Australasian Spartacist No. 209
ALP Government's War on Refugees Fuels Racist Terror
For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Racist Capitalism!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
In early April, the federal Rudd Labor government suspended the processing of new asylum claims by Sri Lankan and Afghan refugees and signalled its intention to ramp up deportations. Australian Federal Police (AFP) were dispatched to tighten security at the overcrowded Christmas Island detention centre where over 2,000 “illegal” refugees are imprisoned behind razor wire. A week later Rudd reopened the notorious Western Australian Curtin detention centre with the intention of interning those refugees subject to the freeze. Closed in 2002, the brutal conditions in this desert hellhole had previously sparked repeated desperate protests by detainees. We oppose Labor’s mandatory detention policy and demand the closure of the hated detention camps! We say: Asylum for all those fleeing right-wing repression! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all who have made it here!
The government declared it suspended claims because of “changing circumstances” in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, saying it will review the situation in three and six months respectively. This whitewashes the ongoing horrendous brutality inflicted by the imperialists, including Australia, and the neocolonial regimes they support. The imperialist-backed Sinhala-chauvinist Lankan government has waged a decades-long bloody war against the Tamil minority. In the wake of its final murderous offensive last year, which destroyed the remnants of the Tamil mini-state, some 80,000 Tamils reportedly still languish in horrific internment camps. We have long defended the just cause of the oppressed Tamil people and champion their right to self-determination. In Afghanistan, under the banner of the “war on terror,” the escalating bloody imperialist occupation has seen thousands of Afghans maimed and slaughtered. Australian troops are up to their necks in the carnage, including in an attack which killed five children in February 2009. All U.S., NATO, Australian imperialist troops and cops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan!
The xenophobic hysteria beat up over desperate refugees arriving in “Australia’s waters” by boat—risking their lives in dangerous journeys—belies the small numbers overall, a tiny fraction of refugees worldwide. With the bourgeois press screaming about a “great flood” of asylum-seekers and the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, accusing the prime minister of losing control of the country’s borders, Rudd has gloated that his government has deported hundreds of “illegal” immigrants. As the next federal election looms, the Labor government is pushing all the hot buttons, with recent budget outlays of $1.2 billion for “border protection” and $1.9 billion for “national security.” Of Australian imperialist Defence operations, “border protection” rates equal third in the allocation of personnel. Labor ministers declared “Protecting Australia’s borders from threats of terrorism, people smuggling, organised crime...is a top priority for investment by the Rudd government” (Australian Financial Review, 12 May).
Draconian legislation currently in parliament takes aim at “people smugglers” and those who provide material support. Recounting the alarmed response of some lawyers to the legislation, one journalist wrote: “A modern-day Oskar Schindler would be jailed for up [to] 10 years under the Rudd government’s proposed crackdown” (Age, 28 April). The laws will potentially target anyone who aids refugees, including immigrants, community organisations and leftists such as those targeted for arrest in AFP and immigration raids in 2004 (see “Hands Off RAC Activists! Drop the Charges Now!” ASp No. 190, Autumn 2005). Further strengthening repressive “war on terror” laws, the new legislation also expands the powers of ASIO and other spy agencies to conduct phone taps and satellite surveillance. ASIO agents will be able to carry weapons, the overseas spy agency, ASIS, gains new powers to conduct paramilitary operations in other countries, while a new “criminal intelligence fusion centre” will integrate information from the AFP, taxation office, Centrelink and other agencies.
ASIO and ASIS secret police agencies are a threat to ethnic minorities and all workers, unionists and leftists. These agencies exist to subvert, at home and abroad, through provocation and violence, the organisations of the workers and oppressed, and ultimately serve the bourgeois rulers’ efforts to prevent workers revolution. Along with the military, cops, courts and prisons, they are an integral component of the repressive capitalist state apparatus. This state exists to defend the private property and rule of the capitalist class against the workers and oppressed, enforcing exploitation and racist oppression. It cannot be reformed to act in the interest of workers and the oppressed; it must be smashed through socialist revolution and replaced with a workers state.
The capitalist system is based on the brutal exploitation of all labour. The ruling class inflames racial and ethnic hostilities to keep the working class divided and thus hinder class struggle so as to ensure a greater extraction of profit. Just as immigrant workers are brought in during economic booms to provide a source of low-wage labour, the current rise in anti-immigrant attacks worldwide is exacerbated by the global economic crisis and its attendant soaring unemployment. While the Australian capitalist bosses express optimism at having supposedly avoided the worst of the economic crisis, the working masses are being ground down with job casualisations and speed-ups leading to escalating workplace injuries and fatalities. Youth face high levels of unemployment and figure significantly among the tens of thousands that are homeless. Rising numbers of desperate poor face extreme hardship and poverty, from single mothers and their children, to the sick and disabled and elderly. Meanwhile, the military/cop occupation of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory has deepened the brutal oppression of the Aboriginal people. Now the Rudd government is widening the racist quarantining of welfare payments in these communities to all welfare recipients in the Territory and threatens to extend it nationwide.
