Degrowing neo-Nazism – Reflections from the Greek 2023 elections and strategy against far-right politics
Written by Maria Dandoulaki. Holder of a BA in Education and currently a Master’s Student in Degrowth and Political Ecology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Maria is an ecological activist and academically is interested in the Political Ecology and Economy of food, Agroecology, Critical-Alternative Pedagogies, and anti-authoritarian perspectives towards radical socio-ecological transformations.
June 25th signified a new era of insecurity and conservatism in Greece after the results of the second round of national elections. The right-wing party of Kiriakos Mitsotakis has officially been re-elected with multiple additional implications for democracy, political transparency, ecology, welfare and basic human rights. In the last decades, Greece’s political system has been confronted with a severe institutional crisis which skyrocketed during Kiriakos Mitsotakis’ term. Along with the financial instability and the explosion of living costs that the world is facing, Greece has been experiencing high levels of corruption that manifested in numerous ways, such as the covering up of criminal activities by the Prime Minister’s own party members or trustees, surveillance control, wiretapping scandals, deterioration of press freedom, judiciary system mistrust, and police brutality, to name a few. The rooted corruption and government’s orientation toward profit has been manifested in anti-environmental laws, endless privatisations and sell-outs of every last bit of the country’s land and infrastructure, conservatisation of the Greek public discourse over issues that have been resolved since the 80’s, such as the right to abortion, crimes against migrants and refugees by practicing pushbacks and blocking their entrance into the country, attacks towards and lack of support for independent and self-organised entities, crimes over people who fight for their freedom and basic rights, to the very recent outrageous negligence in the face of the deadly wildfires and floods. The country has also been ranking very low on international indexes on youth employment, social support, and life satisfaction.
The election results – The far-right Parliament
The power balance after the elections has tipped off over to the ultranationalist side, with the entrance of four far-right parties in the Parliament. The stances of these parties include overtly racist and fascist sentiments such as anti-migration, and pro-life or anti-abortion, with the right to self-determination of females and queer individuals always becoming a subject of violation in their agendas. They employ strategies focusing on border-reinforcement, based on the so-called and constructed “demographic problem”, which is being used by liberal and far-right agendas to attack and repress asylum seekers and LGBTQIA+ people, and control females’ bodies. Political analysts have characterised the election results as “going back to the medieval times.” For some leftists and libertarians in Greece, the election results were interpreted as a divide, as two fundamentally and diametrically opposed worlds that exist somewhat in parallel. The abstention percentage of 47%, which reached the highest rate ever recorded in the history of the country’s national elections, was largely celebrated by the latter. While the abstention percentage stands as a tell-tale sign of people’s discontent to the current political structure and electoral system, and the practice of abstention can be considered as conscious for a large portion of the population, that percentage does not represent a homogenous sample of the population and therefore it cannot be analysed as such.
Alt-right and nationalist waves in Europe and the world, and the electoral and political system crisis – The election results coincide with the nationalist waves and the rise of the alt-right
The ugly face of neoliberalism in Greece is perfectly in keeping with the generalised rise and expansion of the alt-right and nationalist waves in Europe and the world. The election of Trump in the US, UK’s Brexit vote, Erdogan’s absolutist party in Turkey which has managed to even infiltrate the judiciary system, Sudan’s public debt which is in 201.6% of the country’s GDP and has increased by 54 billion euros during the far-right ruling party’s last four years of governance, or the fact that Pakistan is amongst the world’s lowest-ranking countries in press freedom with reporters being extorted and threatened by the Prime Minister himself, all are signifiers of the rise of right-populist politics. Given Europe’s history with Nazism, the rise and normalisation of the far-right reignites feelings of terror and uncertainty. For many leftists and progressivists elections are still perceived as a strategic tool that is utilised to push for left-wing or social democratic parties for the sole purpose of weakening the far-right’s power in the Parliaments. In reality though, even when right-wing or social democratic alternatives rise into power and start to pose a threat to the current dominant establishments, they are crushed by higher power structures; the paradigm of Syriza in Greece is a tangible example of that crushing. The global trend of right-populism and neo-fascism leaves little operational space to electoral politics and systems to offer feasible alternatives that dismantle the coercive power of the far-right regime. More to that, this trend suggests a deeper institutional, societal, and political crisis that lies in the ways we organise our societies and economic systems.
