27-08-2016 – The Nauru files, a cache of 2000 reports totalling over 8000 pages, present yet more overwhelming evidence of worsening mental, physical and sexual abuse of refugees on the Australian run detention centre on Nauru. Around half of the files present evidence of serious harm to children. Refugees, who have committed no crime, are being subjected to grossly inhumane conditions which amount to nothing less than torture. The files are replete with stories of guards asking for sexual favours from female asylum seekers, beating children and dehumanising the detainees daily. The files are reportedly grim reading for anyone with a shred of humanity.
The detention centre on Nauru is wholly the responsibility of the Australian government. Nauru is the world’s smallest island state, with a population of around 10 000 people. Although the Nauruan government signed the deal, it is not in a position to bargain equally with Australia, which has the world’s 13th largest economy. If the Nauruan government said no to the Australian government run detention centre, the Australian government could easily withhold much needed trade and basic supplies. The refugee rights movement is correct to point the finger directly at the Australian state.
While the refugee rights movement in this country is to be commended for its relentless activity and commitment, which has given the opportunity for those opposed to inhuman behaviour against innocents to mobilise, it also needs to take stock. The refugee rights movement has won some minor gains, but overall the situation remains dire. The Australian government has repeatedly given every indication that no amount of exposure of its crimes against human beings, no amount of damage to the international reputation of the country, and no domestic or international law will deter it from administering unparalleled brutality against those who are its convenient scapegoats. The Australian government rules for the interest of capitalism internationally. It considers that one of the most important duties it must carry out is to actively prevent workers from binding together against the “market forces” which are denying workers here a decent standard of living. If keeping working people blaming “refugees”, “migrants” and other “others” for their own misfortune means carrying out appalling human rights abuses against asylum seekers, then this is what they will do.
For this reason, if no other, the refugee rights movement will either move forward together with the labour movement, or they will fall back separately. It is in the direct interests of the workers to end the vicious mistreatment of refugees, so they can also fight back against their own mistreatment in the workplace, a direct product of the ongoing capitalist economic crisis. The refugee rights movement therefore needs to strategically orient to the labour movement, and seek to encourage it to enter the field of class struggle. It is noted that this is extremely difficult, as the major block towards mobilising workers in their own interests, as well as for basic humanity, is the ideologically pro-capitalist Union officialdom, which, with a few exceptions, so thoroughly integrates itself into the capitalist state that it virtually functions as an arm of the government. In an effort to overcome this, the refugee rights movement should at the least raise demands and slogans aimed towards workers as workers. There are many ways to formulate such demands, but one could be: Workers Demand – Shut Down Nauru!
The refugee rights movement as it stands carries out numerous actions in which working people and supporters of humane treatment of asylum seekers can be a part of. Groups such as the Refugee Action Collective are to be applauded for the organisational work they ceaselessly engage in. At the same time, there are severe political limitations which hamper its impact. For one thing, the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) – and the left parties which underpin it, such as Solidarity (SOL), Socialist Alternative (SALT) and Socialist Alliance (SALL) – make little or no attempt to explain one of the major drivers for the refugee exodus from the Middle East and North Africa – the US led wars for regime change in Libya and Syria. This is for very good reason – these left parties, to the last letter, have not opposed these wars, but backed them. This then flows on as the defacto position of RAC. In this, they are joined by the more mainstream Australian Greens, the labour bureaucracy sitting atop the Unions, and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) front groups such as GetUp! and “Love Makes a Way”. Despite their differences, all of these groups and left parties, RAC, the ALP, the Greens and conservative Union officials line up with the foreign policy of Canberra – tied as it is by a thousand threads to that of the US behemoth.
Make no mistake, the US led war for regime change in Syria has been perhaps the most dishonest of dirty wars ever waged in history. Professor Tim Anderson’s book on the subject has the apt title “The Dirty War on Syria”. The US Empire has been unequalled in the savage barbarism it unleashed in the form of “ISIS” and at least 20 other “Islamic” mercenary terrorist groups. It is an open secret that ISIS and all “opposition” groups in Syria was armed, and/or funded with aid from the governments of the US, France, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan, with assistance from Israel. US Special Forces have entered Syria, and recently pictures emerged of British Special Forces on the ground in Syria. The notion that the US and British troops are there to fight “against” ISIS is patently absurd. It is much more likely that they are in the process of securing patches of Syria as “ISIS-free zones” in order to occupy them themselves and thus facilitate the break-up of the Syrian Arab Republic. For years, Western governments have chanted in unison “Assad must go”, while arming the most reprehensible misanthropes in an effort to do just that.
The wholesale slaughter of men, women and children across Syria has necessarily forced some to flee the country, some becoming refugees within Europe, others fleeing further, including to Australia. At a certain point, imperialism itself used the refugee crisis to further its war agenda. Witness the outcry over the pictures showing a Syrian boy of Kurdish background being washed up after drowning trying to cross with his family from Turkey into Greece in early September 2015. At that moment, groups such as GetUp! and RAC took the bait, and took the streets to demand “action” in Syria. Though unstated, the “action” they demanded was an outright imperialist war of conquest. Many genuine people were thus mobilised for a cataclysmic war, under the guise of concern for refugees.
