Issue #1570 24 October 2012
The news from Greece
The news from Greece is not good. The hope by many that the election of Socialist Francois Hollande as President of France on May 6 would alleviate pressure on Greece by the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, to enact even harsher austerity policies, has not panned out so far. And within Greece, the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which pledged to implement the austerity measures, is faced by ongoing mass discontent and protest.
To the pressure from the left, fuelled by the acute suffering that the austerity program has brought to the Greek people, is now added that of a very dangerous fascist movement called “Golden Dawn” (Chrysi Avgi). Recent surveys have shown Golden Dawn’s support surging and overtaking that of PASOK, the social democratic party that had ruled Greece for decades, alternating with the right-wing New Democracy party.
Fascism has been part of the Greek body politic since at least the period between the two World Wars. After the First World War, liberal Prime Minister Eleftherious Venezelos had attempted to take advantage of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire to seize Western Anatolia and the Black Sea coast for a greater Greece. Venezelos was defeated in the elections of 1920 and a right-wing successor government was defeated militarily by the Turks.
Executions of rightist Greek military and political leaders followed, embittering political relations for years. Also, there was restiveness among Slavonic speaking inhabitants of the hinterland of the city of Thessaloniki, the Mediterranean port which Greece had taken over from Turkey. The newly formed Communist Party of Greece, the KKE, was increasingly active, including in support of the rights of the Slavonic minority.
The conflicts between bourgeois liberals and monarchists, and the fear of national and international communist advances, led to a coup d’état in 1936, by General Ioannis Metaxas (1871-1941), who, appointed by King George II to stop communist advances, eventually set up a military dictatorship with many fascist characteristics. Temporarily, squabbling between civilian politicians was set aside and the KKE was suppressed as Metaxas ruled through the military and police establishment.
But in 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded first Albania and then Greece. When the Greek military gave the Italians a drubbing, Nazi Germany invaded Greece in support of the Italians (in April 1941, after Metaxas had died from a throat infection) and set up a brutal, militarised occupation.
Most of the liberal politicians went into exile, while many on the right incorporated themselves in one way or another into the collaborationist regime of the German-supported Prime Minister, Ioannis Rallis. But Communists and allies organised resistance in many areas of the country, and carried out effective armed strikes against the collaborationist government with its special “Security Battalions”, and the German and Italian occupiers.
As the war moved toward its end, the British government of Winston Churchill shifted priorities toward stopping “communist expansionism” in Eastern Europe. Although the idea originally was to create a coalition government including the communists, the latter soon found themselves attacked by the combined forces of the restored monarchy and the British, later supplemented by the United States. Members of the pro-Nazi Security Battalions ended up fighting on the side of the monarchy. The Greek communists received some support from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, but eventually were ground down.
The result was that in the post-war period, the KKE was suppressed and the right-wing elements which had collaborated with the Nazis were not punished, except for a few individuals. Right-wing extremism, rooted in the Greek ruling class and heavily represented in the military and police leadership, remained strong. In July 1965, a dispute between the liberal Prime Minister, George Papandreou the elder, and the King, Constantine II, was used as a pretext for a military coup d’état by officers who were basically fascists.
These were also backed up by the US Central Intelligence Agency and by the “stay behind” structures of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), shadowy elements which had been set up by NATO and local reactionaries in several European countries to engage in sabotage in case communist regimes came to power, in some cases using old fascist networks.
The brutal “Regime of the Colonels”, headed by Colonel George Papadopoulos, who had collaborated with the Germans in World War II and persecuted the KKE afterwards, repressed not only the left but all democratic tendencies, including labour and student organisations. The armed attempt by some of its supporters to annex Cyprus to Greece was the pretext for a Turkish invasion of that country, creating a problem that still has not been resolved.
Organising by the left finally led to a student uprising which forced the Colonels’ government out in 1974. Under the new democratic dispensation, the KKE was legalised. A new social democratic party, PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement), headed by old George Papandreou’s son Andreas, attracted the support of other sectors of the left and centre. Two governments headed by Andreas Papandreou (1981-1989 and 1993-1996) brought about many democratic reforms in Greece, but were troubled by corruption scandals.
