Australasian Spartacist No. 207
Asylum for Tamil Refugees Now!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
ALP Rules for Racist Australian Capitalism
For months the bourgeoisie, politicians and media have waged an hysterical campaign against desperate refugees seeking asylum by boat. Demonised as “illegal,” many are Tamils fleeing the imperialist-backed Sri Lankan regime’s merciless repression. Since the regime’s military offensive ended in May, some 300,000 Tamils have been interned in horrific prison camps and interrogation centres. Underscoring the risks these refugees face, in early November twelve Tamils drowned when their boat sank almost 650 kilometres from the Cocos Islands. Months earlier, five refugees died and scores were injured when their boat exploded after it was seized by the Australian navy.
Refugees intercepted on the high seas by heavily-armed Australian navy ships are turned back or redirected to Indonesia. Those captured in “Australian waters” are incarcerated behind razor wire in the remote Christmas Island detention centre, an overcrowded hellhole likened to Guantánamo Bay. Rudd’s federal ALP government enforces mandatory detention of “illegal” refugees, first imposed by the Keating ALP government in 1992. Once “processed,” for those refugees deported, it can be a death sentence. We demand: Close the detention camps! No deportations! For the right of asylum for Tamil refugees and all victims of right-wing terror! Full citizenship rights for all who have made it here!
Capitalist governments from Europe to North America to Australia have been waging a vicious war on the millions of refugees forced to flee the immiseration caused by imperialism. This brutality occurs in the context of the biggest capitalist economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs across the globe. As the ongoing crisis continues to threaten the livelihoods of working people, the Rudd Labor government targets immigrants and minorities with increased state repression and violence. This in turn has generated racist attacks on the streets such as the wave of murderous terror against Indian and Chinese students (see “Racist Terror Sparks Indian Student Protests,” ASp No. 206, Spring 2009).
Anti-immigrant racism is a time-worn method of the capitalist rulers to divide the working class and paralyse it in the face of the capitalists’ attacks. It can and must be fought by the organised workers movement. Giving a taste of the power the working class can wield, in 1998 union action in Perth saved a Somali man from being deported to certain death when the pilots refused to fly the plane and ground crew refused to refuel it. Mobilising the workers movement in defence of immigrant rights is crucial to the defence of the multiracial working class as a whole, to forging the necessary unity and strength to fight the bosses’ war on working people. Far from helpless victims, immigrants are a vital component of the working class, the force capable of destroying this decaying capitalist system. Only by sweeping away capitalist rule through workers revolution and building a classless socialist society can there be an end to racism.
ALP’s Anti-Refugee, “Anti-Terror” Regional “Security”
In mid-October, at Rudd’s behest, the Indonesian navy intercepted a boat carrying 260 Tamil asylum seekers. Taken to a port in Java, the refugees refused to leave their boat fearing they would be detained there in limbo for years. The Rudd government then brokered a deal with Indonesia for the latter to take 78 Tamil asylum seekers picked up by the Australian Customs ship, the Oceanic Viking. This turned into a month-long stand-off after the refugees refused to disembark until given a written guarantee of quick resettlement in Australia.
The Rudd government has increased funding to Indonesia to help police Australia’s racist “border protection” measures, including incarcerating refugees in Australian-funded detention centres there. For the Australian imperialists, strengthening ties with Indonesia is of key economic and geo-strategic importance. The Rudd government has been working to strengthen military co-operation with Indonesia, and continues training the blood-soaked Kopassus special forces, whose role is to suppress any opposition to the repressive Indonesian regime.
As a jackal imperialist power allied to the U.S., Australia seeks to impose regional “stability,” i.e., ensure its flow of profits from imperialist exploitation, by shoring up semicolonial regimes that will do their bidding. Australian imperialism’s recent spate of military and other agreements with regimes from the Philippines to Indonesia also occurs in the context of increased imperialist concern over the growing political and economic influence of the Chinese deformed workers state in the Asia-Pacific region. We stand for the unconditional military defence of China against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution and for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy (see article, page 12).
