West Papua: Separatists Incite Violence

A local government building in Manokwari was set ablaze by separatist Papuans. Image from http://www.theguardian.com

West Papua: Separatists Incite Violence

04-09-2019 – The desecration of a national flag, destruction of shops, torching of government buildings. Are we talking about Hong Kong? Try West Papua. In the former, Western governments materially aid separatists[1], while in the latter Western governments diplomatically aid separatists – for now. Separatism in itself, under certain circumstances, may be the correct political move for an oppressed class or nation. Likewise, a movement for independence – up to, and including, the right to form a separate state, may, under specific conditions, resolve political issues in favour of working people. Independence, if achieved against the interests of domestic and international capital, may clear the way for an advance of a workers’ struggle for liberation. In West Papua today, however, a much different situation transpires.

Student disrespect

Just before August 17 – Indonesia’s national day – a post on WhatsApp by a youth organisation displayed a defaced Indonesian flag lying in a gutter near a University dormitory in Java.[2] In response, Indonesian soldiers descended on the University dormitory and accused Papuan students of disrespecting the national flag. During this incident, some soldiers apparently used racist insults, calling them “monkeys”.[3] Reports of this incident triggered protests across Indonesia and throughout West Papua. While racist insults are of course unacceptable, a heated emotional response to the national flag being desecrated on the eve of the national day is understandable. After all, Indonesia’s national day marks the proclamation of Indonesian independence from Dutch colonialism (August 17, 1945), which had ruled Indonesia for 350 years.[4] While nationalists exist in Indonesia as in other countries, animated reaction against Papuan students disrespecting the Indonesian national flag, while being hosted at a Javan University, was likely.

The separatist or independence protests that ensued as a result appeared to have a clear target – Indonesian government built infrastructure, government buildings, and Indonesian commercial activity. Despite the Papuan students using these services, alongside Indonesians themselves, the separatists displayed scant regard for them, or for the danger posed to human life in the process. Like Hong Kong, the protests were in effect violent riots. In Manokwari, the capital of the West Papua province, the local government building was torched and reduced to ashes.[5] The separatists pulled down power poles and set fire to vehicles.[6] A market in Fakfak was set ablaze, as was a prison in Sorong – leading to the escape of 250 prisoners.[7] Also in Sorong, the airport was vandalised and many shops were looted.[8]

Liberation?

The demand “Free West Papua!” sounds alluring and enticing, and is redolent of a struggle for justice and right. In reality, the slogan is devoid of political content, not to speak of class content. More than 200 years ago, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels railed against anarchist opposition in the First International, which called for “freedom” in the abstract, regardless of the development of society in an economic or political sense. “Freedom” in itself is a meaningless term in politics, unless it is referred to in concrete terms and to a certain class it seeks to liberate. West Papuan separatists appear to see “freedom” in terms of being released from integration with Indonesia, or specifically, from non-Papuan Indonesians. While there is some nationalism and racism directed against Papuans from ultra-nationalist groups within Indonesia, this is not reflective of Indonesia as a whole. At the same time, there are eerie elements of Papuan disapproval of Indonesians on the basis of their ethnicity. This does not endow the West Papuan independence struggle – under its current leadership – with wholesome aims.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo stated that he understood why Papuans were offended, and asked that both sides forgive each other as “fellow countrymen”.[9] The governor of East Java, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, apologised for the behaviour of the Indonesian nationalist mobs, and said it does not “represent the…people of East Java”.[10] These are scarcely the words of government leaders who are allegedly carrying out systemic discrimination against Papuans. The extent to which the Indonesian government always enacts fair treatment of Papuans is of course up for debate. However, the intent of the Indonesian government appears to be consistent – it is attempting to integrate Papuans into the whole of Indonesia. In 2001, the Indonesian government granted Papua a status of “Special Autonomy”. This may well be rejected by separatist Papuans, but “liberation” has to have a more positive political program than simply rejecting Indonesia.

A liberation movement also needs a basic honesty, so that all can clearly see that the cause is just. Yet in the hands of the current political leadership, a lack of honesty is the major drawback for the West Papuan independence movement. Time and again, the West Papuan separatist leaders have fabricated blatant untruths in their attempt to whip up false hysteria against “Indonesia”. In December last year, Papuan separatists made the fatuous claim that the Indonesian military used white phosphorus munitions against independence supporters. They allied themselves with reporters who openly sided with US imperialism against Syria, where the US government accused the Syrian government – without evidence –  of using chemical weapons, while at the same time admitting they had themselves used white phosphorus munitions against civilians in Syria.[11] Around April this year, Papuan separatists were backed by Western NGOs in claiming – without a shred of evidence – that 32 000 people had been displaced in the Nduga region in West Papua, and that 34 schools had been damaged by the Indonesian military.[12] No verification was provided. But this doesn’t stop Papuan separatists from trying it on again.

Instigators of violence

Papuan independence supporters raised their hands in horror at the Indonesian government blocking the internet in response to the outbreaks of violence wrought by the crowds they had incited. The Indonesian government claimed that this move was made in order to stop Papuan separatists sharing fake videos to further incite more violence. There were some reports that the Papuan students were circulating a video allegedly showing a student being killed by Indonesian soldiers, which was entirely fake. Without offering the Indonesian government any political support, they appear to be telling the truth here. Why? Because the West Papuan separatists have a history of retailing bald faced lies to artificially pump up support for their movement. It is not beyond belief that the violent riots which occurred in the last week of August were fuelled by the separatists spreading a fake video online. Given that this then lead to a government building being burnt to the ground, an airport vandalised, shops looted, markets set on fire, power poles being felled and more – it is in turn not unreasonable for the Indonesian government to “throttle” or even block the internet in an attempt to prevent further violence.

The political violence instigated by the separatists only follows on from the instigation of military conflict by armed West Papuan militia. Time and again, the armed West Papuan groups provoke violent conflict with the Indonesian military only to claim “oppression” when the inevitable retaliation ensues. It is similar to the situation in Syria, where US/UK armed death squads would attack Syrian government positions, and then claim that the Syrian response to overt violence against them was evidence of an “oppressive regime”.  In December last year, armed Papuan militia slaughtered 31 Indonesian road workers constructing the Trans Papua Highway through the Nduga region.[13] Understandably, the Indonesian security forces had to move in to, at least, recover their bodies and secure the area. Hence, the Indonesian government claims that the military build up in parts of West Papua occurs only in response to the violent attacks from the separatists – are not without foundation.

Rejecting development

At the time, Sebby Sambom of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed that the group deliberately attacked the road workers building the Trans Papua Highway because they reject all infrastructure development programs in West Papua.[14] !  This statement is revealing. The West Papuan separatists appear to be aware that the infrastructure development programs paid for and installed by the Indonesian government will benefit Papuans and non-Papuans alike, and will lead to increased economic activity, contributing to a higher standard of living for all. If this occurs, political support for separatist independence would be likely to dissipate. So to keep alive their aim of separatism, 31 innocent Indonesian workers had to die – and with no apology. Is it any wonder that the separatist Papuans do not attract sympathetic Indonesians to their cause?

The question of the economic and industrial development of West Papua is important. Without offering political support to the Indonesian government, the fact remains that the Indonesian government is ramping up its efforts to connect West Papua, parts of which are still inaccessible due to mountainous and jungle covered territory. The Trans Papua highway is a part of this, but there are also moves to extend electricity coverage to more areas of West Papua. In fact, the Indonesian state owned electricity company PLN recently signed a cooperation agreement with the Indonesian military and some Universities, where the aim is to provide electricity to 99% of the villages across West Papua in 2019.[15] Is this the type of development which is rejected by the armed West Papuan groups – connecting villages to electricity, which have never seen it before? West Papuan independence advocates can arguably claim that the Trans Papua highway will only benefit Indonesians, as most Papuans do not own cars or commercial vehicles. However, it is not plausible to suggest that the electrification of nearly all of West Papua will not benefit Papuans, especially those from the highland areas which are currently in darkness.

Transmigration

The critical issue which is driving some Papuans towards nationalist and pro-independence views is the desire to end the transmigration of Austronesians to Papua from other parts of Indonesia. The transmigration is significant, with Austronesians now making up around 51% of the population to the approximately 49% Melanesian indigenous population. However, there remain huge regional variances within the Papuan provinces. While Austronesian and other transmigrants now outnumber Papuans in urban and coastal areas, Papuans are still the overwhelming majority in the highland interior.[16] To some extent, fears of being pushed out of their own land MAY be understandable IF there was systematic and blatant exclusion of Papuans by the Indonesian government and those who tend to dominate commercial activity. However, it is apparent that the Indonesian government is attempting to integrate them into the “Unitary State” of Indonesia, through granting regional autonomy, spending vast sums on transport and electricity infrastructure, and, where possible,  providing healthcare and education for all residents.

Doubtless, there may be many blemishes on the record of the Indonesian government while attempting to implement their aims. Despite this, the Indonesian government  cannot stand by and allow armed Papuan groups to engage in wanton killings of non-Papuan residents. Nor can it stand by and allow Papuan separatists to engage in terroristic violence such as provoking gunfights with police and the military OR the incitement of crowds to commit riotous acts such as setting ablaze government buildings, markets, shops or transport facilities.

It is true that Marxists MAY sometimes give critical support to a movement for national liberation IF it is directed against imperialism.  However, the current West Papuan “liberation” movement is oriented in the opposite direction. It aims to enlist imperialism to help achieve its aims, both because it knows it cannot defeat the Indonesian military on its own, and because it does not aim to convince Indonesians, let alone Indonesian workers, of the justness of its cause. So there are appeals to the United Nations, to British and Australian parliamentarians, and so on. The British ruling class has partially come to the party, by offering fugitive independence figure Benny Wenda “asylum” in London.[17] The nationalism of a small state often means, in turn, recognising the nationalism of the largest states, as a quid-pro-quo. Working people, from Indonesia, Papua, the UK and Australia – on the other hand – have a material interest in politically combatting the nationalism of small and large states, in their combined struggle for liberation from capitalist imperialism. Papuan separatists, and their supporters, need to decide where they stand.

 

WORKERS   LEAGUE

www.redfireonline.com

E:workersleague@redfireonline.com

PO  Box  66  NUNDAH  QLD  4012

 

[1] https://www.workers.org/2019/08/16/whats-behind-hong-kong-protests/ (26-08-2019)

[2] https://globalvoices.org/2019/08/25/indonesia-sends-in-troops-and-cuts-internet-as-west-papua-protesters-denounce-racist-treatment-of-students/ (28-08-2019)

[3] Ibid, 2.

[4] http://www.bali3000.com/article/IndependenceDayofRepublicofIndonesia.asp (28-08-2019)

[5] https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/explained/article/3023640/explained-riots-indonesias-papua-region (28-08-2019)

[6] https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6337270/jakarta-to-hold-probe-after-papuan-protest/digital-subscription/ (28-08-2019)

[7] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-papua-riots-unrest-history-problems-development-11836300 (28-08-2019)

[8] https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Papua-violence-shows-Indonesia-s-fragile-grip-on-eastern-provinces (28-08-2019)

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/20/indonesian-president-calls-for-calm-after-violent-protests-in-west-papua (28-08-2019)

[10] Ibid, 9.

[11] https://redfireonline.com/2018/12/30/west-papua-corporate-media-enlisted-to-spread-false-claims-fake-news/ (29-08-2019)

[12] https://redfireonline.com/2019/04/27/west-papua-independence-movement-spreads-more-false-claims/ (29-08-2019)

[13] https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2176302/indonesia-probing-reports-rebels-executed-31-construction (30-08-2019)

[14] https://indonesiaexpat.biz/news/free-papua-movement-kills-workers/ (30-08-2019)

[15] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/07/30/pln-signs-deal-to-expand-electricity-in-two-provinces-in-papua.html (01-09-2019)

[16] https://www.globalresearch.ca/indonesias-west-papua-settlers-dominate-coastal-regions-highlands-still-overwhelmingly-papuan/5569676 (01-09-2019)

[17] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-49009326 (01-09-2019)

Jobs for All Workers and…..Stop Adani!

The Black-Throated Finch faces extinction if the Adani mine goes ahead. http://www.abc.net.au

Jobs for All Workers and….Stop Adani!

