Justice for David Dungay! Justice for Elijah! Justice for Tane!
10 October 2017 – Aboriginal people and other anti-racists have staged angry protests throughout the country after the killer of 14 year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, was given an extremely light sentence. The child killer is a 56 year-old white man who the courts have suppressed the identity of. He committed the crime on 29 August last year while driving in his 4WD ute in the WA town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The killer chased Elijah, who was riding a small motorbike, down a dirt track. The murderer then ran over Elijah. He rammed into Elijah’s motorbike after having revved up to a speed so much faster than the motorbike that he smashed it into three main pieces and countless smaller fragments while Elijah’s skull was split in two and his spinal cord severed at the base of his brain.
For this heinous crime, the killer was given just a three years sentence. If he is granted parole, which media have reported seems likely, he will be released as soon as next January. This sentence handed down on July 21 by chief judge of the WA supreme court, Wayne Martin, was barely a slap on the wrist for a matter involving the killing of a child. The very light sentence provoked angry protests by Aboriginal people and other anti-racists throughout the country. In Kalgoorlie, where people had gathered to watch a video link to the Perth court proceedings, the verdict and sentence caused terrible grief to Elijah’s family and friends. Hundreds of people then defied the threatening presence of dozens of heavily armed police to march through the streets of Kalgoorlie chanting “Justice for Elijah!” In Sydney, a spirited rally three days later culminated in protesters smearing red ochre on the windows of the NSW Supreme Court building to symbolise the blood on the hands of Australia’s “justice system”. Aboriginal activists throughout the country pointedly asked, “What if the murdered child had been a white-skinned boy and the killer an Aboriginal man?”
Australia’s Racist, Rich-Peoples Legal System Once Again Denies Justice to Aboriginal People
In other words, if police had not racially-profiled Elijah, i.e. if they had not been so racist, he would still be alive today. That was the first of several major injustices from the “justice” system that Elijah, his family and friends copped. Secondly, even though evidence pointed to the killer having deliberately rammed his ute into Elijah’s small bike – with forensics showing the killer traveling over 20 km/h faster than Elijah – the police only charged him with manslaughter rather than murder. Then when hundreds of Aboriginal people responded to this blatant state racism by courageously marching on the Kalgoorlie courthouse and carrying out staunch acts of defiance against symbols of the racist authorities – including police cars, the courthouse entrance and the heavily armed police who were confronting them – police brutally unleashed their batons against the Aboriginal marchers and arrested several protesters. Outrageously, one of the Aboriginal people arrested in this anti-racist resistance has copped a sentence that could see him end up remaining in jail after the killer gets released!
Then there was the verdict in the killers’ trial in Perth. The killer was acquitted of even the reduced charge of manslaughter. Instead, he was convicted of the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death. Even within the spectrum of the lesser conviction, the sentence that the judge handed out to the killer was light given the circumstances. Here is what the judge, Wayne Martin, argued:
“Martin said while the consequences of the driver’s conduct were severe, his culpability was `in the lower half of what I might call the range of seriousness in the scale applicable to these things”.
So according to Australia’s legal system, running over a child when chasing him with a 4WD ute accelerated to travel over 20 km/h faster than the child’s motorbike is “in the lower half of seriousness” … provided that the child is Aboriginal! The outcome of the trial has left most Aboriginal people, as well as any other decent, anti-racist person who followed the case, completely sickened. However, this injustice did not come out of the blue. It was par for the course for a thoroughly racist injustice system that has very often devalued the lives of Aboriginal children and Aboriginal people more broadly. Let us recall a similar case: the murder of 15-year-old Aboriginal youth, Errol Wyles, in Townsville in 2003. The child was killed after the white male, Scott Hasenkamp, revved up his car and reversed over the Aboriginal child who was riding a bicycle on two separate occasions before speeding off. Hasenkamp was a known white supremacist skinhead who once shouted from his car at Errol Wyles, “We’re going to kill all you n****rs, Errol.” Outrageously, police did not charge Hasenkamp with murder. Instead, they granted him the charge of dangerous driving causing death – the very same charge that Elijah’s killer was slapped on the wrist with. The courts sentenced Errol’s white supremacist murderer to just a 15 month sentence, of which he actually only served two months in prison (the rest on a farm)! Now, chillingly, this filthy, racist murderer could well be wandering the streets somewhere free!
The most frequent perpetrators of the killing of Aboriginal people are the actual state authorities. In a killing similar to that of Elijah’s, in February 2004 police driving in vans chased a 17 year-old Aboriginal youth riding his bicycle, TJ Hickey, through the streets of the Sydney inner-city suburb of Redfern. Police then rammed the boy’s bicycle causing him to fly onto a fence where he was impaled. Police then violated standard emergency procedure by ripping the child from the fence causing him to bleed to death. However, the coroner completely exonerated the police, even claiming that the police were not even chasing TJ! Instead, he recommended that one of the cops involved in the murder be given a bravery award! This outrage is part of a long line of Aboriginal people being killed by police or prison guards. And in not one instance has a state official ever been convicted over one of these killings. In many cases like those of the deaths of TJ, Eddie Murray, John Pat, Daniel Yock and Mulrunji the police or prison guards outright murdered their Aboriginal victims. In other cases, like that of 22 year-old Ms Dhu and 28 year-old Kwementyaye (Terrance) Briscoe, police killed their victims through a combination of criminal neglect and violence.
Two recent cases where state enforcement authorities have killed young Aboriginal people include the deaths of 26 year-old David Dungay and 22 year-old Tane Chatfield. David Dungay was killed by guards at Sydney’s Long Bay jail on 28 December 2015. The guards violently wrestled him to the ground and held him face down on a mattress on the pretext that Dungay – a diabetic – was eating a biscuit! Dungay repeated yelled out that he couldn’t breathe but guards continued to brutalise him and then prison staff injected Dungay with a strong sedative without even assessing his vital signs or checking his airwaves. Shortly afterwards, Dungay turned purple and stopped breathing completely. As David Dungay’s mother, Leetona, described it: “Straight out murder. They murdered my son…”.
Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay man, Tane Chatfield was found hanging in his cell at Tamworth Correctional Centre two weeks ago and died two days later. His case is more than suspicious. Indeed, the fact that NSW Corrective Services had declared the death a suicide with “no suspicious circumstances” just hours after Tane died makes the case all the more suspicious. What is most telling about Tane’s death is that he was photographed in hospital with extensive injuries that have little to do with hanging but a lot to do with being bashed. These injuries include a gash in his lips, lumps in his head and under his ears, bruising on his nose and lips and bruising on his shoulders and legs. Furthermore, another inmate heard him scream out as he was being attacked shortly before he was found unresponsive in his cell. Highly suspiciously, that morning every other inmate was let out into the yard except Tane, who was kept alone in his cell. Moreover, as his family have pointed out, Tane was in good spirits and showed no indication of wanting to kill himself. After spending two years locked up in remand, Tane was confident of being released in two weeks when his trial on an armed robbery charge concluded and in which he was expected to be acquitted. All indications are that Tane was murdered by state enforcement authorities and that this was then passed off as suicide by hanging – as in the infamous killing of 21 year-old Gamilaraay man, Eddie Murray, who was murdered in a police cell in the Northern NSW town of Wee Waa in 1981. Tane was just a year older than Eddie was when he was murdered. Twenty six years after Eddie Murray’s killing nothing has changed. Indeed as the redneck murder of Elijah and the recent state killings of Tane Chatfield, David Dungay, Rebecca Maher, Ms Dhu and so many other people show, racist terror against Aboriginal people is actually intensifying.
Australia’s post-1788 state machinery – from the police, to the prisons, to the courts, commissions and military – was, indeed, founded not only to enforce the exploitation of the labouring classes by the rich propertied, capitalist class. The brutal Australian state machine was, of course, also set up for the express purpose of dispossessing Aboriginal people from the land that they belonged to, to turn them into a super-exploited labour force (initially toiling in the agricultural industry and as domestic servants and later, today, often in unpaid work for the dole or other mutual obligation slave labour-like schemes) as well as to repress the resistance of Aboriginal people to their many-sided subjugation. Since the Australian capitalist state’s inception, this targeting of this country’s first peoples and all the foul “traditions” and “culture” associated with their continuing oppression have been passed down to every succeeding generation of state officials. This is further reinforced by every act of racist and anti-working class repression that the state machinery unleashes. And every time that Australia’s racist, rich people’s “justice system” allows someone to get away with killing a black person it gives ultra-racists – both state personnel and rednecks like the murderers of Elijah and Errol Wyles – a green light for yet more terror.
A Racist, Lynch Mob-Incited Murder
The murder of Elijah was not simply the question of an individual heartless man who in a fit of rage over his stolen little motorbikes makes a sudden decision to run over a child riding a small motorbike. Rather, it was a killing that directed all the racist ferment happening in the town into a particular despicable crime. Kalgoorlie-Boulder has long been an especially racist town, in the particularly racist state of WA in the especially racist country that is called Australia. In the whole of WA, Aboriginal children are 53 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Aboriginal counterparts!
As with racist hostility to other mainly non-white communities in Australia – like Muslims, East Asians, Africans and South Asians– the main “justifications” given for redneck hatred for Aboriginal people change with time almost like the whims of fashion. The latest fashion in white supremacist hostility to Aboriginal people in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area is anger at petty thefts – including of motorbikes – allegedly committed by Aboriginal youth. This is despite statistics over the 18 months leading up to Elijah’s killing showing no increase in the rate of such crimes (WA Today, 31 August 2016). In the lead up to the murder of Elijah, two local community Facebook groups, “Kalgoorlie Crimes Whinge and Whine” and “Name Shame Crimes Kalgoorlie” were not only infused with extreme racist bigotry towards Aboriginal people but included calls for violence. The month before Elijah was killed, a contributor to one of the community pages wrote, referring to the gunning down of black people on the streets of America by racist cops: “What about we get some white cops from America …. lol …. Not really funny but might work.” He also wrote: “Things will never change unless there is annual cull.” There was no way that the killer was not influenced by – or perhaps a contributor to – this violent racist agitation. He was certainly aware of it. Indeed, the very day before he killed Elijah, his wife actually posted about their missing bikes on one of these two racist-infested Kalgoorlie crime Facebook pages.
Calls from extreme racists within Kalgoorlie for the outright murder of Aboriginal people intensified in the days leading up to Elijah’s killing. A week before his murder, after a woman posted a claim that two Aboriginal youths had broken into a ute, a man replied, “Feel free to run the oxygen thieves off the road if you see them”, while another man wrote, “Everyone talks about hunting down these sub human mutts, but no one ever does.” Then, as racists on the social media pages continued to use derogatory terms to refer to Aboriginal people – such as “darkies” and “non-reflectives” – one user wrote: “How many human bodies would it take to fill the mineshafts around Kalgoorlie? A: We’re one theft closer to finding out!”. This threat of, practically, a genocidal assault upon the local Aboriginal population was made just two days before Elijah was murdered! It is absolutely undoubted that all this extreme racist bigotry fuelled the actions of the killer. Just as a laser concentrates seemingly harmless light of different phases into a single sharp output that can then cut like a knife, the violent outpouring of hatred from racist rednecks was channelled into the ghastly act of the killer when he rammed his 4WD ute into the child.
For Action by the Workers Movement, Aboriginal People & All Anti-Racists to Resist Racist Terror!
The murder of Elijah and his killer’s escape from justice cannot be separated from the increasingly racist political climate that is lurking over all capitalist countries. This is signaled by the growth of violent, far-right groups in Australia and the rise of hard right, extreme racist Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. Just three weeks after Elijah’s killer got away with a very light sentence, large numbers of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists held a terrifying march through Charlottesville, United States, which culminated in one of the fascists murdering Heather Heyer by ramming his car into her and other anti-racist counter-protesters. Yet as terrible as the situation is in the U.S. we should point out that there is a difference in what happened to the murderer of Heather Heyer and what happened to the murderer of Elijah Doughty. In the U.S., the neo-Nazi who murdered Heather Heyer was at least charged with murder whereas the redneck who killed Elijah was only charged with manslaughter and ended up being acquitted on that charge as well. As racist as things are in the U.S. they are even worse here!
Although Aboriginal people cop by far the worst of racist terror in this country – especially from state authorities – all people of colour can be targets of racist violence. A recent study found 243 reported and confirmed violent or threatening attacks on Muslim people in Australia in just a 15 month period – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The majority of attacks were on women. Meanwhile, just two months after Elijah was murdered, Indian-born Brisbane bus driver Manmeet Alisher was murdered by a white terrorist who boarded the bus and heinously set the driver alight in what was manifestly a racist attack. The murderer, Anthony O’Donohue, was known to hold fascist views – including conspiracy theories against trade unions. And then a month after Elijah’s killer was acquitted with manslaughter, a white student at Canberra’s ANU university pulled out a baseball bat during his lecture and started attacking other students. Indications are that he specifically targeted Asian students and indeed all the people he hospitalised with injuries were Chinese students. The attack was only stopped when brave international students from China tackled the attacker to the ground. Mainstream Australian media are notorious for covering up the racist nature of racially motivated crimes. However, even they have admitted that ANU student newspaper Woroni had reported that the man “appeared to attack students of Asian appearance” and that other students had reported that word around campus was that “it was Asian girls that were targeted” (The Daily Telegraph, 25 August 2017). The previous month, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group called Antipodean Resistance had posted up, fake-official, “No Chinese Allowed” posters (written in poor Chinese) at Melbourne universities at the start of the new semester.
The bitter reality is that capitalist rule in Australia has created a very racist society. As in all capitalist countries, the ruling big business-owning class – and the state that serves them – consciously promotes racism and nationalism in order to divide the working class people that they exploit and to divert the downtrodden masses from rebelling against them. Furthermore, in the particular case of Australia, the mining and big agricultural bosses who make up a significant part of the ruling class know that their tremendous wealth comes from the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land. Thus, they do everything to both perpetuate this injustice and to spread the racist stereotypes that “justify” it. Moreover, the white supremacist sentiments that permeate Australian society are also the ideological reflection of Australian- owned multinational corporations super exploiting labour, plundering natural resources and seizing control of markets in neighbouring predominantly non- white countries like PNG, East Timor, Indonesia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the fact that these darker-skinned peoples subjugated by Australian imperialism have a lower standard of living than Australian workers makes narrow-minded, bought-off elements within the Australian working class spread the false view that Australian masses should be protected from having their relatively privileged position being diluted into that of the neighbouring peoples by xenophobic policies.
As a result, racism creeps so deeply into every pore of this society that there are hundreds of thousands of garden-variety rednecks in this country – if not more – who on a bad day, given the right excuse to feel aggrieved, could commit the kind of crime that Elijah’s killer did. That, certainly, makes such violence hard but, nevertheless, far from impossible to curb! One thing that needs to be done is that every time that far-right racists hold a public event, mass united action of trade unionists, Aboriginal people, other people of colour and all anti-racists must stop them. A taste of the type of action needed was seen in Brisbane on 2 May 2014 when a large
contingent of unionised construction workers joined together with anarchists, Trotskyist Platform supporters and other leftists to shut down an attempted march by the fascist Australia First Party and the Australian chapter of the Greek neo-Nazi, Golden Dawn group. Such mobilisations can intimidate racists into realising that turning their bigoted views into action can bring them negative consequences. If there had been powerful actions to drive white supremacists off the streets it may have given the racist skinhead who murdered Errol Wyles some pause. And while the murderer of Elijah may have not himself been a member of a far right racist group, if he had seen and heard reports of extreme racists being trounced throughout the country it may have made him doubt that he could get away with running over an Aboriginal child. It could also have made some of the hardcore racists egging on such crimes on Facebook pull their heads in.
Secondly, every time that an Aboriginal person is killed by violent rednecks, cops or prison guards there needs to be determined protest action to demand justice. It is the fact that cops and prison guards have, on every occasion, gotten away with killing an Aboriginal person that gives encouragement to the violent racist proclivities of the likes of Elijah’s killer. This makes the movement against black deaths in custody – or rather against murder in custody – all the more important. To give this movement the strength that it deserves, the trade union movement must mobilise its power behind it. It was a good thing that there were some members of the Maritime Union of Australia, carrying union flags, at the Sydney protest over the sentence of Elijah’s killer. This union support must be broadened and deepened so that it can be turned into protest industrial action against murders in custody of Aboriginal people. When the corporate bosses who run this country have their fabulous profits threatened by workers’ strike action they – and their servants in parliament – will finally start to rein in their thugs in blue.
Such action by the workers movement in defence of Aboriginal people is possible because although most people in this country have a relatively privileged position with respect to most Aboriginal people, this capitalist social order and the state that enforces it is bad for all working class people. It brings unemployment, insecure jobs, a dire shortage of affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, a growing gap between rich and poor and education and health care that is becoming increasingly user pays. Today, the same state that murderously oppresses Aboriginal people also attacks the picket lines of striking workers, hounds trade union activists in the construction industry and represses campaigners in support of public housing and other progressive causes. Moreover, the system threatens to, in the future, again plunge humanity into a catastrophic world war. It is, thus, in the very interests of the workers movement to stand shoulder to shoulder with Aboriginal people against the injustices of the racist, rich people’s state. Moreover, when the workers movement takes a strong stand against racist atrocities it will help to expel racist sentiments from within its own ranks, which is absolutely essential to building the unity needed to mobilise powerful struggles against the capitalist exploiters.
Thirdly, the racist policies by Australian federal and state governments must be opposed. This means we must oppose the right-wing Turnbull government’s expansion of the patronising “Cashless Welfare” schemes. These measures, whose spread is being driven by greedy billionaire Andrew Forrest, not only attacks all the poor but disproportionately targets areas with high proportions of Aboriginal people and other economically disadvantaged people of colour. We must also fight against other forced “income management” schemes and against the anti-Aboriginal NT intervention. Both of these were started by the Howard Liberal government and then continued and even extended under the rule of the former ALP – and ALP/Greens de-facto coalition – governments. Like the bipartisan policy of imprisoning and deporting refugees, these racist policies incite the sentiments that fuel acts of racist terror – like the murder of Elijah.
That yet more black people are being murdered in custody and that the killer of a 14 year-old Aboriginal child could get away with a sentence so light shows that the situation in this country is indeed desperate for those on the receiving end of racial oppression. Furthermore, the growing racist violence against oppressed first peoples and ethnic and religious minorities in all capitalist countries from Australia, to the U.S., to Germany, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine – and including in ex-colonial capitalist countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar – points to a future even grimmer than today’s. It points to a future where capitalism descends into its most twisted, cruel and violent form: Nazi-style fascism. That is why we must resist now before humanity is plunged into unspeakable calamities. If the working class and all downtrodden mobilise in mass actions to stop white supremacist groups, oppose racist state murders in custody and stand against discriminatory laws, we will be building up our muscles for a decisive onslaught against the racist capitalist order itself. When we do smash this dog eat dog system and replace it with a socialist system based on shared ownership of the means of production we will be able to bring out the best in humanity and finally consign the horrific products of capitalist rule, like racism, poverty and sexism, to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Above: 3 November 2017 – Delegates to an Australian Services Union delegates conference in WA proudly show their support for the embattled Manus refugees. The growing number of statements of solidarity for refugees from sections of the union movement needs to be turned into protest industrial action. [Photo credit: WA from Unionists for Refugees – WA Facebook page]
Turn Our Union Movement’s Stated Solidarity with Manus Refugees Into Industrial Action That Can Force the Australian Government to: Free The Refugees & Bring Them Here Now!
Enough is enough. End their suffering. Evacuate these men now.
These men are people like us. They deserve to be working people. They are engineers, journalists, artists and former United Nations workers. They are fathers, brothers, uncles and sons.
