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Hands off the Solomons!

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Most of the media coverage of recent events in the Solomon Islands has focused on the sensational details of riot and disorder: burning buildings, beaten-up cops, and looted shops have all been paraded across our screens. Explanations of the reasons for the riots in Honiara have been hard to find. Some commentators like Russell Brown have resorted to racist stereotypes of an uncontrollable ‘communalist’ people; others like the NZ Herald’s Audrey Young have ventured the slightly more sophisticated opinion that the riots were caused by resentment of Chinese and Taiwanese interference in Solomons politics

It’s about imperialism

Missing from the mainstream media has been any sort of account of the role that the United States, Britain and their South Pacific deputy sheriffs Australia and New Zealand, have played in creating and maintaining the manifold problems of Solomon Islands society. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has faced various criticisms of its handling of the riots, but no one has suggested that the Mission and the regional powers that back it are part of the Solomons’ problems, not their solution.

When mainly Australian and New Zealand troops occupied the Solomons under the banner of RAMSI in 2003 the country was in the grip of a crisis that had been manufactured in the offices of the International Monetary Fund. Under pressure from the Australian and New Zealand governments, the Solomons government had implemented IMF ‘reforms’ that devastated its economy and profoundly destabilised its society.

After gaining independence from Britain in 1977, the Solomons found itself with a primitive infrastructure and an economy fashioned by the selfishness of colonialism that preferred plunder to sustainable economic development. Always heavily dependent on the prices it could get for exports of its raw materials, in particular timber and gold, the Solomons economy took a big hit when the ‘Asian flu’ of 1997 led to a drop in demand in its key export markets. In 1998 alone, the GDP of the country declined by 10%.

Pressured by Britain, Australia, and the US, the government of Bartholomew Ulufa’alu responded by implementing a programme of drastic economic ‘reforms’ drawn up by the International Monetary Fund. The country’s currency was devalued by 20%, and hundreds of public employees were sacked. Conflict between the country’s different ethnic groups followed, and at the beginning of 2000 a coup put Ulufa’alu into ‘protective custody’. Continuing violence left the country’s economy in ruins.

Instead of admitting the role that IMF policies had played in the collapse of the Solomons, the Howard government in Canberra used the chaos in its neighbour to demand even more brutal ‘reforms’ as the price of humanitarian aid. In November 2002 the government of Sir Allan Kemakeza began a new programme of spending and job cuts, sacking a third of public sector employees. Even worse, Kemakeza was forced to cede control of his government’s Finance Ministry to Lloyd Powell, the Australian head of a New Zealand-based multinational company called Solomon Leonard. At a conference held in Honiara in June 2002, the IMF had demanded Powell’s appointment as Permanent Secretary of Finance as the price of any new financial aid to the Solomons.

The second round of IMF reforms had predictable consequences. Even rudimentary health and education services collapsed in the slums of Honiara and in the provinces; power blackouts became frequent even in the capital; law and order broke down as police and judges went unpaid; and competition for scarce government funds renewed conflict between ethnic groups.

Howard rides in as US deputy sheriff

By the middle of 2003 it was clear that the reform of the Solomons economy by imperialism could only take place at gunpoint. The Howard government had become the US’s most loyal ally in the Asia-Pacific region, having just participated in the invasion of Iraq. Proclaiming the Solomons a ‘failed state’ that like Iraq could become a base for terrorists and the cause of regional instability, Australia organised a force of 2,500 troops to occupy the country.

The real reason for the invasion was two-fold. In the first place, Australia and New Zealand feared that the chaos in the Solomons could damage their own economies, by ruining the many Australian companies that do business in the islands. In the second place, the Howard government’s masters in Washington had become alarmed that the government of the Solomons might turn either to China or to France for aid money and help restoring security. With colonies in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, France still maintains a strong presence in the Pacific, and early in 2003 it had offered military aid to the Solomons government. Neither the US nor Australia wanted to see an expansion of French influence in an region they considered their own backyard. After the formation of RAMSI was announced in July 2003 the French offered troops for the force, but were brusquely turned down by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

With its economy booming, China is seeking energetically to expand its influence in the Pacific. The country’s drive to build trade and diplomatic ties has become particularly urgent since the government of Taiwan began using ‘chequebook diplomacy’ to bribe small countries with votes in the UN and similar international bodies to recognise the government in Taipei rather than the government in Beijing. With its view of China as an emerging rival superpower and potential medium-term military foe, the Bush government was concerned by the possibility of increased Chinese involvement in the Solomons. 

NZ follows as the Deputy’s Dog

The government of New Zealand had extra reasons of its own for involving itself in the occupation of the Solomons. After tacking away from Australia and the US by siding with France and China over the invasion of Iraq, the Clark government was desperate to assuage anger in Canberra and Washington by proving that it could ‘play ball’ in the South Pacific. In addition to making up with its old allies, the Labour government believed that it could moderate the unilateralist tendencies of Australia and the US. Clark and her Foreign Minister Phil Goff trumpeted the multinational makeup of RAMSI and the consent of the Kemakeza government to RAMSI’s intervention as triumphs of multinationalism over the ‘Iraq approach’. In reality, the RAMSI force was dominated by Australia, and the Kemakeza government had already been stripped of most of its ability to make independent decisions. The Australian government treated the vote of the Solomons’ parliament as a fait accompli: it had dispatched some 2,000 troops to Honiara before the vote had even been taken.

In the two and three quarter years it has occupied the Solomons the RAMSI force has made it abundantly clear that it acts on behalf of the Pacific’s big states and international capital, not on behalf of the people of the Solomons. Like the army occupying Iraq, RAMSI’s soldiers are exempted from prosecution or even investigation under Solomons law. They have authority over the Solomons’ own police force. Soon after landing in the Solomons RAMSI had begun making sweeping arrests – by the anniversary of the occupation it had detained 700 people, most of whom had not faced any sort of trial. In August 2004 eighty prisoners of RAMSI staged a rebellion at Rove Prison in Honiara. After breaking out of their cells and overpowering guards, the prisoners shouted slogans condemning their inhuman treatment’. Most had been held in solitary confinement for a year. Despite the protest, hundreds of people are still detained without trial in the Solomons.

RAMSI has also felt free to intimidate the population of the Solomons and over-rule the country’s government whenever it has felt the interests of international capital have been threatened. In March 2004, for instance, the Solomons’ remaining public sector workers voted to stage a national strike to demand a pay rise. In an effort to avert a strike, the Solomons government announced a meagre increase of 2.5%. RAMSI’s response was swift: the head of the Solomon Islands Public Employees Union was summoned by RAMSI staff to the Australian embassy, where he was warned that he was ‘destabilising’ the country. Shortly afterwards a RAMSI representative handed the same union leader a written warning that if he did not revoke the pay claim Australian aid to the Solomons would be suspended. Eventually the union capitulated.

Riots legacy of imperialism 

The riots that have destroyed large parts of Honiara in the past week can only be understood against the backdrop of the history of imperialism’s exploitation of the Solomons. The underdevelopment left by British colonialism has been exacerbated by brutal IMF policies which Australia and New Zealand have shown themselves prepared to implement at the point of a gun.

The rioters have accused Taiwanese and Chinese businessmen and diplomats of interfering with the electoral process by bribing key politicians, and condemned the new Prime Minister Snyder Rini as corrupt. But it is imperialism and RAMSI’s occupation of the Solomons which has created the environment for such corruption. The arbitrary, arrogant, and self-interested behaviour of RAMSI has created an atmosphere in which corruption can flourish. IMF policies and RAMSI occupation have greatly weakened the institutions of the Solomons state and cowed the trade unions, which might have acted as watchdogs against corruption. The Chinese and Taiwanese dealmakers and chequebook diplomats have stepped into the economic vacuum created by the failure of IMF policies and Australasian businesses to deliver prosperity.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have responded to the riots in Honiara by sending more troops to prop up RAMSI. Alexander Downer expressed the contempt of the Howard government and RAMSI for the sovereignty of the Solomons when he said last week that:

“The situation there is inherently unstable and our police will have to remain there for a long time to come and we will have to be prepared from time to time to send in military reinforcements if it’s necessary just as it is at the moment.”

Campaign for Australian and New Zealand forces to be withdrawn from the Solomons just as we call for their immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Written by raved

January 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

Civil War threatens in East Timor, Australian and New Zealand troops out of East Timor!

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East Timor is on the brink of civil war, after a revolt by rank and file soldiers and a series of bloody attacks on protesters by police. This is the direct result of US imperialism’s role, backed by its local sheriffs, Australia and New Zealand, in suppressing East Timor’s struggle for independence since it conspired in the Indonesian coup of General Suhato in 1965.