The Rudd government is also providing resources and training for the Sinhala-chauvinist Sri Lankan government including to beef up the regime’s crackdown on Tamils attempting to flee the island. The Sri Lankan government’s bloody 26-year war against the Tamils in the North and East of the island ended in May with the destruction of the remnants of the Tamil mini-state and the execution of the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). We stand for the right of self-determination for the Tamil people and stood for the military defence of the LTTE against the army assault. At the same time we give no political support to the bourgeois nationalist LTTE who, carrying out the logic of nationalism, have staged attacks on Sinhalese villagers, expelled Muslims from the historic Tamil city of Jaffna and employed murderous violence against other Tamil nationalist groups.
The banning of the LTTE as a “terrorist” organisation by governments in numerous countries effectively gave the Lankan regime a green light to carry out its murderous offensive. We in the International Communist League denounced these bans and called for the defence of Tamil organisations against state repression, just as we have defended individual Tamils arrested and charged under the “anti-terror” legislation (see “Drop the Charges Against Tamil Activists!”, ASp No. 199, Spring 2007).
Using the criminal attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 and subsequent attacks such as the Bali and London bombings as a pretext, capitalist rulers around the world have used the “war on terror” to whip up racism, jack up state repression at home and regiment the population, criminalising political dissent and restricting the civil liberties of all. The “anti-terror” frenzy is also used to justify imperialist marauding abroad, including the growing and bloody occupation of Afghanistan, where under the banner of the “war on terror” thousands of civilians have been maimed and slaughtered.
While particularly targeting Arab, Asian and Muslim people, the “anti-terror” laws are ultimately aimed against the entire working class. Today, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is targeted by the witchhunting Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) of the Rudd government. The ABCC’s ASIO-style powers to spy on, secretly interrogate and prosecute militant workers, are patterned on the “anti-terror” laws. CFMEUer Ark Tribe faces a jail sentence of up to six months for allegedly failing to attend a compulsory ABCC interrogation. We say: Defend the unions! Down with government union busting including the ABCC! It is necessary to organise a proletarian-centred fight against all the reactionary “anti-terror” and anti-union laws.
White Australia Racism and Laborism
One of the very few notes of public dissent by ALP politicians against Rudd’s racist war on refugees came from retiring federal backbencher Julia Irwin, who aptly labelled Rudd’s “Indonesian solution” worse than the previous Howard government’s “Pacific solution.” Australian capitalism’s immigration laws are designed to ensure that only those who have the desired skills, money or anti-communist credentials—and preferably the “right” skin colour—are allowed in. Thus, while demonising Tamil and other refugees, Rudd simultaneously peddles the view of a wing of the capitalist rulers who worry that Australia’s current population base is insufficient to compete economically against their rivals.
Australia was established as a white imperialist enclave in Asia—a British penal colony built on the bloody dispossession and mass murder of the Aboriginal people, pogroms against the Chinese people and a racist colour bar to keep out anyone not “Anglo-Celtic” enough. “White Australia” racism was a founding pillar of the ALP. The exclusion of “cheap” Asian labour was the basis of the Labor Party’s chimera of bringing prosperity to its white Australian working-class base through domestic capitalist ownership and the exploitation of Australia’s natural resources. While the White Australia policy has been formally abolished and Australia is no longer lily-white, Australia is nevertheless a virulently racist minor imperialist power. And the ALP, wedded to the rule of capital, continues to identify with the xenophobic fears of its own ruling class.
The ALP is a bourgeois workers party—thoroughly bourgeois in its program, outlook and leadership while based on the trade unions. Through the instrument of the Laborite trade-union bureaucracy, the “labour lieutenants of capital,” the bourgeoisie’s “values” are transmitted to the working class. Pushing nationalism and “protection” of Australian industry, the trade-union bureaucracy instils in the proletariat the lie that workers and their capitalist bosses have fundamental interests in common. Earlier this year, the leader of the right-wing Australian Workers’ Union, Paul Howes, railed against taxpayers’ money “supporting the jobs of Indian steelmakers or Chinese steelmakers or Brazilian aluminium-makers” (Australian, 3 February). Such wretched class collaboration is intended to blind the proletariat to the irreconcilable conflict between labour and capital, poisoning international working-class solidarity. Against such nationalist trash we counterpose the clarion call of the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of the World, Unite!”
