The far-right party's emergence – supported by far too many in positions of power – has created a toxic situation
Protest in London on Saturday after the murder in Athens of Greek hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by Golden Dawn. Photograph: Pete Riches/Demotix/Corbis
Today, it is reported that elements in the Greek armed forces have been training Golden Dawn hit squads. There are allegations that there is a secret, 3,000-strong paramilitary structure within Golden Dawn that is being combat-trained by sympathisers in the military. It is appalling how credible this report is.
There was much idle chatter about a possible coup d'etat when prime minister George Papandreou was promising Greek voters a referendum on his austerity package. There was, allegedly, a state of alert order being circulated within the military, about the possible need to intervene in the case of social disorder. The fact that the defence minister felt the need to sack a lot of top army officers also fuelled the speculation.
A year after this, though, the centre-left newspaper To Vima was still writing about a "coup d'etat that didn't happen", alleging that the defence minister's actions stymied a coup – even though it seems the sackings were prompted by the army officers taking direct action against pension cuts.
So far, so much speculation. But the presence of a large and growing neo-Nazi organisation such as the Golden Dawn, which gained just under 7% of votes in the 2012 elections, could be a real challenge to parliamentary democracy. In those same elections, half the police force are said to have voted for the Golden Dawn. Sections of the Greek state have always been attracted to this far-right organisation. And I stress: sections of the Greek state. Subsequent revelations suggest that there was a close relationship between Golden Dawn and Greek police, while antifascists have been subject to torture in police hands. There has also been a general state tolerance for Golden Dawn's violent and racist public behaviour – the big surprise in May was that the Athens mayor finally decided that his police, rather than colluding with Golden Dawn, had to shut down one of their Greek-only food handouts.
Last week's murder of the leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has galvanised a furious response by the Greek left. Activists point to CCTV footage that indicates police were present and did nothing to try to stop the murder. Remarkably, a large number of chiefs of police and special forces were removed from their posts yesterday. The strong public reaction has coincided with a threat by the government to ban Golden Dawn .
Golden Dawn has appeared in some polls as the third party in Greece, although its stable base of support appears to still be in the single figures – and has fallen since the murder of Fyssas. Nonetheless, the resilience of the party's vote, despite its previous violent provocations, and its sustained links with sections of the state, suggest that, even were it to be banned, it would still exist in some form and be a threat.
Golden Dawn's classic, 1920s-style fascist paramilitarism is no surprise. The question is this: why do those elements of the state most involved with repression have such an affinity with Golden Dawn?
In the context of Greece's so-called sovereign debt crisis, the vicious austerity package imposed upon it by EU leaders and its own ruling class and the ensuing social breakdown have caused a crisis. The dominant parties' relationship to their political base – the traditional mode of legitimacy of the state – has been disintegrating. Ministries have repeatedly been in deadlock. Implementing austerity keeps prising open new antagonisms within the governing elite, as evidenced in attempts by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state broadcaster, ERT. Cuts have sapped state capacity.
For a period, Greece's experience of general strikes, occupations and social movement protests came close to insurrection. This is as near to what Gramsci called a crisis of authority as one can get. The political control of the state has been breaking down. It is this breakdown of authority – which reactionaries blame on immigration, foreign control and communist agitation – that fuels Golden Dawn's support.
The situation is toxic. Austerity has not run its course, any more than the recession, or the social misery engendered by it. The only recourse of the left is to render Golden Dawn useless by incapacitating it, obstructing its activities and shutting it down as an effective street-fighting fascist organisation.