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
Defend the Dominance of Socialistic, State-Ownership in China’s Economy!
Above, a common site in China: youth wearing the communist hammer and sickle emblem. Mass support for communism in China has thus far constrained capitalist restorationist tendencies within sections of the ruling bureaucracy. Photo: Trotskyist Platform
2 December 2016 – Last week, Fidel Castro passed away at age 90. Fidel led the 1959 Revolution that would end up overthrowing capitalism in Cuba and bringing terrific improvements to the lives of the Cuban masses. In response to his death, Chinese president, Xi Jinping lauded Fidel’s achievements. Here are some excerpts of Xi Jinping’s message of condolences to Raul Castro, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba:
Fidel Castro, founder of the Communist Party of Cuba and Cuba’s socialist cause, is a great leader of the Cuban people. He has devoted all his life to Cuban people’s great cause of struggling for national liberation, safeguarding state sovereignty and building socialism.
He has made immortal historic contributions to the Cuban people and to the world socialism development.
The Cuban and Latin American people lost an excellent son, and the Chinese people lost a close comrade and sincere friend. His glorious image and great achievements will go down in history.
I believe that under the strong leadership of Comrade Raul Castro, the Communist Party of Cuba, the Cuban government and its people will carry on the unfinished lifework of Comrade Fidel Castro, turn sorrow into strength and keep making new achievements in the cause of socialist construction.
Xinhua, 26 November 2016
President Xi’s fulsome praise for Fidel and Cuba’s socialistic path reflects the fact that China itself is under socialistic rule. While Cuba’s revolution came in 1959 and was the first – and to date – only decisively anti-capitalist revolution in the Western Hemisphere, China’s anti-capitalist revolution came ten years earlier. It brought the long suffering toiling masses to power in the world’s most populous country and freed China from over a hundred years of humiliating, colonial servitude at the hands of Western and Japanese imperial overlords.
However, the Australian media did their best to hide the substance of the Chinese president’s letter of condolence over the death of Fidel. They reported very briefly that Xi had sent his condolences but made sure they did not report on Xi’s praise for Cuba’s socialist system. Why? Because to do so would highlight the continued socialistic character of the Peoples Republic of China. The mainstream Western media don’t want to do this. In fact, they sometimes even try to make you believe that China has simply “gone capitalist.” To admit otherwise poses a very inconvenient fact for the capitalist media: the fact that the country with the world’s fastest growing economy that has managed to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty – i.e. China – has done so while based on a socialistic system. To admit this blows sky high out of the water the main anti-communist argument that people in the capitalist world are taught from the time they go to school and start watching documentaries: socialism may sound like a fair system but it just does not work in practice.
Of course, the capitalist media do very often contradict their own, sometimes used, “gone capitalist” narrative about China. They, indeed, start talking about “communist China” whenever they manage to find an area that they can attack the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) over and exaggerate a problem – like pollution – or when they misrepresent events to accuse the PRC of “human rights violations.” The lying capitalists, actually, know very well that the PRC is not a capitalist entity but a socialistic state. That is why the capitalist-owned media look for any opportunity possible to demonise China, why the U.S. and Australian regimes support anti-PRC NGOs and dissidents within China and why investment from PRC state-owned companies are especially scrutinised by Australian government authorities. Most notably, it is why the Australian military is openly being built up to join the U.S.-led crusade against China even though the PRC is this country’s biggest export market and the main reason the Australian economy has not yet fallen into a new, deep recession.
Just like the Cuban Revolution, the 1949 Chinese Revolution led to tremendous improvements for the masses in life expectancy, literacy, health care and the position of women. Socialistic rule has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of the dire poverty of its pre-1949 days with a speed and depth that is completely unprecedented in human history. However, like in, Cuba these accomplishments are not guaranteed because socialistic rule itself remains fragile in China. It is fragile because at the moment the richest and most powerful countries in the world are under capitalist rule. As the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 showed, even a socialistic state that is a superpower can be destroyed by sustained capitalist military, economic and political pressure.
Furthermore, the ability of the Chinese workers state to withstand external capitalist pressure is weakened by its own bureaucratic deformations – by the fact that the administration of socialistic rule is restricted to a narrow, somewhat privileged bureaucratic layer rather than being run by democratic mass organisations of working class people. This structural deformity arose from the nature of the Chinese Revolution itself. This great revolution was made largely by tens of millions of tenant farmers led by idealistic students, teachers and other intellectuals. Awakened and led by Mao’s Communist Party of China, the tenant famers fought with immense heroism to make the revolution. However, tenant farmers, while brutally exploited by the landlords, were still infused with the individualistic strivings that one day they would produce enough to free themselves from landlord domination and make a good income from selling their produce on the market – perhaps even becoming landlords themselves. Therefore, unlike wage workers who are united by their collective labour at the workplace and thus – when under revolutionary political guidance – could self-organise through democratically elected workers councils, the individual tenant farmers could only be fully united from above. This requirement and the practicalities of waging a long, guerrilla war meant that the victorious revolutionary forces and the ensuing workers state that they created had a bureaucratic – rather than a workers’ democratic structure.
In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership, unable to use the driving and motivating influence of workers’ democracy to push forward production, turned to market reforms to further stimulate economic activity. These reforms would come to include the creation of a capitalist, private sector. In the complicated transition from capitalism to genuine socialism it can be useful to allow a limited private sector. This is especially the case given that before the 1949 Revolution, China was an extremely poor and backward country where the capitalism that existed was intermingled with elements of feudalism. However, the introduction of a private sector and market reforms to China necessarily brought with it greater inequality, increased corruption, some degree of unemployment and a reduction in solidarity between people. Moreover, the new class of, at first small, capitalists created by the reforms used their influence and wealth to lobby for greater and greater openings for the private sector. This influence was amplified because many of these new capitalists had family or other personal ties to the administrative/party bureaucracy. Today, the degree of private sector operation in China is much in excess of what is needed or desirable for the Chinese workers state. To be sure, the private sector bosses do not control the key sectors of the economy which remain under socialistic state ownership and they do not hold state power. However, the danger that the capitalists that do exist in China could organise a capitalist counterrevolution is a very real one. We only have to look at what happened in the former USSR. It was there that market reforms in the mid-1980s, dubbed perestroika (restructuring), created a class of petty capitalists and speculators. Then Soviet leader Gorbachev did not initially intend these reforms to actually lead to a capitalist takeover and at first that is not what perestroika meant. However, the layer of capitalists that Gorbachev’s perestroika created, with backing from a section of the middle-class professionals and student intellectuals – who expected that they would be amongst those who would strike it rich if capitalism was restored – became a powerful lobby force for further perestroika. They shoved Gorbachev and Co. further and further to the right. Each new set of perestroika reforms that Gorbachev implemented strengthened the economic weight and political influence of the new capitalists and whetted the appetite of pro-capitalist students and professionals. Eventually, with the crucial backing of Western imperialism, the new capitalists and their middle class allies were strong enough to grab back state power in the ex-USSR. The forces that made this counterrevolution were actually small in number. Most Soviet workers and collective farmers were not sympathetic to the counterrevolutionary course and many were downright suspicious of the pro-capitalists. However, in the absence of decisive levels of actual struggle to defend the Soviet workers state, the counterrevolutionaries triumphed.
Today, in China, the capitalists do not yet feel strong enough to openly call for capitalist restoration. They leave that to a rather small layer of Western-funded dissidents and NGOs. Indeed some of China’s capitalists even, rather disingenuously, sing the praises of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). They hope that this will save them from having their businesses shutdown – as has happened to many of their capitalist compatriots. But what these Chinese capitalists do a lot of is to use their wealth and political influence – through bodies like the private sector All China Federation of Industry and Commerce – to push for ever greater openings for the capitalist economic sector. They are assisted in this lobbying by a whole swathe of academics, economists, lawyers and journalists sympathetic to capitalism or at least to a greater role for the capitalist sector. This lobbying is indeed powerful especially when one considers that the relative weight of China’s capitalist class is far in excess of that of the capitalists in the former USSR at the time of the counterrevolution there. Fortunately, however, the resistance of the Chinese working class and staunch subjective communists to pro-capitalist measures – like privatisation – is also far greater than existed in the last period of the USSR. However, it is far from guaranteed that the political consciousness of the working class will always be sufficient to ensure that their resistance can hold back capitalist restorationist forces. The struggle in China between insurgent pro-capitalist forces and those resisting them is a finely balanced battle.
In the mid and late 2000s, the insurgent pro-capitalist forces in China were pushed back to some extent. China’s political climate in that period was shaped by increased activity of leftist tendencies within the CPC, the manifest weakness of capitalism worldwide as seen in the Great Recession and – most crucially – militant workers struggles for improved wages and conditions and against the few attempts made at privatisation during this period. The period from 2008 to 2011 in particular was the most left-wing period in China in over three decades. This period saw the nationalisation/confiscation of not only many formerly privately owned coal mines but nationalisations across a range of sectors from steel to milk processing to solar cell manufacturing.
However, from about 2012 the political climate in China swung back to the right – at least on economic issues. China’s capitalist class and the host of economists, academics, lawyers and even CPC politicians loyal to them re-asserted themselves. This was reflected in some of the agenda of China’s new number two leader (ranking below president Xi), premier Li Keqiang. Li implemented special measures and tax incentives to help new private businesses. He also pushed for allowing private enterprises access to several areas like oil/gas, infrastructure construction, health care etc which had previously been restricted almost exclusively to publicly owned enterprises. Although the strength of pro-socialist forces is such that no CPC leader openly calls for privatisation of any of China’s major state-owned enterprises, the CPC leadership – including both premier Li and president Xi – have pushed for the sell-off of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises to private investors.
Developments over recent years in China have, of course, not all been in one direction. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has genuinely reduced corruption even though there is a suspicion that it has also been used against Xi’s political rivals – including those from the left of the CPC. Importantly, the anti-corruption campaign has protected the assets of state-owned enterprises from being squandered by corrupt state enterprise managers handing contracts to bribe-paying, private business bosses. In a small number of cases, the CPC’s drive against corruption and privilege in government officials has spilled over into healthy moves against opulence in the broader Chinese society. In early 2014, authorities in major Chinese cities ordered the closure of high-end clubs and expensive restaurants in public parks, scenic spots and cultural sites because these venues could not be accessible and affordable to the masses. Those high-end clubs and restaurants that were not closed were ordered to lower their prices and change their menus to turn them into places affordable by the masses. Meanwhile, formerly members-only clubs that were allowed to stay open were ordered to turn into open access venues. Alongside the anti-corruption, anti-opulence campaign, the ruling Communist Party of China has toughened its membership rules to ensure that all party members believe in the party’s stated ideology. On the one hand, this drive for ideological consistency has been, in part, used to silence leftist critics of pro-market reforms within the party. Nevertheless, it has also had positive effects. It has weeded out some ambitious professionals with little solid sympathy for communism who joined the party for merely career reasons and it has deterred capitalist businessmen from joining the party purely to enhance their connections with government. The most important positive developments in PRC politics in recent years is the continuation – and in some cases the deepening – of some of the progressive policies of the previous Hu Jintao government. This includes the moves back to universal public health care, a massive campaign to build and renovate affordable public housing, an increase in social security and pension payments and the enforcement of the drive to improve workplace safety. Most crucially, the new Xi Jinping government has re-committed to the previous Chinese government’s drive to bring every single resident in China above the national poverty line by 2020; and has moved to achieve this goal with renewed vigour.
Furthermore, many of the right-wing economic measures proposed have not been implemented much. Nevertheless, there has been a change in the political discourse from a few years ago. The suspicion of private business bosses that was sometimes seen from CPC officials and Chinese media during the Hu Jintao period, itself a reflection of healthy hostility to capitalists amongst the Chinese working class, is now more and more replaced with praise of their “innovative” capacities and their “entrepreneurship.” Sensing the mood, in March on live TV, China’s then finance minister, Lou Jiwei, ranted against the PRC’s 2008 labour law for being too pro-worker saying that it was contributing to unreasonable wage rises and making it too hard for bosses to sack workers. Although the strongly pro-worker law was not amended, Lou Jiwei’s attack on it represented a clear drive by the most pro-market wing of the Chinese bureaucracy to curb wage rises and slash employment regulations imposed on bosses.
Rightist elements of the CPC leadership – and the academic/economist circles backing them – are also using moves to cut over-capacity in China’s steel and coal sectors as a way to weaken the influence of socialistic state enterprises – state-owned enterprises being dominant in these sectors. Additionally, they are trying to use these cuts as a way to change the culture of PRC state enterprises. They want to prod these socialistic enterprises to retreat from their previous reluctance to lay-off workers and push them into operating more according to “market principles” (i.e. solely according to the profit motive). There is, indeed, over-capacity in China’s steel and coal sectors – the latter because China is moving intensively away from coal and onto renewable energy sources like hydro, wind and solar. However, not only should these cuts to overall capacity be done in a way that guarantees equivalent paying jobs for all workers moved out of these sectors but it should be done by forcibly closing the, often, poor safety and high polluting private enterprises that are part of these sectors. That would not only ensure that the tens of millions of workers remaining in these sectors have the best possible working conditions but would also make a huge boost to workplace safety in the dangerous coal sector in particular. Yet, thus far, the cuts to overcapacity seem to be roughly in proportion to the relative weights of socialistic and private enterprises in these sectors.