02-06-2019 – The proposed Adani mega coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, beset from the off by a political campaign to prevent it, has now been given a new lease of life. Pumping blood back into the veins of what will arguably be Australia’s greatest environmental crime is none other than the Labor Party. In the immediate aftermath of the federal Labor Party losing the unlosable election,[1] Queensland Labor Party Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk has moved to accelerate the construction of the mine by demanding a definite timeframe[2] for the building of an ecological nightmare. Since then, Adani’s supposed plan for the preservation of the endangered black-throated finch – a smoke and mirrors archetype – has been approved by the state government, weeks after it was initially rejected.[3]

It is blatantly obvious that the Queensland Premier is reacting to the federal election loss by the Labor Party. Voters in central and north Queensland, desperate for jobs after suffering 25% unemployment in areas such as Townsville, swung to the Liberal National Party presumably on the promise that the Adani coal mine would produce at least some jobs which would stimulate the rest of the economy in those areas. Queensland voters will go to the polls in a little over 12 months, and Premier Palaszczuk holds on to a slim margin in government. In fact, the Queensland Labor Party only scraped home in the last election after Premier Palaszczuk during the campaign announced that it would block a 1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) due to a possible conflict of interest. Her partner at the time was working for Price Waterhouse Coopers, which was involved in Adani’s application for the loan.[4]

This gave the perception that the Labor Party was withdrawing support for the Adani mine – which is hugely unpopular – apart from economically devastated areas of central and north Queensland. This is little more than an illusion. The Labor Party has always been strongly pro-Adani, but has hedged its bets in public statements. For example, aside from the NAIF loan, before the Federal Election the Labor Party ensured Adani received a $400 million taxpayer funded loan, promised to build a $100 million access road, and approved a 60 year unlimited water licence. If this was not enough, the Labor Party has not ruled out extinguishing the native title of the Wangan and Jagalingou indigenous people – who have never approved even the start of the Adani mega mine.[5]

Carbon vortex

It is impossible to understate the environmental damage which will be caused by the Adani mine alone, let alone the other mines slated for construction in the Galilee Basin. The Labor government has approved the use of 12.5 billion litres of water every year from the Suttor River, which compares to 15.4 billion litres of water for all other agricultural users combined.[6] This is on top of an unlimited amount of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin – when of course groundwater is specifically not unlimited. The Adani mine is slated to produce 60 million tonnes of coal per year, all of which will be transported through the Great Barrier Reef.[7] It is estimated that if all of the Galilee Basin coal is burnt, it will release 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, which represents 1.3 times Australia’s total carbon emissions.[8] For comparison, the projected carbon emissions just from the Adani mine would be three times the annual carbon emissions from New Delhi, twice those of Tokyo, six times that of Amsterdam and 20% more than New York City.[9]

The Adani corporation itself is a poster boy for the degeneracy of capitalism. It is basically a corporate criminal, which has repeatedly been charged with tax avoidance, environmental damage, and bribery of government officials – not that the Labor Party needed bribing. The Adani corporation has 26 subsidiaries in Australia, 13 of which are owned through the Cayman Islands. Adani mining poisoned a river in Zambia, and then hid this from the Australian government. In 2011, Adani sunk a coal ship off the coast of Mumbai, causing a massive oil spill. Adani made no attempt to clean up the mess for five years.[10] Socialists are aware that ALL capitalist corporations are unscrupulous, to say the least, but Adani takes the cake for its lawless and reckless behaviour.

Jobs illusion

Regardless of the unquestionable scale of the climate emergency, it is acknowledged that working people need jobs to survive as a first priority, to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. It is understandable to some extent that workers will first lend their political support to any party or part of government where they may perceive that more or better jobs will be the result. This is especially the case in regional Queensland, where youth unemployment levels are at stratospheric levels. A national youth unemployment rate of 12% compares to a 67.1% youth unemployment rate in outback Queensland, and 27.7% in Wide Bay.[11] The official, and grossly underestimated official unemployment rate in Townsville is 8.21%,[12] but it is reportedly more like 25%.

In these desperate circumstances, some workers can latch on to ANY economic development that might occur, which MAY lead to the prospect of ongoing employment. Yet the Adani mine will not produce the jobs they are seeking. Adani – and the Queensland Labor government, first trumpeted that the Adani mine will create “10 000” jobs. This was a bare-faced lie. Adani later admitted that the Carmichael mine will only create around 1500 jobs during the construction phase. Recently, National Party leader and backer of Adani, Bridget McKenzie, admitted that the Carmichael mine will only create “around about 100” ongoing jobs![13] Why? Because Adani itself has stated that the mine will automated “from pit to port”. That is, even the trucks transporting the coal will be driverless. In Queensland, coal mining only accounts for 1.1% of the workforce. Even in North Queensland, 96% of the workforce is NOT employed in an industry that is related to coal mining.[14]

The vast scale of unemployment and the climate catastrophe of global warming are linked. Both are outcomes of the current phase of the system of generalised commodity production where there is private ownership of the means of production. The profit system is at an impasse in all countries where the rule of capital has not been overthrown. To combat this, workers should seek to push their Unions into demanding a shorter working week with no loss in pay. Working hours should be reduced as far as is necessary to obtain full employment. A key demand would be for a 30 hour week – or a six hour day. In addition, workers should demand their Unions lead a struggle for a massive program of public works, to build the sorely needed public infrastructure and health care systems working people need. All workers have the right to decent and secure jobs which provide an adequate standard of living. If the capitalist system cannot provide this, then let it perish.

Stop Adani campaign crashes

The fact that the Adani coal mine is now going ahead at full steam, despite overwhelming public sentiment against it, is proof positive that corporate environmental and “activist” NGOs directly achieve the opposite of what they claim to combat. Despite two solid years of effort, and with history on its side, the official Stop Adani leadership organised barely even one mass action that could have begun a process of exerting serious political pressure. Instead, smaller and “targeted” actions were prioritised, many to coincide with the activities of the bourgeois parliament and their elections. Why was this? Even a brief look at their website reveals they are linked to the “Sunrise Project”, another corporate environmental NGO with a staff chock full of ex-company directors and business high-fliers.[15] Their aim is simply to have capitalism switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and that’s it. The plethora of injustices that the rule of the stock market imposes on working people, the unemployed and the homeless mean nothing to them – and why would it? As long as “free enterprise” continues, they can continue to haul in huge salaries as hangers on to big business, albeit one that claims to be fossil fuel free.

The notorious GetUp! also played a similar role, selectively mobilising their supporters for slick photo-ops at selected locations, while avoiding allowing people who wanted to help any say in what was being planned. GetUp!, despite public denials, is inextricably linked to the Labor Party. GetUp! targets the Liberal Party over Adani, while going soft on the Labor Party by organising pleading petitions to them, in the vain hope that Labor Party politicians will change their mind.[16] They were aided in this strategy by “baby GetUp!” – the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), who organised the “Student Strikes 4 Climate” in the lead up to the Federal Election. They explicitly had a whole campaign organised as the “climate election”.[17] They deceive some indigenous people by organising SEED[18] along the same lines.

The campaign to stop Adani did not fail (so far) because the Liberal Party won the Federal Election. It failed because the conservative leadership of the stop Adani campaign – Stop Adani/GetUp!/AYCC – directed the entire campaign into lobbying the very politicians who had already approved it. But this flows from their politics. Despite the apparent differences of opinion between the Adani corporation and Stop Adani/GetUp!/AYCC, the fact remains that all of them remain staunch partisans of the capitalist system. The only difference is that one wants to continue to use fossil fuels for energy, while the others wans to use “100% renewable energy” (yet 100% renewable energy is another illusion).

Stop Work to Stop Adani

Despite the fact that it is possible to stop the Adani mine this side of the overthrow of capitalism, effectively anti-capitalist methods will need to be used. Most especially, there will be a need for workers around the country to strike against the construction of new coal mines. Other forms of mass action to involve people, such as large demonstrations, will be crucial also, but workers will be key. The banks can sustain any number of weekend rallies against Adani – as necessary as they are. But the capitalist state does not really view a protest movement as an economic liability until workers are prepared to “down tools”. Then it becomes a matter of who exactly is in charge.

Standing in the way of this are the conservative Union officials, almost all of whom have not uttered a word of opposition to the Adani abomination. An exception is Bob Carnegie, the leader of the Queensland branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, which merged with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).[19] However, Mr Carnegie has at the same time actively promoted a vote for the Labor Party amongst his members – which grates against working class progress. The fact is that to have any chance of succeeding, i.e., in stopping the Adani mine, the movement will need to split, not unite, with the entirety of the pro-capitalist stop Adani political leadership. This means a political break with the corporate NGOs (Stop Adani/GetUp!/AYCC/SEED), the capitalist state and all of its parliamentary parties – the Labor Party, but also the Australian Greens. It’s true that the Greens stated opposition in words to Adani – but as parliamentarists they barely contribute to extra-parliamentary action.

There is still time to stop Adani. Overall though, working people need to draw the conclusion that to have any chance of preventing the civilisation bus careering over a cliff, the economic and political power of capital will have to be toppled. In its place workers will need to erect their own state, administered by their own government, which will socialise the means of production and collectively plan the economy to meet the needs of all those who labour. And this revolution requires the leadership of a Marxist vanguard party.

WORKERS   LEAGUE

www.redfireonline.com

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com
PO  Box   66   NUNDAH  QLD   4012

[1] https://redfireonline.com/2019/05/19/liberalism-at-a-dead-end-alp-loses-the-unlosable-election/ (01-06-2019)

[2] https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/queensland/everyone-s-had-a-gutful-queensland-premier-wants-time-frame-on-adani-20190522-p51q0r.html (01-06-2019)

[3] http://theconversation.com/adanis-finch-plan-is-approved-just-weeks-after-being-sent-back-to-the-drawing-board-118114 (01-06-2019)

[4] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/palaszczuk-vows-to-pull-queensland-government-from-adani-loan (02-06-2019)

[5] https://redflag.org.au/node/6794 (02-06-2019)

[6] https://junkee.com/adani-river-water-licence/176102 (02-06-2019)

[7] https://junkee.com/adani-ad-coal-fairfax/114375 (02-06-2019)

[8] https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/adanis-ticking-carbon-bomb/ (02-06-2019)

[9] https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/adani-coal-mine-eco-crime-heres-why/ (02-06-2019)

[10] https://adanifiles.com.au/#key-finding (02-06-2019)

[11] http://library.bsl.org.au/jspui/bitstream/1/10573/1/BSL_Unfair_Australia_Mapping_youth_unemployment_hotspots_Mar2018.pdf (02-06-2019)

[12] https://economy.id.com.au/townsville/unemployment (02-06-2019)

[13] https://theaimn.com/bridget-mckenzie-revealed-the-adani-jobs-lie-and-no-one-noticed/?fbclid=IwAR1Oy7S_kT4ChOeIHlWa1BmRJHzqLQvQgr8E6M_LnWms51Iv_3Yf6DCM7iQ (02-06-2019)

[14] Ibid, 13.

[15] https://sunriseproject.org.au/people/ (02-06-2019)

[16] https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/great-barrier-reef–3/stop-adani/stop-adani-s-dodgy-reef-destroying-mine (02-06-2019)

[17] https://www.aycc.org.au/climate_election (02-06-2019)

[18] https://www.seedmob.org.au/ (02-06-2019)

[19] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/queensland-unionist-urges-labor-to-put-climate-action-ahead-of-coal-jobs-20190525-p51r4i.html (02-06-2019)

Invasion Day 2019: Which Way to Justice?

Invasion Day 2019: Which Way to Justice?

26-01-2019 – As we move deeper into the 21st century, the general condition of the Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants and custodians of the continent which was later named Australia, remains precarious. A terrible reminder was the news that there were five Aboriginal youth suicides in the first weeks of the New Year, and a sixth was being treated in hospital after another attempt. Three were in Western Australia, in Perth, Port Hedland and Warmun, and one each from Adelaide and Townsville. Aboriginal children attempt suicide at five times the rate of non-indigenous children, and crushing poverty remains the largest driver of such tragic outcomes.[1] Homelessness, lack of healthcare, education and basic infrastructure for remote indigenous communities remains a critical problem, which no Australian government has even bothered to seriously address. Where Aboriginal people live in large urban areas, the systematic discrimination they face in housing, education and employment is a constant reminder of an oppression not faced by non-indigenous people and migrants who have made Australia their home.

In recent years, there has been a push to change the date of the marking of January 26 as Australia’s national day, due to the offensive nature of celebrating the founding of the nation on the very day which, in 1788, marked the beginning of a war by British colonialists against the Aboriginal people.  The movement to “Change the Date” had gained significant support amongst Australian people, with one poll showing that a slight majority – 56% would favour changing the date of Australia Day – provided there was a day which could be marked as Australia’s national day. The same poll had an overwhelming 84% of respondents stating it was important that Australia did have some day of commemoration and celebration.[2] As if to deliberately wind back this sentiment, Liberal Party Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weighed in on the side of reaction, with an edict that local councils must hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26. In addition, he has attempted to ban the wearing of thongs and board shorts at such ceremonies.[3] Apart from the clothing, this move is yet another express insult to indigenous people, and an attempt to derail the generally progressive steps behind the “Change the Date” movement. Labor Party Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has unsurprisingly joined with the Liberal Party in stating that January 26 will remain Australia Day with Labor on the government benches in Canberra.[4]

Abolish Australia Day?

Last year, the indigenous group Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), put forward the demand “Abolish Australia Day”, counterposed to the demand “Change the Date”. WAR plays a tremendous organisational role, facilitating and enabling rallies and other events which drive the movement for Indigenous rights forward. However, we would argue that the tactics of WAR on this issue are mistaken, could lead to the groundswell of support behind “Change the Date” being nobbled, and risks alienating and turning away large numbers of people who would otherwise enthusiastically march side by side with Indigenous people. Without such mass support, the struggle for indigenous rights could become more difficult, and battles which could have been won may need to be fought again.

In one sense WAR are correct to imply that changing the date of Australia’s national day will not change the adverse material circumstances facing indigenous people. In one sense it will allow Australian nationalism to take place on another day of the year. But a mass movement which successfully changed the date of Australia’s national day would also be likely to enable a strengthening of the movement for justice for Aboriginal people, which would thereby engender more momentum behind the more far-reaching demands that are also necessary – such as a Treaty and genuine land rights. For example, a move by the Aboriginal rights movement now to abolish the result of the 1967 referendum would scarcely garner any support – and it is unlikely that any would argue that doing so would advance the Aboriginal justice movement today. In 1967, a referendum was passed which proposed to include Aboriginal people in the census, and to allow the federal government to make laws for Aboriginal people.[5] The passing of this referendum was imperfect, and not overly radical, in that it did not enact full equality between Aboriginal and non-indigenous people. However, it was a major boost for the further development of the Aboriginal rights movement – Aboriginals were officially recognised as people!  Arguably, it later enabled the movement for Aboriginal land rights to launch on the back of this victory.

Aboriginal nationalism versus white nationalism?

