Why you should boycott Australia Day

 

ausday

The National Australia Day Council describes Australia Day as “a day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation,” and a “day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the generations to come”.

But for many January 26 is no date to celebrate, and to fully understand why, we must recognise the price of this “great nation’s” achievements over the past 229 years.

The 26th of January 2017 will mark 229 years since the British invaded what is now known as Australia. It was on this date in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack for the first time in Sydney Cove, symbolising British occupation.

When Australia was invaded, British colonisers declared this continent terra nullius: “nobody’s land”; a law which describes territory that has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state. Terra Nullius was granted despite the land already being occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations for over 60, 000 years.

Despite acts of resistance, Australia was brutally colonised as British settlers stole Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and enacted massacres through state policy.

The Frontier Wars spanned the first 140 years of colonisation. When the invasion commenced, there were approximately 750,000 people living in 350 distinct nations on the Australian landmass. By 1900, only 93,200 Indigenous people survived. At least twenty thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were killed or murdered in untold battles and massacres from Hobart to the Kimberley. Approximately two and half thousand invaders were killed as Aboriginal people resisted extermination.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Australian state continued to dehumanise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and commit acts of genocide under new laws. A policy called ‘Smooth the Dying Pillow’ allowed indiscriminate killings well into the 1930’s under the assumption that what was left of the Aboriginal population would die out. [1]

In 1901 the Australian state introduced ‘the White Australia policy’, making Anglocentric whiteness the ultimate marker of citizenship. This meant Indigenous Australians could not vote, own property, receive wages for work, travel, or receive legal representation [2]. Prior to the 1967 Referendum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were viewed as ‘sub-human’ and weren’t counted as citizens for the census, but rather were categorised as part of the national flora and fauna.

Until 1970 Aboriginal workers were for all intents and purposes enslaved. They sold their labour power to white men but were denied access to their wages which were often stolen by the state [3].

To those who think colonisation and structural racism are a thing of the past, or that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to ‘get over it’, take a look at recent statistics:

Despite a formal apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the Australian state continues to dehumanise Aboriginal peoples through institutionalised racism and state violence. 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are taken from their families every month, making the number of removals higher now than during the Stolen Generations period. 48% of juveniles in detention are Aboriginal, and like Dylan Voller, many experience physical abuse and trauma.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are massively over represented in Australia’s criminal justice system. Though only representing 3% of the total population, more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners make up 86% of the prison population.

Between 2000 and 2007 there were 701 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in police custody. The recent release of CCTV footage at the time of Ms Dhu’s death highlight the disregard for her welfare and right to medical treatment.

This year the continued forced closures of Aboriginal communities is creating higher rates of homelessness and poverty for those affected. The removals also sever an intrinsic connection to country known to be important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

Day of Mourning, Invasion Day, Survival Day

In 1938, on the 150th Australia Day celebrations, the first ‘Day of Mourning Protest’ was held. Activists marched silently through the streets and held a conference for equal rights and citizenship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ‘Australia Day’ has since been rejected and renamed by many as either ‘Invasion Day’ which mourns the invasion of British colonisers, or ‘Survival Day’ which recognises the continued survival of First Nations people.

How does this position you?

If you are a non-Indigenous person living in Australia, regardless of your family history or the colour of your skin, you directly benefit from the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Any privileges you enjoy living in this country come at the expense of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“To different degrees every colonizer is privileged, at least comparatively so, ultimately to the detriment of the colonized…this can be read by the relation of each group’s concrete economic and psychological position within the colonial society.” [4]

Celebrating Australia Day, a day which rejoices in the European invasion, is only appealing to those who do not know, or those who do not care, about Australia’s black history. It is absurd and insensitive to hold a day of patriotic celebration on a day that marks the beginning of the genocide and dispossession of the owners of this land.

Having a choice to celebrate Australia Day is a marker of settler privilege. As a non-Indigenous person living on stolen land, I acknowledge my privilege and choose to reject this day. I am not proud and I will not celebrate.

The National Australia Day Council recognises this day as a day to recommit to making Australia better for generations to come. Celebrating this day however, no matter the pretense, eradicates history and identity.

The recent lamb advert shows a fictitious Australia that is founded on both multiculturalism and nationalism, but pointedly leaves out the brutal massacres of Indigenous peoples and the dispossession of land and culture. Many Australians see this ad as a step towards inclusivity, but it is just another platform for the whitewashing of Australian history.

Celebrating more ‘inclusively’ on the day by not calling your event an ‘Australia Day Party’ or making a quick acknowledgement of country is not enough. Though these gestures recognise the extreme inappropriateness of holding a celebration on this day, they do little to raise the issues of continued oppression of Indigenous Australians or call for treaty.

I ask you to join me in completely boycotting this day. Instead, show solidarity and stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and demand justice.

What can you do?

As a non-Indigenous ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I propose the following strategies to show your solidarity:

Educate yourself and other non-Indigenous people. Learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, the colonisation of Australia, the Frontier Wars, and the ongoing struggle for self-determination.