However, these recent pro-market measures have met with mass resistance. In March, thousands upon thousands of coal mine workers employed by state-owned Longmay Group marched through the northeastern Chinese city of Shuangyashan to protest against wage arrears resulting from the provincial government holding back support to the struggling company in order to push it into slashing the size of its workforce. A large number of similar workers’ protests and strikes have taken place throughout China in state enterprises facing similar predicaments. Meanwhile, Chinese people used social media to bitterly attack then finance minister Lou Jiwei’s criticism of China’s pro-worker labour laws. A comment made by Weibo (China’s popular social media platform) user, Se Kong Se Kong, typified the reaction to the ex-finance minister’s tirade:
Have him investigated ….
He’s no good if he’s speaking on behalf of the capitalists!
Financial Times, 10 March 2016.
All this protest and defiance from Chinese workers and leftists has had an impact. For instance, two weeks ago, rightist Lou Jiwei, was unceremoniously dumped as China’s finance minister two years before his term was due to end (he has since been given a much lower-ranking post). This was, no doubt, at least partially related to his anti-working class comments attacking China’s Labour Law and to the spirited mass opposition to his tirade. It was also reportedly connected to his pro-“free market” opposition to large state investment in infrastructure and fixed assets by local governments. Meanwhile, the huge Shuangyashan city protest by Longmay Group workers led the Heilongjiang provincial government to back down within hours of the workers’ action. The provincial government and its Governor, Lu Hao, apologised to the workers and arranged to fund the struggling state-owned company so that it could pay the workers the wages owed to them. More broadly, the PRC government has responded to workers’ concerns by stepping up efforts to ensure that workers laid off from steel and coal enterprises will be re-hired in state infrastructure projects, state-owned farms and state forestry projects immediately after – or in some cases even before – losing their previous jobs. Meanwhile, some state-owned firms cutting capacity in the steel and coal sectors have started up operations – even loss making ones – in often very different industries in order to avoid laying off workers. State owned coal companies in China’s main coal producing province, Shanxi, have set up pharmacies, solar power stations, restaurants, supermarkets and vegetable and fruit planting to move their workers into. One state-owned coal company, Qianhe Coal Industry, that had to cut its capacity, started organising its workers into production of food products – including tofu and potato noodles – in order to pacify its workforce. It is now even going to move its operations entirely from coal producing to the food products industry – even though its new area of operation is not currently profitable (Quartz, 31 March 2016).
Such moves by state-owned enterprises are significant as they undercut the agenda of rightists within the CPC and Chinese and Western “experts” who all hoped that downsizing in China’s state-owned coal and steel enterprises would help wean China’s state-owned enterprises away from their devotion to preserving workers’ jobs and push them onto the profit first path. For his part, premier Li has been forced into a partial back down in two key areas by the workers protest and leftist agitation. Firstly, Li and the rightist advisors and economists influencing him, were pushing for more unprofitable state-owned enterprises – dubbed “zombie industries” – to be forced into bankruptcy and, thus, into retrenching their workers. Although this plan is partially still going ahead, last month the PRC government announced a scheme whereby those holding the debts of enterprises would be able to swap them for equity. In other words, the mainly state-owned banks owed money by indebted companies will end up taking stakes in these companies allowing the companies to wipe out their debts and continue operation. The companies that will mainly benefit are state-owned enterprises as struggling private companies usually simply shut down and retrench all their workers when in financial trouble rather than maintaining major unpayable debts for long periods. For those private companies that are indebted the scheme will facilitate them to be effectively part-nationalised, since state-owned banks will end up owning significant equity stakes in them. Secondly, Li has, in practice, been forced to retreat from his promise to refrain from using large-scale state investment to stimulate the economy. The angry protests by state enterprise employees threatened with unemployment forced premier Li to boost state spending on infrastructure and development projects in order to create jobs for displaced former coal and steel sector workers to be moved into. For example, three months ago, the Chinese government announced an over $A300 billion plan to fund 130 projects in the north-eastern region of China – the part of the country with a disproportionately large concentration of enterprises in the steel and coal sectors.
The PRC government’s return to emphasis on state investment is driven not only by the imperative to respond to workers’ concerns but also, in part, by pure economic reality. The fact is that with the world capitalist economy – and thus demand for Chinese exports – in the doldrums and with profit-driven, Chinese private sector bosses less willing to make productive investments in the real economy because their ability to make profits has been curtailed by rising workers’ wages in China and the 2008 pro-worker Labour Law, the PRC government needs state-owned enterprises to drive growth. To put it simply: capitalism doesn’t work but socialism does and thus the PRC government, regardless of the political leanings of some of its key personnel, must once again rely on the socialistic state sector to shore up the economy. That is why despite all the special tax concessions and other incentives given to private enterprises, Chinese private investment in fixed assets grew by less than 3% in the first ten months of this year while investment by the state sector surged by over 20%.
A similar story can be seen if we look at the issue of administrative measures imposed on the housing market. During the period of Hu Jintao’s presidency from 2002 to 2012, Chinese governments imposed a series of measures to reduce housing speculation in key areas in order to make house prices more affordable to the masses and to ensure that housing construction was geared towards the needs of low and middle income earners. These measures included requirements for developers to meet certain minimum proportions of smaller housing, restrictions on the number of houses that people could own and regulations that made banks charge higher interest rates – and require higher down payments – for those buying second homes as opposed to those buying first ones. As part of these measures many major Chinese cities banned people from owning more than two homes. However, private sector housing developers and pro-“free market” economists, journalists and other “experts” complained bitterly that the measures were “distorting the market” and undermining the “healthy development of housing supply.” These voices obtained a bigger hearing from Chinese leaders in the post-Hu period and as a result in the 2013 to 2015 period some of the administrative restrictions on speculation were relaxed. However, that led to a rebound in speculation and opulent purchases of multiple house by the wealthy. Though this squeezed many lower-income people out of the private housing market, fortunately China has massively built public rental housing to enable lower income people to still get stable accommodation. In the last few months, however, the Chinese government has again returned to anti-market, administrative measures to curtail housing speculation and restrict the wealthy from buying up multiple houses.
The clearest sign that the political winds blowing to the Right in China are starting to recede was seen last month at a high profile meeting of government leaders and state enterprise heads about the direction of state-owned enterprises. The main theme of the meeting was president Xi Jinping’s insistence that it is imperative to: “unswervingly uphold the party’s leadership in state-owned enterprises, and fully play the role of party organs in leadership and political affairs (South China Morning Post, 12 October 2016). Xi insisted that any “weakening, fading, blurring or marginalisation” of party leadership in state firms would not be tolerated.” The meeting vowed to turn around the situation whereby the party’s presence in state-owned enterprises had started to gradually fade into the background over recent decades as these public sector companies became influenced by Western corporations. At the conference, which was notably held when pro-private sector prime minister Li Keqiang was away on an overseas trip, Xi also insisted that China’s state-owned enterprises are an important material and political basis for socialism and called to make these public enterprises stronger, bigger and better (Xinhua, 11 October 2016). This was a clear statement in defence of state-owned enterprises from China’s top leader and a slap in the face to others within and around the CPC trying to weaken them. Furthermore, by insisting on strengthening Communist Party control of state-owned enterprises Xi also contradicted statements by some Chinese leaders – including, to some extent, his own previous statements – calling to turn these state-owned enterprises into more profit-driven corporations. Thus, Xi’s speech at the conference ordered that state-owned enterprises should become important forces to implement decisions of the CPC Central Committee as well as to enhance overall national power, economic and social development and people’s wellbeing. This means that, at least according to the speech, the PRC state-enterprises would re-commit to maximising employment and protecting working conditions as a goal in itself, rebuffing the drive by some within the PRC bureaucracy to push the public sector enterprises into slashing their workforces. Notably, the Xinhua article on the state-owned enterprise work conference reported that Xi stressed the importance of protecting state owned enterprise workers’ rights to know, participate, express and supervise within the enterprises. He added that important matters concerning the immediate interests of workers must be submitted to workers’ congresses for deliberation and the system to ensure workers’ representation as the directors and supervisors of state-owned enterprises should also be improved.
An important positive consequence of this PRC government drive to increase Communist Party control of state-owned enterprises is that it will undercut their own plan to allow private investors to take minority stakes in state-owned enterprises. After all, if Communists are to be running these enterprises and if they are not going to subordinated to the profit motive but also be directed to meet national and social goals – like maximising employment, improving workplace safety, developing poorer parts of the country and spearheading the development of new industries– then what money-grubbing, capitalist investor in their right mind would want to put their money into them! This is especially the case when one considers that the rate of profit return on PRC state-owned enterprises is already only around half that of capitalist enterprises. These public sector enterprises – despite the often monopoly position they hold in Chinese markets – are simply not geared to the blind drive for profits and that is a good thing! Consequently, premier Li Keqiang’s “mixed ownership reform” – to bring private investment into state-owned enterprises – has often not led to the intended consequences. The most touted example of a “mixed-ownership reform” in recent years was Chinese state-owned oil refining giant Sinopec’s decision to sell-off a 30% stake in its distribution and marketing business to “private” investors. However, in the end it was other state-owned companies that bought up nearly two-thirds of this stake. A similar story occurred when China’s main oil producer, state-owned Petrochina, decided to sell-off half of its Central Asian pipelines. The announcement caused considerable excitement amongst Chinese capitalists and pro-“free market” economists and amongst Western “experts” and business journals. Yet, in the end, the entire stake simply went to another PRC state-owned company!
Profile of China’s Pro-Capitalist Advocates
Smash the Political Influence of the Capitalist Class!
Despite what appears to be the first signs of a possible tilt back to the left in China in recent months, as long as there is a capitalist class in the PRC able to wield some political influence then the danger of capitalist counterrevolution is acute. Especially when capitalists within China have family, personal and cultural ties to the ethnic Chinese capitalists who rule Taiwan and Singapore, enjoy economic dominance in Hong Kong and Macao and also form a component of the capitalist ruling classes in places like Malaysia and the Philippines. Moreover, the U.S., British, Japanese, Australian and other imperialist ruling classes are working feverishly to undermine socialistic rule in China.
The response of China’s ruling bureaucracy to the threat of counterrevolution is not to organise for a struggle to outright smash the capitalist threat. Instead, they seek a balance – a truce – between, on the one hand, socialistic rule in China and, on the other, the out of power capitalists within China and the capitalist classes that rule most of the rest of the world. However, such a strategy is in the long run untenable. Socialism and capitalism cannot, ultimately, co-exist. We should remember that from the mid-1920s onwards – when the leadership of the former Soviet workers state started to move away from the truly revolutionary internationalist perspective that guided the 1917 socialist revolution – the USSR’s leaders tried a variant of the policy currently pursued by Beijing. And look what happened there!
The force that has a clear interest in waging a struggle against the capitalists to the end is the Chinese working class. Time and again, as China’s capitalists looked to be set to gain the economic weight, momentum and popular acceptance necessary to make an open bid for power, struggles of the Chinese working class and agitation by leftist elements within the CPC have intervened to push the capitalists back. Today, these forces must resist any sell-offs of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises to private investors. They must breathe life into the workers’ congresses in these enterprises and use them as a force to defend working conditions for workers and to ensure that the state-owned enterprises stay committed to overall social goals and maximising employment rather than to the blind drive to maximise profit. The Chinese working class and leftists must also defend the 2008 Labour Law against any attempt to weaken its pro-worker provisions and must, instead, fight for the strengthening of these laws. They should build workers’ committees – drawing into them staunchly pro-communist officials, police and Peoples Liberation Army soldiers – to investigate enterprises and ensure strict enforcement of the Labour Law’s pro-worker provisions. Such committees would fight for a policy whereby any private business that violates the Labour Law or any safety regulation is immediately confiscated by the PRC state and turned into a publicly owned enterprise. All these struggles should be part of a fight to smash the political influence of the capitalists and restrict the private sector to the level that is actually needed in the transition stage to socialism. Of course, the capitalists, their allies within the upper middle class and their imperialist backers would furiously oppose such a struggle. In the resulting decisive clash between the politically conscious working class and pro-capitalist forces the tightrope balancing act played by the current ruling bureaucracy would be shaken out of existence. The different elements of the bureaucracy would be flung onto two opposing sides. Those types, like pro-capitalist ex-finance minister, Lou Jiwei, who are closest to the capitalists would fall squarely on the capitalist their side. On the other hand, more subjectively communist elements and those closest to the masses would end up on the side of the working class (as would, inevitably, some careerist elements who see the inevitability of a workers’ victory). Thus, a workers struggle to smash the capitalists’ political influence and curb their economic power would not only fortify the PRC workers state but would also lead to the political administration of the PRC passing from the wavering hands of the bureaucracy and on to the control of the councils of workers and their allies that had just organised the defeat of the insurgent capitalists. The genuine communists who would guide such a struggle by the pro-socialist working class would understand that such a victory cannot be truly secure while the capitalists hold state power in nearly all the most powerful countries in the world. That is why they would link the struggle to defeat the insurgent capitalists within China to a perspective of solidarity with the workers and oppressed all around the globe in their struggles against their capitalist rulers.
The biggest impediment to such an outcome is that, currently, the international factors weighing on the class contest in China are almost entirely on the side of the insurgent capitalists. We workers and leftists in the imperialist countries need to change this and change this fast! The workers movement here should oppose political attacks on the PRC workers state from Australia’s capitalist regime (including those made under the pretext of “human rights”) and must oppose the anti-PRC Chinese exile organisations. We must build solidarity actions with progressive actions by the PRC workers state such as the implementation of pro-worker labour laws and the massive increase of public housing. The Australian working class and its allies must also stand against the U.S./Australian capitalist rulers’ military build up against China and must oppose their anti-PRC provocations in the South China Sea as the capitalist powers want all this military pressure to add to the all-round political squeeze that they are subjecting the PRC workers state to.