It is understandable that WAR spurn Australian identity, and even Australian citizenship, given the genocidal intent of the actual war which was waged against indigenous people by the colonial setter state, and continues in the form of systemic racism. WAR thus adopt Aboriginal nationalism as their credo, in opposition to Australian nationalism, or even white nationalism. Yet a separatist Aboriginal nationalism necessarily excludes the most important potential ally of the indigenous people – non-indigenous and migrant workers, who, while not experiencing the oppression of Aboriginal people, are nonetheless oppressed by the capitalism upheld by the very same colonial settler state. Non-indigenous and migrant workers have no option but to accept the Australian nationality, because it is imposed upon them. But this does not mean that they will automatically go on to adopt Australian nationalism or white nationalism. The development of working class politics – of which the Aboriginal struggle for justice is a component part – is the key to countering the development of harmful Australian or white nationalism. The degree to which working people of all resident nationalities struggle together with pro-working class indigenous people will condition the degree to which white nationalism can decisively be buried. More to the point, sustained efforts towards the overthrow of the system of production for private profit, and the initiation of socialism through the construction of working class state power, is what will finally defeat poisonous Australian and white nationalism.

Australian capitalism was founded on the dispossession of the Aboriginal people. Of this there is no doubt. WAR would no doubt agree with this fundamental proposition. However, WAR does not then go on to advocate the supersession of capitalism with socialism. WAR talks of combatting white nationalism, and allying with refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people, disabled people, Queers, Transgender people and non-white migrants to do so. But they fall short of seeking to ally themselves with the multiracial working class for the purpose of combatting the oppression of themselves and other oppressed sectors of society. Building progressive political movements – including the Aboriginal rights movement, as needed as they are, will only go so far. What is required for the ending the double oppression of indigenous people and the class oppression of non-indigenous people is the building of a multiracial vanguard workers’ party which leads a successful struggle for a workers’ republic.

In a Facebook post, WAR refer to the recent Nazi rally at St Kilda beach in Melbourne, in which ultra-right wing groups targeted African-Australians for racial harassment. They claim that the “white Nazi rallies are only able to happen because white liberalism paved the way”.[6] In this, WAR is only half correct. Liberalism, both black and white, paves the way for the potential rise of fascism. Nazism and/or fascism can only come about where the left has yet to form a workers’ party of sizeable influence, in response to the ongoing assaults against all of the oppressed by “free market” casino capitalism. If working people see no political alternative being offered to the virtually complete unanimity of the major parties, some workers will turn to the far right. Some will even embrace Nazism out of sheer desperation. Given the significant depression of the Western capitalist economies in Europe, the US and Australia since 2008, the problem of the absence of serious Marxist parties has reached a critical point. The growth of Nazism and the far right is one expression; the emergence of the “Yellow Vest” movement is another.

Prison abolition?

In addition to the “Abolish Australia Day” demand, WAR also put forward other demands working people can support. These include “Stop Black Deaths in Custody”, “Stop Taking Our Kids” and “Aboriginal Sovereignty NOT Constitutional Recognition”. At the same time, they also put forward the demand to “Shut Down Prisons”.[7] The demand for prison abolition is problematic, however. There is no disputing that the prisons are used to oppress indigenous people. One glance at statistics indicating the grossly disproportionate rate of Aboriginal incarceration in Australia will demonstrate this in spades. Over the last 10 years, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people jailed has risen 88%, with indigenous people now thirteen (13) times more likely to end up in prison. Aboriginal women now make up a staggering 34% of all female prisoners, which represents a 148% increase since 1991.[8] These figures are some of the highest in the world.

Workers must be clear, though, that these are the prisons of the capitalist (Australian) state. They are the same prisons which are used to imprison impoverished non-indigenous working people who have gone astray largely due to the difficulties of living in a society of extreme inequality. Yet the catastrophically high indigenous incarceration rates indicate how the capitalist state uses racial oppression to keep working people divided, to prevent them from joining together to rise against their state. Prisons, like the courts, the police, the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and the civil service bureaucracy are the key apparatus of the class rule of capital, wielded against working people. Calling for the abolition (or “shut down”) of prisons is in practice a demand for the capitalist state to abolish itself. Working people know that injustices abound in prisons, but they instinctively sense that in the struggle to overthrow capital’s enslavement of wage earners, some prisons may well be necessary. The state itself can only be “abolished” in a global classless society of super-abundance – the higher stage of socialism. To reach that stage, the working class must first replace the capitalist state with its own workers’ state. Such a state will likely have a need for its own prisons, as well as its own courts, its own armed forces and so on. Yet these key sections of a workers’ state will only be used to hold down the remnants of the old order – those who, for example, imprisoned Aboriginal people wholesale.

Critical support for “Change the Date”

In the face of the reactionary determination of Liberal PM Scott Morrison and Labor Party “Opposition” leader Bill Shorten to enforce January 26 as Australia’s national day, we argue that workers should give critical support for the demand to “Change the Date”. This of course does not preclude raising and fighting for more far reaching demands such as: a Treaty, a program of public works specifically offering employment for Aboriginal people, the fullest possible autonomy for Aboriginal communities who desire it, and the full provision of government services (water, electricity, housing, healthcare etc.) for those who do not. The “Change the Date” demand, ergo, does not even contradict WAR’s demand for “Aboriginal Sovereignty NOT Constitutional Recognition”. We can swing behind “Change the Date” while at the same time recognising that it does not go far enough.

Marxists maintain that nations emerged as a form of human community specific to the rise and consolidation of commodity-capitalist social relations. While there is no doubt that the Australian nation was and is founded on the brutal and horrific crimes of dispossession and war against the indigenous people, it does not follow that Aboriginal (or cultural) nationalism will therefore aid their emancipation. Nations are also an aggregation of irreconcilable classes, and the two major classes which are decisive are labour and capital. It is the rule of capital – private production based on private ownership of the means of production – which is the source of the oppression of both the Aboriginal people AND the working class. Aboriginal people can thus only be liberated alongside workers brought to political power.

This does not mean a simple merging of the Aboriginal struggle into the working class struggle for socialism. It does, however, mean a struggle to form a multiracial Leninist vanguard party, combined of the most class conscious workers, pro-working class Aboriginals and migrants of all backgrounds. Such a party will then champion Aboriginal rights as a component part of the international battle against the capitalist imperialism which threatens humanity itself. The revolutionary integration of the Aboriginal rights struggle with the workers’ cause will illuminate the path to reparative justice.

WORKERS  LEAGUE

www.redfireonline.com

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

PO  Box  66   NUNDAH  QLD  4012

[1] https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2019/01/15/indigenous-youth-suicide-crisis-point (20-01-19)

[2] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-18/australia-day-debate-more-than-half-dont-mind-changing-the-date/9337500 (20-01-19)

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/13/scott-morrison-forces-councils-to-hold-citizenship-ceremonies-on-australia-day (20-01-19)

[4] https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/bill-shorten-australia-day-january-26/ (20-01-19)

[5] https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-1967-referendum (20-01-19)

[6] https://www.facebook.com/events/2199768573624040/?active_tab=discussion (20-01-19)

[7] Ibid, 6.

[8] http://caama.com.au/news/2018/law-council-of-australia (20-01-19)

For Real Women’s Liberation…There Is Only Revolution!

For Real Women’s Liberation….There Is Only Revolution!

Rosie the Riveter, the image which often denotes the Women’s Liberation movement.

10-03-2018 – As we mark another International Women’s Day, a quick glance at basic numbers show just how far away the goal of equality, let alone liberation, for women remains. By the Australian government’s own statistics, women are paid $26, 527 less than men per year averaged out across all occupations.[1] The official gender pay gap is 17.9%, or $284.20 per week.[2]  Domestic violence figures are nothing but shocking. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of the increasing scale of domestic violence. In Australia it is estimated that one woman per week is murdered by her current or former partner, one in three women have experienced physical violence, and one in five women have experienced sexual violence.[3] Aboriginal women suffer rates of domestic violence that are many times higher. To the astonishment of those who believed that it had been previously won, access to the medical procedure of abortion remains on the criminal statutes in Queensland and New South Wales.

Why, despite all the gains of the second wave of feminism (the 1960s and 70s), do women still experience the myriad manifestations of oppression, even in the most “advanced” and wealthiest countries, topped with the most “liberal democratic” parliaments? In a word, because capitalism still rules, at least in Australia, Europe, and the United States, despite the ongoing economic crisis they have endured since 2008. The second wave of feminism, for all its victories, did not aim at the overturn of the rule of capital, despite a section of its participants supporting what they understood as “socialism”. Although some still adhere to a “left-wing” feminism, the second wave was relatively easily bought off and diverted into academia, high-paying public service jobs, or indeed the corporate world itself.

International Working Women’s Day

International Women’s Day began as International Working Women’s Day, as it was Clara Zetkin who was instrumental in pushing for its marking internationally. Zetkin was a German Marxist who worked within the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), but later joined the Independent Social-Democratic Party and then the far-left Spartacist League after the SPD had shown its true colours by fully backing the imperialist slaughter of the First World War. Zetkin was heavily influenced by the Bolshevik Party in Russia, and indeed worked closely with its central leader VI Lenin on a number of issues. Later, after the victory of the socialist revolution, the Soviet Union awarded her the Order of Lenin, the highest honour of the workers’ state. Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxembourg and other founders of International Working Women’s Day were crystal clear on what can actually lead to the end of thousands of years of women’s subjugation through class society – the triumph of a proletarian revolution.  They were also crystal clear on what the feminists of that time were really about – the winning of acceptance for wealthy and ruling class women within the male dominated echelons of the capitalist elite. All feminists in that time were bourgeois feminists, who cared not one whit about working class and poor women.

The family as a pillar of class society

The ABCs of Marxism locate the oppression of women within society’s smallest repressive unit – the nuclear family. Indeed, the three pillars of class society remain the family, private property and the state. The family is where, despite all the advances of the 20th century, women are primarily responsible for the care and welfare of its members, the upbringing of the young, and an overwhelming proportion of domestic labour. This burden is not lifted even where women take part in the labour force, not simply due to centuries of tradition, but also current government policy. The taxation system rewards mothers who stay at home full-time, and an unemployed woman cannot access meagre unemployment benefits if she is married, or even in a live-in relationship with a man. Basic child care is now privatised, and prohibitively expensive for most working class women. Capitalism is thus not simply an unequal economic system – it is also comes with political and ideological justifications for the second class status of women – which are ultimately enforced by the armed police and military wings of its state.

As the family arose historically in concert with the formation of class society, it follows that the family, and women’s oppression within it, cannot be dissolved without the dissolution of class society itself. Frederick Engels, co-founder with Karl Marx of the theory of scientific socialism, sketched the outlines of how women could be relieved of the duties that society itself should be responsible, enabling the full participation of women in productive, political and social life:

With the passage of the means of production into common property, the individual family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of children becomes a public matter.”

In the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution, the new Soviet government began to implement some of these far-reaching changes. Communal laundries, communal eating houses and crèches which delivered essentially free child care were established. Marriage was made a civil registration issue, which could be dissolved at the request of either party. Property ownership and inheritance was separated from marriage. The concept of illegitimate children was abolished, as were all feudal laws against homosexuality. Abortion was made a part of the health system, and provided to all women who needed it. Although all these gains were later reversed through the isolation of the Soviet Union and the lack of other workers’ revolutions breaking through, these efforts remain a glimpse of what is possible with workers in power.

Can a feminist movement deliver?

A workers’ government, however, or anything even remotely approaching it, is not the aim of what is loosely described as a feminist movement today. This is not because there are not many women within it who are appalled at the direction in which society is heading, and even are dead against the capitalist system with its numberless crimes. Primarily, this flows from essentially classless feminist ideology, which sees the fundamental division in society as being between women and men, rather than being between labour and capital. Of course, there are feminists who recognise that it is not men per se who are the enemy. There are various strands of feminism which do not advocate separatism. And there are also “socialist” and “Marxist” feminists who claim that socialism and feminism can be melded together as easily as writing down the words in succession. But this is an illusion.

Practice is always the test of theory. And in practice, as long as the feminist movement includes ALL women, or states that its aim is to liberate ALL women, the movement will be tied up in its own contradictions. As long as Gina Rinehart, the billionaire mining magnate, and Anna Bligh, the former Labor Party premier who is now head of the Australian bankers association, can claim that they are part of the feminist movement by virtue of their gender, feminism will lie exposed as a cross-class doctrine which ultimately only serves the elite. Even female small business owners, high-paid lawyers and journalists have no real interest in abolishing the system of private production for private profit. While they may experience some discrimination that all women face, materially they can virtually buy their way out of oppression.

Moreover, a feminist movement which allies itself with ruling class women, or political representatives of them such as the Labor Party – can only damage the prospects of working class women, regardless of their intentions. Sometimes this is explicit. The blurb for the International Women’s Day rally being organised in Brisbane this year actually states point blank that “Women’s liberation means ALL women, all classes [!?!}, all backgrounds, from all countries and all cultures”. It seems unnecessary to have to point out that if class privilege and class exploitation continues, working class women will continue to suffer unbearably, while wealthy women will sail along basically unaffected. And this is to say nothing of the poverty and anguish that women in the Third World endure. Yet this is the logic of an “all inclusive” (classless) feminist movement.

In the same way that humanity cannot be liberated from capitalism other than through the seizure of state power by the working class, women cannot be liberated in any other way other than through a socialist revolution. That is, the oppression all women suffer cannot be eliminated without first liberating working class women. It is axiomatic that a socialist revolution can only succeed by politicising and mobilising the workers, regardless of gender. Its immediate concern is not at all the middle and upper classes. Similarly, a movement for women’s liberation can only succeed if it aims at empowering working class women – rather than well-paid women in comfortable corporate or academic careers, nor indeed, well-remunerated female but conservative Union officials, building superannuation nest eggs on the back of the workers’ dire needs.

