reached 15%. But after the murder it’s percentage dropped significantly.


John Spritzler September 22, 2013 at 03:28

Excellent article. The “United Front Against Fascism” (i.e. uniting with the “good capitalists” against the “bad” (fascist) capitalists) strategy was a disaster for the working class in the past and, as this article makes clear, would be in the present as well.

By the way, I hope it is clear that my website’s name has absolutely nothing to do with the similarly named Greek party.


pavlos September 22, 2013 at 07:10

While I agree in general terms with your analysis, I find your prescription to be highly problematic. First, there is an assumption (or at the very least the article leaves the impression) that greek anti-fascist struggles are focused only on the actions of Golden Dawn and not also fighting austerity, capitalism and the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know who your contacts and friends and comrades in Greece are so it is possible that you know a very different crowd than who I know. And I can tell you very clearly that nobody I know there is focused only on the violence of Golden Dawn (which is nothing new to many of us since Golden Dawn has been around since 1980).
This statement in particular I think is way off the mark: “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.” Do you honestly believe that the motorcycle patrols are such a great distraction that once anarchists abandon them and focus on the capitalists the Troika will simply succumb? Do you honestly believe that greek anarchists are just blinded to the fact that Golden Dawn is an instrument of the state and the “extreme center” as you call it? Do you honestly believe that there has not been extensive action by anarchists against the very essence of the state and capital? Aside from the highly questionable morality of implying that anarchists should cease from engaging in the defense of those who are most vulnerable because they are after all a “distraction” from the “real” struggle, your description of the actions of anarchists and anti-fascists in Greece simply belies the reality on the ground.
Again, you make some excellent and much needed points. But I implore you, if you are going to use Greece as the case study for your points then develop a better understanding of what has actually been going on with greek anarchist struggles, not just in the last couple of years but the last several decades.


Jerome Roos September 22, 2013 at 15:03

Thanks for your comment. Your disagreement seems to stem from a particular interpretation of my views on Greek antifa struggles. You seem to read my “prescription” as an indictment of antifa activists in Greece, while my point is actually the opposite. I never argued (or made the assumption) that Greek antifa struggles are focused solely on Golden Dawn and have abandoned their interest in capital and the state — far from it. Rather, I tried to point out that both the fascists and the elite are trying to trick the left into focusing solely on Golden Dawn because that would serve both of their interests: it would serve the elite’s interest in portraying it as the “responsible” middle ground and it serves the fascists’ interest in promoting a discourse of civil war that they are looking for.

Now, very importantly, I never intended to argue or even imply that the left fell for these provocations or will fall for it in the future — I just want to warn against the temptations for vengeance that the fascists are trying to provoke and from which the elite will ultimately benefit. This is not an indictment of antifa but an indictment of the extremist alliance between the ruling parties and Golden Dawn. Whether we like it or not, over the past year they have forced us onto the defensive: defending squats, defending immigrants, defending even ourselves. This is not the fault of the left but the relative success of the two-front elite/fascist strategy it finds itself faced with.

The particular passage about the motorcycle brigades once again must be read not as an indictment of antifa but as an indication of the elite’s interest in a powerful Golden Dawn presence in the streets. I personally think these motorcycle brigades are f*cking awesome and I would love to join them when I move to Athens later this month. I never said or even implied that these patrols should be abandoned. Rather, my point is that Golden Dawn’s racist pogroms in immigrant neighborhoods are serving the elite by forcing the left to fight on two fronts at the same time: the capitalist state on the one hand and the fascist para-state on the other. I think you would agree with me that this two-front war we are facing ultimately serves the interests of the elite.

What is my prescription? To keep up the fight against fascism but to never allow ourselves to be drawn into the language of civil war and the politics of revenge that Golden Dawn and the elite want us to succumb to. This is not so much a critique of the left as much as an imploration to stay true to its true revolutionary ambitions — and to use the present momentum to go back on the offensive by confronting the state head on.


