Fascism in Australia: An interview with slackbastard

Andy Fleming, aka slackbastard is a minor internet celebrity with a range of platforms promoting radical politics, particularly focusing on anti-fascism. Fightback’s ANI WHITE interviews him about fascism, anti-fascism and politics in Australia today. This interview appears in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

Ani: Your online platforms cover a range of issues, but particularly focus on anti-fascism. Is there any reason you consider this work to be particularly important?

Andy: I began blogging in earnest in late 2005, while the Facebook page went up in 2010 and I’ve been Twittering away since 2009. Since I began, the primary focus of the blog has gradually evolved into anti-fascism, which in this case means monitoring the activities of various far-right actors, mostly of Australian origin, and with a particular focus on Melbourne (where I live). One of the main reasons for this is the relative absence of other forums in which this discussion might take place. Basically, there are very few public resources dedicated to monitoring fascism and the far right in Australia, and over time the blog has become a (I hope useful) resource for those wanting to explore this world. Certainly, anyone who jumps online and searches for information about fascism and the far right in Australia will sooner or later (generally sooner) stumble upon the blog. As a result, particularly since the emergence of ‘Reclaim Australia’ in early 2015, but also preceding it, I’ve been contacted by numerous journalists, researchers, students and so on, who want to be backgrounded on and seek orientation towards the contemporary antics of the far right. In a sense, it’s developed its own momentum, and the blog’s contents reflect what it is that others identify as being especially interesting and useful about it in its coverage of this domain. Beyond this, I identify as an anarchist, and from this perspective fascism is deeply antithetical to my own political commitments. Further, I suppose I’m one of those who believes that there is actually scope for a fascist or proto-fascist movement to develop in Australia. This is informed by the country’s status as a British penal colony which, at the beginning of the twentieth-century and its establishment as the Commonwealth of Australia, formally adopted white nationalism as state policy, a policy abandoned only relatively recently. In other words, I think Australia is relatively fertile ground upon which a fascist movement might develop, and historically-speaking, its relative absence is in large part due to the role of the state in already having captured that political territory. This essay covers more of this territory.

Ani: What are the defining traits of neo-fascism?

Andy: Well, that depends: in one sense, neo-fascism may be traced back to the immediate post-WWII era, in which the defeated forces of fascism in Europe were forced to reassess, regroup, and rearticulate their politics. But I suppose in the more immediate historical and social context, I’d suggest that the ‘newer’ expressions of fascist doctrine and movement are shaped, in critical ways, by the inauguration of the (seemingly endless) ‘War on Terror’ in 2001 and attendant spike in Islamophobia, neoliberal crisis and, in the Australian context, the punitive measures adopted by both major parties with regards the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees: ‘Fortress Australia’ (see below). This is the political and social backdrop against which newer fascist political formations have arisen, and whose political expressions are variations on older and generally familiar themes: racism and white supremacy, ultra-nationalism, the cult of masculinist violence, and so on. (For what it’s worth, I think Roger Griffin’s concept of ‘palingenetic ultra-nationalism’ remains a key reference point for understanding generic fascism.)

Ani: What neo-fascist groups are operating in Australia today?

Andy: There’s a small number of formally-constituted groups — political parties like the ‘Australia First Party’, neo-Nazi grouplets like ‘Antipodean Resistance’ and ‘Nationalist Alternative’ and so on — but by my reckoning, most of these groups operate on a more informal level, as part of wider social networks which have as their chief platform social media (especially Facebook). In other words, while documenting the moments when groups formally constitute themselves as groups is important (see A (very) brief guide to the Australian far right (December 2016 Edition)), it’s also important not to lose sight of the political undercurrents which generate such moments. This, I think, is what gives rise to things like the Cronulla pogrom (see Under the Beach, the Barbed Wire’, Angela Mitropoulos, Mute, February 7, 2006), helps to explain the sudden emergence and eventual collapse of ‘Reclaim Australia’, and other such events. Further, the same kinds of ideas that motivate neo-fascists are also present, to a greater-or-lesser degree, in mainstream politics, and it’s useful to examine, for example, the ways in which various mythologies about ‘Cultural Marxism’ have moved from the political margins to the centre. (See Martin Jay, ‘Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe’).

Ani: Can you tell us about the new group Antipodean Resistance, which appears to be more militant than the existing groups?

Andy: Antipodean Resistance (AR) is a relatively new grouplet which is neo-Nazi, mostly composed of young men in their teens and twenties, and which specialises in provocative propaganda. It’s claimed to have a membership in the hundreds but this seems doubtful. To date, its militancy is confined to its rhetoric. The group emerged in late 2016 and has gained some media attention as a result of it targeting schools, University campuses and political offices with its posters and stickers. It has its origins among a handful of ‘United Patriots Front’ (UPF) supporters in Melbourne but has subsequently extended its reach to other cities and towns in Victoria and to other states. It’s also connected to and models itself upon a handful of other neo-Nazi groups: the banned organisation ‘National Action’ in the UK, the ‘Nordic Resistance Movement’ in Scandinavia, and ‘Atomwaffen’ in the US; this networking took place via the now-defunct neo-Nazi website ‘Iron March’. National Action was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in December 2016; a number of its members have been arrested and charged with preparation of terrorist acts, while the group notoriously celebrated the assassination of British MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Members of the Nordic Resistance Movement in Sweden have been convicted of carrying out bombing attacks upon asylum seeker refuges and a left-wing bookshop, while members of Atomwaffen are currently on trial for a string of murders, the most recent being that of Jewish student Blaze Bernstein in January 2018. Currently, the group is linked to members of the UPF and something called ‘The Lads Society’, which describes itself as a fraternal organisation and which, in October last year, opened up a social centre in the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham. The leaseholder is ex-UPF member Tom Sewell and in January the centre served as the venue for a joint meeting with another racist gang called the ‘True Blue Crew’ based in the Victorian town of Bendigo and the suburb of Melton. (The meeting was called in order to discuss the formation of a vigilante gang to confront an alleged African gang crime-wave.) Outside of neo-Nazi skinhead groups like Blood & Honour and the (Southern Cross) Hammerskins, AR is one of relatively few grouplets that doesn’t bother to disguise its commitment to Nazi doctrines. For those interested, you can read more about AR in the following: Who are Antipodean Resistance?; Jacob Hersant : An Antipodean Resistance Lad; Julie Nathan, “Antipodean Resistance: The Rise and Goals of Australia’s New Nazis”.