But the class roots of Greek fascism in the indigenous ruling class, military and security establishment had not disappeared; nor had the basic economic problems been solved.
The incorporation of Greece in the European Union in 1981 and in the Euro currency zone in 2001 were the prelude to the present situation, in which Greece is faced with a choice of staying in Europe at the price of having to implement brutal austerity, or leaving and facing severe economic damage also.
Greece has one of the highest military budgets in Europe per capita (military spending aimed largely against Greece’s NATO ally, Turkey) and the Greek ruling class still gets huge tax breaks (ship owners, one of the most powerful sectors, by law do not pay income taxes). So the wealthy and powerful have a lot to protect. On such occasions, scapegoats have to be found, and the fascist card is advanced. The main scapegoats right now are the immigrants. As in other European countries, the worldwide instability created by corporate globalisation has brought in immigrants from various non-European countries, including Western and Southern Asia.
These, now, are the targets of the attacks by Golden Dawn, which does not confine itself to racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric, but also organised armed groups of thugs to invade immigrant neighbourhoods and physically assault the residents. Attacks are escalating; on August 13 an Iraqi youth was stabbed to death and there have been many other incidents. A major source of worry is the degree to which the police sympathize with Golden Dawn, and either collaborate with its depredations or at any rate refuse to intervene to stop them.
The two elections on May 6 and June 17 left PASOK battered and bleeding, punished by the voters because of its acquiescence to the austerity measures. PASOK lost 119 seats in the May election, and eight more in the June one, leaving it with only 33 seats in Parliament where it had started the year with a majority, 160 seats. But the KKE, traditionally rooted in the working class and in its PAME labour federation, also lost nearly half of its strength in parliament, gaining five seats in May but losing 14 in June, to end up with 12 seats as compared to the 21 they held before May.
The difference was made up by the radical left party SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), which came close, but not quite close enough, to being able to form a government, winning 19 new seats in the June election for a total of 71. This made SYRIZA the second force in Parliament after Prime Minister Samaras’ New Democracy with its 129 seats (including the 50 which the Greek electoral system awards to the party with a plurality in Parliament). In the end, the government was formed as a coalition of the New Democratic Party, the remains of PASOK, and another social democratic party, the Democratic Left.
But besides the meteoric rise of SYRIZA, the May and June elections saw a spectacular rise of support for Golden Dawn which now has 18 seats in Parliament, having won 6.92 percent of the popular vote.
SYRIZA is the result of the amalgamation of several other left and left-centre parties. The central group comes from Sinaspismos, which was founded in 1991. To this have been added Trotskyite, Maoist, social democratic and green tendencies, plus defectors from the KKE and PASOK. Because of the heterogeneity of its origins, SYRIZA does not have the centralist governing system of left parties in Europe that come out of the traditions of Third International communism. It is, inevitably, a work in progress, with potential for internal conflict. However, it is currently the largest left party in the Greek parliament, and has captured the imagination of important sectors of the masses.
The reaction of the Greek coalition government to the Golden Dawn phenomenon has been insipid at best. At worst, Prime Minister Samaras has made concessions to the anti-immigrant mood by initiating a crackdown on the undocumented. So the fight against Golden Dawn falls to the left outside the ruling coalition, namely SYRIZA and the KKE.
Both have been involved in grassroots organising and mobilisations against Golden Dawn, but currently they are unable to work together closely, because of political differences. Nevertheless, both have denounced Golden Dawn’s anti-immigrant hooliganism and Samaras’ crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
The failure of Samaras’ government to act against Golden Dawn and especially to defend immigrants plays into the hands of the fascist ultra-right which is a direct descendent of the fascist regime of the Colonels in the 1960s and 1970s.
Similar scenarios are playing out in other European countries, with Hungary perhaps being the most extreme example. In each case, the promise that European integration under capitalism would “lift all boats” is turning out to be illusory, and austerity measures undertaken under pressure from international monopoly capital and the conservative European political establishment are causing great suffering among the working class and other mass sectors. In each case, the left has not been strong enough numerically to be able to put itself at the head of all protests, and so demagogic ultra-right populists like Golden Dawn in Greece are making their bid for leadership.
Next article – It is illusory to believe that Syria can be broken
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