We have taken their dreams of a better life, and replaced them with an unrelenting nightmare.
ACTU Statement, 10 November 2017
18 November 2017: Refugees on Manus Island are in a desperate struggle. After Australian governments and their henchmen in PNG imprisoned them for years in the island’s hellhole detention camp, Australian and PNG authorities now want them to move to yet another prison in a location where they will be even more unsafe. The refugees have good reason to be fearful. Just seven months ago, navy personnel living on the island attacked them with rocks and knives. The navy staff reportedly even unleashed gunfire against the centre.
So it is completely understandable that some four hundred of the refugees have refused to re-locate. They don’t want to be attacked or even killed. They don’t want another prison! They just want to be free to live like human beings should. The refugees are courageously resisting even after police cut food, water and electricity to the camp. Five days ago, the Australian-puppet PNG authorities once again entered the camp to destroy the water wells and bins that they had used to collect water to drink. These human beings are being starved and forced to live in filthy conditions. They are being tortured!
The Liberal and ALP politicians’ racist savagery against refugees and their fear-mongering against Muslims is emboldening extreme race-hate groups within Australia. A week ago, one such outfit threateningly ambushed Labor senator, Sam Dastyari. The bigots branded Iranian-born Dastyari a “monkey” and a “terrorist” as he sat down for a quiet pub meal. If this is what happens to a well-connected mainstream politician because he doesn’t happen to be white enough for the racist white supremacists, consider the threats that other people of colour face – whether from conscious fascists or from garden variety rednecks. Just two weeks ago, three Chinese high school students were bashed at a bus stop in South Canberra. This was part of a series of racist attacks in the area on the Chinese community.
The fact is that in the capitalist world, fascism is on the rise. Not only did a hard right racist become U.S. president and not only have far-right parties made big electoral gains in Austria, France and Germany but in all these countries as well as in the likes of Sweden, Greece, Ukraine and Russia fascist thugs are terrorising migrants. Far right forces are being emboldened because the more that capitalist rulers prevent working class people from having secure jobs and the more that they slash social services the more they have to scapegoat minority communities for the suffering caused by their own capitalist system of exploitation. Meanwhile the economic insecurity that this so-called system creates is pushing the most backward sections of the middle class into seeking salvation in extreme nationalism. If we do not resist, there is a danger that large parts of the world could end up being ravaged by the horror of Hitler-style fascism. The viciousness of the Australian regime’s treatment of refugees and the concomitant escalation in racist terror on the streets should both serve as warning signs!
Many people have, indeed, been fighting against the Liberal government’s abuse of Manus refugees. People have held spirited protests and there have been brief occupations of immigration department offices. Some activists have staged audacious media stunts like climbing a crane to hoist the banner “SOS: Evacuate Manus Now!” over Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day. Last Friday, hundreds of us rightly gave a good serve to participants at a Sydney fundraiser for Tony Abbott which also acted as a speaking appointment for the much hated immigration minister, Peter Dutton.
However, what the refugee rights movement is up against was seen by the response of the ruling class to Friday’s protest. Firstly, police aggressively manhandled protesters. Even after we marched off far from the site of the right-wing fundraiser, riot police continued to assault demonstrators. They arrested four protesters – one of whom was charged. Today, another activist was charged, this time over the incident when Abbott’s sister and fellow Liberal party hack, Christine Forster, ran into spirited opposition when she entered Friday’s fundraiser. Meanwhile, mainstream media hysterically condemned the protests and greatly hyped up the trouble that the whingeing sook, Forster, ran into. And it was not just the conservative Murdoch media that was on the charge here. The “liberal” Fairfax media and the ABC joined in too. And the condemnation of our protests from politicians was not restricted to Abbott and his hard line mate, Dutton. Opposition frontbencher, Anthony Albanese, a member of Labor’s so-called “Left” faction, accused us of “intimidation.” This highlights the fact that this is a bi-partisan war on refugees. Indeed, behind the cruel torture of refugees stands the overwhelming majority of the capitalist ruling class as well as their henchmen – from their physical enforcers in the police force to the judges and magistrates providing legal cover for their crimes to their media propagandists and their political servants on both sides of parliament.
Against this overwhelming physical, political, judicial, media and financial power that the bosses wield we need our own power. Actually, we already have it! For our power lies in the organised workers movement and its ability to unleash industrial action to hurt the profits of the rich capitalist businessmen for whose interests the whole state machine has been set up over many years. It is possible to mobilise the working class in defence of refugees because it is in the very interests of the working class to oppose racism since such racism is poison to the workers unity essential to building any campaign for workers rights. Importantly, five days ago, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement calling on “the Australian Government to immediately evacuate people seeking asylum on Manus Island, to end the appalling humanitarian crisis.” This statement now needs to be backed up by industrial action. The workers movement and all its allies must fight to demand that all the Manus and, indeed, Nauru-based refugees be brought here to Australia with the full rights of citizens. Freedom for all people imprisoned in Australia’s hell-hole detention centres from Manus to Nauru to Villawood to Christmas Island! Full rights of citizenship for all refugees, migrants, guest workers and students! Drop the charges against all pro-refugee protesters!
PNG and Australian Imperialism
The persecution of Manus refugees highlights just how much PNG is under the control of the Australian ruling class. For decades, PNG was an Australian colony. Australia’s rulers treated the PNG masses with the same racist arrogance that they continue to subject Aboriginal people to. After PNG gained independence in 1975, Australian-owned companies continued to loot her mineral wealth without paying much royalty to local people. Today, up to 500 people in the PNG capital are sleeping rough after two Australian-owned developers threw out 2,000 people living in the waterfront Paga Hill shantytown with no resettlement. With the PNG people so badly impoverished by Australian imperialist exploitation, some PNG locals have become resentful of those who, like refugees, are mistakenly seen as competing for scarce goods.
In a classic neo-colonial arrangement, Australian judges, bureaucrats and “advisers” have continued to impregnate PNG’s state organs after the so-called “independence” of PNG was officially declared in 1975. Thus, PNG’s Supreme Court – the same court that last week knocked back an application to restore basic services to the Manus camp – has not one but three Australian judges on its panel! As for the PNG police force, it is advised – i.e. directed – by a contingent of over 70 Australian Federal Police officers stationed directly in PNG. Through a combination of the pressure of these Australian bureaucrats and police officers, through bribery of PNG officials by Australian businessmen and through the economic threats of all-powerful Australian corporations, the capitalist elites living in places like Point Piper, Mosman, Toorak, Vaucluse and Hunters Hill are able to ensure that the PNG state machine serves their interests. In June last year, PNG police opened fire on students protesting against the corrupt, Australian-backed prime minister, Peter O’Neill. Reports indicate that at least four students were shot dead. Earlier from 1989, the PNG military, acting in the interests of Australian-owned miner CRA (which later merged with British RTZ to form Rio Tinto), brutally attacked a brave rebellion by people on the island of Bougainville. The Bougainville people rose up against CRA’s refusal to grant proper compensation – and its arrogant destruction of the surrounding land – from its hugely profitable Panguna copper mine. But, backed up by Australian arms, military advisers and Australian pilots strafing the Bougainville people from helicopter gunships, the PNG military and its Australian godfathers killed over 15,000 Bougainville people through either gunfire or the starvation and lack of medicine that resulted from the blockade that they imposed on the island’s people. Today these same forces are doing a mini-version of that blockade against the Manus refugees – and if they are not stopped the same tragic consequences will ensue!
Meanwhile, Australian governments have pressured PNG authorities to not only privatise PNG public services but even its land held by kinship groups too. This has, obviously, led to greater inequality and a replacement of the local people’s pre-colonial, community-minded outlook with the ruthless rivalries of unrestrained dog eat dog capitalism. Nevertheless, contrary to the Australian media’s attempt to brand all the Manus people as violent attackers of refugees – even as the media, itself, unsympathetically reports on the refugees’ plight – some on the island have been bravely defying the police and trying to pass food through to the refugees in the camp. Furthermore, over three hundred people on the island, organised by Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuse, have signed a petition asking for all the asylum seekers to be returned to Australia. Moreover, although in remote and navy-dominated Manus many people do imbibe the Australian government’s hostility to refugees, in urban parts of PNG – especially in the capital with its working class concentration – there have been many instances of brave resistance against the Australian-dictated social order. In 2001, PNG students along with others held mass protests and occupations against privatisation of state assets. Bearing slogans against the Australian government, the IMF and the World Bank that had dictated the privatisation program, they eventually forced the PNG government to back down. This heroic struggle came at great cost – PNG police shot dead four of the anti-privatisation protesters in June 2001.
Typical Racist Brutality of the Australian Regime
The horror of what Australia’s rulers are doing to the Manus refugees has driven new layers of well-meaning people into the refugee rights movement. Some of them and others involved in the campaign for a long time have held slogans about the Manus issue like, “This is Un-Australian.” Such sentiments are encouraged by the speeches of Greens politicians at refugee rights rallies who often state that “Australia’s treatment of refugees puts a stain on our proud human rights record.” However, the truth is that the Australian government’s persecution of refugees is all too typical of the “human rights record” of this ruling class. Indeed, the way they are grinding down refugees at the Manus camp right now actually draws attention to the way they have subjected Aboriginal children in the NT and other Australian youth detention centres to unsanitary conditions as well as torture. The death last Christmas Eve of 27 year-old Manus refugee from Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, after authorities denied him proper medical treatment for his heart and breathing problems has eerie similarities to the August 2014 death of imprisoned 22 year-old Aboriginal woman, Julieka Dhu, who died of a severe bacterial infection after racist WA police murderously refused her medical treatment. And the way that Manus guards and cops bashed to death Kurdish asylum seeker, Reza Berati, in 2014, recalls the brutal bashing to death in Palm Island ten years earlier of the Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, by a racist Queensland cop. Indeed, capitalist rule in this country was founded on the genocidal dispossession of Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, Aboriginal people continue to resist racist state violence, famously during the Redfern resistance actions and Palm Island uprising, both in 2004. The latter brought to prominence the great Aboriginal hero from Palm Island, Lex Wotton. But the killings in and out of state custody of John Pat, Eddie Murray, TJ Hickey, Julieka Dhu, Wayne “Fella” Morrison, David Dungay, Tane Chatfield and hundreds of other people show that Aboriginal people continue to be murdered by racist Australian police and prison guards to this very day.
So the cruel mandatory detention of refugees does not come out of the blue. Indeed, it is an extension of the Australian White Australia Policy that lasted officially up to the mid-1970s. That policy effectively barred most non-white people from entering the country. Even the impunity that detention centre guards have for extreme acts of brutality against refugees is rooted in Australia’s past and present. We only have to note that not a single Australian prison guard or cop has ever been convicted over the death of an Aboriginal person in custody. Or to point to the way that the racist redneck who chased down and ran over 14 year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie was only given a very light sentence for his deadly actions. Meanwhile, the spin of the Australian authorities and media over their atrocities on Manus is all too typical as well. It is like the way they black out the voice of Aboriginal people speaking out against murders of their family and friends in custody or the way they tried to cover up the racist character of the wave of violent attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009.
The fact is that the filthy rich businessmen who run this country – and their henchmen in the state machine – will do whatever it takes to strengthen their rule and boost their profits. Today, as homelessness is on the rise, Australian governments drive more people into poverty by selling off low-rent public housing. They are also persecuting trade union activists in the construction industry. Indeed, their cruel repression of refugees is an indication of what they will seek to impose on the exploited working class should we mount a serious challenge to their rule. This is no joke, comrades.
Identifying the cruel oppression of refugees as one of the aspects of a profoundly unjust social order opens the door to a united front with Aboriginal people fighting against savage oppression, trade unions struggling against anti-union laws and cuts to working conditions, low income people suffering through the dire shortage of low-rent accommodation as well as ever more stringent restrictions on access to social welfare and the many communities in Australia who bear the full brunt of Islamophobia and other variants of the white supremacist, racist agenda.
The Burning Question:
What Strategy to Free the Refugees?
Over the last 25 years many people have sincerely put great effort into the struggle for refugee rights. But at this critical moment we must consider: is the movement basing itself on a strategy and program that can actually win? Well, certainly, the hard work of thousands of activists over the years has not gone to waste. As a result of all the protests for refugee rights many, many more people are aware of the issue and have become sympathetic to the plight of refugees. However, the movement has not been able to make Australian governments retreat from any of their cruel policies. When one considers how many hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in this country are sympathetic to the plight of refugees then one has to conclude that the strategy the refugee rights movement has pursued up till now has been a wrong one.
So what strategy has the movement been based on? It is true that people from diverse political backgrounds participating in the actions have different ideas about how best to achieve freedom for refugees. However, the prevailing strategy, which reflects the politics of the socialist group, Solidarity, that has control of the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) is one that’s based on the idea of change through parliament. So, the movement, even while criticising the ALP’s refugee policies, campaigns for the ALP and Greens to be elected to parliament and seeks to pressure the ALP to reverse its anti-refugee policy. Thus, the formation of a future ALP government with a pro-refugee policy or an ALP-Greens coalition is put forward as a means to free the refugees.
The problem with this strategy, however, is that it has not worked. Indeed, it was the Rudd Labor government which in July 2013 brought in the current “PNG solution.” Labor’s Rudd made John Howard’s racist refugee policy even more xenophobic by declaring that, “From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.” And let’s not forget it was the Keating ALP government that in 1992 introduced the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers in the first place.
Unlike the ALP, the Greens have spoken out – sometimes strongly – against the Turnbull government’s brutal war on refugees. However, in 2010 they jumped into a de facto coalition with the Gillard ALP government without demanding even the slightest commitment from that government to ease its war on refugees. During the period of the Greens-ALP alliance government from August 2010 to February 2013, not only did the Greens prop up a government that was maintaining mandatory detention of refugees but that government also significantly intensified its anti-refugee policy. In August 2012, the Gillard government announced that it would resume the detention of refugees in Manus and Nauru that had been paused during the first Rudd government. Even though the Greens opposed the move, they still remained part of the de facto coalition government! That’s hardly a serious commitment to refugee rights!
The reason that all pro-capitalist parties are complicit in the oppression of refugees is that the vast majority of the capitalist bigwigs – whom all these current parliamentary parties ultimately serve – are committed to the war on refugees. To be sure, some in the capitalist class do worry that the brutality of their anti-refugee policies will damage the Australian state’s reputation in the world and thus impede their ability to use the claim of standing for “human rights” to justify their predatory imperialist interventions abroad. However, a bigger section of the corporate tycoons calculate that they need the diversionary and divisive effect of a harsh policy against refugees. And from their ruthlessly greedy point of view they are probably right! Without their governments making the masses think that refugees and migrants are some kind of threat to their wellbeing, how else are they going to make working class people wear the fact that workers’ real wages aren’t rising and workers’ penalty rates are being cut while the capitalists’ own fat profits are ballooning ever higher? How else are the big shareholders and executives of the NAB bank going to stop their own workforce from revolting at the fact that they are throwing 6,000 of these workers out of their jobs even after making a spectacular $5.3 billion annual profit?
Given that the Greens do claim to stand for refugee rights it is not wrong per se for RAC to invite them to speak at their rallies. Nor, given that the pro-capitalist ALP does have a working class base (unlike the openly pro-boss Liberals), is it unacceptable to have speakers from Labor for Refugees in order to encourage pro-refugee individuals within the ALP to take a more outspoken stand. However, what is harmful is for the Solidarity group leadership of RAC to then promote future ALP or ALP-Greens “lesser evil” governments as a means of salvation for refugees.
The left-social democratic Solidarity group’s parliamentarist strategy was especially evident during the federal elections last year when they openly handed out election material for the Greens and called to put the ALP second after the Greens. When pushing these parliamentary illusions, Solidarity are acting to dampen support for the truly militant actions that are needed to win refugee rights even while young Solidarity members, themselves, passionately promote and participate in staunch pro-refugee actions.
Of course, if the refugee rights movement could be re-directed into one that could start to threaten and harm the ruling class’ interests – in particular, their profits – then a section of the capitalist class would be forced to consider backing down. Their more “left” and small-l liberal representatives would then start seriously working towards an overhaul of refugee policy. But this would not be change driven by these pro-capitalist parliamentary parties themselves but, rather, a case of the resistance of the masses forcing a section of the capitalists and the parties that serve them to retreat. That is a huge difference!
What a Working Class Orientation Really Means
To be able to threaten the interests of the ruling class means unleashing the industrial muscle of the union movement. Encouragingly, contingents of unionists from the Nurses and Midwives Association, the MUA, NTEU, Teachers Federation and other unions have taken part in pro-refugee actions. RAC does make efforts to lobby unions to participate in the movement. And the Solidarity group does state that a working class orientation is needed. However, a working class orientation requires more than just motivating unions to support the refugee rights campaign. It means setting the line of the movement itself to a pro-working class direction. In particular, it means making open appeals to workers’ interests, not just in statements given out especially to unionists, but in the actual, official callouts for the entire action itself. That means, for example, featuring as headline slogans in the main action call outs, calls similar to, “Workers: Let’s Build the Unity We Need to Stand Up to the Greedy Bosses – Oppose Racism by Standing with Refugees!” Openly appealing to workers’ class interests in the action callouts is what could win broader layers of unionists to see the refugee struggle as their struggle. It is what will help more conscious union activists who are already involved in the movement to mobilise their co-workers to join in as well.
This could, of course, put off some liberal refugee rights supporters who may be anti-union or unwilling to align with an openly pro-working class movement – people like liberal small business bosses, mid-level managers and managerial level public service bureaucrats who may support the Greens. It is this prospect of a break with such small-l liberals that, no doubt, makes Solidarity – and the other groups prominent in directing RAC like Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance – baulk from setting the refugee rights movement on an openly pro-working class direction. But this choice must be made. One cannot effectively appeal to both the rival classes in this society. If one truly believes in a pro-working class orientation – and it is clear that it will take the mobilisation of the working class and its allies to repulse the war on refugees – one has to be prepared to break with pro-capitalist elements. We should add that given that there have been many militant pro-refugee actions over the last two weeks and given the depth of the media/politician witch hunt over the Christine Forster “incident,” those left social democratic groups who have been so careful not to scare off small-l liberal elements may find these types quietly retreating from the movement anyhow or otherwise distancing themselves from militant protests.
Of course, whether the workers movement can be mobilised in defence of refugees depends on not only the direction of the refugee rights movement but on the internal politics of the union movement itself. Currently, the anti-refugee ALP politically dominates the union movement. That’s why challenging this influence of the ALP is key to mobilising the workers movement in defence of refugees.
We need to purge from the union movement not only loyalty to the ALP but something that runs even deeper – support for Labor’s outlook. Unfortunately, most workers currently back the ALP’s economic nationalist agenda. ALP slogans like “Employ Australians First,” by setting up local citizens as job market rivals of foreigners, inevitably creates resentment towards guest workers, refugees and international students. Indeed, protectionism runs so deep that much of the Far Left acquiesces to it even while trying to present it in a “clean” way devoid of open racism. The Socialist Alliance group, Socialist Alternative and the Communist Party of Australia all backed Australia’s largest demonstration to keep out foreign workers: the July 2012 “Local Workers First” rally in Perth. Here we must, however, give credit where credit is due to the Solidarity group. Although, overall, of all the far-left groups, Solidarity panders most to the ALP and Greens, they do take a strong stand against economic nationalism.
Trotskyist Platform is on a campaign to oppose all forms of economic nationalism. We understand that as long as this nationalism remains dominant in the union movement, efforts to mobilise the working class masses in defence of refugees will be greatly undermined. We seek to prove to workers how economic nationalism in all its forms undermines the unity and focus we need to fight for workers rights.