Police kill rebels and civilians

On February the 8th nearly six hundred soldiers – a third of the army – went on strike by walking out of their barracks. Most of the rebel soldiers come from the Loromonu ethnic group in the West of the country. They have complained of brutal treatment by commanders, poor pay, and poor living conditions. They have also been bitterly critical of East Timor’s police force, accusing it of widespread human rights abuses and links with pro-Indonesian militias.

On the 16th of March the government of Mari Alkatori sacked the rebels en masse, but the protests did not end. On April the 28th the rebels marched on the capital, determined to win reinstatement and have their grievances heard by Alkatari and President Xanana Gusmao. The march was joined by thousands of unemployed Dili youths shouting anti-government slogans. When the march reached the offices of the Prime Minister in the centre of the city police opened fire on it, killing six people and prompting the youths to begin a riot that saw one hundred buildings burnt down or vandalised. The rebel soldiers fled the city, pursued by police. The World Socialist Website has received a report that one rebel was shot along with his two sons on the outskirts of the city. Two female relatives of the slain men were also reportedly murdered when they attempted to recover the bodies of their loved ones. Twenty thousand civilians fled Dili in the wake of the violence of April the 28th.

The rebels have regrouped and established a zone under their control in East Timor’s mountainous interior. They have been joined by sympathisers carrying arms and by many members of East Timor’s military police. On May the 5th the rebels issued a declaration which threatened attacks on Dili and other towns. On May the 9th a thousand of their supporters surrounded the police station at Gleno, a town outside Dili. After stones were thrown the police opened fire on the demonstation, killing one person and injuring thirty.

Australian and NZ to intervene

The violence in East Timor has alarmed the governments of Australia and New Zealand. John Howard and his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer have both suggested that Australian troops may have to return to East Timor in large numbers, and on the 5th of May New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters echoed their sentiments. Australia has already boosted the size of the skeleton UN force in Dili from 90 to 200, in response to a request from East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

The East Timorese government has characterised the rebel soldiers and their supporters as ‘terrorists’ bent on ‘undermining democracy’, but the country’s opposition politicians tell another story. Angela Feitas, who plans to run for President against Gusmao in the elections scheduled for next year, has blamed the government for the crisis, and said that ‘Right now, it’s worse [than it was] during the 1999 referendum [on independence]’.

The bloodshed and chaos in East Timor these past few weeks must have come as a rude shock to many New Zealanders. Over the past few years politicians and the media have turned East Timor into a sort of modern fairytale story. According to this story, Australia and New Zealand liberated the defenceless little country from Indonesian occupation in 1999 out of sheer benevolence. Since 1999, East Timor has supposedly been an island of democracy and peace, a positive example for the rest of the Third World. The reality is that the current crisis in East Timor is the direct result of 1999’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

After wholeheartedly supporting Indonesia’s genocidal occupation of East Timor for nearly a quarter of a century, the US and its South Pacific deputy sheriffs in Canberra and Wellington did a U turn near the end of 1999. By then it had become clear that Indonesia would be unable to retain control of East Timor much longer. Decades of guerrilla warfare and the weakening of the Indonesian state after the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship in 1997 had made East Timor impossible to govern from Jakarta.

The US and its allies had supported the invasion of 1975 because they were worried about the emergence of an uncooperative government in East Timor. Their concern had returned in 1999. The Timor Strait which separates East Timor and Australia contains rich deposits of oil and gas, and in 1989 Australia had signed a deal with Indonesia that had allowed it to begin exploiting these deposits. The Howard government did not want to see this lucrative operation jeopardised by a nationalistic East Timorese government. Australia and the US were also worried by the possibility that an East Timorese government might encourage the secessionist war being fought in West Papua, another territory Indonesia had acquired illegitimately.

But the US, Australia and New Zealand soon found that the leaders of Fretelin, East Timor’s main pro-independence movement, were more than ready to listen to their concerns. In the 1970s, Fretelin icons like Gusmao and Ramos-Horta had been anti-imperialists who espoused a mixture of radical Catholicism and Marxism; by the end of the ’90s, though, they had long since become believers in free market capitalism and collaboration with the US and its allies. Ramos-Horta had spent years travelling the world trying to enlist Western support for the East Timorese cause, always emphasising the ‘reasonableness’ and ‘moderation’ of Fretelin. (In recent years, Foreign Minister Ramos-Horta has been an outspoken supporter of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.)

Fretelin betrays independence struggle

At the beginning of September 1999, Indonesian-backed militia launched attacks on civilians across East Timor in the aftermath of a referendum on independence. The militia were far weaker than the regular Indonesian army, which had mostly withdrawn from East Timor in the lead-up to the referendum. Many militiamen lacked military training and used homemade weapons. Fretelin’s armed wing Falintil could easily have defeated these amateur soldiers, but Gusmao and Ramos-Horta had ensured that Falintil troops were barracked deep in the countryside, away from major population centres. Falintil fighters who wanted to march on Dili and smash the militia there were disarmed and disciplined on the orders of the Fretelin leadership. Fretelin’s strategy was to sacrifice East Timorese civilians to the anti-independence militia, in order to generate international sympathy and help push the US and Australia to organise an armed intervention.

In Australia and New Zealand, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the slaughter taking place in East Timor. In Australia, trade unions took industrial action against Indonesia’s national airline and a number of other businesses linked to the government in Jakarta. In September 1999 Auckland was hosting the annual APEC summit of Asia and Pacific leaders; a handful of Fretelin politicians flew into the city to lead demonstrations. In a backroom meeting at the APEC summit in downtown Auckland, Bill Clinton, John Howard, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley were already organising an armed intervention force that would operate under a UN mandate.

The vast majority of those demonstrating in solidarity with East Timor supported Fretelin’s call for UN intervention in the country. Australia’s most popular left-wing paper, the Green Left Weekly, demanded that John Howard organise a force to occupy the island; the trade unions of Australia and New Zealand echoed this call. Only a few small Marxist groups opposed the intervention and pointed out the strategy Fretelin leaders were employing.

Imperialist occupation leads to today’s rebellion

Many East Timorese welcomed the troops that landed under the UN’s banner in October 1999. But the reality of the occupation soon set in. The mainly Australian and New Zealand troops had come to ensure the submission of an independent East Timor, and to safeguard Australia’s interests in the Timor Strait. Tens of millions of dollars worth of military material was poured into East Timor, but relatively little humanitarian aid arrived. Many East Timorese resented the arrogance of the new occupying force, which was not subject to any local control.

In December 1999, UN troops and East Timorese police opened fire on a march through Dili by unemployed workers, killing several people and sparking a series of riots (the photo at the bottom of this post shows an Australian soldier standing guard over a detainee in the aftermath of one of the riots). Over the next few years Dili would see more riots, as the reality of the new order the UN force had established became ever clearer. On December the 4th 2002, for instance, two Dili students were killed after a protest against police and UN brutality was fired on and turned into a riot. By December 2002 it was clear to many East Timorese that their country’s formal independence masked domination by Australia and New Zealand. Australia continued to exploit the oil and gas of the Timor Strait, but paid the East Timorese government only $130 million in royalties every year. In May 2005 Australian control of the Strait was cemented by a one-sided deal which saw the East Timorese agreeing not to stake territorial claims to previously-disputed areas of seabed for sixty years.

With only a trickle of money coming from the Timor Strait, East Timor remains very poor. The UN estimates that per capita income is $370 a year, and falling. Unemployment stands at sixty percent. It is not surprising that the extreme poverty caused by imperialist superexploitation has led to widespread dissatisfaction. But even before the soldiers’ strike, the East Timorese government had been in the habit of responding to opposition with threats and repression, not dialogue. Under the rule of Fretelin, the East Timorese police force has become almost as feared as the Indonesian army of occupation once was. A Human Rights Watch Report released in April accused the police of torture, rape, and the murder of opponents of the government.

