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Australasian Spartacist No. 202

Spring 2008

Labor’s Racist Occupation: State of Siege for Aborigines

Cops/Military Out of NT Aboriginal Communities!

For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights!

Since its election to federal office last November, the Rudd ALP government has been strengthening the June 2007 racist police/military-enforced government takeover of more than seventy Northern Territory (NT) Aboriginal communities. This crude land grab, initiated by the previous Howard Liberal/Coalition government, serves the interests of the bourgeoisie, who want unhindered access to the valuable mineral reserves on vast tracts of land where Aboriginal communities were allowed some measure of self-government, albeit in conditions of great privation, since the mid-1970s.

Accompanied by punitive welfare “quarantining,” prohibition of alcohol and pornography, and backed by increased state repression, this occupation has brought more devastation to Aboriginal communities. Compounding over two hundred years of destruction wrought by capitalist Australia, it seeks to criminalise all Aboriginal people. More than doubling in the last 20 years, incarceration rates of Aboriginal people across the country are skyrocketing, accompanied by more deaths in custody. We Marxists fight to mobilise the proletariat in a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights as part of the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. Down with the government intervention! Cops/military out of Aboriginal lands!

The NT intervention occurs in the context of a resources boom and accompanies a military build-up in the Territory that serves to help enforce capitalist “stability” and ensure the flow of imperialist profits derived from exploitation across the Asia-Pacific region. The occupation, along with talk of Aboriginal communities as “failed states,” mirrors the colonial-style occupations that Australian imperialism has imposed on the peoples of the Solomons and East Timor. As part of the reactionary U.S./Australia alliance, the Australian imperialists sent troops to Iraq and now wage bloody war against the population of Afghanistan under the pretext of the “war on terror.” Promising a beefed-up military, including a better equipped navy, Rudd’s recent commitment to “protect” Australia’s “sea lanes of communication” in coalition with the U.S. is aimed largely against China.

The U.S. bases and other military facilities in Aboriginal-populated northern and central Australia are a key link in a chain which encircles China from South Korea to former Soviet republics of Central Asia, serving the imperialists’ strategic aim of overturning the social gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. We stand for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese, North Korean, Cuban and Vietnamese bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. We fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies, who pave the way for capitalist restoration. As proletarian internationalists we demand: Down with the U.S./Australia alliance! U.S. bases out now! Australian military/cops get out of East Timor, the South Pacific, Middle East and Afghanistan!

Key to opposing the depredations of Australian imperialism “at home” and abroad is mobilising the multiracial proletariat in class-struggle opposition to the capitalist rulers. The working class, with its numbers and organisation, and its hands on the levers of production, has the social power and historic interest to sweep away the entire exploitative capitalist system and to establish an egalitarian socialist society. This requires forging an internationalist Leninist vanguard party, which will unite the working class at the head of all the oppressed in the fight for workers revolution.

Rudd’s “Apology” Sugar Coats NT Occupation

After John Howard’s long-standing refusal to say “sorry” to the Stolen Generations, Rudd’s “Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples” in February generated elation among thousands of Aboriginal people whose families were brutally torn apart by successive capitalist governments over more than 150 years. However, the carefully crafted “apology,” lauded by the capitalist media, was grossly hypocritical—yet another racist hoax foisted on Aboriginal people. Trumpeting a “new beginning,” Rudd’s promise to significantly reduce infant mortality and other social indices of the horrendous oppression of Aboriginal people is tied to “practical reconciliation.”

For the ruling class, “reconciliation” means absolving themselves of past and present crimes while Aborigines are supposed to forgive and forget, resigning themselves to an existence of all-sided racist oppression. Reconciliation is precisely not about addressing the grim reality of Aboriginal lives. It was the brainchild of former prime minister Paul Keating who wanted to cover up his knifing of land rights following the 1992 Mabo decision and soaring Aboriginal deaths in custody under Hawke/Keating Labor rule. Keating’s cynical manoeuvre was also designed to clean up Australian capitalism’s image in Asia where the oppression of Aborigines had been an embarrassing obstacle to the only thing the racist capitalist rulers really care about: profit.