Feminists for imperialist war

The political elements leading this year’s International Women’s Day rallies appear to be a combination of the dead hand of the Labor Party (even Labor Party Members of Parliament!), conservative Trade Union officials, the Australian Greens, domestic violence support and health services, polite society women’s peace groups, Amnesty International through to left parties such as the Socialist Alliance and the Cloudland Collective. These seemingly disparate political groups give the impression that they stand not only for a world free of discrimination against women, but also a world full of peace and harmony. Yet little could be further from the truth. Each and every one of these political organisations were either silent, or were vociferous advocates, of the imperialist wars on Libya and Syria, which were unforgivable crimes of annihilation over the last seven years. Further, not one of them utters a word of dispute, let alone opposition, to the relentless drive to thermonuclear war led by the US Empire targeting Russia, Iran, the DPRK (“North Korea”) and China. It is their collective fealty to Anglo/US/AUST imperialist power, rather than their dissent, which enables them to unite for “women”.

To be sure, there are some women and individuals who identify as feminist who genuinely oppose imperialist war, from whichever direction it approaches. But while these folk remain united with the likes of the Labor Party here, not to speak of embracing Hilary “Destroyer of Worlds” Clinton in the US as one of their own, they will continue to pay yeoman’s service to the very cause they themselves oppose. It is scarcely necessary to state that one cannot claim, in any way, to stand for the rights of women while simultaneously backing the potential military obliteration of millions of women from Libya, Syria, Russia, Iran, China, the DPRK or whichever Third World country next bobs up on the Pentagon’s radar.

For a workers’ party which champions women’s liberation

It is one of the most revealing non sequiturs – feminist activists railing against the very real problem of domestic violence against women, whilst looking away as Canberra follows Washington into yet another atrocious war. Yet this contradiction flows naturally from other feminist contradictions. While rightfully highlighting the injustices of the gender pay gap, abortion services remaining out of reach, the double shift (paid work and domestic work), the crushing expectations to be perfect mothers and sex symbols at the same time, not being safe on the streets at night and so on, the feminist movement is effectively still captive to the bourgeois feminists – almost exactly 100 years after the October Socialist Revolution. That is, in practice, the feminist movement campaigns against the effects of the capitalist system, rather than the rule of capital itself. This is consciously backed by the likes of the Labor Party, self-serving Union officials, and pro-corporate women’s advocacy organisations, but unconsciously backed by those trailing in their wake, including some left parties.

The second wave of feminism, in the 1960s and 70s, undoubtedly made some serious gains for the standing of women, at least in the countries of the First World. However the feminist movement today is still hampered by a political leadership loyal to ruling class women, but now with a more sophisticated “inclusive”, and even pro-Union, vernacular. What is desperately needed is not a feminist movement as such, but a movement for women’s liberation. The political leadership of such a movement would be committed to irreconcilable opposition to the capitalist system in toto. This means a leadership which does not hesitate to split from ANY representative of the ruling elite, especially the likes of the Hilary Clinton, Anna Bligh or Annastacia Palaszczuk. More than this, the capitalist Labor Party cannot be allowed to pose as the saviour of women for a moment longer. Women’s liberation can only be really championed by a Marxist vanguard party, which stops at nothing to weld together the most politically advanced and class-conscious women and men in a resolute struggle to overturn the lawless rule of finance capital. The liberation of women begins with the triumph of socialism. Let us build it now.

————————————————————————————————————

WORKERS   LEAGUE

E:workersleague@redfireonline.com

P.O. Box  66   NUNDAH  QLD   4012

http://www.redfireonline.com

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-17/women-paid-$26,527-less-than-men-per-year-but-pay-gap-narrowing/9159468 (24-02-2018)

[2] www.security4women.org.au/equal-pay/gender-gap (24-02-2018)

[3] https://www.ourwatch.org.au/understanding-violence/facts-and-figures (24-02-2018)

Change, Abolish or Overthrow? Which Way to Indigenous Justice?

Change, Abolish or Overthrow?    Which Way to Indigenous Justice?

26-01-2018 – As the calendar marks another January 26, the spotlight is once again focused on the revealing fact that Australia’s national day marks the beginning of an attempted extermination war fought against the indigenous people of this land. The war raged for 150 years, and its legacy remains burned into the very establishment of the imposed capitalism the British Empire spread in the days of its colonial “grandeur”.  In many ways the war continues, and Aboriginal people still cop the iron heel of oppression which no amount of “reconciliation” can gloss over. For example, Aboriginal people represent no more than 3% of the total Australian population, yet make up 28% of the prison population. A staggering 48% of juveniles in police custody are Aboriginal. The United States of America was founded on African-American chattel slavery, yet today 0.6% of African-American men and women languish in the notoriously overpopulated US prison system. By contrast, 6.7% of Aboriginal men and women are behind bars in the “wide brown land”.[1]

The life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people remains at around 10 years, with Aboriginal people perishing, on average, 10 years before non-indigenous people. By the government’s own figures, much greater incidences of circulatory, respiratory, nutritional and endocrine related disease account for most of this, as well as increased rates of cancer.[2]  Figures for the rates of indigenous employment are particularly galling. As recently as 2015, less than half (46%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 15 were employed.[3] The housing conditions for indigenous people, especially in remote areas, are arguably worse than comparable Third World standards. On Palm Island, there is an average of 17 people per household staying or living there, often in only 3 bedroom dwellings. In the Northern Territory (NT), 90% of all homeless people are Aboriginal, and the NT is the location for 60% of all “severely overcrowded dwellings”.[4] The “cashless welfare” trials – first used only on Aboriginal people, where welfare payments are quarantined onto a credit card – directly sets up apartheid like system of open public discrimination.[5] These elements are only a part of the real oppression faced by the first inhabitants of what became Australia, a presence that pre-dated British colonialism by some 60 000 years. White Australia does indeed have a Black history, but one that is continually trampled on – with January 26 as the “national day” representing an open wound.

Change the Date or Abolish Australia Day?

January 26 marks the first landing of Captain Cook at Sydney Cove in 1788. From that date, the genocide and dispossession of the Aboriginal people began (hence “Invasion Day”). It was not until 1967 that Aboriginal people were officially recognised as part of the Australian population. This stark injustice has been protested by Aboriginal people and their supporters for decades – the first known protests taking place in 1938. Australia was established as a colonial-settler state, but genuinely acknowledging the prior custodianship of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would call into question the legitimacy of the Australian nation. Hence, the Australian ruling class attempt to deny this history, while its police and state institutions deal out horrific levels of repression against indigenous people.

In recent years, demands to change the date of Australia Day have become louder and louder, prompting the radio station Triple J to cease playing its “Hottest 100” on January 26. Last year in Melbourne, Invasion Day protests gathered a crowd of 50 000. The Australian Greens have been prominent in supporting demands to change the date of Australia’s national day from January 26 to another day. A Greens Victorian MP, who is herself indigenous, reportedly received death threats for suggesting that the Australian flag should be flown at half-mast on January 26, to recognise that the day is a day of mourning for many Aboriginal people.[6] Struggles to change the date of Australia Day will need to confront and defeat the prevalent racism that has resulted from its colonial history.

This year, the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) have raised the demand “Abolish Australia Day”, seemingly as a counter to the demand to #changethedate. WAR play a tremendous organisational role in facilitating and enabling political action to fight the ongoing injustices perpetrated against Indigenous people. WAR certainly have a point that the “change the date” demand is being backed by some conservative and mainstream elements, who seek to foster a kind of liberal nationalism. The Greens and the ABC funded Triple J are certainly at the forefront of this drive, but it is even backed by some employers. However, while the struggle of the Aboriginal people against their oppression is always progressive, it does not necessarily flow that the politics of the leading Aboriginal groups will follow in this direction. WAR’s political program is that of Aboriginal nationalism.[7] We argue that all nationalisms represent a dead end for working people, and Aboriginal nationalism, especially the separatist variety sometimes given credence by WAR, is also problematic.

In asserting their own Aboriginal nationalism, by raising the demand “Abolish Australia Day”, WAR effectively deny the only national identity available to their non-indigenous allies, the most important of which is the multi-racial working class. For workers, neither is Australian nationalism the answer, as the fundamental division, as in all capitalist societies, is between the working class and the ruling (capitalist) class. However, we argue that the demand to change the date of Australia’s national day should be given critical support by working people, only insofar as it represents the wresting of an important concession from the elite who are responsible for the oppression of both the indigenous people and the working people. The support is critical, because it can easily be recognised that liberal and conservative working class opponents (corporations, employers, NGOs, the Greens and even some within the ALP and the LNP) can also come behind this demand – and some already have.

What is a nation?

Russian revolutionary leader VI Lenin once quipped a nation is “the bourgeoisie together with the proletariat”. This apparently off-hand remark nonetheless exposes all nationalisms as inimical to the interests of working people, in Australia and internationally. Marxists recognise that nations correspond to a particular socio-economic mode of production (capitalism), which came into existence with its rise, but will fade away into irrelevance once it stagnates into decay, to be replaced by a superior and higher mode of production (socialism). Nations are constituted historically, politically and economically, over a period of time. There is no doubt that the Australian nation was founded on barbaric genocide against the Aboriginal people, who were forcibly dispossessed. The profit system was then established on the mainland as well as surrounding islands, on the backs of the exploitation of wage labour. Despite the Aboriginal people not being fully integrated into the working class, through no fault of their own, it is the shared oppression that the Aboriginal people experience alongside Australian workers which is the key to their liberation. This remains the case even as we recognise that the oppression of Aboriginal people is in many ways more substantial than that of working class oppression.

The demand to Abolish Australia Day certainly sounds militant, but does not offer a way forward. WAR are correct to imply that simply changing the date of Australia’s national day will do little to address the ongoing issues the Aboriginal people face. We do not critically support a minor reform in order to thereby garner greater support for the Australian nation, much less the billionaire class which rules Australia. On the contrary, we critically support democratic reforms in order to allow the best conditions for the building of working class opposition to capital – the real source of Indigenous and working class oppression. Minor reforms, once achieved, tend to highlight the fact that conditions have not substantially changed, and attention often then turns to more basic aspects of capitalist exploitation.

WAR can also refer to indigenous people as “First Nations People”. Through this they imply that the approximately 500 Aboriginal tribes which inhabited what is now known as Australia were actually nations – either already established or in the making. These did occupy certain areas of the continent, and spoke their own languages. But the possibility of an Aboriginal nation – either one single one or five hundred small ones – coming into being through mutual economic exchange and the development of a definite political economy was annihilated by the invading British colonialists, who went on to establish their own nation over the top of the remnants of their brutal conquests.

This nation today contains vast inequality, being a component link in the chain of global capitalism, not to speak of being a willing vassal of US imperialism. As such, its economy today is in dire recession, and has been since the onset of the “global” financial crisis in 2008. Unemployment, poverty, homelessness, relentless de-funding of health and education are just some of the inevitable results. What is needed is the overthrow of the rule of capital and the establishing of a workers government, as part of the first rounds fired in struggle for world socialism. Only with workers in power will the long suffering Aboriginal people have a chance to seriously address their intolerable material conditions. In part, WAR does recognise the necessity for working class support, through their various contacts with some Unions.

For revolutionary integration

To be sure, it is understandable that some Aboriginal groups may make the error of adopting variations of cultural or black nationalism in the absence of a strong working class and left-wing movement. The chief culprits for this dire state of political affairs, where most younger workers can barely imagine what class struggle looks like, are the conservative and craven careerists of the trade Union bureaucracy, who ideologically defend capitalist rule. With a few exceptions, these well-paid Union careerists have almost totally abandoned the Aboriginal people to their fate – when they should be at least helping to mobilise workers to defend indigenous rights. This manifest misleadership of the Unions is assisted by some left parties, who recognise the betrayal of the Union leaders, but fear a political break with them.

In a similar way in which the Black Panther Party in the US was formed as a reaction against the tame liberalism of Martin Luther King, WAR appears to be a militant Aboriginal reaction to the abject lack of Union-led defence of the oppressed people of Australia, and the lack of a strong left-wing workers party. Despite the heroic bravery of the Black Panthers, their black nationalism impeded their political development in the direction of genuine Marxism – despite some adopting off-cuts of Maoism. The Black Panthers were unable, or chose not, to link with the US working class, and thus were eventually eliminated by the murderous police actions of the US state. We sincerely hope that nothing like this will be the fate of WAR, but their adoption of the ideas of Aboriginal and/or cultural nationalism loom as a barrier to forming the necessary bonds with Australian workers.

A bridge must be found between the primitive socialism of the Aboriginal tribes and the advanced socialism which supercedes capitalism as a higher mode of production, where advanced technology is used for the purpose of reducing, and eventually eliminating, alienated labour. That bridge is the multi-racial and multi-ethnic Leninist vanguard party, integrating the most class-conscious militants from amongst the Aboriginal, migrant and Australian born working class communities. Such a party will champion Aboriginal liberation as a component part of the socialist revolution which must overturn the rule of the banks, the CEOs, and the stock exchange.

The centralised political power of the ruling elite, with its army, its courts, its prisons and civil service must be met by the centralised political power of the working class, despite all manner of its heterogeneous cultures, backgrounds, indigenous and non-indigenous heritage, languages and so on. So long as the majority of Australian workers follow, or cannot articulate an opposition to, conservative Union leaderships, there will be no revolution – and no liberation for Aboriginal people – in this country. A revolutionary workers party is aimed at resolving this crucial issue. Let us build it now.

WORKERS  LEAGUE

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

www.redfireonline.com

PO Box  66   NUNDAH  QLD  4012

[1] https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/law/aboriginal-prison-rates (18-01-2018)

[2] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/indigenous-australians/mortality-life-expectancy-2008-2012/contents/summary (20-01-2018)

[3] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4714.0~2014-15~Main%20Features~Labour%20force%20characteristics~6  (20-01-2018)

[4] https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/overcrowded-houses (20-01-2018)

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-02-15/shopping-with-basics-card-like-apartheid/331940 (20-01-2018)

[6] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/aboriginal-mp-receives-vile-threats-over-australia-day-flag-call-20180119-h0l51i.html (20-01-2018)

[7] https://issuu.com/BrisbaneBlacks/docs/war_manifesto_d91595ceee8754 (20-01-2018)

Invasion Day rally in Melbourne. From http://www.abc.net.au

West Papua: Can Independence Deliver?