Imperialist troops out of East Timor!
When we consider the recent history of East Timor, it is easy to see why the soldiers’ rebellion has attracted the support of many people outside the military. The soldiers’ complaints of poor pay, poor living conditions, and police abuses are complaints that many East Timorese share. The big military-civilian protest which was so brutally repressed on April the 28th showed the level of popular anger with the regime of Gusmao and Alkatari. That regime and its backers in Canberra and Wellington may yet try to crush the rebellion by deploying thousands of Anzac troops across East Timor in a re-run of 1999. The Australasian left must learn from the mistake it made then, and refuse to support any new imperialist adventure in East Timor.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Written by raved

January 8, 2012 at 10:25 am

Australian Green Left Roots

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In Class Struggle # 60 we criticised the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspectives’ cheerleading for Chavez. We print a rejoinder by one of its members and our reply [see ‘Venezuela and the Cuban Road to Socialism’.]  As we point out the DSP is aligned to the Castroites who are influential in the World Social Forum and play a treacherous role in the mass struggles in Latin America (see next post on Bolivia in this issue). It also has some influence on some reformist currents in Aotearoa/NZ, and may be the model for a future ‘socialist alliance’ between between the SWO and Matt McCarten. To expose the treacherous role of this organisation today we print here a short history of the DSP by the Communist Left of Australia which traces its degeneration from a self-declared Trotskyist group in the 1960s to its present pro-Stalinist, pro-Castroist position as the ‘Democratic Socialist Perspectives’ inside the Australian Socialist Alliance. It is a sorry tale.

Origins in the ‘Fourth International’

The origins of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia go right back to a split in the post-war self-claimed ‘Fourth International’ between the majority United Secretariat, and those who supported Michel Pablo known as the International Marxist Tendency. In Australia the majority led by Nick Origlass, supported the IMT. The Australian United Secretariat supporters led by Bob Gould and Ian MacDougall split in 1965 and put out the magazine called Socialist Perspectives.

Whilst there was an organisational break with Pablo over political questions, both groupings had the same fundamental methodology. In Pablo’s ‘new world reality’ history was seen as an inevitible process that would revolutionise reformist, stalinist and even bourgeois nationalist parties. Therefore both sides of this split no longer saw the need to build independent Trotskyist parties.

Both groupings were thoroughly loyal to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) practicing long term entry work (deep entrism). John and Jim Percy, foundation leaders of the Democratic Socialist Party, were then Sydney University campus radicals in the Labor Club. They were recruited by those who produced Socialist Perspectives. Eventually they were to win ideological hegemony over the Sydney University Labor club.

The grouping around Socialist Perspectives, founded the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament which became the Vietnam Action Committee when Australia entered the Vietnam War. Its leader was Bob Gould. For the next few years a number of youth and student fronts were formed centred around their bookshop, the ‘Third World Bookshop’, which became an activist centre.

Inside this group there were differences over organisation. The Percy brothers were known for their belief in strong centralised organisation. On the other hand, the ‘New Leftists’ very influential at the time, opposed organisation, equating it with bureaucracy. New left meetings were often chaotic and bureaucratic (lacking structure certain stronger members tended to dominate). The older Trotskyists (MacDougall and Gould) were fearful that a more defined organisation would threaten their long-term entryism in the ALP.

Their youth group Resistance became very successful, organising high school students against the war and the Student Underground. During 1968 there was a significant growth in activity and membership. They also received a degree of notoriety because of their support for the NLF in Vietnam and with their booklet How Not to Join the Army. The ‘Third World Bookshop’ was raided by the police.

A number of splits occurred over organisational issues. The most significant of these being in 1970 was with Bob Gould who opposed Resistance being defined by political demands. Gould split away taking with him about one third of the membership. Both supported protest movements and an orientation to the Labor Party. The real difference was priority. This is shown by their support for Bob Gould as Socialist Left delegate to the 1971 Federal ALP Conference. In NSW the Percy group won hegemonic control over the Socialist Left within the Labor Party which never grew (in NSW) significantly beyond the radical left.

Bob Gould claimed the Third World Bookshop as his property because he was the legal owner and put in more money than others. The Percy majority pointed out that the Third World Bookshop was established as a bookshop for Resistance and Bob was in the minority. Within six months, Gould had lost most of his supporters to the variant of the so-called “Fourth International” called the International Committee led internationally by Gerry Healy.

Out of all this the Percy grouping renamed itself as the Socialist Youth Alliance and emerged as politically coherent with a strong organisational framework. They then formed the Socialist Workers League. They published a colourful and strident newspaper called Direct Action. Each issue came out in a different colour. They had the full support of the Socialist Workers Party of the US (SWP-US). John Percy had been to the USA. Barry Shepherd SWP-US leader had visited Australia. Allen Myers, an antiwar GI, migrated to Australia and joined their ranks.

Vietnam War

Now being fully aligned with the SWP-US, they took on its theoretical heritage, such as Cuba being considered a healthy workers state. The SWP-US was an ex-Trotskyist party in total degeneration. It adapted to bourgeois liberalism in the anti-war movement and Castroism in Cuba. Castro, they argued was an ‘unconscious Trotskyist’.

The priority of SYA became the Moratorium against the Vietnam War. They fought for a coherent single-issue one-point programme: ‘Out Now!’ They opposed calls for ‘peace’ or ‘negotiations’. They opposed the Moratorium being based around support for the National Liberation Front.

They opposed any orientation to draft resistance or against conscription. They opposed the slogan “stop work to stop the war” arguing that this underestimated the strength of the protest movement. They supported strong centralised and regular marches and opposed decentralised ones. They opposed the Vietnam Moratorium becoming multi-issue.

Their opposition to the ‘solidarity with the NLF’ slogan came from both the right and left. For revolutionaries, the point of internationalist solidarity is to sharpen the struggle against ‘ones own’ country by calling for its military defeat. This the SYA didn’t do. They deliberately avoided taking a military stand in what was an imperialist war with the conscious purpose of mobilising as broadly as possible. According to SYA ‘theory’, which they still agree with today, the might of numbers i.e. public opinion, forces governments to act. This they counter-posed to direct action by the working class. Their strategy amounted to populism and public opinion. Bourgeois forces were welcomed as part of the mass movement. This apparently was “their contradiction and not ours”.

They sounded left when they opposed the strategy of the Vietcong, correctly identifying this strategy as stalinist. They made the link between Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country and the NLF call for peace talks. Of course class struggle anti-imperialist solidarity must mean a break from Stalinism. But the SYA opposed identification with Stalinism as it might scare off bourgeois liberal antiwar opponents and narrow the movement. This is a right wing opposition to the ‘solidarity with the NLF’ demand. They have since changed their analysis and now consider the NLF to be Leninists who pursued a revolutionary strategy.
From class struggle to protest politics

SYA adhered to the theory of neo-capitalism. According to this theory capitalist crises are over, and issues such as alienation were now more relevant in creating a revolutionary dynamic. In the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies in prosperous Australia, radical middle class people were concerned about many ‘quality of life’ issues. SYA were active around issues such as high school students’ rights, the environment, women’s liberation, gay liberation, anti-racism, anti-censorship etc.

In all these issues they pursued the same method — mass action around single-issue demands. They were, seen as conservatives, especially during the mass movement against the South African racist Springbok rugby tour. Virtually everyone else involved supported physical disruption of that tour.

In short, SYA were a Labor Party loyal league with a minimalist programme oriented to radical middle class protest politics.

In 1972, the economic crisis hit. Class issues came to the forefront. The Liberals moved some reactionary anti-working class legislation known as the ‘Lynch Laws’ bringing about an upsurge of militancy in the metal industry, the ‘movement for workers control’. This resistance continued after the Whitlam-led ALP was elected in November ’72. During this upsurge of working class struggle the SWL were basically irrelevant. A group of Ernest Mandel supporters left its ranks no doubt itching to get involved in class struggle as opposed to student protests. They constituted themselves as the Communist League.

Communist League

A key issue in the split was what attitude to take to the ALP. In his recently published book John Percy has suggested that the difference was merely a tactical one of formulating their critical support. However if one reads SWL leader Jim McIlroy in his commentary on the 1974 Federal election, it is very clear that the SWL considered voting Labor to be a matter of principle, as opposed to tactics, since Labor was the working class party to be supported despite its leadership.

During the Whitlam years the SWL may have abstained from the militant working class struggle, but there was plenty of student and mass movement activism for them to build their league. They formed the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign, a single issue campaign. They were prominent in defending the Palestinians in resolutions debated within the Australian Union of Students. They recruited some from the Communist Party of Australia – Dr Gordon Adler being the most prominent. But basically, they consolidated their organisation. In the climate of militancy during that period they were considered conservatives within the left. The Communist League described their paper as ‘The Women’s Weekly of the Australian revolutionary left’.

They entered into many significant debates with the CPA Stalinists on international issues such as Chile, Portugal and Vietnam.