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Brigada Anti-Fascista, a Melbourne antifa crew. Photo from the slackbastard blog

Ani: Pauline Hanson’s racial populist party One Nation has had a resurgence recently. What is the relationship between One Nation and more explicit neo-fascist groups, if any?

Andy: In its earlier iteration, this subject was explored by Danny Ben-Moshe (see: ‘One Nation and the Australian far right’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol.35, No.3, 2001). They concluded that, while neo-fascist and other (racist) right-wing actors joined the party and sought to obtain influence within it, this endeavour was largely unsuccessful, and in the end their presence proved to be simply destabilising. One Nation’s return has been accompanied by similar manoeuvres. In terms of policy, fear of being ‘swamped by Asians’ has been replaced by fear of being ‘swamped by Muslims’ — so hey, you can’t say that Hanson isn’t adaptable (though you might also say that she’s a rank opportunist) — but even a cursory examination of its candidates for office reveals an often bizarre amalgam of all kinds of fears and resentments, and the party is, perhaps not surprisingly, still beset by internal ructions. Still, it’s my impression that Hanson is now better able to exert control over the party as a whole, and it exists as a kind of permanent shrine to her endless — and I do mean endless — whining. Naturally, racists have welcomed her and the party’s return; to date, however, the party has failed to break out of its chiefly regional and rural base in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales, where it competes most keenly with the Nationals (the junior ruling Coalition partner) for support. Race and immigration remain key issues for the party and its supporters, whose views on other matters and voting record in parliament otherwise reflects that of the Coalition.

Ani: While neo-fascists seek an escalation of violence against refugees and visible minorities, the Australian state is already exceptional in its brutal Mandatory Detention policy. Can you tell us about Australia’s refugee policy, and about the refugee solidarity movement?

Andy: It’s certainly the case that the Australian state does a good job of brutalising asylum seekers, but its exceptionality may be rather short-lived, sadly, as governments and parties in Europe now look to Australia for cutting-edge methods of controlling population flows. These policies and programs have proven inspiring to the continent’s far right. In general, the policy of mandatory detention, inaugurated in 1994 under the Keating Labor government, has enjoyed bipartisan support ever since, and the Australian public largely supports the measures adopted to penalise those asylum seekers who arrive on Australia’s shores by boat. Occasionally, some noises in opposition will emanate from back-benchers, but it seems as though there are no real cracks in the parliamentary facade, and so the policy will remain in place for some time to come. Of course, some Australians celebrate the state’s cruelty, and workers in the detention industry — which, like other government services, is now semi-privatised — notoriously posed with Hanson at a Reclaim rally in 2015. On the flip side, the relocation of the concentration camps from the cities to rural areas and then to other islands — and the various, generally crackpot schemes hatched in conjunction with regional governments for them to accept some portion of Australia’s inmates — could be read as being a reaction to resistance within the camps, as well as a rational desire to keep torture out of public sight. Currently, the refugee solidarity movement is largely confined to the conduct of periodic rallies and protests, the effects of which are generally minimal outside, perhaps, of keeping the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers in the public mind. Other, related campaigns have sought to attack the underlying infrastructure of the detention industry, especially through divestment campaigns, and specifically by seeking to have union superfunds withdrawn from the industry. This has met with some limited success and lukewarm support from the labour movement, which remains dominated by the ALP. A relatively recent project is called ‘Can’t Stand Buy’, which seeks (or sought) to harness acts of civil disobedience to escalate the economic and social costs of maintaining the regime. It generated some media attention, but not mass public participation. In general, the XBorder blog is a useful resource — one which also attempts to situate the regime within a global complex of institutions and political arrangements — and the ‘RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees’ organisation in Melbourne is a unique presence in the ‘refugee solidarity’ movement, with both it and the imprisoned journalist Behrouz Boochani continuing to be important voices of protest.

Ani: Melbourne cops have recently made headlines for police brutality. What do we need to know about our mates in the Victorian Police?

Andy: The short answer? They’re not your mates! More seriously, there’s a handful of different organisations that monitor police activity in Victoria, one of which is the ‘Police Accountability Project’: I recommend that those interested read its publications. The ‘Melbourne Activist Legal Service’ (MALS) is another interesting and worthwhile project. Of particular relevance to anti-fascists, in early 2017, the Victorian state government introduced a bill to parliament — the ‘Crimes Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017’ — which, inter alia, criminalises the wearing of clothing which obscures one’s appearance. MALS has critiqued the introduction of these and similar laws. Oh, and ‘Sisters Inside’, an organisation based in Queensland, is holding a Prison Abolition conference in Brisbane in November, which readers may find of interest.

Ani: I recently read a mainstream Australian opinion piece which promoted the ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory, a far-right theory that Marxist elites are dismantling Western civilisation. While it’s very flattering to imagine Marxists have anything like that influence, it was shocking for me to see this in a mainstream opinion piece. I recently came over from Aotearoa/New Zealand, and while we certainly have conservative media, mainstream promotion of these kind of outright far-right ideas seems particularly extreme. Can you tell us about the mainstreaming of these ideas in Australian media?