How fascist movements originate and reasons for their expansion
One of the four far-right parties that has been elected, “Spartans,” is a neo-Nazi political formation that was recently endorsed by the convicted criminal neo-Nazi organisation Golden Dawn, after the latter’s ban from the elections. According to Patnaik (2020) neofascist movements exist in almost every modern society as “fringe phenomena.” The conditions that nurture and provide a fertile ground for their growth vary. Patnaik (2020) recognises four properties of neo-fascist movements; first, they channel their hatred towards specific minority groups by attributing all society’s wrongs to them; second, no amount of evidence can transform or influence their opinions on these groups, as they are not just driven by prejudice, but complete unreason; third, they try to acquire social power and form into movements; and fourth, they don’t mind betaking criminal roads for achieving their agendas, such as street violence, but also visualizing a combination of street violence with state power for the same reason. He also identifies three conditions for their expansion; a) economic crises trapping people who desperately want to break free from the current economic system which generates the crises, b) all existent non-fascist political formations are unable to offer a solution to the crisis, c) the Left is unable to rise to the occasion. When the above conditions are satisfied, fascism starts to gain ground. Proposing a coherent economic program to tackle the economic crisis is something that neo-fascist movements never strive for, as that would require a coherent strategy to dismantle the root cause of the crisis, capitalism itself. Therefore, they start to gain ground not by offering a way out of the economic impasse, but by focusing on discourse change and unreason (Patnaik, 2020). With no economic planning, neo-fascism manages to rise and stay in power, through the support of corporate-financial oligarchies. Furthermore, in times of economic crisis, neo-fascism is being weaponised by the ruling classes to sedate the working class uprisings, so it poses as a useful tool to control the masses of the tired and indignant.
The role of neoliberalism
Patnaik (2020) also addresses the role of neoliberalism in the rise of neo-fascism; the global finance capital in combination with nation-states remaining as such, make it imossible to break-free from the neoliberal economic policies. Under this lens, elections have no power to change the status quo, if the ruling party, be it right-wing or social democratic, does nothing to detach the country from the globalized financial system. According to the same analysis by Patnaik (2020), fascism continues to remain an option as long as neoliberal capitalism lasts. Patnaik’s analysis resonates with Greece’s situation in the past years. All the conditions for the expansion of neo-fascist movements that Patnaik identifies are satisfied in the Greek case. The economic crisis of 2009 along with back-to-back austerity measures and memoranda has left its marks on the Greek psyche; in the meantime, the current Left is unable to provide a convincing solution.
The role of degrowth
In this conjuncture of profound institutional and political system crisis, globalised, neoliberal economies ruled by corporate-financial oligarchies, and the rise of ultranationalism and the alt-right, what would the position of degrowth be and its vision and strategy towards more egalitarian, anti-authoritarian futures? In order to answer this, a brief overview of the current state of degrowth in relation to its current strategies and position pertaining hierarchical power structures is attempted. The degrowth scholarship has devoted a lot of space on the diagnosis of the growth economies (Kallis, 2011), or the “why” we should strive for socioecological transformations, while the “how” to achieve them used to remain largely underexplored. This reluctance of steering towards direct action and a more coherent set of strategies has been characterized as “strategic indeterminance,” i.e. indecisiveness in selecting strategies to foster transformations. In the recent years, more steps have been taken towards the “how” to achieve the socioecological transformations that are vital for our futures, with the book Degrowth and Strategy (2022) proposing “an intentional mix of strategies” (Schulken et al., 2022), while preserving the multiplicity within degrowth and allied movements and communities. The degrowth scholarship has also produced an immense amount of knowledge on policy proposals (Cosme et al., 2017) that, if implemented, could possibly allow us all to live well within planetary limits.
Degrowth scholarship’s positions regarding authoritative structures and future political systems, are somewhat ambiguous. There is a tension which can be attributed to the scholarship’s vastness, diversity, and the fact that it encompasses a wide range of theories and perspectives. Different degrowth scholars and activists have varying views on the role of the state, ranging from advocating for its reform to questioning its necessity altogether in favour of more grassroots and decentralised forms of governance. While some degrowth scholars recognise the importance of the state in achieving transformations, others would like to see it burnt to the ground. Degrowth has also received criticism for lacking militancy, combative action, and support for defenders fighting for social and ecological freedom, and while, according to Dunlap (2020), the affinity is existent, academia has a tendency of stifling combative elements. Some degrowth scholars in the recent years have become critical of degrowth’s strategic indecisiveness or clinginess to top-down solutions, and instead propose a more radical approach to degrowth, taking anti-statist, anarchist positions.
