Matteotti, Lambrakis, Fyssas: fascist murders and state power

8_roupakiasRoupakias giving a nazi salute during a Golden Dawn training camp.

[This is an english translation of an article by Thanasis Kampagiannis, that first appeared in the magazine “Sosialismos apo ta Kato” (“Socialism from Below”), issue 115, March-April 2016. The greek version can be found here].

The announcement of the release of Giorgos Roupakias on 18 March 2016, due to completion of the maximum pre-trial detention of 30 months for the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, caused public outcry and rekindled doubts about the justice system and the trial of the neo-Nazis.

Why, as two and a half years have passed since the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, have the perpetrators and instigators not yet been convicted? And why are all the leaders of Golden Dawn free, now alongside Roupakias?

The opening of the criminal prosecution against Golden Dawn for being a “criminal organization” was the fruit of the mass antifascist explosion of September 2013 and the fear it caused the then Samaras government. The decision to prosecute GD threw the ball to the judiciary, thus allowing the government to say that it had no political responsibility for dealing with the criminal actions of Golden Dawn, now that “justice is in charge”.

This is a pattern we have seen frequently repeated in fascist murders. In this article we have selected three such influential cases: the murder of Giacomo Matteotti in Italy in 1924; the murder of Grigoris Lambrakis in Greece in 1963; and the murder of Fyssas in 2013. After first providing the basic outline of these fascist murders, we will try to identify similarities and differences, trying to draw conclusions about the political and legal aspects which might be useful today.

The murder of Matteotti

Giacomo Matteotti (1885-1924) was a member of the Unified Socialist Party of Italy and one of the leaders of the reformist wing of the labour movement. From 1922, the National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini was in power in Italy but not yet able to completely crush working class organisations and the remnants of parliamentary democracy. The murder of Matteotti is today regarded as the turning point for the victory of Italian fascism and the totalitarian rule of Mussolini. A few days before the attack, on 30 May 1924, Matteotti had denounced publicly – during a speech in the parliament – the fraud and intimidation by the fascists during the previous election, while highlighting their connections with big business. The fascist newspapers of the following day wrote that “there has been far too much tolerance in the face of Matteotti speeches”.

On 10 June 1924 thugs ambushed and attacked Matteotti outside his house. They then dragged him into a car and kidnapped him. Matteotti tried to defend himself from the blows of the thugs, who continued to beat him until one of them stabbed him with a dagger. The fascists attempted to cover their tracks, hiding his corpse in a secluded location outside Rome and trying to clean the car of the traces of the murder. But the crime was far from perfect.

The thugs, led by Ameringo Dumini, were members of an elite group of “internal security” of the fascist party. And the car in which the murder was carried out had been rented by a cadre of the regime, Filippo Filippelli (publisher of a fascist newspaper), under the order of the organisational party secretary Marinelli and the director of the press office of the cabinet, Cesare Rossi. News of the killing shocked the Italian public and for some months the Mussolini regime was on the verge of collapse.

1_metallio_swmatofylakes_duceThe emblem of the “Musketeers of Duce”.

But the timidity of the opposition parties (which withdrew from the parliament and formed the Aventino anti-parliament) and their exclusive reliance on institutionally calling on King Vittorio Emanuele III to dismiss Mussolini gave valuable time to the fascists. When the regime felt strong again, Mussolini made, on 1 March 1925, his famous speech in the parliament where he assumed “political, moral and historical responsibility of all that has happened … If fascism is a criminal conspiracy, if all the acts of violence were the result of a specific historical, political and moral climate, I bear all the responsibility for this….”. What followed was an orgy of violence against the opposition and the labour movement organisations that sealed the dismantling of every democratic institution in 1926. The trial of Matteotti’s killers, held in March and April of the same year, was a farce, with the main defendant released from prison within a few months (Dumini was formally sentenced to five years imprisonment for manslaughter by negligence, while the instigators did not even sit in the dock).