We can only defeat economic nationalist slogans if we provide an alternative program for secure jobs for all workers. Such a program is one of militant class struggle to prevent capitalist bosses from retrenching workers and forcing them to increase hiring at the expense of their fat profits. When the greedy capitalists scream that this will cause their economy to collapse, the workers movement must respond: if you big business owners cannot run the economy in a way that guarantees secure jobs for all workers then we working class people will take the economy out of your hands and place it in our own strong, able and collective hands. A true revolution that brings the working class into economic and state power is, ultimately, what we need. It will ensure secure jobs for all, truly free medical care, education and public housing and, by removing the rule of the exploiting class, it will liquidate the main driver of racist policies. Like the workers state created by the Russian Revolution 100 years ago declared, in its very first constitution, a workers state today would grant asylum to all refugees and give the rights of citizenship to all working class people residing on its soil. Crucially, the overturn of capitalist rule would save us from the real threat that we face, today, of a future triumph of the fascist, hard right form of capitalism.
Yet we do need to do far more than simply proclaim the need for socialist revolution. There are many struggles that we need to engage in right now. A workers revolution can only be built by first uniting the working class and training it to trust only in its own power when that mighty proletarian power is itself united with the power of all other oppressed groups.
History has entrusted our class – the working class – to bring justice to society. We need to mobilise the workers movement in defence of refugees, against racist state terror and as a force that can shut down far-right racist terror groups right in their tracks. The working class must unite across ethnic and national lines in a struggle against racism precisely because we need to train the working class to be the champion of all of the oppressed. So let’s be guided by this perspective during our participation in the campaign for the Manus refugees. Let’s oppose illusions in salvation through the ALP and Greens within the refugee rights movement! Let’s fight to ensure that refugee rights actions are built on openly pro-working class slogans! Let’s struggle to root out economic nationalism in all its forms from our unions! We must intensify the agitation to mobilise working class action in defence of the Manus refugees!
Tens of Thousands Protest in Australia on the Day of Land Theft & Genocide Rally Attacked by Ruthless Police
A Hard Right, Racist Bigot Enters the White House Capitalist “Democracy” is a Sham Unleash Industrial Action to Demand Jobs for All Only Workers United with All of the Oppressed Can Bring about Real Change
Free All the Victims of Australia’s Racist Torture! Jail the Cops and Prison Guards Who Killed David Dungay, Ms Dhu, Rebecca Maher, Wayne Morrison, TJ Hickey, Mulrunji & the Many Other Victims of the Racist, Rich People’s State!
Long Live China’s 1949 Anticapitalist Revolution! Protect the Great Benefits for Workers & the Rural Masses Won through the Revolution: Stop Imperialist Funding for Those NGOs that Seek to Overthrow Socialistic Rule in China
JAIL THE COPS & PRISON GUARDS WHO KILLED DAVID DUNGAY,
MS DHU, WAYNE MORRISON, TJ HICKEY, MULRUNJI
& THE MANY OTHER VICTIMS OF THE RACIST, RICH PEOPLE’S STATE!
It was a display of incredible bravery. After being tortured by sadistic prison guards for years on end from the age of thirteen, 19 year old Dylan Voller calmly and with great dignity testified about his ordeal to the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s youth detention system. It took extreme courage to do this for Voller is still in prison – now in Darwin’s adult prison. He is still being abused by the same prison system and guards that have tortured this Aboriginal youth over the last six years! His mother understandably fears for Dylan Voller’s life. In the lead up to giving his testimony, guards threatened him with violence. Yet he still gave his evidence in a composed and articulate manner. This has – for many Aboriginal people and other opponents of racist violence – made Dylan Voller a hero.
Voller described how he felt when he was tied by his neck, hooded and left shackled to a chair for up to three hours at a time. It was the image of this torture at Darwin’s Don Dale youth prison that triggered outrage from all decent people in this country. It caused worldwide anger too. The torture, shown on the ABC Four Corners program of 25 July 2016, was reminiscent of the invading U.S. forces’ torture of Iraqi prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Dylan Voller testified how he would get “dizzy from panicking” and vomited and wetted himself while hooded and restrained. He also gave new details of the abuse that he and other detainees suffered at the hands of prison guards. Often the guards would starve the prisoners and deny them water. Although the media and ruling class would like to pretend that there was only a problem at the Don Dale detention centre, Voller described similarly horrific treatment when he was in the Alice Springs youth lock up. There guards would humiliate youth by preventing them from going to the toilet, forcing many of the children to urinate into water bottles and then throw them out the next day. Voller described his own experiences:
“I’d been asking to go to the toilet for four or five hours and they kept saying no, and I ended up having to defecate into a pillowcase because they wouldn’t let me go to the toilet,” Voller said.
“There’s been other times I had to urinate out the door or back windows because they wouldn’t come down.”
ABC News Online, 13 December 2016
The July Four Corners program showed that the terrifying abuse of young, mainly Aboriginal boys, in NT youth prisons was not just a matter of isolated cases of torture but one of systematic brutality. Boys as young as 13 were locked up in a solitary confinement regime in Don Dale’s “Behaviourial Management Unit” for weeks upon weeks for all but a single half hour of every day. They were confined to hot, dark cells that stunk of faeces and urine. The cells had not only minimal air flow and little natural light but no running water. With guards often cruelly denying water to the imprisoned youth, that meant that the boys sometimes had to drink the urine from their own toilet bowls to survive.
The Four Corners documentary showed actual footage of prison guards using extreme violence against the imprisoned boys. Guards are not only caught on camera subjecting Dylan Voller to the Abu Ghraib-style hood and shackle torture but are shown repeatedly, over a five-year period, stripping Voller naked to humiliate him, aggressively holding the child down with their full body weight and brutally kicking and punching him. One former youth detainee even told how guards pressured other detainees to bash Dylan Voller, throw hot water and spit at him. No wonder he ended up attempting self-harm several times! Yet after all this, Voller remains imprisoned today. This despite his being due for parole release over a year ago! His mother, Joanne Voller, is leading a call for Dylan’s immediate release. This demand has understandably won much support from humane people nationwide. We add our voice to this just and urgent campaign. Free Dylan Voller immediately! Free all those who have been tortured in Australia’s hell-hole youth prisons!
The prison system’s torture of Dylan Voller was just part of the cruel terror campaign that has been unleashed on many detainees. The Four Corners documentary shows August 2014 footage of how guards at the Don Dale detention centre responded when 14 year-old, Jake Roper, became agitated. The young boy was spending his 15th straight day in solitary confinement in a hot, stinking cell in the prison’s infamous Behaviourial Management Unit. Roper got out of his individual cell and, with a broken light fitting, banged on the locked door, pleadeding with the guards to tell him when he was going to get out of solitary confinement. The prison guards first laugh at the boy’s distress and then unleash several rounds of tear gas at close range over an eight minute period. Using the Nazi policy of “collective punishment,” the guards gas not only Roper but all six of the boys inside the isolation unit. Video shows the guards laughing and cheering at the suffering that they have caused to the terrified children. This proved that the prison authorities and the Territory government lied when they announced to the media that six boys had “escaped” and rioted when, in fact, they had always remained locked inside the Unit. Video footage proves that the closest to ever actually rioting that the boys came was when they screamed out, “I can’t breathe” after the guards gassed them! It also casts serious doubt upon the mainstream media and government narrative concerning more recent so-called “riots” around the country such as at the Victorian youth detention centres in Malmsbury and Parkville. In the Parkville facility, 80% of the locked up children have been languishing on remand, that is they haven’t even been convicted of any crime yet, and are forced to endure cramped conditions “packed in like sardines” as a former Victorian commissioner for children has described their plight (The Age, 14 November 2016).
The footage of the gassing incident at Don Dale also confirms that the barbaric abuse of Aboriginal detainees was not just caused by a few rogue prison guards but was directed and encouraged from the very top of the racist state administration. NT Corrections Commissioner Ken Middlebrook is shown at the prison approving the use of the tear gas. Furthermore, he is caught on video footage responding to a question from a prison officer about whether they should “Gas the lot of them?” with an incitement to terrorise the children with an extremely large dose of gas. “Mate, I don’t mind how much chemical you use,” exclaims the Corrections Commissioner.
Any half decent person in this country who saw all this footage was completely outraged at this vision. The Turnbull government knows this and that is why they were quick to call a Royal Commission into NT youth detention centres following the Four Corners documentary. However, how insincere the Turnbull government are about actually ending the torture is illustrated by the fact that they consulted the then NT Chief Minister, Adam Giles, the man ultimately responsible for overseeing the abuse at NT youth detention centres, about what the terms of reference for the Royal Commission should be. That’s like the judges at the post-World War II war crimes trial asking Hermann Göring (the highest ranking surviving Nazi leader) what the terms of reference should be into their deliberations in Nuremburg! What the Liberal/National government, the ALP Opposition and other parliamentary parties mainly want from this Royal Commission is for the Australian state machine “to be seen to be” doing something in order to divert Aboriginal activists and other anti-racists from launching staunch militant protest action against the racist torture.
Racist State Brutality All Throughout Australia
Nearly all Aboriginal people who saw the Don Dale torture footage were furious. Yet receiving accounts of violent abuse of people in their community is something that Aboriginal people are often burdened with. They know all too well that authorities are meting out cruelty against their family and friends in custody – both children and adults – all throughout this country. One of the purposes of Turnbull’s Royal Commission is to obscure this by portraying the abuse seen in the revealed footage as an exclusively NT issue. That is why they restricted the terms of the Royal Commission to only look at youth detention centres in the Nothern Territory.
The August 2014 death of 22 year-old, Julieka Dhu, in police custody in WA highlights the murderous oppression that Aboriginal people right across Australia face. She died of a severe bacterial infection and pneumonia because police – and later medical staff – criminally prevented her from getting the medical care that she so desperately cried out for. When it comes down to it: they murdered her! To hide the cops’ brutal abuse of Ms Dhu, WA courts initially suppressed video footage of her imprisonment. When the footage was finally released two days ago – but with much of the sound and part of the video still censored – it showed police brutally handling her even while she was groaning in extreme pain and on the verge of death. In one taped incident a policewoman – supposedly checking on her health – yanks Ms Dhu violently by the arm and then cruelly leaves her to flop down and smash her head on the concrete cell floor. The cop does not even then check to see if Ms Dhu has been further injured. Later, when police finally take the dying woman to hospital, the footage shows the police handcuffing Ms Dhu and then dragging her along the floor. They treated her with far more disrespect than most humans treat animals! What police had done earlier was, however, even more harmful. The night before, Ms Dhu had cried out in terrible pain for help but police refused to take her to hospital claiming she was “faking it.” The next morning when the cop on duty told another detainee that, “she is trying to get out,” after the detainee confirmed that Ms Dhu had been screaming all night, the detainee retorted, “she’s really in pain.” Still police refused Ms Dhu medical attention. They continued to do so even after she vomited repeatedly for over an hour. Instead the cop in charge, Sergeant Rick Bond, bent near her and according to the other officer present, Shelly Burgess, whispered in Ms Dhu’s ear: “You are a fucking junkie, you have been to the hospital twice before, and this is not fucking on… you will fucking sit this out.” Burgess further testified that this officer in charge whispered so as not to be recorded (The Guardian, 21 March 2016). After all this, two of the officers centrally responsible for Ms Dhu’s death ended up being promoted!
As is all too typical, the coroner’s report into Ms Dhu’s death was a whitewash. Even while admitting that the police acted in an “unprofessional and inhumane manner,” the coroner’s report, released this month, recommended no charges be laid against any of the officers. In other words, cops’ inhumanity can cause a death of a young Aboriginal woman but still they will face no consequences for it … apart from being promoted! Consider the contrast with another case. In 2010, a doctor practising in Queensland, Dr Jayant Patel, was jailed for alleged negligence causing the deaths of patients. He was later cleared of causing the deaths on appeal and re-trial. We are not qualified to comment on whether there actually was any negligence or not on the part of Dr Patel. However, it is clear that his initial trial occurred before the backdrop of a witch-hunt style atmosphere full of racist undertones about an Indian-origin doctor causing the deaths of mainly white patients. Yet even if the allegations of incompetence were indeed true, the fact is that Dr Patel was initially sentenced to seven years jail (of which he served two years before winning on appeal) for causing deaths to patients that no one claimed were a result of any malice or hostility to any of the patients on his part. The crimes Dr patel had been accused of were not allegedly caused by ill-will towards patients clouding his judgement but merely allegedly caused by incompetence and negligence. For that he copped a seven year sentence. In stark contrast, the cops who so roughly treated Ms Dhu and murderously prevented her from receiving urgently needed medical treatment – not to mention the medical staff who earlier twice sent Ms Dhu back to the police lock-up – caused Ms Dhu’s death not merely because of incompetence but because of their prejudice, contempt and naked hostility towards her. For that they have received no criminal punishment at all! Such is the way that the scales of “justice” work in racist, capitalist Australia.
To add insult to a horrifying death, the WA coroner even found that: “I do not find that any of the HHC (Hedland Health Campus) staff or police were motivated by conscious deliberations of racism in connection with their treatment of Ms Dhu.” What rubbish! Outrageously, the coroner only recommended competency training of police officers in Aboriginal culture. Of course, it is fine for all officials to be educated about the rich culture of Aboriginal people. However, for such a “solution” to be highlighted in this and other cases where cops and screws get away without any accountability for causing a death in custody, is simply a quite deliberate diversion. How much does one need to know about a person’s culture to know that one should not deny a human being medical care when they are in terrible agony? Or to know that one should not allow a person’s head to fall onto concrete and if that happens one should at least check on their condition? Does a policeman need to know about Aboriginal culture to know that they should not beat a human being to death the way that the cop Chris Hurley murdered Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004? In cases where racist brutality has caused the deaths of people, to talk about “incompetence” or lack of cultural knowledge being the cause whitewashes the truth that these were murderous acts of racist cruelty – crimes that must be punished or else they become a green light for further racist state violence.
Racist Terror in Australia Is Getting Worse
WA premier Colin Barnett responded to the coroner’s report on Ms Dhu’s death by outrageously making excuses for the cops’ cruelty. He claimed that they faced “a difficult situation.” Barnett even argued that the police were “facing a lot of aggression” at the time even though none of the police themselves even tried to claim that Ms Dhu was ever aggressive (The Guardian, 18 December 2016). Going one step further in defending racist state brutality, the prime minister’s indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, defended the torture of Dylan Voller: “It’s a tough job to go out every day and have people abuse you and spit on you – you’ve got to be able to restrain people.” He also had the hide to attack Dylan Voller himself: “Let’s not pretend he is innocent.” The truth is that Dylan Voller is the victim of a barbaric and racist “justice” system. He was thrown into youth detention at the age of eleven for relatively minor offences but was so brutalised and demoralised by years of being horrifically tortured, assaulted and humiliated that he was conditioned to commit more serious offences. This, in turn, became the pretext for the state authorities to ever more savagely abuse him. The dishonest narrative promoted by Warren Mundine and his co-thinkers, like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton, is that Aboriginal people are the main cause of their own disadvantage and suffering: in other words, blame the victim. However, this is impossible to even pretend to do in the case of Ms Dhu. She committed no crimes against anyone. She was to be held in custody for four days because she was too poor to afford to pay fines from very minor alleged “offences” that she committed several years earlier. That she should even be fined for these alleged offences – such as “swearing” and “waving her finger in a police officer’s face” – let alone jailed is itself a reflection of the racist and anti-poor people bias in Australia’s “justice” system. However, even though the narrative promoted by the Warren Mundines, Noel Pearsons and Marcia Langtons simply does not stack up against the facts it is given huge airplay by the mainstream media. The big business and government-owned Australian media love such Aboriginal “leaders” because they play a major role in “justifying” the ruling class’ ongoing brutal oppression of Aboriginal people.
Indeed, if one only listened to the mainstream media, one would almost think that most Aboriginal people have the same outlook as Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson! Yet these people only represent a rather small section of the Aboriginal community – those few Aboriginal people who have managed to make it into privileged economic and social circles and are, thus, so loyal to the current social order that they share the same contempt for the Aboriginal masses as the racist white ruling class. You would not know this from the mainstream media but there are Aboriginal spokespeople with a million times more support amongst grassroots Aboriginal people than the Mundines and Pearsons. These are the new crop of feisty and eloquent Aboriginal rights activists. What is driving their emergence is the fact that the racist oppression of Aboriginal people is actually getting worse and worse. Over the last year alone, for example, the number of Aboriginal people imprisoned in Australian jails has increased by over 700 (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2016~Main%20Features~Aboriginal%20and%20Torres%20Strait%20Islander%20prisoner%20characteristics~5). Meanwhile, more Aboriginal children are being stolen from their families by “community services” authorities, there is an increase in redneck violence against Aboriginal people and the rate at which Aboriginal prisoners are being outright murdered – or otherwise dying due to the brutality of police or prison guards – is growing.
On 29 December last year, Aboriginal man David Dungay died at Sydney’s Long Bay jail after guards brutally acted towards him on the pretext that Dungay – a diabetic – was eating a biscuit! A large number of guards violently wrestled him to the ground and held him face down on a mattress. Even though he told guards that he couldn’t breathe, prison staff then injected Dungay with a strong sedative without even assessing his vital signs or checking his airwaves. They also violated standard procedures by failing to have any resuscitation equipment or antidote to the treatment present at the scene (http://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/indigenous-man-dies-after-being-restrained-by-nsw-prison-guards/). Shortly afterwards, Dungay turned purple and stopped breathing. As Mr Dungay’s mother, Leetona Dungay, described it:
“Straight out murder. They murdered my son…”
“They’ve got to be accountable for it.” Hawkesbury Gazette, 8 September 2016
The NSW authorities moved into cover up mode. Corrective Services NSW rushed to immediately declare that police were not treating Dungay’s death as suspicious. They are so used to getting away with murdering Aboriginal people that they don’t even think that they need to even pretend to be fair. Meanwhile, only two of the four health staff involved in administering the sedative documented their role in the health records.
The murder of David Dungay has left his family devastated. However, they are courageously standing firm and demanding justice. David Dungay was only 26 years-old when he was killed and just three weeks away from being eligible for parole.
Seven months after Dungay was killed, Wiradjuri woman Rebecca Maher died in the Maitland police station less than six hours after being taken into police custody. Police detained Maher in the early hours of July 19 after she was walking the streets of Cessnock. They claimed that they believed Maher was intoxicated. Police did not arrest Maher but claimed that they took her into custody due to “concerns for her welfare.” Yet Maher’s family have now showed ABC media a report that indicates that Rebecca Maher had neither illegal drugs nor alcohol in her system!
Rebecca Maher’s death is more than highly suspicious. A person who is just 36 years-old and healthy enough to be walking along the street just six hours earlier does not suddenly drop dead due to natural causes! What points the finger at the police even more is their violation of a long-established procedure called the Custody Notification Service whereby, under NSW law, the police must notify the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) as soon as they take an Aboriginal person into custody. Not only did the police break the law by not immediately notifying the ALS of Rebecca Maher’s detainment, they did not do so until 24 hours after her death! Indeed, they did not even notify Maher’s family of her death until six hours after her passing. What were they covering up? And why did police even take Maher into “protective custody” in the first place when she was sober and by the police’s own admission had committed no offence warranting arrest? Over the last 228 years, police and prison guards have been notorious for raping Aboriginal women in custody – just as heads of Aboriginal reserves, masters of Aboriginal domestic servants and rural capitalist bosses of Aboriginal families toiling in agricultural industries were known to do the same to black women out of custody. The events surrounding the tragic death of Rebecca Maher are surrounded by uncertainty. But what is absolutely clear is that key questions remain unanswered about how Rebecca Maher died while in police custody.