Andy: To begin with, I think Martin Jay’s essay is required reading on this subject; further, I’d recommend ‘‘Cultural Marxism’: a uniting theory for right-wingers who love to play the victim’ and “Chris Uhlmann should mind his language on ‘cultural Marxism’’ by Jason Wilson, which helps to situate the idea in contemporary Australian political discourse. In terms of how this theory has assumed some mainstream prominence, I’d suggest that this is no accident, and demonstrates that the far right is able to produce ideas that, over time, can reach a much wider audience. Much the same can be said of the ‘White Genocide’ meme, especially as it applies to South Africa. In just the last week, the Australian attorney-general, Christian Porter, has urged white South African farmers seeking asylum in Australia to contact his office for specialist advice; previously, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, had publicly expressed support for the proposal to bring ‘persecuted’ white South African farmers to Australia under a special visa arrangement. (See also: Jon Piccini, “Peter Dutton’s ‘fast track’ for white South African farmers is a throwback to a long, racist history”, and John Marnell, “South Africa: where ‘Australia’ is code for racist”)

I’m unsure how Australian mainstream media compares to that in Aotearoa/New Zealand, but outside of state media, it’s my understanding that private ownership is exceptionally highly concentrated (even for a Western democracy), and Rupert Murdoch (via Newscorpse) rules over a very large chunk of this private kingdom. The only national daily newspaper, ‘The Australian’, has been running at a loss basically since it first began publishing in 1964, but serves as the flagship for conservative politics, a useful political tool for elites. If you examine the proliferation of the term in the pages of ‘The Australian’ (print and online), it seems to have undergone a sharp increase over the course of the last two to three years, and where previously it was closely-associated with the ravings of someone like Anders Breivik (or to be found only in an especially apoplectic ‘letter to the editor’), it’s now considered part and parcel of respectable discourse. The relative popularity of the term is partly attributable, I would suggest, to its flexibility, and each and every ‘progressive’ idea or movement of the last several decades has been attributed to the influence of ‘Cultural Marxism’.

Ani: In recent years some liberals and leftists have bought into the idea that the ‘white working class’ was left behind by multiculturalism. What is your take on this?

Andy: For various reasons, I’m not especially convinced by this line of argument, but I should say at the outset that there’s a wealth of literature on the subject of ‘multiculturalism’ and its meaning for Australian society, and I’m unable to do much more than make a few notes regarding it. In which context, in practice, ‘multiculturalism’ typically means ‘multi-ethnic’, ‘multinational’ and/or ‘multiracial’, and ‘culture’ is understood to be synonymous with these terms. Thus there is ‘British culture’, ‘Irish culture’, ‘Italian culture’, ‘Black culture’, ‘Asian culture’ and so on; further, these are typically assumed to be unitary (which is, in my view, not the case). In other words, I think that there are some conceptual issues with the uses to which this term is put, and addressing these is necessary before the matter can be discussed more sensibly. In the Australian context, ‘multiculturalism’ can refer both to: a) demographic changes, especially in the post-WWII era, in the ethnic composition of an overwhelmingly British and Irish-derived settler-colonial population and also; b) changes in state policy following the abandonment of both the White Australia policy and the assimilationist doctrines which replaced them. More generally, it seems fairly obvious that the ‘(white) working class’ has not benefited from a whole range of state policies, because the purpose of those policies is not to benefit the working class as a class: generally-speaking, the state remains the instrument of the ruling class, and reflects its interests and the interests of those forces which dominate the economy. If there is some truth to the notion that the ‘white working class’ has been left behind by multiculturalism, it’s the proposal that, as state policy, multiculturalism has tended to promote the advancement of an ‘ethnic’ middle class which may/not advance the interests of the specific grouping of which it purports to be the representative. But again, it makes most sense to discuss such matters in their specificities. It’s also, of course, worth remembering that the working class, especially in a country like the US, is disproportionately comprised of non-whites (‘people of colour’) and that, while Trump attempted to pose as a champion of workers, his main support base is drawn from wealthier classes; further, that given the dispiriting alternatives on offer — Trump versus Clinton — a very large proportion of working-class people didn’t bother to vote at all: a similar pattern of working-class abstention is evident in many other electoral contests, in many other countries.

Ani: In the USA, the so-called ‘alt right’ has brought neo-reactionary ideas into the mainstream. Does the alt-right have a coherent presence in Australia? Has it boosted existing groups?

Andy: It’s a rather tired cliche, but yes, as with many other things, the development of an ‘AltRight’ in the United States has encouraged the development of something similar in Australia (and in other countries subject to US cultural hegemony). In this context, I think George Hawley’s recent book ‘Making Sense of the Alt-Right’ is useful, especially for the ways in which it discusses the political recomposition of ‘conservatism’ in the US, and there’s some evidence to suggest that similar developments are or may be taking place in Australia. But it seems to me that if the US AltRight is coherent, the Australian AltRight is rather less so. Otherwise, the far-right has often aped elements of the left, and the AltRight is often interpreted as being evidence of a ‘culturalist’ turn by these political forces, and a response to the supposed dominance of something called ‘Cultural Marxism’. It’s a political nonsense, of course, but it does provide a useful bucket into which reactionaries of all sorts can pour their resentments. Otherwise, the election of Trump has provided a minor fillip to neo-fascist groupings in Australia, but this has yet to really translate into something politically significant. This may yet happen, but perhaps an example of the influence of the AltRight may be found in the political degeneration of someone like Mark Latham. Once a Labor leader and potential prime minister, he’s now largely confined to the fringes of mainstream media, and has even been an honoured guest — twice — on a local neo-Nazi podcast. ‘Sad!’

Ani: What are the international links of neo-fascists in Australia, that you are aware of?

Andy: International linkages are sometimes formal but more often informal. So there are a number of neo-fascist groups in Australia which are franchises (for example, Blood & Honour, Combat 18, Hammerskins) and there are various ‘ethnic’ fascisms (Croatian, Greek, Serbian and so on) which are part and parcel of various diasporas. But in the contemporary era, most of these linkages tend to be informal and conducted by the way of the Internet, and especially social media. (It may be relevant to add that, closer to home, Kyle Chapman’s ‘Right Wing Resistance’ groupuscule has found a few boneheaded adherents in Australia, but as in Aotearoa/New Zealand, it’s basically a shambles.)