The 1975 Federal Election saw them stand candidates for the first time. They have stood in almost every election since. Previously they were known to have opposed standing for parliament on principle, arguing that it was a barrier to their fight against the Labor leadership. The ’75 election occurred after the sacking of Whitlam by governor General Sir John Kerr and his replacement with an interim Fraser government. Working class militancy and anger was immense. The left were extremely active. Of all the left groups the SWL was the least involved with the justifiable anger felt within the working class. They made a splash with prominent and colourful posters around protest issues (Women’s, gay and black rights) calling for a Labor government pledged to socialist policies. This, in a situation were a revolutionary general strike was being seriously and widely demanded.

In February ’76 they renamed themselves the Socialist Workers Party. Of course this spelt out that they were to have a prominent presence outside the ALP. But they were still liquidationist. A few years later Bob Gould was to point out that ‘supporters of Direct Action were virtually indistinguishable from the official Left in NSW Young Labor, the Radical Leadership Group’. Gould at least had a faction which demanded ‘socialist policies’ (of the reformist variety). The RLG and therefore ‘supporters of Direct Action’ did not!
‘Turn to the workers’

As with their US comrades, the 1976 conference announced a ‘turn to the working class’ They argued that this is necessary due to intensified class struggle. There was no objective reason the turn to the working class was any more warranted in ‘76 as it was in ‘73 or ‘74. In fact the working class of ‘76 was more on the defensive. But the Australians turned basically out of loyalty to the US SWP.

By renaming themselves as a party and their turn to the working class, the SWP did form a sort of pole of attraction among sections of the far left. They won over some former members of the syndicalist Melbourne Revolutionary Marxists and some former CPA members. They were on the road to winning back those who split to form the Communist League which was seen to be failing in its efforts to build an organisation,

They were still strongly involved in protest politics. In the Timor Moratorium movement and the anti-uranium movement they intervened as they did against the Vietnam War. They had a single-issue broad populist approach. From these movements they recruited. But they didn’t recruit from the movement for civil liberties in Queensland. They opposed marching for the ‘right to march’ because it was against the law even when large sections of the labor bureaucracy were marching. Once again they were considered conservatives on the left.

The turn to the working class was unsuccessful in terms of results for effort. The ex-student radicals joined the unions to form rank-and-file oppositions. While a few militants were won the class composition did not significantly change. And in no union were they a serious left pole of attraction. On the whole they opposed economic protectionism but sometimes made opportunist adaptations to link up with militants who were protectionist (Victorian Builders’ Union for example). In Wollongong they were controversial for standing against the official rank and file dominated by the CPA. For this they got a hostile reception and were disowned by almost the whole of the Wollongong left.

But they did have some ideological influence on the left. This resulted from the CPA Stalinists rabid turn to the right. In the major unions where the CPA had significant influence, the perspective of workers control of the early ‘seventies was replaced by overt class collaborationist protectionism. The CPA promoted all sorts of ‘Peoples’ Economic Programmes’ (PEP) basically to get the government to ‘save manufacturing’. The logic of this was the selling-out of class struggle, as the bureaucrats did with the Prices and Incomes Accord which they negotiated before Bob Hawke came to power.

The SWP was a pole of attraction because they were the most prominent opponents of the stalinist social patriotic schemas promoted by the “left” union bureaucrats, supported by large sections of the rank and file and sections of the academic left. However the SWP had an analysis which did not correspond to the reality of Australian capitalism. For the SWP, there was no fundamental restructuring away from manufacturing to mining nor any significant intervention by foreign capital. The reality was that during the ‘seventies, ‘eighties and ‘nineties whole sections of manufacturing collapsed, including shipbuilding, the car industry, white goods and the BHP steelworks in Newcastle. In short, because of their failure to understand the dynamics of Australian capitalism, their heartfelt desire to oppose both protectionism and class collaboration lacked credibility, especially in the eyes of trade union militants.

The Communist League shared a roughly similar analysis and there was joint work in opposition to the PEP. This facilitated their reunification. The Communist League were instructed to rejoin by leaders of the United Secretariat such as Ernest Mandel.

The formal break with Trotskyism

Subjective revolutionaries joined the SWP because they perceived the need for a numerically strong party which identified with Trotskyism (irrespective of its flaws). Many were purged by the Percy leadership whose lesson from their previous CL experience was to deal with potential troublemakers. But some remained as members. But what these leftists were joining was a party collapsing into Stalinism at a rapid rate of knots. With every crisis of Stalinism that occurred during the next twenty years, the SWP took one step further in a Stalinist direction.

In 1979 there was a third Indochina war when Vietnam invaded Pol Pot’s Kampuchea and China invaded Vietnam. The SWP justified their pro-Vietnamese line by suddenly discovering that Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge was ‘state capitalist’. This convenient analysis meant they were not seen as endorsing an invasion of one post-capitalist state by another. But in no way did it square with reality. The ‘capitalist’ Khmer Rouge had even abolished money!

When the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan, they endorsed the invasion more enthusiastically than their US comrades.

SWP Australia was formed in solidarity with SWP-US and therefore considered Cuba a healthy workers state. But on the whole Cuba had been a low priority for the Australian comrades. With the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, this was to change. The SWP Australia became their uncritical cheerleaders. The popular governments in Nicaragua and Grenada were hailed for ‘following the Cuban road’. They defended the Sandinistas maintenance of capitalism and their repression of the revisionist Trotskyist Simon Bolivar Brigade.

The SWP-US was also enthusiastic, uncritically hailing these revolutions and their leaderships. They also made a reassessment of Trotskyism, consciously breaking from it. But the Australian SWP went even further along the Stalinist road than the North Americans did.

For the Australian SWP, Castro was not an ‘unconsciousness Trotskyist’ but a ‘conscious Leninist’. Trotskyism, they now argued, was a sectarian deviation from Leninism. They repeated the Stalinist slander that Trotsky ‘underestimated the peasantry’. Basically they were arguing for a Stalinist strategy for the third world. One leading SWP member at their Social Rights Conference argued that if Trotsky’s line had been pursued, the Chinese revolution would never have been won!

The Australian SWP then reassessed their analysis of the Vietnamese revolution. The Vietnamese Stalinists too became ‘conscious Leninists’. In doing this they stabbed in the back the very significant Trotskyist movement that had a strong base amongst the Vietnamese proletariat. They rehashed the same Stalinist slanders which they had refuted when argued by Denis Freney, the notorious Pabloite who became a Stalinist. They have since established friendly relations with the Vietnamese Workers’ Party and invite speakers from the Vietnamese Embassy to their conferences.

Of course this blatant turn to Stalinism led to a break not only from the SWP-US, but from the United Secretariat which they considered a roadblock to their efforts to regroup third world Stalinists. Here there is a clear logic. If the Sandinistas, Castroites etc. are revolutionary, then why have a Fourth International? Mandel and Co could not junk the old Trotskyism, or rather identification with Trotsky, so easily. So the SWP liquidated the fundamental class line between Trotskyism and Stalinism. As a result of this international break, Australian supporters of the United Secretariat and of Sean Matgamna (now called Workers Liberty) left the SWP.

Bloc with Stalinist Socialist Party of Australia

Internationally the SWP was pursuing alliances with left Stalinists. In Australia, they looked for an alliance with the pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia (now called Communist Party of Australia). There was no way that the SPA would abandon support for Stalin, nor the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union or Poland (the SWP supported Solidarnosc), but there was some basis for unity.

The organisation called CPA at the time was heading to the right rapidly. And many SPA trade union officials were joining in. The logic of CPA strategy was to make an alliance with the Hawke government called the Prices and Incomes Accord. Under the Accord workers sacrificed wages and conditions in exchange for minor reforms which workers would normally expect from a Labor government anyway. The Accord divided the Australian left but the only official to have opposed it openly was Jenny Haines, a supporter of Bob Gould. But it was SPA policy to oppose the Accord.

The SPA stood by its principles and expelled the overwhelming majority of its trade union base, including prominent party leaders. They lost not only one third of their membership, but the significant membership in terms of trade union influence. Making an alliance with the SWP gave them a bit more clout and assisted their influence amongst young people. The SWP gained some contact with unionists. Their joint efforts meant more effective election campaigns.

Their main campaign was the Social Rights Manifesto. The title speaks for itself. Rights is a bourgeois concept and their Manifesto was for rights under capitalism. What this showed was that in terms of the Australian situation, the SWP and SPA had approximately the same minimum programme. The SWP called their demands ‘transitional’ and argued that the process was continuing. SPA called the Manifesto the first stage of their two stage revolution.

The SWP and SPA were also allies in the peace movement. Both opposed the right stalinist and liberal bourgeois view that ‘both superpowers’ were responsible for the arms race. SWP and SPA put the blame on imperialism and were clearly better in their variant of the popular front. Eventually there was a division of labour with the right Stalinists organising Palm Sunday, and SWP/SPA running the Hiroshima Day protests. Of these two the right popular front was the more popular.