Amidst this widespread capitalist decay and oppression, which engenders resistance from workers and the oppressed, the ALP government is coming down hard against the unions. Spearheading these attacks is the witchhunting Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) which has become even more aggressive in using its ASIO-style powers to target the CFMEU construction union and militant unionists with state repression. CFMEU member Ark Tribe continues to face a jail term for refusing to attend a compulsory ABCC interrogation. We say: Drop the charges against Ark Tribe! Down with the ABCC and all union-busting! Defend the unions!
Down With Racist Protectionism and Nationalism!
The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is a vital task for the proletarian vanguard. We do not seek to tinker with the capitalist system by advising the bourgeoisie on an alternative immigration policy. Our party’s perspective is to mobilise the multiracial working class in struggle against all the government’s racist immigration laws, from mandatory detention to the wretched ban on immigrants receiving social security benefits. We call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants as part of the struggle to advance the class consciousness and solidarity of the working class, preparing it for the necessary revolutionary fight to end capitalist class rule. Unlocking the social power of the multiracial working class will take a political fight against the current pro-capitalist trade-union misleaders who have shackled the working class to their exploiters, particularly through pushing poisonous protectionism and loyalty to the capitalist state. A particularly grotesque example of such fealty to racist capitalist rule is the Maritime Union of Australia leadership’s backing of the Labor government’s “border protection” measures (see “Full Citizenship Rights For All Immigrants!” ASp No. 207, Summer 2009/10).
At the same time, reflecting the pressure of their multiracial working-class base, some union leaders feel compelled at times to speak out against the excesses of capitalist oppression. Recently twenty unions and organisations, including the ACTU, the peak union body, signed a letter to Kevin Rudd opposing the government’s reopening of the Curtin detention centre, attacks on refugees and the bi-partisan demonisation of asylum seekers. However far from promoting the class interests of the proletariat, the letter rebukes Rudd for forsaking capitalist Australia’s supposed “‘fair-go’ spirit”! This is a Laborite whitewash of racist White Australia capitalism, which was founded on the bloody dispossession of Aborigines and exclusion of “non-whites,” particularly from Asia and the Pacific region! While today Australia is no longer “lily white,” the unabating murderous oppression of Aborigines and incarceration of refugees in detention centres stands precisely in this White Australia tradition. In their letter the union tops promote jingoistic garbage, calling on Rudd to “back the words in our national anthem,” and push illusions in the supposed “humanitarian” credentials of the United Nations (UN), urging the government to uphold its “international obligations.”
Since its inception the UN has been an imperialist den of thieves, their victims and intended victims. From the Korean War to the sanctions imposed on Iraq it has served as a “legal” fig leaf for imperialist slaughter and oppression. The UN-starvation blockade of Iraq leading up to the 2003 imperialist war and occupation killed more than one and a half million Iraqi civilians. In 1999, the Laborite trade-union leaders, with the support of much of the reformist left, aggressively campaigned for Australian imperialist troops to go to East Timor under the UN umbrella. The Australian-led UN occupation there has meant racist state terror and brutal imperialist exploitation. We say: Australian troops/cops out of East Timor and the Solomons!
The precondition for successful working-class struggle against the racist capitalist system is the complete political independence of the proletariat from the capitalist exploiters. But joined at the hip with their Labor Party parliamentary “mates” the union tops act to uphold the capitalist system. The ALP is a bourgeois workers party, thoroughly bourgeois in its program, leadership and outlook while based on the trade unions. In power, the state and federal Labor governments administer the capitalist state in the interests of Australian capitalism.
Last year the Victorian Labor premier, John Brumby, utilised a surge of murderous terror against Indian students, centred in Melbourne, to beef up police numbers and increase their powers. As Brumby and police spokesmen sought to deny that racism was endemic to the attacks, the cops meted out severe repression against Indian students who mobilised to protest the terror (see “Racist Terror Sparks Indian Student Protests” ASp No. 206, Spring 2009). Later it was revealed that police were circulating homophobic and racist emails including an image depicting the torture of an immigrant. No aberration, similar racist practices were exposed in the military in 2007, while in 2000 soldiers at a Townsville military base dressed up as fascist Ku Klux Klan members and humiliated non-white soldiers. Meanwhile the many reports of terrifying police violence against African immigrant youth in Melbourne point to the terror that immigrants and indigenous people routinely suffer at the hands of the vicious Australian capitalist state.