At the same time Rudd made his “apology” speech, the government was at pains to point out that no compensation would be paid to the Stolen Generations. As Murdoch’s Australian editorialised on 1 February, “Ideally, the much anticipated apology should allow the book to be closed on the ‘rights’ agenda. Once the apology is made, those who have fought so long to see it happen should also move on by turning their efforts to the pressing needs of remote communities.” Indeed Rudd’s “apology” served to sugar coat the NT intervention in an attempt to co-opt liberals and Aboriginal leaders. Since the occupation began the bourgeoisie has waged a concerted campaign to stifle any expression of opposition. A 24 June Australian editorial, headlined “Same old protest mob,” sneered at national protests held to mark one year of the intervention, zeroing in on the call for cops and troops to get out of the NT and all black communities. They snarled “This industry thrives on emasculating those people it claims to represent by maintaining a culture of entitlement” (emphasis added). In other words, no-one—least of all Aboriginal people—should dare expect the right to quality housing, education, health care or even a clean water supply.

Government Witchhunting and Puritanical Prohibitions

The witchhunt for “child sexual abuse” in Aboriginal communities has stoked anti-paedophile hysteria, whipping up a climate of fear and mistrust against all Aboriginal men in the service of greater state intervention in the lives of Indigenous people. The “medical examinations” of Aboriginal youth and children escalates the bourgeoisie’s intent to regiment particularly youth by demeaning and punishing all those who engage in consensual sexual activity outside the bounds of the reactionary “age-of-consent” laws. After “examining” more than 7,500 NT Aboriginal youth and children, barely 0.5 percent were assessed as “at risk” of neglect or abuse, while 40 percent were referred to specialists for poverty-related health problems.

Today’s occupation of Aboriginal communities has been prepared by a years-long campaign to blame Aboriginal people for their own oppression. The very real social pathologies of domestic violence, abuse of children and drug addiction––problems which exist throughout capitalist society––are exacerbated by the enforced marginalisation and brutal subjugation of Aboriginal people. Founded on the historic near genocide, uprooting and dispossession of Aboriginal people, “White Australia” capitalism has meant relentless brutal oppression and racist state terror against the original inhabitants of this land. This is shown in the ongoing horrendous incarceration rates, drastically shorter life expectancy and appalling infant mortality rates. Terror, dispossession and degradation are now heightened under the intervention.

Accompanying the frenzy over “child abuse” in the occupied communities is the puritanical prohibition on alcohol and pornography, backed by heavy penalties, that tramples democratic rights. We oppose these bans, now enforced by the piously Christian Kevin Rudd and his ALP government, who pose as defenders of Aboriginal women and children. In August, a statement signed by six Aboriginal women from various NT communities denounced claims by former federal ALP president, Warren Mundine, that Aboriginal women feel “safe” as a result of the intervention. Mundine has “no right to speak on our behalf,” they admonished, “If Mr Mundine had any meaningful connection to our communities he would know that women have been leading the fight against this racist policy” (Koori Mail, 27 August).

Down With Attacks on Welfare, Racist “Quarantining”!

There is deep opposition within Aboriginal communities to the racist intervention and government lies. Welfare “quarantining” in the invaded Aboriginal communities has hit hard against those already struggling to eke out an existence on this pittance. The very term “quarantine,” implying some kind of contagious disease, epitomises the racist character of the legislation. Imposed under the rubric of “mutual obligation,” it means that half of any welfare payment can only be accessed by purchasing items at big corporate stores (like Coles or Woolworths) or, in remote communities, at the only store, where exorbitant prices for a tiny range of poor quality goods is often the norm. This punitive scheme, gutting what meagre economic power parents have, has been exacerbated by spiralling fuel and food costs.