Then on September 26 of this year, Aboriginal man, Wayne “Fella” Morrison died in hospital after being bashed by five prison guards at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison three days earlier. By the time he was taken to hospital, Morrison had serious brain injuries. His sister reported that “he has bruises all over him” (NITV, 26 September 2016). He was not convicted of a crime but was about to face a court appearance through video link for charges he faced. The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement has said that, after being bashed, Morrison was not breathing for “some 50 minutes before ambulance officers resuscitated him” (The Advertiser, 26 September 2016).
The murderous mentality of the prison guards was shown up earlier by their denial of medical treatment for Morrison’s previous injuries. He sustained those injuries when assaulted shortly before his arrest. Furthermore, the information that the South Australian Correctional Services Department initially provided the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement shows that Morrison did not even receive medical treatment immediately after being bashed by the guards. However, the Department did a U-turn and is now claiming that Morrison was given immediate medical treatment by prison staff – even while admitting that an ambulance was not called straight away. Yet Morrison’s family and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement were neither informed of the incident, nor of the fact that Morrison was taken to hospital until some seven to ten hours afterwards. Indeed, the South Australian state officials and Labour premier Jay Weatherill have moved into overdrive mode to whitewash Morrison’s killing. For one, they have claimed that it was Morrison who first attacked guards and that the incident was a “violent altercation,” as if the clash between a single inmate and five guards is some kind of even fight. Meanwhile, the ALP’s Weatherill and the Murdoch media in particular have sought to demonise Morrison as a “dangerous” man in order to lessen community anger over his killing. Yet Morrison had never been in custody previously and those who know him describe him as a much loved fisherman and community man who liked to paint and weave and who loved playing the guitar. He was just 29 years-old when killed and the father of a young daughter.
These are the recent cases that are most well-known of Aboriginal people being murdered by Australian authorities or otherwise killed due to the criminal neglect of cops or prison guards. How many other similar deaths have occurred recently that are less known? How many other killings have been so well covered up that the perpetrators have gotten away with ensuring that the incidents escape the public eye? Unfortunately, we can expect that there are likely several such cases.
Increasing state violence against Aboriginal people is fuelled by government policies that attack Aboriginal people and those receiving low incomes. Such policies include the continuation of the racist Northern Territory Intervention, the extension of compulsory “income management” to other areas of the country and the introduction of ever more draconian measures restricting the rights of those receiving unemployment benefits. These policies help generate within society disgusting stereotypes that Aboriginal people and the poor are somehow inferior citizens in need of special measures to keep them in line. Such racist sentiments and hostility to the poor are then naturally reflected in the behaviour of cops and prison guards. However, the outlook of police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges does not simply reflect the average of ideas and attitudes prevalent within society. Rather, these repressive personnel of the state take on in an especially concentrated form the most racist and anti-working class attitudes. This flows naturally from the role of these authorities. They are the henchmen of the ruling class who enforce the dispossession of the dispossessed, they are the direct implementers of racist and anti-poor government policies and they are the state officials who punish those who lash out when ground down by these policies.
Racist behaviour of state officials against Aboriginal people is further inflamed by ruling class attacks on other people of colour. Draconian anti-terror laws targeting Muslims, brutal repression against asylum seekers and racist politicians’ speeches and media slanders against Muslims, Chinese, refugees and guest workers fuel the flames of white supremacist ideology amongst police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges. Such raging white supremacist sentiments – whether conscious and open or hidden within paternalistic standpoints – inevitably end up scorching Aboriginal people too regardless of which ethnic community was directly targeted when these attitudes were first incited. Similarly, racist state attacks on Aboriginal people end up also rebounding against the most oppressed of other non-white coloured communities. The abuse and even torture of Aboriginal prisoners by cops and prison guards is mirrored in the bashing and abuse of refugees and migrants by detention centre guards in Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island and the likes of southwestern Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
All this racist violence being unleashed by cops, prison guards and detention centre guards against Aboriginal people and refugees is encouraging bigoted rednecks and organised fascists to commit their own racist terror attacks. In late August, a 55 year-old white man murdered a 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, by deliberately driving his ute into the boy. This chilling murder in Boulder, just south of the Western Australia town of Kalgoorlie, was preceded by extreme racists making violent threats on social media against Aboriginal youth in the area. Then in late October, an extreme right-wing terrorist of white Anglo-Saxon appearance, Anthony O’Donohue, murdered Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher, by barbarically setting him alight with a fire bomb while Manmeet was busy at work driving a bus in suburban Brisbane.
Do Not Trust Any Inquiries or Commissions Under the Patronage of the Racist, Rich People’s Australian State
The intensifying oppression of Aboriginal people has driven a new layer of Aboriginal people into political activism. Some of these determined new activists are relatives or close friends of people who have been killed or tortured in custody at the hands of the state authorities. Many of these young black activists are knowledgeable about international issues and see the need for solidarity with other oppressed groups in society – like refugees. They are also militant in their political perspective. At the 11 October 2016 Sydney march against the war on Aboriginal children, which was led by young black activists, protesters showed a healthy distrust of the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System. Demonstrators chanted, “Justice for Children – Not Royal Commission!” Meanwhile, those addressing the rally, including Dylan Voller’s mother, Joanne Voller, spoke dubiously of the Royal Commission and stressed that commissions, inquiries and reports in the past had failed to produce anything good. Very true!
Most notably, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which released its final report in 1991 was a complete whitewash. That Royal Commission investigated 99 Aboriginal deaths and out of it there was not a single charge – or even disciplinary action – recommended against a police officer or prison guard. This was despite the fact that in many of the deaths – including those of Eddie Murray, John Pat, Lloyd Boney and David Gundy to name but a few – it was obvious to all who studied the cases without prejudice that those who died had been simply murdered by police or prison guards. However, that Royal Commission outrageously concluded that, “… Commissioners did not find that the deaths were the product of deliberate violence or brutality by police or prison officers.” Instead, the Royal Commission disgustingly blamed “the very high level of alcohol use by most of those who died in custody,” even while its own findings showed that less than 10% of the cases investigated were caused by substance or drug misuse. This Royal Commission did admit that 23 of the deaths came from “external trauma” (including four by gunshot) – of which only six it claimed were self-inflicted or by accident, two inflicted by other prisoners and two by civilians outside of custody. Even if one believes the deceitful Royal Commission’s analysis, this leaves another 13 deaths by “external trauma” that could only have been caused by cops or prison guards. The Royal Commission tried to minimise this truth by reporting seven of those deaths as being of “unknown” cause and one – the murdering bashing to death of John Pat in Roeburne, WA by redneck cops – as the result of a “fight” with police officers in a street outside a hotel. It did, however, concede that five of the deaths were the result of actions by cops or prison guards. Clearly these deaths have got nothing to do with alcohol use by the victims! In these cases, even the biased Royal Commission is admitting that it was the actions of cops or prison guards that caused the deaths. And still that Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody insisted on recommending no charges against the cops and prison guards responsible!
As much as it whitewashed these killings from “external trauma,” the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody also whitewashed the deaths by hanging. It incredibly claimed that of the 30 Aboriginal deaths in custody by hanging that it investigated, all were suicides (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/67.html). To see what an outrageous lie this is, consider this: the Royal Commission itself found that 22 of the hangings occurred in police rather than prison custody and that “the substantial majority of the hangings occurred within two hours of entering into custody, or even less” (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/61.html) So, they want people to believe that 22 Aboriginal people had the desire, means and lack of supervision to kill themselves in separate incidents in police cells less than two hours after being detained!
The 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody did make 339 recommendations, some of which if implemented would reduce deaths in custody by lowering the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment. However, the better recommendations were in good part not implemented. Furthermore, the main effect of the Royal Commission were not its recommendations but the fact that it whitewashed the murders of Aboriginal people in custody by cops and prison guards. This has given a green light to state forces to commit yet more racist terror against Aboriginal people. In the 25 year period since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 340 indigenous people have died in state custody (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/15/aboriginal-deaths-in-custody-25-years-on-the-vicious-cycle-remains). That means that the rate of deaths of Aboriginal people in custody has been on average 30% higher since the Royal Commission than in the nine and a half year period that the Royal Commission investigated.
In the lead up to the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists opposed to state brutality sincerely hoped that the inquiry would lead to the prosecution of murdering cops and prison guards and a reduction in deaths in custody. That, today, many families of victims of state terror and many young activists against racist violence show little confidence in the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System indicates that the movement has learnt – at least partially – from past disappointments. Crucially, the fewer illusions that opponents of racist terror have that justice will come through the Royal Commission, the more willing they will be to mobilise in action against racist murder and torture in custody. That fewer such illusions exist than did 25 years ago is a promising sign for the movement. However, for this promise to be fully realised and a movement built that relies entirely on the power of the masses and is strong enough to force the racist rulers into concessions, activists must be won to the understanding that no trust should be given not only to this particular Royal Commission but to any Royal Commission – even one with better sounding terms of reference and with more credible commissioners – and that no confidence can, indeed, be placed in any inquiry conducted under the auspices – and/or with the financing – of the current Australian state machine. No trust should be given to any inquiry conducted by the Australian state – no matter how “independent” in form it claims to be – because it will simply be one organ of the state investigating other organs of the same state, that is the police and prisons. The judiciary, police, prisons and commissions are all organs of the same brutal beast and, surely, one cannot expect a beast to use its arms to injure its own heart.
In Australia, the beast that the legal and physical repressive organs belong to is the capitalist state – a body that was conceived, fed and trained to be the enforcer of the interests of the ultra-rich, capitalist class. This body inevitably acts against the interests of Aboriginal people because the economic interests of the greedy big business owning class lies in perpetuating the intense subjugation of Aboriginal people. This is the case for three related reasons. Firstly, for Australia’s mining, pastoral and other big landowning capitalists (and, as we see with mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s recent purchase of Australia’s biggest cattle station, these are often one and the same people) to continue to reap fabulous profits, the Australian state must brutally oppress Aboriginal people to the point that Australia’s first peoples will be so impoverished, so shackled by the claws of the “justice” system and so demoralised that they will be unable to challenge their dispossession from the land that they once occupied or even win a decent share of the wealth derived from it. Secondly, and just as importantly, crushing Aboriginal people helps the white capitalist rulers to deceive the non-Aboriginal masses into feeling that they are part of the “chosen people” and the “in-crowd” because at least they live in a better condition than Aboriginal people. This enables the capitalist rulers to obscure white working class people from the truth that they too are exploited by the greedy capitalists and thus obstructs the non-Aboriginal masses from joining with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers in a united struggle against their common capitalist oppressors. Thirdly, by vilifying Aboriginal people and disgustingly portraying Australia’s subjugated first peoples as “freeloaders” with a high propensity to commit crimes, the exploiting class seeks to divert the anger of the white masses at all the social evils created by the ruling class’ own decrepit system – like under-resourced public health care, public education and social services – away from the ruling class itself, who are the people actually responsible for this situation, and onto Aboriginal people as well as other convenient though utterly undeserving scapegoats such as refugees and migrant workers. This is why the capitalist ruling class and allthe organs of its state will never be allies in the Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. Indeed – they are this struggle’s very enemy!
It is true that the capitalist rulers could, theoretically, completely oppress Aboriginal people without their state forces murdering and torturing Aboriginal people to the extreme extent that they currently do. However, in order for their hired enforcers to physically keep down the working class masses and subjugate Aboriginal people to the degree that the capitalist bigwigs need them to do, the ruling class must ideologically school these cops and prison guards in such contempt for the poor and such a white supremacist outlook that they inevitably commit acts of racist terror of even greater severity than some of their capitalist masters may require. However, this does not mean that the capitalist rulers have any desire to reign in their hired thugs. Far from it! These ultra-rich capitalists are only interested in maximising profits. That means, for starters, they simply cannot be bothered to put any effort into restricting even the most extreme of the cruelty of their state forces. More importantly, the capitalist exploiters do not want to risk losing the absolute loyalty of the henchmen who enforce their rule by reigning in even some of their worst excesses. Furthermore, some key sections of the Australian capitalist class actually share the desire for Aboriginal genocide of the most rabid rednecks of the cops and prison guards. Dead mining magnate Lang Hancock – from whom his daughter Gina Rinehart inherited her massive wealth – infamously proposed that: “no-good half-castes” should collect their welfare checks from a centralized location, adding that “when they had gravitated there, I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in the future” (http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/couldnt-be-fairer/clip2/). Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart, who is one of Australia’s richest and most influential capitalists – with strong links in particular to the Cory Bernardi/Tony Abbott/Eric Abetz extreme right-wing of the Liberal party and to the National’s leader and deputy PM Barnaby Joyce – no doubt shares these same genocidal views. Rinehart is a rabid supporter of extreme racist U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and in her recent book rails against any regulations that restrict corporations from disturbing Aboriginal heritage sites. We need to put the Rineharts, the Andrew Forrests, the Packers, Murdochs and all of their ilk out of business for good by sweeping away capitalist rule in a socialist revolution. That is what it will ultimately take to emancipate Aboriginal people from the worsening horrors that they are facing today, to liberate the working class from job insecurity, bullying bosses and deteriorating social services, to free women from the daily subjugation that the capitalist system engenders and to liberate all other downtrodden groups. A new, working class state power based on elected councils of workers, Aboriginal people and representatives of all the other currently oppressed sections of society would literally turn Australian society upside down. It would lay the basis for a future classless, truly egalitarian, communist society.
Mobilise Working Class Power Behind the Struggle Against Racist State Terror
Just as it is in the interests of the capitalist exploiting class to perpetuate the subjugation of Aboriginal people it is in the interests of the working class of all colours to support Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. The same capitalist ruling class that brutally oppresses Aboriginal people is the one that steals the fruits of workers’ labour. It is true that most white workers are relatively privileged in comparison to most Aboriginal people and they do not face the intense racist oppression that black people in Australia are subjected to. However, overall, white workers are still part of the downtrodden mass of society as they form part of the class whose labour is exploited by the ruling class. The same Australian police, courts and prisons who, in a most extreme way, discriminate against, torture and kill Aboriginal people are also the ones that violently attack workers’ picket lines and persecute militant trade unionists. This is all too evident in the recent spate of prosecutions of CFMEU construction worker union activists. That is why the organised workers movement must stand with Aboriginal people in a united struggle against state violence targeting Aboriginal people, the working class, refugees and all the downtrodden. Furthermore, only by standing with Aboriginal people, refugees and embattled coloured “ethnic” communities can the working class defeat the capitalist ruling class’ efforts to divide the exploited masses with racism and thus allow the working class to build the unity it needs to fight for its rights and those of all the oppressed.
There have been some encouraging signs that sections of the workers movement are – to some extent – joining the fight to defend Aboriginal people against racist brutality. At today’s Sydney rally demanding justice for the murder in custody victim, David Dungay, there was a contingent of Maritime Workers Union of Australia (MUA) members. Trade union mobilisation in support of Aboriginal people’s struggle is not only helpful but is vitally necessary. Since it is in the interests of the ruling exploiting class to reinforce the racist oppression of Aboriginal people, no amount of appeals to their sense of justice and no amount of clever legal manoeuvres are going to make this ruthless class ameliorate the suffering that they are causing Aboriginal people. The only thing that can make this ruling class back down is an opposing power: power that can harm their interests or at least threaten to harm their interests. The organised workers movement has the power to do such harm. Since it is workers’ labour that is the source of the tremendous wealth of the capitalist ruling class, when our trade unions threaten to withdraw their labour through industrial action, the capitalist bosses become scared and panicky. Thus, trade union action against racist state violence, or even the threat of it, can force the capitalist bigwigs – fearful of a huge blow to their profits – to reign in their henchmen in the government, police and prisons.
An example of the kind of the power that the workers movement can bring to the struggle for Aboriginal rights was seen in the campaign in defence of Palm Island Aboriginal hero Lex Wotton. Wotton was the leader of the hundreds strong, November 2004 uprising by the Palm Island community in response to the horrific police murder of Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, and the subsequent state whitewash of this murder. After being arrested following the heroic November 2004 resistance struggle, Wotton was charged and faced the prospect of more than a dozen years in prison. However, as part of a series of demonstrations in support of Lex Wotton on the day he was being sentenced by a Townsville Court on 7 November 2008, Sydney MUA port workers ostentatiously took industrial action in defence of Lex. They stopped work for a brief period during the middle of the sentencing hearing after announcing their intention to do so at the start of the day. Although this action was not powerful enough to stop Lex being jailed, the burgeoning movement and the MUA stopwork compelled the authorities to give Lex Wotton a notably lighter sentence than the ten years plus sentence that they had been planning. As a postscript, it should be noted that since Lex Wotton has completed his sentence he has continued to speak out strongly for Aboriginal rights and – despite attempts to entice him to “semi-apologise” for his actions – he has, completely correctly, insisted that his actions were 100% justified. With Lex Wotton standing strong, earlier this month he partially won a lawsuit against the Queensland government and police over their racist response to both the murder of Mulrunji and the Aboriginal resistance struggle that followed it. Wotton and family members were awarded $220,000 in damages in the class action that they launched on behalf of the Palm Island community. Such an outcome would have been impossible through mere testimony and court litigation alone. Rather, the partial victory was a testament to the ongoing political impact of, in the first place, the heroic Palm Island resistance struggle led by Lex and, secondly, of the subsequent Aboriginal/trade union/leftist campaign in defence of him. The authorities feared that making their usual racist and unfair verdict on this class action case could have re-ignited militant opposition to their racist actions, further built support for a man who proudly continues to stand 100% behind the militant struggle that he led and potentially pushed the trade union movement into renewing its participation in this fight for justice.
The trade union industrial action that was taken in defence of Lex Wotton must become the norm rather than the exception. But how to make it so? It is helpful to look back briefly on the campaign in defence of Lex to see how the movement built up towards this action. The active struggle to defend Lex Wotton and the other arrested Palm Islanders from the November 2004 uprising began with a demonstration in Sydney in Redfern’s The Block on 8 July 2005. That rally demanded the dropping of all charges against the Palm Island defendants and the freeing of all those jailed following the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle that responded to the horrific police murder of 17 year-old Aboriginal youth, TJ Hickey. This July 2005 demonstration, which Lex Wotton was present at, was initiated by staunch, Sydney-based Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro, Townsville-based Aboriginal activist Gracelyn Smallwood and Trotskyist Platform and drew in Aboriginal people – including some of the heroes who participated in the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle – trade unionists and leftists. Following on from this rally, those involved in organising it built more similar actions and the movement also spread to Melbourne where the ISJA – Melbourne Supporters Group actively built the solidarity campaign. A crucial effect of these rallies is that they energised the individual trade unionists who participated in them and popularised the struggle in defence of Lex Wotton amongst the most class conscious workers who heard about these demonstrations – including activists within the Sydney Branch of the MUA and others with links to the MUA. Shortly after a 150 strong rally in solidarity with Lex Wotton on 22 September 2007 in Redfern, the Sydney branch of the MUA contacted organisers of the rally announcing that they were throwing their weight behind the campaign. The MUA gave their endorsement to the demand for the dropping of all charges against Lex Wotton as well as material support to the campaign. This included producing, “Proud to be Union – Proud to Support Lex Wotton” badges designed by activists involved with the campaign from the start. Later, the MUA organised a charter bus to take supporters from Sydney to Brisbane to join solidarity actions during Lex’s trial in Brisbane in October 2008. From there, the Sydney Branch of the MUA’s support leapt to carrying out the crucial industrial action on 7 November 2008.