The murder of Lambrakis

Grigoris Lambrakis (1912-1963) was an MP in Piraeus, collaborating with EDA, the legal political expression of the outlawed Communist Party of Greece. Lambrakis was a doctor, a professor at the university, a veteran athlete and a victor in the Balkan Games. He had also participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His participation in the peace movement had made him a red rag to a bull for the right and for the deep state. In May 1963, Lambrakis broke the ban on the Marathon peace demonstration, marching alone with the same banner with which he had participated in an international peace march in Britain a few weeks earlier.

On 22 May 1963, Lambrakis was a speaker at an event of the “Committee for International Detante and Peace” in Thessaloniki. Below the venue for the event (which was located at the junction of Ermou and Venizelou Streets), para-state fascist groups had organised a counter demonstration, beating and harassing participants. Although there was a great force of the gendarmerie present at the rally, with over 180 men in the presence of the entire leadership of all Thessaloniki’s security forces, the para-state thugs did not hesitate in beating left MP George Tsarouhas. When Lambrakis tried at the end of the meeting, to cross the street, a motorised tricycle with Spyros Gotzamanis as driver and Manolis Emmanouilidis as passenger moved toward him and Emmanouilidis hit him on the head with a truncheon. The arrest of the killers was made possible thanks to the courage of an eyewitness, Chatziapostolou, who jumped in the back of the tricycle (deservedly winning in history the nickname “Tiger”) and immobilised the vehicle after a hard fight.

From that point on, what began to be exposed was the plan of the assassination, which the state mechanisms and right-wing newspapers initially rushed to disguise with talk about a “car accident.” The arrest of Gotzamanis and Emmanouilidis and the news that both of them were members of a para-state fascist organization, the “Association of Fighters and Victims of National Resistance in Northern Greece”, led by pro-German collaborator during the nazi occupation Xenophon (“Von”) Giosmas, unleashed a flood of revelations. The revelations were furthermore not covered-up thanks to the forthright attitude displayed by the investigative judge who took over the case, the later President of Democracy Christos Sartzetakis. Some 200,000 people joined in the cotege of Lambrakis’s funeral in Athens (he had been left brain dead for a few days until he died on the 27 May). The Karamanlis government was forced to resign within three weeks, on 11 June 1963.

11_makedoniaNewspaper “Makedonia” the following day of the Lambrakis murder.

10_efhmerida_kommounistikai_taraxaiA right wing paper promoting the version of “Communist Riots”.

The trial of the murderers of Lambrakis finally began in October 1966 and was completed in December. The defendants were not just the perpetrators, Gotzamanis and Emmanouilidis, but also “Von” Giosmas and the policemen who participated in the organisation of the “spontaneous” counter-demonstration and who allowed the murder – a total of 32 defendants. We need to say here that the prosecutors tried to “separate” the trials and set up three or four separate trials to exonerate the instigators, but – at least initially – did not succeed. The result of the trial was disappointing. The perpetrators Gotzamanis and Emmanouilidis were sentenced for fatal injury (not attempted murder) and were punished with imprisonment of 11 and 8.5 years respectively. The instigators and the policemen got soft treatment, with penalties not exceeding imprisonment of one year. In a few years time, under the military Junta which came to power in 1967, the perpetrators were also released.

The murder of Fyssas

Pavlos Fyssas (1979-2013) was a rap musician, known in Piraeus, the neighbourhood where he was born and raised, for his music, the social solidarity actions he organised and his anti-fascist stance. In September 2013, the Nazi organisation Golden Dawn attempted to escalate its violent actions in order to take advantage of the social and political crisis that consumed the Samaras government. The escalation was expressed in targeted attacks in Piraeus neighbourhoods, initially against the trade unionists of PAME in Perama on 12 September and next against anti-fascists who were targeted in the form of Pavlos Fyssas and his friends in Keratsini, on the night of 17-18 September.

5_sfragida_karta_asfaleias_xaStamp and security ID of Golden Dawn: “Central Command”.