Howes, a darling of the Murdoch press, received much media coverage recently when he criticised the government’s policy on refugees. Stating that “This is an issue about leadership,” the staunchly Labor-loyal and deeply anti-communist Howes declared, “Malcolm Fraser turned public opinion around to accepting the Vietnamese boat people. Arthur Calwell, the immigration minister in the Chifley government, taught the people about what immigration means for Australia, about the benefits” (Age, 7 November). Lining up to applaud Howes’ stance on refugees were a gamut of trade-union bureaucrats and their “left” tails. Tim Gooden, Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary and pin-up boy of the Democratic Socialist Perspective’s Socialist Alliance (SA), added his own whitewash of the Chifley Labor government, declaring it “helped build this country by welcoming people fleeing war and persecution” (Green Left Weekly, 28 October).
Immigration policies under capitalism serve not only the economic but also the political interests of the bourgeoisie. With the xenophobic White Australia capitalist rulers desperate for more workers after World War II, the slogan of the post-war Chifley Labor government was “Populate or Perish.” Directed against the Japanese in particular and the Asian masses in general, it meant populate Australia with white immigrants. Thus innumerable fascist war criminals were welcomed, while their victims—Jews and communists—were not, as immigration officials were instructed to comb the displaced persons camps looking for “Aryans.” When not enough “Anglo-Celtics” could be persuaded to migrate, others from Eastern and, later, Southern Europe were declared to be “white enough” to qualify.
Deeply committed to “White Australia,” the Chifley government at the same time was determined to deport all Asians who had ended up in Australia during the war—some of whom had married Australian citizens. However an exception was made following the 1949 Chinese Revolution. In the name of anti-Communism, there would be no deportations to “Red China.”
While SA’s Tim Gooden praises Chifley’s racist “immigration” program, the virulent anti-communists of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) paint a rosy picture of the Fraser government’s “acceptance” of thousands of Vietnamese in the late 1970s (Socialist Alternative, December 2009). Under intense pressure from the U.S., Fraser’s acceptance was premised on saving members and supporters of the imperialists’ brutal puppet regime in South Vietnam following the defeat of U.S. and Australian forces by the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants. While the Vietnamese arrivals were nevertheless subjected to vile White Australia racism, many were also used by the state to physically suppress expressions of solidarity here with the Vietnamese Revolution. In 1985, rightist Vietnamese mobs were unleashed by the Hawke Labor government against meetings celebrating the 10th anniversary of the revolution.
For their part, the reformists of Solidarity, particularly through their Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), have for years used the refugee issue to push anti-communism and loyalty to capitalist “democracy.” In 2007, Solidarity turned a refugee rights rally into a platform for the bourgeois Greens and the counterrevolutionary Falun Gong and “Free China” crowd to vituperate against the Chinese deformed workers state.
Protectionist Poison and “Border Security”
While the CFMEU and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) tops have also expressed some concern for refugees, this is thin gruel compared with their ongoing role in whipping up anti-immigrant chauvinism and directly helping to enforce fortress White Australia on behalf of the capitalist rulers and their government. The CFMEU, with its large multiracial membership, have episodically taken up the defence of deeply exploited “guest workers.” However, alongside this, CFMEU leaders such as Andrew Ferguson rail against “illegal” construction workers “taking away the jobs of Australian workers” (Australian, 16 October). Despicably, the CFMEU tops have also boasted of reporting “illegal” workers to the cops for arrest and deportation (“Liberals go soft on illegals,” Unity, December 2000).
The MUA misleaders have also long pushed nationalist protectionism, for example demanding “Australian crews for Australian ships.” In late October, in the midst of the desperate effort by the 78 Tamil asylum seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking to win asylum in Australia, the MUA tops issued a statement that gave support to the government’s anti-refugee “border protection” frenzy. Referring to the 13 MUA seafarers on board the armed government Customs vessel, the union bureaucracy crowed, “The central role played by Australian seafarers is crucial in complementing defence and border security arrangements” (30 October MUA media statement).
Notwithstanding the fact that the MUA and CFMEU tops subsequently announced a union donation of $10,000 to the refugees on board the Oceanic Viking, the role of these pro-capitalist misleaders of the unions is to push the class-collaborationist lie that workers have an interest in defending the borders of Australian capitalism. A class-struggle leadership in the unions, in fighting to forge international proletarian unity, would stand intransigently opposed to such pro-capitalist nationalist bile.