pavlos September 22, 2013 at 17:42

I appreciate the clarifications Jeremy. I know that it is hard to catch every nuance of a complex situation within a relatively short article. Of course the whole question of what does it mean to “confront the state head on” and how we go about doing that is a very important topic as well, but probably for another day and another article.
That Golden Dawn serves the interests of the elite is both known (Mihaloliakos was in the employ of the government in the late 1970s) and also a bit more complex. Clearly, as you stated, the racist attacks serve to provide another front for us to fight on. GD is doing the government’s dirty job but it was also a matter of time before GD grows too big for the government to control. The announced crackdown on GD the last few days can be seen as a government attempt to rein in a movement that has become dangerously out of control (for the government that this, it has been dangerously out of control for the rest of us for quite some time). Of course the timing of this whole situation is also quite interesting, so close to the German elections, which are widely seen in Greece as the time after which a third memorandum will be imposed on us. The article in the WSJ about how Fyssa’s murder could be a “blessing in disguise” is quite interesting as it bolsters the argument that one of the “functions” of GD is to help the current government ask for an easing of the bailout terms (on the basis of “you are pushing us too hard and Greece is on the verge of falling apart” line), which would earn it popularity points domestically. We talk a lot about the “elite” but it is important to keep in mind that there isn’t a single elite with unified interests and agenda. Even within the troika there is tension and disagreement and there is definitely tension between the troika and whoever their current client government is in Greece.
Anyway, this is going a bit beyond the scope of your article. I think we are in agreement that Golden Dawn is not the ultimate enemy, but rather both a tool and a symptom of the current situation. As for the language of the civil war that you mention, this is one that the left, for the most part, has not adopted and has no desire to adopt. For one thing, it is not part of our value system that we slit the throats of those we disagree with. For another, there are still a lot of people around who lived through the civil war of 1945-49 and its aftermath in the 1950s. Not something anyone, on our side at least, is interested in going through again. The language of a civil war is used by Golden Dawn because enough people in the leadership actually do believe in it but also by New Democracy and Samaras because it serves their interests in many fronts: internationally, to pressure the troika to give them more time to implement the “reforms” which would help them to stay in power; domestically to scare people into voting for them as the only alternative between the “two extremes” of GD and SYRIZA, as well as to provide them with the cover and support they need to consolidate power (the current “crackdown on GD is nothing more than a consolidation of power in the hands of the government, a power that can be used against any movement which opposes government action outside of the permitted parliamentary measures), and of course as a means of setting the stage for a possible broader coalition government that might even include SYRIZA if at the next elections they fail to get enough votes to form a government without them (there is a lot of talk these days about the parties of the “constitutional ark” which basically means all parties in parliament except GD, and how it might be necessary to put together a broad constitutional coalition to hold back fascism, talk that the current SYRIZA leadership seems to not embrace for a variety of their own strategic reasons).
Ok, enough from me for now. Interesting discussion, looking forward to continuing it, possibly even at a nice kafeneio in Athens in the near future.


anym September 23, 2013 at 01:27

I don’t accept that the Golden Dawn is right wing in their policy. At least not on the economic front.

The economics of the GD are not capitalist. Not even tangently. They have more in common with that of North Korean juche.


Michael September 23, 2013 at 23:26

“The economics of the GD are not capitalist”
Lol are you kidding us? So far they have done everything possible to protect the interests of big businesses in Greece by terrorizing protesters and movements. Besides it’s a fascist party and such like all fascist parties support and defend big capital.


Bryan November 21, 2014 at 06:29

I’m late to the party, but attempting to catch up. Mostly I want to be clear on your references to capitalism in the article. I’m catching drifts of the sentiment toward it-. What is, more or less, the official sentiment toward capitalism in Greece? Is that represented in this article more popular among progressives? Is that take influenced by the U.S. (capitalist) backed junta of the 70′s? I’m an outsider – just trying to understand the history and the positions here. What is your take on the balance between the governing systems and the economic systems? It seems to me that economic systems aren’t the right place to start. Money is the business of economic systems. Money is gravity and breeds imbalance. Whatever economic system, mustn’t the government first exert checks and balances onto this system? One staple of capitalism is also free enterprise, though certainly it does tend to financial disproportion if unchecked. I know nothing, really. Just trying to know more. Your article was informative. Thank you.


cornetjoyce September 23, 2013 at 01:46

There may be only one way to honor the memory of our murdered anti-fascist yapper, but gimme the martyrs and music of the Greek Geriatric Left.


Peter Bohmer September 24, 2013 at 08:54

Excellent although I would add that Golden Dawn is not just a diversion and must also be challenged ideologically and in the streets. At the same time and equally or more important, as the author points out, we must develop in theory and practice alternatives to capitalism and not let Greek capital, the Troika, and the Greek government off the hook.


Patrick Harris May 10, 2015 at 23:29

There’s a serious misunderstanding here of what Lipset meant by “extremism of the centre.” Lipset was not a Marxist, at least not by the time he wrote that (in fact, he became one of the original neoconservatives), so he would not have characterized fascism as a perversion of liberalism, though he did view it as reactionary. He considered fascism to be the revolt of the lower middle classes against the forces of economic modernization, not the “dictatorship of finance capital” that Marxists have always claimed.


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