West Papua: Can Independence Deliver?

24-12-2017 – To the casual observer it appears to be an open and shut case. An indigenous people are occupied by a superior military power, which attempts to forcibly integrate the inhabitants within the larger and more powerful state, denying national and cultural rights that all people should enjoy. The oppressing power installs settlers in the occupied region, who, over time, come to overwhelm the original inhabitants. This power enjoys the backing of the “advanced” First World powers, which supply it with political and diplomatic support, along with state of the art military hardware. In response, the international left backs a movement for independence, linking with the domestic leaders, while applying political pressure to “their own” wealthy but rapacious governments. It all sounds straightforward. But in the case of the independence movement for West Papua, as in many things political, issues are not all what they seem.

Parallels with East Timor?

Progressive minded folk might object – but isn’t it a re-run of the situation of East Timor, where we have an obligation to back an independence movement? In fact, while not ignoring some similiarities, there are several reasons why the situation of West Papua differs significantly. Firstly, East Timor was militarily invaded by Indonesia in December 1975, days after a declaration of independence was made following the withdrawal of the former colonial power Portugal. The Indonesian military occupied East Timor from 1975 until 1999, when a United Nations (UN) sponsored referendum resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of independence. Pro-Indonesian militias then embarked on a rampage, slaughtering around 1400 people, and pushing hundreds of thousands into West Timor as refugees. A UN badged INTERFET (International Force for East Timor) Force was sent in, which had the effect of preventing further violence. Although the exact role of the UN and the Australian military forces in East Timor at the time was dubious, East Timor was recognised as an independent nation in 2002.[1]

This military invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975 was not recognised by the UN, not backed internationally, and in reality only the Australian government openly sided with Indonesia. In the case of West Papua, there was no overt military invasion, though Indonesian rule in West Papua came about in deceitful circumstances. The western part of Papua New Guinea was once a Dutch colony, but the Netherlands prepared for withdrawal during the 1950s. In 1961, West Papuans first raised the “morning star” flag, and sentiment for independence began.

However, Indonesia soon asserted what it believed to be its sovereign rights over the area, and a conflict broke out with the Dutch and indigenous West Papuans. In 1962, a UN sponsored treaty known as the “New York Agreement” was drawn up, which appointed Indonesia the temporary administrator. The agreement included a clause of which the intent was that all West Papuans would be able to vote in a referendum on independence. Unfortunately, when this referendum was held, the Indonesian military held 1026 West Papuans at gunpoint, and threatened themselves and their families with elimination if they voted for independence. This so-called “Act of Free Choice” was approved by the UN, despite the circumstances, and this remained in place for decades afterwards. West Papuans dub it the “Act of No Choice”, and it forms one of the planks of independence sentiment today.

Transmigration

There are also significant differences between East Timor and West Papua in relation to Indonesia’s long running transmigration program. The Indonesian government claims that transmigration is a necessity to alleviate population pressures on the densely populated islands such as Java, Bali and Madura, and assisting the development of outer areas such as Kalimantan, Timor and West Papua. There seems to be credence in critiques of transmigration from some groups, which claim that transmigration in Indonesia has barely alleviated the population pressures at all, and has led to significant environmental damage through forest and land clearing. Despite this, it has had the financial backing of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank throughout the 80s and 90s.[2]

Many West Papuans see the Indonesian government’s transmigration program as an attempt to outnumber them over time, to make them a minority in their own land. There is some justification in this view, as there are many reports of the Indonesian government backing transmigrants that identify their traditional lands as suitable for settlement, clear the forests, and then give indigenous West Papuans the “choice” to live in a transmigration settlement area as a minority.[3] This understandably fuels antagonism towards the Indonesian government and the transmigrants themselves, and fosters further sentiment for independence.

The sheer numbers are vastly different though, between West Papua and East Timor. A research paper by Dr Jim Elmslie, a specialist in West Papua studies at the University of Sydney, estimates that the current non-Papuan population in West Papua now comprises 51.27%, or around 1.8 million, whereas the Papuan component comprises 48.73%, or around 1.7 million. This is incomparable to the situation four decades ago, where Papuans made up 96.09% of the total population.[4]  This is the “slow motion genocide” West Papuan independence supporters refer to.

The transmigration issue for East Timor, on the other hand, was not in the same league. While there was transmigration into East Timor, it was at a significantly lower rate, and by no means ever attained a majority. On the contrary, it is estimated that between 1970 and 1990, the non-Timorese population in Timor (mainly comprising Indonesian, Chinese and Portuguese descendants) rose from 1.6% to 8.5%.[5] Thus, at the time of the UN sponsored referendum on independence in East Timor in 1999, the non-Timorese population in East Timor would presumably have not exceeded even 10% of the total. This 10% was excluded from the vote in 1999, where over 80% of the people of East Timor voted for independence.

UN petition

In August this year, West Papuan independence activists delivered a petition to the United Nations in Geneva, symbolically swimming across Lake Geneva to present it. Exiled West Papuan independence identity Benny Wenda stated that the petition had been signed by 1 804 421 people, which was comprised of 1 708 167 indigenous Papuans and 96 254 Indonesian settlers. Dr Jim Elmslie estimates that this represents 70.88% of the indigenous Papuan population.[6] Reportedly, hard copies of the petition were smuggled from area to area in West Papua after the Indonesian government blocked its distribution online.

The petition and its dramatic submission certainly attracted worldwide attention, but it also raises a potential problem for the West Papuan independence movement. What way would the other half of the population of West Papua vote, if given the opportunity? Moreover, given that almost all of this part of the population are non-Papuans, what incentive would they have for voting for independence? The cultural and ethnic divide between the Melanesian Papuans and the Austronesian Indonesians is one that can create animosity, given that the Austronesian transmigrants appear to be backed by the Indonesian government at the expense of the indigenous Melanesians. The strategy of large parts of the West Papuan independence movement seems to rely upon calling for a UN overseen referendum on independence. Yet if this was to come about, there seems little guarantee that the vote in favour of independence would be overwhelming, given that a little over half of the population  are non-Papuan. This is not to deny the fact that elementary justice should allow some form of fair ballot to take place, to replace the discredited “Act of No-Choice”.

Religious divide

In addition to the ethnic division, there is also the religious aspect. The Austronesian transmigrants are overwhelmingly Islamic in religion, and it seems some of them are more strident in defending this than others. The Melanesian Papuans, apparently due to large scale missionary work, appear to be overwhelmingly Christian, which appears to co-exist with their tribal ties. There can be a perception, therefore, that the West Papuan independence movement is backing a Christian West Papua against a Muslim Indonesia. This potentially sets up an unhealthy dynamic in a world political environment where US imperialism has been guilty of deliberately whipping up extreme Islamophobia to generate support for its regime change wars, most recently in Syria.

There was an instance where a “Free West Papua Party” turned up to speak at a rally organised by the ultra-racist far-right group Reclaim Australia in Perth. Reportedly, some West Papua independence supporters also turned out to a Reclaim Australia event in Cairns. To its credit, large parts of the Free West Papua movement in Australia issued a statement expressly disassociating itself from the “Free West Papua Party” and from Reclaim Australia. The statement, signed by around 40 representatives of various West Papua independence supporters, rejected the use of racism or religious exclusion entirely, and especially in the case of the struggle for West Papua’s rights.[7] The statement did acknowledge some tension between Christianity and Islam in West Papua, but claimed that this tension has not yet generated into a religious conflict which has broken out in other parts of Indonesia. In our view, the Free West Papua movement needs to be more forthright in declaring that their movement does not attempt to exclude anyone on a religious, cultural or ethnic basis.

Development divide

As in so many class struggles throughout history, the religious aspect is often a cover for very real class struggles bubbling away. This is reflected in the West Papuan divide between the relatively developed coastal cities and towns, and the overwhelmingly rural interior. Austronesian transmigrants predominate in the coastal cities, especially the capital Jayapura, and are the most prevalent in the jobs in the private sector, and those connected with commercial activity. These areas attract higher educated Indonesians, who also dominate in manufacturing, and an estimated 90% of jobs connected with trade.[8] As more transmigrants arrive in the West Papuan cities, they naturally form connections with “their own”, which affords them more job opportunities, which unfortunately crowds out indigenous Papuans.

Indigenous Papuans are then often forced back into economic activity such as subsistence farming, which is obviously not as lucrative, and which has little connection to the modern, cash and international economy. This, along with a lack of development in such areas, contributes to a justifiable resentment towards transmigrants, and towards Indonesia in general. While the Indonesian government is spending large amounts of money on West Papua, very little of it reaches the rural interior, overwhelmingly inhabited by indigenous Papuans. This leads to issues such as poorer education outcomes, where apparently 56% of Papuans have less than primary education, and 24% have remained illiterate. The lack of development indicators are stark, as in many rural Papuan interior areas, 80% of villages have no electricity, 90% have no telephone, and 83.5% have no access to banking or credit facilities.[9] Combine this with the fact that around half of Papuan villages are accessible only by dirt road, and one can see how many Papuans might follow the offered “solution” of independence.

Infrastructure spending by Indonesian government

Perhaps in an effort to divert West Papuans from taking the path of demanding all out independence, the Indonesian government of President Joko Widodo (also known as “Jokowi”) has pledged to accelerate infrastructure development. Last February, the Indonesian government announced it was spending US $371 million on infrastructure and housing in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, including a trans-West Papua highway.[10]  The Indonesian government has also prioritised the improvement of facilities at the regional airports at Saigun, Weror Tambrauw, Marinda and Fakfak.[11] Plans for the building and running of a railway in West Papua are also well in the pipeline, with the proposal to run a railway line from the city of Sorong in the West through to Manokwari in the East, passing through South Sorong, Maybrak, Teluk Bintuni, South Manokwari and Manokwari.[12]

Electricity infrastructure is also receiving Indonesian government investment. Joko Widodo announced the building of six new electricity infrastructure projects on his fifth visit in October 2016, including 4 hydro-electric power plants, and around 200 kilometres of power lines.[13] Much more would be needed to electrify all of West Papua, but it would seem the Indonesian government is keenly aware of the need for this infrastructure, and the need for it to be NOT seen as only benefiting Jakarta.

Military and political repression

Of course, all of the infrastructure development in the world is unlikely to completely offset other Papuan grievances, such as the military and political repression that it accompanies. The Indonesian military regard the raising of the West Papuan morning star flag as high treason, and often those who attempt to raise it risk long jail terms if caught. It is also claimed that 500 000 Papuans have perished in skirmishes with the Indonesian military. For their part, the Indonesian military claim they are only responding to an armed insurgency. The Indonesian military are accused of slaughtering pro-independence Papuan fighters, and, in turn, the Indonesian military accuse the Papuan militias of taking non-Papuans hostage.

There is also little doubt that the Australian government backs the Indonesian government’s position, and “respects the territorial integrity” of the Indonesian archipelago. After the experience of East Timor, however, many Indonesians simply do not believe such Australian government assertions. Nevertheless, there appears to be strong evidence that Indonesia’s Detachment 88 is trained and supplied by the Australian Federal Police.[14] Detachment 88 are suspected to have been behind the gunning down and murder of Mako Tabuni, who was at the time the deputy chairperson of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB). In fact, it is not only the Australian Federal Police who “train” and “advise” the Indonesian police, but the police of the United Kingdom, Denmark and Canada.[15]

Independence with which politics?

In the case of East Timor in the early 1970s, the Indonesian government and its backers in Australia and the US appeared to be concerned, with some justification, that an independent East Timor would be a communist outpost, a Cuba in the Pacific. The political leadership of the various East Timorese pro-independence groups was certainly left-leaning. However, so far it appears that the politics of the various West Papuan independence groups are not so left wing. Many on the left perhaps understandably believe that an indigenous people fighting for their rights will automatically adopt progressive, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics. This is not usually the case, and in fact, in the absence of a strong trade union movement, or strong left-wing workers’ parties, the politics can often tend towards liberalism – which is a component pillar of capitalism.

The Indonesian government is doing what it is doing to West Papua not because it is Indonesian, or because it is predominantly Islamic. The problem is capitalism in Indonesia, including West Papua, and of course including the United States, Australia and New Zealand. This is one reason why independence for West Papua – if this means the setting up of a small capitalist state in the Indonesian archipelago – will scarcely solve the problems that capitalism in the region is responsible for in West Papua – poverty, unemployment and under-development. East Timor is now discovering this, even as we can acknowledge that the Timorese are of course in a better situation without the presence of the Indonesian military.

From this distance, it appears that the politics of the various pro-independence West Papuan groups has not developed in an anti-capitalist, much less a socialist direction. Some leftists will point to Lenin’s support for the right of nations to self-determination as justification for endorsing the West Papuan independence movement wholesale. Yet Lenin also always stressed that the interests of socialism and the interests of the socialist revolution take priority over a struggle for national self-determination. That is, working people cannot discount a genuine desire for national self-determination, especially that of a former colonial country. At the same time, nationalism has its own logic. If you wage a campaign on strongly nationalist terms, it often directly leads to recognising the nationalism of all nations – even the huge imperialist powers, which are responsible for your oppression in the first place. The nationalism of a small nation, thus often becomes dependent on larger and stronger patrons. Hence the West Papuan independence movement, as much as it criticises Australian and British government backing of the Indonesian government, at the same time appeals to Australian and British parliamentarians to raise and fight for West Papuan independence within their “corridors of power”. The independence movement, in fact, becomes dependent on the large states it inveigles us to campaign against.