Customs, along with the military, police, courts, prisons and detention camps, are part of the armed fist of the capitalist state whose purpose is to protect capitalist rule and the private ownership of the means of production. The navy is the frontline in Rudd’s “border control” against refugees, while the police and military enforce the government’s takeover of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and are used against workers’ pickets. In 1989, the Hawke Labor government used air force pilots in a strike-breaking operation to smash the pilots’ union and in 1949 the Chifley Labor government called in the troops to smash the coalminers’ strike. The capitalist state apparatus cannot be wielded in the interests of the working class and oppressed. It must be smashed through working-class revolution.
A Revolutionary Perspective Vs. Laborite Reformism
In response to a reactionary backlash over the announced union donation to the Tamil refugees on the Oceanic Viking, SA and SAlt cadre rushed to laud the MUA/CFMEU tops without a word of criticism of these bureaucrats’ willing service to “defending Australia’s borders.” In this they illustrate their role in the Laborite chain that binds workers to the capitalist system. The reformists serve as a cover for the “left” union bureaucrats who in turn cover for the ALP, whose role in government is to administer Australian imperialism on behalf of the capitalist rulers.
SA, SAlt and the Socialist Party (SP) have joined a dozen organisations from Malaysia to New Zealand in signing a 5 November statement protesting the treatment of Tamil refugees. It appeals to the capitalist regimes in the region and demands that racist Australian imperialism “take a leading role in helping reduce the misery of the world’s millions of refugees.” With this demand, SA, SP and SAlt push deadly illusions in the imperialists (especially “their own”), whose depredations around the globe are responsible for the horrific plight of refugees.
These reformists call for refugees to be allowed to “live in freedom in Australia while their claims are processed,” i.e., until this racist government decides to deport them or not. SA, SAlt and SP all endorsed a 5 December Melbourne rally organised by RAC, “Let the refugees into Australia,” which deep-sixes even the usual reformist opposition to mandatory detention in order not to offend the Labor Party, who they helped put in power at the last elections. In contrast to these groups, we Marxists do not seek to advise capitalist governments on more “progressive” immigration policies. All laws in defence of the nationally-based bourgeoisie’s rule are necessarily racist and chauvinist.
Of a piece with building illusions in White Australia capitalism, SA, SAlt and SP also promote the “humanitarian” credentials of the United Nations, an imperialist den of thieves, their victims and intended victims. Sowing illusions in Australian imperialism and the United Nations is not new for these “little Australia” reformists. In 1999 they marched in lock-step with the ALP and trade-union bureaucrats in demonstrations that screamed for Australian imperialist troops to go to East Timor. The Australian-led UN occupation there has meant racist state terror and brutal imperialist exploitation. We say: Australian troops out of Afghanistan, East Timor, and the Solomons! For a class-struggle fight for refugee and immigrant rights!
In its attempts to maximise profits, the capitalist class shifts production to low-wage neocolonies while seeking out the cheapest sources of labour at home: foreign-born workers, women and youth. New layers of immigrants bring into the multiracial working class valuable experiences from struggles abroad. A class-struggle fight in defence of refugees and for immigrant rights would help build a bridge to the struggles of workers from Indonesia to the Philippines who are heavily exploited by Australian imperialism. We stand on the all too rare examples of international working-class solidarity, such as waterfront workers’ actions in solidarity with Indonesia’s struggle for independence in the late 1940s and with the fight of the Vietnamese workers and peasants against U.S./Australian imperialism in the 1960s and 70s.
If the trade unions are to become weapons of struggle in the interests of the working class and oppressed, a leadership must be built in political opposition to the fetid Laborite nationalism and obeisance to the capitalist state pushed by the current trade-union misleaders and their “left” tails. Fighting for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism, such a leadership, linked to a revolutionary party, would fight to organise the unorganised. It would fight to bring undocumented workers and exploited women outworkers into the unions with full union rights and conditions, as part of a class-struggle fight for jobs for all. It would mobilise the multiracial working class in struggle against all the government’s racist immigration laws, demanding full citizenship rights for all, asylum rights for all those fleeing right-wing repression and a halt to racist deportations.
The indispensable instrument to transform the political consciousness of the working class from a class in itself to a class for itself, conscious of its historic role in sweeping away the whole rotting capitalist system, is a Leninist vanguard party. Such a party will champion the cause of oppressed minorities, immigrants and Aborigines, exposing all the capitalist tyranny and injustice, winning the advanced layers of the proletariat to its banner in the struggle for socialist revolution. For a workers republic of Australia, as part of a socialist Asia!