Ani: What tactics have proved most effective in smashing fascist groups?

Andy: If by ‘smashing’ is meant effective disruption, I’d say: constant political pressure. So as a general rule, if fascists go marching hurrah hurrah, it’s important that they be countered. If, as sometimes happens, they are gifted a platform by mainstream media, or attempt to weasel their way into some institution, it’s important to be able to expose their real agenda and their actual political commitments. Exposing fascist lies, ridiculing their pretensions to mastery, and presenting life-affirming alternatives to fascist dogmas — alternatives based on other political and ethical principles, such as commitments to equality, cooperation, mutual aid and conviviality — is also necessary. So too, the promotion of critical inquiry and structural analysis as opposed to conspiracist mentalities and political scapegoating. Finally, the following observations by Ken Knabb are germane:

Irrational popular tendencies do sometimes call for discretion. But powerful though they may be, they are not irresistible forces. They contain their own contradictions. Clinging to some absolute authority is not necessarily a sign of faith in authority; it may be a desperate attempt to overcome one’s increasing doubts (the convulsive tightening of a slipping grip). People who join gangs or reactionary groups, or who get caught up in religious cults or patriotic hysteria, are also seeking a sense of liberation, connection, purpose, participation, empowerment. As Reich himself showed, fascism gives a particularly vigorous and dramatic expression to these basic aspirations, which is why it often has a deeper appeal than the vacillations, compromises and hypocrisies of liberalism and leftism.

In the long run the only way to defeat reaction is to present more forthright expressions of these aspirations, and more authentic opportunities to fulfil them. When basic issues are forced into the open, irrationalities that flourished under the cover of psychological repression tend to be weakened, like disease germs exposed to sunlight and fresh air. In any case, even if we don’t prevail, there is at least some satisfaction in fighting for what we really believe, rather than being defeated in a posture of hesitancy and hypocrisy.

Ani: Socialist Sue Bolton recently criticised militant antifascist presence at a broader rally. Could you briefly comment on this?

Andy: I wrote about the event on the blog and some further criticisms were made by Andy Blunden and Lynn Beaton on the ‘Arena’ magazine blog, to which I also later responded. Sue’s account of the events of the day is largely correct in its essentials: there was a rally in the Victoria Street mall in Coburg, and fascists held a rally several hundred metres away in Bridges Reserve. Otherwise: I can’t speak to or for Socialist Alternative’s actions on the day as I’m not a member and was not part of their contingent; I think it was a difficult situation, but my basic position is/was as follows: I think that it was important for Sue’s rally to go ahead without being disrupted by fascists and for the fascist rally to be contained. (In this context, it should be noted that, while the bulk of the fascist rally consisted of members and supporters of the ‘True Blue Crew’, it was supplemented by a handful of ‘United Patriots Front’ members and a scattering of (other) neo-Nazis belonging to ‘Combat 18’ and several boys who later went on to found ‘Antipodean Resistance’.) As it became apparent very early on that Sue’s rally would not be disrupted — both because of police saturation and the distance between the two gatherings — it then seemed to me to be a priority to contain the fascists in the reserve, and to not allow them to march through Coburg as they intended. This was accomplished, despite police action. I suppose it should be added that Coburg is a suburb with a relatively ‘diverse’ population, with about 40% of residents being born overseas (largely Italy, Greece and Lebanon) and a relatively large proportion of Muslims (between 5 and 10%), whereas the vast bulk of those attending the fascist rally came from outside Coburg and the northern suburbs (many journeyed from outside Melbourne and even interstate). In summary, despite a media and police scare campaign, many hundreds of locals, including many younger folks, joined the grouping that directly confronted the fascists to keep them penned in and unable to march — and they’ve not been back since.

Ani: What do you say to those who assert anti-fascism goes too far, or replicates fascism?

Andy: I say, ‘Pull the other one, it’s got bells on’. More seriously: more often than not, I think this arises from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of fascism, one which applies the term to any instance in which someone or something is thought to be ‘authoritarian’ or ‘overbearing’; this reflects the debasement of ‘fascism’ as a sensible political term. That said, I do think it’s incumbent upon anti-fascists (as well, of course, as other political actors) to think seriously about matters of political principle, strategy and tactics, and to be vigilant in terms of not seeking to reproduce in its organisation and activity the forces which it opposes.

Ani: What sources or groups would you recommend people follow to keep up with the anti-fascist movement, in Australia or abroad? (In addition to your own channels!)

Andy: Within Australia, there’s relatively few good sources of information on the far right, but occasionally there will appear some media reportage which is useful. In Melbourne, the ‘Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’ is a campaigning group which is worth following, but I’m unaware of any comparable project outside of Melbourne. There are also several Facebook pages which document fascist and promote anti-fascist activity, for example Anti Fascist Action Sydney and Antifascist Action Brisbane. In the UK, the Anti-Fascist Network is useful, and in the US there are a number of similar, local and regional groupings and projects, for example, New York City Antifa and Rose City (Portland) Antifa. Political Research Associates has published numerous accounts of fascist and far right politics in the US, and Mark Bray’s book ‘Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook’ is recommended reading. Readers may also be interested in the titles being published in the Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right series, especially ‘Anti-Fascism in Britain’. In Europe, of course, there are numerous anti-fascist groups and projects; there’s also beginning to emerge an anti-fascist community in places like Indonesia. Links to these and many other, related items of interest are available on my blog.

 

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One Nation legitimises fascist ideas – The time to stop Hansonism is now!

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This article by Debbie Brennan was originally published by the Freedom Socialist Party (Australia).

Debbie represents Radical Women in CARF and is a community member of the National Union of Workers.

Contact Freedom Socialist Party of Aotearoa at freedom.socialist.aotearoa@gmail.com or Freedom Socialist Party of Australia at freedom.socialist.party@ozemail.com.au.

