Racist Campaign Escalates Against Aborigines

For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights!

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 185, Summer 2003/04.

In this racist hellhole, where desperate refugees are incarcerated for years in concentration camps if they are not pushed back out to sea in leaky boats, the brutal capitalist oppression of the Aboriginal population continues to intensify. Aboriginal people are systematically denied decent health, education, housing and employment and are imprisoned at a rate 15 times the national average. Today the life expectancy for Aborigines is some 20 years less than other Australians.

It is truly sick then that the White Australia capitalist exploiters are now on a heightened ideological offensive to brand blacks as deserving of their own oppression. For this purpose the bourgeoisie and the right-wing Howard government are seizing on the existence of domestic violence and other problems within communities like alcoholism—problems that exist throughout society but which are exacerbated by racist oppression and enforced marginalisation. West Australian Labor premier, Geoff Gallop, told Aboriginal parents and elders to stop making excuses for Aboriginal juvenile crime railing that historical considerations should not be blamed for current problems (Sunday Times, 21 November). Meanwhile a spate of additional anti-drinking bans has been foisted on Aboriginal communities. These new laws have been met with just opposition from angry residents, for example in the far northern Cape York town of Aurukun. The laws are patronising, racist constrictions of democratic rights. And like the broader anti-Aboriginal ideological campaign, they provide convenient pretexts for even greater police harassment.

Indigenous youth in country towns face night curfews by local councils and mandatory detention by state governments. Fuelled by legal violence, extra-legal terror is also on the rise. In the north Queensland town of Mossman, Ku Klux Klan gangs have attacked Aborigines in their homes, while Aboriginal residents of Townsville have received repeated death threats. Not surprisingly Darwin and Townsville, the military staging grounds for Australian imperialism’s occupation forces abroad, are particular hotbeds of redneck racism.

Down With the Witchhunt of Geoff Clark!

The anti-Aboriginal ideological offensive also serves to justify government attacks on Aboriginal organisations. The ruling class is on a warpath against these organisations because they want to crush even the most minimal pretence of an independent Aboriginal voice. The fact that many of these organisations were created by the Hawke and Keating ALP governments to coopt outspoken Aboriginal leaders and make Aborigines complicit in their own subjugation is not enough for today’s federal Coalition and state ALP governments. The main target has been the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the government’s leading indigenous body. ATSIC has been stripped of its spending power and its leaders, despite their loyal service to the Howard government, have been witchhunted.

In August, Phillip Ruddock, the then federal minister for immigration and indigenous affairs, suspended the elected chairman of ATSIC, Geoff Clark, for “misbehaviour.” Ruddock, who is widely hated for spearheading the racist internment of refugees, used as his pretext Clark’s recent conviction on charges of “behaving in a riotous manner” and “obstructing police” over an incident last year at the Criterion Hotel in the Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool. In fact Clark carried out the courageous and decent act of defending Aborigines—including women and elders—against a racist publican, notorious for refusing to serve blacks, and police wielding capsicum spray guns. While Clark’s conviction for “riotous behaviour” has been overturned in a court appeal, the other conviction and a $750 fine stands and he has been banned from the hotel.

Clark is also the subject of recently revived murky rape allegations, dating back decades. While we are not in a position to judge his guilt or innocence in this case, his conviction stemming from the Warrnambool incident was a racist outrage which underlines the bourgeoisie’s impulse to drive all Aboriginal people back to the desperate poverty-ridden fringes of outback towns.

Clark’s convictions stem from events on 1 May 2002 when Aboriginal people had, for the first time, been admitted to the members enclosure of the Warrnambool races. On that day Clark was hosting people from his community in a marquee rather than the tin shed normally reserved for Aborigines. Soon however Clark and his friends would run smack bang into the vicious social reality of White Australia.