Key to the Defend Lex Wotton movement ultimately winning the trade union support that was so vital to it was the fact that the Sydney-based campaign never, in its action call outs, made any appeals to any state institution whatsoever to be a vehicle for justice. Instead, the action call outs simply demanded that the enemy drop all charges against Lex Wotton. This was important as it informed opponents of racist state brutality that they must look entirely to the power of the masses to advance the struggle. Furthermore, the movement openly appealed to the class interest that the working class has in defending Lex Wotton and in opposing state oppression of Aboriginal people. Thus, the calls for the rally in the lead up to Lex’s trial emphasised that:
The subjugation of Aboriginal people is an extreme form of the repression that the authorities are also unleashing against trade unionists who stand up for workers’ rights. The ABCC construction industry police are spying on and intimidating CFMEU construction union members and continue to initiate jail-carrying charges against individual union activists.
Of course, by appealing in this way to the class interests of the working class it could have put off the tiny number of small-l liberals who, through some contradiction, were willing to oppose the persecution of Lex Wotton while still being thoroughly loyal to the capitalist establishment that is subjugating Aboriginal people. Yet it is not a handful of small-l liberals but the working class that can be the reliable force that can fight against and ultimately defeat racist state brutality because unlike members of the capitalist class – including their small-l liberal variety – the fight against racist state terror actually coincides with workers’ class interests. Thus, campaign organisers made a choice to appeal to workers’ class interests rather than making the action call outs acceptable to pro-capitalist liberals. And a choice really had to be made! It is not possible to appeal simultaneously to both the working class and small-l liberal members of the capitalist class as their class interests are mutually conflicting. By making this choice to appeal to the working class, the Sydney-based movement in defence of Lex Wotton was able to allow more politically conscious trade union activists to mobilise their fellow union members behind the campaign by explaining how the fight against racist state brutality is, indeed, union work.
Today, the struggle against racist state brutality must again openly appeal to the class interests of the working class in order to lay the basis for badly needed joint trade union/Aboriginal/coloured migrant people’s action against racist oppression. In a promising development, for the recent December 10 “International Human Rights Day” march in Sydney which focussed on opposition to the torture and killing of Aboriginal people in custody, the action call out stated opposition to not only the persecution of other marginalised peoples – including Muslims and refugees – but also insisted that the same Australian government committing brutal abuses against Aboriginal people is “trying to criminalise trade union activism in the building industry and beyond.” In this way the struggle to defend Aboriginal people against racist state oppression was united in common action with the demands of the working class and other oppressed groups. The large demonstration was addressed by Aboriginal activists, a representative of the MUA and speakers representing refugees and other downtrodden peoples.
How to Turn Our Unions into Uncompromising Supporters of the
Struggle Against Racist Brutality
The ability to mobilise trade union power in defence of Aboriginal people depends not just on the strategy of the anti-racist movement but also on the political struggles within the workers movement itself. Some of the best, most politically conscious trade unionists do understand the need to stand by Aboriginal people’s fight for justice. However, trade union solidarity action is currently held back by the union movement’s ties to the ALP and by its present, losing, strategy of trying to make capitalist rule less oppressive to the masses through electing “progressive” ALP governments to administer the capitalist state. Thus, even when the most politically aware unionists want to take a stand against racist state brutality they are held back by a fear that going too far would put them smack bang against ALP policy or otherwise harm the prospects of the ALP winning/retaining office. As part of this outlook that accepts, rather than opposes, capitalist state power, the union movement chooses to incorporate within its ranks the hired henchmen of the capitalist ruling class: cops and prison guards. In NSW, for example, the so-called “union” representing cops, the Police Association of NSW, is allowed to be part of both the Unions NSW federation of trade unions and the peak national union organisation, the ACTU. Prison guards, meanwhile, are part of the Public Service Association of NSW, a union that while including prison guards mostly consists of legitimate workers like support staff in schools and TAFE and road and traffic workers. The presence of cops and prison guards – the brutal enforcers of capitalist interests – in our unions both corrupts our unions and undermines any struggle to mobilise them against state terror. Imagine trying to promote a cross-union action against racist state violence when representatives of the cops and prison guards – the very people the action is aimed against – are in the very meeting where the prospective action is being considered! Of course, having representatives of the cops, who would try to herd scabs through union picket lines, or the prison guards, who would keep militant trade unionists imprisoned, at a union meeting harms union organising for workers’ economic struggles too.
There is also the most obvious problem that we face in trying to mobilise trade union action against racist brutality. That is the reality that even though it is in the working class’ very interests to stand by oppressed Aboriginal people, many workers – though certainly not all – themselves imbibe backward racist ideas to varying degrees. Workers, like other classes, are influenced by the racist mainstream media, by the divisive speeches of ruling class politicians and by the racist nature of the capitalist Australian society that they inhabit. Furthermore, current union leaders end up reinforcing White Australian chauvinist consciousness within the workers movement through pushing divisive calls to favour local workers over overseas workers in hiring and to deter imports of overseas produced goods. Such protectionist “Aussie workers first” slogans are promoted by even the most left-wing union leaders – including those who have done most to mobilise their members in support of Aboriginal rights struggles. Although the immediate targets of such protectionist demands are overseas and guest workers rather than Aboriginal people, these demands necessarily breed White Australia nationalist consciousness – sentiments that inevitably lead to hostility, or at best indifference, toward Aboriginal people’s plight. There urgently needs to be a political struggle within our unions to replace this protectionist perspective with a strategy that unites local and overseas workers in a common fight for their rights. We also need to remove from our unions all cops, prison guards and prosecutors. This would occur as part of a struggle to turn our unions away from the ALP and its bankrupt program for a more humane-run capitalism and onto a path that is guided by the understanding that only the power of the united working class and all of the oppressed can be relied on to win gains for the toilers and downtrodden. All this is needed not only to build trade union action against racist terror but to unleash union power to defend workers’ immediate economic interests as well. For example, to powerfully wage strikes to fight for jobs for all workers we need a working class united by internationalist ideology, not one divided by protectionism. That is why the struggle to build the leadership and political perspective that can turn our unions into the force needed to effectively fight for their own members’ interests is one and the same fight as the struggle to win our unions to the perspective of mass action against racist brutality. It is the struggle to infuse our unions with a revolutionary, internationalist program: a program of militant class struggle guided by the understanding that the capitalist state, no matter who is administering it, is the enemy of workers and all the oppressed. A union leadership fighting on such a class struggle program would be linked to a revolutionary socialist party that unites the working class with all the other oppressed sections of society.
We need to work extremely hard to turn our unions into revolutionary-minded organisations that will support the cause of Aboriginal people and all the downtrodden. Racist oppression of Aboriginal people is getting more and more terrifying every day. Families of murder in custody victims and the talented and tenacious young Aboriginal activists coming to the fore need the power of the union movement behind their struggles. When our unions join this battle, they will find that Aboriginal peoples’ determination and healthy distrust of the racist, rich peoples’ state will, in turn, rub off onto union activists. This can only advance the badly needed transformation of our unions into instruments of militant class struggle. A transformation that is vital not only for unleashing union power in defence of Aboriginal people and refugees but is essential for making our unions capable of turning back the tide of attacks that the entire working class is facing today.
Five days ago, a 55 year-old white man murdered a 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty in Boulder, just south of the Western Australia town of Kalgoorlie. The horrific murder was followed by a racist outpouring by rednecks on social media celebrating the killing and threatening Aboriginal people with murder and rape.
Outrageously, police only charged the killer with manslaughter rather than murder. Hundreds of Aboriginal people responded to this blatant state racism by courageously marching on the courthouse and carrying out staunch acts of defiance against symbols of the racist authorities – including police cars, the courthouse entrance and the heavily armed police who were confronting them. Police responded with typical brutality unleashing their batons against the Aboriginal marchers and making several arrests. Meanwhile, the WA Police Minister and Attorney General have rushed to viciously condemn the brave stand taken by Aboriginal people in Kalgoorlie.
The whole series of events highlights the murderous racist oppression that Aboriginal people face throughout the country.
The trade union movement and all anti-racists must stand by the Aboriginal community of Kalgoorlie – and indeed the whole country – at this critical time. We must condemn the downgraded charge that the killer of Elijah Doughty received and must call for the immediate dropping of all charges against the Aboriginal people arrested for their brave acts of resistance on Tuesday.
Above, December 2005: Hordes of rednecks bash any coloured or other “ethnic” person they could find on Cronulla Beach and surrounding area. Ten years later (Right), it was militant anti-fascists who formed the loudest, most prominent demonstration in the area. The opposite of ten years earlier, it was any racist filth who were present near the Beach who would have felt the most intimidated, at least if they were within the area near the anti-racist march route.
Ten Years On after the Filthy , Violent White Supremacist Riot:
KICK THE RACISTS OUT!
13 December 2015: Ten years ago, hordes of extreme white supremacists and garden-variety rednecks rampaged through the area around Cronulla Beach bashing any non-white person they could find. However yesterday, the loudest, most prominent demonstration in Cronulla was a 150-strong march of anti-racists. They opposed a gathering of extreme white supremacists who ended up having to confine their race-hate event to an isolated park out of sight of most people. Unlike ten years earlier in Cronulla, at least in the vicinity of the anti-racist demonstration, it was more dangerous to be an open racist than a coloured person. The few racist provocateurs who were foolish enough to infiltrate the space occupied by the anti-racists were surrounded and confronted by militant anti-fascists and at least one fascist was dealt with in a decisive fashion. The message for racists watching on television is that you had better be careful about openly acting on your prejudices or getting active with far-right groups because you could meet militant opposition.
Despite weaknesses, and the all too predictable hostility to the action by the capitalist media, the anti-racist mobilisation was overall a partial victory against far-right racists. Nevertheless, the fascist Party For Freedom were still able to get away with holding their racist gathering – an “anti-Halal BBQ.” The racist gathering was three times smaller than the anti-racist mobilisation. Despite being formally banned by the courts from holding a planned rally to celebrate the 2005 Cronulla riot, the event held by the Party For Freedom and their allies was protected by a massive mobilisation of heavily-armed riot police. In facilitating the extreme racists’ gathering, the police adopted heavy-handed tactics towards anti-racist demonstrators. They arrested two anti-racist activists, although neither of the arrestees was charged. One of those arrested was a one-armed Aboriginal activist in his late 50s, who the police had earlier knocked to the ground when he tried to go around the police lines to get at the fascists. This underscores the need for the mobilisation of the working class in the struggle against fascism. It is the social power of the working class that can compel the police to stand aside so that the fascists can be swept off the streets.
Participating in yesterday’s anti-racist action were student activists from Sydney University, anarchists, supporters of Socialist Alternative, Aboriginal activists and Trotskyist Platform supporters. A weakness of the mobilisation was that it was not able to win many newer people into the anti-racist struggle – that is individuals not connected to any of the activists circles involved in organising the demonstration. Furthermore, other than for several Aboriginal activists, the coloured people in our Trotskyist Platform contingent and a handful of other coloured people, there were not that many non-white people taking part in the anti-racist action. The combined effect of the intensely racist and repressive political climate in the wake of the Paris attacks and coloured peoples understandable fear of going to Cronulla in the absence of the guaranteed backing of a mass trade union mobilisation, kept coloured people from Sydney’s southwest largely away from the event.
In the lead up to yesterday’s rally, Trotskyist Platform emphasised the need to bring a large number of working class coloured people into Cronulla as part of a multi-racial action to challenge the defacto exclusion of most working class, coloured people from Cronulla Beach over the last ten years. The need for such an action was plainly obvious yesterday. Before the 2005 racist riot, Cronulla Beach had been Sydney’s most multi-racial beach. However, when we were there yesterday, the area in and around the beach, including major restaurants in the area, were close to 95% white. Furthermore, when our multi-racial contingent got out of our cars in Cronulla to meet up with other anti-racist activists and when we at that stage looked like ordinary beachgoers, we received hostile stares from both people driving past and people looking out of their houses just because coloured people formed a major part of our crowd.
At one point yesterday, a sizeable minority of the anti-racist demonstration flooded onto a part of the beach to make a statement. However, most of the remainder of the rally had not yet been won to an understanding of the necessity of desegregating the beach. Furthermore, there was not a high enough proportion of coloured people in the anti-racist demonstration for its presence on the beach to represent a serious challenge to the defacto exclusion from the area of working class, coloured people from Sydney’s southwest – who the recent ex-mayor of Sutherland Shire and racist rednecks alike refer to as “thugs from Lakemba.” To make an effective stance against the de-facto exclusion of most coloured youth from Cronulla Beach, we need an action in the future that brings in such a large number of working class, coloured people that it exceeds what is considered an acceptable token level by the conservative Shire Council and garden-variety racist locals. Such a “threatening” mobilisation of coloured people from Sydney’s southwest together with white anti-racist activists and the power of the trade union movement would be a powerful statement against both the on-going segregation of Cronulla Beach and the wave of racist attacks that non-white people are facing throughout the country. If the working class movement was to play a major role in such a future mass action that opens up Cronulla Beach to people of all colours, it would boost working class inter-ethnic unity and strengthen the workers movement’s confidence in its own power.
The leaflet that Trotskyist Platform distributed at the 12 December 2015 action can be found here.
Above: Activists establish the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy on its first day, 26 May 2014. At the front of the Bottom Left photo is embassy founder, Jenny Munro.
7 September 2015: There was a feeling of satisfaction amongst activists of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) as activists packed up the protest camp over the last few days. The RATE struggle had made headway in securing affordable housing for Aboriginal people in Redfern’s historic Block area. After over fifteen months of hard struggle, RATE has won an agreement whereby 62 new houses will be built on the Block to provide accommodation at low cost to Aboriginal people. Prior to the RATE struggle, it was apparent that not only would the provision of affordable housing on the Block be delayed but it would likely not be provided at all. The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) had removed the last of the Aboriginal residents living on The Block four years ago with the promise that they would be able to come back into affordable accommodation in newly built houses. However, by early last year it was confirmed what Aboriginal people in Redfern had long suspected: the 62 affordable housing dwellings that the AHC had promised to build as part of its Pemulwuy project were to become – at best – an afterthought to its plan for the area to be turned by the developer Deicorp into shops, office space and higher-end commercial housing for students.
RATE was established on 26 May 2014 by Aboriginal women and supporters with its central demand that affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block be built prior to any commercial development. Amongst those who set up the Embassy were Aboriginal former Block residents. RATE then quickly inspired support from Aboriginal people and other anti-racist activists angry about not only the lack of affordable housing for Aboriginal people but also the brutal oppression Aboriginal people continued to face in all aspects of their lives from racist police violence to the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal activists from Gamilaraay country in northern NSW and from far away as Queensland and Western Australia came to do stints camping at RATE while RATE was flooded with statements of solidarity from far flung places. In September last year, the morale of RATE supporters was greatly lifted by a visit to the camp by Palm Island, Aboriginal resistance hero Lex Wotton – the leader of the November 2004 uprising on that island that courageously responded to the racist police killing of Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee and the subsequent police whitewash of the murder. Those involved in overseas indigenous rights struggles from places as far away as Hawaii also visited RATE to offer their support.
On a few of the days when RATE was facing threatened eviction, dozens of students from nearby Sydney University went down to RATE in solidarity. They showed that they refused to be part of plans to turn The Block into accommodation for Sydney University students when that was being done at the expense of affordable housing for Aboriginal people. Especially crucial was the solidarity given to RATE from trade unions. From the early days of RATE, the CFMEU construction union helped with logistics such as providing RATE with a porta-loo. On the first anniversary of RATE on May 26 this year, dozens of MUA members marched down to the RATE site. As they waved union flags they expressed their determination to stand by RATE and support its demands. A joint meeting that day of RATE activists and MUA unionists stated:
Trade unionists and supporters of the Redfern Tent Embassy (RATE) gathered here on May 26 to express our ongoing solidarity with the action being taken by the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy in occupying Aboriginal land at the Block in Redfern to stop a commercial property development planned by Deicorp and the Aboriginal Housing Company.
Aboriginal housing is desperately needed and should be built before any commercial development is allowed to progress.
Many long-term Aboriginal residents of Redfern/Waterloo are currently living in overcrowded, unsuitable state housing, or are homeless, while Aboriginal land is being taken over for commercial development.
Both the Commonwealth and state governments are refusing to release public funds for any Aboriginal-controlled community housing projects anywhere in Australia. This discriminatory policy has to end. Public funding must be allocated immediately for Aboriginal community housing for the Block and across the country.
We call on trade unions, and Unions NSW, to pass similar resolutions and take political and practical steps to ensure that the proposed development does not proceed before the housing demands are met.
By the last weeks of the RATE struggle, the flags of around a dozen different trade unions were flying on the RATE site showing solidarity with the Aboriginal struggle from the organised workers movement.
The strategy of RATE was powerful yet beautifully simple. By camping on the very site that the commercial development on The Block was to take place, RATE ensured that no such development could take place unless either the AHC/developers/government came to an agreement with RATE or the police unleashed violence to forcibly remove RATE. Seeing how RATE activists had refused to be deterred by either severe storms blowing down tents or by police repression or attacks by thugs and, importantly, seeing the statements of solidarity for RATE from trade unions, the government/AHC/developers calculated that they had no choice but to negotiate a settlement with RATE. After steadfastly refusing to provide any support for the development of affordable housing on The Block, the federal Liberal government reluctantly stepped in at the end to provide a $5 million grant as well as organising for a larger bank loan to fund the affordable housing. The deal done between the AHC, the federal government and RATE commits the AHC to building the affordable housing either before or simultaneously with the commercial development. Thus, if the deal is honoured, the core demand of RATE would have been achieved. The Aboriginal activists who led RATE have emphasised the need to be vigilant in order to ensure that the deal is adhered to and that no excuses are made to delay the building of the affordable housing. Furthermore, activists will need to ensure that the AHC does not knock back the Aboriginal people most in need of access to affordable housing in order to have the housing occupied by more affluent Aboriginal people who the AHC knows will be more “acceptable” to the future upper-middle class occupants of the commercial retail and residential development.
Of course, given the level of homelessness that Aboriginal people in inner-city Sydney suffer and the extreme level of racist discrimination that Aboriginal people face when trying to rent privately, there is a need for much more than 62 affordable dwellings on The Block. Ideally the entire re-development of The Block should be to provide low rent public housing for Aboriginal people and associated services. Such a re-development would also have better ensured that The Block was retained as a social and political centre for Aboriginal people. However, the fact is that what will likely now be built on The Block as a result of the RATE struggle is a lot better than what was on the cards prior to this struggle.
A Decades Long War on Aboriginal Housing on The Block by Greedy Developers and Racist Governments
Aboriginal people have been living on The Block in low-rent housing since the early 1970s. This affordable housing had been won through a struggle by Aboriginal militants and the militant Builders Labourers Federation trade union. That struggle which triumphed in early 1973 forced the then Whitlam Labor federal government to provide a grant for Aboriginal people to collectively buy up the area. The Aboriginal housing in the area came to be managed by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) which was established by the activists who fought for The Block for the sole purpose of providing comfortable and happy low-rent accommodation for Aboriginal people. Despite facing much racist discrimination – including from banks reluctant to do dealings with an Aboriginal organisation – the AHC’s work in its early days ensured that low-rent accommodation came to be provided for up to 300 Aboriginal people on The Block.
However, like most economic or social organisations – whether black, white, “ethnic” or multiracial – that exist in capitalist Australia without a clear anti-capitalist perspective, the AHC became more and more subordinated to the agendas of powerful economic interests. Specifically, the AHC ended up speaking not for the interests of low-income Aboriginal tenants – as it was originally constructed to do – but became a vehicle for the schemes of wealthy capitalist developers and their mates in government. In the eyes of these developers, The Block was prime inner-city real estate which could be turned into a lot of money. And they were determined to lay their grubby hands on it! They wanted to gain access to the land so that they could eject low-income Aboriginal tenants and build high-end commercial housing and shops that would sell for big bucks. Successive NSW state governments, which like all governments in capitalist Australia serve the interest of the corporate exploiting class, have been happy to sing along to the tune of these greedy developers.