Explain to your friends and family why you won’t be celebrating Australia Day this year and ask them to join you. Lessen the burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to do this educating.

When possible, listen to and respect the stories and opinions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If you have questions, ask them, but recognise that you are not entitled to this education. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may not want to do this labour. It is not their responsibility to educate you.

Don’t interrupt or whitesplain racism. If you get called out for problematic behaviour or language don’t get defensive, listen. Acknowledge what happened and apologise, if needed, for any harm caused. Move forward and use this experience to help others learn too.

Attend a Survival or Invasion Day event in solidarity. Respect that the terms of the event are at the discretion of the organisers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in attendance.

 

ACT

Invasion Day Callout – 9am @ Aboriginal Embassy

http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/invasion-day-callout-canberra-26-january-2017

 

Victoria

Invasion Day march – 11.00am @ Parliament Steps

https://www.facebook.com/events/215071755620856/

Share The Spirit Festival 2017 – 11am @ Treasury Gardens

https://www.facebook.com/events/150077532149401/

Belgrave Survival Day “Learn Local Culture – 12pm Borthwick Park

https://www.facebook.com/events/553168944882354/

 

New South Wales

Invasion Day Protest: Change the Date!!! – 9.30am @ Ballina

https://www.facebook.com/events/235105183604169/

Yabun – 10am @ Victoria Park

https://yabun.org.au/

Invasion Day rally – 11am @ The Block, Redfern

https://www.facebook.com/events/236690090088950/

 

Queensland

Survival Day Walk – 7.30am @ Mabo Monument Victoria Bridge

https://www.facebook.com/events/353730851676384/

Invasion Day March – 10am @ Parliament House

https://www.facebook.com/events/1234064616670638/

Survival Day Townsville 2017 – 11am @ Perfume Gardens

https://www.facebook.com/events/869855686479156/

 

South Australia

Survival Day 2017 – 11am @ Semaphore Foreshore

http://www.eventfinda.com.au/2017/survival-day-2017/adelaide/semaphore

Invasion Day Resistance & Mourning Shave (Kaurna Country) – 6pm @ Elder Park

https://www.facebook.com/events/373858919632754/

 

Western Australia

Invasion Day Rally – 1pm @ Perth

https://www.facebook.com/events/703178789841962/

 

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we organise on, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations, and pay our respects to elders both past and present, and also extend that respect to any Aboriginal people reading this article. We also acknowledge that this land was stolen and that sovereignty was never ceded.

 

Citations:

[1] Foley, G. (1999). Whiteness and Blackness in the struggle for self-determination

[2] Moreton-Robinson, A. (2004). Whiteness, epistemology & Indigenous representation. In Morton-Robinson, A. (Ed.). Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism.

[3] Korf, J. (2016). Stolen Wages. <www.CreativeSpirits.info>

[4] (Memmi, A. (1965). The colonizer and the colonized. p77, 79

Your consumer choices won’t save the planet

The climate catastrophe is capitalism.
The climate catastrophe is capitalism.

Surely if we were all more committed to buying green, fair trade, or ethically produced products, there would be less environmental and economic exploitation in the world, right?

The idea that our consumer choices are ‘votes’ for the kind of world we want to live in is a powerful one, but it is an idea that is gravely mistaken.

Our current economic system, capitalism, is eating away at the ecological basis of our existence, whilst exploiting and dominating the lives of billions of people. This destruction, domination and exploitation is driven not by consumer choices, but by the logic of capital accumulation.

All businesses are confronted by the need to remain profitable. Businesses that do not generate a healthy return on investment will soon go bankrupt and be replaced by those enterprises that are profitable. But it is not enough to simply be profitable, all businesses are in competition to achieve ever greater investment and profit. Capitalists invest their money in enterprises based on their understanding of what will deliver the highest return, whilst businesses seek bigger returns by achieving greater market share. They achieve greater market share by lowering prices, selling more, and driving their competition out of the market. It is this process that drives capitalist enterprises to consume larger and larger quantities of resources, in order to produce more, and sell more, whilst pay workers less.

The logic of ethical consumerism assumes that the destructive waste of capitalism is caused by the demands made by consumers (most of whom are in turn workers). The argument goes that it is our desire for more stuff that has pushed capitalist firms to produce in ever greater quantities, and at ever lower costs no matter the ecological or human impact. This assumption is incorrect.

Capitalism is driven towards expansion, irrespective of the level of demand that exists for the goods and services that capitalist enterprises produce. It is for this reason that capitalists first chased new markets for their goods (and new sources of raw materials) across the globe. Capitalism now embraces the entire world in what is, more or less, one capitalist economic system.

Despite the fact that capitalism now embraces the globe, the logic of capitalist expansion remains unchanged. Individual capitalist enterprises must strive to produce greater levels of profit, or they will be replaced by those that do. Whenever capitalism as a whole is not growing, it is in crisis. In order to continue clearing the market place of this over-abundance of production, capitalist enterprises engage in a continual process of inventing and manufacturing new needs and new wants among consumers. There is even a whole industry that specializes in this practice; it is called marketing.