The incoming Trump regime in the U.S. has promised a still more aggressive posture towards China as well as a massive military build up. Today, as a blatant provocation against Red China, president-elect Trump broke with diplomatic protocol and held a phone call with the president of Taiwan, the part of China that the defeated capitalists seized when they were booted out of power by the 1949 anti-capitalist revolution. This is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and a leader of the rogue province of Taiwan since the United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan 37 years ago. The U.S. backs and massively arms Taiwan but adopted the diplomatic position of not recognising Taiwan as a way to way to maintain diplomatic and, hence, trade relations with the PRC while simultaneously undertaking its anti-PRC machinations. Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese leader and their discussion about how to boost Taiwan’s military strength – inevitably against the PRC – is a signal that U.S. imperialism is going to unleash a more openly confrontational policy against socialistic China. Genuine communists living in the U.S. and its imperialist allies like Australia have got our work cut out. Let’s get to it!
Above: June 2016, in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, workers at the Bitzer refrigeration firm are on the picket line and on the verge of victory. After a hard fought nine week strike workers won a pay rise, the guarantee of permanency for casuals after six months’ service and control over what hours they work. The Australian working class is very multiracial. Unity of workers across racial and ethnic lines is key to victory in the class struggle.
As Capitalist Rulers Beat on the Unions and Poor:
Opposing Racism & “Aussie First” Economic Nationalism Key to Defending Working Class People’s Rights
29 January 2017: Thousands upon thousands of the most economically deprived people in Australia have been driven to despair over the last few months. Many are on the verge of suicide. These people have been sent debt letters by Centrelink telling them that they owe large amounts of money. Many of the letters were erroneously sent. The Liberal-National Turnbull government’s scheme to recover supposed “excess” payments to social security recipients through a computer program matching Centrelink with tax data is full of flaws. The system seems to be wilfully designed to incorrectly flag several types of valid welfare payments as “overpayments.” However, it is not just the errors in the program that are the problem. The whole purpose of the program is the problem: to gouge ever more from the most impoverished people in the country to allow, in part, the right-wing government to implement large tax cuts for rich business owners.
This hated “debt recovery” scheme is symbolic of what the government led by the supposedly “moderate” Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, has been doing to working class people. In November, the Turnbull government, with support in the Senate from the fascistic One Nation party, the Nick Xenophon team and right-wing “independents” like Derryn Hinch, put through legislation to resurrect the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The ABCC is a set of rules and government bodies targeting unions in the construction industry. Its resurrection is yet another sign that the capitalist rulers are ramping up for a full-scale attack on the CFMEU construction workers union. They want to attack one of the most militant unions in the country as a way of pulling the teeth out of the entire union movement.
The Turnbull government has been emboldened by its win in last July’s election. However, even though the Coalition are more openly anti-working class in its agenda than the ALP, even an ALP victory last July would have been no good for the masses. Thus although the ALP opposed the ABCC, it had brought in the previous set of anti-union laws targeting the CFMEU – a regime under which over a hundred union officials were facing legal persecution last year. It is true that the ALP has joined with the Greens to oppose the Turnbull government’s plan for a massive cut in company tax. Yet in September, it was the ALP’s support that enabled the Coalition to get through its Omnibus Bill of budget cuts that hurt working class people the most while the following month the ALP voted up tax cuts that were exclusively given to the richest one-third of taxpayers. The Omnibus Bill measures that financed the tax cuts for the rich include the slashing of the Energy Supplement for new welfare recipients, high interest charges that will further grind down welfare recipients with a debt, delays to the receipt of the Carers Allowance for many new carers and a more severe repayment through taxation schedule for ex-students with a tuition fee debt. Meanwhile, although the ALP has demanded that the Coalition suspend its Centrelink “debt recovery” scheme, the ALP took to the elections its own scheme to punish welfare recipients with a debt. Under the Labor proposal, welfare recipients who had outstanding fines from government agencies would have their fines automatically deducted from their payments in yet another compulsory “income management” scheme subjugating the poor.
The fact is that the determination to rip ever more from the pockets of the masses comes not just from the ideological nature of the current parliamentary parties but from their adherence to a capitalist order which requires increasing exploitation of workers as a condition for its very existence. This is especially so because the world capitalist economy is in a fragile state right now. The Australian economy is somewhat held up from a major collapse by exports to China’s booming economy. Yet China’s continued economic successes – not withstanding the regular but always unrealised predictions made by wishful mainstream Western “experts” that her economy is about to implode – come from the fact that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is not under capitalist rule. Although the PRC’s leadership has allowed a dangerous level of capitalist intrusion into her economy, China’s economy remains held together by a powerful backbone of socialistic state-owned enterprises. However, let’s look at the condition of the major capitalist economies of the world. Big European economies like those of France, Italy, Germany and Austria have barely recovered from the worst of the 2008-9 Great Recession. The U.S. recovery is a fragile house of cards based on cheap credit and the capitalist Japanese economy continues its long term drift in the doldrums. Meanwhile, large non-Western, capitalist countries like Russia and Brazil are still mired in recession. It is in this context that the Coalition election slogan of “jobs and growth” has turned out to be a load of crock. If the unemployment rate has remained steady in Australia rather than ballooning up since the election it is only because so many people who want to work full-time are being forced to accept part-time work. Since the election, over 33,000 full-time jobs have been lost. As for “growth” the latest figures show that the economy actually shrank in the three months since the elections. With the economy in such a state, the capitalist rulers propose the only “solution” that they always advocate for any problem: increase the rate of exploitation of workers.
With both the Coalition and the ALP not even promising much good for the masses and with both stating their intention to implement budget cuts that would hurt the poor, the post-election period was always going to be a challenging one for the masses. Under the system of capitalist “democracy” elections serve to “legitimise” capitalist governments by giving the impression that they have a “mandate” because they and their agenda have been “chosen by the people.” Therefore, in an immediate post-election period, governments claiming the authority of a “mandate” are often able to implement severe attacks against the masses. But that is only if working class people believe the hoax that election victories are a “mandate”! It is the duty of those within the workers movement who understand that elections in capitalist countries are not fair reflections of the will of the masses to explain this to others. They must expose how capitalist elections are overwhelmingly shaped by the reality that it is the ultra-rich capitalists who own the mass media and book publishing houses and uniquely have the wealth to fund political parties, employ lobbyists and full-time staffers to shape public opinion, buy political advertising, hire forum venues and establish sympathetic NGO’s to subtly promote views coinciding with their interests. In other words, it is the capitalist tycoons who are able to, disproportionately to their numbers, shape â€œpublic opinionâ€ and election results. The reality of democracy in capitalist countries is not one person one vote but, in reality, something more like one million dollars buys one million votes. Furthermore, no matter which party wins the elections, they will be administering a state machine – including at its core the police, courts, military and bureaucracy – that has been built up to enforce the interests of the capitalist class and is tied to this ruling class by a thousand threads. If those vanguard layers of the workers movement who understand this are able to patiently and humbly explain this to the broader masses and in the process win others to also play a vanguard role in spreading such ideas then the working class will be in a much better position to resist the attacks it is facing today.
Today’s onslaught on working class people’s rights is of such severity that there really should be a working class fightback right now. So let’s clear the confusion that is blocking that fightback by destroying the illusion that capitalist elections give a government a “legitimate” “mandate”! Let’s fight to unleash working class industrial power! Let’s unleash mass action uniting the working class with all the other downtrodden – including brutally oppressed Aboriginal people, people from other embattled coloured ethnic communities, the unemployed and low-income single mothers. Fight to defeat the ABCC and all other anti-strike and anti-union laws! Smash all attacks on welfare and all punitive measures against the unemployed! Let’s put the blame where it should be for unemployment: on the capitalist bosses. Let’s stop billionaire bosses retrenching workers! Force capitalist bosses to increase hiring at the expense of their fat profits! Oppose the moves to make education and health care increasingly “user pays.” For free public education at all levels from pre-school to TAFE and university! Let’s also fight for completely free public medical and dental care. Against the bi-partisan sell-offs of public housing we need to demand a massive increase in public housing. There needs to be a struggle to oppose racist state terror against Aboriginal people and the stealing of Aboriginal people’s children. We also need to demand asylum for refugees and full rights of citizens for everyone residing here or currently locked up in the Manus Island and Nauru camps. Let’s demand the closure of all the onshore and offshore detention centres!
It Is the Capitalist System That Is at the Root of the Problem & Not the “Two-Party System”
Reflecting widespread disenchantment with the status quo of insecure jobs, decaying social services and unaffordable housing, voters punished the Liberals and ALP at last July’s elections. Instead, they gave their vote to independents and smaller parties. Some on the Left have hailed this as a positive development as it undercuts the “major parties” and the “two-party system.” It may indeed show a weakening of the “two-party system” but that in itself is not a step forward. As the support of many of the Senate cross-benchers to the ABCC showed, all the elected independents and minor party parliamentarians are pro-capitalist and anti-working class. The fact is that having more than two pro-capitalist parties in parliament does not make life any better for the masses. Indeed, in many European countries there have long been three, four or even more significant parties in parliament but that has not stopped these parliaments from legislating for capitalist austerity, imperialist wars abroad and racist attacks on non-white minorities and refugees. You see the problem is not the two party system as such – it is the capitalist system whether capitalist interests are represented by one or two or three or four or five or any number of major parties.
That the masses are unhappy with the current rulers is inevitable under capitalism. The task of conscious partisans of the exploited and oppressed is to ensure that this anger is directed in the correct direction. The election results signalled that, unfortunately, this is not what is happening right now. One of the most notable aspects of the July election results is the growth in support for Pauline Hanson’s extreme racist One Nation party which now has several seats in the Senate. Like Donald Trump, Hanson’s claims to be “anti-establishment” are completely bogus. A former smaller-scale capitalist business owner who exploited workers, a better description of Hanson and her One Nation Party is that they are ultra-establishment. Hanson supports anti-union laws and disgustingly brands those doing it hard as “welfare bludgers.” Indeed, not only does One Nation support Treasurer Scott Morrison’s legislation making young jobseekers wait four weeks before getting the dole but its leader Pauline Hanson has called for the waiting period – i.e. the starving period – to be made even longer. Meanwhile, One Nation’s defining feature – racist scapegoating of Aboriginal people and non-white “ethnic” communities – serves the capitalist establishment by getting the masses to turn on themselves and divert their attention away from struggling against their exploiters: the greedy capitalists.
It is notable how much airtime and sympathetic – or at least “understanding” – coverage the mainstream media have been giving to Pauline Hanson even compared to when she first entered parliament two decades ago. It is also noteworthy how many more other politicians have been going out of their way to show their respect for her and her disgusting racist rants. This reflects the further rightward shift of the ruling class. They see an increasing need for the division caused by fascistic forces to help protect their rule. Hanson’s One Nation party allows the mainstream of the capitalist ruling class to ensure that society is flooded with extreme racist views while not themselves taking responsibility for spreading this hatred – lest that upset trade ties with Asia or Australia’s bogus image of being a “human rights defender” (that they use to justify predatory imperialist interventions abroad).
Hanson spews venomous bigotry against Aboriginal people. In her book released soon after she first entered parliament, Hanson made outrageous claims that Aboriginal women ate their babies, claiming that she wanted to “demonstrate the savagery of Aboriginal society.” Although she shifts her main target depending on which type of racism is most in vogue, her agenda is to spread hatred against all people of colour. When she first entered parliament she ranted that, “Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians.” Now she makes similar claims about Muslims while continuing to stand by her attacks on Asian communities. The first time round, when Hanson made her drive against Asians, Asian people were often spat on and abused at train stations and threatened and bashed on the streets. Today, One Nation’s bigotry is again inciting racist terror on the streets. Its electoral gains and the ascent of far-right bigot Donald Trump has emboldened violent racists. Various violent fascist groups in Australia like the Party for Freedom, True Blue Crew, and Australian Settlers Rebellion have been falling over themselves to declare support for One Nation and have been congregating at One Nation public events. There have been at least two white supremacist murders in the period since One Nation made its comeback into federal parliament: the murder of 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie and the murder of Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher in Brisbane. How many more racist murders there have been and the much larger number of racist bashings is unknown.
Working-Class Based Opposition to One Nation’s Racist Agenda versus “Take Down Capitalism” Instead
n response to One Nation’s resurgence, people of colour activists and other anti-racists have rightly protested outside some One Nation events and media appearances. However, a leftist Facebook site calling itself the “Communists of Australia” posted a statement that poured cold water on the idea of protesting against One Nation. This 15 September 2016 posting read:
Australian far-right politician Pauline Hanson is back in the parliament after 20 years. The message is the same racist message as before. Capitalism throws up these fascists from time to time. Some will respond by attacking the figurehead. That is OK if they want to do it. But the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself. Target the boss instead of the stooge.