A Golden Dawn “battalion squad” was formed at the party offices in Nikea at 23:50 on 17 September, after an SMS message was sent by the local branch leader, Giorgos Patelis, at 23:28 and after the approval given by the prefecture’s leader, Piraeus MP Yiannis Lagos. Fyssas was recognised at a cafeteria in Keratsini by members of the “security” department of the local organisation, who rushed to inform the person in charge of “security”, Yiannis Kazantzoglou. The motor battalion eventually merged with other Golden Dawn members outside the cafeteria “Coralli” in Pavlou Mela Street and as now a united and formed group attacked Pavlos Fyssas and his friends. Fyssas held his ground, in order to protect his friends all of whom were younger, but he was stabbed with a knife by the Nikea local organisation’s cadre Giorgos Roupakias, who completed the multifaceted attack. The attack took place in the presence of eight police officers of the DIAS department (probably across the street) who did not intervene until after the murderous stabbing.

In the end, it was the resistance of Fyssas himself that forced the police, at his call, to arrest Roupakias and that allowed the unearthing of revelations about the Golden Dawn battalion squad. After ten tempestuous days of mass anti-fascist rage and political crisis, on 28 September 2013 the leaders of Golden Dawn were arrested on charges of criminal association. The government’s sharp turn translated into a conflict within the state apparatus (with removals of senior officers and officials of the security forces), and into an inter-government crisis, with the architect of the “special relationship” between New Democracy and Golden Dawn, Takis Baltakos, being forced to resign from the secretariat of the cabinet. The trial of the perpetrators and instigators of Fyssas murder, and of dozens of other murderous attacks, is currently underway.

The pattern of fascist murders

There are no repetitions in history. The three fascist killings described took place in concrete and historically unique conditions. What we can observe though is a common pattern that has to do with the specific nature of fascist organisations, their relationship with the capitalist state and the reaction to their murderous activity in the subaltern social classes:

a. In all cases reviewed, the murders’ perpetrators are fascist organisations themselves, even if as varied as the National Fascist Party of Mussolini, the “Association of Fighters and Victims of National Resistance” of Yosmas or Michaloliakos’s Golden Dawn. Certainly in the case of the Association of Giosmas, the group never formed into an independent political party, but acted as a complementary force to public order mechanisms, so in this case we speak of a “para-state”. However, what unifies all three organisations is their common strategy to form hit squads (with different names: “security groups”, “battalions squads”, “combat leagues”) that were prepared to smash with physical violence their political and ideological opponents (communists, socialists, trade unionists, anti-fascists, etc.). This is what differentiates fascism from other extreme conservative or reactionary collectivities: the use of violence by battalion squads to terrorise its opponents as the basis of its strategy for the conquest of power.

2_syndesmos_sfragida_efhmerida_emvlhma“Association of Fighters and Victims of National Resistance in Northern Greece”: stamp, paper, emblem.

b. The leadership of the fascist organisations is not only aware but also leads these criminal actions. When Mussolini regained the necessary power to crush the opposition politically and physically, he confessed that very truth, assuming the “political responsibility” of Matteotti’s murder. The fascist leadership not only encourages its members to commit criminal acts against its rivals, but actually organises the battalion squads that will materialise them. That’s why a key role in the fascists’ murderous attacks is played by people like Marinelli (the organisational secretary of the Italian fascist party, who Mussolini was forced to get rid of) or Lagos (the prefecture leader of Golden Dawn in Piraeus), who are responsible for organising, approving and overseeing the hits of the battalion squads.

c. The criminal activity is not possible without the synergy of the state, which exists priot to the murderous attack. In the case of Matteotti’s murder, this was obvious as the fascist party had already assumed governmental office. However, the cooperation between the state and the fascist organisations begins much earlier. In Italy, Mussolini’s Fascists were vital to the repression of the labour movement in the cities and of the insurgent peasantry in the villages before taking power. In Greece during the 1960s, organisations such as Giosmas’s were used by the state as “auxiliary police forces” in emergency situations: the visit of General de Gaulle to Thessaloniki in May 1963, for example, where the murderers of Lambrakis themselves were used as policing officers (an infamous case known as “Brooch Case”). And, of course, the history of Golden Dawn is one of a constant collaboration with the police forces, sometimes as “indignant citizens” in riots in Athens, sometimes as groups for “maintaining order” in the Agios Panteleimonas area and elsewhere. This is the only way to fathom the confidence of fascist killers, while perpetrating their crimes, that they will flee undisturbed by the police authorities. Roupakias’s appeal to the policemen with the words “I am one of yours, I am of Golden Dawn” is remarkably similar to the words of Gotzamanis to the policeman who held him after his arrest: “I will now leave and you will let me!”