The decision by a minority of people to buy this type of product over that type of product will not challenge the accumulative logic of capital. It is capitalism’s drive toward perpetual growth that is consuming the ecological basis of our continued existence.

But capitalists love the logic of ethical consumerism. When a concerned group or NGO calls for a boycott of this or that product or practice, capitalist enterprises can profit from selling us the greener, more ethical alternative at a higher price! The “more ethical alternative” is rarely better than a greenwash that serves to improve corporate image and assuage middle class guilt whilst doing little to change underlying practices in production. The wealthiest may have been sold the image of social good, but the bulk of us can do little other than put food on our tables and clothes on our backs at the cheapest possible prices.

A particularly pernicious strand of ethical consumerism is expressed in relation to climate change and energy consumption. Those wealthy enough to afford “green energy”, solar panels, or household lithium battery arrays gleefully finance wasteful new industries. The wealthy enough eco-warriors then turn their noses up at the destructive ‘choices’ of the great mass of people just struggling to maintain access to heating, cooking and light from any available energy source.

Even as larger numbers of the middle class in the developed world pour money into “clean energy”, they don’t somehow reduce the consumption of coal, oil or gas. Lower demand for non-renewable energy lowers the price of coal, gas and oil inputs, which is readily sucked up by industries that will always consume the cheapest available energy source, or be replaced by the manufacturer that does.

Ethical consumerism is worse than useless. The false choice of “ethical consumption” gives those firms most exposed to the risks of consumer backlash a ready source of green wash, and it provides new opportunities to sell “ethical” products at higher prices. Whilst doing this, “ethical consumerism” diverts attention away from the dynamic that is destroying our environment, exploiting workers, and wasting resources. Capitalism requires and is driven towards ceaseless, unending, economic growth. This requires ever an expanding consumption of the earth’s resources, the production and sale of ever more products, and the subordination of the mass of the world’s population.

I fully understand and accept why people with the ability to do so might wish to minimize the impact that their consumptive choices have of the planet, on the environment, or on working conditions. But we cannot simply end sweatshops, or the burning of fossil fuels, or destructive agricultural practices, by boycotting this or that product. If we are to save a planet worth living on, we have to end an economic system that is making our planet unlivable.

Means and Ends: Anarchist vs Marxist praxis

“The very revolutionaries who claim that they are against the state, and for eliminating the state…see as their central task after a revolution to build up a state that is more solid, more centralized and more all-embracing than the old one.” – Ron Taber, 1988 (1).


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By Mitch

The remarkably common attitude among revolutionaries of all stripes is that “the means justify the ends”. We’re told it is acceptable to embrace authoritarian organisational practices because these practices are necessary to achieve an anti-capitalist revolution. As Anarchists we argue that the theory and organisational practice of revolutionary groups must be consistent with the principles upon which we want a future society to be based. We believe that the praxis of groups which seek communism should point them toward communism, and not toward statism, authoritarianism, hierarchy, and centralism. This is not mere idealism, the cold hard fact is that “ends” do not justify “means”, rather “means create ends”. Revolutionaries that embrace “means” that are in contradiction with the kind of society they wish to create will consistently fail to create that society.

Amongst Marxist-Leninist political tendencies the contradiction between means and ends starts with the idea of the vanguard party as the vehicle for social change. The vanguard party is supposed to be comprised of the most enlightened and class-conscious members of the working class. In practice, the vanguard party begins as a self-selecting minority. It seeks to draw in the most militant elements of the working class, but its structure remains centralised and authoritarian. This minority occupies centralised leadership positions and directs the political activity, strategy and tactics of the party. Whether or not there is real democratic accountability within the vanguard party on some intermittent basis, the vanguard party is a command structure in which decisions are made by a minority, and the majority is expected to put the plans and desires of the leadership into action.

The end goal of the vanguard party is to prosecute a revolution and achieve control of a ‘workers’ state’. During a transitional period between capitalism and communism called, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, the vanguard would utilise this authoritarian, hierarchical, and centralised state, in order to coordinate the running of society.

The structure of the vanguard party prefigures the structure of the workers’ state after the revolution, but it does not achieve the directly democratic communist society it claims to aspire toward. As a centralised minority, the party would have gained control over all the working class in a society. The same working class that historically and necessarily did the grunt-work to bring the revolution to that point.

Vladimir Lenin himself said, “a party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses” (2).

According to Leninists, the vanguard party is necessitated by the idea that the working class is too burdened by ‘the muck of ages’ to emancipate itself, for itself. This means that the ruling ideas of capitalism plague people’s ability to be satisfactorily class conscious. These ruling ideas include sexism, racism, homophobia, and nationalism.

This is the historically-selective and pessimistic base on which the enlightened vanguardists decide that their party is necessary.