We will respond to this assertion not necessarily because of the weight of the group making it but because this stance represents a viewpoint held by a section of the nominally “Marxist-Leninist” left. In itself, the statement that, “the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself,” is of course incontestable. However, the struggle against capitalism will not be advanced by merely proclaiming its necessity, although that must certainly be done as well. The revolution against capitalism will mainly be built by conscious pro-socialists supporting struggles waged against the various injustices and oppressions caused by this system and fighting to direct these struggles onto an anti-capitalist strategy. It follows that in addition to participating in workers’ struggles for economic gains and in struggles against government racist measures, we must also join with those protesting against the extreme racism of One Nation while fighting to turn this anti-racist resistance into a pro-working class, anti-racist resistance. This is different to the perspective of not only the “Communists of Australia” but in a different way also to that of most of the left social democratic groups – like Socialist Alternative. These latter groups – to their credit – are heavily involved in building anti-racist rallies against One Nation and have raised slogans at such actions that correctly link One Nation’s rise to the racist policies of the major parties (even though they tend to soft-pedal on criticism of the ALP’s racist policies). However, the slogans that these groups build the anti-One Nation rallies on and the slogans that they raise at the events shy away from linking the anti-racist struggle to the class-struggle of the working class. They choose such a strategy because they hope that this will allow small-l liberals and middle-class antiracists, who may not be pro-working class, to be more comfortable about attending the actions. However, a huge price of making the events as amenable as possible for such elements is that it holds back the movement from becoming a force that opposes the capitalist ruling class – the class whose attacks on jobs and social services fuels support for One Nation and whose racist policies legitimise such fascistic outfits. In other words, the strategy of the reformist left groups, while helping to attract well-meaning, anti-racist university students to rallies, retards the movement from turning to the direction that can actually lead it towards its goal. Moreover, it makes it harder to attract the powerful workers movement into joining these struggles. In contrast, Trotskyist Platform (TP) has been participating in anti-Far Right actions with slogans that not only oppose the government’s/ALP’s racist attacks on Aboriginal people, refugees and Muslims – which other Left groups also do to some extent – but with slogans that directly appeal to the interests that the workers movement has in strengthening its unity through combating racism. Our slogans also seek to connect healthy hatred of One Nation’s racism with opposition to the mainstream, “Aussie first” economic nationalism that helps legitimise the extreme racists. We call for class struggle opposition to the bosses’ job-slashing and casualisation that is the cause of the unemployment and insecurity that is helping fuel fascism’s rise.
Even though the reformist left groups that are currently leading the anti-One Nation protests shy away from an openly pro-working class strategy, this is no excuse for the so-called “Communists of Australia” to downplay the need to participate in anti-One Nation actions. To reject intervention in this way means to turn one’s back on the possibility that a movement burning with hatred at far-right racism can – or at least its most pro-working class elements can – be steered onto an anti-capitalist strategy. Worst of all it means turning one’s back on the desperate concerns of people from the various coloured “ethnic” communities – the people who are suffering the direct brunt of the redneck violence and abuse that One Nation’s racist hate speech fuels – and refusing to walk them onto a path that connects their passion to fight against far-right racists to an all-sided struggle against the capitalist system that breeds racism.
It is simply wrong to reject struggles against fascist and fascistic forces on the supposed grounds that it diverts from a direct struggle against capitalism. Workers from various embattled “ethnic” communities form an important part of the working class – the class that is central to the fight against capitalism. Many work in the most exploited jobs and, thus, have the most to gain from anti-capitalist class struggle. Some are even today amongst the most militant trade unionists. Yet the vilification that they cop from the likes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the violence being incited – and sometimes directly carried out – by outright fascist groups intimidates coloured workers and thus undermines their ability to participate in the struggles of the workers movement. Opposing the far-right racists is thus an important part of the struggle to unleash the full combative potential of “ethnic” workers and, therefore, of the workers movement as a whole. It is, thus, incorrect to suggest that struggles against far-right forces somehow takes away from the necessary struggle against capitalism. In fact, the very opposite is true provided that struggles against the Far-Right are waged on a pro-working class agenda that refuses to be diverted into the dead end of “lesser evil” support for liberal or social democratic-led capitalism.
That is why, in contrast to the likes of the “Communists of Australia,” we communists in TP stand for spirited, working class centred, anti-racist protests outside One Nation events. Let’s demoralise One Nation supporters and discourage new ones from joining by showing them how much resistance they will face. Most importantly, we fight for actions uniting trade union contingents with Aboriginal people, coloured “ethnic” communities and other anti-racists to drive off the streets the outright fascist groups that have been congregating at One Nation events. When the workers movement mobilises in this way to stop violent fascist forces, it not only enhances their unity but also strengthens their trust in their own power, develops their fighting organisation and experience and increases their willingness and ability to unleash their might in direct physical action. In other words, acting to crush fascist outfits – who are still overall unpopular – helps prepare the working class for the future, more difficult task of overturning capitalist state power. This is partly why Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who would go on to lead the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, devoted so much effort to mobilising to crush the violent far-right groups that existed in Russia in their time – like the notorious Black Hundreds. By downplaying the importance of similar tasks today, the avowedly “Marxist-Leninist” Communists of Australia group are actually turning their back on an important aspect of real Marxist-Leninism.
The biggest reason why it is wrong to claim that struggles against far right racists are counterposed to a direct struggle against capitalism is that workers unity is absolutely essential to any struggle against capitalism and such unity cannot be built without fiercely counteracting the dividing effect of racism – whether it be the extreme racism of the Far Right or the patronising racism of the mainstream of the ruling class. In white supremacist Australia, racism and economic nationalism are, indeed, the biggest factors tearing apart workers’ unity. Indeed, the racism and economic nationalism engendered by capitalist society can be so strong that even some avowed socialists recoil from directly standing up to it. Those leftists who say that there is no need to attack One Nation, with the excuse that the dominant capitalist bosses should be attacked instead, are misusing Marxist theory to rationalise a reluctance to challenge extreme racist ideas. This is an opportunist capitulation to backward racist notions amongst their co-workers, acquaintances and those considered potential allies of their parties.
Protectionism Hurts the Struggle to Save Workers’ Jobs
The germination of openly racist forces in Australia has been bred in a noxious political climate created by the major parties’ – and the mainstream media’s – attacks on refugees, Aboriginal people and various different coloured “ethnic” communities. In particular, the mainstream of the ruling class has infused society with anti-Muslim hysteria through the repression and coded racist messages associated with its “War on Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Direct Australian imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq further intensifies the chauvinist climate at home. Meanwhile, the Australian fascistic groups sprouting into the open have been pollinated by their rapidly breeding counterparts in other parts of the capitalist world. Most significant has been the ascendancy of racist, ultra-protectionist Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. There has also been the Brexit vote in Britain – in which racist hostility to immigrants and protectionism were the main factors – and the growing influence of extreme right-wing parties throughout Europe from France, Netherlands and Austria to Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. With the current social democratic leaderships of the workers’ movements refusing to mobilise a militant class struggle fight for workers’ jobs, far-right forces have been able to promote restrictions on immigration and extreme nationalism as an “answer” to unemployment and deteriorating social services. Since economic insecurity remains rife in a capitalist world that is still caught in the vortex of the late noughties Great Recession, many in the middle class and some backward workers have bought into such illusory “solutions.” What has arguably most legitimised the Hard Right and their agenda is that social democratic politicians – including supposedly “anti-establishment” ones like America’s Bernie Sanders and British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – have been standing on similar economic nationalist platforms as the Far Right. Bernie Sanders has even on several occasions praised Donald Trump for his opposition to trade deals from a protectionist standpoint – even promising to work with Trump if he seriously implements such an agenda.
In the wake of this growing influence of national-chauvinist ideologies and the increasing weight of fascistic forces in all the capitalist powers it has hardly been just One Nation and its satellites that have been spewing racist filth and extreme protectionism. Barely a week after Trump’s election win, immigration minister Peter Dutton criticised former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who was from Dutton’s own Liberal Party, for allowing in some migrant groups in the 1970s. Dutton blamed their descendants for social problems. This was part of a cosy interview he did with extreme racist media commentator Andrew Bolt who attacked “allowing in” people from Middle Eastern and African nations or cultural groups. Later, Dutton singled out Lebanese Muslims as a community that he believes should have been excluded. Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan responded aptly:
Let us not beat around the bush here, what Mr Dutton said was racist, what he implied was racist, and the lack of outrage in Parliament reflects on the racism underscoring much of how we talk about minorities in Australia.
This statement reflects widespread outrage at Dutton’s stance within Lebanese and other migrant communities. Yet Turnbull stood by his openly racist minister.
The Labor Opposition did criticise Dutton’s comments – albeit very mildly. However, the ALP itself has been spreading poisonous nationalism. In November, Bill Shorten ranted that temporary overseas workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians. He made this xenophobic claim as part of announcing Labor’s plan to place more restrictions on guest workers entering on the 457 Visa program. Shorten’s comments came within a week of Trump’s election win. He was aping Trump’s “America First” protectionism. Claiming that Australia must learn from Trump’s victory, Shorten raved that, “we make no apology for saying Labor’s approach to the Australian economy is buy Australian, build Australian, employ Australians.” Although Shorten would deny it, by claiming that foreign workers were “taking the jobs” of Australians, Shorten is inciting racist hostility to migrants. After all, the primary cause of racist attitudes are ignorant notions that other races present a threat to the majority ethnic group’s economic security. Arch-racist Pauline Hanson knows this, which is why she was quick to hail the ALP leader’s comments. Indeed, the ALP’s renewed protectionist push reflects not only a buy into the Trump approach and, of course, its own lifelong embrace of economic nationalism but an attempt to appeal to supporters of the newly resurgent minor parties. The distinguishing feature of the newly elected – or re-elected – minor parties and independents is rabid protectionism. This is the case whether it be One Nation, Jacqui Lambie or the group led by multi-millionaire, property investor Nick Xenophon.
Apart from fuelling racism, claims that foreign guest workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians are simply not true. The number of 457 Visa workers in Australia is just 94,890. This makes up a tiny 0.8% of the workforce! Furthermore, even if this number were all stopped from entering it would not increase employment for Australians. Other countries would likely respond by placing restrictions on Australian expatriates working overseas. These Australian citizens would then be forced to come back here and try to engage in, supposedly, “taking the jobs” of Australians already residing here. Indeed, the number of Australian citizens working in Britain alone approaches the entire total number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. When you add the 65,000 Australians working on temporary work visas in the U.S. (out of a total Australian population of 200,000 there) and the tens of thousands of Australians resident on temporary work visas in each of the UAE, Hong Kong, Thailand and China and tens of thousands more in other parts of Asia and the world, one can see that the number of Australians working abroad as guest workers far exceeds the number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. In other words, mutual restrictions on temporary workers in Australia and other countries would lead – if one accepts the warped logic of the ALP, One Nation and Co. – to a net taking away of the jobs of Australian workers.
Yet, regardless of the relative amounts of 457 Visa workers in Australia and Australians working as guest workers abroad, the whole notion that temporary workers or immigrants are “taking the jobs” of Australians is false to the core. A 457 Visa worker employed here not only works but spends money and pays taxes: both of which create jobs. In the end, the entry of guest workers just like immigration in general is employment neutral – it neither leads to more or less unemployment. The actual – and indeed sole – cause of unemployment is the relentless drive for profits of capitalist business owners. This means that capitalist bosses often would rather employ less workers and produce less than put the resources into training additional workers. Depending on market conditions, corporate bigwigs may find it more profitable to cut production and jobs because that enables them to increase prices since they have a lower number of goods or services to sell. Then there is, of course, the unceasing campaign of bosses to boost profits by cutting jobs and pressuring those left behind to work dangerously faster. All this means that greedy business owners will slash jobs even when they are making filthy high profits – if that can help them make even larger profits. Meanwhile, companies that have ripped hundreds of millions in profits out of the toil of their workers do not hesitate to throw these workers onto the scrapheap if they make a slight loss for even one year. Over the last couple of years, fabulously wealthy Australian-owned mining giants and big banks have slashed thousands upon thousands of jobs in search of even more billions of dollars in profits. So have the greedy owners of profitable IT giants, breweries and hundreds of other businesses.
Under the capitalist system, there is always a certain – rather high – level of unemployment below which unemployment will not drop. This is because as more workers are hired and unemployment falls bosses are less able to make workers accept lower wages and less able to make their standard threat (which may be spoken or unspoken) to bully workers: “if you don’t like the [miserable] conditions that I am giving you there are plenty more without a job that I can hire.” This reduced ability to keep wages low and conditions poor when unemployment falls makes capitalist bosses recoil from hiring any more workers. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of immigrants or the number of guest workers. Even if there is zero immigration, no guest workers and a very low population there will always be this certain unemployment rate under the capitalist economic system. The only way that this level of unemployment can be reduced is if class struggle by the organised working class is powerful enough to force capitalists to maintain a larger workforce than that which enables them to make the greatest profits.
This base level of unemployment within capitalism occurs at the best of times – even when capitalist economies are at the highest booms that they can reach. As capitalist economies move out of this high point in their economic cycle, unemployment rises. And when the capitalist system is wracked by its periodic crises of over-production or other states of chaos, rich business owners throw their workers out of their jobs like there is no tomorrow. Unemployment rises rapidly and again this has nothing to do with the number of guest workers or immigrants. Thus, the highest unemployment rate Australia has ever had was in the height of the Great Depression in 1932 when the official unemployment rate was around 30%. This was a time when the population was barely more than a quarter of what it is now, when there were no guest workers and when the racist White Australia Policy still existed. Similarly, consider the most severe unemployment in Australia in the last few decades. This occurred in 1993, during the early 1990s recession, when official unemployment was nearly twice the rate that it is now. Yet not only was this three years before the 457 Visa program was even introduced, it was at the end of a five year period of falling immigration levels. In that period of extremely high unemployment, the net migration into Australia was only 34,000 per year – which is about five time less than it is currently. In summary, when immigration was five times less than it is today and no guest workers were arriving, unemployment was twice as high. This once again confirms that the entry of immigrants and guest workers has nothing to do with creating unemployment and if anything one could argue the opposite.