Under world capitalism, a small state can barely survive unless it has the backing of very large states. This is why an alternative for West Papua should be a perspective of uniting the working class of all of Papua – non-Papuan and Papuan alike – in a struggle to overthrow capitalism in Papua, Indonesia, and throughout the Asia-Pacific, not the least in Australia and New Zealand. Independence gained in this way would have the potential to address the issues of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment in West Papua, concern over which is currently being directed towards a movement for (capitalist) independence. This requires the building of Marxist vanguard parties in Papua and Indonesia in the struggle for a socialist Asia-Pacific.

As far away as this perspective may appear, nationalism ultimately offers very little for the working people of Papua. It also does not advance the class struggle in neighbouring Australia, where solidarity can end up being an exercise to lobby for concessions from the Australian government – rather than working to delegitimise the ruling class in the eyes of the workers.  Nevertheless, it can be recognised that the West Papuan people should have the right to determine their own affairs, if indeed this is what they choose, up to and including the right to secede to form their own state. Such a binding referendum, however, would have to include the entire 3.5 million people who inhabit West Papua, indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

Working people internationally should also demand the Indonesian government allow all political activity in West Papua, including that which agitates for independence, to proceed without interference. The flying of the morning star flag should not attract any punishment, let alone jail terms. At the same time, working people should urge the West Papuan independence movement to link with non-Papuans in Papua and Indonesia in a joint struggle against Indonesian capitalism – which is underwritten by its imperialist sponsors.  A socialist West Papua as part of an Indonesian workers’ republic would vastly advance the interests of the workers of West Papua, and spur on class struggle throughout the Asia-Pacific. This would be a movement worth fighting for.

WORKERS  LEAGUE

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

www.redfireonline.com

A feature demand of the West Papuan independence movement is the call for a UN sponsored referendum. Image from http://www.bennywenda.org

PO  Box  66   NUNDAH  QLD  4012

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_East_Timor (26-12-2017)

[2] http://www.downtoearth-indonesia.org/old-site/ctrans.htm (26-12-2017)

[3] http://www.multinationalmonitor.org/hyper/issues/1990/10/marr.html (26-12-2017)

[4] https://sydney.edu.au/arts/peace_conflict/docs/working_papers/West_Papuan_Demographics_in_2010_Census.pdf (26-12-2017)

[5] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/east-timor-old-migration-challenges-worlds-newest-country (26-12-2017)

[6] http://humanrightspapua.org/news/23-2017/273-papua-independence-petition-delivered-to-the-united-nations (27-12-2017)

[7] https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B27n3cmOkqI4OUQ3WTZyc0syU28/view (27-12-2017)

[8] http://apjjf.org/2011/9/37/David-Adam-Stott/3597/article.html (28-12-2017)

[9] http://apjjf.org/2011/9/37/David-Adam-Stott/3597/article.html (28-12-2017)

[10] http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/02/15/government-invests-rp-7-6t-in-infrastructure-in-papua-w-papua.html (28-12-2017)

[11] https://en.antaranews.com/news/106427/president-prioritizes-infrastructure-development-in-west-papua (28-12-2017)

[12] http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/321489/indonesia-steps-up-plans-for-west-papua-railway (28-12-2017)

[13] http://papuanews.org/jokowi-inaugurate-6-electricity-infrastructures-in-west-papua/ (28-12-2017)

[14] http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-28/papuans-claim-australian-link-to-death-squad/4228710 (29-12-2017)

[15] https://www.jclec.org/stakeholders (29-12-2017)

Stop the Adani Death Mine! Mobilise Mass Opposition!

Stop the Adani Death Mine! Mobilise Mass Opposition!

02-06-2017 – Abomination. There is barely another word to describe the proposed mega-coal Carmichael mine proposed to be built by the Adani Corporation in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. If built and operated for the proposed 60 years, it may well contribute to the end of world efforts to limit global average temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius. The carbon contained in the Galilee Basin’s coal reserves alone – 250 000 square kilometres of thermal coal – contain roughly the same amount of carbon contained in all of ExxonMobil’s holdings, the world’s largest company.[1] The development of the Adani “mine of death” would mean six open cut pits and numerous underground mines. The coal would be transported 200 kilometres to a terminal at Abbot Point, right next to the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s carbon emissions would more than double.[2]

There is a high probability that the Adani mine will definitively finish off the Great Barrier Reef. To this point already, reef specialist Professor Terry Hughes revealed that coral bleaching – the literal dying off of the coral itself – now covered 93% of the Reef.[3] As the intensification of global warming warms the oceans, the sea itself becomes more acidic, killing off or threatening to kill off whole ecosystems – from coral to fish to large predators, i.e., whole food chains. One of the natural wonders of the world, the strangulation of the reef should be yet another urgent bell-weather of the desperate situation climactic collapse ensures. As Jeff Sparrow writes, however, any sense that an occurrence so grotesque as the annihilation of a natural wonder would somehow spur politicians to finally do something, should now be put to rest.[4] The politicians that currently exist here will scarcely do anything to even seriously limit environmental desecration.

Labor Party complicit

In fact, politicians here are doing everything they can to enable this hellish future. Take the Queensland Labor Party government. It has fallen over itself to get the diabolical Adani coal mine up and running, irrespective of the climate science, not to speak of its own members. First it offered a 320 million dollar “royalties holiday” to Adani, making a mockery of the entire concept of royalties.[5] After some outrage, the Labor Party and Adani later came to an agreement, the details of which are not fully known, but it is suspected that a flat 5 million dollars will be paid. For a 21 billion dollar mine, this is of course risible. In addition, in a move which flabbergasted even seasoned environmental activists, the Labor Party approved a measure which allows Adani to only monitor and report on the amount of water it extracts from the Great Artesian Basin, from now until the permit expires in 2077![6] Needless to say, this could have massive impacts on the water available for agriculture and other purposes. It is estimated that this would mean Adani would extract 9.5 billion litres of water for each year the mine was operational.[7] And on the driest continent on earth, Adani would not have to pay one cent for this water!

Some die-hard Labor party members state that despite the (virtually criminal) actions of the Queensland Labor party, “federal” Labor has opposed the mine. In fact, federal Labor under Bill Shorten worked with the Liberal Party to ensure that Native Title for the Aboriginal people would not even be considered when assessing approval for Adani’s mine building. This bill has been delayed in parliament, and the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, representatives of the traditional owners, remains steadfast in its opposition to the construction of the mine.[8]

Add to this Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to New Delhi to Adani executives and his offer of a 1 billion dollar unconditional loan from Australian taxpayers to pay for the rail line needed to transport the coal.[9] As if this wasn’t enough, it is mooted that these funds will be allocated from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility![10] The level of direct and indirect corruption is staggering, but such corruption is business as usual for the capitalist system. In fact, the amount of corruption just for this project is just a slim percentage of the overall racket of virtually tax-free mining in Australia.

Red China closes coal mines while Australia opens them

Australia’s giant Pacific neighbour, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is trending in the opposite direction with regard to coal fired energy use. It should be noted that for a country which is still in many parts developing its economy, despite its huge advances, it is more difficult to do without coal as an energy source. Nevertheless, Red China is arguably leading the world push towards switching from carbon intensive energy sources to carbon free ones. Just this year, Beijing closed its last large coal-fired power station.[11] Moreover, as part of the drive towards using zero carbon energy sources, the PRC will close around half of its operating coal mines.[12] Some renewable energy advocates point to China in leading the way in the production of solar panels and wind turbines. But for serious capacity in terms of zero carbon energy, the PRC is building nuclear reactors. 46% of the new reactors currently being constructed are in mainland China.[13]

There is one reason why the PRC leads the world in both economic growth and in the drive towards sourcing energy from zero carbon sources. The Chinese economy, primarily, does not operate on the basis of production for profit. The socialist state led development they are capable of has only come about since the working people were able to overthrow feudal and foreign capitalist plunder, which triumphed in 1949. In the PRC today, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of the “commanding heights” of the economy remain state owned or majority state owned. They are often owned and controlled by gigantic state owned enterprises (SOEs) which simply do not have to turn a profit, and often run at profit rates below 1%, which would not be possible under the “capitalism” of which some critics accuse it. Decisions can be made in the interests of the environment and workers’ rights in the PRC, whereas in the capitalist West such motives barely rate a mention.

NGOs, Greens, Labor loyal Union leaders block action

Socialism versus capitalism as a pathway to address climate meltdown, however, is the furthest away from the agenda of the three main bodies which are combining to stifle mass action to stop the Adani leviathan. Peak environmental “NGOs”, the Australian Greens, and some Union leaders, who remain loyal to the Labor Party and/or the capitalist system, represent the obstacle to the action which has the possibility of preventing the erection of climate destroying mega-coal mines. NGOs such as GetUp!, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), and 350 Australia are active online in opposing the Adani mega-coal mine. However, these peak bodies are all about controlling the campaign against Adani, and controlling it to align with their politics – which ultimately means lobbying the very corporations and governments enabling it. For example, 350.org were the main organisers of large scale public meetings about the Adani mega-mine, but they were only “public” for those who could afford the $15 dollar entry fee!

The Australian Greens, despite their commendable words against the Adani inferno, are almost solely campaigning in electoral terms. After winning a Brisbane City Council seat in the Woolloongabba ward for the first time, the Greens are attempting to capitalise on the sentiment against Adani to win the state seat of South Brisbane from the Labor Party’s Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.[14] To be clear, if the Australian Greens win parliamentary seats as a result of a principled position against climate destroying developments, then working people should not begrudge them. But it is something else entirely to subordinate the politics of such a movement to electoral machinations of any party, even one which is, at least verbally, taking a side against the encroachments of capital.

There has been scant, if any, opposition to Adani from any of Queensland’s Union leaders. In fact, there has even been support. The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s (CFMEU) Stephen Smyth and the Australian Workers Union’s (AWU) Ben Swan, for example, have gone on record as complaining that the Adani mega-mine has come up against too much “green tape” from the state government![15] No doubt these self-serving Union leaders were eyeing the mythical “10 000” jobs the state government claimed would be the result of the Adani mega-mine. In fact, Adani’s own figures state that only 1464 jobs will be created over the lifetime of the mine.[16] In any case, one wit responded to State Treasurer Curtis Pitt’s claims that jobs will be created by saying: “Detention centres create jobs, wars create jobs – what’s your point?”

Union leaders should be leading a campaign for jobs through raising and fighting for demands such as a shorter working week with no loss in pay, rather than building a cosy alliance with exploitative corporations themselves. Then they would be free to help lead mass based campaigns, which could gather backing from working people, and could be joined by others justly concerned about the potentially catastrophic future vastly increased carbon emissions will mean for those who come after us. They could also sideline wealthy corporate NGOs and prevent them from shepherding all opposition into harmless lobbying exercises. Political parties such as the Greens would be welcome to take part, but not in terms of reducing the entire campaign to an electoral front.

There is huge potential for such a campaign, as there is overwhelming sentiment amongst the majority of working people that this disaster of a mine should not go ahead, and there definitely should not be billions of dollars of taxpayers funds handed over to a dubious corporation to build it. Yet the potential for the desperately needed campaign of mass mobilisation is crippled by the political outlook of the mines’ opponents. Well-funded NGOs, parties such as the Greens, and conservative Union leaders do not have a perspective which can see outside the parameters of the system of private production for private profit. This is not a matter of expecting such forces to consent to a workers’ revolution. But long before the conditions for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism come into being, the methods of class-based struggle are the only ones which can win a serious battle such as this one.

The Adani mega-mine is symptomatic of the normal workings of capitalist exploitation of the natural world. It is for this reason that the political forces which complain about the excess of this system without opposing the system itself, e.g. GetUp!, 350.org, AYCC, must be challenged by working people for leadership of this campaign. Working people also need to position their silent or complicit Union leaders, which should at least be helping to facilitate a movement of class-based mass opposition, centred on mass mobilisations. Working and oppressed people desperately need a victory. Here is one campaign, which, given correct leadership, has a huge chance of succeeding.

At the same time, working people should be aware that even if the Adani monstrosity is stopped, runaway climate collapse is still on the cards. To begin to deal with this emergency, let alone the other dire emergencies such as economic stagnation, joblessness, homelessness, and the threat of war, the capitalist system will have to be overthrown and replaced with socialism, run by working people. Key to this task is the forging of a genuine workers party, the assembling of the most class conscious working people into a politically leading force. There is nothing to lose, but a world to win.

WORKERS LEAGUE

PO Box 66  NUNDAH QLD 4012

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

www.redfireonline.com

[1] https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/june/1370181600/bill-mckibben/how-australian-coal-causing-global-damage (02-06-17)

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/05/17/the-damning-report-that-says-adanis-carmichael-mine-is-a-slow-t_a_22094639/ (02-06-17)

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bleaching-hits-93-percent-of-the-great-barrier-reef/ (02-06-17)

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/07/its-either-adani-or-the-great-barrier-reef-are-we-willing-to-fight-for-a-wonder-of-the-world (02-06-17)

[5] http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/queensland-government/adani-says-carmichael-megamine-viable-without-royalties-holiday/news-story/c40786658dc12c935777729349addd26 (02-06-17)

[6] http://www.smh.com.au/environment/barbaric-adanis-giant-coal-mine-granted-unlimited-water-licence-for-60-years-20170404-gvd41y.html (02-06-17)

[7] https://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/adani-carmichael-coal-mine-rail-project-factsheet-.html (02-06-17)

[8] http://wanganjagalingou.com.au/govt-fails-to-pass-native-title-bill-major-setback-for-adani/ (02-06-17)

[9] http://www.afr.com/news/politics/adani-firms-on-1bn-loan-as-turnbull-promises-to-fix-native-title-problems-20170411-gvisan (02-06-17)

[10] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-29/conflict-of-interest-concerns-over-adani-rail-loan/8564368 (02-06-17)

[11] http://www.smh.com.au/world/beijing-closes-last-big-coalfired-power-station-in-push-for-clean-energy-20170320-gv20hx.html (02-06-17)

[12] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-energy-coal-idUSKCN0VV0U5 (02-06-17)

[13] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/plans-for-new-reactors-worldwide.aspx (02-06-17)

[14] http://larissa-waters.greensmps.org.au/articles/queensland-labor-and-adani-join-forces-queensland-taxpayers-get-screwed-over (02-06-17)

[15] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/unions-slam-new-rules-for-adani-acland-mines/news-story/4e74aacda44ef2d710ff0d0525865477 (02-06-17)

[16] https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2017/05/truth-adani-jobs/ (02-06-17)

The Adani Corporation has begun fencing off land in the Galilee Basin. Image from http://www.southasiatimes.com.au

Change the Date! For Aboriginal Liberation through Workers Unity!