Yet the vanguard, who set out on a convoluted road which is ‘diametrically opposed to communism’ are plagued by some muck of their own (3). The latent authoritarian and hierarchical nature of the capitalist state remain as unchecked cornerstones of the workers’ state.

As Murray Bookchin argued in ‘Listen, Marxist’, ‘…the deep-rooted conservatism of [so called] “revolutionaries” is almost painfully evident; the authoritarian leader and hierarchy replace the patriarch and the school bureaucracy; the discipline of the Movement replaces the discipline of bourgeois society; the authoritarian code of political obedience replaces the state; the credo of “proletarian morality” replaces the mores of puritanism and the work ethic. The old substance of exploitative society reappears in new forms, draped in a red flag, etc…’ (4).

Classical Marxist and Leninist analyses of the state fail to acknowledge the way that assuming state power changes any ‘workers’ who do so. Contrary to what Marx argued, workers cease being workers when they take control of a state. They become self-appointed managers of workers, and so they cement themselves as a new managerial class, entirely distinct from the working class.

Mikhail Bakunin was correct when he argued that the ‘workers state’, “will consist of ex-workers. And from the heights of the State they begin to look down upon the whole common world of the workers. From that time on they represent not the people but themselves” (5).

It’s a perversion and a contradiction of the politics that originate these theories that workers should die in droves to overthrow thousands of bosses and replace them all with one boss — the state. Especially when this boss conceals its class status; cloaks itself in the guise of a fellow worker, of a comrade. It deviously calls itself a worker and not a manager of workers to justify its authority.

Leon Trotsky was right when he complained of Stalinism that, “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat” (6). It is ironic that he saw no contradiction in this state of affairs when he was so intimately involved in constructing Russia’s one party state.

It seems the over-worked proletariat is destined to remain the over-worked proletariat but a few enlightened workers graduate to a privileged position where they coordinate what work will be done, by whom, and by when. The creativity, initiative, and the ideas the emancipated working class have for the new society are apparently disposable in the eyes of Marxists. At least, they’re not worth as much as the ideas of the vanguardists who make the familiar and misguided claim that they know what’s right for people better than people do themselves.

It is evident that the praxis of vanguardists doesn’t prefigure anything beyond their own ascent to power. After they have gained power, the so-called ‘withering away’ of the workers’ state is a barely developed and meaningless sentiment based on the false idea that no classes would exist after workers (read: ex-workers turned administrators of workers) take power. This means that the fixed state institutions; its armies; its centralised networks of production; its education and media facilities that fill the society with the state’s own ideas, would magically disappear with the abolition of class.

The workers’ state won’t and can’t wither away. All ruling minorities have an interest in maintaining their position as such. A newly installed ruling minority will use its power and authority to further justify and entrench its own power and authority. It will have under its thumb a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence in a society, which has historically been used to give the workers’ state the authority to eliminate the state’s non-reactionary dissenters. Instead of encouraging the expression of ideas for the betterment of society from all who make up that society, the workers’ state creates itself with its own elitism and belief in the superiority of the ideas of the ruling vanguard. This is a fundamental part of the praxis leading to it. In order to maintain its rule, the so-called workers’ state will actively combat any opposing ideas with propaganda through the centralised control of media outlets and educational facilities, if not with direct force.

Fabbri notes that the state has ‘bureaucratic, military and economic foundations…’ and that ‘…in a short space of time what one would have would not be the state abolished, but a state stronger and more energetic than its predecessor and which would come to exercise those functions proper to it – the ones Marx recognised as being such – “keeping the great majority of producers under the yoke of a numerically small exploiting minority”’ (3).

Anarchists argue that while a revolutionary force is being built to smash the capitalist state, we must also be building the kinds of prefigurative institutions that will make libertarian socialism possible. Our task is to argue for and build a practice of neighbourhood, community, and workers councils. The alternative to a vanguard party is the creation of federations of participatory democratic bodies, outside the control of this or that political faction. To the greatest extent possible, before, during, but most importantly, after a revolution, these directly democratic, horizontal, and decentralised institutions must replace the centralised, state-run equivalents. In this way, anarchists seek to build the embryo of communism within the capitalist system, with the aim of both providing for the people where the state can’t, and of building the new world in the shell of the old.

When the capitalist state is smashed by the popular uprising, these decentralised institutions and councils can continue functioning, and any remaining useful functions of the state become coordinated by further federated councils of workers and regular people. If we have built the practice of participatory democracy, a centralised workers’ state is never required.

Of course, there would be the need to defend the revolution, and to this end anarchists argue for a people’s militia ‘rooted in workplaces and communities… and directed overall by the federation of councils [would] enforce its will against armed counterrevolution or foreign invasion,’ according to Wayne Price (7).

If we are opposed to the domination of a ruling class, clique or party, we must build a libertarian socialism that involves the participation of the mass of society in the process of decision making, economic coordination, and military defence.