Although Marxists do not advise the capitalist rulers on how many or how few guest workers should be brought to work in this country, we do resolutely oppose all attempts to turn guest workers into scapegoats for unemployment and oppose all the other divisive rhetoric – and associated laws – that counterpose the interests of local workers to those of guest or foreign workers. We do so because any attempt to set up local workers as rivals of guest workers diverts workers from fighting to stop the real cause of unemployment – the capitalist bosses and their decaying system. It also divides local workers from their important allies – guest and international workers. This, in turn, weakens the ability of the working class to struggle against the capitalist exploiters and demand jobs for all. Such class struggle, which in the end would culminate in the replacement of capitalist rule with working class rule, is the only effective way to defend workers’ jobs. Put simply, calls to put “Australian workers first” in hiring actually harms the fight to protect the jobs of local workers – and, of course, the jobs of international workers too.
This does not mean that local workers’ fears are not real that bosses will try and make 457 Visa workers a lower paid workforce and use their extra exploitation of these workers to drive down the conditions of all workers. After all, this is part of the reason why big business owners are in favour of the 457 Visa program and why the capitalists’ open representatives in the Liberal Party favour the scheme. Yet the response of the workers movement to this should not be to make demands calling for local workers to be favoured against guest workers but rather to fight to improve the working conditions of guest workers themselves. In other words, the workers movement must use the same approach to guest workers as the approach that it ought to use towards specially vulnerable groups amongst local workers: like casual workers, apprentices, youth workers and workers on probation. Especially severe exploitation of all these latter sections of our class can also be used to drive down the conditions of all workers – but that does not mean we should call for kicking these workers out of their jobs. Rather, we should fight to uplift their conditions, legal rights and job security – in particular, by fighting for permanency for all these workers and for their wages and conditions to be brought up to that of the rest of the working class. Similarly, in order to prevent greedy Aussie bosses super-exploiting vulnerable 457 Visa workers, local workers should demand that guest workers be given additional protections such as a requirement that they be paid at the highest pay rate going for those doing their type of work in Australia. Most importantly, the Australian workers movement must demand that all 457 Visa workers be given the rights of citizenship. This will stop bosses threatening guest workers by pointing to the current reality where they will be booted out of the country if they lose their job. By fighting in this way to defend the rights of guest workers, local workers will not only undercut attempts by the bosses to undermine general working conditions but will be able to attract guest workers into our unions and unite with them in struggles to demand improved working conditions and more jobs for all workers. Our guest worker sisters and brothers can in this way bring much to the trade union movement here. Many of these workers have experience in intense class struggles abroad. Furthermore, because they often suffer intense racist discrimination here, many guest workers may well have less sympathy for the capitalist order than local workers do. Therefore, when freed from the threat of deportation and when uplifted by the hand of solidarity by local workers, guest workers could become a militant component of the trade union movement in this country. They would become a key part of a united working class fight to win fully paid, secure jobs for all workers through stopping capitalist bosses from retrenching workers and forcing profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their own profits.
Workers of All Countries Unite!
It is not only the fascistic One Nation, the right-wing Coalition and the social democratic ALP that have been pushing “Australia First” nationalism. So too in a big way have the middle class, “progressive” Greens. Soon after Bill Shorten launched his “Australia First” push in November, the Greens campaigned for new legal measures restricting 457 Visa workers and the use of imported steel on construction sites. The Greens lower house member, Adam Bandt, openly proclaimed the measures as an attempt to compete on protectionism with not only the Nick Xenophon Team but with One Nation. Bandt stated, “We’ll see whether Pauline Hanson is serious about looking after local jobs or whether she just talks protectionist in Queensland to win votes then backs the elites when she’s in Canberra” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2016).
Yet, even after promoting such rabid economic nationalism, the Greens still manage to attack the ALP for inciting racism with their attacks on 457 Visa workers:
For years, the Greens have been urging we protect our sovereignty without racist rhetoric. Now Labor has embraced the Greens’ policies but with Pauline Hanson’s rhetoric.
Do Bill Shorten and Labor genuinely want to help create jobs for locals by fixing our migration and employment laws or is this just dog-whistling in a post-Trump attempt to chase the One Nation vote?
There is, indeed, no doubt that the ALP is churning out Pauline Hanson-like racist rhetoric and dog whistling. However, the irony is that by promoting “Aussie First” migration and employment policies, the Greens – like the ALP – are only pouring fuel into the engine of fascistic units like One Nation who are, after all, always the most consistent nationalists. The Greens economic nationalist policies are fuelling One Nation’s rise no matter how clean and liberal the rhetoric that they present these policies with.
As harmful as the Greens’ hard line protectionism is, this poisonous ideology spreads deepest into the workers movement when it is being poured by those within it; that is, by the ALP parliamentary and union leaders. Economic nationalism pushed by our union leaders in particular does the most harm as they have more authority amongst workers than ALP parliamentary politicians. But not only are most Laborite union officials pushing protectionism – they are doing so with increasing vigour. The more that these officials – unwilling to defy anti-strike laws – recoil from a class struggle fight against bosses slashing jobs, the more that they promote “Australian workers first” policies as an illusory “solution” to joblessness. The Laborite, current union leaders slogans include not only calls to keep out guest workers but demands to favour Australian companies over overseas producers. Yet just like calls to favour local workers in hiring, calls to favour locally made products are an illusory strategy to “save Australian jobs.” For any restrictions Australia places on overseas produced items would be met by countries abroad placing similar restrictions on Australian-made products. In the end all that such demands do is to divide workers of different nations by setting them against their sisters and brothers abroad. Meanwhile, the capitalist bosses in all the different countries are left laughing all the way to the bank – laughing because their own workforces, instead of fighting against these bosses who exploit them, are set against their actual allies, workers overseas.
Even the most left-wing union leaderships in Australia are strongly pro-protectionist. Take the Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). To the credit of the members and leaders of this union, the MUA Sydney Branch amongst all unions in NSW have done the most to support anti-racist causes like Aboriginal rights and refugee rights. However, the union has also long used the divisive nationalist slogan, “Australian crew on Australian ships” as part of a campaign to stop overseas workers working on ships on Australian coastal routes. This campaign was put into overdrive when workers on the MV Portland were disgustingly sacked on January 13 last year. After the workers who worked on this Alcoa alumina cargo ship had found out the ship was to be taken to Singapore where they were to be replaced by overseas seafarers on much lower pay, the local crew refused to sail the ship to Singapore and took industrial action by docking the ship in the far south-west Victorian port of Portland. The greedy Alcoa bosses eventually organised dozens of security guards to raid the ship at 1am at night and heavy the workers off the ship. This sacking of the MV Portland workers by Alcoa and their use of physical thuggery to break industrial action was indeed despicable. It was despicable because all smashing of industrial action and all sackings of workers, especially by a multi-billion dollar behemoth like Alcoa, is despicable, no matter what the reason! The sackings deserved to be opposed by industrial action. However, instead of focussing solely on the sacking of workers by Alcoa, the MUA leaders chose to focus on the issue of Australian workers being replaced by overseas workers. They ran a campaign called “sacked for being an Australian” complete with rallies, media publicity and canvassing of politicians. The campaign addressed not only the events around the MV Portland but the broader issue of overseas crew working on Australian coastal routes. It won the support of the ACTU and Bill Shorten and other politicians. At a rally outside Malcolm Turnbull’s office, union officials wore “Sacked for Being An Aussie” t-shirts, questioned the competency of overseas seafarers and the validity of their Australian visas and spoke favourably about how the campaign against foreign crew on Australian coastal routes had even won the support of right-wing radio shock jocks from 2GB and the like. Yet the only reason that those staunchly anti-union shock jocks were supporting the movement was because it appealed to Australian nationalism and stoked hostility to overseas workers from the “Third World.” Those anti-working class, multi-millionaire shock jocks love workers being divided. The fact is that the “Sacked for Being An Aussie” slogan is something that a far right political party could come up with!
A far most honest t-shirt expressing the plight of the MV Portland workers would say something like, “Sacked for being a more decently paid worker by a greedy company seeking to make more profit.” Unions should of course oppose all sackings of workers – including when bosses seek to cut wage costs by hiring new workers on lower pay. Where workers are being replaced by overseas workers on lower pay our unions should not make the issue about local workers being replaced by overseas ones. That is not the point. It is about workers being sacked because of greedy capitalists trying to drive down wages … full stop! Our unions should simply demand that sacked workers get their jobs back and, instead of shouting divisive slogans against the hiring of overseas crew, should demand that all workers on Australian routes be paid – the much higher – local wage rates. However, the MUA leadership has chosen, instead, to appeal to xenophobic Australian nationalism and hopes to win support from broader elements – like “independent” politicians and right-wing media commentators – on this basis. In doing so they are in the long run shooting the union in the foot. For the very Australian nationalism that they are churning up today will tomorrow be hurled back against the union – including by the very same right wing shock jocks who today claim to back the union campaign – when the union launches any major strike to defend workers’ interests. These shock jocks and other Australian nationalists will scream that the union is “harming Australia’s national interests” and “putting at risk Australian jobs and Australian industry.” Furthermore, by turning the issue into an Australian workers versus overseas workers issue, our union leaders are undermining the potential for international solidarity action in support of the sacked workers. Consider, for example, how an alternative strategy for the struggle would look like: The union refuses to make this a question of Australian workers versus overseas workers. Instead it demands through industrial action not only the reinstatement of all sacked workers but, as a way to build international solidarity and undercut Alcoa’s efforts to play one lot of workers off against another, demands that a portion of the proposed overseas crew also be hired. It, of course, insists that this overseas crew is hired on the better Australian wages and conditions with the resulting lower workload per worker, resulting from a now larger workforce, being used to reduce working hours with no loss in pay. The right wing shock jocks and politicians, of course, then refuse to support the union campaign. However, the union’s internationalist stance meets with a very enthusiastic response from Alcoa workers throughout the multinational corporation’s operations in nine other countries. These workers then launch protest industrial action in support of the MUA demands. Now that’s a strategy worth fighting for! A strategy befitting the very good work that the MUA is doing in other arenas to oppose racism and support other progressive causes like defence of public housing in Millers Point.
Yet protectionist ideology is so overwhelming within the workers movement in Australia – and indeed most of the richer capitalist countries – that even most of the Far Left embraces it. Thus, the newspaper of Socialist Alliance, the Green Left Weekly, supported the MUA leadership’s “Australian workers first” strategy on the MV Portland sackings while trying to ignore some of the most blatantly national chauvinist aspects of the campaign. However, Socialist Alliance are hardly alone on the Left in pandering to economic nationalism. So too does Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and – in an even more blatant way – the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Both these groups hailed the largest economic nationalist rally in Australia in recent times: the 10,000 strong “Local Workers First” rally in Perth in July 2012. To be sure, they sought to distance themselves from the most jingoistic aspects of the rally. Yet, no matter in how cleansed a form they presented it, as the rally’s main banner slogan “WA Kids Miss Out When Miners Use Overseas Workers” made all too clear, this was a poisonous campaign that pitted local workers against their overseas comrades.
Just like the Greens, those far left groups that think that it is possible to have a “clean” version of protectionism that does not dog whistle to racism are deluding themselves. Any policy that calls for putting the interests of (mainly white) Australian workers over (overwhelmingly coloured) lower paid workers from “Third World” countries will inevitably appeal to and reinforce White Australia xenophobic attitudes as well as “First World” arrogance. This will be the case regardless of whether those making such calls intend this to happen or not.
Yet even if it were hypothetically possible to promote protectionist policies without inciting racism it would still be harmful to the struggle for working class people’s interests. For it would still divert workers away from the struggle that is actually needed – the one against the job-slashing exploiters – and would still pit local workers against their natural allies: the working class people of the world. Marxists have long understood the danger that could arise if workers end up being divided along national lines. That is why Marx and Engels chose to make the slogan, “Workers of All Countries Unite!” as the central slogan of their famous Communist Manifesto. This slogan does not only mean that workers in one country should collect money to support a strike by workers in another country or take industrial action in solidarity with an overseas workers’ struggle. All that, of course, is a very important part of it. But to “unite” means much more: it means to fight as one. That, naturally, means rejecting any calls for workers in one’s own country to be prioritised over workers abroad. Indeed, the Communist Manifesto even emphasised that fighting for the common interests of the international proletarian working class – as opposed to standing for one’s own national working class in competition with those of working classes abroad – is indeed the number one difference between communists and other tendencies in the workers movement:
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality…
Those nominal Marxists who spit on this central message of the Communist Manifesto by making calls to favour Australian workers in hiring over their sisters and brothers abroad have no right to call themselves “communists.”
Indeed, those leftists and trade union officials that promote “Australian workers first” demands are not only violating the key principle of Marxism, they are in fact violating the spirit of trade unionism itself. The essence of trade unionism is the idea that only if workers stand united as onecan they effectively fight for their rights. Trade unions – and, indeed, workers’ unity at a workplace – are built on the understanding that if one group of workers – say, senior workers – ask for the boss to favour them in employment and conditions over other workers and the other sections of workers – including, say, a bloc of younger workers – who, in turn, respond by making their own selfish demands all that will happen is that workers will be divided and weakened in their ability to win concessions from the boss and all workers will end up losing out. If, in the above scenario, one replaces the senior workers making demands to be prioritised with Australian workers and those groups responding to these demands as the workers of other countries, then one can see how “Australian workers first” demands not only fly in the face of basic trade union principles but damages the interests of all workers.