All this stalinist maneuvering was too much for the SWP-US who formed a faction in Australia which were then expelled (forming another Communist League). This faction included former leaders Nita Keig, Deb Schnookal and Dave Deutschmann. In the US the Australian SWP had the support of former SWP-US presidential candidate Pedro Camejo. In the USA, John Percy and Pedro Camejo supported the presidential campaign of US Democrat Jesse Jackson and the protest campaign to freeze nuclear weapons.

The SWP-US and its supporters also objected to the Australian SWP’s support for cold war right wingers at Polish solidarity rallies and its support for a Croatian nationalist organisation known as the Croatian Movement for Statehood (HDP).

Was HDP a former fascist Croatian organisation moving to the left or an adaptation by the fascists to co-opt the left? Either way it was unsupportable. The HDP, even with its left face, recognised the fascist government of Pavlevic whose dictatorship was backed by Mussolini during the Second World War. This fact alone made it thoroughly unprincipled, in fact treacherous, for revolutionaries to give it any positive recognition irrespective of its left rhetoric, genuine or otherwise.

The Hawke Government went to the right and started attacking unions. In response there was a national rank and file movement called Fightback which the SWP was active in. Fightback split into two wings. Some known as Canberra fightback, wanted it to remain a rank-and-file caucus. The SWP and SPA alliance, joined by the Maoist CPA(ML) wanted to turn it into a new communist party.

The Maoist-led Builders Labourers Federation was under attack by the Hawke Government at the Federal level, and by the Cain Labor government in Victoria which authorised an armed police raid on its offices. Legislation aimed at the BLF was a serious threat to organised militant unionism in Victoria. So the Maoists were now hard left when it came to opposing Labor. The pro-Accord Stalinists stabbed the BLF in the back, refusing to defend it from a capitalist state attack, in fact often endorsing the attack!

Understandably there was strong hostility amongst militants towards Labor. The SWP opposition to Labor also intensified. In 1987 they even endorsed the bourgeois Australian Democrats. They argued that whilst the Democrats were a bourgeois party, they supported progressive movements and were to the left of Labor on social services and welfare issues, and could be given critical support. At the same time the Greens were growing rapidly. So the name of the SWP paper Direct Action was changed to Green Left Weekly.

The Gorbachev liberal bureaucratic leadership of the Soviet Union led to another turn by the SWP — towards the Gorbachev leadership. As the Soviet Union degenerated rapidly, the SWP made all sorts of alliances with liberalised Stalinists. Devoid of any Marxist analysis they took their democratic credentials at face value oblivious at any threat of counter-revolution. They have close ties with East Germany’s former ruling party, the PDS. In the spirit of democratic socialism, they changed their name to Democratic Socialist Party.

Meanwhile the SPA was going in the opposite direction. They wanted to hang onto as much of the Breshnevite past as possible. So there was a strain on the alliance. The SPA was then oriented to the Chinese leadership. The bloodshed of Tienamin Square, supported by SPA but opposed by DSP, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The alliance was over.

The DSP then oriented to the fast degenerating Communist Party of Australia who were aiming to develop a new party in what was called the ‘New Left Party Process’. The CPA were reassessing the Accord but hadn’t broken from it. But the CPA did not reciprocate the DSP’s advances, and chose to degenerate in alliance with old pro-Accord ex-SPA bureaucrats. The DSP has tried to fill the vacuum left by the CPA degeneration.

Socialist Alliance

The most recent party building maneuver has been the Socialist Alliance formed similar to the one in Britain. The Socialist Workers Party (‘state capitalist’ and unrelated to the SWP-US and DSP traditions) was a key initiating force in Britain. Their Australian supporters, the International Socialist Organisation were joint founders of the Australian version along with the DSP.

What started off as a joint electoral bloc around minimal demands with equal participation by the various groupings has become virtually a DSP front. The DSP has now become renamed as Democratic Socialist Perspectives and has no public presence apart from the Socialist Alliance, though its youth group Resistance still has an open presence. The Alliance is now virtually a non-revolutionary party dominated by the DSP. Alliance candidates effectively stand on the DSP programme.

During the eighties, the pin-up boys for the DSP were the Sandinistas. They ‘reassessed’ Trotskyism and abandoned it on the basis of the Sandinistas’ ‘success’. Had they any integrity they would have re-assessed their position in the light of the Sandinista’s failure. This they haven’t done. Today they have replaced cheerleading the Sandinistas with cheerleading Chavez in Venezuela. They hail him virtually uncritically.

Another piece of DSP treachery has been its support for Australian troops in East Timor, sent there ostensibly for defending Timorese independence. It may be understandable that some bourgeois nationalists may take imperialist rhetoric at face value. Those who have some understanding of Lenin should know better. Australia has now imposed a deal which steals oil that belongs to the Timorese.


This is only an overview of the whole SWP/DSP history of liquidation and treachery. Essentially what started off as an attempt to establish Trotskyism on the basis of student radicalism against the Vietnam War, degenerated into a pro-Stalinist grouping, organisationally opportunist, and whose only principle appears to be cheerleading Stalinists and building a party distinct from Labor (but not reformism). They are good at tapping into youth and student radicalism.

Whilst on some issues, they find Trotsky’s analysis appropriate, when it comes to drawing fundamental class lines they clearly stand with Stalin, especially in imperialist dominated countries euphemistically called the ‘third world’.

Many DSP members are good activists in their unions. The DSP presents itself as a strong and confident organisation. But it is the Stalinist principles which are decisive. For the sake of the revolution, these must be thoroughly broken from. The only revolutionary banner is the red banner of proletarian internationalism. The revolutionary tradition is that of Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International. On the basis of this tradition a new revolutionary international must be built.

From Class Struggle 61 May-June 2005


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from Class Struggle 49 March/April 2003

We note that Jose Ramos-Horta, the ‘Mandela of East Timor’, has joined Tony Blair and John Howard as a cheerleader for George Bush’s war against Iraq. In an impassioned article for the New York Times, Ramos-Horta recently condemned the global anti-war movement as unconcerned with the plight of the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples. Like the ‘leaders of the Iraqi opposition’ today, the East Timorese ‘begged a foreign power to free us from oppression, by force if necessary’, this former guerrilla leader claimed.

Ramos-Horta’s new job as PR man for ‘regime change’ in Iraq will no doubt come as a nasty shock to the social democrats, Greens and fake revolutionaries who helped him sell out the East Timorese people in their hour of need in 1999. We remember Ramos-Horta being treated like a rock star when he arrived in Auckland to (mis)lead an East Timor solidarity march at the time of the APEC conference in September 1999. As the Greens and social democrats wept and hugged each other, Ramos-Horta took the mike at the pre-march rally and urged APEC leaders like Bill Clinton and John Howardto invade East Timor and thereby ‘save’ it from the Indonesian forces they had armed and funded for decades.

With Indonesian-backed militia on the rampage in the aftermath of a phony referendum on independence, Ramos-Horta and his crony Xanana Gusmao had been busy keeping their mutinous Falintil troops in isolated rural cantonments, so that they would not be able to antagonise Clinton by intervening to protect their people. Ramos-Horta was in Auckland because he was also keen to stamp out the strikes and boycotts that workers in a number of APEC countries had launched to stop the Indonesian military machine in its tracks.

Instead of supporting armed struggle at home and workers’ action internationally, Ramos-Horta appealed to imperialist leaders like Clinton! Fortunately for Ramos-Horta, and unfortunately for the people of East Timor, Clinton and stooges like John Howard and Jenny Shipley saw the opportunity of setting East Timor up as a UN colony and grabbing control of its oil wealth for the West. When the East Timorese objected to this carve up, the UN invasion force crushed their protests in a series of confrontations that climaxed in the Dili riots of mid-January 2000. Today resistance to the colonisers is once again increasing, with three students being killed in riots at the end of last year.

For his part, Foreign Minister Ramos-Horta has since 1999 made a lucrative career for himself as an advocate for imperialism around the world. Before coming to Bush’s aid over Iraq, he had been busy attacking the Palestinian people for having the nerve to resist Israeli occupation with armed force. According to Ramos-Horta, the Palestinians should be opposing Sharon’s tanks and machine guns with civil disobedience and petitions to the UN. Yeah, right.

As the bankruptcy of Ramos-Horta’s regime and rhetoric becomes ever more obvious, his former lovers on the Western left will no doubt spurn him, much as the Labour Party liberals who once cheered the ‘African socialism’ of Robert Mugabe today demand sanctions against Zimbabwe. Like Mugabe, Ramos-Horta will have become ‘corrupted by power’ and ‘out of touch with the people’. Clichés like these will help the liberals and fake revolutionaries who supported Ramos-Horta in 1999 avoid taking responsibility for their own role in turning East Timor in to a UN colony.