“I’m back — but not alone.” Pauline Hanson, leader of the extreme-right One Nation party, made a parliamentary comeback in Australia’s federal election this past July. These taunting words are from her “maiden” speech to Parliament on September 15.

In 1996 Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives, but lost her seat two years later. Back then, she said Asians were taking over the country. Twenty years later, she warns, “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims”—who, she claims, will commit terror and impose sharia law.

It gets worse. As Hanson says, she’s not alone. She’s one of four newly elected One Nation Senators: two, including herself, from Queensland and the others from New South Wales and Western Australia.

Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party she formed in 1997 are notorious for their racism. In her first 1996 parliamentary speech, Hanson went on the attack against First Nations people, who, she stated, are privileged over whites. Asians were not only “swamping” Australia, they weren’t assimilating. She praised Labor Party leader, Arthur Calwell, who said in 1955: “Japan, India, Burma, Ceylon and every new African nation are fiercely anti-white and anti one another. Do we want or need any of these people here? I am one red-blooded Australian who says no and who speaks for 90 percent of Australians.”

Fast forward to 2016: Asians are replaced with Muslims. In 1996, Hanson called for a “radical review” of immigration and the abolition of multiculturalism. Today, she demands that Muslim immigration be stopped and the burqa banned.

More than racist. The notion of race was invented in early capitalism to justify slavery and plunder. In times of class conflict—like now—racism has been indispensable to capitalists as a weapon to split the working class and destabilise resistance. Islamophobia is that weapon now. But sexism, nationalism and anti-unionism are also instruments of control, and Hanson’s oratory is full of it.

Hanson’s close connection with men’s rights groups is reflected in One Nation’s policies. Since 1996, she has called for the scrapping of the Family Court—claiming a bias toward women who “make frivolous claims and believe they have the sole right to children.” She further blames the court for pushing non-custodial fathers into poverty and causing many to suicide. One Nation would force women to stay in miserable, often violent, relationships. Hanson instructs women to “put your differences aside, make your peace and come to agreements outside of the law courts.” If not, any woman going to court for custody better be ready to pay all costs if she loses.

She slams people on welfare, especially single mothers for “having more children just to maintain their welfare payments.” One Nation would deny payment increases to women after the first child. In Hanson’s words: “Get a job and start taking responsibility for your own actions.”

Hanson calls for an Australian identity card to access welfare, healthcare, education or any other tax-funded service, and she defies “do-gooders” to “complain about people’s privacy.”

In September, Hanson gave a thinly veiled attack on unionism when she accused “overpaid public servants” of bludging off the budget. Throughout the country, public sector workers have been in a tough three-year battle against the federal government over wages, which remain frozen, and the shredding of hard-won conditions. Community and Public Sector Union members in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are planning another week of industrial action (See: Trans-Tasman Union Beat, page 9). The potential power that public workers hold in their collective hands is massive. This fight is historic: these unionists are taking on the State, and the government wants to crush them. No wonder the rabidly anti-union Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash hugged Hanson at the conclusion of her speech.

A former fish and chip shop owner, Hanson typifies small capitalists’ contempt for workers’ rights and hatred toward militant unionism. In a recent media interview, she said, “we need to protect the small end of town, the small contractors and subbies so that they have a chance to get jobs and not be bullied by unions.”

The nationalist fantasy. Hanson’s style may not be Donald Trump’s, but, like him, she appeals to prejudices to answer why life for most people has become so insecure and hard. As the global economy disintegrates and the capitalist class foists the burden onto workers and the oppressed, these far-right demagogues offer up scapegoats—served with a big dollop of nationalism.

Hanson paints Australia as expanses of farmland and infrastructure, Australian owned; a land of families, nuclear, Christian, Australian born and assimilated. The school day starts with raising the Australian flag and singing the national anthem. TVs in homes and pubs across the country show Australian athletes competing for their country and saluting the flag from the victory podium.

She condemns “foreign” capital, especially Chinese, which she says is buying up Australia’s farms, real estate and resources. These investors, she claims, put housing prices beyond Australians’ reach. She denounces big business for being behind Australia’s intake of immigrants.

The illusion she constructs is of a hardworking nation exploited by foreign capital. This idea isn’t new—fascists used it in post-World War I Germany and Italy to deflect attention from local industrialists who backed the unleashing of jackboots on a working class that was in revolt. Today, Hanson directs the attention of those attracted to her vile ideas away from the source of their problems: the global capitalist system itself.

Understanding the threat. Hanson’s September parliamentary speech had the eerie ring of fascism. Her inflammatory calls to strip women on welfare of their rights to independence and reproductive choice, her anti-union comments and demonisation of Muslims and immigrants are classic far-right speak. But is this fascism?

Fascism is more than a vicious ideology. It’s is a movement, built to destroy the capacity of the working class to organise and revolt. Fascism’s social base is the middle class—small business people like Hanson—which, caught between the two powerful classes of capital and labour, will flip to whichever side looks likely to win over the other.

In her speech, Hanson was appealing to the middle class as well as less conscious working class folks looking for scapegoats to blame. In so doing, she legitimises fascist ideas, creating fertile ground in which a jackbooted fascist movement can take root and grow. One Nation is well positioned to coalesce the far right, inside and outside of Parliament, including neo-Nazis forces, which until now have been fragmented.

Hanson is well connected with this milieu. She has spoken at Reclaim Australia rallies. Leading members of the neo-Nazi United Patriots Front campaigned for her in the federal election. UPF even offered to be her bodyguards. Hanson is also friendly with the fascist Party for Freedom. These are the known connections.

If this leads to the cohering of a mass movement aimed at crushing the ability of the working class to organise, we’re dealing with fascism. While such a movement has not yet emerged, the danger is all too real. And Hanson is a contributor, encouraging more assaults on Muslims, immigrants, women and unionists—legislatively and physically. The need to countermobilise in our streets and communities—as we’ve done from Melbourne to Bendigo—remains urgent, because the threat could escalate.