26-12-2017 – 229 years after the first British colonialists landed in Sydney Cove, what became the Australian nation state still “celebrates” the beginning of a genocide against the original inhabitants, who had tended this continent for upwards of 50 000 years. A war of near extermination was carried out by the colonialists for 150 years against the Aboriginal people, first with guns and unimaginable cruelty, then by horrific governmental oppression. The Australian nation, such as it is, could not have been founded without these barbaric practices, which were both official and unofficial policy. It is a perverse affront that January 26th, the day the settler-colonialists arrived in 1788, is still marked as Australia’s national day.

The physical war of extermination of Aboriginal people may have ended, but the oppression of Australia’s indigenous peoples remains as entrenched as it has ever been. A few statistics will illustrate this. Figures from recent years indicate that the suicide rate of indigenous people is four times higher than that of the non-indigenous population.[1]  The unemployment rate for indigenous people is three times that of those who are not descended from the traditional owners.[2] Most revealingly, Aboriginal people are fifteen times more likely to be thrown in prison than those who have no Aboriginal lineage.[3] In a very real sense, Aboriginal people remain prisoners in their own land.

To even begin to redress the historic and present crimes being inflicted upon the indigenous people, at the very least Australia’s national day must be changed to a date, any date, which does not mark the beginning of a colonialist war. While the changing of Australia’s national day would be a progressive reform, by no means would it mean the end of the oppression of the Aboriginal people. The oppression of the Aboriginal people is bound up with the capitalist mode of production, which was established over the top of them, and all other working people who ended up here. The capitalist socio-economic system requires deep divisions within the working class, to prevent them from uniting to liberate themselves and other repressed layers. Working people are also oppressed by the capitalist private profit system, though to a lesser extent than Aboriginal people. Liberation for Aboriginal people is thus linked to workers’ liberation, which can only be realised through a united struggle for a workers’ republic, i.e. for socialism.

International socialism is an ally

Aboriginal political resistance, therefore, falls into error if it inadvertently tilts against socialism. Such a political direction aids Australian (and international) capitalism – the source of their subjugation.  The Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) play a tremendous organisational role in leading a fight for justice for indigenous people. On occasion, however, WAR can adopt positions which, we suggest, are harmful both for the liberation of Aboriginal people and working people generally. For example, in Issue #7 of The Black Rising, WAR’s publication, an article appears criticising Australia’s compulsory voting laws. It is a valid concern that Aboriginal people today are being directed to vote for the very establishment which was, and is, responsible for their colonisation, and it is correct to raise a discussion of alternatives. However in doing so, WAR fall into the arms of the very establishment they wish to disown. They write:

“The Australian government, like North Korea, (emphasis added – WL) enforces compulsory voting laws meaning that the federal government expects us Aboriginal people to vote in its elections. Australia expects us to help choose the next leader of the government which invaded our ancestors only 228 years ago. We are required to vote for a person to represent the very same government who refuses, to this day, to sign a treaty and formally acknowledge Aboriginal sovereignty and title. We are expected to participate in this colonial structure and perform the civic duties of a good citizen while the federal government mines and pollutes our land, deregisters, desecrates and builds over our artefacts and sacred sites.”[4]

We do not, of course, dispute that the Australian government refuses to sign a treaty, refuses to recognise Aboriginal sovereignty, presides over an order which blocks the advance of Aboriginal people, and much more. Yet by simultaneously criticising North Korea – whose real name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), WAR line up with the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, billionaire magnates and virtually the entire Australian ruling class. These elements of private capital, and their underlings, also virulently oppose the DPRK, from the standpoint of preventing the advance of socialism. For whatever distortions that may exist in the DPRK, the fact is that they defend their system of socialism, and have done so against the might of US imperialism for 60 years. Workers remain in power in the DPRK, preventing the US and Australian ruling classes from forcing capitalism back onto the entire Korean peninsula, and by extension, into China and Vietnam. The DPRK is thus an opponent, not an ally, of global capitalism – and is therefore an ally of workers and the oppressed in all lands. This includes working people in Australia, and, especially, Aboriginal people.

For defending socialism, the DPRK is almost universally demonised in the West. It is frequently vilified by the corporate media, often without a shred of evidence, or even basic facts. Regrettably, WAR has also chimed in with the false allegations constantly directed at the DPRK. For it is not true that the DPRK “enforces compulsory voting”. Here is Article 66 of Chapter V of the Constitution of the DPRK:

All citizens who have reached the age of 17 have the right to elect and to be elected, irrespective of sex, race, occupation, length of residence, property status, education, party affiliation, political views or religious belief.
Citizens serving in the armed forces also have the right to elect and to be elected.
A person who has been disenfranchised by a Court decision and a person legally certified insane do not have the right to elect or to be elected.[5]

That is, DPRK citizens have the right to elect their representatives, and to stand for election themselves, enshrined in their constitution. Needless to say, they have this right regardless of how much money or property they may possess. In practice, in the Australian capitalist political system, millions of dollars are required to run an effective campaign against the major parties. The almost total turnout for elections in the DPRK, combined with relentless Western propaganda, may give the unenlightened the impression that voting is compulsory in the DPRK, yet this is not the case. DPRK citizens overwhelmingly support their government for several reasons, one of which is that the DPRK remains a workers state. Thus the DPRK, as it is currently formed, aligns with the class interests of Korean workers. It is not only a defence against the ever-present threat of a US invasion which leads most Koreans in the North to collectively back their nation. It is also the constitutionally guaranteed free healthcare, education, and even housing, plus – guaranteed employment. It is likely that none of this would remain if the US was able to overthrow the DPRK.

Moreover, the Korean people are the indigenous people of their land – their history stretches back at least 5000 years. When the US and Australia launched a war on Korea in 1950, essentially to prevent socialism prevailing on all of Korea, and also to undermine the recently victorious Chinese socialist revolution, 4 million Koreans perished. Out of this unprecedented brutality emerged an independent socialist Korea in the north, and an occupied, capitalist Korea in the south. The DPRK thus gives more weight to the claim that the only way for an indigenous people, or for any working people, to free themselves from capitalist rule is to struggle for your own workers republic. Therefore, we would suggest that WAR should ally themselves with, or at least not oppose, the workers movement.

For a united Aboriginal, “ethnic” and Australian born workers party

The Aboriginal people suffer intolerable discrimination in Australia, “Australia Day” being but one manifestation. The Aboriginal struggle against this dire situation is thus always progressive. However the politics of the leadership of this struggle is another matter, especially if it develops in isolation from a strong workers movement, and a united workers party. In fact, separated from a workers movement, and particularly the Union movement, it is often the case that the politics of certain leaders of the Aboriginal struggle can veer towards conservative, liberal, and/or anti-socialist ideas. WAR’s condemnation of the DPRK is but one example.

To be sure, WAR are not at all responsible for the situation they find themselves in. The main culprit for the abandonment of the struggle for Aboriginal rights is the leadership of the Australian Union movement, from the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) down to the highly paid top officials of various Unions around the country. There is some rhetoric from Union officials about supporting Aboriginal rights, but little to no action. In many instances, Aboriginal rights do not even appear on the radar of most well-heeled Union officials. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that the leaders of the Aboriginal rights movement look to other means, or other political ideologies.

However, history has yet to provide a systemic opponent of capitalism other than socialism. WAR and similar groups are in a sense correct to demand special attention to the struggle of Aboriginal people, for the suffering of the Aboriginal people is unique and does require a tailored approach. We agree that the struggle for justice for Aboriginal people cannot simply be swept into a generalised workers movement, as if it was only a component part of a movement towards socialism. What is required is a workers’ vanguard party, which can champion Aboriginal rights, and the rights of all other oppressed peoples, in a mighty mass movement which aims to end the rule of capital.
The class character of the workers vanguard party should not be in doubt – only the combined working class has the power to challenge the rule of capital. Yet the various social movements should not be competitors for the leadership of the workers. Rather, the best elements of them should be integrated into the vanguard party. This includes the most class conscious elements of the movement for Aboriginal rights. There cannot be a separate workers party for white Australian workers, and another party for Aboriginal workers. WAR and similar groups are in a sense correct to demand that the Aboriginal struggle should not be subsumed within a general struggle for the rights of all minority ethnicities, and migrant groups – for the indigenous people are neither migrants nor “ethnic”. Yet neither should they be totally separated from them when struggling against a common foe.

The workers vanguard party should thus be multiracial and multi-ethnic. It should combine pro-worker Aboriginal people, Australian born “white” workers, and pro-worker migrants of various national backgrounds. Such a party will strive to win the movement for Aboriginal rights to the theory and practice of Marxism, the program for workers emancipation. The Aboriginal rights movement will not be asked to forsake any of its culture or its history for the pursuit of socialism. On the contrary, the workers party will demand the inclusion of all Aboriginal particulars, alongside the special needs of all oppressed strata which rely on the working class for their existence. The combined and integrated struggle of all working people, through their vanguard party, is the guarantor for the successful combination with the Aboriginal struggle for elementary justice. The Aboriginal struggle and the workers struggle will either go forward together, or fall back separately. FOR ABORIGINAL LIBERATION THROUGH WORKERS UNITY!

 

WORKERS LEAGUE

PO BOX 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

http://www.redfireonline.com

[1] http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-natsisps-strat-toc~mental-natsisps-strat-1~mental-natsisps-strat-1-ab (05-01-17)

[2] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20Nov+2013 (06-01-17)

[3] http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-editorial/aboriginal-prison-rates-shame-our-nation-20160408-go1y5o.html (07-01-17)

 

[4] https://theblackrising.com/2016/12/04/australias-compulsory-voting-laws-no-room-for-dissent/ (08-01-17)

 

[5] http://www.kfausa.org/chapter-v-fundamental-rights-and-duties-of-citizens/ (09-01-17)

 

Which strategy for Aboriginal Liberation?

By Paul Nave

 

In the wake of the horrific footage of youth detainees being abused by guards at the Don Dale detention centre, aired by the 4 Corners television program, Aboriginal activists and their supporters took to the streets to protest yet another indicator of the oppression Australia’s indigenous people face on a daily basis. While one of the detainees was white, the overwhelming majority of youth in detention in the Northern Territory and in other states, are Aboriginal. Indigenous and Aboriginal men and women also make up a wholly disproportionate segment of the total prison population, a fact which has not been altered for decades.

Some of the protest actions were led and organised by the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) – a group that formed during the protests against the G20 Summit held in Brisbane in November 2014. We admire the defiance and the militancy of the WAR activists, their commitment to their struggle and their refusal to be co-opted into the mainstream of the Australian political establishment. They are also correct to back the Malcolm X style struggle for black/indigenous people’s dignity, rather than the pacifist liberalism of the ilk of Martin Luther King. However, in our view the political program of WAR is mistaken in that it remains on the path of Aboriginal or cultural/indigenous nationalism. If Aboriginal nationalism becomes the dominant strategy adopted, in our view the struggle for the liberation of Aboriginal people will not occur, and could become co-opted into the capitalist political parliamentary system they rightly reject. Aboriginal oppression is bound up with implantation of Australian capitalism, the operation of which adversely affects Aboriginal people more than others. However, the overcoming of this oppression means linking with all others seeking liberation from oppression – especially the working class.

Aboriginal Nationalism?

WAR declare that their program is that of Aboriginal nationalism. The first issue of Black Nations Rising, their publication states clearly:
Aboriginal nationalism (emphasis in original) is a philosophy….Separatism is integral to the worldview of Aboriginal nationalism. As Aboriginal nationalists, we identify with our respective tribal groups and the pan-Aboriginal nation. We are separate to ‘Australia’ – a colonial state built upon the theft of Aboriginal land and the genocide of Aboriginal people.[1]

Despite our strong political disagreements on other issues, the Spartacist League first noted the existence of Aboriginal nationalism amongst WAR activists, and alerted workers to it. They correctly note:

“One of the key demands of WAR is self-determination for Aboriginal people. For Marxists, self-determination means the right to national independence. The cohering of nations is fundamentally a material process, not an idealist one. What is decisive is contiguous mutual economic exchange continued over a more or less lengthy period of time, which develops into a coherent political economy. It was the development of capitalism which drove the formation of the nation-state in its modern sense. The possibility of the independent development of Indigenous people into a modern nation was severed by the British colonisers, who almost obliterated the Aboriginal people leaving the shattered remnants of different tribes who continue to be viciously oppressed today.”[2]

It is incontrovertible that the Australian colonial capitalist state was built on the theft of Aboriginal land and the genocide of Aboriginal people. This fact is the basis on which the oppression of Aboriginal people remains today. But the claim to an Aboriginal nation is another thing entirely. Marxists recognise the formation of nations as requiring elements such as a common language, territory, economic exchange and a culture. Nations form over time, historically, until all such factors are satisfied. Needless to say, these factors have not been present in the past, or now. WAR claim a pan-Aboriginal nation, but seemingly through a process of resisting the existing capitalist state which accords with the Australian nation.