The partisans of the ‘workers’ state’ and the vanguard party have a revolutionary program committed to anything but communism. Given they propose a society where power and initiative are both necessarily centralised features belonging only to the state and not to every person equally, they are not creating the necessary basis for communism, but rather totalitarianism.

Anarchists wish to create a society where no one person can exploit another for their own gain, and so the stepladder to power that is the state must be knocked over so that it can’t be reassembled — Not left to stand, and certainly not used to govern with a pessimistic fear that the people necessary to the revolution’s success are incapable of creating a new society through their own organising efforts.


Further reading:

(1) Taking a Critical Look at Leninism by Ron Taber.

(2) Speech on the Agrarian Question November 14 by Vladimir Lenin

(3) The Poverty of Statism: Anarchism vs Marxism.

(4) Listen, Marxist! by Murray Bookchin

(5) Marxism, Freedom and the State by Mikhail Bakunin.

(6) The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky

(7) Confronting the Question of Power by Wayne Price

Living in a Monopoly

In 1903 Lizzie Magie patented the ‘Landlords Game’ – originally intended as an anti-capitalist critique of monopolistic corporate greed. “It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences,” Magie wrote in a political magazine. “It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem[s] to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.”

The game was popular among left-wing progressives and at university campuses, until some thirty years later when Charles Darrow and his wife played it a dinner party. At the time the game wasn’t often bought in a box; rather, it was copied and shared between friends, known as ‘the monopoly game’. Darrow was taken with the game and asked his host to make him a set, along with a copy of the more advanced rules. In 1935, he copied and sold the game, now known as Monopoly, to Parker Brothers along with the myth of its creation.

Lizzy Magie, inventor of the Landlord’s Game, which we now know as Monopoly, in 1936. Photograph: Anspach Archives
Lizzy Magie, inventor of the Landlord’s Game, which we now know as Monopoly, in 1936. Photograph: Anspach Archives

The object is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling of a single commodity – property. The game of Monopoly is one of accumulation and power that enables each player the chance to compete. Magie invented the game to reveal the current economic system and the greed of those monopolising it; though it was over a hundred years ago and many alterations have been made, parallels between playing a game of Monopoly and life under capitalism still exist today.

When you begin a game of Monopoly players are given equal odds for success: you each receive $1500, the board is open, and everyone has the potential to expand an empire. You go around the board like this for a while, buying properties, building houses and hotels, and just having a good ol’ time accumulating wealth. Until all of a sudden the game gets really serious. You land on Park Lane, it has a red hotel perched upon it and you realise you’re fucked. You count out your paper money, mortgage half your properties and pay the astronomical fee for landing on this spot, but you know it’s all over. There’s a sickening feeling of anger in your gut as you paste a smile on your face and say, “It’s just a game!” But everyone knows what happens next. The leading player gets wealthier and wealthier, accumulating properties as the others are forced to retire – all the while remembering why they hate Monopoly.

The tendency towards monopoly is deeply rooted in the nature of the capitalist economic system, and unlike the game of Monopoly we don’t all start on an equal footing. Capitalism is characterised by gross inequalities in power, wealth and access to resources, and in our society these inequalities are only getting worse. The game of monopoly is well afoot in the Australian housing market, and those of us who weren’t born lucky enough to inherit the metaphorical $1500 are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain secure access to housing.

In 1982, the ABS Survey of Income and Housing revealed that 168,000 or 10% of home buyers spent more than 30% of their gross household income on housing costs. Nearly 30 years later in 2011 these numbers had soared to 640,000, equivalent to 21% of all home buyers. The trend in housing cost burdens reflect rising real house prices; property market booms escalate real house prices to higher levels than they peaked in the previous boom. But with each peak in house prices, household incomes fall continuously behind. According to the same ABS data source, households in 1990 on average valued their homes at four times their average household income, by 2011 this multiple had climbed to nearly six times average household income.

The problem is not one of a shortage of housing, but an inefficient and unequal distribution of the stock housing. There are an estimated 84,000 vacant residential properties in Melbourne, the majority owned by property investors and speculators. At the same time, the public housing waiting list has blown out to ten years as 34,000 people wait for a place to live. This is both obscene, and the logical consequence of an economic system in which housing is not a human right, but rather a commodity to be bought, sold and speculated on for private profit.

The Australian government has done everything it can to support the rampant cycle of property speculation which is driving housing inaffordability across Australia. The combination of “negative gearing” and a concessionary rates of capital gains tax on residential real estate have amounted to a massive transfer of capital to those wealthiest enough to engage in property speculation. Negative gearing means that individuals with high incomes can lower their income tax liabilities by borrowing to buy investment properties. When these speculators cash out, they avoid tax again, thanks to the Capital Gains Tax concessions. The result is that $11.7 billion dollars a year that might have been collected in tax revenue is instead funneled into the pockets of the wealthiest, and this occurs in a process that drives up property prices and rents, and progressively locks large sections of the working class out of the housing market.