Community leaders, courageously speaking out against the occupation, have recalled the days when Aboriginal people were forced to subsist on rations of tea, flour, sugar and offal while their wages were withheld by pastoralists and mission managers. Those still alive are still fighting to get their stolen wages. Today, many desperate Aboriginal families are forced to move to larger centres in order to use their welfare cards. Severe overcrowding in substandard housing in towns lacking adequate health care and other services has, as a consequence, created new social crises which are invariably met with severe police repression, such as the special police operation in Alice Springs on 4-5 April in which 188 Aboriginal people were rounded up and incarcerated. Aboriginal elder, Vince Forrester, from Mutitjulu condemned the occupation: “This legislation and government action is a form of terrorism used specifically against our people. They are entrenching racism with these actions” (Aboriginal Rights Coalition Media Release, 7 April).

The vicious “welfare reforms” are no longer confined to the NT. In northern Queensland, Aboriginal rightist government flunkey Noel Pearson is trialling his own experiment in welfare “quarantining” in four Aboriginal communities. Pearson is also on a crusade to deny unemployment benefits to Aborigines under the age of 21. Grooving on punishing the poor and oppressed, Liberal and Labor MPs alike have called for quarantining welfare payments across the entire country. Now the federal ALP is trialling, in six NT communities, the suspension of welfare payments to parents who allegedly don’t send their children to school regularly, with the intention of applying this draconian measure nationally.

Last year, Labor’s deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, told the Sydney Institute, “The old days of passive welfare for those able to contribute are gone.” That is, the unemployed will be forced to work for their welfare pittance or starve. The ALP halted the Howard government’s scrapping of the work-for-the-dole-style Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), proposing to “reform” it by introducing a “welfare-to-work” scheme that will not only enable the government to “quarantine” payments but suspend them if recipients fail to look for work. Thus many will be driven from their communities or face starvation. Meanwhile, the government taskforce running the intervention recommends branding some remote Aboriginal communities as “unviable.” ALP Indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, has hastened to assure communities there will be no forced population transfers. The taskforce report proposes to deny them vital services such as education and health, a familiar method that has already led to countless deaths over years of capitalist neglect. Exemplifying racist state contempt for Aboriginal lives was the death in 2006 of 78-year-old Julama Limbunya, one of three surviving elders who took part in the 1966 Wave Hill stockmen’s strike. Almost blind, barely able to walk and still suffering from pneumonia, Limbunya was dumped at a remote NT airstrip after being released from hospital and left to die in broiling heat without food or water.

Rudd and Capitalist War on Workers and Oppressed

The marked rightward shift across the world over the last decade and a half is a product of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. Encircled by the imperialists and betrayed from within by its Stalinist misleadership, the collapse of the Soviet Union has given rise to unbridled imperialist exploitation and pillage across the planet and intensified interimperialist rivalries, formerly held in check by anti-Soviet unity. It unleashed a global offensive against workers and the poor as the capitalist rulers seek to increase the rate of exploitation, drive down living standards, and slash welfare and social programs to gain an edge against their competitors.

Today, the Rudd government carries out union busting, attacks on welfare, racist scapegoating of immigrant minorities and shreds democratic rights under its racist “war on terror” repression. It retains the core of Howard’s widely-hated anti-union WorkChoices legislation, including the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Targeting construction unionists such as Victorian union official Noel Washington, the ABCC has carried out more investigations under Rudd’s Labor government than under the previous Howard government.

In carrying out their high-handed violation of Aboriginal rights today, the bourgeois rulers aim to make it easier to further their attacks on the working class. Aborigines, small in number and largely excluded from the working class, are a vulnerable target. It is only by championing the rights of Aboriginal people and putting itself at the head of all the oppressed, from those framed on “terrorism” charges to African immigrants targeted by racist violence, that the multiracial proletariat can fulfil its historic role as the gravedigger of the capitalist class. Down with the ABCC! Hands off Noel Washington! Defend the unions! Down with racist “war on terror” government repression! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Free education, free quality health care for all! Down with the attacks on welfare! Return stolen wages to Aboriginal workers and their families! For mass union-centred protests against the occupation of NT Aboriginal communities!