Non-Aboriginal people of course do not experience the oppression of the indigenous people, and thus must respect the right of Aboriginal people to lead political movements which counter such oppression. However, non-indigenous people who wish to end Aboriginal oppression and join political movements to address this, must have the right to disagree with the political perspective being put forward. Aboriginal people do not necessarily come up with the correct political program to end their oppression in the same way in which workers also do not automatically propose the correct political program to end their oppression. There needs to be friendly and comradely political discussion and debate as to which strategy and tactics to adopt. To disagree with one’s political strategy does not amount to “disrespect” – it’s simply a political disagreement, a part of the struggle.

As socialists we warn against the political programs of Aboriginal or Black or cultural or indigenous nationalism, not because we don’t respect Aboriginal activists, but because we hold the view that the liberation of Aboriginal people is bound up with the struggle against capitalism, and is therefore bound up with the struggle to end the oppression of workers, through the strategic goal of socialist revolution. It should be noted in addition, that the oppression of women will also not be ended except through joining with workers in a common struggle to overthrow the rule of capital. Aboriginal people make up approximately 2% of the Australian population, but even if the proportion was substantially larger, there would still be a need to link up with, and fight alongside, the working class. Without the mobilisation of the working class, the Aboriginal rights movement cannot effectively be protected from capitalist state repression, let alone win complete liberation.
Lack of Union backing

One of the reasons why Aboriginal groups such as WAR adopt stances such as Aboriginal nationalism, is the almost total lack of Union backing for the struggle of Aboriginal people against their oppression by capitalist Australia. While it is true that there are a lot of fine words, and even some material support for Aboriginal actions, in the main the conservative Union bureaucrats sitting atop most Unions refuse to mobilise workers behind the cause to which they give verbal adherence. The rallies called by WAR in response to the exposure of the Don Dale abuses were dotted with a few Union T-shirts, but generally there were no organised Union contingents. Overpaid Union officials are long on the rhetoric of support for Aboriginal rights, and sport the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on some wares from their Union wardrobes, but very short of organising workers behind this show. For example, in response to the Royal Commission announced by Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a result of the Don Dale exposé, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Dave Oliver penned an open letter to PM Turnbull, which welcomed the Royal Commission, only asking for the terms to be expanded.[3] That is, no organising or attempting to activate workers in support of Aboriginal rights, but a letter to the PM! There have been exceptions, but generally speaking, the Union officials leave the Aboriginal rights movement to fight its own battles – an impossible task. This, combined with the glaring failure of liberal “reconciliation” can lead to some groups such as WAR to adopt the view that they are on their own. This feeds the sentiment towards separatism, and the militant sounding but politically compromising Aboriginal nationalism.

 

Careerist Union officials are well schooled in shepherding workers back into support for the Australian political establishment. They seek to integrate Unions and workers closer to the Australian capitalist state, and hence back “official” channels of the capitalist state investigating itself – such as Royal Commissions. It is hardly a secret that governments often launch Royal Commissions as a pressure relief valve, to give the impression that the powers that be are actually accountable. In practice, they draw out the process for years on end, while those suffering and some activists wait interminably for an outcome. Invariably, such inquiries become little more than a whitewash. Recommendations found by the Commission have no power to be enforced, and rarely are. Such was the result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody, which released its recommendations in 1991. What is vital is that Unions are organised independently of all aspects of the capitalist state – from its politicians to its courts to its parliaments, and its “Royal Commissions”. Workers must be shown that they themselves have power collectively – a power far greater than any parliament or institution of the old world, and one which has the potential to usher in the new world of socialism.

WAR and the left
Since the formation of WAR, there has been tension between it and some left parties when it comes to working together in joint actions. WAR has in the past demanded that the left groups selling newspapers at WAR organised events to donate all of the monetary proceeds to them or whichever cause they are taking action over. Recently, in a post on Facebook, WAR appears to ban the Socialist Alternative and the Socialist Alliance from any future events organised by WAR.[4] This post was then “liked” by some individuals from other left parties.

We are obviously not a part of any discussions that may have taken place between WAR and the two SA groups. We understand that WAR, as organisers and leaders of certain actions, have the right to lead these actions, and run the public events in general. It is of course recognised that in a broader sense, Aboriginal people have the right to lead the struggle against their own oppression, and should be respected as such. However, we do not believe it is reasonable to attempt to prevent left parties from distributing, or selling, their own publications at such public events. To ask for permission from WAR to run a campaign stall at a WAR organised event is understandable. More than this though, WAR cannot expect to control the actions of every single person which attends their public events, especially the members of left groups.

If there has been flagrant disregard for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal leaders at such events by some left parties, they should of course be reproached for it. However, there is a difference between this and an attempt to effectively censor the politics of left groups which are supporting Aboriginal rights actions. To attempt to prevent the distribution of Socialist Alternative’s Red Flag, or Socialist Alliance’s Green Left Weekly at WAR organised events appears to be direct targeting of left groups for their political views. It also does not appear fair given that presumably, WAR’s publication Black Nations Rising is being distributed unhindered. It may not be the intention, but it appears to be an attempt to censor the politics of socialist groups, in favour of the politics of WAR. By all means WAR has the right to put forward and argue for its politics, but as with all political views, it must compete with other perspectives. WAR cannot expect to retain a monopoly on the politics of every individual or group attending actions which they have organised. They must seek to convince others within the Aboriginal community and the non-indigenous but supportive community which demonstrably support their cause.

 

It is possible to respect, and give solidarity to, Aboriginal political groups, while disagreeing with their political outlook. The political outlook of WAR, by the own words, is separatism and indigenous nationalism. Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance can speak for themselves, but generally socialists do not agree that indigenous nationalism will lead to Aboriginal liberation in any meaningful way. In fact, because it turns away from the working class – the only class with the power to win Aboriginal liberation – the politics of Aboriginal nationalism can tend to alternate between a stand-alone militant defiance – which can be relatively easily crushed by the capitalist state apparatus – and liberal lobbying, such as appeals to the very politicians and parliament enabling their oppression. The two approaches are ultimately ineffective, and neither points a way forward. Both are effectively appeals to the powers that be, rather than an attempt to mobilise indigenous people, workers and their supporters in class based struggle against the powers that be.
The Aboriginal people suffer horrific racial oppression under Australian capitalism – this is not in dispute. It is also acknowledged that their struggle against this oppression can never be reactionary. However, it does not necessarily follow that the politics of the Aboriginal activists leading this struggle will always be revolutionary, or always progressive. Backward political positions can be inadvertently practiced, due to a number of societal and political factors, not the least of which is the almost total lack of working class mobilisation in support, due largely to conservative Union officials consciously preventing active workers’ support for indigenous people. Another factor is that some left parties do not challenge the politics of Aboriginal activists where they disagree, out of “respect” and “solidarity”. Such is for example, the program of Aboriginal nationalism. Aboriginal people do not form a nation, as they have not developed over time, a common language, common culture, common territory and common economic exchange. The possibility for this was eliminated by the invading British colonialists, which established an Australian capitalist state which also oppresses, though to a lesser extent, Australian workers.

An Australian nation has been formed, over time, comprised of Aboriginal people, descendants of British colonial rule and a myriad of migrants from numerous other nations. Aboriginal people unfortunately remain the most oppressed group within this nation, a historical wrong which needs urgent address. This however cannot be done without the overthrow of capitalist rule in the Australian nation, and in the Asia-Pacific region.  The Australian nation is also a junior imperialist power, which oppresses the peoples of the Asia-Pacific, and, via partnership with US imperialism, the people of the world. This is one reason why the declaring of, and the fight for, a separatist Aboriginal nation is not progressive, but reactionary. It automatically excludes those who can assist the struggle for the liberation, rather than joining with them to overthrow the rule of capital.

Left parties and individuals which acquiesce to groups such as WAR when advocating political doctrines such as Aboriginal nationalism, are doing so out of a mistaken conception of “respect” and “solidarity”.  The crucial element is to reach out to supporters of indigenous people in their capacity as workers, in order to mobilise industrial strength behind the cause. If this were to occur, it is likely that despairing ideas such as Aboriginal nationalism would not have a material basis on which to arise. However, the main obstacle is the self-serving Union officialdom, which view their own comfortable careers way above any token support for Aboriginal rights. The struggle to replace class-collaborationist Union leaders with a class-struggle leadership is bound up with the struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party, based above all on the theory and practice of Leninism. Such a party would champion the rights of Aboriginal people as part of a struggle to replace the system perpetuating the oppression of Aboriginal people and the domination of working people – that of social production for private profit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://issuu.com/blacknationsrising/docs/black_nations_rising_issue_1__online (31-07-16)

[2] http://www.icl-fi.org/english/asp/226/aboriginal.html (31-07-16)

[3] http://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/media-releases/2016/letter-to-malcolm-turnbull-on-royal-commission-into-nt-youth-detention (03-08-16)

[4] https://www.facebook.com/WARcollective/posts/1071999899562235 (03-08-16)

Shut down Don Dale! Release the Aboriginal, Youth and Refugee Detainees!

29-03-2016 – In scenes reminiscent of the notorious Abu Graib prison during the US/UK/AUST imperialist war on Iraq from 2003, the ABC’s 4 Corners program last Monday night broadcast horrific images of Northern Territory “correctional” guards torturing youth detainees at the equally notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Although one of the detainees shown being shackled and hooded to a chair was white (Dylon Voller), the overwhelming majority of inmates are indigenous. Aboriginal people represent but 3% of the national population, but fill out 28% of the prison population.[1] Pushing the bounds of reality, a staggering 97% of youth detainees in the Northern Territory are of Aboriginal heritage.[2]

The images shown by the 4 Corners report show detainees being tear gassed, beaten, stripped naked, hog tied and hooded, causing untold psychological and physical trauma, in actions which are clearly criminal, according to any definition of the term. Some indigenous leaders are now calling for the Northern Territory government to be sacked or dissolved, saying the gross mistreatment of youth in detention should result in a forfeit of a right to govern.[3] The Federal Government’s response has been to call a Royal Commission, in a well-worn path of attempting to divert mounting anger into long drawn-out and ultimately fruitless channels. The last Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody in 1987, as is widely known, handed down 330 recommendations – virtually all of which have never been implemented. It was a classic whitewash, as will be the latest one. Ultimately, there will be no change when the capitalist state investigates itself – in the same way that police cannot independently investigate police.

Both the Federal Government and the Northern Territory government cannot now claim to be shocked as to the latest events to be revealed. For at least 5 years, the abuse of detainees at Don Dale has been known to all levels of government, regardless of which parliamentary party sat on the benches of government. In fact, repeated incidents of abuse at Don Dale were reported between 2010 and 2012, when it was not a Liberal National Coalition government, but one formed by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. All parties, both Federal and Northern Territory governments, the police and the “corrective services” management knew of gross maltreatment of those supposedly in their care, yet did nothing.

The fact that Aboriginal and non-indigenous youth have carried out petty crimes and crimes against property and end up in detention, is ultimately an end result of the vicious cycle of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. There literally is little future in a society which offers them no or low-paying jobs, an unaffordable cost of living, disintegrating public services and crumbling public infrastructure. Amongst this dire outlook, the marginalisation of Aboriginal people and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is yet another damning indictment of a society which subordinates almost all human endeavour to the accumulation of capital into the hands of a numerically insignificant but obscenely wealthy minority.

There are striking parallels between the torture meted out to the detainees at Don Dale and that imposed on innocent human beings seeking asylum and a safe place to live in Australia. Australia has the ignominious distinction to now be known worldwide for clearly illegal and inhumane treatment of refugees who are more often than not fleeing the very wars which Canberra has waged alongside Washington in the Middle East and elsewhere. In both cases, at Don Dale and refugee detention centres either on the mainland or off-shore in Nauru and Manus Island, the unfortunate people are treated as less than human, as something to be denied humanity, dignity and physical and mental health. The further the system of private profit declines, the worse the treatment of its victims.

The repression is creeping into society as a whole. Catch a train or walk down a city centre, and you are likely to cross the path or be accosted by heavily armed police, or public transport guards who have the power to detain, beat and/or prosecute you. It is in public, not just behind the walls of detention centres, that indigenous people, youth, people of colour, Muslims or anyone deemed to be an “other”, can be targeted for state sponsored repression. The increase of repression and the falling rate of profit are directly linked. The ruling classes are aware that their system is on the ropes, and are preparing to prevent a large scale fight back. This is precisely what working people and their supporters need to organise.

Despite the horrors we see almost on a daily basis, there is no need for despair. The crisis presents an opportunity to fight, push through, and win the deep changes for which working people are crying out. Political strategy is crucial. While indigenous people suffer the worst effects of oppression in capitalist Australia, their oppression is linked to the oppression of working people. Thus it is imperative that Indigenous activists and their supporters look towards efforts to win over people as workers and draw them in to political action which engages in a class struggle against the source of both Aboriginal and worker misfortune – the ruling class and its state apparatus.

The main block to mobilising people as workers is the ideologically pro-capitalist Union bureaucracy, which seeks to restrict industrial action to that which is acceptable to the corporate magnates. The battle to replace the conservative careerists at the head of almost all Unions with a leadership committed to the needs of workers and the oppressed is bound up with the struggle to forge a multi-racial revolutionary workers’ party. Such a party would seek to assist all efforts to end indigenous disadvantage with the same vigour as it would defend the interests of working people.

While every effort should be made to end the horror of Don Dale, those struggling for justice would do well to recognise that indigenous oppression is common only to those countries where capital rules. Countries which have established workers’ rule – China, the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba – do not and cannot oppress their own indigenous people. Indeed, through the mechanism of their respective workers’ states, often the indigenous people are heading up and leading these countries’ path towards socialism. Release the Aboriginal, youth and refugee detainees!

Workers League
PO Box 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com

http://www.redfireonline.com

[1] https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/law/aboriginal-prison-rates (27-07-2016)

[2] http://www.sbs.com.au/news/thefeed/article/2016/07/26/facts-about-indigenous-youth-detention-australia (27-07-2016)

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-26/indigenous-leaders-call-for-nt-government-to-be-sacked/7662150 (27-07-2016)