24-01-2021: The marking of January 26 as Australia’s national day is undoubtedly a stain which needs to be removed. January 26 in 1788 marked the beginning of the British colonisation of what later became Australia, and the subjugation and near total genocide of Aboriginal (or First Nations, or Indigenous) people. It is generally accepted amongst archeological researchers that the Aboriginal people had inhabited Australia for at least 60 000 years prior to 1788. What followed was essentially 150 years of dispossession through pitiless war by imperialist envoys and colonial settlers, which later established the Australian state. It is estimated that the Aboriginal population was around 750 000, which was reduced by some 90% in subsequent years. This slaughter came about through the introduction of new diseases the Aboriginal people had no immunity to, and the barbarous expulsion from their ancestral lands they had occupied for millennia through unrestrained and brutal violence.
For decades, Aboriginal people and their supporters have demonstrated on January 26, decrying it as “Invasion Day”. For years, these rallies had mobilised relatively small crowds of Aboriginal people and progressive minded and left-leaning non-indigenous people. Then around 2016, the demand “Change the Date” was raised – calling for Australia’s national day to be changed to some other date other than January 26. This would be a first small step in no longer celebrating the start of a genocide against the original inhabitants as a country’s national day. This demand gained vast support, and the attendance at Invasion Day rallies grew by tens of thousands around the major cities of Australia. Then, some of the indigenous groups organising the rallies abruptly shifted course to adopt the demand “Abolish Australia Day”. Attendance at subsequent Invasion Day rallies dropped substantially, the nation-wide debate lost momentum, and even those who automatically sympathise with the cause of Indigenous rights and the plight of Aboriginal people, were left disconcerted.
What went wrong?
The demand to “Change the Date” of Australia’s national day to not mark the desecration of indigenous people is indeed a moderate demand, but it is a small progressive step forward. It would not end the oppression that Aboriginal people face in Australia – for this is bound up with the entirety of the capitalist system of class domination, which is now generating staggering levels of inequality. However, it would at least strike a significant blow at the base of the establishment of colonialist Australia, by degrading one of the prominent myths about its founding. Small victories are essential on the road to ultimate victories, and the rejection of them in favour of an all-out struggle for total victory is rather unwise. Moreover, the replacement of the demand “Change the Date” with “Abolish Australia Day” has the effect of alienating and turning away the active or passive support of millions of people who readily acknowledge that a great historical wrong was perpetrated against Aboriginals.
The struggle for basic rights of Aboriginal people is a struggle against the foundations of Australian capitalism, and thus is in itself progressive. However, it does not necessarily follow that the politics adopted by Indigenous people and their organisations is always or automatically progressive. In decades past the Aboriginal organisations leading campaigns for justice have aligned their politics largely with left-wing and workers’ causes. Yet in the last five years or so, some leaders of the Aboriginal rights movement have succumbed to a form of identity politics (elevating an identity such as Aboriginality above all else which can lead to self-defeating cross-class alliances) which has harmed the cause. They have been egged on by some parts of the so-called left, which has opportunistically allowed identity politics to flourish. Then last year, during the alleged “Covid pandemic”, these organisations have flipped to almost entirely embrace the colonialist and capitalist power structures they claim to oppose.
Use liberalism when it is moving forward
One of the prominent Aboriginal organisations pushing the “Abolish Australia Day” demand is the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR). While WAR plays a welcome organisational role in leading many Aboriginal rights protests, they have fallen into error, or have been ill-advised, on a series of issues. WAR in Brisbane have organised the January 26 Invasion Day rally explicitly under the demand of “Abolish Australia Day”, claiming that Australia Day is “rooted in white supremacy”, which needs to be “cancelled”, and that there “can’t be an alternative day to celebrate until colonialism is changed in so-called Australia”. What WAR appear not to recognise is that the forces of liberalism – those who have generally progressive viewpoints but have not yet reached the stage of acknowledging the necessity of a workers’ revolution to overthrow the system – are the strongest allies of the cause of Aboriginal rights. It is liberalist political sentiment generally which, when moving in a progressive direction, can immensely aid and assist the Aboriginal rights struggle AND ongoing efforts to improve the wages, health care, education and living standards of working people. To repel the forces of liberalism with the demand “Abolish Australia Day” – when otherwise they would willingly offer their services to bolster the cause – is a political error of the highest order.
The assistance of the forces of liberalism in fact had already made progress towards the demand of “Change the Date”, which indicates that this demand is eminently winnable. Three examples demonstrate this. Back in 2017, the liberal youth radio station Triple J made the decision to move their “Hottest 100” countdown away from January 26 in response to the majority of young people expressing defacto support for “Change the Date”. More recently, the Australian government changed the national anthem by excising the words which understandably offend Indigenous people. “Young and Free” was changed to “One and Free”. One factor which arguably influenced this decision was Indigenous Rugby League player Cody Walker refusing to sing the national anthem before a State of Origin match in 2019. Also, this year organisers of the “Big Bash” cricket tournament announced they would not be referring to “Australia Day” for its fixtures being played on January 26, after consultation with Indigenous elders. There is no doubt these are minor reforms which are symbolic, but they do indicate a very strong public sentiment in favour of the “Change the Date” demand. To throw away this progress, while repelling those who agree with your cause, is a political blunder of some magnitude.