Racist governments had an additional motive for wanting to dilute the Aboriginal character of The Block. The Block came to be not only a centre of Aboriginal culture and a meeting place for Aboriginal people from all over Australia but also a centre of Aboriginal political resistance against racist oppression. Over the years, many rallies for Aboriginal land rights and against racist police violence started, finished or passed through The Block. In February 2004, The Block and nearby Lawson Street saw hundreds of Aboriginal youth courageously hold their ground in a nine-hour pitched battle with racist cops. The youth were 100% justifiably responding to provocations by Redfern police who clamped down on the community after racist cops had murdered 17 year-old Aboriginal youth TJ Hickey. Earlier, in May 1981 and then seven months later, 200 Aboriginal people responded to incessant racist police harassment by barricading Eveleigh Street on The Block and bravely responding to the marauding police by throwing projectiles back at them. There have also been numerous smaller versions of such heroic acts of resistance to racist police violence on The Block.
The developers and government’s agenda was greatly facilitated by the AHC’s journey away from its founding spirit as a community organisation set up by militant black activists. One indication of just how far the AHC has travelled was seen in the way that AHC CEO Mick Mundine held a joint press conference with Redfern top cop Luke Freudenstein in February last year to express his support to Redfern police in their condemnation of a large protest march demanding justice for TJ Hickey on the tenth anniversary of TJ’s killing by racist cops.
The AHC’s drift away from its original purpose of serving low-income Aboriginal tenants was the result of the confluence of several currents. One force pushing the AHC away from its stated purpose was simply the pressure of the capitalist “free market.” As an entity that had no stable source of external funding and was meant to operate within the confines of “market principles,” the AHC, as a body without a clear anti-capitalist agenda, inevitably became easy game for whoever had the market power to either promise to deliver housing construction and maintenance at a lower price or on the other hand promised, in exchange for land use rights for commercial development, big money that could be used to subsidise its housing program. In this way, the AHC became associated with and dependent on wealthy capitalist corporations who began to use that influence to set more and more of the AHC’s agenda. Prominent on the AHC’s own website’s list of “Partners” is not only the developer Deicorp but Westpac Bank and the South Sydney Business Chamber. Then there was developers and governments directly influencing the AHC leaders through financial enticements. Some in the Aboriginal community have long suspected this has involved outright bribery of AHC leaders. To be sure, that would hardly be just a problem with the AHC – just look at successive NSW state governments! From developers handing over tens of thousands of dollars in cash to politicians in brown paper bags to business bosses bribing the former premier with an expensive “gift,” the last few years have revealed just a small fraction of the massive corruption that the leaders of this state wallow in. Yet just as the big business bosses can control politicians with more “legal” forms of enticements – like large donations to the respective political parties and invitations to sit in corporate boxes at sporting events – so too can greedy developers and their government cronies bring an organisation like the AHC under its control through more subtle but even more insidious means of buying influence. This could include offering AHC leaders invitations to fancy business/government lunches and functions and seducing AHC leaders into making them feel that they are part of elite circles by allowing them to participate in government/corporate policy discussion sessions.
As the AHC bent to the pressures of the capitalist “free market” and came under the increasing influence of rich corporations and the state government, staunch Aboriginal activists and grassroots tenants who objected to all this were increasingly purged from the organisation and its leadership. This in turn further accelerated the AHC’s path away from its original purpose.
When the pressure of “market imperatives” and corrupting influences was not enough to bring the AHC completely into the developers’/government’s fold, the NSW state government unleashed its “legal” muscle to bring the AHC to heel. Thus, even long after the AHC had sold out its founding principles, the NSW government at first refused to give the AHC planning approval for its Pemulwuy project. The government insisted that there be even less affordable housing for Aboriginal people in a re-developed Block than the AHC had proposed. Indeed, even as Aboriginal people were being squeezed out of The Block, the 1995-2011 NSW ALP government refused, for a whole decade, to give the rebuilding of affordable homes for Aboriginal people planning approval until the AHC agreed to give further priority to the commercial aspects of the Pemulwuy project. To resist such bullying from the government would have taken a campaign of mass protest action. The AHC did very briefly flirt with a diluted version of this idea and even organised a hundreds strong protest rally in Redfern in August 2006 in support of affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block. Yet already by then the AHC had strayed way too far into the camp of the enemies of Aboriginal people’s rights to honestly want to sustain such a campaign. What is more, the AHC had by then lost any real credibility with the grass roots Aboriginal people needed to wage such a campaign anyway.
As far back as twenty years ago, the AHC first started in effect implementing the developers’ and government’s plan to drive Aboriginal tenants off The Block. In the mid-1990s, Block residents were enraged when they confirmed that the AHC had drawn up plans to actually abolish all affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block and, instead, planned to turn most of the area into commercial office space. Although they later modified this plan, the AHC had already started creating facts on the ground by neglecting repairs on houses so much that tenants could not tolerate it anymore and started leaving The Block “voluntarily”.
Meanwhile, police attacks on Aboriginal people in Redfern assisted the ruling class agenda of driving Aboriginal tenants off The Block. This police violence was not solely about kicking low-income people off from prime real estate. It was also motivated by pure racism – by the racist culture that permeates the police force and which, in turn, arises naturally from the police’s role as the enforcers of an unequal and discriminatory social order based on the dispossession of this country’s first peoples and the exploitation of labour by wealthy business owners. However, the big end of town’s agenda to push black people off prime inner-city real estate gave the police attacks added impetus. Aside from daily bullying of Aboriginal youth, almost every year saw a large-scale police assault on The Block. One of the most brutal such raids took place on 8 February 1990.9 It was on that day, just before 4am, that some 135 cops led by the heavily armed Tactical Response Group (whose functions today are largely performed by the Public Order and Riot Squad) smashed into several homes on The Block with sledgehammers and iron bars. Residents woke up terrified as they saw these men bearing shotguns break into their homes and point weapons at them. The police put guns to women’s heads, roughed up residents and abused people. But after all that the police did not charge anyone with a serious offence like a violent crime or even charges of dealing in drugs or weapons. Of the eight charges that they did bring against people, two were for unpaid fines, one was a more than 7 year old warrant for breach of bail, another a warrant for failing to appear at a court nearly six years earlier and another a warrant for a resident allegedly being drunk on a train close to six years earlier! Additionally, three people were charged with having possession of stolen goods because they could not provide receipts for relatively minor items like a TV, a radio cassette player, an electric shaver and unbelievably a pair of goggles! And for this the local community was terrorised and left traumatised. To put it all into perspective, nearly one and a half times as many police were mobilised to find a couple of allegedly stolen TVs and a pair of goggles on The Block as the 92 police who were put on duty in Cronulla on 11 December 2005 when the police knew full well that the violent, white supremacist riot that subsequently took place there was indeed very likely to happen! Police terror against the Redfern Aboriginal community culminated in the February 2004 killing of 17 year-old TJ Hickey by racist police who rammed his bicycle while he was riding on it and impaled the boy on a steel paling.
The incessant police attacks, the demoralising effect of living in houses where repairs were not being done and the daily discrimination that Aboriginal people faced in employment and every aspect of their lives inevitably led to social problems on The Block. These problems were played up by the capitalist-owned media and seized on by the state government to justify their push to drive Aboriginal tenants out of the area. The combined effect of relentless police attacks, the deterioration of the houses, social problems and the AHC’s push to move tenants off The Block meant that by late 2010 there were just 35 people living on The Block – down from a peak of over 300. To get the last of the tenants to move, the AHC on the one hand threatened higher rents and eviction orders and, on the other hand, promised residents that they would be able to move back once the re-development took place. Residents, however, were sceptical about being able to move back and expected that the 62 new affordable houses would still be way out of their price range. What really enraged former Block residents and supporters of affordable housing for Aboriginal people was when last year AHC CEO, Mick Mundine, claimed that it was not commercially viable to pursue affordable housing on the Block. ‘’That’s on the back burner at the moment,’’ he said. ‘’Our first priority is the commercial build’’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 2014). It was this confirmation of the fears of many that led Aboriginal activists to establish RATE.
From 1972 to 2015: The Struggle for Affordable Housing for Aboriginal People on The Block Continues
The enemies of RATE tried everything to defeat the RATE struggle including a series of violent attacks on RATE activists. Family members of a senior AHC employee staged several of these attacks. In one attack last year, at least one of these family members was amongst a group of four men that came to the embassy and assaulted RATE activist, Raymond Munro. Yet when police arrived, it was Raymond Munro and another RATE activist who had come to his defence that the cops arrested and charged with affray. Police only charged two of the actual four attackers. Also last year, another relative of the senior AHC employee invaded the embassy in the dark of night – bearing a piece of wood – and attacked two women including embassy founder Jenny Munro. Enemies of RATE also seemed to have enlisted criminal elements to stage random attacks on RATE activists staffing the embassy or to enter the embassy grounds with the aim of causing fear and disruption. Amongst the most frightening attack was when occupants of a black, flashy four-wheel drive vehicle passed RATE on two separate occasions and hurled flares at the embassy. They aimed to set the tents on fire.
Alongside the attacks by thugs, RATE faced repression from the organs of the capitalist state. The police arrested four key RATE activists during the duration of the struggle – outrageously all resulting from incidents where violent intruders and provocateurs had invaded the embassy grounds. The arrested RATE activists were then set bail conditions banning them from the vicinity of The Block, thus laying bare the police strategy – to strip RATE of its key activists. Amongst those whom the police arrested – and for a period banned from the Block – was RATE leader Jenny Munro.
Meanwhile, in August, the NSW Supreme Court ruled against RATE and ordered its eviction. In doing so the courts stayed true to form, proving once again that like the police, prisons and entire legal/state machinery they are an instrument for the oppression of Aboriginal people and all the exploited and oppressed by the big end of town. Yet despite all that was thrown at RATE and its activists the struggle made a significant advance. Congratulations to all those who joined the struggle. It was the Aboriginal activists in RATE that provided the leadership and the strong drive that was key to success. The Aboriginal activists spearheading the movement deeply understood not only how the lack of affordable housing has forced many Aboriginal people into homelessness but also the importance of saving the Aboriginal character of The Block given its special significance as a historic centre for militant black resistance against racial oppression. Many non-Aboriginal people also supported the RATE struggle. This included people from various non-white “ethnic” communities – who especially identify with the Aboriginal rights struggle because of their own experiences in racist white Australia – as well as committed anti-racist white activists. Special mention here must be made to activists with links to the anarchist Black Rose collective who did a lot of heavy lifting in terms of staffing and protecting the embassy at night. Trotskyist Platform activists also did regular night and graveyard shifts to guard the embassy. Also participating in the struggle were activists from Socialist Alliance and individuals from a wide range of different anti-racist political standpoints. When RATE held rallies – both on as well as outside The Block– still broader layers of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people joined these actions to express their support.
Just like RATE, Aboriginal housing on The Block was first won in a hard fought struggle. That early 1970s struggle faced even more obstacles than RATE did but, at the same time, was bolstered by a higher level of trade union support than the RATE struggle received. The back drop of the original struggle for affordable housing on The Block was the movement of many Aboriginal people from rural areas to the city in search of work. Many found work at the Eveleigh rail yards (at the site of what is now the Australian Technology Park) where they were paid terribly low wages – much lower than other workers. However, due to rampant discrimination by racist bosses, many Aboriginal people could not get work at all. To compound their problems, discrimination by landlords meant Aboriginal people had trouble getting tenancy in rental properties. In the early 1970s some of the homeless Aboriginal people would squat in unoccupied houses owned by absentee landlords in the area that later became known as The Block. They were often arrested and brutalised by local police who imposed a defacto selective curfew on Aboriginal people. Meanwhile, the racist South Sydney Council ran a campaign against those – including a local church – who would offer shelter to homeless Aboriginal people. As a result, in late 1972 black militants and allied anti-racist white people organised a plan to move homeless Aboriginal people into the unoccupied houses in Louis Street in what is now part of The Block. Those houses had been bought up by a greedy developer called Ian Kiernan (who would later founded Clean Up Australia and was awarded an “Australian of the Year” award). Kiernan had evicted all the previous mostly Aboriginal renters and planned to re-develop and gentrify the area with the aim of renting out the new dwellings at higher rates.
Being greedy capitalists, Kiernan and his firm, IBK, of course objected to the Aboriginal squatters. However, the leftist-led Builders Labourers Federation trade union made it clear to him that no work on his development would take place if the Aboriginal people were evicted. Meanwhile, several trade unions organised for work to be done to renovate the homes which were in a poor condition. As one of the former black militants that spearheaded the struggle for the Block, the late Bob Bellear, put it:
“The now exiled State Builders’ Labourers, through Bob Pringle, were called in to erect doors, fix windows etc., while some members of the Plumbers Union fixed taps, toilets and other plumbing facilities required for a more liveable habitation. The electricians turned on the power …”
– “How the Aboriginal Housing Project Was Born”, Bob Bellear, Koori History website
During the struggle, the black militants and their anti-racist white allies faced constant harassment and almost weekly arrests by the police. They were especially targeted by the NSW Police’s hated 21 Division – elite special operations cops (following police reorganisations its functions today are performed by the police’s Public Order and Riot Squad and its Tactical Operations Unit). One of the 21 Division’s favourite tactics was to send in people to cause trouble and then to arrest as many Aboriginal people and their friends as possible in the ensuring raid on “grounds” like swearing, public drunkenness and resisting arrest. Meanwhile, the ALP-led South Sydney Council also did everything possible to oppose the struggle for housing for the homeless Aboriginal people. The racist Council was encouraged by a local community group formed by racist white residents fanatically opposed to the Aboriginal occupants. One night one of these white residents, a security guard, entered the houses where Aboriginal occupants were living and opened fire with live ammunition!
However, despite all this the Aboriginal militants and their BLF union allies stood firm. As it was clear that the Aboriginal struggle was determined to face down any opposition and with the BLF preventing any capitalist development in the area, the Labor federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gordon Bryant, bowed to demands from the Aboriginal militants to provide a grant for Aboriginal people to collectively buy up the area freehold and renovate the houses to use them to provide affordable accommodation for the most needy Aboriginal people. This victory was achieved in April 1973.
Lessons of the Struggles for Affordable Housing on The Block
Affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block was won in a period of much working class and other progressive social struggles. The early 1970s was also a time when the U.S. and Australian capitalist rulers were weakened by the defeats they were suffering in their brutal war against the communist workers and peasants of Vietnam. Meanwhile, just five years before The Block was won, capitalist rule in France had its foundations shaken by the militant May 1968 general strike and factory occupations by millions of French workers. A year later, Italy saw similar convulsive struggles that came to be known as the Hot Autumn. Fearful of the threat of socialist revolution that had been posed by the French and Italian events, anxious about the wave of working class and other progressive struggles, weakened by the defeats it was suffering in Vietnam and terrified at the open support for the Vietnamese revolutionaries by a significant number of Australian leftist workers and youth, the Australian capitalist rulers felt the need to make concessions to the masses in order to stave off events that seemed to be heading in a revolutionary direction. Thus, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a period when not only was The Block won but advances were made more broadly in Aboriginal rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights and headway was made in undermining the racist White Australia Policy exclusion of non-white immigrants. Similar gains were won in this period by the working class and downtrodden in Europe and the United States.
Yet by the early 1980s, capitalist rule had stabilised worldwide. We now saw a right-wing period of union-busting and a Cold War anti-communist push against the socialistic USSR and Vietnam. In the mid-1980s, the Hawke Labor government and Victorian and NSW state ALP governments together smashed the BLF union that had been so crucial to winning affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block. In the period from 1989-1992, socialistic rule was destroyed in the former USSR and allied East European countries like Hungary and East Germany. The capitalist ruling classes of the world were greatly emboldened by this and felt they could get away with further attacking the rights of the masses at home. The period of the 1980s Cold War and then post-Soviet capitalist triumphalism has seen unions and workers’ rights diminished, the gap between rich and poor widen, Aboriginal rights and organisations undermined, mandatory detention of refugees introduced and the Left weakened. It is in this context that the decades-long campaign by the developers and NSW government to drive Aboriginal tenants off The Block gathered steam.
The world we live in is still affected by the direct and indirect effects of the restoration of capitalism in the former USSR. Yet, in the last several years, we have also seen periods of militant worker and progressive social struggles in Greece, Nepal, Portugal and Spain. Inevitably there will again be a period of a sustained upswing in the class struggle like the late 1960s-early 1970s because the capitalist economic system, which is lurching from one economic crisis to another, leaves the masses no choice but to fight back against the ever greater suffering it imposes on us. However, to be able to open the doors to such an upsurge and, most importantly, to be able to channel it to a decisive victory we should learn the lessons of every struggle of the past. The RATE struggle is especially important in this regard because in a period when most struggles have been defeated or have not been able to make much headway, RATE made gains.
One reason for its success is, obviously, the steely determination of the Aboriginal leaders of RATE and the courage of all who participated in the struggle. Yet, many losing struggles have also had a combination of leaders devoted to the cause and brave activists. Key in the RATE struggle was the fact that the movement’s main strategy was not focussed on appeals to the government or mainstream politicians, legal action or other methods based on trust in one or another institution of the racist rich people’s state. Instead, RATE’s primary focus was to create facts on the ground through mass direct action – that is, by establishing itself at the heart of the area where the commercial development on The Block was to take place so the development could not proceed while the Embassy was still standing. Although the capitalist governments had the power through their cops and courts to physically evict RATE, in the end it calculated that doing so would incite such a firestorm of social protest that it would be better to make concessions. Mainstream politicians would have noted that the many police/legal/thug attacks on RATE had not deterred the movement one bit and realised that any eviction of RATE would have to be a major and violent police operation that would enrage RATE’s many supporters nationwide. They would have been aware of the large size of the protests against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities and have been worried that a brutal attack on RATE would only fuel these protests and increase the authority of the staunch, radical wing of the Aboriginal movement. Furthermore, although the level of union support given to RATE was relatively modest, the social power of the workers movement is so great that its endorsement of RATE was in itself a significant deterrent to the authorities. The ruling class would have been worried that a violent eviction of RATE could have provoked a backlash by sections of the workers movement and they would especially have dreaded the prospect of the CFMEU construction union slapping a ban on the commercial development in the same way as the BLF did in the original 1970s struggle for The Block. Perhaps, most of all, the capitalist rulers would have been very concerned that not only had many workers unions endorsed RATE but that RATE was sending contingents of activists to support an MUA wharfies’ picket line at Port Botany. Most of all, the exploiting class fears steps towards uniting the militancy of the most subjugated sections of the population – like Aboriginal people –with the social power of the organised working class: the enemy knows that this will be a formidable combination.
It is important that the gains won by the RATE struggle not be remembered as a case of “if you bang on about something long enough the politicians do start to listen.” Indeed, the involvement of mainstream politicians with the RATE campaign – even to make themselves look good – had been very minimal. A couple of Greens politicians did, on very rare occasions, pop into RATE but as is typical did not widely publicise their claimed solidarity with RATE and made little effort to make it a national issue. When, at the very end, the federal government eventually came up with funding for affordable housing on The Block, a whole fifteen months after the start of the RATE struggle, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nick Scullion pretended that he was sympathetic to the RATE struggle and was making the grant out of sympathy for Aboriginal people’s rights. This is the same Nick Scullion that cut off federal funding for remote Aboriginal communities! The truth is that the Liberal and ALP politicians accept the current capitalist order and are mates with the greedy developers. Nick Scullion did not have a sudden change of heart but simply wanted to make himself look good while making a concession that he has been forced into. There is no way that Nick Scullion would have made the concession that he did if activists had simply been making submissions and representations to him without the presence of RATE as a physical obstruction to future commercial development. RATE made headway because it was based on mass, direct action by determined Aboriginal activists and non-Aboriginal anti-racists and because it won trade union support. As RATE leader, Jenny Munro, put it:
“I’m old school. My teachers taught me the principles of our resistance – we never ceded our land to anyone.