Criticism on degrowth
In the context of neoliberal capitalism, state authority, and the expansion of right-populism and neo-fascism, the above mentioned elements of the degrowth thought are analysed. In regards to policy proposals, most of them are designed to be implemented top-down (AKC Collective, 2023). This trend, in addition to the fact that degrowth mostly focuses on minor adjustments to the current political establishments, has sparked criticism on degrowth, on the grounds that it has been placed within the anti-capitalist thought. Furthermore, in the book Degrowth and Strategy (2022), the authors prioritise interstitial transformations, stating that “interstitial transformation (is) at the core of degrowth practice” with symbiotic and ruptural transformation taking supporting roles. For Dunlap (2020), current degrowth proposals “veer towards polite political conversation and mainstream movement politics”. Clearly, top-down policies encompass the presence and involvement of a higher authority, be it the state or some other form of centralised power, and do not directly strive for the transcendence of authoritative structures. Likewise, the emphasis on interstitial transformations and minor adjustments to the current political establishments do not encompass a direct and straight-forward battle against the system. Especially when the “top” takes a neo-Nazi turn, as happened in Greece, trying to fight the dominant establishments through top-down policies, non-coherent straight-forward strategies, and minor adjustments, such as the non-reformist reforms, does little to overthrow capitalism and state repression. More to that, state power and neoliberalism have cumulative, reaping effects in the long run, some of which are the subject of this very article. Neoliberalism and the centralisation of power is the root of neo-fascism. The current state of degrowth with its proposed policies, strategies, and its position pertaining the role of the state, is failing to address more violent or corrupt political contexts.
Radicalising degrowth strategy
Under the shadow of ultranationalism and the increasing conservatism of contemporary societies, the need for radicalism is urgent. As mentioned above, the degrowth scholarship frequently calls for embracing a multiplicity of tactics and strategies (Schulken et al. 2022) to achieve socioecological transformations. The multiplicity of perspectives, theories, and cosmoviews within the degrowth scholarship is what makes it unique, and, certainly, rejecting being transformed into “a blueprint that needs to be followed” (The Future is Degrowth, 2022) makes space for the pluriverse to grow. However, degrowth is a) devoting too much energy into reconciling the currents its scholarship recognises, and b) obscuring or not devoting enough energy to more combatant currents. I argue that these are the reasons behind the scholarships’ strategic indeterminance and confusion, reluctance in action, and fear of forging a coherent strategy forward.
Reinforcing Dunlap’s (2020) and AKC Collective’s (2023) arguments, I agree with their proposal of strengthening the connections between degrowth and anarchy. Degrowth should get in touch with its more anarchist nature, which doesn’t preclude cherishing its internal diversity. Therefore, I argue that radicalisation can be achieved by bringing in anti-authoritarian positions and strengthening or recognising the ones that are already existent but stifled. In this framework, not only degrowth strategies will be enriched and become more coherent, the focal point of which is very narrow as they are mostly based on Erik Olin Wright’s strategic modes of transformation and strategic logics, but the formation of alliances that were previously considered “unholy” will be achieved. After all, theorising on proposals that vaguely combine all existing strategies does not put at ease the minds of those violently affected by the current systems of oppression, nor does it address the urgency to confront and cease state power and neoliberalism. Anarchism can enrich the degrowth conversations with “concrete discussions about the strategies and lived experiences of organising inside, outside, against and beyond both the state and capitalism” (AKC Collective, 2023). While there are real existing connections of degrowth and anti-authoritarian thinking  (AKC Collective, 2023; Dunlap, 2020), degrowth does not have a clear vision regarding the role of the state in a degrowth society. I argue that degrowth should draw from anarchism’s skepticism on all authority and seek to abolish institutions that maintain coercion and hierarchy. Especially the states, the formation and sustenance of which, relies on a monoculture of violence, exploitation and profiteering (AKC Collective, 2023). Furthermore, as anarchism considers that the roots of the socio-ecological crisis lie in hierarchical structures, which are inherently violent (AKC Collective, 2023), achieving transformations would require dismantling both global financial and authoritarian-statist structures.