d. The escalation of fascist violence is a dangerous gamble for both the fascist organisation and for the ruling class. The stakes are very high: fascist violence can lead to terrorising those below and to the final crushing of their movements. But at the same time, the risk is very great: in fascist violence, the working class sees an ultimate danger to its collective and even physical existence. A fascist murder can cause a massive outbreak of the subaltern classes and lead to a crisis of legitimacy that can evolve into a nationwide political crisis. The government crisis that followed all three murders under consideration here was not random. It was the result of the links connecting the fascist organisations to the respective government and state mechanisms. This is where the role of the judiciary becomes critical. It is to the judges that the examination is referred, with the aim of de-politicising it and restoring bourgeois legitimacy. The first release of the Karamanlis government after the Lambrakis murder is quite telling: “Such events can occur in all states, even the most democratic one, and do not bring responsibilities on the government as such … The government took all necessary measures for the full and rapid clearing up of the case and for proper sanctions.”

The trials of fascist killers

e. The criminals’ trial evolves into a tug of war between conflicting social and political camps. In the courtroom, the effort to reveal the organised character of the fascist murder and state’s responsibilities pulls against the effort to depoliticise it and conceal the fascists’ and state mechanisms’ co-operation. As historical experience shows, the evolution of such proceedings is finally determined by the general social and political relation of forces. That does not, however, render superfluous what happens inside the courtroom.

9_emmanouilidis_gkotzamanisEmmanoulidis (centre) and Gkotzamanis (right) smoking during an interval of their trial.

It is at this point that is necessary to incorporate into our analysis the critical role of the subjective factor, namely the intervention of the anti-fascist movement and the strategies within it. In Italy, the murder of Matteotti roused furor and threw Mussolini’s regime into crisis. However, the liberal leadership of the anti-fascist camp, under Giovanni Amentola, turned its hopes to the King and the ruling class, rather than mobilising the masses. The only force that raised the need for an independent mass mobilisation of workers and peasants was the Communist Party under the leadership of Antonio Gramsci. But it was still too small and politically confused to seize the moment. The fascists overcame the crisis and turned the murder of Matteotti, which at first seemed as “the beginning of their end”, into an opportunity to consolidate their power.

In Greece in 1963, the Karamanlis government collapsed even if it presented itself as unconnected to the Lambrakis murder. In the three years leading up to the trial, a huge movement unfolded. It peaked in the “Iouliana”, the July Days of 1965, during the political crisis that took place after the dismissal of George Papandreou by the Palace. When the trial started in October 1966 the movement had already shrunk and the machines of the upcoming military coup were warming up. It was thus not accidental that the judges’ verdict – in the words of the famous statement of the combative State Prosecutor who tried to convict the murderers, Pavlos Delaportas – merely “cast the light of a flat battery”.

The trial of Golden Dawn bears the imprint of Pavlos Fyssas’s resistance on the night of the fascist ambush in Keratsini. Instead of terror, the murderous attack caused outrage, which in turn dug the trench of the prosecution against the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn, who for decades had perpetrated crimes with impunity. The fight given by the victims, their families, witnesses and lawyers, is a continuation of the battle which the anti-fascist movement waged in the streets all the previous years. But the outcome of this legal battle will ultimately be determined by the social and political relation of forces outside the courtroom. The vitality of the movement at the time of the court decision will be the most crucial factor in the collective mind of the judicial and state power, far more critical even from the overwhelming investigative material that proves beyond any doubt the guilt of the neo-Nazi gang. The stakes of this battle could not be greater.

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