“The embassy has demonstrated that for our people, resistance is the only way to go.”
The lessons of the RATE struggle not only has implications for the struggle for Aboriginal rights but also for the broader struggle for affordable rental accommodation and for the entire struggle of the oppressed and exploited. To maximize the chance of being victorious, the struggles of the working class and all of the downtrodden demands a strategy based on mass, direct action and not at all upon reliance on the state institutions and mainstream political parties that serve the capitalist ruling class. In order for struggles waged in this way to achieve major victories against a powerful and ruthless exploiting class – and when the opportunity arises to culminate in the seizure of state power by the oppressed masses – the movements need to be buttressed around the strength of the organised working class. However, for the power of the workers movement to be unleashed, the influence of illusions in a capitalist parliament, divisive “Aussie workers first” nationalism and the loyalty to the capitalist order promoted by the ALP social democrats needs to be purged from the workers movement. We need to turn the workers movement into one that only trusts in its own power united with all the downtrodden, that fights for workers of all races, nations and pay levels to stand together truly as one and which champions the cause of all the downtrodden. Let’s be encouraged by the successes of the RATE struggle to work harder for this goal so that victories for the oppressed will not be rarities but will, instead, become commonplace and part of the long march towards a final revolutionary victory.
Above: Democracy in capitalist South Korea? Leftist South Korean parliamentarian Lee Seok-ki shouts as he is escorted into prison by security agents in September 2013. The Unified Progressive Party (UPP) MP was jailed for nine years on bogus charges of inciting a socialist insurrection. Later, the South Korean regime banned the UPP and kicked all its MPs out of parliament. Until it was banned, the UPP was South Korea’s third largest parliamentary party with a vote share equivalent to The Greens in Australia.
“Human Rights” Attacks on Socialistic North Korea & the Trade Union Royal Commission Here:
Both are Campaigns of Lies to “Justify” Attacks on Anyone Standing in the Way of Capitalist Exploitation
22 August 2015: This month, people around the world marked the 70th anniversary of the two most horrific terror attacks on civilians ever perpetrated in the whole of human history. Seventy years ago the U.S. regime, fully backed by the Australian ruling class, was responsible for the nuclear incineration of the people first of Hiroshima and then of Nagasaki. Yet these very same ruling classes have the hide to wage a campaign against the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) over “human rights.”
Indeed, the DPRK is probably the last country that the Western powers should be raising the issue of “human rights” about. During the 1950-53 Korean War, the U.S. and allied militaries – including those of Australia and South Korea – killed between two to three million North Korean citizens. In the beginning of January 1951, American General Mathew Ridgway ordered the air force to hit the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, “with the goal of burning the city to the ground with incendiary bombs,” which they did in two strikes on January 3 and January 5 (“Consequences of the ‘Forgotten War,’” Bruce Cummings, printed in Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2004). Pyongyang and just about every other city in North and Central Korea was again levelled by U.S. bombing in December 1952. Those North Koreans that survived were by then literally living in caves.
Yet the capitalist powers and the big business-owned media that serve them have never shied away from gross hypocrisy and never been bound by the truth. Recall, for one, their now infamous lie that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. Such lies are spread for a purpose. In the case of the lie about Iraq it was used to justify the 2003 U.S.–led invasion and conquest of that oil-rich country. Here, the Liberal/National Party regime’s lies demonising our trade unions are used to grease the skids for further union-busting attacks and anti-strike laws.
So why are they lying about North Korea then? Because the workers and farmers of North Korea have dared to adopt a socio-political system that is not based on capitalist exploitation. The masses of North Korea have dared to insist that they will not subordinate themselves to Western imperialism. For this “crime,” the imperial powers have slated the DPRK for destruction. Their outrageous claims about “appalling human rights abuses” in North Korea are used to justify the ongoing stiff economic sanctions on that country as well as the extreme military pressure that the U.S. and its allies exert on the DPRK. Not only are tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to threaten the DPRK but U.S. aircraft and warships regularly move in and out of North Korean airspace and waters to amplify this threat. Ultimately, the imperialist powers see the “human rights” crusade against North Korea as a means of preparing the population in their own countries for a future, full-scale military assault on that country – something that has to date only been stymied by Red China’s alliance with its socialistic sister, the DPRK.
As part of the big lie campaign against the DPRK, the South Korean Consul General in Sydney – in other words the South Korean government – hosted a week of events in Australia from August 17 to August 21 titled “North Korea Human Rights Week.” These events were timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of North Korea from Japanese colonial occupation on 15 August. The Sydney Branch of the Australia-DPRK Friendship Society protested outside the Opening Ceremony of this “Human Rights Week” at Sydney City’s main cinema strip near Town Hall station. Participating in the snap protest were several Trotskyist Platform comrades as well as supporters of the Australia-DPRK Friendship Society including one member from the CPA and a representative from the Supporters of the Iranian Peoples Fadaee Gureillas. Among the placards we carried were signs that read, “Human Rights” Attacks on Socialistic North Korea Are Like the Trade Union Royal Commission Here: A Campaign of Lies Used to Justify Attacks on Organisation/s Standing In the Way of Capitalist Exploitation and “Human Rights” of imperialism = bombing Afghanistan, torture at Guantanamo, killings of Aboriginal people in custody, support for murderous regimes in Egypt, Israel, Philippines and Colombia. How dare they attack socialistic DPRK, China and Cuba over “human rights.” Some passers-by stopped to express sympathy with the protest. Among these were a woman who knew much about the South Korean regime’s jailing of trade unionists and a woman of South Korean origin whose husband was a political activist murdered by the capitalist South Korean regime.
For the brutal, anti-working class South Korean regime to be talking about “human rights” is truly the height of hypocrisy. Yet its attacks on the socialistic North are totally expected. Whilst the DPRK was founded by Korean leftists who heroically fought the Japanese imperialist occupiers and with the vital assistance of the Soviet Red Army freed the Northern part of the peninsula from colonial rule, South Korea was established by the U.S. using many local collaborators with Japanese colonial rule as their henchmen. Among these U.S. henchmen were rich industrialists and big landlords during Japanese rule who defected from the North after the new socialistic power there nationalised industry and divided big landholdings amongst the impoverished poor peasants. Thus for a long time many amongst the Korean masses viewed North Korea as the real Korea and South Korea for what it really was – a U.S.-occupied puppet state. The South Korean regime and its U.S. patrons could only maintain their rule through the most bloody terror and the support of the occupying U.S. military forces.
Against the lies being spread by the South Korean regime and the U.S., British, Japanese and Australian ruling classes, we present here some important facts:
In the DPRK there is full employment. All workers have a right to work. This does not exist in capitalist South Korea and certainly not in capitalist Australia where greedy bosses feel that they can even get away with sacking workers in strongly unionised workplaces by text message!
The liberation in the latter part of World War II of the Northern part of Korea from Japanese colonial rule by the Soviet Red Army and communist-led Korean partisans led to the establishment of a workers state in North Korea. This workers state is, however, weakened by bureaucratic deformations. Thus, although the DPRK defends a pro-working class system based on collective ownership of industry, agriculture and services, the bulk of the working class is kept away from political administration which is in the hands of a relatively narrow bureaucratic layer. There is also a personality cult around leader Kim Jong Un and his late father, previous leader Kim Jong-Il and his deceased grandfather, founding head of the DPRK and former anti-colonial resistance leader, Kim Il Sung. Furthermore, those who form the administrative layer of the DPRK have special material privileges (although these pale in comparison to the extreme wealth of big business owners in capitalist countries). Yet despite these bureaucratic deformations, the existence of a workers state in the Northern part of Korea represents a significant conquest for the international working class. Furthermore, fixing the bureaucratic deformations that weaken the DPRK workers state demands relieving her of the tremendous pressure that is bearing down upon her from the imperialist powers and their South Korean ally.
Working in a society where workers have guaranteed jobs and are proclaimed as the ruling class means that North Korean workers enjoy a relaxed, friendly work environment. Indeed, if Aussie bosses saw how laid back North Korean workers were and how much they like to talk to each other whilst working on a production line then they would truly have a fit!
In contrast to the North, most South Korean workers toil in insecure casual or temporary jobs. Though the trade union movement there has waged many brave struggles for their rights in the face of fierce repression, still workers are forced to work very long hours. In fact, South Korean workers endure amongst the longest working hours in the world and the large number of workers forced to work part-time there means that the statistics, actually, hide the full extent of the reality.
Despite an industrialised economy, in capitalist South Korea, large numbers of homeless people sleep every day in railway subway tunnels. Many frail elderly people are forced to collect recyclables for petty cash since an aged pension barely exists in this country. In contrast, in North Korea, homelessness is non-existent and all citizens are guaranteed heavily subsidised public housing.
Despite being devastated in the 1950-53 Korean War, over the following two decades the DPRK built the second most advanced economy in Asia. Up until the late 1960s, the DPRK not only had much better health care, social welfare and education than South Korea but a higher average level of income. At that time, the U.S. decided to massively subsidise South Korean economic development as the U.S. rulers feared that hatred of the South Korean regime and sympathy for the North amongst the South Korean masses would lead to revolution. Thus, South Korea’s industrialisation was based on huge U.S. backing as well as cruel exploitation of its own workers.
Up until the collapse of the USSR in 1991-92, North Korean citizens continued to enjoy a high standard of living. However, the destruction of the USSR had a devastating effect on the DPRK. Faced with sanctions from the capitalist world, trade and technical exchanges with the former Soviet Union had been the DPRK’s economic lifeline. Furthermore, the USSR acted as a guarantor of the DPRK’s defence. Now, the DPRK had to provide for its own defence (China’s military was, especially at that time, not comparable to the USSR’s and incapable of providing the same deterrent to imperialist threats to the DPRK) at a time when the imperial powers felt more emboldened than ever. This forced the DPRK to divert a much larger proportion of its economy to defence which in turn squeezed her economy. A period of serious hardship in the country followed. However, by the start of the 21st century this started to turn around and especially over the last few years the DPRK economy has picked up. The military encirclement and the sanctions still hurt the DPRK – for example there is a shortage of fuel and spare parts for machinery and automobiles. Yet the North Korean masses are standing strong much like defiant workers who lose wages whilst on strike. Embarking on the struggle against their enemy brings hardships but they stand firm understanding that victory will open the road to a brighter future.
In the above sense, North Korean defectors can be compared to weak workers who sneak back to work during a strike because they are looking for short-term economic security at the expense of the long-term well-being of their fellow workers. Some of these defectors, either out of the quest for fame or because of cajoling from the South Korean and Western governments and anti-communist NGOs, have given harrowing tales of life in North Korea. Yet such tales have often been exposed as lies. These included the tales told by the most famous North Korean defector, Yeonmi Park. Her lies were so blatant that even anti-communist news agencies had to report on it. Meanwhile, hundreds of defectors disillusioned with the cut-throat life in the capitalist South with its unemployment and underemployment have, actually, defected back to the North.
Even despite the hardships that being squeezed by powerful capitalist powers brings, the North Korean masses manage to have their basic needs met. Contrary to the utter lies of the Western mainstream media there is no starvation in North Korea. Indeed, even statistics compiled by Western agencies hostile to the DPRK reveal this. Thus, the list of the percentage of a country’s population under the age of five who are underweight due to malnourishment estimated by the CIA – an institution thoroughly hostile to and biased against the DPRK – shows that North Korea is not only not among the top ten countries with the highest proportion of malnourished children but not even in the top 40! Indeed, not only do India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have much higher rates of malnourished children but so do other strong Western allies like Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
Similarly, the UN’s World Health Organization estimates life expectancy in the DPRK at 70 years. This is not only decisively higher than in India, Pakistan and PNG but also, actually, slightly higher than in Russia (suffering as Russia is, of course, from the capitalist counter-revolution that dismantled the world’s first workers state, the Soviet Union, in 1991) as well as the Philippines.
Despite the external pressure it faces, the DPRK has completely free health care and education. As a result, the DPRK has one of the highest literacy rates in the world for both women and men and a highly educated population.
North Koreans enjoy a rich social and cultural life. Peoples’ favourite hobbies include sports, dancing and playing music. As in much of Asia, people love karaoke. A recent craze there are amusement parks which have started springing up all over the country.
North Korea is a sports mad country and you can often see people jogging in the streets, playing in parks or training in the country’s many sports pavilions. At the last Olympic Games in London, the DPRK finished 20th in the medal tally – punching above its weight for a country of its size.
Many North Koreans play musical instruments and sing. Classical Korean and classical Western music, light semi-classical Korean tunes and pop music are all popular. The most popular band in North Korea at the moment, the extremely talented, all-female Moranbong Band plays all these styles alongside Western pop pieces.
In South Korea (the Republic of Korea), the very tough work environment for workers and the cut-throat nature of the capitalist society in general has led to it having the second highest suicide rate in the world. To put this in perspective, the suicide rate in South Korea is more than two and a half times that of Australia’s and nearly four times that of the Peoples Republic of China.
Despite having the hide to attack the DPRK over “human rights,” it is South Korea that has an appalling record of crushing the human rights of workers. The Seoul regime regularly arrests and imprisons trade union activists, including several trade union leaders who were arrested only two months ago .
Many people are persecuted under South Korea’s draconian National Security Law. In 2010 a woman was given a two year jail term for possessing MP3 files of instrumental music that was alleged to have pro-North Korea titles!
Last December, the South Korean regime banned the country’s third largest party in parliament, the left-leaning Unified Progressive Party (UPP), and stripped its MPs of its parliamentary seats. The UPP was accused of organising a pro-North Korea rebellion as the party’s actually quite critical attitude to the DPRK is, however, not hard line enough for the South Korean authorities. The UPP had won over two million votes (just over 10% of the total) in the proportional representation side of the last South Korean elections in 2012.
Capitalist rule in South Korea was consolidated by fanatical right-wing terror. From April 1948 to May 1949, the U.S. military government and their South Korean henchmen killed over 30,000 people on South Korea’s Jeju Island after the population rose up following repeated police shootings of pro-communist activists. Even the South Korean regime’s own commission – some 60 years after the fact – accepted that at least 20,000 people jailed for participation in the Jeju uprising were later massacred shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War.
More broadly, at the start of the Korean War, the South Korean rulers with the connivance of the U.S and Australia killed communists and those suspected of being communist sympathisers in what was known as the Bodo League massacres. Estimates of the number of people murdered ranged from 100,000 to 1.2 million. For decades in South Korea those who even spoke of these massacres were jailed. Although today South Korea flaunts an image of “democracy” and finally acknowledges, in part, the Bodo League massacres, it remains ruled by a brutal anti-working class regime.
In May 1980, the South Korean military and police massacred over 2,000 people in the city of Kwangju after leftist students and workers there staged a rebellion demanding an end to martial law and an increase in minimum wages.
The South Korean regime for decades either pressured or coerced local women to work as “comfort women” prostitutes for stationed American troops. They then stigmatised the women and left them to live in poverty. Over 120 surviving comfort women are now suing the South Korean regime.
The South Korean regime is far from the only hypocrite amongst those falsely attacking the DPRK over “human rights.” So are the rulers of the U.S., Britain, Australia and other Washington allies. In Vietnam, these forces killed over two million Vietnamese people in their cruel but, ultimately, futile and losing war against the heroic Vietnamese revolutionaries. Over the course of the 1991 First Gulf War attack on Iraq, the subsequent starvation-causing UN sanctions on Iraq and the 2003 invasion and occupation, the U.S., British and Australian regimes caused the death of over one and a half million Iraqi people. In 2001, they invaded Afghanistan to replace the fundamentalist cutthroats that they, themselves, had helped bring to power with a new lot of misogynist tyrants that are, however, even more slavish to them. In the process they bombed Afghanistan back to the stone-age and massacred thousands of civilians in countless “accidental” air strikes on wedding parties and civilian travel convoys. In neighbouring Pakistan, U.S. drone strikes unleashed against the wishes of Pakistan’s government kill hundreds upon hundreds of civilians. Meanwhile, four years ago, the NATO imperialists, egged on by the Australian government, violently deposed the then Libyan government. In doing so they not only killed tens of thousands of Libyan people in savage air strikes but turned that once peaceful and affluent country into a nightmarish “failed state” ruled by rival gangs of religious extremists and warlords and caused tens of thousands of Libyans to flee in dangerous boat trips to Europe.
As part of all these neo-colonial wars of conquest, the U.S. and their allies have used torture to advance their goals. There was the notorious torture of Iraqi political prisoners by the U.S. at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, NATO’s torture in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and the ongoing U.S. hellhole prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The Australian capitalist ruling class has perpetrated such atrocities not only as junior partners of the U.S. but sometimes from neo-colonial interventions it has itself led. In the late 1980s, when the people of the PNG-controlled island of Bougainville rose up to resist the terrible destruction of their livelihoods by Australian mining company CRA (this company which operated the huge Panguna mine in Bougainville with callous disregard to the local people later merged with British RTZ to form Rio Tinto), the Australian regime and its PNG government henchmen orchestrated a brutal war and naval blockade against the Bougainville people. As a result 15,000 to 20,000 Bougainville people perished – all for the sake of the profits of Australian capitalist bigwigs.
Here at home, the Australian rulers who attack the DPRK over “human rights” continue to preside over genocidal attacks on Aboriginal people, including forcibly closing down Aboriginal communities, stripping Aboriginal children from their families and police killings of Aboriginal people in custody. Meanwhile, refugees arriving in this country are thrown into hell-hole offshore detention camps where they face beatings, torture and in some cases murder at the hands of camp guards.
In the U.S., racist police and white supremacists murder blacks, Asians and Hispanics at an alarming and seemingly ever increasing rate. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world – more than the entire population of Brisbane! The rate of imprisonment in the U.S. is close to four times that of Venezuela and nearly six times that of China.
The truth is that the only “rights” that those waging the anti-DPRK “human rights” campaign are truly concerned about is the right of greedy corporate bigwigs to exploit the toil of working class people and the right of their mouthpieces to propagate the “virtues” of such a system. These rights do not, thankfully, exist in North Korea. And let’s keep it that way!
Defend the DPRK workers state! Down with the right-wing campaign of lies about North Korea! U.S. troops get out of South Korea and Japan! End all sanctions against North Korea! Remove the U.S. troops from Darwin and the U.S. spy facilities at Pine Gap and elsewhere in Australia which are used primarily for furthering U.S.-Australian ruling class threats against the DPRK and the Peoples Republic of China!
Apart from facilitating attacks on the socialistic DPRK, the lies about the “human rights” situation in the DPRK are used to distract the masses in South Korea, the U.S.A and Australia from the distinct lack of rights that working class people have in their own countries. So we demand: Repeal South Korea’s fascistic National Security Law! Revoke the ban on South Korea’s Unified Progressive Party! Free all imprisoned trade union activists in South Korea! Free all the refugees in Australia! Down with the police murder of Aboriginal people in state custody in Australia! End the Australian regime’s forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities! For the guaranteed right to a full-time job in Australia – just like people enjoy in North Korea!
Above: In Melbourne, April 2015, fascists (on the left of picture) participating in the ultra-Islamophobic “Reclaim Australia” rally threaten and use violence against anti-racist counter-demonstrators. Fascist forces not only have disgusting views but are people organised to commit violence against Aboriginal people, non-white ethnic communities, leftists and the workers movement. The idea that fascists can be peacefully debated is not a viewpoint based on reality.
