Greece: left and unions must unite to fight racism

Submitted by Matthew on 21 March, 2013 - 10:53

Racism is a key component of Greece’s three party coalition government. This was emphatically confirmed when last summer the Minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias, launched a fierce attack in Parliament on “illegal immigrants”.

He claimed that “an incredibly large number of immigrants are involved in serious crime”. He forgot to say that the vast majority of “foreign immigrants” are EU citizens, not “illegal”, and that the overall involvement of “Greeks” in crime has increased rapidly since 2010, due to widespread impoverishment.

Dendias promised to accelerate the construction of the fence in Evros (along the Greek-Turkish border) and strengthen Frontex (the EU’s border management agency). As with his predecessors, he has prioritised construction of new refugee concentration camps which he has elegantly called “reception centres for illegal immigrants”.

Upon becoming prime minister, one of Antonis Samaras’s priorities has been taking away citizenship rights from children of immigrants and restricting political rights to a very small number of immigrants.

At the same time, the “Independent Greeks”, and the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn”, submitted bills for the repeal of the laws which grant some immigrants citizenship.

Yet only 7,000 immigrant adults or minors have acquired Greek citizenship since 2010 when this law came in because of racist conditions and restrictions of the law.

Despite governmental assurances that Golden Dawn would be marginalised in Parliament, 41 MPs voted a Golden Dawn MP into the position of the seventh Vice President in Parliament, although Golden Dawn has just 18 MPs. The ultra-right MPs of New Democracy, essentially Greek Tories, must have been responsible.

From mid-July until late August 2012 there were more than 100 attacks on migrants, with serious injuries, and a handful of murders. It was an escalation of already serious racist violence (500 were seriously injured from January-June 2012). This violence has been complemented by increasing racist and fascist commentary in the media. Golden Dawn is welcome on all the TV channels. In supposedly objective journalism, the media promotes and advertises their ideas and actions.

The outbreak of racist violence in August followed the government-orchestrated police operation “Xenios Zeus.” “Xenios Zeus” initiated a more authoritarian form of governing, going on the offensvie against the left wing and coinciding with a re-introduction of the “theory of the two extremes” (where the far left is equivalent to the far right).

“Xenios Zeus” was conducted at a unique moment — when the economic and political crisis was dangerously out of hand, the capitalist oligarchy lacked any serious support in the population for its programme, and thus the only weapon left to the government was the disorientation and the division of workers. Immigrants were the perfect scapegoat.

“Xenios Zeus” rested on a particular ideological foundation. The “excuse” was not just “law and order”, but many other fascist beliefs. Samaras, Dendias, and the media have backed up the “Xenios Zeus” project by calling for “reoccupation of our cities from foreign invaders” and saying “immigration is the bomb at the foundation of society, the state, and our culture.”.

The attack was also well coordinated. It started with immigrants, but quickly moved onto Syriza and the left.

“Xenios Zeus” began with the “cleaning” of central Athens and a few other cities, concentrating in Athens on arresting immigrants who collect the recyclables from the trash. They did not touch the tourist areas, which continued to be filled with “black slaves” in hotels and other tourism businesses.

Golden Dawn has run campaigns which have complemented the state’s violence against immigrants. It started a noisy campaign against the so-called “dragon of Paros” (a Pakistani man accused of sexual assault) and passed quickly on to a campaign against the provisional detention of undocumented immigrants in the buildings of the Police Academy in Komotini. They mobilied around a similar issue in Corinth and ended with a “show of strength” demonstration at a “Spartan” mounment in Thermopylae at the end of August.

In Parliament, the Interior Minister Stylianidis responded to the racist question of Golden Dawn MP Panayiotaros about the number of immigrant babies and toddlers that “occupy” places in free council run kindergardens. Stylianidis dutifully rushed to demand municipalities release data for such children, implying that priority should be given to Greek babies and toddlers!