The road to full equality and elementary justice for Aboriginal people and all the oppressed requires expropriating large industry, mines and agribusiness from the capitalist rulers through socialist revolution. Some Aboriginal activists have raised the demand for “self-determination” and “Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs.” Opposed to a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights, reformists such as Solidarity have embraced these demands, fostering illusions of “justice” within the framework of capitalism. We note that in most cases under capitalism such calls can result in little more than deeply isolated, oppressed communities.

Nonetheless where Aborigines have a land base, such as in the now occupied Aboriginal communities, the Spartacist League defends whatever measure of political autonomy they can achieve, including the right to govern their land and control its resources. The SL supports any attempts by Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to reclaim land stolen from them and to get whatever financial compensation they can from the tight-fisted, racist ruling class. Where Aboriginal land rights come up against socially useful developments like railways, the Aboriginal people should receive generous compensation for any deprivation of land or disruption of activity based on completely consensual agreement. Only a workers government will guarantee these conditions. We fight for jobs for all at equal wages, for massive health, housing and education programs to address the racist oppression of the Aboriginal people. Only the destruction of capitalism can hold out the possibility of voluntary integration, on the basis of full equality, for those Aboriginal people who desire it, and the fullest possible autonomy for those who do not, and make it possible to address the special needs created by more than two centuries of injustice and oppression.

Reformists Sow Illusions in Racist Capitalist State

Flushed with the victory of Labor at the polls, the reformist left tailed behind the bourgeois-liberal enthusing over Rudd’s “apology.” The Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) declared it “only the beginning” while Socialist Alternative (SAlt) claimed that “the struggle for justice for Indigenous people is likely to get a boost” from Rudd’s speech. In contrast to our Marxist opposition to the ALP and bourgeois Greens in last November’s elections, reformists such as the DSP, SAlt and Solidarity all did their bit to help elect a Rudd Labor government. They are now doing donkey work to channel opposition to the occupation back into pressuring the ALP to change course, working in the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) which also includes various Aboriginal activists and liberals. After a recent split from ARC centred around Solidarity, a second group calling itself Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, or STICS, has now been formed on essentially the same political platform.

Both ARC and STICS sow illusions in the very state that enforces the subjugation of the Aboriginal people, for example appealing to Rudd’s government to “Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.” Appeals to the UN are seen by some as a way to place the horrendous conditions of Aborigines under the international spotlight. However we warn that the UN is an enemy of the oppressed peoples of the world. It has shown time and again that it is nothing other than a den of imperialist thieves and their intended victims. It was the UN which sanctified the founding of Israel in 1948, a state carved out of the living body of the Palestinian people. The decade-long UN-imposed starvation sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s killed up to 1.5 million Iraqis, mostly women and children.

Underscoring its faith in the capitalist state, ARC provides a platform for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now known as the Australian Human Rights Commission), a government instrumentality. A key demand of the 12 February ARC-supported Canberra protest, heavily built by reformists such as SAlt, was not forthright opposition to the occupation but a call on the Labor government to conduct an “immediate review” of the intervention. Such appeals to the capitalist state are stock-in-trade for the reformist opponents of revolutionary Marxism. The reformists deeply believe that the state, particularly when administered by a Labor government, can be pressured into serving the interests of the exploited working class and oppressed. But the capitalist state, consisting at its core of the courts, cops, prisons and military, is a repressive apparatus that exists to defend the profits, property and rule of the tiny capitalist class.

Those current leaders of the DSP, SAlt and Solidarity who were around in the 1980s all campaigned for the 1987 ALP-initiated Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This commission endorsed police and coroner verdicts in all 99 cases it reviewed—not one cop ever served a minute in prison for these crimes. It whitewashed brutal state terror. Based on a Marxist understanding of the state, the Spartacist League forthrightly opposed this government whitewash.

We put no faith in the capitalist courts but look to the power of the working class mobilised independently of the capitalist state and its parties. The case of Aboriginal community activist Lex Wotton, facing trial and possibly years in prison for raising his voice against the killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004 shows that we are up against a machine for the systematic suppression of the working class and oppressed. Wotton’s persecution starkly contrasts with the whitewash trial of the cop, Chris Hurley, who admitted in court that his actions led to Doomadgee’s death. Hurley’s acquittal on manslaughter charges was a green light for deadly racist terror on the streets and in the lockups. Only days after the Hurley verdict, a 44-year-old man died in police custody near Mareeba in North Queensland.