As Marxists, we have no interest in explaining history with clichés. We see the continuity between Ramos-Horta’s betrayal of East Timor in 1999 and his betrayal of the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples in 2003. We see the continuity between Mugabe’s capitulation to British imperialism at Lancaster House in the late 70s and his present attempts to rein in the land occupation movement and break the trade unions.

We argue that the ‘betrayals’ of the likes of Ramos-Horta and Mugabe are the product of the impossibility of national liberation struggles in the Third World achieving their aims without going all the way to socialism. We argue that it is only by turning national liberation into ‘permanent revolution’ by abolishing the market and breaking out of the global economic grid of imperialism that nations like East Timor and Zimbabwe can escape from the economic and hence political domination of powers like the US. Bush’s man in Dili offers plenty of evidence for our argument.

Written by raved

January 3, 2009 at 10:32 pm


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Open the borders!

The Australian government’s racist treatment of its asylum seekers, locking them up in detention centres in the desert like Woomera for years or bribing Pacific politicians to take them to remote Pacific atolls, has raised a storm of protest by the inmates escalating recently into hunger strikes and suicide attempts. We argue for ‘open borders’ to refugees.

Australia and most of the Western states are trying to limit the rising flow of refugees fleeing from countries devastated by wars, famines or genocide caused by imperialist exploitation and oppression. This is nothing new since the Western powers and their white-settler colonies have always had racist immigration policies that restrict access and discriminate against non-European migrants as ‘second class’ citizens. Now the US war on terrorism has added to the plight of these refugees by deliberately provoking fears that they may be terrorists.

Most of the detainees as Woomera in Australia are Afghan and Iraqi, victims of decades of wars and political repression unleashed by imperialist policies. Yet when the Yankee war on terrorism was unleashed on Afghanistan on October 7, Australia suspended the processing of Afghan refugees on the grounds that some might be members of the Taliban or al Queda! The bosses in Australia don’t normally need an excuse to be racist, but this was a great ‘opportunity’ (Bushes words) to delay processing and even talk of returning these migrants home.

What is the solution?

The Australian state is a miserable US toady and will not bow to public pressure to release or grant increased numbers of refugees legitimate migrant status. Both Liberal and Labor parties have already shown in the case of the Tampa scandal that they are prepared to compete for votes by playing on the fears of Australian workers about migrants taking their jobs. It is pointless appealing to the morality or ‘mateship’ of Howard or Crean, or to international agencies to intervene.

It is necessary for Australian workers to demand that their unions act to strike against Australia’s racist immigration policy to free the asylum seekers and to allow them to stay as new migrants. We have to reject the plan to return the migrants to their ‘home’ countries. These have been desolated by wars and sanctions and cannot possibly relocate the millions of migrants who have fled abroad. Instead we have to prove to Australian, NZ and other Western workers that it is in their interests to fight for open borders.

Australian workers must see that it is in their interests to demand the right to go where they like without borders and immigration laws. They already do it inside Australia, and many do it to other countries. Europeans were boat people at some point in history. Only the Aborigines could walk from South East Asia. So we all originated as economic migrants traveling around looking for work or sustenance.

Boat people yesterday and today.

The situation with today’s boat people is different yet the same. It is different because today people are refugees from imperialism’s destruction of their countries economy caused by sucking out the wealth that people need to live on, or by unleashing wars or sanctions to remove ‘rogue’ regimes and put West-friendly governments in power. The same, because it is economic and/or political survival that motivates people to migrate, not the desire for a holiday in the Australian outback or Pacific Atoll, six weeks in a leaky boat or the back of a freezer truck.

This freedom of movement is taken for granted by the capitalists who can buy their passage wherever they choose. Immigration laws in Australia, NZ and the ‘West’ favour those with ‘assets’ or skills to contribute to the development of economic growth. Workers or poor peasants, on the other hand, especially those from Asia, Africa or Latin America, are not free to travel unless they have a necessary skill in demand. The result is that they have to go through a series of racist barriers where their right to freedom of movement is determined by whether or not the bosses can make a profit from their labour.

This is why immigration quotas are used like a tap, turned on when there is a demand for labour, and turned off when that demand dries up. Instead of the bosses being seen as the problem because they want to regulate the international flow of labour, it is workers who are branded overstayers when their labour becomes superfluous. We say, put an end to the bosses’ borders! Demand the right of freedom of movement for labour!

Workers’ Government

Of course we cannot demand open borders under workers’ control unless we have ways and means of making this possible.
To provide jobs and welfare for migrants we have to tax the rich to pay for these. When they object we have to occupy their factories and run them under workers control. When they attempt to jail us we have to be able to defend ourselves. The only way we can do this is to fight for a Workers’ Government that is based on workers power and is able to plan the economy to meet the needs of all workers rather than serve the narrow class interests of bosses’ profits.

Strike for the right of freedom of movement!
Strike to free the asylum seekers!
Open Borders under workers control!

From Class Struggle 43 February/March 2002

Written by raved

June 27, 2008 at 9:52 pm


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Part Two: Towards a Socialist Polynesia

Towards a Socialist Polynesia (TSP) was written by Owen Gager in mid 1982. It was the NZ Spartacist League’s (a forerunner to the CWG) response to the events of the previous decade culminating in the Anti-Springbok tour movement, and the publication of Awatere’s Maori Sovereignty. Against the petty bourgeois nationalism of both Maori and Pakeha, TSP tried to present a materialist analysis of the real history of race relations as a result of NZ’s white-settler colonisation and ongoing semi-colonial development. Petty bourgeois nationalists came out against British imperialism and its NZ ‘imperialist’ pretensions at the expense of Maori, and identified with Maori opposition to imperialism. In this way the struggle was posed in nationalist/racist and not class terms.

Gager’s pamphlet shot through this nationalist front with a Marxist broadside. NZ was a capitalist colony. Capitalism was not imported into the South Pacific completely knocked down and ready for assembly. It had to be imposed by a process of bloody conquest and ‘primitive accumulation’. That meant dispossessing Maori by force if necessary. The object was not to destroy Maori society for its own sake (though some settlers regarded Maori as civilised only in their “graves” and one Atkinson, saw it as his scientific duty to “shoot the natives”) but to destroy their primitive communist resistance to class society –capitalism. The Treaty was a fraud. It was a ‘trick’ admitted at the time, to pacify the savages while the pakeha ruling class was able to muster the imperial troops to take the land. All of this rotten history had one purpose –to convert tribal land into capitalist property, and to convert Maori into landless labourers so that they would be forced to work as wage workers and be exploited by capitalism.

TSP proved that this was the case by demonstrating that the history of Maori resistance to their expropriation and super-exploitation as waged workers was anti-capitalist. This process was part of the ongoing capitalist expansion into the South Pacific in the 19th century and it set the pattern for NZ’s semi-colonial development in the 20th century. The post-war boom accelerated this process by propelling Maori from the rural reserves into the urban ghettos. But the end of the boom brought with it a massive shock as the new jobs, incomes and expectations were suddenly dashed. Awatere and the new generation of rebels expressed outrage at this betrayal of the dream of assimilation by economic progress. In its place they raised the demand “Aotearoa is Maori Land.!”

What TSP did was to point out clearly that it was a sham for a few petty bourgeois Maori to stage a national revolution when the majority of Maori were already detribalised and in the working class. Awatere was merely putting out the claim for a Maori fair share in kiwi capitalism. The sovereignty gambit was an opening shot designed to guilt-trip the petty bourgeois pakeha anti-racists behind the movement and to up the ante in the Treaty settlement process. TSP rejected this petty bourgeois nationalism as anti-migrant when Ripeka Evans, Donna Awatere’s collaborator, called for Pacific Island migrants to “fuck off” home. Their “Black Unity” did not extend to their Polynesian cousins. But most pakeha anti-racists joined forces with petty bourgeois Maori nationalism at the expense of other migrants. To make it worse so did most of the so-called Left when they found reasons to call Awatere some kind of ‘Marxist revolutionary’.

The Republican left.