More recent restrictions have been placed on citizenship law. To qualify for citizenship, children’s parents must have been resisdent for eight years (up from five). They must also have successfully attended school for nine years (up from six). Children who acquire citizenship now have to choose between their Greek citizenship and that of their home country when they become adults. The same goes for adults applying for naturalisation. Adults now have to be resident for 10 years (up from seven) before applying for citizenship.

84 members of New Democracy tried to celebrate the return to the “law of blood” by submitting a Parliamentary amendment which denied the right of membership in the police and military academies to “allogeneic [genetically-different, transplanted] Greeks”. The amendment had to be (temporarily) withdrawn after public and political outcry, especially after it was revealed that the idea had originated with Golden Dawn.

Dealing with racism must be an urgent priority for the left. Every neighbourhood needs anti-fascist and anti-racist committees that can confront Golden Dawn.

Immigrants are an integral part of the Greek working class, not a risk or threat. Either the left organises our fight in a united front to crush fascism or we will allow it to continue to grow with incalculable consequences.

Golden Dawn is not an ephemeral phenomenon. It is not going to disappear by wishful thinking or passive calls for democracy. Fascism, in all its forms across Europe, is fuelled by deep crises, the impoverishment of wide layers of society, and by the inability of the left to face up to the threat.

Although the leadership of Syriza refer to the need for anti-fascist action in texts and leaflets, overall it has not taken any organised initiative on the formation of an anti-fascist front.

Syriza’s anti-fascist actions have been initiated by Syriza’s components (mainly the youth of factions within Syriza such as Synaspismos, Kokkino, DEA, Akoa, and Roza).

In Antarsya, a left-wing political coalition outside Syriza, it is mainly SEK, the Greek sister group of the British SWP, and OKDE Spartakos (the Greek section of the Fourth International) that make anti-fascist initiatives. But SEK does this in a sectarian way against other forces of the left. In some neighborhoods and cities (such as Kallithea, Zografou, Thessaloniki, and Volos) anti-fascist initiatives have been created, mainly by left activists, including anarchists.

Emphasising physical or “military” confrontation against Golden Dawn squads is a political dead end. The fascists are not just a gang of thugs, but an obscurantist and barbaric movement, aiming at destroying the working-class movement, the left, and the unions.

On the other hand, we cannot effectively confront Golden Dawn by legalism and putting our faith in parliamentary democracy or allowing the police force to “do its job” — because that “job” is rounding up immigrants. Neither can we form “democratic fronts” with enlightened or progressive bourgeois politicans. So we should not downplay the necessity of confronting Golden Dawn thugs in the streets.

Syriza’s proposals for “social welfare homes” that offer legal assistance, basic medical care, free tuition to needy students, etc., although positive, cannot in themselves be the answer to the fascists nor the response to the crisis. Syriza does not have the resources to fill the void created by the dismantling of the welfare state.

Our response to the fascist threat should comprise of three things. Firstly, organise the left and unions to lead mass struggles to address the critical problems of ordinary people: the spread of unemployment and the dismantling of the welfare state.

We need to stubbornly impose at the centre of political life issues of poverty and unemployment of workers, pushing aside so-called “illegal immigration” and crime.

Secondly, we need immediate relief for victims of the crisis via social networks of solidarity. Anti-fascist groups should link up with neighbourhood community movements i and left councillors to organise soup kitchens and other mutual and social aid for working-class people, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.

Thirdly, we need mass, militant, anti-fascist mobilisations to paralyse the fascist bullies and isolate loose supporters of fascists from the hardcore.

A robust and combative working-class movement that leads the struggle against austerity measures, poverty, and unemployment also enforces and strengthens the unity of the working class against racist prejudices and has the potential to stop the growth of the fascists. But it is a mistake for some sections of the left to underestimate the necessity of building up a specific political front against the fascist and racist threat.

