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Demonstrations and concerts took place across Greece this week to mark the fifth anniversary of the murder by Golden Dawn neonazis of rap artist Pavlos Fyssas.
That case forms part of the base of the trial of Golden Dawn to determine it a criminal organisation masquerading as a political party. The trial began in April 2015 and is now in its final stages. Verdicts are expected early next spring.
To mark the anniversary also, the radical left GUE/NGL grouping of members of the European Parliament published a study I produced for them and the wider anti-fascist movement. It is titled “The Terrorist Activity Of Neonazi Organisations In Europe: the case of Golden Dawn.”
It is based on the three-and-a-half years of court proceedings and on the work of the Jail Golden Dawn small group of lawyers acting for the anti-fascist movement in Greece and for some of the victims of scores of neonazi crimes.
It falls into two parts. A forensic examination of the critical evidence and an assessment of the implications for mass democratic opposition to violent racism and the fascist threat which are so apparent in much of Europe today.
It is important to understand the nature and legal basis of the prosecution. In the Greek legal system it is driven principally by the victims and their lawyers, with the state prosecuting authorities adopting a less adversarial role.
It is not a trial of ideas. It is not seeking to ban Golden Dawn under those kinds of constitutional provisions or restrictions on speech and political organisation which exist in many countries to protect liberal democracy.
It is a criminal trial under criminal law — specifically Article 187 of the penal code introduced to deal with the prosecution of mafia and organised crime.
Golden Dawn cadres are on trial for acts not words — murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, arson, extortion and other serious felonies.
The leadership and organisation as a whole are also charged with running a criminal organisation which commissions and directs those violent actions in the way a mafia don controls the foot soldier directly perpetrating a crime.
It’s on that rigorous legal ground that the prosecution has sought to explore the failure over decades of the Greek state to deal with neonazism, evidence of collaboration between elements of the police and state with Golden Dawn, connections to the wider right and the necessary criminality of a neonazi organisation.
The legal logic parallels the Nuremburg process after the second world war.
We await the verdicts, but the legal and political strategy is something for all opposed to the threat of fascism elsewhere to consider.
It is in contrast to the recent failed state prosecution of the nazi-inspired NPD in Germany, for example. That was under the constitutional basic law outlawing parties which “threaten democracy” — a much more slippery and double-edged provision than penal law.
The prosecution had to be abandoned when it became clear that the penetration of the NPD by German domestic intelligence had become so unmanaged and legally dubious that the court said the defence had a good claim to being manipulated by agent provocateur actions.
The failure was a big boost for the German far right and posed some serious questions about the security state response to fascism.
That also came out — though less strongly than it ought to have — in the trial of the sole surviving member of the banned nazi terror group the National Socialist Underground in Munich.
The NSU was able for years to commit major crimes, including the murders of 10 people — a policewoman and nine immigrants.
Despite judges restricting the scope of the trial, there was strong evidence that one reason for the spectacular failure of intelligence and police agencies — in addition to racist and false assumptions that the victims were in criminal gangs — was the protection of “sources” inside the far right.
In several instances it seems these “intelligence assets” were taking state pay-offs and using them to facilitate crimes by the fascist right, to which they remained wholly committed.
Little of this or of the associations of NSU nazi terrorists and the wider far right, including its more “respectable” wing, was examined.
The enforced removal of the German equivalent of the director of MI5, Hans-Georg Maassen, this week raises further concerns as to why.
The East German city of Chemnitz saw frightening rampages by the fascist right whipping up wider layers against refugees and immigrants at the end of August. Global media reported many phone-videos, witness testimony and other evidence of a pogrom-like atmosphere. Hundreds of riot police failed to intervene to protect those attacked.
But Maassen said, incredibly, that his agency had seen no such evidence and he endorsed the false claims of the far right that Chemnitz was merely a spontaneous eruption of concerned citizens. That is despite a copycat mobilisation in another German town two weeks later where a violent core raised the chant: “National-Socialism [Nazism] now!”
It was also reported that Maassen had provided unpublished figures from the domestic intelligence to MPs of the far right AfD.
Angela Merkel’s coalition government has finally acquiesced to demands from the left for his removal, but he has been, in effect, promoted to a post in the office of hard-right Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
His CSU party in Bavaria is shifting further to the racist right to try to stem the loss of conservative votes next month to the AfD, in which a fascisising wing is now dominant.
The episode casts light on the morphing nexus between racist demagogic politicians, the far right, actual neonazism and violent criminality and the failures, or worse, of the security state apparatus.
That apparatus has grown enormously across Europe in the wake of the war on terror. From France and its state of emergency to Germany and its bans on communists from employment by the Bonn state after WWII there is no lack of policing and intelligence powers.
The issue is a lack of political determination and a constant prejudice to see the left and immigrant communities as the threat, not the adherents of Hitlerism.
The biggest group of terror investigations in Britain in the last 12 months has been of the far right — such is the threat.
How many more might have been foiled and criminals brought to justice had the authorities not been sending spy cops into environmental and peace groups, blacklisting trade unionists or criminalising law-abiding Muslims with the Prevent strategy these last 20 years?
Frenzied anti-leftism is one common thread across the spectrum of radical and racist right-wing politics from parliamentary figures over to the neonazi terror gangs.
The distinctions between the different formations are important, but they are not absolute.
The far-right Swedish Democrats emerged from the Nordic neonazi scene, made a turn to parliamentary politics but, in the course of advancing, incubate today the most violent fascist elements on their fringes.
The AfD in Germany evolved from being a Thatcherite chauvinist response to EU bailouts for the European south to putting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism at the centre and producing a leadership that is fascist.
The new communications technologies mean that it is much easier for right-wing populist activists to form links with hardened nazis, whatever formal political affiliation they hold.
The experience of Greece shows the importance for the left and consistent democrats in highlighting the violent fascist, neonazi formations that are growing in the swamp of the transatlantic far right, boosted by Donald Trump in the US.
Of course, all far-right charlatans will seek to exploit people’s economic hardships and prevalent reactionary prejudices.
But it is not a “spontaneous” reaction of a precariously employed worker in Germany who mistakenly believes there is too much immigration to take to the streets demanding the return of the Third Reich.
That requires a hardened fascist mechanism. And we will not isolate that core mechanism from those it seeks to con unless we name it as such. Neonazism is at the heart of that mechanism from London to Lithuania.
There is a further necessity — not to yield a millimetre to racist ideas but instead to counter those lies with a militant anti-racism based upon the good sense of working people.
Horst Seehofer tries to straddle the parliamentary and fascist racist right by saying: “The mother of all problems is migration.”
He was due to speak in Frankfurt this week but was a no-show. That did not stop 6,000 people demonstrating against him.
There were banners for the refugees and against Fortress Europe. One huge banner caught my eye. It read: “The mother of all problems is the contradiction between us and the fat cats.”
These are the messages that must be taken to every workplace and neighbourhood — and onto the streets — across Europe.
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