|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 178 April 2014
Athens international anti-fascist conference success
Four thousand anti-fascist activists from all over Europe came together at the School of Fine Arts in Athens over the week-end 11-13 April to exchange experiences on fighting the far-right, neo-fascism, and capitalist crisis. Activists from 20 different countries were present, representing 32 different organisations, as well as 30 groups from Athens and Piraeus, with a thousand or so participating in the meetings, commissions and workshops held alongside concerts, drama productions and anti-fascist films.
They came together in the first instance to offer solidarity and support to the struggle against racism, fascism and austerity in Greece, most sharply represented by the opposition to Golden Dawn, but also to coordinate the struggle against racist and fascist parties throughout Europe. The idea of linking this with the battle against the capitalist system itself was present throughout the whole weekend. Particularly important were the reports from activists from countries like France, Hungary and Ukraine, where the battle against the far-right is sharply posed at this stage.
CWI members in Greece (Xekinima) were the first to put forward the idea for this initiative at last June’s Anti-Racist Festival in Athens, and helped spread the idea of coordination internationally. Members of different sections of the CWI came to take part in the discussion including Joe Higgins (Socialist Party TD, Ireland), who got an excellent reception at the main rally on Saturday night in a hall packed with activists keen to spread the battle against fascism and racism in Europe. The proposals for international coordination of anti-fascist forces include having a European day of action and solidarity in November.
In the discussions it was clear that the anti-fascist movement in Greece has played a huge role – without it the fascists would have probably dominated the streets by now. While the workers’ struggle against austerity has slowed down, the anti-fascist movement is the major movement on the rise and spreading across the country. Nevertheless, there are notable struggles being conducted, such as the Vio.Me occupation, often referred to in the discussions. The workers there decided two years ago not to accept the closure of their factory. They took over production, reorganising it in an environmentally friendly way. The Vio.Me workers had a stall at the conference, selling their products: naturally produced, environmentally friendly household cleaning products.
Nikos Kanellis, a member of Xekinima and a leading figure in the anti-fascist movement in the city of Volos and the region of Magnesia, explained how the anti-fascist committee there had been built. It started with setting up a network of parties, groups and individuals who wanted to fight fascism. They had no intention of repeating the common mistake of the Greek left – doing something ‘spontaneous’ and then ‘leaving it’. They wanted to build a consistent intervention and continuous activities in the communities.
They organised festivals and demos but also solidarity work for marginalised and poor people, collecting food and distributing it to families in desperate need. In this way, they aim to prevent people from being drawn towards the fascist Golden Dawn, and to involve them in the struggle. They aim to organise students and school students in particular. The anti-fascist committee in Volos/Magnesia also organises blockades to keep the fascists off the streets. It is one of the most successful examples nationwide and quite well known. They were successful in kicking Golden Dawn out of the city of Volos when the latter tried to open offices there.
The conference was only stewarded at night to defend it from fascist attack as Golden Dawn does not feel confident to attack such large meetings of the left. It continues to be a grave threat to individuals, however, especially immigrants. Just before the conference, it attacked the neighbourhood where Pavlos Fyssas – the anti-fascist rapper murdered by a Golden Dawn member in September 2013 – lived and took down all the Fyssas memorial banners.
The Greek government went on an offensive against Golden Dawn in the autumn after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. But there are no illusions among Greek activists that the right-wing New Democracy government of Antonis Samaras, with a powerful far-right nucleus inside it, will carry out a serious fight against the fascists. There is an urgent need for collaboration among the parties of the left but the fact that the left refuses to come together in common struggles, even against the fascist danger, provides a huge advantage for the right.
The conference heard how in Sweden the CWI (Rätttvisepartiet Socialisterna) had understood the importance of being prepared to counter the far-right at any moment. It had been calm and ‘silent’ in 2013 until the fascist attack in Karrtorp, Stockholm. The response had seen the biggest anti-racist demonstration ever in Sweden of 20,000 in Stockholm and another 20,000 in 30 other towns or cities. Ten thousand had marched in Malmo after an attempted murder by a fascist at the beginning of March. Now there are anti-racist activities every week in different parts of the country. A participant from Denmark told the conference that 300 anti-racists had gone to the Malmo demonstration from Denmark, where fascist attacks have been on the increase.
There were several organisations represented from Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal and Italy, and some eastern European states. In Bulgaria, where nationalism is widely accepted, fascists are allowed to patrol the streets, make passport checks on people and dominate football. In Hungary, the neo-fascist party, Jobbik, went up from 17% to 23% in the recent election with support among middle-class youth and in the countryside. Ukrainian representatives from the organisation, Borotba, conducted a special workshop on the situation there.
There were ten different workshops at the conference – one on Fortress Europe and the need to close down the horrific, racist refugee camps all over Europe, and to stop the killings at borders. Others were ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ on football, and ‘Working with the Media’. One on sexism, homophobia and transphobia was well attended and there was a lot of discussion on personal experiences of harassment, which needed to be generalised and brought up in plenary sessions.
The Greek anti-fascist activists who organised the conference have managed to build a powerful movement. It was capable of organising demonstrations in 20 cities and 16 different parts of Athens immediately after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. They are forced to challenge not only Golden Dawn but also to fight for an end to the dire social and economic crisis, aggravated by the impositions of the troika.
The organisers were right to appeal for an international event. Racism and fascism must always be answered by internationalism, and anti-racists and socialists in Europe will be asked to consider proposals from the coordination panel set up by the conference on the next steps.
Sebastian Forster (CWI Germany) and Elin Gauffin (CWI Sweden)