This kind of logic can lead to abstention from any political fight to defend the refugees against specific racist attacks or to stop the fascists from parading and spreading their racist poison in our streets. Euqally, the heroic, “military”-type efforts of anarchists, who regard it as their personal and ethical responsibility to deal with the fascists, are ineffective and counterproductive, isolating them from the mass of society. They are portrayed by the mainstream media as fights between two extreme sections in the margins.

We should learn from the refusal of the German Communist Party leadership to co-operate with the Social Democracy and mobilise the majority of the organised German working class in the 1930s against the rise of Hitler. When confronting fascists, numbers — big numbers — matter. This fight should involve the whole of the working class. We can only defeat fascism if we form a robust united front of all working-class organisations, of all left parties, of all trade unions, and youth movements — independent of their leaderships if necessary.

The actions of the revolutionary left now will determine whether the crisis is going to open up the road for the overthrow of the capitalist system that carries with it economic crisis, poverty, racism, wars and fascism, or if it is going to lead society back into the darkest parts of the history.

Golden Dawn in numbers

• Vote in last election (17 June 2012): 426,025 (6.92%)

• MPs: 18

• Number of local offices: 28

• Current support (in an opinion poll conducted on 22 February 2013): 12.3%.

• Estimated support amongst the Athens police in the May and June 2012 elections: 20-30%

• Approval rating for the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikolaos Michaloliakos: 15%

Golden Dawn's racist terror

The recent history of the rise of Golden Dawn is a record of terror against migrant communities, the left, and the labour movement.

In June 2012, Golden Dawn thugs carried out murderous attacks on immigrants in Messinia. They also broken into the house of some Egyptian immigrants in Perama and attacked them with wooden and metal sticks. The perpetrators were arrested, but released on bail. An anti-fascist demonstration in Perama in response mobilised 1,000 people.

Golden Dawn members distributed homophobic leaflets at the Athens Pride march. In Veria, Golden Dawn members, including Parliamentary candidate Ioannis Sahinidis, stormed a coffee shop associated with the left, attacking customers and the owner. The police arrested eight Golden Dawn thugs, but also the coffee shop owner!

In summer 2012, a YouTube video was released showing Golden Dawn thugs stabbing an immigrant in the metro at Attiki Square. The station security guard watched from a distance. There was no arrest.

In October, Golden Dawn organised alongside Christian fundamentalists to harrass actors, crew, and audience at the Athens premier of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi, which Golden Dawn claimed was an affront to “Christian Orthodox” values. In the same month, they ransacked a Tanzanian community centre.

In December 2012, Golden Dawn members attacked Syriza MP Dimitris Stratoulis at a football match. In January 2013, a Pakistani immigrant was murdered as he cycled to work. When two men were brought to trial for the crime, the judge refused to describe the murder as racially motivated.

In February 2013, Golden Dawn members attacked a prominent member of the PAMA trade union because they were “annoyed” by the “subversive” music he was listening to in his car.

Other Golden Dawn activity has included:

• Protesting against uninsured “illegal” immigrants receiving medical treatment, and organising mobs to enter hospitals and threaten to kick out all immigrants.

• Targetting kindergartens attended by immigrant toddlers in working-class areas, sometimes even targetting parks and playgrounds where immigrant mothers and toddlers are playing.

• Attacking small shops and market stalls run by migrants.

• Assisting old ladies in the streets, organising food kitchens and food distribution for “Greeks only”, in areas where the left is traditionally strong. (This phenomenon is not new. In the American south in the 1920s, the Klu Klux Klan combined pogroms against blacks with assistance programmes to poor whites.)

• Launching “Greek-only” job agencies, mainly in central Greece, bringing workers to local factories; in Pieria, recruiting farm labourers.

• Performing regular visits to workplaces to check on the racial purity and immigration status of all workers and the compliancy of workers to the demands of the capitalist bosses, i.e. staying ununionised.

• Organising mobile blood donation units that will only take donations from, and donate to, Greeks.

• Organising “Sunday schools” and “cultural events” for primary school children in deprived areas, indoctrinating them at a very early age with ideas about racism, fascism, and racial purity.

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