Build the united front. Since Reclaim Australia first attempted to rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square in April 2015, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) has countered these ultra-right and fascist groups whenever and wherever they’ve gathered. This united front of unionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists and Aboriginal justice activists has successfully prevented them from growing into a movement.

As the global economy continues to sink and the need to resist intensifies, a fascist movement could materialise—unless there’s a strong working class-led movement to stop it. The time to build this anti-fascist movement is right now. The CARF united front needs to grow into a force of today’s and tomorrow’s scapegoats—Muslims, women, First Nations, LGBTIQ, refugees and immigrants, unions, radicals, welfare recipients, the homeless and unemployed.

 

Interview: Sue Bolton, Socialist Councillor for Moreland (Australia)

sue bolton

Sue Bolton is a longtime socialist activist and the Victorian convenor of Socialist Alliance. She was elected to the Moreland Council, which covers the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, in 2012. She will be a featured speaker at the Fightback conference in Wellington in May. She was interviewed for Fightback by Bronwen Beechey.

Fightback:There is a debate in the socialist movement about whether socialists should participate in “bourgeois” elections. Obviously you think they should, why do you think it’s a good idea?

SB: I think it is important for socialists to stand for election for several reasons: it gives you a forum for putting a socialist viewpoint on a wide range of issues, not just issues where there are campaigns. In Australia at the moment, campaigns tend to focus on moral issues such as human rights or environmental issues but there are few campaigns around economic issues. Elections give an opportunity to socialists to put an alternative to neoliberalism.

Elections are also a good discipline for socialists because you have to translate your general socialist slogans into concrete policies

It is a good way of building the party and also a socialist or socialist-leaning milieu or base in an area.

Fightback: Do you think that your election was due to the issues that you campaigned around, or your profile as a long-time activist in the area, or both?

SB: I think it was both. There are people who know me from the union movement, including picket lines, the refugee rights movement, the Middle East Solidarity group and the climate movement.

Some of the residents who didn’t know me or Socialist Alliance voted for me because we campaigned to put community need first, not developer greed.

Fightback: What were the issues you campaigned around?

SB: We took up a mix of local and broader issues. A central issue we campaigned on was opposition to developer greed, for developers to bear the cost of providing amenities, for mandatory height limits and more green spaces.

We called for a campaigning council that would campaign for more public transport, against the sell -off of public housing and for ethical investment.

We campaigned for expanded bike paths, solar power and against gas-fired power generation.

We campaigned for a council that helps its residents with cost of living pressures, including that residents not be pushed out of their home because they can’t afford rates and that rates shouldn’t be increased above the level of inflation. This is because rates are not an equitable means of funding local government services. A pensioner or an unemployed person could be living in a house which has risen in value because of gentrification, but they can’t afford massive rates even though their house has risen in value.

We also campaigned for regular ward accountability meetings.

Fightback: What has been your experience working in the council? Is it a hostile environment, or do you have supporters there? Have you any formal or informal links with other socialist or left councillors?

SB: The council is very conservative with a Liberal Party councillor, a Democratic Labor Party councillor, two Greens councillors, six ALP councillors and me. Then there is the council bureaucracy which is also very conservative.

The council meetings aren’t necessarily hostile. It’s more that the council bureaucracy and the other councillors are trying to take you on the same path as them, which is a neoliberal path. The problem is more one of co-option rather than direct hostility, although that exists as well.

Due to the pressure of campaigns, we haven’t been collaborating as closely as we would like to. I get more opportunities to collaborate with Sam Wainwright [from the Fremantle, WA Council] because he is also a member of Socialist Alliance. I am also involved in a campaign that involves a number of members of [Socialist Party member  and Yarra Council councillor] Steve Jolly’s party, the campaign against the East West Link  [a proposed 18 kilometre tolled freeway system including two 12-metre tunnels, running through Melbourne’s inner suburbs .]

Fightback: How has the Abbott government affected Australian politics at a national and a local level, particularly its impact on working people, the poor and oppressed groups?

SB: The worst aspect is the Abbott government’s use of sharp racism, in particular against refugees, to hide its attacks on working class living standards. The government is appealing to the more conservative section of the working class in order to rule.

At the same time, it is attacking unions by attacking corruption in unions. Unfortunately, a couple of real examples of corruption have been uncovered. These have undermined workers’ confidence in unions, which in turn has made the unions more scared about responding with industrial action. Most industrial action is illegal, so the only way of responding to the attacks is with “illegal” industrial action. It is necessary to take industrial action regardless of whether it is legal or not, but most unions are avoiding taking any industrial action that might be deemed “illegal”. It’s also the case that if unionists or unions refuse to pay fines for taking industrial action, the law allows the government to sequester the fine from individual’s or union’s bank accounts.

The government has succeeded in demoralising people because people can’t see a fightback coming yet.

Fightback: Do you think the recent “Marches in March” against the Abbott government represent a new phase of opposition to neoliberal policies?

SB: The marches were fantastic, especially given that the union movement hasn’t mobilised its members against the Abbott government yet. The size and number of marches undercuts the government’s argument that it has a mandate for its cuts. Around 100,000 people marched against the government at March in March. The dominant issue that people brought homemade placards about was the government’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, followed by climate/environment issues, then many other issues.

Fightback: Some on the left argue that the best strategy to beat right-wing governments is to vote for Labour parties as the “lesser evil,” or that Labour can be transformed from within. What is your response to those arguments?

SB: The left has tried to reform Labor from within ever since the ALP was formed. It’s never worked. The only times that Labor governments have ever carried out any progressive reforms are when there has been a strong communist/left movement outside the ALP. In fact, I would argue that the ALP doesn’t just play a reactionary role when in government; it also has a damaging effect on unions. The ALP is always influencing unions to not put forward their interests strongly; it is influencing unions not to take industrial action. Unions’ affiliation with the ALP is a vehicle for the capitalists to influence the unions. Unions have very little ability to influence the ALP to adopt pro-worker policies, despite their affiliation.