Is “Globalisation” Really the Problem?
The most seemingly left-sounding argument that pro-protectionist leftists and social democrats use to justify their demands is to claim that giving jobs to Australian workers instead of foreign workers saves those non-local workers from being badly exploited. Of course it is true that 457 Visa workers and workers in poorer countries are often exploited more starkly than local workers. However, to say that these workers should have their livelihoods taken from them to save them from being exploited is the very height of cynicism. Will that not make them suffer even more? Will that not compel many of these workers to accept other even lower paying jobs? Mexican workers themselves answered these questions when they angrily protested outside Ford dealerships in Mexico against Trump’s plan (which is similar to Bernie Sanders’ plan) to make auto companies move their production from Mexico to the U.S. Their protest actions on the day of Trump’s inauguration especially targeted Ford after the company pulled out of a car assembly plant that it was building in Mexico’s Villa de Reyes in the wake of Trump’s election.
To the extent that social democratic protectionism is not consciously a selfish, nationalist agenda to favour workers in one’s own country at the expense of their counterparts abroad, it is the core part of an ideology that sees the main problem of the world as “globalisation.” Now, “globalisation” means different things to different people. The term is generally used in the economic sense to refer to growing trade as well as investment by capitalists in other countries; and in particular to investment by capitalists of richer countries in business operations in poorer countries. Leftist supporters of protectionism, when seeking to mask the nationalist essence of their politics, focus on opposing “economic globalisation” which they say hurts the working class and poor of all countries. Now, certainly in the ex-colonial countries, which are still subjugated by imperialism, opposition to “globalisation” represents a very understandable resistance to the imperialist exploitation of the masses in these countries by the capitalist bigwigs of the richer countries. However, anti-“globalisation” sentiment in the imperialist countries – like the U.S., Australia, Britain, Germany etc – usually reflects a “First World” chauvinist desire to keep the privileged position of these countries by ensuring that jobs and trade advantages do not flow to the poorer countries. The “leftist” cover for such sentiment is the cynical – as we have shown above – claim that ensuring that economic activity is kept centred in the wealthier countries saves the “Third World” masses from being unscrupulously exploited. This opposition to “economic globalisation” from social democrats ends up being quite similar to that of the Far Right. For example, fascistic U.S. president Trump rails against U.S. jobs being lost to Mexico and against Mexico supposedly hammering the U.S. in trade. The racist Far Right, of course, add to the reformist Left’s stand against “economic globalisation” opposition to the movement of people and opposition to “cultural globalisation” – in other words, they add open xenophobic nationalism to economic nationalism.
The working class in the imperialist countries like Australia should solidarise with the concerns of the masses of the so-called “Third World” about “economic globalisation.” They should do this by very militantly standing against the raping of the poorer countries by capitalists of the richer countries. This should be the case whether that imperialist theft takes the form of exploitation of labour, plundering of natural resources, reaping of exorbitant interest payments from indebted poorer countries or through forcing producers in these poorer countries to sell their produce at ultra-low prices through tyrannical imperialist control of world markets. That means we should oppose Australian capitalists looting exorbitant wealth out of the likes of East Timor, PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands and to some extent also from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka; just as we should stand against U.S. imperialists raping the likes of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
However, Leninists understand that whether there’s more “globalisation” or less, capitalism will bring misery to the masses. Therefore, the Left and workers movement – while standing resolutely with the masses of the neo-colonial and semi-colonial countries against imperialist exploitation – should be neither for more or less “economic globalisation.” This does not mean we should be indifferent to the case where capitalists in richer countries close down factories in these countries in order to set up ones using a lower paid workforce in poorer countries. Capitalist bosses use the threat of such offshoring to bully workers in their base countries into accepting poorer wages and conditions. This is, after all, why mainstream conservatives and liberals tend to support economic globalisation. We should of course stand against all workers losing their jobs – importantly including when the bosses are to hire other workers on lower pay. However, the slogans we must fight on should not be the divisive and deliberate pandering to nationalism of “save Aussie jobs from being exported” but, instead, demands of “no job losses,” “jobs for all workers” and “the best and equal conditions for all workers.” In cases of mooted offshoring, we should not in the least object to the plant opening up in the poorer country. We should welcome more jobs for our working class sisters and brothers abroad. Only we demand no loss of jobs for the already employed workers in the richer home country of the business and demand a massive uplifting in wages for any workers hired in the poorer country.
At the same time we should understand that the impact of companies slashing jobs to move operations to poorer countries abroad is full of myths. One myth is that companies are moving in a big way to China. Although that may have been true in the past it is now largely out of date news. China’s socialistic economy has pulled its people so far out of the dire poverty of its pre-1949 capitalist days and wages are rising so quickly there and workers’ rights have been so boosted by Red China’s 2008 pro-worker Labour Law that many Western factory owners are actually leaving China. Some are moving their plants to lower wage countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand. However, others are even slowly picking up shop to move or return to wealthier countries like the U.S. In the five years to March 2016, almost 100,000 factory jobs have moved back from China to the U.S. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of job losses in Australia have nothing to do with being “exported overseas.” Indeed, many types of jobs cannot be sent overseas by their very nature including most jobs in construction, commuter and cargo transport, infrastructure, mining, maintenance, home service/repair, medical and aged care, childcare, teaching, utilities, warehousing, post, hospitality, food service, tourism, retail and the public service.
So, when part Australian-owned mining giant Rio Tinto slashed nearly 700 jobs last year – those jobs were not sent overseas at all. It was simply that the greedy company owners who were already making a profit of some $2.3 billion dollars in just half a year wanted to make even more profit by cutting their wage costs. Similarly, the over 4,000 jobs axed by the four big banks last year were not “exported.” The bank bosses simply cut these jobs in order to boost the already exorbitant profits of these corporations by downsizing less profitable divisions. The same goes for the 500 jobs slashed by retail giant Woolworths last July. And the over 18,000 federal public service jobs that have been axed over the last three and a half years have certainly not been off-shored – the jobs have simply been eradicated to help the government finance tax cuts for wealthy business owners. So all this gets us to the crux of the matter about “globalisation.” Although we should oppose companies slashing jobs in order to move operations to lower-wage countries and should stand with the “Third World” masses in opposing imperialist exploitation of their countries; and although the workers movement should neither call for more or less “globalisation” under capitalism: we must expose the myth that “globalisation” is the major cause of unemployment. For this myth is obscuring the truth that the principle cause of workers losing their jobs is the drive of the owners of profitable businesses to make even more profits by pruning their workforce in order to cut “labour costs.” In other words, belief in the myth that “globalisation” is the main cause of unemployment is diverting workers from a fight to force capitalists to maintain larger workforces – which is the real way to struggle against unemployment. Furthermore, this myth about globalisation, which is consciously promoted by sections of the mainstream media in order to impede class struggle, is propelling the growth of dangerous far right, racist forces.
Even when a corporation cites overseas competition as an excuse for job cuts such cuts are only “necessary” because those bosses insist on maximising profits. Consider Australia’s biggest steel manufacturer, Bluescope Steel. The steel industry and Bluescope in particular have been at the centre of protectionist calls to buy Australian-made steel and restrict competition from imports. In October 2015, Bluescope arm-twisted unions into a deal that saw 500 jobs axed and wages frozen for three years which the company said was essential to keep its Port Kembla operations going. Yet, the company, which is owned by rich investors through several wealth management firms, was even then making over $136 million in profit! Its latest annual profit was in fact over $353 million. In other words, if we do the maths and assume generously that Bluescope’s average annual wages bill per worker is between $80,000 to $100,000, we will find that if Bluescope had not slashed those 500 jobs and even if those workers contributed zero to total revenue (which would of course not be the case), the company would still only have most lost some 11% to 14% of its current profit. Here we see very starkly exposed how protectionism covers up the truth that job shedding is not ultimately caused by competition from imports or from a lack of “buying Australian” but from the drive of greedy company owners to make even more profits than they are making today.
Those Who Understand the Harm Done to the Workers Movement by Economic Nationalism Must Fight Against It By Organising Themselves into an Internationalist Workers Party
Today, protectionism – whether pushed in the name of “anti-globalisation” or open economic nationalism – is rapidly escalating all across the capitalist world. It is being pushed by those from right across the political spectrum from outright fascists, to far-right leaders like Trump and Pauline Hanson to mainstream Laborite social democrats to Greens to so-called “anti-establishment” progressive liberals and social democrats (like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn) to reformist far left groups to pseudo- “Marxist Leninists.” This economic nationalism is undermining class struggle resistance to job slashing. That in turn leads to higher unemployment and hence leaves the masses even more prone to accepting protectionist slogans. Protectionism is, on the one hand, being incited by national chauvinism and racism and, on the other, is itself further igniting national chauvinism and racism. In this way the raging wildfire of economic nationalism is continually spreading and getting hotter. It will end up in setting off a trade war. We know that trade wars can in turn ignite a shooting war. Notwithstanding pseudo-Marxist attempts to resurrect a version of Kautsky’s theory of a united imperialism – which Lenin so fiercely attacked – by explaining the world as consisting of just a single imperialist bloc led by the U.S., we are actually in a world of inter-imperialist rivalries. Massive U.S. spying on Germany revealed a couple of years ago and prickly relations between new U.S. president Trump and some West European imperialist leaders amid a backdrop of impending trade frictions and a possible re-alignment in U.S. alliances with other capitalist powers all point to increasing rivalries between imperial powers. To be sure, competing imperialist powers are somewhat held together by their common enmity to socialistic rule in China. However, the long term trend of the capitalist “order” and heightened economic nationalism is towards inter-imperialist conflict – especially when capitalism dives into severe economic crises. Let us not forget that last century the imperialist powers plunged humanity into two catastrophic world wars (although the socialistic USSR’s role in WWII was to wage a progressive class war of a workers state against Nazi-led, German imperialism). This time all the capitalist rivals will have access to nuclear weapons at the start of a war!
Even right now protectionism is doing immense harm to the masses. Economic nationalism in Australia is literally strangling workers’ resistance to job slashing and casualisation. It is also hurting union membership numbers. For if the fight to save jobs is focussed on calling for policies to help Australian corporations compete against overseas rivals then that takes away a sizeable part of the reason for workers to join our unions. Workers could help Australian corporations by joining the bosses lobbying efforts to government for “Buy Australian” policies – they don’t need a union to do that. After all, the purpose of our unions is to unite workers to stand up againstthe bosses. Economic nationalism has, indeed, so diverted the workers movement from fighting the capitalist exploiters and so poisoned workers’ class consciousness that most job slashing by bosses is today met with little resistance. About the only time that most Laborite union leaders are taking any stand against job losses is if they can demonstrate a connection between these layoffs and off-shoring or competition from imports. Yet, as we have shown above, their answer to such job cuts is simply more protectionism which, far from saving jobs, divides and diverts the working class and, thus, ultimately harms the fight to save workers jobs. Furthermore, the majority of job slashing by bosses has little to do with either competition from imports or offshoring.
A rare example of a recent union struggle against job slashing was seen in the struggle of Carlton & United Breweries maintenance workers at Melbourne’s largest brewery in Abbotsford. There, the bosses outrageously retrenched 55 maintenance workers last June and told them to re-apply for their jobs through a new non-union contract involving a 65% pay-cut and a loss of most of their hard-won conditions. However, after a seven-month long struggle involving sacked workers picketing the brewery and stopworks by production workers, the sacked workers won back their jobs with most of the previous pay rates and conditions and a guarantee of no forced redundancies for at least three years. Although the struggle was endangered by Laborite union leaders refusing to mobilise a shutdown of the brewery – through a no-cross picket line and an ongoing strike by production workers – the December victory does show that class struggle can stop job slashing.
Worker activists need to outline a class struggle program to win jobs for all if we are to turn back the tide of protectionist ideology that is engulfing the workers movement. Working class people, understandably worried about finding and keeping jobs in these uncertain times, will be hypnotised by the false salvation promised by economic nationalist policies if they are not presented with a viable alternative. However, a class struggle movement will only be powerful enough to force bosses to retain a larger workforce than their profit imperative requires if it is able to unleash the full power of the workers movement. This requires a program to defy the whole swath of anti-strike laws that have been instituted by Liberal and ALP governments alike – abiding by which makes it very hard to win any struggle. Of course, defying these laws up the ante and would be met with threats of repression by the capitalist enemy and hysterical denunciations from their media. However, if our trade unions in turn crank up the struggle with indefinite strikes backed by solid picket lines and secondary solidarity strikes then we can hurt the bosses’ profits so much that they may be scared to actually use their anti-union laws. We need to turn our union movement into one that understands this and is prepared to fight for such a militant, class struggle perspective. Such a movement requires a leadership that does not restrict its outlook to what is possible within the capitalist system – which is what the current social democratic leadership does. For if the working class starts to look like winning victories in forcing capitalists to maintain larger workforces than they want to, the capitalists will scream that this will make the system collapse and will threaten to withdraw their capital. We must respond that: if you capitalists are not capable of running your businesses and the economy in such a way that providing jobs for all will not cause collapse then we will need to strip you of the means of production and place it into our, the working class peoples, hands under a state where it is we who have the power.