Fascists Feed Off Rudd Government Racism
The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim xenophobia whipped up under the ALP government’s nationalist “border protection” and “war on terror” frenzy has fuelled racist attacks on the streets against immigrants and Aboriginal people, such as Kwementyaye Ryder, bashed to death in Alice Springs last year by five white thugs. Concomitantly, the racist climate has emboldened fascistic outfits such as the Australian Protectionist Party (APP), who spew vile filth, blaming Africans, Muslims and immigrants for unemployment, crime and a myriad of social problems that are the product of the decaying capitalist system. An 11 April APP rally attacking refugee rights outside Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre was predictably protected by the cops who blocked 150 anti-racist, pro-refugee protesters from marching to where the APP were gathered. Just days earlier, on 9 April, when white-supremacists threatened to stage an “action against immigration and Islam” in central Melbourne they were met with a counter-mobilisation of some 300 anti-racist protesters, including unionists and leftists. The handful of skinheads and other thugs who showed up didn’t dare carry out their provocation—a good thing!
Fascists pose a deadly threat to immigrants and minorities as well as the organisations of the working class. Thriving in the mass poverty, nationalism and racism bred by capitalism, they are paramilitary shock troops of all-sided reaction; the last line of defence of the bourgeoisie against working-class struggle. Crushing the fascists while they are small is a life and death question for the labour movement, not least its increasingly strategic immigrant component. We call for union/minority mobilisations to stop fascist provocations. As we explain in our programmatic statement: “Under revolutionary leadership, such mobilisations can provide a bridge between the felt need for self-defence and the historic need to end the threat of fascism by sweeping away the capitalist system through workers revolution” (“For a Workers Republic of Australia, Part of a Socialist Asia!”, 1998).
However, instead of this proletarian-centred perspective to crush the fascists, the unsigned flyer building the 9 April Melbourne counter protest appealed for all to “Unite Against Racism” in a respectable “peaceful show of support,” declaring Melbourne an “egalitarian” city! Egalitarian! What an amnesty of racist capitalism! Not only has the city witnessed escalating attacks on overseas students and police violence against dark-skinned immigrants, but when unions organised a mass picket of the West Gate Bridge construction project in 2009, hundreds of police were arrayed against picketers and their supporters and the unions were subsequently hit with more than $1 million in fines. Capturing the liberal, class-collaborationist framework of the reformists, Socialist Alternative (SAlt) reported on the “Unite Against Racism” rally noting how they protested together with trade-union tops, the bourgeois Greens and religious leaders to “help make it clear that fascists and racists are not welcome” and not once mentioned class, capitalism or the fight for socialism.
For a Revolutionary Proletarian Perspective
In the 2007 federal elections, SAlt, Socialist Alliance and the International Socialist Organisation (now Solidarity) all called for a vote to the capitalist Greens as a means to pressure the Labor Party, which they above all wanted to see elected to government. For purported socialists to call for a vote to any capitalist party is outright class treachery! Upholding the principle of class independence from the capitalist rulers and their parties, we said: “No vote to the bourgeois Greens!” Declaring the elections a bipartisan war on the working class and oppressed we also called for “No vote to the ALP!” Our 2007 election statement told the bitter truth that Rudd’s ALP stood “openly committed to delivering more anti-union attacks, strong state repression and militarism.” Putting forward the need to break with Laborism, we called for “a revolutionary workers party to lead a class-struggle fight against racist capitalism!”
With the ALP government ratcheting up its war against workers and the oppressed on behalf of the capitalist rulers some union leaders are pushing support to the Greens, a dead end that ties workers to the capitalist class. Posturing to the left, the reformist Socialist Alternative have lately taken to criticising the Greens for supposedly abandoning “progressive stances on war, racism and workers’ rights” (www.sa.org.au, 12 April). What a crock! SAlt prettify the history of this capitalist party in order to cover for their grovelling vote to them in the 2007 elections.
Notwithstanding their opposition to mandatory detention, the bourgeois Greens have for years helped whip up nationalist fervour through targeting “foreign ownership” and promoting “self reliance.” Today they help foster the nationalist, anti-immigrant backlash by calling to cut Australia’s immigration intake in order to keep Australia’s population sustainable! Similarly, when Greens leader Bob Brown stated last July that his only “opposition” to Australian troops in Afghanistan was that they ought to be “retained for use within our region” he was merely reasserting a long-held Greens’ position. Supporting the Australian imperialist military occupations from East Timor to the Solomons, the Greens have always been determinedly committed to the Australian capitalist system and its repressive state.
A real fight for immigrant rights in this country will only begin when the workers struggle based on their common interests as a class. Mobilising the social power of the trade unions to defend immigrants and minorities requires a political struggle against the Laborite nationalist and pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy. This means the fight for a revolutionary leadership in the unions. Such a leadership will be part of a multiracial proletarian Leninist vanguard party, the indispensable instrument for leading the working class, at the head of all the oppressed, in its historic task of sweeping away the racist capitalist system through proletarian revolution and replacing it with an international planned economy under workers rule.