WORKING CLASS-BASED MASS DIRECT ACTION vs LIBERAL/SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC PACIFISM
The first “Reclaim Australia” rallies on 4 April 2015 were the biggest open mobilisations of far-right racists in Australia in a long time. With the notable exception of Melbourne, in most places where they rallied on April 4 the racist extremists outnumbered anti-racist counter-protesters. In Sydney, Australia’s largest and most multiracial city, the April 4 counter-demonstration was particularly weak. Many long-time anti-fascists did not turn up to the anti-racist counter-rally, organised mainly by the Solidarity group, because the rally leadership’s avowed strategy of ruling out any attempt to shut down the white supremacist “Reclaim Australia” mobilisation either positively turned off – or otherwise did not inspire – many staunch anti-fascists.
When the fascists again rallied in cities throughout Australia on the weekend of July 18/19, anti-racists throughout the country were more determined. A somewhat more purposeful intent shown in the building for the July 19 anti-racist counter-action in Sydney – in comparison with the strategy proclaimed for the earlier April 4 Sydney rally – saw anti-racists this time outnumber the extreme right-wing racists by two to one. However, in Queensland the far-right racist rallies again exceeded in numbers the size of the counter-demonstrations. Furthermore, again with the partial exception of Melbourne where a determined picket set up by anti-racist counter-protesters blocked some of the fascists from entering their race-hate rally’s assembly point, the rednecks were still able to hold their actions unimpeded and turn central parts of major cities into de-facto no-go zones for people with non-white skin. Moreover, the July 18/19 “Reclaim” rallies received more mainstream backing than the previous April 4 mobilisation with one sitting government MP speaking at a rally and the police even more blatantly siding with the fascists against anti-racist counter-demonstrators.
In the wake of the fascist danger shown by the 4 April 2015 – and then July 18/19 – “Reclaim” rallies there has been much debate amongst leftists and other anti-racists about how best to counter the far-right offensive. This is not a bad thing. Such debates give an opportunity to clarify the strategy that we need to defeat the threat from extreme racists. The lines of these debates focus on several related questions but a key one is whether the goal of counter-demonstrations should be to simply protest against the views of the far-right racists or, on the other hand, should they also seek to physically stop the fascist mobilisations. Amongst those advocating the former perspective – that is, a continuation of the pacifist strategy that the Sydney 4 April 2015 anti-racist rally was built on – are various small-l liberals including many supporters of the Greens as well as the left groups Socialist Alliance and Solidarity. Strongly defending this outlook is also the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). An article in the CPA’s The Guardian newspaper by Peter Mac, analysing the April 4 racist and anti-racist demonstrations, denounced the Melbourne anti-racist counter-action for being “violent” and continued that:
The likelihood of an eruption of violence was boosted by one group’s declaration that the Reclaim Australia rally provided a golden opportunity to shut it down, that `the neo-Nazis … must be swept off the streets’ and its recommendation to `drive the violent white supremacists out of stolen Aboriginal land!’
As a result during the Melbourne confrontation Reclaim Australia’s chant of `Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi. Oi’ was met with shouts of `Fuck off racists’ by some of the counter demonstrators, accompanied by spitting, punches and bloodshed on both sides.
“Lessons from Reclaim Australia protests”, The Guardian, 22 April 2015
The “one group” that the CPA is here attacking happens to be us – Trotskyist Platform. To properly understand our strategy that the CPA is condemning, one needs to read not just the couple of phrases from our leaflet plucked out by the The Guardian but, at the very least, the entire paragraph which we copy below:
It appears that the organisers of the Sydney anti-racist counter-rally want the event to simply challenge the views of `Reclaim Australia’ and expose its racist nature. That is certainly necessary. However, it is far from adequate. What distinguishes the fascists from mainstream racists is that they have a program of using violence to achieve their aim of a `pure’ whites-only society. These are the same groups that helped incite the notorious 2005 Cronulla Beach white supremacist riot. Their neo-Nazi slogans have helped to foment the wave of violent – and sometimes even murderous – attacks on Indian, Chinese, and most recently, Korean students as well as helping to incite the unceasing redneck violence against Aboriginal people. If these white supremacists get away with openly inciting racist hatred on April 4 it will encourage every garden-variety redneck watching to radicalise their racist stance. If such hate parades continue it will be inevitable that we will see here horrific incidents like that which happened in North Carolina last month when three young Muslim American students were murdered in a racist attack. Furthermore, the organised presence of violent white supremacists in the heart of Sydney – no matter if they are interspersed with less extreme racists who they have sucked into their rally – will intimidate and physically endanger the many Muslim and non-white people visiting the area. That is why the `Reclaim Australia’ action must not only be protested against – it must be shut down! The neo-Nazis pulling the strings in organising `Reclaim Australia’ must be swept off the streets. Let’s drive violent white supremacists out of stolen Aboriginal land!
“Shutdown the ‘Reclaim Australia’ Race Hate Rallies”, Trotskyist Platform leaflet, 28 March 2015
Unfortunately, at this point what was warned against in our leaflet is, for the moment, coming to pass. The white supremacists largely got away with being able to foment their race hate on 4 April 2015 (and indeed on July 18/19) and as a result those unorganised racist bigots sitting at home watching became more radicalised. This has contributed at least in some way to the increase in racist attacks on the streets over the last few months. The one partial exception on April 4 (and also on July 18/19) was Melbourne, where the fascists’ ability to hold their race-hate provocation was at least challenged by the large counter-rally and some of the racists were blocked from joining their counterparts at their rallying point. Yet, sounding completely like small-l liberals rather than the communists that the CPA proudly claims to be a party of, Peter Mac’s article condemns the “spitting, punches and bloodshed on both sides” thereby equating the determined and laudable anti-racist resistance of many Melbourne anti-“Reclaim” demonstrators with the thuggery of neo-Nazis attempting to crush any obstacle to advancing their violent racist objectives.
Lenin’s Strategy for Defeating Fascists
CPA comrades, as avowed supporters of Lenin’s communist program, should consider the attitude of Lenin’s Bolsheviks to the Russian far-right racists of Lenin’s time, the Black Hundreds. Ardent monarchists, the Black Hundreds were most notorious for perpetrating violent attacks on Jewish people – usually with the connivance and often even the active support of the Tsarist authorities. As well as espousing extreme anti-Semitism, these rabid Russian chauvinists also whipped up hatred against Polish people and opposed any recognition of Ukrainians as a distinct nationality. Like today’s fascists in Australia, the Black Hundreds also staged mass, “patriotic” demonstrations to denounce the influence of non-Christian, ethnic minority, leftist and liberal groups. Yet, unlike the CPA’s newspaper that condemns those taking action to physically impede fascist provocations in Melbourne, Lenin instead condemned those liberals and pacifist leftists who denounced as “reckless” the calls to organise mass, militant self-defence against the Black Hundreds. Thus, when in June 1906 the Black Hundreds perpetrated a horrific pogrom against Jewish people in the town of Belostok (sometimes spelt Bialystok) in the western part of the then Russian empire (in today’s Poland), Lenin wrote:
… there are those who, seeing these phenomena of Russian social life, think, and say, that somebody or other is `recklessly’ calling upon the people to resort to `extreme measures’! One must be, not reckless, but a poltroon, politically corrupt, to say such things in the face of events like the burning of the People’s House at Vologda (at the time of the opening of the Duma) or the pogrom in Belostok (after the Duma had been in session a month). A single event like this will have more effect upon the people than millions of appeals. And to talk about `reckless’ appeals is just as hopelessly pedantic and as much a sin of a deadened civic conscience, as to condemn the wild cry for revenge that is going up from the battlefields of Vologda and Belostok.
“The Reaction is Taking to Arms”, V.I. Lenin, June 1906, Collected Works, Progress Publishers
The perspective of Lenin’s Bolsheviks to the Russian fascists of their time was thus very far from that of Peter Mac’s attitude to Australia’s Black Hundreds of today. Thus, while Mac speaks of the need to “persuade” Reclaim participants saying that it would be “a grave mistake to assume that Reclaim supporters are incapable of changing their minds,” Lenin’s attitude to those who were inciting and perpetrating physical attacks on ethnic communities and leftists can be summed up by the following call he made to respond to the Black Hundreds. Lenin called for revolutionaries to:
… at once find out who organises the Black Hundreds and where and how they are organised, and then, without confining themselves to propaganda (which is useful, but inadequate) they must act with armed force, beat up and kill the members of the Black-Hundred gangs, blow up their headquarters, etc., etc.
Tasks of Revolutionary Army Contingents, V.I. Lenin, October 1905, Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers
Although that particular call was written during the height of the 1905 Revolution in Russia when the physical clash between opposing forces was at white heat and thus the specific tactical methods advocated are particular to such a period, the call nevertheless expressed an overall political perspective completely relevant to “normal times”: that the fascists need to be shut down rather than merely debated.
The Capitalist Authorities Are Not Allies in the Struggle against Fascism
Since the CPA stance is representative of that of the whole liberal-pacifist wing of the anti-fascist movement it is worth analysing their strategy further. This strategy is outlined in a favourable assessment that Peter Mac makes of an Adelaide anti-Reclaim protest organiser:
Adelaide pastor Brad Chilcott observed with regard to the public’s impression of events: ‘Your audience is not the racists you’re shouting at, but the people watching at home. … [But] those watching at home … couldn’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad. Then politicians have to condemn the violence on both sides, rather than [giving] an undiluted message condemning bigotry.
“Lessons from Reclaim Australia protests”, The Guardian, 22 April 2015
So we see that the strategy of the CPA and small-liberals like Chilcott is for anti-racist rallies to be tepid enough to encourage mainstream politicians to condemn bigotry. But it is precisely the policies and statements of the mainstream pro-capitalist politicians that are encouraging the bigots! Barely a week goes by without the right-wing Coalition government heaping a new insult upon Aboriginal and coloured ethnic communities. And barely a week goes by without the ALP Opposition signing onto or otherwise acquiescing to such insults.
How openly the ruling class politicians are contributing to the rise of the fascists was seen when government MP, George Christensen, actually spoke at the 19 July 2015 Reclaim demonstration in Mackay, Queensland. Furthermore, when asked about Christensen’s decision to openly support the event, foreign minister July Bishop refused to make even the faintest condemnation of Christensen or the “Reclaim” movement, deviously claiming that, “I don’t know anything about the organisation. I certainly haven’t been briefed on it.” Even before this outrage, the mainstream politicians had already openly pumped up the “Reclaim Australia” forces. Barely a month after the first set of “Reclaim” rallies, the Senate decided to hold an inquiry into halal certification (under the guise of an inquiry into food certification) thereby giving credence to the looney premise of the “Reclaim” fascists that money paid for halal certification is being used to “finance terrorism.”
Sorry, Mr Chilcott and the CPA: the mainstream politicians are a big part of the problem and are not and cannot in the future be part of the solution! Indeed, especially after the global capitalist recession that commenced in 2008, ruling politicians around the capitalist world have brought far-right forces more and more into the mainstream. They have done this through adoption of their ideas, through sanctioning of them as “legitimate” voices to be addressed and even – in the cases of Switzerland, Latvia and Ukraine – through their inclusion in coalition governments. Here, the same trend is happening and it is driven by, more or less, the same economic reality. As the fall in the prices of iron ore and other commodities (from the exorbitant levels with which Australian mining bosses had previously been ripping off Asian neighbours with) reduces the profits of the Australian capitalist ruling class, they are seeking to make up for this by more viciously exploiting the masses. To enable them to achieve this, the ruling class is seeking to kill off the chance of working class resistance by poisoning mass sentiments with a large dose of nationalism.
Reflecting worry amongst their working class base, a very small number of ALP politicians have spoken out – albeit mostly quite meekly – against the “Reclaim” movement. Yet, even in the highly unlikely event that mainstream politicians were to do a U-turn and formally stand en masse against the fascists that would not do all that much to stop actual violent racist attacks. Any legal measures instituted against the white supremacist thugs would have to be implemented by a police force and court system that has proven itself, time after time, to favour the far-right racists against anti-racists. This was seen all too clearly over the 18/19 July 2015 weekend. In Melbourne, police went all out to ensure that the Reclaim racists and their even more extreme United Patriots Front (UPF) breakaway group could hold their racist-violence manufacturing hate rallies. This included indiscriminately unleashing pepper spray against anti-fascist protesters. Police were so gung-ho about attacking anti-fascists with pepper spray that one of their capsicum spray barrages even hit street medics treating anti-racist protesters who had previously been overcome by the spray as well as these same victims of the spray who were receiving treatment. A widely circulated photograph showing the police high-fiving a UPF fascist (!) at the Melbourne race-hate rally, quite neatly and horribly captured the essence of the police stance.
Yet, an Editorial in the CPA’s The Guardian issue just after the July 18/19 events promoted the police as a force against the rise of the fascists. This Editorial stated:
Police, including NSW deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas, are worried about the proliferation of right-wing racist and white supremacist groups….
“The deputy commissioner is on the right track about incidents taking place overseas and those in Australia seeking to take advantage of them.
The Guardian, 22 July 2015
This same police force and police leadership that the CPA is praising in its Editorial just days before attacked the Sydney anti-“Reclaim” protest on July 19. Even before the official start time for the anti-fascist event was reached, the police physically and aggressively dragged anti-racist protesters away from their planned rally point so that the fascists could rally there unimpeded. The NSW police arrested five anti-racist protesters. Meanwhile, they devoted many resources to organising protective escorts for extreme white supremacist groups entering and leaving the “Reclaim” rally. One group of anarchist, anti-racist protesters was, on the other hand, roughed up by police after they left the anti-racist demonstration with at least one anti-racist being hurled by police against a telephone booth.
To be sure, the CPA Editorial did also make some very good points about how the “leadership of this wave of intolerance can be found at the very `top’ of society, including in Australia’s parliament” – correct arguments that actually undercut the perspective promoted by Brad Chilcott which was lauded in the earlier article by Peter Mac. However, to promote the police as a force against fascism not only flies in the face of police actions against anti-fascists on the 18/19 July 2015 weekend and the whole ongoing history of racist police terror against Aboriginal people but directly contradicts Lenin’s teachings on the nature of the state. Leninists understand that in a capitalist society, the state – which the police, courts, army and prisons are at the core of – consists of armed bodies of people whose job it is to enforce the rule of the capitalist class over the exploited masses. Thus, the capitalist state organs like the police serve the same class as the fascists do. The police do the daily work of maintaining capitalist rule. The fascists back that up by acting to poison working class unity and intimidating staunch anti-capitalists while the ruling class keeps them as an attack dog on a leash ready to be unleashed when serious threats to capitalist rule emerge. That is why not only have the police been siding with the fascists in the standoffs with anti-racists over the last period but in the future the capitalists’ police can never be an ally in the struggle against fascism. Defeating the growing threat from far-right extremists can only be accomplished through mass, direct action on the streets by the organised working class united with coloured ethnic communities, Aboriginal people and all the other intended victims of the fascists.
Learning Lessons from the Past
In basing their anti-fascist strategy on the hope that either mainstream capitalist politicians or the capitalist state organs themselves can be pushed into stopping the fascists, the CPA is aping the disastrous policy of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the period leading up to Hitler’s Nazis’ seizure of power in the early 1930s. Then, as SPD workers and youth began to courageously fight Nazi forces on the streets, the leadership of the SPD, at the time the biggest party based on the German working class, quelled this struggle. They turned the Iron Front for Resistance against Fascism, which the SPD had itself created, into an electoral machine for electing the monarchist capitalist politician Hindenburg whom they hoped would save them from Hitler. The curbing of the struggle to physically stop the fascist forces allowed the Nazis to grow stronger, take physical control of more and more streets and gain much in confidence. Meanwhile, far from saving the SPD from the Nazis, Hindenburg eventually appointed Hitler as chancellor as the mainstream of the ruling class realised that only fascism could save capitalist rule in Germany!
Unfortunately, the German Communist Party (KPD), which had by then degenerated alongside the bureaucratic degeneration (but not destruction) of the Soviet workers state, also followed a bankrupt approach, albeit from more sincere intentions. The KPD first underestimated the danger of the Nazis and, partly in reaction to the very real anti-working class treachery of the SPD, refused to organise united-front actions with the SPD to oppose the Nazi threat to both their organisations. Later, as Hitler’s forces grew stronger, KPD leaders became paralysed and came to see a Nazi triumph as inevitable.
However, Hitler could have been stopped! The murderous beheading of the German workers movement, the Holocaust of Jewish people and the brutality of the Nazi’s war on the USSR could have been prevented! What was required at the time was what the Trotskyist Left Opposition was urgently calling for: a united-front of the working class to physically stop the fascists – something which the most conscious workers felt the need for but which was counterpoised to the reformist capitulations of the SPD leaders and which the zig-zagging KPD could not bring itself to fight for. Understanding that the pacifist SPD leaders would always resist and foot drag on such a strategy and that in the long-run fascism could not be defeated without breaking the rank and file supporters of the social democracy away from their sellout leaders and winning them to allegiance to the communist party – Trotsky (following the program of Lenin’s Bolsheviks) outlined that the basis of united front struggle is not only unity in action but complete political independence of the different components of such a front including full freedom to criticise each other’s programs.
Right now, Australia is not in immediate danger of a Hitler-style takeover. However, the growing fascist forces are already doing harm to workers’ unity and are already perpetrating and inciting the preliminary test-runs of the huge future pogroms that they would like to commit. We need united-front action of the working class right now to physically crush the fascists while they are still crawling out of their eggs.
And that is the point! To tell anti-racists to confine themselves to politely explaining what is wrong with racism in the face of a movement that perpetrates and incites violence is to disarm and damage the anti-racist struggle. It is following the road of the German social democratic leaders who in the lead up to Hitler’s seizure of power were saying that so long as the Nazis do not quit the ground of legality, there is no room for an on the streets fight to physically stop them! That is why as part of the struggle to build a working class-based mass movement to sweep the racist filth off the streets, those activists who understand the need for such a perspective must explain to other anti-fascists why a strategy of seeking to pressure the capitalist authorities to act against the right-wing extremists is, as history itself proves, inevitably doomed to fail.
Force the Ruling Class to Hold Back Their Cops from Killing Aboriginal People – Unleash Union/Black Action! Palm Island Aboriginal Hero Lex Wotton Joins Brisbane G20 Protests.
More than 500 people withstood over 40 degree heat in Brisbane on November 14 torally against Aboriginal deaths in custody, including Lex Wotton (Below Right) who addressed thedemontration proudly saying, “I don’t regret what happened to myself, and for what I did… it mademe stronger, it made me who I am today… anything I can do to be a part of change, for the strugglefor our rights, I’m always there.” The protest was held just 12 days before the 10th anniversaryof the heroic Palm Island resistance action in 2004 when hundreds of Aboriginal residents of theisland responded to the brutal killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee at the hands of Police Sergeant ChrisHurley by burning down the local courthouse, police station, Hurley’s home and police barracks.
Wotton was arrested and, accused by the authoritiesof leading the resistance action, he faced up to 14years in jail. However, a defiant working class-centredcampaign was organised in his defence arguing that thevery same deadly, racist, state power arrayed againstAboriginal people also lines up ready to bash unionistson picket lines when they stand up to fight for workers’rights. This campaign culminated with a sharp, shortstopwork action on the docks of Sydney by members ofthe Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) timed to coincidewith the sentencing of Wotton on 7 November 2008. Asa result of this working class pressure on the state, Lexreceived a relatively light sentence and was releasedafter two years. Nevertheless, any kind of sentence wasa travesty against the inspirational Aboriginal leader.