For or against the state?
Some ostensibly socialist parties have capitulated to the political errors of WAR. Socialist Alternative, (SA) writing in their Red Flag newspaper, have not only endorsed the “Abolish Australia Day” demand, they also go onto demand the abolition of the prison system itself. This highlights the fact that, in practice, the demand to “Abolish Australia Day” and NOT allow any marking of a national day, is a demand for the capitalist state to abolish a part of itself. Likewise, the demand to abolish prisons – because they are used to incarcerate Aboriginal people disproportionately – is also a demand for the self-abolition of a part of the capitalist state. Such demands are misleading, because it calls on the capitalist state to act on your behalf, and further fuels illusions that the capitalist state can be made, through “pressure”, to act in the interests of working and oppressed people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous).
Working people feel instinctively that whatever the crimes of the current state, states themselves – including their apparatus of repression, e.g. prisons, cannot YET be abolished and done away with. For one thing, the working class in its struggle against capitalist oppression will most likely have to make use of prisons to deal with its class adversaries, in the interests of their revolution. But this does not at all undermine the overall aim of socialism, which is a classless society. If we advance that far, the classless society will have no need for state repression – for states themselves will “wither away”. Hence, the demands “Abolish Australia (Day)”, “Abolish Prisons”, and even “Defund the Police” now, at this stage, cannot win over a majority of working people, and the raising of them can only disorient and confuse the struggle of workers and the oppressed.
As much as WAR and SA fulminate against the state for colonial oppression and the fostering of nationalism, at the same time they fall into line with the very same state on other rather large issues. WAR, SA and the lockdown left (conservative Union officials and self-declared socialist parties) during 2020 openly embraced the “racist” and “colonialist” and “white supremacist” state when it launched a civil war against working people under the rubric of an alleged Covid-19 “public health emergency”. The “pandemic” was, and is, a ruse which covers for the largest attack on the working class since the 1930s, but the entirety of the liberal political spectrum swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Indigenous and non-indigenous people were subjected to brutal lockdowns along with the virtual removal of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement. WAR and their supposedly left allies were silent while the Australian Army was used to lockdown remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory (NT). While the Australian military was used to assist the police in some Australian cities, non-indigenous people did not face Australian troops locking them in what dwellings they may call their home. Apparently, the use of colonialist state power for repression is fine and dandy, even against Aboriginal people – when the reason is “Covid”. The hypocrisy is staggering.
Liberalism transforms into reaction
The glaring double standards do not stop there. 2020 witnessed the wholesale transformation of liberalism into a fully fledged vehicle for imperialist repression, as they were mobilised as police auxiliaries of Covid repression. Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots in the US, and the WAR led mobilisations for “racial justice” in Australia were both used as political reinforcement of the deep state coup to install Joe Biden and the Democrats AND to demand workers’ subservience to the same capitalist state under the entirely false guise of “public health”. While liberal sentiment can and should be used for progressive causes such as “Change the Date”, liberalism in its entirety must be countered when it acts directly as a cat’s paw for global capitalism. Marxists must know how to skillfully manoeuvre between the two faces of liberalism to advance the interests of workers internationally.
The organisation of this years’ Invasion Day rallies introduces huge contradictions. In some instances, attendees are urged to wear a facemask (!), practice social distancing (!) and stay at home if you have any cold and flu like symptoms (!!). In the first place, the facemask is THE symbol of Covid repression, and is the key indicator of submission to authority. Wearing a facemask while protesting against the capitalist state is like going into a fight with both hands and both legs tied behind your back. It is akin to protesting against Australian nationalism while waving the Australian flag. State enforced “social-distancing” is clearly used to breakdown both human relations and working-class cooperation, not to achieve any medical goal.
Moreover, the facemask and the lockdowns and everything else associated with Covid ideology – is enforced at the point of a gun by the very same colonialist state they are urging us to protest against! The very same state which waged a genocide of historically unprecedented proportions against Aboriginal people – is at the same time trying to save our lives? The very same state which stole children from Aboriginal parents and shipped them off to live with blended families for decades in an attempt to “breed them out” – is at the same time concerned that we might come down with a flu? The very same state which did not officially recognise Aboriginal people as human beings until begrudgingly accepting a referendum result in 1967 – is at the same time trying to protect us using hand sanitiser? No. This state is not “ours”, and indigenous and non-indigenous working people must reject each and every manifestation of its ultra-repressive rule.
This whole scenario is a verification of the basic precept that neither Aboriginal people nor their non-indigenous allies can, on their own, reach the level of political awareness necessary to win liberation. Both identity politics and liberalism are far too easily used by the class enemy. What is required is the assimilation of the full Marxist program. The struggle against racial oppression in Australia and internationally is only progressive when it is integrated with the struggle of working people against the rule of the banks and the stock markets. Covid repression is imposed against Aboriginal people and their working-class allies and is the crystallisation of capitalism declining into a new form of fascism. More than ever, it can best be fought by the linking of Aboriginal and working class struggles via the forging of an integrated multi-racial and multi-ethnic Leninist vanguard party, which champions Aboriginal rights as a key component of the international struggle for a socialist order.
PO Box 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012