TSP rubbished these so-called Marxists fawning on Awatere. For example, Peter Lee claimed that Awatere was some kind of antipodean Walter Benjamin (The Republican, #43 December 1982). Then Jesson took Awatere’s reference to Gramsci at face value to mean that the Maori people could recover their “treasures” and lead the struggle of New Zealand’s independence. He failed to notice that Awatere’s ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’ fundamentally misrepresented Gramsci. Her bloc was not Gramsci’s class bloc where other classes were led by the working class. Rather it was an alliance where the working class was led by the Maori people! Thus the Republican Marxist” left of Jesson and Co took this to mean that the Maori Question could only be resolved by a national independence struggle in which the working class remained subordinated to the Maori as a people. (Jesson, “Reviewing the Maori Sovereignty Debate” The Republican, #48 December 1983; #49 February 1984). The Maori People were a liberating force who in alliance with Pakeha radicals had a common interest in a “Republic of Aotearoa” (The Republican, August 1984 “The Latest Contribution to the Maori Sovereignty Discussion”). But for Jesson the Maori as part of the proletariat and therefore as a force for socialism was non-existent. Since Maori People were a figment of petty bourgeois Maori nationalists, this was his way of putting the petty bourgeois in front of the working class in the national revolution.

Gager anticipated Lee’s argument by showing that the European Marxist Walter Benjamin had long ago warned that appeals to tradition were not a basis for as progressive national movement but rather a reactionary ploy to divide and rule the working class:

“Walter Benjamin, in Illuminations, saw fascism’s role as rendering politics aesthetic, while ‘communism responds by politicising art’ His understanding of the reactionary implications of making politics “cultural” still expressed the perspective of Leninism. ‘Cultural treasures’ writes Benjamin are the spoils of war between ruling classes which owe their origin not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries – in Maori society, all those who could not claim to be ariki or rangatira.”

Gager continues: “Maori culture, as it is now, consists of the spoils of war which the white ruling class has plundered. Historical materialism, on the contrary, wishes to retain that image of the Polynesian past which unexpectedly appears to the Polynesian worker in crisis, singled out by history at the moment of danger. That danger affects both the content of Polynesian tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming the tool of the ruling classes. In every area that attempt must be made anew to wrest Polynesian tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. Only that militant will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the Polynesian past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from enemy if he wins. And that enemy has not ceased to be victorious”. (TSP 22)

Stalinist Left

Even worse than the Republican left was the Stalinist left. Stalinist political groups such as the Workers Communist League (now defunct), the Stalinist SUP dominated trades unions and the Stalinophile (literally, loving Stalin) ‘trotskyist’ Socialist Action League (and their Young Socialists) flocked to the cause of Maori Sovereignty. TSP exposed them as racists who limited their support for Maori struggles to that of becoming equal under capitalism. But where the Republican left wanted Maori in the vanguard, most Stalinists wanted them in the rearguard. So when Maori workers overstepped their subordinate role in the labour movement they got dumped just as The Polynesian Resource Centre –Te Moana –was evicted from the Trade Union Centre in 1981 when Ripeka Evans criticised the white trade union leadership. “By ‘allowing’ Maori people to lead the ‘anti-racist’ struggle, but in limiting their demands to ‘full equality’ and ‘minority rights’, WCL actively suppresses the revolutionary potential of the Maori proletariat in order to maintain its ‘leadership’ of the white working class.” (TSP, 9).

The reason for this was the rotten legacy of colonial racism embedded in the pakeha ‘labour aristocracy’ and ‘bureaucracy’, which were the class fractions the Stalinists were based on. This was amply demonstrated by the WCL.: “The Stalinist Workers Communist League claims it has a “class” analysis of racist and colonial oppression in New Zealand. But their programme itself is clearly racist. For them, the history of New Zealand’s movement towards independence is a pakeha history, to which the Maori people are an appendage…For them, the achievement of white settler power based on denial of Maori suffrage in New Zealand is an “advance”. The failure to see that white “independence” achieved at the expense of Maori independence assumed a reactionary and imperialist character leads logically to a recognition of Polynesian workers as a class with no revolutionary potential, and which must limit itself to a “miniumum programme” of democratic rights, forgetting ‘independence’ and ‘socialism’.” (TST 9)

Permanent Revolution

Against the petty bourgeois “Marxists” TSP argued that Maori were historically an oppressed people. It supported Maori self-determination up to and including secession if the majority of Maori demanded it. Support for self-determination by Pakeha workers would then be necessary to win Maori workers to the struggle for socialism. This was because Maori were trapped in the reserve army of labour and could not win equal rights under capitalism. Nor could the Treaty settlement process honour a fraudulent treaty. It could only fake this by creating local versions of Bantustans – like the independent Pacific Islands whose ‘cultural treasures’ were returned in exchange for the wealth that was spirited away. The whole process would have the effect of encouraging and reinforcing class divisions in Maoridom – an effect that capitalism could not possibly avoid – but in the name of sovereignty (now tino rangatiratanga). This would devolve the responsibility for poverty onto Maori themselves and not the oppressive racist state that has ruled over them for nearly two centuries. Therefore, Maori could only win their democratic rights by means of a ‘permanent revolution’ ie. socialist revolution.

TSP called Awatere and Co petty bourgeois nationalists. And hasn’t she proved TSP right 1000 times as cheerleader of Maori in ACT! They were not the voice of the majority of Maori workers. They rapidly turned to “honouring” the Treaty. TSP predicted the role that petty bourgeois nationalists would play in getting “10% Kiwi capitalism” in the name of a re-invented cultural tradition. Events have proven Gager correct. The Treaty is still a fraud. The whole Treaty process has seen Maori coopted by class further into capitalism – a few have become bosses and the majority stayed workers with a widening gap between. It can be nothing else when the land, resources and labour-power expropriated for 150 years are now accumulated as capitalist private property. The token settlements that have been trickled back are little more than capitalised benefits advanced as seeding capital to spawn mini-corporations who will swim as sprats among the MNC sharks. The Treaty Settlements work like a local version of the World Bank/IMF. The local NZ state hands out seeding capital but locks everyone into the local economy, just as the IMF/World Bank locks it into the global economy on the terms of the imperialists.

Neo-Marxist analysis.

Who else has been able to see all this? What other left analyses have followed? And do they add or subtract from TSP? We can look as several recent attempts to develop an Antipodean Marxism on the Maori question before passing judgement on their strengths and weaknesses. They all put class before ethnicity or nationality and attempt to explain Maori politics in terms of the integration of Maori into global capitalism. Yet they all have problems in the way they integrate their analysis of the Maori struggle into the development of NZ’s semi-colonial capitalism.

The strengths of Evan Poata-Smith’s work is that it is based on an analysis of New Zealand as a capitalist country. Therefore Maori inequality/oppression is NOT the result of the primitiveness of Maori or the inherent racism of Pakeha. The Pakeha (and more recently the brown table) capitalist class is the problem. Poata-Smith recognises that what he calls “cultural nationalism” is not a strategy for liberation. It is similar to the concept of petty-bourgeois nationalism raised in TSP since it is middle class or petty bourgeois Maori who benefit from it at the expense the majority of working class Maori. “Real liberation for Maori will not occur without a fundamental transformation of capitalist society”.

What weaknesses? These result from a failure to explain clearly how Maori fit into a class system or how the experience of exploitation of Maori workers by Maori capitalists will generate a break from the trap of a reactionary nationalism. So Poata-Smith does not explain how the transition to socialism has to have a concrete programme and revolutionary leadership to make it happen. While academic articles are not usually the place for calls for revolution, this failure is also evident in Andrew Geddes’ pamphlet The Way Forward to Tino Rangitiratanga which draws heavily upon Poata-Smith. Published by the Socialist Workers Organisation in 1997, apart from general statements about Maori liberation happening only in a “socialist society”, there is not much indication in this pamphlet on how to get there.

Geddes uses the examples of fighting for democratic rights such as the funding of Maori language broadcasting, and the return of stolen land and taonga, as part of the struggle for socialism. True as far as they go. These are democratic demands that must be part of a transitional programme. But there are two problems with this. First, the SWO does not define self-determination to include the right to secede.

In anticipation of this, TSP stated that if the majority of Maori respond to their worsening economic oppression with a call for secession (independence), then pakeha workers must support them in order to win them to socialism. How this will happen needs to be spelled out. Specifically, pakeha workers need to give critical support the demands of urban iwi for inclusion in the Treaty settlements, and for a share of fisheries and other resources. But at the same time revolutionaries must fight to extend the struggle to the expropriation of all capitalist property on the grounds that both Maori and Pakeha have contributed generations of labour to create the wealth of the country. Concretely, this means supporting the return of Maori land, fisheries, compensation etc as part of a programme that, at the same time, calls for the nationalisation of the land and fisheries under workers’ control (with Maori guaranteed traditional rights of use), the re-nationalisation of state assets without compensation, the expropriation of capitalist property, for a workers state able to plan the economy, and a workers’ militia to defend the state from the international bourgeoisie.