However, to even begin to mobilise such a struggle we need to counter economic nationalist ideology within the workers movement. For economic nationalism and its divisive and diversionary effects has become the number one obstacleto a working class fight back against capitalist attacks. Currently, the proportion of worker and other Left activists who do understand the harm done by protectionist ideology is relatively small. This makes it triply important that those that do understand stand up and energetically take on this political battle. Unfortunately, however, even amongst these layers many shy away from this crucial ideological struggle. Some do so because they are uncertain about their own impulse to oppose protectionism – given that they are constantly bombarded by economic nationalist appeals from Laborite union officials and from their co-workers. Others worry about being “vanguardist” if they “tell workers what to think.” The problem with this notion is that workers are constantly being told “what to think” by the mainstream media, by pro-capitalist politicians and by the current, Laborite union leaders. To not counter the false ideologies of economic nationalism and White Australia chauvinism that these forces are flooding the workers movement with is to be complicit in drowning the class struggle. It means leaving the working class under the “vanguardship” of Laborite social democracy – and that spells defeat for the working class and all the downtrodden. It is therefore the dutyof those who understand the harm done by protectionist ideology to resolutely oppose it. This, of course, necessitates strengthening one’s own ideological commitment to opposing economic nationalism, co-ordinating with like-minded activists to amplify their common political struggle and winning others to this perspective in order to strengthen the forces waging the battle against protectionist ideology. Yet a group of like-minded worker activists who coordinate in a struggle for a revolutionary class struggle perspective and against economic nationalism, who consciously seek to improve their ideological training and who seek out new activists to wage this political struggle is nothing other than a budding revolutionary, internationalist “vanguard” of the workers movement. Such a class struggle, would-be leadership of our unions would be linked to a party that would also include the most active revolutionary elements from all the most downtrodden sections of society. The prospects for a badly needed working class fight back depend on the building of such a revolutionary workers party. So do efforts to pull humanity to the safe haven of socialism as we, increasingly rapidly, near the cliff that will drop down to the hell of fascism and world war.
Smash the Cutback to Sunday Penalty Rates through Class Struggle Action
Above: Health Services Union members protest against the NSW government’s attempt to privatise healthcare by stealth by outsourcing hospital services to private businesses. Women workers – suffering both exploitation as workers and male chauvinism – are key to the working class struggle for liberation.
International Women’s Day 2017 comes at a time of heightened attacks on women – especially working class women. That is not only because a hard-core misogynist and racist, Donald Trump, has become the president of the most powerful country in the world. Working class women in Australia have to cop lower wages than men. Unaffordable childcare restricts women’s full participation in economic and social life. Meanwhile, many low income single mothers continue to be ground down by the former Gillard ALP government’s cruel cut to the single parenting payment four years ago. As always, the fate of women’s rights goes hand in hand with workers’ rights and the rights of all the oppressed including Aboriginal people, LGBTI people, coloured “ethnic” people and the unemployed. Alongside attacks on women’s social position, we are seeing the right-wing Turnbull government attack our trade unions – targeting especially the CFMEU construction workers union – and undercut weekend penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers. Meanwhile, all the current parliamentary parties – Pauline Hanson’s fascistic One Nation, the Liberal/National coalition, the Nick Xenophon Team, the ALP and The Greens – are all in various way inciting poisonous nationalism that inevitably targets coloured migrant-derived communities by variously blaming refugees, guest workers or overseas producers for the unemployment and insecurity caused by the capitalist system itself.
Women’s rights are so closely bound to the overall state of the class struggle between capitalist business owners and the working class because women’s oppression is actually built on the foundations of class-divided societies. Under capitalism’s social structure a large proportion of women are denied economic independence. With women denied the opportunity to participate equally in economic and political life, male chauvinist attitudes are spawned that “justify” and perpetuate this reality. That is why we must fight for women’s full economic independence through demanding jobs for all and for equal pay between men and women workers. We must also call for free abortion on demand and freely available access to all forms of contraception. To allow women the greatest chance to participate in economic life, we must fight for free 24-hour childcare, for free school lunches at all public schools and for after-school sports, music and cultural activities provided for free by the state alongside free transport from school to these activities. All these demands, however, clash head on with the current system because the capitalists who control the economy are not going to want to sacrifice their profits to make these social programs and full employment possible. Thus, while we can make headway in women’s emancipation through winning concessions through struggle under capitalism, we will only fully open the door to women’s complete liberation when the capitalist system is replaced by a socialist one.
However, women are not just victims of capitalism and will not simply be a major beneficiary of socialism. Working class women, who have the most to gain by ripping up this current system, will also be the key drivers of the struggle to overthrow capitalism. The most powerful example of this occurred on International Women’s Day in 1917 in Russia. It was then that in the Russian capital of Petrograd tens of thousands of mainly women textile workers walked off the job to demand bread. Their struggle sparked off a general strike and a revolt against the tsarist monarchy. The resulting revolutionary period that was opened up culminated half a year later in the October Socialist Revolution. Exactly one hundred years later and this struggle remains the shining path for the fight for women’s emancipation and for the liberation of the masses more generally.
Today, women workers alongside coloured “ethnic” and youth workers are not only amongst the workers most targeted by the slashing of Sunday penalty rates but are crucial to any fightback against this vicious attack.
In February, the “Fair Work” Commission announced its despicable decision to slash Sunday penalty rates between 25% and 50% for hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers. The decision also cuts these workers’ public holiday pay by up to 25%. This will mean a loss of up to $6,000 per year for some workers. The Fair Work Commission’s decision, done with the backing of the Turnbull government, will hurt some of the lowest paid workers in the country. Many of these workers are already on perilous incomes, not only because their pay rates are low but because many are in insecure, casual jobs where they are forced to work less hours than they want to due to the bosses and the bosses’ capitalist system making inadequate work available. The loss of penalty rates will thus mean a huge proportion of their income will be lost. For many of these workers, the loss of penalty rates could be the difference between scraping enough to pay their rent and simply not being able to make ends meet.
Thus far, the pro-ALP leaders of our trade unions have been relying on petitions and parliament to oppose this cruel attack. However, we should not rely on a future ALP government to reverse the cuts. Although the ALP Opposition is now calling for the government to legislate against the Fair Work Commission decision, before the election ALP leader Bill Shorten announced that a future ALP government would not try to reverse a cut to penalty rates if the Fair Work commission ruled in favour of it. So, what exactly would the ALP do if it ended up being the current gang of politicians in government running the rich bosses’ state? What we can expect from the openly anti-working class, Liberal-National government, of course, goes without saying!
What we need is the mobilisation of the power of the working class in mass action – especially including industrial action – to smash the attack on the weekend and holiday pay of hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers. This should not just be the task of the workers directly affected. This slashing of penalty rates is an attack on the entire working class. If the bosses get away with it they will be targeting penalty and shift rates of other workers. Many of those targeted by the recent attack toil in small workplaces where ruthless “small business owners” are able to get away with bullying them. That is why we need workers in larger, more heavily unionised workplaces to also flex their industrial muscle to help crush this attack on penalty rates. Such a mobilisation will also help cement ties between different components of the working class. For example if militant construction workers and maritime workers unleashed their power behind the hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers targeted by this recent attack, they will likely see more of these lower paid workers joining their picket lines when they face impending full frontal attacks from the capitalist rulers.
CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor has stated the union’s opposition to the slashing of penalty rates and insisted that the CFMEU would “not stand by and watch” as the Government introduced cuts to pensions, family supplements and attempted to regain welfare overpayments. O’Connor continued that:
“The CFMEU stands ready to fight.
“This war on battlers must end.
“The war on the fair go must stop.
“Where the fightback takes place — wherever there is a picket, a rally, a campaign, whatever it is — you will see us there standing shoulder to shoulder with those under attack.”
These statements now need to be followed by actual industrial action by the CFMEU and other unions to smash the attacks on penalty rates, pensions and welfare payments.
If we can defeat this attack on penalty rates through industrial and other mass action, the union movement will win thousands of new workers – especially younger workers – to joining our ranks. We will also become more united and confident to challenge other attacks that we face including the Liberals ABCC – as well as the anti-strike provisions of Labor’s 2009 Fair Work Act – cuts to public housing and draconian cuts to social welfare for the poor.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision proves once again that the industrial courts in Australia – like all the courts here – are not “independent umpires.” Rather, they form part of a capitalist state – which includes also the police, the military, prisons and the bureaucracy – that was created and is maintained for enforcing the interests of the capitalist exploiting class over the working class. Even when the FWC, on a rare occasion, makes a decision less harmful to workers’ interests then that is not because of any inherent sense of justice in the system but merely reflects those cases where workers have won the struggle on the ground in the industrial and political battlefield and the FWC is forced to accept this reality in order to maintain its credibility. That is why we should not bow to the authority of these courts even if the rules under which it operates are changed. The only law that the workers movement should be bound to respect are our decisions on what is in the interests of the working class and oppressed.
The excuse of the greedy business owners and theirFWC for slashing Sunday and holiday penalty rates is that this helps bosses hire more workers. To this we must say: No – we are not going to let you gouge the incomes of already exploited workers even more as the price we must pay to let you supposedly hire more workers. Instead, we are going to forceyou to hire more at the expense of your already bloated profits. We demand that profitable businesses be banned from cutting the size of their workforce and that profitable firms be forced to increase hiring in proportion to their profits. If the greedy business owners complain that this will make their operations impractical then we say that this only proves that the economy should not be in the hands of these capitalists but should be brought into the socialist, collective hands of working class people.
Unleash the Full Power of Lower Paid, Youth, Women & Coloured “Ethnic” Workers
The FWC’s penalty rate cut will especially hurt people from the most oppressed sections of the working class – including lower paid workers, women workers, youth workers and workers from coloured “ethnic” backgrounds. These workers are crucial to the overall cause of the working class. All the obstacles that stand in the way of these workers being able to unleash their full fighting strength – like male chauvinism, skilled worker arrogance towards unskilled workers and racism – must be knocked down. Indeed, one thing that this widely hated attack on penalty rates has done is that, in the face of bi-partisan attacks on refugees and Aboriginal people, the growth in support for the extreme racist One Nation party and everyone from the Coalition to the ALP to the Greens trying to emulate the economic nationalism of hard-right, U.S. president Donald Trump, it has highlighted the truth that the cause of Australian workers’ hardships is not in the least refugees, guest workers or overseas producers but the Aussie capitalist exploiters – and the governments and state institutions that enforce their interests. We need to build a leadership of the workers movement that is committed to explaining this basic truth to the masses. One that will face down the lies of the bosses media and pro-capitalist political parties that try to divide the exploited masses with nationalism and racism. This is part of the struggle to reorient our unions away from trust in the “Australia-First”, ALP and the institutions of Australia’s capitalist state and onto a program of militant class struggle against the greedy Aussie capitalists.
Let’s smash the Australian ruling class’ attacks on hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers! Let’s unite all workers in this country – and win crucial international solidarity action by uniting as one with our working class sisters and brothers abroad – to fight for this goal! Let’s unleash the industrial muscle of the united working class! Let’s win this battle so that we can begin to roll back the over three decades of setbacks that the workers movement has suffered!
UNLEASH INDUSTRIAL ACTION TO DEMAND JOBS FOR ALL! CAPITALIST “DEMOCRACY” IS A SHAM: ONLY WORKERS UNITED WITH ALL OF THE OPRESSED CAN BRING ABOUT REAL CHANGE
Above: The Handover or Phony Hope Shakes the Hand of Blatant Bigotry. A moment that ought to finally dispel anyone’s lingering illusion that capitalist democracy can ever be reformed into a system that operates in the interests of the working class. Obama prepares to calmly hand the administration of the U.S. capitalist state over to Trump just as George W. Bush did for him eight years earlier. The teetering edifice of the capitalist state requires both left and right pillars to keep it from completely collapsing beneath the dead weight of its own contradictions.
November 9 – Hard right-wing candidate Donald Trump – a billionaire capitalist exploiter and extreme racist and misogynist – will become the next president of the U.S.A. In yesterday’s election, he defeated the candidate supported by the mainstream of the American capitalist class, Hillary Clinton.
Like most far-right demagogues (including Hitler), Trump poses as a “rebel” and “anti-establishment” figure. Actually, he is a tycoon who is very much part of the capitalist ruling class and a key part of his economic program is big tax cuts for the rich. His main beef with the mainstream of the racist establishment is that they are not openly racist and economically nationalist enough for his liking. His blatant racism serves to protect the capitalist establishment by dividing the masses and diverting their economic frustrations and insecurity onto minorities and other groups in society who are made into scapegoats for the mass inequalities that capitalism inevitably creates. Similarly, his protectionism diverts anger about job losses onto overseas workers, thus shielding the capitalist exploiters in the U.S. from any blame and making the masses think that they have a common interest with their own exploiters in protecting American business.
Eight years ago when Obama was first elected, Trotskyist Platform actually predicted that the inevitable failure of a small-l liberal led regime to improve the lives of the masses could well lead to the eventual takeover of hard right forces in America (and, indeed, in his language Obama was the most liberal-sounding U.S. president in decades). Here is an excerpt from the article we wrote upon Obama first taking office:
That the Obama electoral triumph, if anything, dulled workers’ class consciousness means that even the present shift away from the conservative right wing is fragile. Without an understanding that it is the capitalist profiteers who are responsible for unemployment, recession and decay the masses will be vulnerable to right wing demagogy when they see that the new Administration is no more able to satisfy their aspirations than the previous one. The conservatives are waiting in the wing. And they will be able to mobilise right wing activists from amongst the all too many bigoted elements who were horrified that a black person should become President. Hence, there is a real danger that the rise of the liberal Obama could turn out to be just a prelude to a right-wing regime more frightening than Bush’s – perhaps led by a Sarah Palin-like figure. While the left rest on their illusory laurels, the frighteningly fascist right are now surely mobilising their forces, stirred up like a wasps’ nest ready to strike!