Fightback: As a member of Socialist Alliance, what is your perception of the recent breakdown of unity talks between SA and Socialist Alternative? Do you think there are still possibilities for greater unity on the Left?

SB: I think there were different conceptions of what sort of organisation we each wanted to build. There were some differences which would have needed to be explored before unity could have been possible, but there was never an opportunity to do that before the unity talks broke down.

However, there’s always another struggle and another day. There will be opportunities in the future for left unity but these opportunities will probably arise as a result of new political developments.

Fightback: As a long-time feminist, do you think that there are still difficulties for women participating in mainstream political bodies such as councils? Have you experienced sexism from other council members, or from the community?

SB: There have definitely been sexist attitudes exhibited by a couple of male councillors. On Moreland council six of the eleven councillors are women. I might have experienced more sexist attitudes if the numbers were different. The problem is more that the council and councillors are good on women’s rights issues on paper but in practice they only pay lip-service.

The real issues of sexism come about at a much earlier stage and are more to do with women’s ability to participate in society because they face family violence, are living in poverty on single parents pension or a low paid job as a single parent, don’t have the money to access expensive childcare or other services, or have low self-esteem.

You can also see a certain sexist approach with the murder of a local Brunswick woman by a male stranger on the street towards the end of 2012, which resulted in a big Reclaim the Night march of several thousand people. The council turned this issue into a law and order issue, rather than dealing with it as an issue of violence against women. The biggest source of violence against women is from intimate partners in the home.

Fightback: Some left-wing councillors and former councillors have commented that the relatively privileged role of a councillor (getting free passes to events, socialising with business people, etc) can influence progressive councillors and distance them from their constituents. How do you stay accountable to the community?

SB: That can certainly happen. You have to be very conscious about what you’re on the council for. Unlike state and federal government, councils are portrayed as being a “team” where party politics and an oppositional approach don’t apply. This is all part of trying to recruit all councillors to “respectable” neoliberal politics.

It’s important to be aware of the fact that many of the councillors and council officers regard residents as pests, and use language to cover up the pro-business outlook such as talking about all the “stakeholders” as having equal interests. This is a way of legitimising giving more say to businesses and developers than to residents.

The accountability is mainly via reportbacks on council activities on Facebook and the blog site (http://www.suesmorelandreport.org). In addition to this, I report back to Socialist Alliance meetings and we initiated Moreland Socialists for anyone who is left-wing and wants to support our council position. We have organised some ward meetings, but we want to get more regular with these.

Australia’s refugee ‘solution’

by Byron Clark, Fightback

Refugees are beginning to arrive in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG) after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his PNG counterpart, Peter O’Neill, agreed to expand asylum-seeker processing. The new arrangement, called the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA), was secured when Australia offered an unspecified amount of aid for roads, naval bases and universities. It goes further than the “Pacific Solution Mark II” introduced by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year, in that refugees who have already arrived in Australia can be sent to PNG for processing.

Rudd has stated that all genuine refugees will be resettled in PNG, though recently O’Neill has contradicted him, saying some will be resettled in Australia. O’Neill told media that PNG would work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to engage with other countries willing to take part in resettlement. ”That includes Australia, New Zealand and all the other countries who are signatories to the UN conventions on refugees,’

PNG is in much worse shape than Australia to resettle refugees, current facilities can only house around 300 people, yet 3,500 asylum seekers have been arriving in Australia each month this year, even a dramatic slowdown would still result in an unmanageable amount of asylum seekers (at least, an amount impossible to manage humanely). While Australia is expected to spend $600 million upgrading facilities on Manus Island, PNG as a whole is in a weak position to resettle people.

Over 50% of the population live under $2 a day, 61% of them without access to clean water. The country is 156th in the UN’s human development index- compared to Australia, which is second. There is widespread opposition to the policy in PNG resting on two main themes; the lack of development of PNG and its lack of sovereignty in its neo-colonial relationship with Australia.

This sentiment could turn into a misplaced hostility against refugees, the governor of Oro province, Gary Zuffa, told ABC Sydney that the decision to settle refugees in Papua New Guinea could be very divisive, and former opposition leader Dame Carol Kidu has noted that the country already has many displaced people. While a PNG immigration department plan to direct resettled asylum seekers into available jobs is admirable, it could be met with resentment from poorer Papua New Guinean’s.

Concern has also been raised about the possible treatment of gay asylum seekers fleeing persecution; homosexuality is illegal in PNG and carries a penalty of fourteen years in prison.

Neighbouring Solomon Islands did not want to be part of the plan, “We have to respect the choice of asylum seekers, and the choices that these people have made is that they want to come to Australia.” President Gordon Lilo told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

There is currently a legal challenge on behalf of one of the asylum seekers at Manus Island, an Iranian man who can currently only be identified as as S156 of 2013, the High Court number given to him when proceedings commenced. He is challenging the declaration of PNG as a suitable offshore processing country, and claiming his removal from Australia was invalid.

The Australian government is continuing with transfers and expects to prevail in court, despite a High Court decision that struck down Julia Gillard’s Malaysia Solution in 2011, saying that a “third country” must be able to guarantee certain freedoms and rights, which PNG cannot do. A separate legal challenge is being mounted in PNG by the main opposition party.
Rallies against the PNG solution have been held in several Australian cities.

Bush fires and climate change

Grant BrookesBush fire

The bush fires ravaging Australia this summer could turn out to be the worst on record.
Public reaction on both sides of the Tasman has been full of humanitarian concern for the victims. Meanwhile, our leaders plough on with policies which will spread more disasters like these globally – including here in Aotearoa.