Unfortunately for us, capitalism is an adaptable system, capable of evolving and transforming over time. Since Magie invented the ‘Landlords Game’ in 1903 we have seen a major merger movement for industry, greater concentration of capital, advanced selling power through advertising, and a mass expansion for the market through globalization and imperialism. Just like the outcome of the game, the monopolisation of capital results in the most powerful minorities dividing all the profits whilst the greater part of humanity suffers from ever increasing poverty. The standard of living for the wealthy is based on the extreme oppression of the working class.

So whilst there are clear parallels between a game of Monopoly and the conditions of life in a capitalist society, it is also clear that the conditions of our lives are unequal and the outcomes far worse for most. You don’t start on ‘GO’ at the same time as everyone else, you’re certainly not given the same amount of wealth to begin with, all of the properties, utilities and businesses are already owned, and it seems like your dice only roll ones and twos. It’s also really hard to find free parking. The truth is most of us go around the board year in and year out trying to pass ‘GO’ for our measly wage, hoping we can scrape together enough money to pay our rent and survive. If you can’t pay your rent you don’t get to stop playing, you have to keep rolling your shitty dice, trying to make it back to ‘GO’ or dying in the process. Meanwhile the minority who monopolise the board don’t ever really begin the game, certain players just pass their piece on, accompanied by their every-growing pile of notes, properties, and little red hotels.

The Wages for Housework Campaign and ‘Women’s Work’ Under Capitalism

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By Rebecca Winter and Jasmina Brankovich

“Why has woman’s work never been of any account? […] Because those who want to emancipate mankind [sic] have not included woman in their dream of emancipation, and consider it beneath their superior masculine dignity to think “of those kitchen arrangements,” which they have rayed on the shoulders of that drudge-woman.[…]Let us fully understand that a revolution, intoxicated with the beautiful words Liberty, Equality, Solidarity would not be a revolution if it maintained slavery at home. Half of humanity subjected to the slavery of the hearth would still have to rebel against the other half” – Peter Kropotkin (1).

Caring work, reproductive labour, affective work: there are different names to describe the type of unpaid work conducted in the so-called ‘private’, domestic sphere of the nuclear family; yet it is essential, life-giving work. If there was no one willing to wipe the bums of babies, to do the laundry, to cook food, or to care for those who need support, none of us would live well, and for some it would be a question of survival. Yet, the labour that goes into reproducing us as human beings – in the form of child-rearing and caring, housework, and emotional support – is frequently under-appreciated, and almost always either under-paid or unpaid. It is also a form of labour that is, in global terms, predominantly performed by women, especially women of colour.

This gendered division of reproductive labour is often justified on the grounds that women are ‘naturally’ suited for caring roles, and that this work is not exploitative because women do it out of love for their families. We argue, however, that the gendered division of reproductive labour is an important tool of patriarchal, racist capitalism.

By presenting reproductive labour as not being ‘real work,’ women’s labour is devalued, which allows capitalists to easily exploit it, while also perpetuating patriarchal social relations which privilege paid work in the ‘public’ sphere when performed by men. This also functions to reproduce racism, as women of colour often perform this work, by taking on the reproductive labour of wealthy families as well as in their own homes. We argue that it is vital for anarchists and other anti-capitalists to examine the role of reproductive labour under capitalism and reconceptualise what it means to be a worker. In other words, “the strategy of feminist class struggle is […] based on the wageless woman in the home […] whose position in the wage structure is low especially, but not only, if she is Black” (2).

Reproductive labour and its discontents

“Why deny that caring for people is the very stuff of life? Basic to relationships. Basic to human survival. Yet treated as worthless. Women give their all, but it’s not mutual and it’s not paid” – Selma James (3).

Prior to the 1970s, during the ‘golden era’ of growth in post-Second World War capitalism, the state supplemented the interest of capital in raising the future workforce, with heavily subsidised investment. However, since the advent of neoliberalism in the 1970s we have seen increased disinvestment by the state in the ‘private’ sphere. Women were increasingly ‘welcomed’ to the paid workforce, but often still find themselves left with a ‘second-shift’ of reproductive labour at the end of the day.

More recently cuts to state funding have meant that workers in the aged care, nursing, disability, and child care sectors (most of whom are women), are increasingly forced into precarious casual employment, with little job security and inadequate wages. Cuts to social services and welfare programs have been made worse by privatisation of essential services, and have left those performing unpaid reproductive work with few avenues of support and little financial independence.

In the first volume of the Capital, Karl Marx describes the paid labour conditions of men, women, and children, toiling in the factories of 19th-century industrial England. But, while Marx’s work explores the creation of this kind of ‘productive’ labour (which generates profit for capitalists), he was silent on the important role of reproductive work in capitalism. Marx’s focus was on the way capitalists extract the maximum profit from workers by paying them much less than their labour is worth. Like many other socialist and anarchist thinkers, however, he neglected to think about those (predominantly women) who work outside of the wage system, or who perform unpaid work alongside waged work.

