With the on-going Golden Dawn trial in Greece there has been much debate as to whether the Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi group. The party itself has rejected the Neo-Nazi label, arguing that that this terminology may only be applied to Hitler's regime. They instead term themselves 'Greek nationalists', emphasising that the party does not espouse the ideas of German National Socialism of the inter-war period. Proponents of terming the Golden Dawn Neo-Nazi have focused on the party's past use of Nazi symbols, for example the swastika, the Nazi anthem and various other paraphernalia. The Golden Dawn however has been careful to remove such references in its more recent activities, since its election in 2012.
There is another way however to show that the party falls under the Neo-Nazi label, that goes beyond a praise for Hitler, the use of Nazi symbols and an admiration of the Nazi regime. This involves identifying a number of informed criteria of what constitutes Neo-Nazism and establishing the extent to which the Golden Dawn fulfils them.
What is Neo-Nazism? While there is tendency to dichotomise between Fascism and Nazism, sociologist Michael Mann argues that both movements shared similar core values, had similar social bases and developed similar movements. The main difference between the two can be found in the Nazi emphasis on the 'volk', i.e. the people, versus the fascist focus on the state. But these were variations on common themes. In other words, Nazis were fascists, but simply put, Nazism placed a greater emphasis on nationalism. The first point to make therefore is that Nazism, and by extension neo-Nazism, are variations of fascism. They belong to the same category, they are not case- specific, and as such may arise outside case-specific contexts.
Second, it is important to identify what fascism and its variants stand for. Fascism is often defined either in terms of its negations- it stands against capitalism, Marxism, liberalism, and bourgeois democracy. It is also defined in terms of fulfilling certain 'minimums': all variants of fascism are pan-nationalist, authoritarian, statist, and militarist movements, seeking to transcend social cleavages and cleanse the nation from internal (i.e. political dissidents) and external (i.e. those not belonging to the 'organic' nation) enemies. Their end goal is totalitarianism. From this analysis we may identify two overall themes that are recurrent in all fascist movements: societal degeneration; and the proposed fascist solution which encompasses the necessity for national rebirth through a collective movement from below, usually embodied by a fascist party. The Nazi variant includes a fixation on the 'People', i.e. the 'Nation', which is represented by the Nazi movement, is personified by the Nazi leader, and embodies the state.
The Golden Dawn belongs to the fascist family and fulfils all the above criteria, including the emphasis Nazism places on the 'Nation'. So, while the party itself may reject the fascist label, it nonetheless espouses all core fascist, and more specifically Nazi, principles. The party rejects liberalism and socialism and endorses what it terms the 'third biggest ideology in history', i.e. nationalism, combined with support for an all-powerful state premised on 'popular sovereignty'. In its manifesto the party states that being a member of the Golden Dawn entails the acceptance of the following principles: the establishment of the state in accordance to nationalism; the moral obligations that derive from this ideology including the rejection of any authority that perpetuates societal decline; the acceptance of nationalism as the only authentic revolution; the establishment of the popular state in which there are no inequalities on the basis of wealth; racial supremacy and more specifically the belief in the continuation of the 'Greek race' from antiquity to the modern day; the idea that the state must correspond and be subservient to the nation/race; and the nationalization of all institutions.
This is openly expressed in the numerous online materials posted on the party's elaborate website (http://www.xryshaygh.com). The starting point for the Golden Dawn is social decay. Hellenism is on a downward slope. The country is in 'ruins' because of the incompetence of Greek politicians who 'destroyed the nation' (spelt 'Nation' with a capital N in all Golden Dawn texts). The decadence of Greek society is all encompassing: it is political, cultural, moral and a decline of power, i.e. Greece's underdog status compared to its Golden Past. The Golden Dawn sees itself at the helm of a movement whose vocation is to purify the Greek nation from social decadence associated with corruption, deception, partisan interests and cleptocracy. It is the party's calling to lead the Greek people in a difficult struggle towards 'Virtue and self-improvement'. This can only be materialized through a 'National government with a coherent plan and socio-political vision aligned with the principles of Nationalism and popular socialism'.
The Golden Dawn sees itself not in elitist terms, but rather as a movement from below. The party envisages itself as the embodiment of the collective will of the Greek people and seeks ultimate state power, which it understands as the epitome of the nation and its will. 'The Nationalist Socialist leader does not stand above or beside the people, he is not part of the people, he is the People'. He incarnates the secret 'calling of the blood' and his ultimate goal is full control of state power in the name of the nation.
For the Golden Dawn, representative democracy is not the 'true democracy' of the people, it is 'the child of capitalism', an instrument through which capitalism dominates the popular masses. For this reason the party condemns liberal democracy and its institutions and in turn admires fascist and totalitarian regimes. Its members glorify fascist personalities, portraying them as heroes for purifying their nations and epitomizing the will of people in a truly democratic system. Party materials make ample references to fascists such as Greece's Ioannis Metaxas, and Spain's Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco. The ideal regime for Greece, according to the Golden Dawn is the August 4th Regime, led by Ioannis Metaxas between 1936-1941. During the August 4th regime, 'Greece became an anti-communist, anti-parliamentarian and totalitarian state with an agricultural and working class base, and hence an anti-plutocratic state.
The Golden Dawn seeks 'catharsis'. The party's key goal is to eliminate all political divisions and cleanse the nation from outsiders. Communists are identified as those internationalists that seek the annihilation of the Greek nation. Contributing to this ethnocide are also Greece's external enemies, which include immigrants, but also 'foreign loan sharks, contractors, pimps and media owners'.
The Golden Dawn seeks to achieve cleansing through violence. Militarism hence is the key to both the Golden Dawn's ideology and organizational structures. The army is the ultimate value, they claim. A value that encloses within it 'blood, struggle and sacrifice'. The party's members see themselves as 'street soldiers' fighting for the nationalist cause. This places violence at the heart of Golden Dawn's activities and illustrates their distinctive view of democracy as a bourgeois construct only to be used as a means for achieving their ultimate goal: its abolition, as its leader Michaloliakos claims. It also explains the link between Golden Dawn members and army officials, as well as the organization of 'paramilitary orders' or 'battalions' (τάγματα εφόδου).
Τhe Golden Dawn is an ultra-nationalist group that emphasizes the superiority of Greek descent, Greece's unique language and ancient heritage and the glorification of struggle against the 'other', which is portrayed as aggressive and expansionist but culturally inferior. The Greek nation is under threat and constantly undergoing an ideological battle to be salvaged from destruction. But what makes the Golden Dawn a fascist formation, rather than a patriotic or nationalist group, is not simply its ultra-nationalism, which is a characteristic of all far right-wing parties in general, but more specifically the theme of palingenesis- the key theme of national rebirth which forms the Golden Dawn's 'nationalist solution' to social decadence. The Golden Dawn, like other fascist movements before it, sees itself as having the unique mission to lead the nation into a phoenix-like national rebirth, rising from the ashes of the old degenerate social order. Its obsession with the Nation and its people, personified by the party's leader, underlines the Golden Dawn's Nazi character.
This is why the Golden Dawn is, and should be termed, a Neo-Nazi party. Not simply because its members may have praised Hitler in the past, or used Nazi paraphernalia, which is something that may or may not be disputed. But rather because its ideology, organizational structures and end goals fulfil the criteria of a fascist, and more specifically Neo-Nazi group. Gaining momentum at a time of severe economic, political and ideological crisis, the party puts forward its own solution to Greece's predicament, one that is premised on the key fascist principles of nationalism, paramilitarism, statism, transcence and cleansing.
This article is co-authored with Sofia Vasilopoulou, University of York