The fires have been sparked by record-breaking temperatures. “The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented,” said David Jones from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures at Sydney’s Observatory Hill have hit 45.8 oC – shattering the 1939 record by half a degree. In the South Australian town of Oodnadatta, it has been so hot that petrol evaporated at the pump, making it impossible for people to refill their cars.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she felt “overwhelmed by the bravery and stoicism that people are showing in such difficult circumstances” and promised disaster relief payments for the victims, even acknowledging that “as a result of climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather events”.  But she added only, “We live in a country that is hot and dry… so we live with this risk”.
There was no mention of climate policy. Under her government, Australia remains the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

The story of the fires does not just concern Australia, however. The disasters also came less than two months after our own prime minister, John Key, announced that New Zealand would be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change from the end of 2012.  [Read more…]

Interview: Socialist Party candidate re-elected in Yarra, Melbourne

In the recent local elections of Victoria, Australia, socialist candidates won seats in Yarra and Moreland (covered by Grant Brookes here: http://tinyurl.com/a7gbcxl.) Yarra Socialist Party councillor Stephen Jolly won his seat for the third time.  Writer for The Spark Ian Anderson interviewed Socialist Party member Mel Gregson.

The Spark: So the Socialist Party retained its council seat for Stephen Jolly, and lost its council seat for Anthony Main. Can you break that down a bit more?

MG: The campaign in Yarra was very successful with almost 1 in 5 voters across the city voting for us. We stood a team of five candidates, including current councillors Stephen Jolly and Anthony Main.

Our vote increased across all three wards, with Stephen Jolly topping the polls with 34.24% (the quota to be elected outright is 25%). Anthony Main stood in a different ward to which he was a councillor, where residents are being overrun by inappropriate development. There we increased our vote from 2.13% to 11.74%, with Anthony just missing out on re-election by a very small margin. In the other ward we almost doubled our vote to 10.81%.

The Spark: What is your political purpose in running electoral campaigns?

MG: The primary reason the Socialist Party stand in elections is to raise socialist ideas as an alternative to the pro-capitalist, neo-liberal policies of the main political parties. With class struggle at historic lows in Australia the level of political debate is also at a low, we believe that engaging with people at election time through standing candidates, debating the other parties and distributing political material can play a role in developing the level of political discussion.

In Yarra we have been able to take this to the next level by having some of our candidates elected to council. Through our work in Yarra over the last eight years we’ve been able to demonstrate socialist ideas in action. In this area we have been able to redefine the term ‘socialist’ from what many believed to be a stale, failed ideology into a positive term that people associate with the best class fighters and community campaigners in the area. [Read more…]

Socialists gain in Melbourne elections

Socialist Party candidate Anthony Main speaks at an election night party.

Grant Brookes, in Melbourne

Elections for local councils across the Australian state of Victoria took place on October 27. Socialist candidates scored major gains.

The Socialist Party, standing in all three wards in the inner-Melbourne City of Yarra, won its highest ever vote – up 58 percent on 2008. SP councillor Stephen Jolly was re-elected under the Single-Transferrable Vote (STV) system, topping the poll with more first preference votes than any other candidate.

Socialist Alliance candidates, running in the northern Melbourne suburbs of Moreland and in the regional city of Geelong, scored the party’s best results in Victoria. Sue Bolton came third highest in the tally of first preference votes, out of 24 candidates. And under STV she was elected to Moreland City Council as the most preferred candidate overall for her ward. In Geelong, Sue Bull won over 10,000 first preference votes (8 percent of the total) in the mayoral election.

Yet in a country where voting is compulsory, around a quarter of registered electors didn’t cast a vote. Commenting on the low turnout, Monash senior politics lecturer Nick Economou observed, “If people do not believe the system is relevant to them, they won’t turn up, even if there is a threat of a fine”.

Institute of Public Affairs spokesperson James Paterson called for voluntary voting, adding, “We don’t believe people should be compelled to cast a vote for a party they don’t agree with”.

The largest socialist group in Melbourne maintains that elections shouldn’t be a focus for activists, and may even be a distraction from the “real” struggle. Sadly, their abstention meant that voters only had the option of supporting socialist candidates, campaigning to radically transform the system, in three out of Victoria’s 79 council areas.

But the strong results for the SP and SA show the opportunity – and the need – for activists to connect with community members through elections. [Read more…]

Australia: Hundreds rally for refugees outside detention centre gates

Demonstration in MelbourneBy Chris Peterson, Melbourne
First published in Green Left Weekly

About 200 people rallied at Melbourne’s Maribyrnong Detention Centre on September 22, against deporting refugees to danger and mandatory detention. Dayan Anthony, a Tamil refugee, was deported to Sri Lanka in July against his will from Maribyrnong.

Antony’s Lawyer Sanmati Verma said: “Each and every professional and all community members in contact with Dayan Anthony attested that he was a torture survivor. And yet he was put on a plane and yet he was sent back to Sri Lanka.

“He was interrogated there for 16 hours by the notorious Criminal Investigation Department in the presence of Australian personnel. This deportation is the talk of law over the spirit of justice. “Regimes that commit war crimes are not magically transformed thee years later. We live in an age where the language of care has been hijacked from us. We are either on the side of Nauru or the side of people dying in the sea. This false discourse created by the expert panel [on asylum seekers] needs to be changed abolished.” [Read more…]

Solidarity with Coles workers (Australia)

Resistance comrades in Adelaide support Melbourne Coles Workers.

More information on Coles dispute:

Crucified on Christmas Island

The death of 30 asylum seekers, whose overloaded wooden boat crashed on the rocks of Christmas Island and sank, speaks volumes about immigration controls. This 21st century barbarism needs to be abolished, just as the slave trade was.

In the past year 5000 people made their way to Australia in flimsy boats via Indonesia. Most were from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka fleeing war and genocide. Australia, as a key player in the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, is directly responsible for the desperate plight of those who turn to people-smugglers.

The journey to Australia invariably ends in prison or death. [Read more…]