A key challenge to this limited view of work and capitalism has been provided by the writings and activism of autonomist Marxist feminists. The work of autonomist feminists redefined the ‘private sphere’ of the home as a sphere of relations of production and a site of potential anti-capitalist organising (4).

In 1972, the International Wages for Housework Campaign was launched by activists including Selma James, Silvia Federici and Maria Dalla Costa. The campaign challenged the idea that housework, child care and emotional labour did not count as ‘real’ work by demanding that it was reconceptualised as if it were paid. As Federici explained: “To say that we want money for housework is the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demand for a wage makes our work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it, both in its immediate aspect as housework, and its more insidious character as femininity” (5).

By challenging the unpaid status of housework, the Wages for Housework campaign sought to undermine the division between paid and unpaid workers under capitalism, and create the space for women to think of themselves as workers with a right to struggle for liveable working conditions inside the home, as well as outside it.

The solution, according to Wages for Housework activists, was not for individual families or care-givers to simply be paid by the state or capitalists, or for individual men and women to just share unpaid reproductive work. They argued that reproductive work should be collectivised, controlled by those who performed the work, and used to engage community members in rethinking what unpaid labour represented, and the benefits it accrued to capitalists. They aimed to challenge the idea that reproductive labour is an ‘unproductive’, less valuable form of work, which must be performed in addition to a person’s ‘real work.’

However, it’s not enough to think about how women’s reproductive labour benefits the capitalist class – we must also think about how it benefits men and maintains a patriarchal social structure. Heidi Hartmann notes that it’s not simply a coincidence that the gendered division of reproductive labour “places men in a superior, and women in a subordinate, position” (6). The fact that many men receive a wage for their work, while many women do not, creates an inequality in economic power which facilitates men’s control over women’s lives. Ultimately, the gendered division of labour props up a patriarchal, white supremacist capitalist system, which the vast majority would be better off without. However, under the current system, the fact that men are not obliged to take on as much housework, child care, or care of family members is often perceived as a benefit, a privilege, which some men will fight to keep. This happens even when women in the family participate in paid work on an equivalent basis to men. Recognising this helps us understand why campaigns which focus on reproductive labour, such as Wages for Housework, can face a backlash by men, including those who claim to be comrades in the anti-capitalist struggle.

The ideas of the Wages for Housework campaign have since been continued in the Global Women’s Strike movement, as but one example of Selma James’ legacy. Women from 60 countries, including Argentina, Peru, India, Uganda and the UK, took part in a strike on International Women’s Day in 2004. The Global Women’s Strike was organised under the banner of ‘Resources for Caring Not Killing’ (7). In addition to wages for housework, the movement demanded access to social housing, free education, clean water, and debt abolition for ‘Third World’ nations. They strongly opposed military spending and demanded that women’s unpaid emotional labour be financially compensated by divestments from military activities, thus again drawing attention to the unjust division of resources under capitalism (8).

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The gendered division of labour in contemporary Australia

“We both had careers, both had to work a couple of days a week to earn enough to live on, so why shouldn’t we share the housework? So I suggested it to my mate and he agreed – most men are too hip to turn you down flat. You’re right, he said. It’s only fair. Then an interesting thing happened […] The longer my husband contemplated these chores, the more repulsed he became, and so proceeded the change from the normally sweet, considerate Dr. Jekyll into the crafty Mr. Hyde who would stop at nothing to avoid the horrors of housework” – Pat Mainardi (9).

What are some of the ways that the gendered division of reproductive labour functions under contemporary Australian capitalism? While mainstream pundits argue that feminist struggles are unnecessary today, women in Australia are still overwhelmingly overrepresented in unpaid and underpaid forms of labour, such as childcare, housework and emotional labour. Unpaid labour is essential to the functioning of Australian capitalism. In 2006, the value of unpaid household work, and volunteer and community work ranged from $416 billion to $586 billion, which represents 41.6% to 58.7% of GDP for that year (10).

On average, women perform two thirds of all unpaid work in the home (such as cleaning, food preparation, laundry), while men perform two thirds of waged work. Living with a partner (without children) increases the household labour women perform by six hours, when compared with women who live alone or in shared housing. However, men who live with their partners experience no increase in unpaid labour. Despite many more women taking part in paid work in addition to household labour, on average women in Australia spend the same amount of time on housework in 2006 as they did in 1992 (11).

In addition to household chores and maintenance, Australian women are significantly more likely to take on child care responsibilities. Female parents perform more than two and a half times the amount of childcare taken on by male parents. Mothers are more likely to perform “physical and emotional care duties” (43%, compared with 27% for fathers), while fathers spend more time on “play activities” (41%, compared with 25% for mothers) (12).