On leaving the races they went to the Grand Hotel where the racist publican closed his hotel down rather than serve Aborigines. The group then moved on to the Criterion Hotel where another racist publican again confronted them and cops were quickly called to remove some of Clark’s friends. When Clark protested and called on his friends to “Stand firm and stand your ground” he and others were set upon by police and attacked with capsicum spray causing Clark to be taken to hospital. The cold hard facts are that Geoff Clark was targeted by the cops and courts of Bracks’ state ALP government and then suspended from ATSIC by the federal Tory minister because he stood against the barbaric enforced denial of Aboriginal people to equal access to amenities. Overturn the remaining conviction! Down with the racist suspension of Geoff Clark!

What is needed is the broadest action of trade unionists, Aborigines and anti-racist youth to protest the witchhunt of Clark and combat the racist exclusion that Aboriginal people face. In the early 1990s, the Spartacist League brought trade unionists, including Maori building workers and members of local Aboriginal communities together with students to break a racist exclusion which had prevented Aborigines from drinking at the Student Prince Hotel near Sydney University (see “Racist Ban Defeated at Student Prince Hotel,” Australasian Spartacist supplement, 2 June 1993). This small but powerful action gives a taste of the struggle that a mass revolutionary party would wage to mobilise the power of the working class in defence of Aboriginal people and all the oppressed.

The potential for politically advanced workers to be won to such a fight is linked to the fact that the increasing levels of degradation of Aborigines are part of all-sided capitalist attacks on the working class and the poor. Union busting, such as attempted against the CFMEU today, goes hand-in-hand with speed-ups and other attacks on working conditions resulting in escalating numbers of workers killed on the job. On 16 October, a 16-year-old Sydney plumber’s apprentice, Joel Exner, died after his boss failed to supply him with a safety harness.

Indeed since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union a decade ago, capitalist governments worldwide have been slashing public health care and education, eroding the living standards of the working class and effectively throwing “unprofitable” sections of the population overboard. In Australia, this is coupled with virulent racism to scapegoat indigenous peoples, Asian and Arab minorities and refugees in a divide-and-conquer tactic aimed at deflecting the anger of the working class away from the attacks of the bosses.

The fight for an uncompromising working-class defence of Aboriginal peoples is thus an important part of the struggle to politically arm the proletariat into a force that can take on the capitalist rulers and win. Proletarian-centred actions would fight to enforce equal access to public and private amenities. They would demand jobs for all and equal wages; and for massive health, housing and education programs to begin to address the marginalisation and oppression of the Aboriginal people in remote areas, in the wretched fringes and inner-city ghettoes. The SL supports any attempts by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to claw back some of the land which has been stolen from them. However, elementary justice—not only for Aboriginal people, but for all the exploited and oppressed—demands not some limited, ultimately reversible concessions from the bosses but the expropriation of industry, mining and agriculture from the greedy exploiters through proletarian revolution.

Bourgeois Reaction and Aboriginal Women

The capitalist media have been triumphantly lauding Aboriginal “leaders” like Noel Pearson and Mick Dodson who have obscenely called on the racist government to “help” Aboriginal people stop doing harm to themselves. Their statements have embellished the cynical platitudes of concern for Aboriginal women and children recently mouthed by some elements in the white ruling class. Such platitudes from the racist exploiters are the most revolting hypocrisy! This is the same ruling class who used brutal violence and repression to force Aboriginal children into being domestic or agricultural slaves of the squatters last century and who denies recognition, let alone redress, for the Stolen Generations. This is the ruling class which presides over one of the highest infant death rates in the world for Aboriginal children and which imprisons refugee children in desolate hell-hole camps from Baxter to Nauru.

Aboriginal women, particularly those in poverty-stricken communities, are triply oppressed by race, gender and class. Capitalist Australia is an extremely misogynist society where the anti-woman cult of “mateship” is glorified. A survey in 1988 found that 20 percent of the general population condoned wife-beating. Aboriginal women in particular are subject to the harshest conditions of capitalist rule. They are systematically shut out of employment, having to bring up children in the broiling outback heat often without a semblance of decent education, health or child care, housing, electricity or even running water. And with the fabric of Aboriginal communities torn asunder by colonial dispossession and brutalised by daily state terror, indigenous women confront high rates of violent assault, rape and murder. It is within this context that many Aboriginal people have made heartfelt appeals within their communities for an end to the endemic violence and abuse. But the feigned “concern” for indigenous women and children coming from the capitalist rulers is purely aimed at vilifying Aborigines as “violent” and providing an excuse for even more racist state repression.