‘We cannot expect change at the scale required to come from those in power’ – the editors of the book “Degrowth and Strategy”
Degrowth strategies against neo-Nazism and far-right politics
As pertaining to neo-Nazism, I argue that the radicalised degrowth strategy theorised is this text, needs to start addressing neo-Nazism directly, with a clear goal to smash it, not engage in escapism from it. However, we should be wary that the existing framework of neoliberal capitalism and the backing that the neo-fascist movements receive from the ruling oligarchies may affect the ability of future strategies to drive results. Diving more into specific strategies, I propose the following:
1. An effective anti-fascist strategy should be based on the socio-economic and historical conditions that nurture neo-fascism in that specific context. A very thorough contextual analysis needs to take place every time strategy is at stake.
2. As misconceptions and prejudice based on race constitute a building block of neo-fascism, degrowth needs to urgently address the concepts of racial violence and racial injustice on a theoretical and practical level.
3. Besides the degrowth scholarship’s coherent critique of economic growth, the fact that it successfully addresses the root causes of socio-economic inequalities and emphasises on a fair redistribution of wealth and resources, which can potentially address some of the underlying factors that drive people towards extremist ideologies, it needs a clearer and more coherent vision that extends beyond global neoliberal capitalism. Any democratically-planned economic program that aims to foster change should oppose finance capital and demand the delinking of the economies from globalisation. According to Patnaik (2020) “neoliberal economic policies are the outcome of a regime of hegemony of international finance capital”, and, as mentioned before, corporate-financial oligarchy and neoliberalism is one of the conditions that nurture neo-fascism, which has a pro-corporate nature.
“Within neoliberal capitalism, therefore, there seems to be no way of extinguishing or marginalizing the fascist presence. Fascism is neoliberal capitalism’s ‘gift’ to mankind. The only way of transcending the fascist presence is to transcend neoliberal capitalism.” – Prabhat Patnaik
4. Envisioning liberation from the dominant and violent structures of ethnopatriarchy, global neoliberal capitalism, authoritarianism, and neo-Nazism necessitates a keen focus on praxis; degrowth should start putting its ideas into action, overcoming its strategic indeterminance, and eventually transform into a powerful intersectional movement. Internal movement building is crucial in this battle, and so is building alliances with movements that fight for their own cause.
5. Praxis also involves a different organisation of our societies , an organisation that is based on autonomy, decentralisation, horizontalism, and a “commitment to building alternative (political) institutions capable of supporting socially just and ecologically sustainable communities and societies” (AKC Collective, 2023), by engaging with direct democracy and participatory forms of governance and decision-making, growing autonomous communities, and challenging all forms of power consolidation and authority. This largely envisioned societal re-organisation that many, similar to degrowth, streams of thought call for, is a task that a radical intersectional degrowth movement could take up.
6. Taking the Greek case as an example, data showed that 9.2% of young people aging from 17-34 years, voted for the neo-Nazi party. As the youth is one of the most malleable and vulnerable to fascist tactics social group, an effective strategy should include early interventions, based on the conditions of the emergence of each neo-fascist movement or group. Early interventions could prevent young people from being fully submerged to the racist ideology and mindset (Bjorgo, 2002). When strategising and targeting a specific group, it is crucial to understand the reasons why this group joins neo-fascist movements. In the Greek case, the ever increasing and induced by the economic crisis conservatisation of the Greek public discourse in combination with the refugee crisis that boomed in 2015 and the failure of what was perceived as the “Left” after the 2015 referendum, provided a fertile ground for neo-fascism to grow. Neoliberalism and socioeconomic frustration has been shaping the hearts of the youth for years. For the sake of a more inclusive analysis, I hereby list the reasons that Bjorgo (2002) identifies as main factors that lead the youth to join racist groups; 1. Ideology and politics; even though many youth do not, at first, intentionally embrace the racist views of these groups, some young people join racists groups because they agree with their political ideas. 2. Provocation and anger; they tend to foster excessive anger against certain social groups. 3. Protection; they may join seeking for protection against enemies or thought-to-be enemies. 4. Drifting; some may just want to try or “have a taste” of what it is like to be a member of a racist group. 5. Thrill seeking; the personality type and psychological profile of some of them may be the one that is pushing them to join extreme groups. 6. Violence, weapons, and uniforms; they may be drawn to a specific violent or militarist lifestyle. 7. Youth rebels go to the right; at the turn of the Millennium, when the cited article was written, young adults were stating that the way to provoke society and pose as a rebel is to become either a National Socialist or a Satanist. 8. The search for substitute families and father-figures; many of them have troubled relationships with their families and especially with their fathers, so by joining these groups they feel like they are substituting these problematic relationships. 9. The search for friends and community; friendship and acceptance is what some of them seek for. 10. The search for status and identity; according to Bjorgo (2002), young people who have failed to establish a positive identity and seek out respect, submission by others, and recognition, constitutes a main factor driving youth to join racist groups and gangs.