Second, the SWO does not integrate immediate, democratic demands with transitional demands that include many other demands to unite Maori and non-Maori workers in class struggle all the way to “workers power”. Therefore there is a split between the immediate demands and the goal of socialism that becomes, like the petty bourgeois Marxists, a split between a minimum and maximum programme, in which Maori have minimum (democratic) rights, but Marxists have the maximum (socialist) solution. Ironically in a strongly Stalinophobic (literally a fear of Stalinism) socialist organisation, the petty bourgeois “Marxist” notion of stages is slipped into its politics in a disguised form of support for Maori liberation.

Against this petty bourgeois position, communists link immediate and democratic demands with fully revolutionary demands for workers’ militia and a workers’ state in a transitional programme. This requires concrete analysis to be fused with revolutionary practice. There is a need to relate the Maori and Class questions in a programme of action all the way to the seizure of power. First, the inability of capitalism to deliver to Maori has to be explained by reference to NZ’s semi-colonial character, where the local economy is dominated by US, Japanese and Australian companies. Thus the polarisation of classes and divisions in Maoridom will intensify and further impoverish Maori workers and small farmers as well as squeeze Maori petty bourgeois and small capitalists down into the proletariat. The fate of the Sealords deal and the legal battle over urban iwis highlights the contradiction between class and nation dramatically. Only by applying the theory of NZ as a semi-colony in crisis to understand the clear limits to the Maori Nationalism struggle can it be turned into a united class struggle.


What about the liberal left like Jane Kelsey. Has their critique of Rogernomics as incompatible with the Treaty resulted in any serious analysis or programmatic options? No. Because the cause is defined as merely a neo-liberal elite that can be defeated in parliament. What of the latter day radicals like Tama Iti etc? Where have all their protests gone? Gone to parliament under MMP, which is the latest fraud to be perpetrated on the workers and oppressed. From Mat Rata to Mason Durie, the Maori intelligentsia envisages Mana Motuhake as sharing power in the bourgeois state. Maori will have their own economic base and governance. All that is required is for Maori to mobilise as a people and assert their right to share power under a new constitution. Even the centrifugal forces of globalisation can be offset by counter-hegemonic indigenous rights movements backed by international law.

For example, Elizabeth Rata applies Regulation Theory to NZ and sees tribal capitalism as a post-Fordist mode of regulation. That is, she recognises that Maori have been coopted into state-defined tribal entities to produce a settlement that is in the interests of international capital. The problem is that Regulation theory is neo-Ricardian rather than Marxist. It explains that the exploitation of Maori requires a political conspiracy on the part of the white ruling class to deceive Maori by reinventing tribalism so the white elite can keep most of the land and wealth ripped off under colonialism. (“The Theory of Tribal Capitalism” in Review –The Fernand Braudel Centre, Vol XX11 (3) 1999). This is similar to Kelsey’s view that if a section of the ruling class is imposing a neo-liberal mode(l) of regulation (capitalist conspiracy) then it must be possible to mobilise to remove that mode(l) by a process of radical social democratic evolutionary socialism. But while the pink-greens still regard the issue as about land or capital –ie. an economic base of sorts, to which end political and cultural movements are put, the post modernists see it as about indigenous rights and nothing else. The means become the dead end.

The promised land: post-modernism meets Maori

Now that most of the Maori compradors have been bought off and the pakeha liberal left have bought into the honouring of the Treaty the debate is now about how much? First the fiscal cap was imposed and rejected. Then a sped-up process of settlements by iwi rather than hapu. But the liberal nationalists are satisfied that the Maori nation can now take its place alongside the pakeha nation in a multinational commonwealth of difference. All that is required is some attitudinal change and goodwill. So we see the post-modern turn as Maori are transformed into fully blown ‘subjects’ in the marketplace –with the past “pardoned”. The Treaty will be turned into the base document of a Constitution. What the new right and the postmodernists all agree on, is that the market creates the conditions for freedom and these can now be realised. Every ethnic group and nationality can take their place in international society – with their “difference” recognised and respected. The Treaty Industry becomes part of the ‘culture industry’ looking to protect Maori ‘culture’ as a commodity that can fund their ethnic “difference”. This means that “difference” becomes reduced to consumer taste ie. a difference that the sovereign consumer notes when s/he buys a commodity. Maori have been re-landed and re-branded. The ‘promised land’ of liberation becomes the freedom to buy and sell in the market. But as we know NZ semi-colonial capitalism will deny that freedom to most Maori so long as we do not revolutionise the relations of production.

Proletarian politics

As TSP predicted, most Maori “honoured” as a reserve army of labour find themselves trapped still in the proletariat with the obvious consequences. There are few bosses. Not because of ‘stone age’ economics like neo-liberal mouthpiece Gareth Morgan thinks, but because if you didn’t have individual title you couldnt raise capital. Talk about the new right blaming the victim. Today the corporatisation of iwi opens up the capitalist road, but too little too late to get anywhere. As we have seen, NZ semicolonial capitalism is in the hands of the MNC’s. They won’t sacrifice their profits for the sake of any Treaty. We have “the GAP” instead. Maori still own no more than about $10 Billion in assets. The majority earn well below the average wage. Maori youth unemployment is over 20%. The new Maori bosses’ economic prospects are as small fish among the sharks, not good. The self-employed have been dispossessed. Small farmers and fishers swamped by globalisation. Which class will benefit and what will the masses do? Are urban iwi any answer? No. But as multi-ethnic working class organisations they have potential. This potential is not to set up a separate backward economy for an urban peasant existence, or try to compete in the corporate rat race, but to mobilise Maori along with all workers through the unions to expropriate the national wealth as their historic stake in socialism.

So the answer is to transform the national question into the class question. It means not trying to survive in ‘bantustans’ like the Pacific Island neo-colonies, but taking a proletarian stand to take back the lot! Why stop at reclaiming bits of land etc on the bosses Treaty terms? That’s still fraud. Maori as proletarians helped make this country. Accumulated generations of surplus labour is congealed as the wealth of the nation. The working class needs a revolutionary programme to unite the masses in the struggle for socialism. Nationalise the land under workers control with Maori rights guaranteed! Re-nationalise privatised state assets without compensation under workers control! Expropriate capitalist corporates! Fight for a workers’ and working farmers’ government based on workers councils and militia! For a socialist republic of Aotearoa in a federation of Asia/Pacific socialist republics!

Written by raved

August 27, 2007 at 11:14 am


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Introduction (updated 2001)

Today the struggle of indigenous peoples in Australasia is becoming institutionalised in international law and the post-modern politics of multi-cultural ‘difference’. When Derrida can visit Australia and NZ and be hailed as a partisan of indigeneity (Bedggood, 1999); when Lyotard can be invoked to bring Kant to the rescue of ‘native title’ (Green, 1994); we see that the colonial missionary has been supplanted by the post-colonial emmisary. Thus the official policy has gone from forced integration, relocation, stolen children, suppressed language and customs etc, towards a liberal paternalism under the guise of ‘multiculturalism’, ‘biculturalism’ and more recently ‘post-colonialism’.

Such a move tokenises indigenous peoples’ rights conferred by the bourgeois state and celebrated by the rituals of cultural reconciliation. But the cultural turn in indigenous peoples struggles is not new. It is a time-honoured strategem for political incorporation and economic assimulation into global capital accumulation.

Today indigenous peoples remain heavily oppressed by racism on top of systemic class exploitation. What then do Australasian Marxists have to say about the prospects of indigenous peoples overcoming their historic oppression and joining forces with the international proletariat in the overthrow of capital? Do they have a future as a people or as a class? Or, what is the difference?

Materialist premises

We should begin by defining some materialist premises. In the case of Australia and New Zealand, white settler colonisation arose from the first crisis faced by the leading capitalist state in Europe, Britain. These colonies went through a process of a bourgeois revolution (as yet incomplete) in which bourgeois land, labour and capital were formed (but which remain semi-colonies of the US and Japan).

Internal to these countries however are the indigenous peoples who remain oppressed minorities without equal rights to land, labour and capital. How can these oppressed peoples’ gain their liberation? All arguments about liberation have been drawn from European sources and imported into the Antipodes. Are they therefore necessarily examples of cultural imperialism? I would say Yes, if they continue to deny the same rights to indigenous minorities that were fought for and won in Europe, or attempt to contain these rights inside the framework of the bourgeois constitution rather than the socialist commonwealth.

Full Text

Written by raved

August 26, 2007 at 11:31 pm