Given the ongoing state terror it is understandable that many Aboriginal women refuse to call authorities when confronted with violent abuse of children or themselves because to do so places them, their men or children in the crosshairs of the state. While it is well known that detention can often be a death sentence for black men, it is not so well known that indigenous children are today removed from their families at six times the rate of non-indigenous children, or that nearly one-third of the NSW female prison population is Aboriginal! Indeed the great instigator of violence against indigenous women is the capitalist state itself.

The brutality of police and prison in black lives is bitterly captured in a story from the women’s peace protest outside the Pine Gap spy base 20 years ago. In November 1983 protesters were dragged en masse to Alice Springs’ police lock-up. The next morning, a delegation of local Aboriginal women thanked the mainly white city women for filling up the prison. No Aboriginal woman had been raped by cops or screws in the jail, they said, for the first night in living memory.

Break with Laborism!

The road to liberation for indigenous women, for all Aboriginal peoples and all the oppressed lies in the struggle to mobilise the social power of the multiracial working class against the capitalist rulers and their state. While the history of working-class defence of indigenous peoples in Australia is all too slender, such events when they occur reverberate powerfully, including throughout the Asian region. 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, and the building workers, miners and others rushed to defend the Aboriginal protesters.

In Brisbane on 8 August this year, the Queensland Council of Unions held a small but significant protest against the Beattie ALP state government’s insulting offer of $4,000 or $2,000 to Aboriginal workers whose wages were “held in trust” by governments and looted for decades. The protest called for full reparation to all workers fighting to reclaim stolen wages, which even the Queensland government admits amounts to at least $500 million in that state alone!

Standing in the way of unleashing the power of the integrated working class in defence of themselves and all the oppressed, is the current pro-capitalist Laborite leadership in the unions and the racist backward consciousness it transmits to, and reinforces within, the proletariat. Following the 1996 storming of parliament, the traitorous ALP/ACTU leadership collaborated with a vicious state witchhunt, fingering militants to the cops and carrying out an internal purge of the anti-racist unionists. This was a pledge by key union bureaucrats to prevent the organised workers ever again defending Aboriginal people from racist state terror. Today, while unions have protested the Queensland government’s refusal to hand back stolen wages to Aboriginal workers, they have not mobilised union power in the necessary strike action to win the back pay for the workers and their families. Instead, Queensland CFMEU leaders for example have told Aboriginal people to look to the thieving state’s own Industrial Relations Commission.

Acting as the labour lieutenants of capital, the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy demobilises the union ranks, preaches submission to the bosses’ courts and channels proletarian struggles into the dead end of ALP parliamentarism. An internationalist revolutionary workers party—a tribune of the people—must be built by splitting the working-class base of the ALP from the nationalist leadership.

But this is not the perspective of the various reformist and centrist left groups. A case in point is the centrist Workers Power (WP) group. While building illusions in the bourgeois state, for example through their ritual call to vote for the racist ALP (which in power administers the capitalist state), they simultaneously push rhetoric opposing national, sexual and racial oppression. This is highlighted with regard to the Aboriginal struggle, where in one breath WP calls for the implementation of the recommendations of the Hawke/Keating ALP’s whitewash Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, and in the next declare that Aborigines have “the right to be free of the police and judicial oppression.” WP also calls for Aborigines to have “the right to administer justice within the communities, because whitefellas’ justice in the indigenous communities is nothing more than the business of keeping people in place while the theft [of lands and resources] goes on” (The Socialist Solution to Market Madness, May 2001).