It is important that unions, such as the maritime union (MUA), have come out in support of Wotton. The MUA, along with the construction union, have also reportedly gone on record to demand the repeal of the NT intervention legislation. But it is necessary to turn such statements of support into broad-based union actions, such as when Sydney building workers walked off their construction site in 1989 and formed a protective perimeter around a protest outside police headquarters against the cop killing of Aboriginal worker David Gundy. For union/minority actions against racist state terror! Drop the charges against Lex Wotton now!

The real allies of the Aboriginal people are to be found in the multiracial working class. When Aboriginal militants joined the maritime union pickets in 1998 they were aware that the thugs who dragged waterside workers off the docks are akin to the cops and screws who kill Aboriginal people. Over the years there have been important but too rare instances of working-class defence of Aborigines. The spectacular storming of parliament in Canberra, August 1996 by militant Aborigines, unionists and youth is one example. This action, at a 35,000-strong demonstration protesting against the Howard government’s attacks on welfare and union rights, was sparked when cops attacked an Aboriginal contingent at the head of a march of Aborigines and unionists. Building workers, minorities and others rushed to defend the Aboriginal protesters. Subsequently, the traitorous ALP/ACTU union tops collaborated with a vicious state witchhunt, fingering militants to the cops and carrying out an internal purge of the anti-racist unionists.

Break with Laborism! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

This illustrates that the main obstacle to unions taking up the cause of Aboriginal people is the pro-capitalist Laborite trade-union misleaders who form a thin bureaucratic caste at the top of the unions. Under pressure from their working-class base, they are sometimes compelled to call strikes and other actions to defend workers’ interests, such as the successful nurses’ strike in Victoria last year in opposition to the state Labor government of John Brumby. On the whole, however, these “labour lieutenants of capital” act to police the working class for the bourgeoisie. Thus, having campaigned for the election of the Rudd government, the union bureaucrats now work hand-in-glove with their ALP parliamentary counterparts to smother class-struggle opposition to the attacks of the capitalist rulers.

Along with their reformist left hangers-on, the union tops help sow defeat and division among the working class, deflecting the necessary fight against the racist capitalist system as a whole by preaching submission to the bosses’ courts and fealty to the nation state. In response to the current jobs massacre in vehicle and other industries, the manufacturing union misleaders are pushing a protectionist campaign to maintain government tariffs. Similarly, the textile union leadership are campaigning for a tariff freeze and “industry assistance” under the slogan “Make it Well, Make it Fair Make it Here! Support Australian TCF Jobs.” Far from defending jobs, such chauvinist campaigns serve to pit workers in Australia against their class brothers and sisters overseas while tying them to their bosses “at home.” They also serve to undermine class unity in the face of the Rudd government’s broader assaults including the racist occupation of Aboriginal lands and ongoing mandatory detention of those refugees deemed “dangerous.”

In 1867, writing about the American Civil War, Karl Marx declared, “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” An uncompromising class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights requires breaking workers from the politics of Laborism, which serves to keep them in thrall to capitalism. For this it is necessary to build a multiracial, proletarian and internationalist revolutionary workers party. This party will be built through splitting the working-class base of the ALP, a bourgeois workers party, from its pro-capitalist tops, centrally through a political struggle against the nationalist Laborite misleaders of the trade unions.

A revolutionary workers party will strive to transform and organise the proletariat into a conscious force for revolution. In doing so, it will emblazon on its banner the burning necessity for a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights on the road to the overthrow of this sick capitalist system through proletarian revolution. Only under the rule of the working class, and on the basis of an internationally planned, collectivised economy, will humanity begin to address the needs of indigenous peoples and the diversity of human cultures begin to flourish. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!


Australasian Spartacist No. 202

ASP 202

Spring 2008


Labor’s Racist Occupation: State of Siege for Aborigines

Cops/Military Out of NT Aboriginal Communities!

For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights!


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