7. Overall, the degrowth scholarship’s orientation towards social justice can contribute to the elimination of some of neo-fascism’s underlying conditions. Ideas that emphasize on social connections and community empowerment while ensuring inclusivity and embracing diversity within a society, are important in the battle against the sentiments of exclusion and unreason that neo-fascism builds upon.
8. A comprehensive strategy should also include a threefold outreach; first of all, working on raising awareness against racist tendencies by exposing the neo-fascist agendas, and providing support and safe spaces for victims; second, the emphasis that degrowth puts on ecological awareness and the socioecological impacts of relentless economic growth is equally important, as it broadens our mindsets enriching them with the idea that we are all interconnected; this holistic understanding of the world makes it hard for the narrowed, nationalist ideas that neo-fascism builds upon to catch on; and third, working on enhancing critical thinking while popularising degrowth by openly addressing the misconceptions around it. A particular misconception around degrowth is that the term stands as another word for depopulation. In fact, degrowth has been appropriated by eco-fascist agendas. The concept of population reduction or the belief that degrowth requires population control measures in order to achieve its call for sustainability in the energy-resource-consumption nexus, are parts of these agendas. Therefore, strong communication strategies are needed in order to delink degrowth from population control and austerity connotations. In this context, more clear and direct strategies against the “brown-green” coalition are needed, as the degrowth scholarship often seems to be agnostic on the negative connotations some of its core principles may carry; e.g. the concepts of localism, sufficiency, and power redistribution are often prominent in far-right agendas as well, from a closed-border, nationalist perspective. These dangers emphasise the need to always highlight the glocal, cosmopolitan context, and the concepts of decolonisation, democracy, and opposition to all oppressive structures.
Real democracy, and not a hologram of it, cannot flourish in violent structures. Efforts to combat these ideologies require a multifaceted approach, but, most importantly, they require coherent and ruptural action. In the pressuring context of interconnected crises under neoliberalism and neo-fascism the need for rupture and seeking breaks from the existing social and political structures is vital. We need real democracy and radicalism in the center of everything we maintain, demolish or reconstruct; interconnect different kinds of struggles; pursue alliances previously considered unholy; overcome ambiguities; and to establish common frameworks and strategies in order to move forward into action. In the Greek context, there is a stronger than ever need to connect the already existing social-ecological, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist movements and forge a dialectical relationship between them. Degrowth has to mobilise and work with all anti-fascist and anti-capitalist forces in society, and eventually move from academia and the intellectual world to the spaces of struggle. Will degrowth rise to the occasion of confronting the current societal pressures, and eventually bring about the socio-ecological transformations it calls for?
 As the AKC Collective (2023) perfectly puts it “even though the dominant degrowth position does not generally align with the anarchist rejection of the state, there are deep intellectual linkages between these two anti-capitalist currents”. Direct democracy (Cattaneo et al., 2012), and challenging capitalist power, for example, are simultaneously encompassed by both degrowth and the anarchist thought. For Dunlap (2020), “degrowth, in theory, is a natural companion of anarchism and other anti-capitalist autonomist tendencies” and “degrowth is about reducing total material and energy throughput, which entails rejecting elite accumulation and the ideology of capitalism itself.”
 The already existent, within the degrowth scholarship, perspective that calls for a shift from a centralised authority to more decentralised and participatory forms of governance, which can be achieved by empowering local communities, promoting grassroots initiatives, fostering direct democracy, prioritizing local decision-making, community self-determination, and ecological resilience, should be emphasised.