While we defend whatever political autonomy Aboriginal people (with a land base) can wrest from governments, including the right to govern their land and control its resources we also understand that as long as the capitalist exploiters hold state power, any “justice” will necessarily be subordinate to the white racist ruling class and its state. This capitalist state—which at its core consists of the police, courts, military and prisons—was created and is reinforced and perfected daily for the very purpose of enforcing capitalist class rule over the exploited and oppressed masses.

WP’s verbiage notwithstanding, the bottom line is that, in pushing for implementing the findings of the bourgeois court’s Royal Commission, they sow illusions in and tie Aborigines and workers to the main force for Aboriginal oppression—the capitalist state. And while WP fatuously declares that the “police must be held to account for every death” they don’t breathe a word that the Royal Commission into deaths in custody endorsed the police and coroner verdicts of “suicide” and “death by natural causes” in all 99 cases it reviewed. In other words all the killer cops walked! It was the SL that warned from the start that the Royal Commission would result in a whitewash.

It is no accident then that WP, who also “call on the labour movement to support every demand of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” don’t address the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats who are the key obstacle to proletarian-centred struggle for indigenous rights.

In contrast to WP, genuine communists fight to combat illusions that the capitalist state can act on behalf of the oppressed and fight to expose the role of the Labor traitors within the workers movement. This is key to preparing and training the proletariat for the workers revolution that alone can free itself, Aboriginal people and all the downtrodden from racist capitalist state terror while opening the road to the eradication of poverty, the liberation of women and the ending of racial oppression. As we explained in our programmatic statement:

“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.”

For a Workers Republic of Australia, Part of a Socialist Asia!, October 1998

Racist Australian Imperialists Groove on Aboriginal Dispossession

The publication in 2002 of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, by right-wing ideologue, Keith Windschuttle, sparked just outrage. Windschuttle seeks to disappear the attempted genocide of the Aboriginal peoples. Henry Reynolds, an historian who has meticulously documented the more than two hundred years of dispossession of Aboriginal peoples, noted in one Sydney Morning Herald review (23-24 August 2003), that Windschuttle’s “critique” is an attempt to resurrect the concept of terra nullius, the lie that Australia was “vacant property” at the time of British landing. Such lies are designed in the first instance to ridicule and stymie any future Aboriginal land rights claims.

The political climate over the Aboriginal question has shifted to the right. The ruling-class ideological offensive comes on top of their hoax of “reconciliation,” the notion, pushed especially by the ALP, that Aborigines should forgive and forget, resigning themselves to an existence of racist oppression while the ruling class absolves itself of its crimes (see Australasian Spartacist No. 171, Winter 2000). Now seizing on the criminal World Trade Center attack and Bali bombing to whip up national chauvinism, bourgeois ideologues increasingly glorify Australian capitalism’s “triumph” at the expense of the indigenous peoples.

This campaign is part of the government’s efforts to whip up White Australian “national pride.” Such patriotic jingoism serves to prepare attacks against the multiracial working class at home while ideologically girding the population to support predatory military expeditions abroad. Today as George Bush rides roughshod over the world, the Australian imperialist military are part of the bloody U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and head up colonial interventions themselves in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. And in doing so they dish out to the peoples of East Timor and their other Pacific neocolonies like Papua New Guinea and Fiji the same hideous oppression meted out to Aboriginal peoples at home.

What is desperately necessary is a fight within the workers movement to combine class-struggle opposition to union-busting attacks with the struggle against racist oppression at home and imperialist marauding abroad. We say: Smash the union-busting attacks on the CFMEU! U.S./Australia out of Iraq! Australian troops/cops out of East Timor, PNG and the Solomon Islands! Asylum rights for refugees! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! For a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights! What is needed is the building of a Leninist party that can direct the many streams of opposition to capitalist injustice into a mighty force for socialist revolution that will sweep away racist bourgeois rule. We of the SL, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), fight for a communist world in which the diversity of human cultures will not be an excuse for contempt and violence, but a source of enrichment.

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