It was soon after this that Russia finally drew the conclusion that if the US was to overthrow Syria, not only the Middle East, but the entire region could descend further into a conflagration which would almost certainly reach their doorstep. Thus on September 30 2015 Russia, at the invitation of the Syrian government, began a military campaign to eliminate ISIS and all mercenary terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian state. The military campaign has been devastatingly effective in a military and political sense. Militarily, it has finally turned the tables decisively in the interests of the sovereignty of Syria. Politically, it has exposed the US role as the benefactors of ISIS and other terrorist groups, for the US did not want to harm its investments in Syria. Russia has also been joined by Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and most recently, China. We should be clear, the intervention of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and China on the side of Syria has dealt a decisive setback to the aims of US imperialism, and thus these actions can only be supported by working people worldwide. This does not necessarily imply, however, political support for the governments involved.
Furthermore, the turning of the war against US imperialism can only improve the drastic situation for refugees, for now some Syrian refugees are already seeking to return to their home. For with the military might of Russia behind it, it is more unlikely that the Syrian government will be dislodged. It should also be noted that in practice the call to welcome Syrian refugees to Australia was deeply reactionary, in that the draining of the Syrian population from Syria can only ease the conditions for an ISIS victory. But this is precisely what RAC, its constituent left parties, and GetUp! et al overtly spruiked. It is a subtle call for the overthrow of the Syrian government – their aim all along. All of these groups, especially SOL, SALT and SALL, bizarrely refer to US armed mercenaries in Syria beheading their way across that country as “revolutionaries” – without ever being able to name a single group or individual. Thus, while refugee rights supporters should not oppose Syrian refugees coming to Australia, neither should we call specifically for it.
It would be remiss of refugee rights supporters to ignore the role of Canberra in the war for regime change in Syria. In fact, the former Liberal government dispatched Australian troops to Syria, along with six fighter jets, and claimed to be bombing ISIS targets. This has to be taken with a large grain of salt. The Australian ruling class is lockstep with Washington, whose aim has always been regime change. It is more likely that any such bombing clears the way for ISIS. However, this facet of the war became moot when Russia entered the war at the request of the Syrians. The Australian jets soon had to turn tail and run, lest they come up against the far superior Russian jet fighters. Australia, however, still maintains its hardware and troops in Iraq and Syria. This does not assist anything except creating more war and thus more refugees. The refugee rights movement and working people here need to loudly demand: Australian Troops: Out of Iraq and Syria!
Link the refugee rights struggle to standards of living
One reason why the Federal Government’s deplorable treatment of refugees does not immediately provoke mass outrage is the deteriorating living standards which the recession prone capitalist economy has been imposing on Australian working people for at least the last 30 years. It is all too easy, in an economic environment where unemployment is rampant, housing virtually unaffordable, and health and education costs, together with basic services such as electricity and water are skyrocketing, to blame an “other” – in this case refugees. To cut against this, the refugee rights movement needs to link the efforts for humane treatment of those seeking asylum to the struggle to maintain decent living standards for working people. This way, workers can see that there is no contradiction between assisting refugees and asylum seekers, and improving living conditions for everyone here. For example, the refugee rights movement could demand that a job, a Union, housing, health, education and welfare services are entitlements of everyone living here, including refugees and asylum seekers. To undercut any concern about a lack of jobs to go around for Australians and refugees, the Union movement should demand and fight for a drastic reduction in the working week with no loss in pay, to share around the available work and allow all to take part in their communities. It should also demand automatic wage indexation to offset inflation. If the Unions could lead a determined struggle for these demands for all workers, angst towards refugees is likely to fade away.
Despite their pro-war stance, to their credit RAC demands permanent visas, instead of the agony of temporary visas, which allow refugees and asylum seekers to be deported at the whim of the government at any time. However, the refugee rights movement should go further and demand full citizenship rights for all refugees and migrants. There is no more basic right than to be acknowledged as a citizen, and thus have the right to access jobs, housing, healthcare, education, pensions, join a Union, apply for jobs in the public service, and so on. The ruling class does not have the right to decide who can be, and who cannot be, a citizen. To our knowledge, throughout history it is only social revolution which has won this simple democratic right. The first time was during the French Revolution of 1789, the second time was during the Paris Commune of 1871, and the third time was during the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. At that time, the new Soviet government made it clear that any working person, regardless of nationality, resident within the area covered by the victorious revolutionary forces would be welcomed. Before our movement reaches such heights, we need to demand full citizenship rights for all those who have made it to these shores.
Unfortunately, the depth of the economic recession has, in the absence of a strong left-wing alternative, produced ultra-right wing political excrescences such as One Nation, Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front. Mistakenly associating ISIS with Islam, these fascistic goons also blame refugees for the failures of “free enterprise”. The environment of war combined with the “war on terror” propaganda has resulted in some street attacks on those identifiable as “Islamic”. In response, we call for integrated workers defence guards, both to defend refugees and those who follow the Islamic faith, in order to secure peaceful communities for working people to live. At the same time, we give no endorsement of any religious views, recognising that these should remain a private matter.
We should be aware that even if we are able to win humane treatment of refugees here, the world’s refugee crisis will not be solved while capitalism rules five-sixths of the world. The global capitalist economic crisis generates ever more reckless imperialist wars, and flirts with world war against Russia and China. The vast inequalities created by “free markets” cause massive poverty as a matter of course, forcing people to flee in search of a better life. And this is to say nothing of the potential incineration of humanity via runaway climate change, which has already caused its own flow of refugees. The only hope for working people here, and not only to solve the refugee crisis, is to fight for a Socialist Republic of Australia, which can then link up with the existing socialist states in the Asia-Pacific, and reach out to the hundreds of millions of workers in Indonesia and Japan. This task requires the formation of a workers’ vanguard party, which is bound up with efforts to win a class struggle leadership of the Trade Unions. Shut Down Nauru!
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