Only by mobilising their own power to squeeze concessions out of the exploiters can the working class begin to address the needs of the American masses and stop the re-emergence of the right. The working class can through industrial action force companies to avoid shedding jobs. And its power can be mobilised in a campaign to demand free health care for all. In all such struggles of the American workers movement, black workers will be at the forefront. These workers will join together the multiracial workers’ movement with the ghetto poor in the fight for black liberation.
Although Trump’s views and agenda are certainly fascistic, fascism has not yet triumphed in the U.S (nor does it currently hold sway in any other country). Fascism is not just a government of people with a really right-wing agenda but involves the mass mobilisation of the middle class and some of the unemployed (and even politically backward workers) to violently smash all workers’ organisations – like independent trade unions and left-wing parties – and institute a capitalist regime which dispenses with the formalities of parliamentary “democracy.” Such a regime can only be instituted by physically defeating an inevitable degree of resistance from the politically conscious, working class masses. Nevertheless, Trump’s triumph will greatly encourage fascist outfits in the U.S. and will spur the development of fascist militias. American blacks, First Peoples, Hispanics, Asians, gays, women seeking abortion and leftists will face ever more violent attacks.
Regardless of Trump’s particular policies, the normal workings of the capitalist boom and bust cycles mean that in some four to twelve months there will be an economic downturn in the U.S.A and a consequent rise in the unemployment rate. Given the chaotic state of major capitalist economies, this could turn out to be another serious global economic crisis. In that context, mass struggle led by conscious working class and anti-racist forces could weaken the right-wing regime and undermine support for it. However, in the absence of such struggle, the increased economic insecurity could further fuel the flames of fascism.
Trump’s ascendancy will also embolden far-right and fascist forces here in Australia. Hard-right Liberal politician Cory Bernardi as well as the LNP MP George Christensen openly backed Trump. And Trump’s victory was hailed by the fascistic senator Pauline Hanson of One Nation infamy. Indeed, at a fascist rally in the northern Melbourne suburb of Eltham last weekend against a refugee centre, some of the fascist scum were wearing Trump T-shirts.
Trump’s rise will not only boost organised far-right forces but will also incite violent tendencies amongst garden-variety rednecks in Australia. The latter are people who may not be politically active in an extreme right-wing movement but are, nevertheless, simply filled with racial hatred. A couple of months ago, one such redneck murdered 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, near the Western Australia town of Kalgoorlie. Then late last month, Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher was cruelly murdered by being set alight with a fire bomb by a man of white Anglo-Saxon appearance, Anthony O’Donohue. O’Donohue, formerly an accountant, was known to harbour fascistic, crackpot conspiracy theories against trade unions. Although the media and cops have done their best to cover up the racist nature of this Brisbane murder the victim’s family are sure that it was motivated by racism. Several people with origins from the Indian subcontinent have told Trotskyist Platform comrades the same thing. They pointed out that the Indian man was specifically singled out. One man of Indian background, in explaining how Manmeet’s killing was a racist murder, told us that while living in the same multi-cultural Brisbane suburb where the murder took place, Moorooka, he had been attacked by racists and once had to literally run for his life to escape from a white racist who was threatening him.
All this underscores the need to build, here in Australia just as much as in other capitalist countries, a mass mobilisation of trade unionists, Aboriginal people, non-white “ethnic” people and all anti-racists to drive the fascist filth off the streets. This is an urgent necessity of self-defence for all the intended victims of the fascists. Although self-defence action against fascist groups will not directly stop the daily and incessant racist attacks and abuse from the innumerable garden-variety rednecks scattered throughout this country, by landing blows against organised fascists we can send a message to the garden-variety racists out there that they had better pull their heads in. These racists must learn that the organised and united multiracial working class has both the will and the power to stand up and defend anyone who is vulnerable to their racist, cowardly attacks.
No to Divisive Protectionism: For a Class Struggle Program of Jobs For All!
Trump’s victory will also encourage various forces here to more rabidly push for protectionism. In fact, economic nationalism was one of Trump’s main points of attraction for the U.S. masses, especially in the Mid-West rust belt. To be sure, when the media reports that working class people in the Mid-West were supporting Trump this can be a bit misleading since, in actual fact, Trump still did not do that well in cities. What they mean by “working class” is people with a lower income rather than in terms of their actual relationship to the means of production. Trump’s support came not so much from currently employed industrial workers as it did from laid-off workers now trying to hustle a living as self-employed contractors or small businessmen or those now in insecure, non-union casual jobs or, perhaps, still unemployed or forced into early retirement. Unionised workers who are brought together at the point of production and united together in unions are, overall, less susceptible to right-wing demagogy than isolated self-employed and unemployed people. And, though it is true that even a portion of unionised workers did vote for Trump, analysis of exit polls actually revealed that the higher the income, the more likely you were to vote for Trump.
We need to firmly oppose economic nationalism here not only because it fuels racism but also because it directly undermines the fight to build actual struggle against the greedy bosses at home. However, we can only successfully oppose protectionism if we counterpose to it a class struggle program of jobs for all – that is, by highlighting the demand that profitable enterprises be forced to increase hiring at the cost of their own profits and then linking this demand to the fight for the ultimate confiscation of the means of production from the capitalist class by the working class. Trotskyist Platform has been emphasising opposition against any form of protectionism and promoting a class struggle program of jobs for all but we will intensify this work by fighting to build more actions promoting this essential perspective.
Unfortunately, much of the Left either themselves embrace economic nationalism – while trying to rid it of it of its openly racist aspects – or just try their best to ignore it. However, any leftist force that capitulates to economic nationalism is an obstacle to the fight for workers’ rights whether it happens to call itself socialist, Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, anarchist or any other kind of ist. The protectionist ideology of the pro-Democrats, American union bureaucracy has pushed a section of American unionised workers – and many laid off industrial workers – into the arms of far-right populism. The economic nationalist slogans of the current, pro-ALP Australian union leadership should also not be allowed to push Australian workers into the filthy arms of Hanson’s One Nation and its ilk who, after all, are the most consistent nationalists of all. Challenging the economic nationalist ideology that is currently dominant in the Australian workers movement is key to unleashing a class struggle fightback to defend our unions, protect workers rights and win jobs for everyone.
Implications for the Leninist Program on International Questions
On international policy, Trump has not disguised the fact that he is going to push an even more openly hostile stance towards socialistic China. He wants to draw capitalist Russia into this task by building an alliance with Russia that would bring the world’s two most powerful military powers into a capitalist super alliance. Part of the aim of this perspective is also to weaken the U.S.A’s European NATO allies cum imperialist economic rivals. Additionally, there is ideological affinity between the hard right wing in the U.S. and the Putin government. Putin, as well as being a hero to right-wing , “Third Way” (i.e. “neither socialism nor capitalism”) conspiracy theory types is also a hero to fascist groups throughout the West (the Australian Defence League here, for example, has openly hailed him) as well as to more mainstream right-wing forces (like racist, Islamophobic senator Jacqui Lambi) because of his government’s hard line anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies as well as his homophobia.
However, whether Trump and the Far Right’s proclivities for an alliance with Russia will be implemented remains to be seen. Trump’s regime will be, in effect, an alliance of hard line right wingers like himself and more mainstream figures from the right wing of the Republican Party. The latter are less inclined to an alliance with Russia as they believe the U.S. is strong enough not to share its spoils with any emerging power and do not want to allow a new player into the imperialist club. Furthermore, Putin himself would probably play hard to get with Trump since he knows the U.S is a weakening empire. He would also not want Russia to play second fiddle to the U.S. too much and would hold out for as many concessions as possible. Furthermore, the Russian bourgeoisie may be hesitant to be pulled in too brazenly into an anti-China alliance since, despite their hostility to socialism (the Russian government from Putin down were, after all, active in the counterrevolution that destroyed the USSR and brought capitalist class rule back to Russia) they stand to make a fortune from selling oil and natural gas to neighbouring China which has few of these resources itself.
Nevertheless, a U.S.-Russia capitalist super alliance is certainly quite possible and if it does transpire this may affect the position that communist internationalists should take towards events in Syria. Whatever effect a Trump presidency has on U.S.-Russia relations, one thing is pretty certain: the Trump ascendancy will see an intensification of open U.S. hostility to the Chinese workers state. So, despite the bureaucratic deformations and capitalist incursions into China – and we must remember that nearly 60% of her economy is controlled and nearly all of her economy’s commanding heights (that is, the heavy industries, finance, transport, telecommunications etc) are fully owned by the Chinese workers state, a bigger slice of the economic pie than that enjoyed by the Soviet Russian state during Lenin’s time – authentic socialists need to be ready to intensify our struggle to defend socialistic China against imperialist attack and imperialist-backed, anti-communist NGOs.
We live in scary times. The ascendancy of Trump to the U.S. presidency will – in the absence of mass resistance – incite in both the U.S.A and Australia a further escalation of racist attacks on coloured ethnic minorities, Muslims and First Peoples communities. However, we should be aware that the rising of fascistic forces is a sign of the utter decay of capitalism which in its death throes is releasing such noxious fumes. But the system will not die by itself. It needs to be overthrown by the conscious working class-led masses united with all of the oppressed. It is our job to advance the struggle for such a socialist revolution. This is a time when every major capitalist country is seeing the rise of sinister far-right forces: from the U.S.A to Australia to most of Europe to Russia and the Ukraine. In Indonesia a violent racist movement has erupted and targeted the governor of Jakarta purely for his being a member of an ethnic and religious minority. In India a sinister fascistic mass murderer is the prime minister. In fact, the one great socialistic power in the world, Red China, looks rather good by comparison. It is the one large nation where far-right racist forces based on the majority ethnic community are not on the march.
Why, in Australia, must the flower of Aboriginal youth fall victim to murderous, racist rednecks or become prey for a relentlessly systematic kind of brutal “justice” that continues to send young Aboriginal men and women to languish in jail cells or detention centres for years on end or worse? They are victims of the essentially immoral 200 year-old Australian capitalist racket. As are the brave children, women and men who have been held hostage in the Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island hellholes. Can anyone seriously argue that if these asylum seekers came from, say, England or Denmark instead of mainly from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East that they would be treated in the same heartless manner? In fact, the Australian capitalist state’s border control policy provides tacit official sanction to every act of racist violence and xenophobia perpetrated out there on the streets of Australia.
A mighty, radical shift is needed. Any deluded notion of a middle ground that social democrats might be clinging onto is fast falling away beneath their feet and the pieces being greedily gobbled up by the awaiting, wide open fascistic jaws of your Donald Trumps and Pauline Hansons. Now is not the time for sitting on fences. The fence has already collapsed under the combined weight of too many fat, middle class rumps. Increasingly, humanity is faced with a choice between fascism and communism. Behind fascism stands the capitalist, property-rich ruling class which is willing to unleash its nazi dogs as a last resort to protect its ill gotten gains and its global control of immense human and industrial resources. Behind the prospect of communism stands the organised, international working class which is willing and able to seize control of the world’s business from the tiny minority of capitalist owners in the name of all the people and then commence work towards a collective, humane and socialistic organisation of society. A handful of countries have already – bravely and with sometimes seemingly intolerable sacrifice – embarked on the road to a communist future despite the perpetual harrassment and often bloody resistance put up by the imperialist powers. We workers of Australia must offer our sincere respect, our immense gratitude and, most of all, a comradely – critical if necessary but always helping – hand to these frontier workers states because our futures are inextricably linked. Let’s work hard to advance the struggle for communism here too! Let’s promote a class struggle fight for jobs for all workers! Let’s fight to unite the working class masses right around the world by uncompromisingly standing against both racism and economic nationalism! You’d have to be blind now not to see capitalist democracy for what it really is – a filthy, rich man’s game. But the riches of the world have always really belonged to the working many and not to the exploiting few. The exploiters can choke on the racism, hatred and division they sow. The fruit of our labour is of a different sort altogether. Already the workers of the world have begun to unite in order to form a community of kindness which can embrace all of our common humanity without exception. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. Friends, the time to mobilise and to strike back is now.
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
6th September 2016: Determined supporters of socialistic rule in China rallied this evening on the steps at the entrance to Sydney Town Hall. In this demonstration called at short notice, participants hailed the gains of China’s 1949 anticapitalist revolution and opposed the U.S. and Australian-backed anti-communist Chinese exile groups seeking to promote capitalist restoration in China.
The 1949 Chinese Revolution was one of the most momentous events in humanity’s entire history. The long-suffering Chinese masses overthrew their exploiters and took power. Tens of millions of downtrodden people participated in this heroic struggle. They achieved victory after a bitter three year civil war. On one side of the war stood the oppressed tenant farmers, workers, working-class women and idealistic students. They were organized by the Communist Party of China (CPC) which was led by Mao Ze Dong. On the other side were the brutal landlords and capitalists. These oppressor classes were served by the Kuomintang (KMT) government of Chiang Kai-Shek. The KMT was heavily armed, trained and advised by the U.S. regime. But still they lost to the Communist-led revolutionaries.
The 1949 anti-capitalist revolution freed the peasants from the tyranny of the landlords, made headway in liberating workers from capitalist exploitation and freed the Chinese people from humiliating subjugation by imperial powers. The revolution greatly uplifted women’s status from the horrific reality they faced under the previous Kuomintang regime – when many women were subjected to forced marriage and the barbaric practice of Continue reading Long Live China’s 1949 Anticapitalist Revolution!→
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.