Another less recognised aspect of women’s unpaid labour is the pressure placed on women to perform emotional labour to ‘keep everyone happy.’ Modern ideas about what it is to be a ‘good woman’ or wife/partner frequently emphasise the importance of emotional work. Often falsely naturalised under the guise of comments about ‘women’s intuition’, women are frequently tasked with responsibility for maintaining the emotional wellbeing of their family, partner and social groups. These ideas bleed into the sexual realm, as right-wing commentators like Bettina Arndt urge us to ‘take one for the team’ and consider having sex with a partner as just another chore, like taking out the bins (13). Sex can end up being added to the list of duties a woman is expected to perform as part of her day. Federici writes that “for women sex is work; giving pleasure is part of what is expected of every woman […] In the past, we were just expected to raise children. Now we are expected to have a waged job, still clean the house and have children and, at the end of a double workday, be ready to hop in bed and be sexually enticing” (14).

In many ways, women’s emotional labour does not end in the home. In social justice and anti-capitalist organising circles, we all too frequently see the overrepresentation of women in facilitation, conflict resolution, and in grievance collectives. These roles are vital to the continued existence of functional social movements. But women’s work is often unrecognised, under-appreciated, and seen as less valuable than roles typically performed by men, such as leading protest actions, acting as media spokespersons, and frontline banner carriers. In this way, even otherwise egalitarian socialist and anarchist groups can reproduce the gendered division of labour that is the hallmark of patriarchal capitalism.

The consequences of this gendered division of waged work and unpaid reproductive labour for women are extremely significant. Women are more likely to bear responsibility for unpaid work, perform part-time work, and work in areas that are underpaid due to being classed as ‘women’s work.’ This puts many women in a much more financially precarious position than many men, often forcing them to rely on a waged partner for financial security. Being financially dependent on a partner makes it more difficult for women to escape abusive relationships. Women in Australia are significantly more likely to more likely to live and die in poverty in old age, as they often cannot accumulate sufficient savings or superannuation due to time spent performing underpaid waged work or unpaid reproductive work. Moreover, because reproductive labour for one’s family is not seen as ‘real work’, women typically lack the benefits and protections won by paid workers (such as, limited work hours, time off, wages, collective support).

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Implications of reproductive labour for anti-capitalist resistance

“One part of the class with a salary, the other without. This discrimination has been the basis of a stratification of power between the paid and the non-paid, the root of the class weakness which movements of the left have only increased” – Lotta Feminista (15).

What lessons should we draw from the Wages for Housework campaign and its focus on women’s reproductive labour? The Wages for Housework campaign was important in that it challenges us to think about the ways that the capitalist concept of ‘work’ devalues the work of women, in particular women of colour, and therefore makes it more difficult to challenge the exploitation which comes with it.

The campaign also shows us how the idea that reproductive labour is something women are naturally suited to, and that it is something which ought to be done ‘for love’, is a key ideological tool for patriarchal, white supremacist capitalism. The wage gap between men and women in waged labour market persists partly because women are designated as ‘natural’ bearers of reproductive labour. An analysis of reproductive labour is especially important in the current period of significant increases in precarious, feminised service work. The devaluation of women’s work contributes to poor conditions in paid work generally. Again we see how patriarchy and capitalism work together – capital benefits from free or cheap labour, and men gain perceived advantages from having women take on the majority of low-status caring work. This dichotomy between ‘public’ and ‘private’ work undermines our struggles against oppression and must be challenged.

The Wages for Housework campaign also has important lessons for contemporary anti-capitalist organising efforts. Women, and others who perform reproductive work, are usually marginalised within anti-capitalist struggles. The home isn’t seen as a potential site for workplace organising. Housework, parenting, sex work, elder care, and emotional labour aren’t seen as worker’s issues. As Federici comments, “We are seen as nagging bitches, not workers in struggle” (16). We need to remember how broad and diverse the working class is as a social force. Women of colour are the biggest section within the global working class. Workers labour in the home, in the child care centre, and in nursing homes, as well as in factories. ‘Labour’ is not only about waged labour. By thinking about the role of reproductive labour plays in our societies, we can draw attention to the gendered and racialised dimensions of capitalist exploitation. The idea of reproductive labour also opens up new possibilities for anti-capitalist resistance. We need to think about how we can struggle as unwaged workers – what strategies and tactics we can employ when our ‘boss’ is not a clearly identifiable authority figure, but rather an economic and social system. While this form of action raises challenges, it also raises opportunities for us to spread anti-capitalist workers’ struggle into every home, and all parts of our communities. Only by accepting this challenge will be have any chance of creating the broad, diverse workers’ movements we need to successfully challenge capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.

References

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(1) Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings, 1995, edited by Marshall Shatz, Cambridge University Press, Boston, p. 113-114.
(2) Selma James, “Sex, Race and Class,” 1975, p. 12, https://libcom.org/library/sex-race-class-james-selma
(3) Selma James, “Home Truths for Feminists,” 2004, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/feb/21/gender.comment
(4) For a good summary of this work see Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, 2012, PM Press.
(5) Silvia Federici, “Wages Against Housework,” 1975, https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/silvia-federici-wages-against-housework/
(6) Heidi Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” in Women and Revolution, 1981, edited by Lydia Sargent, p. 7.
(7) PJ Lilley & Jeff Shantz, “The World’s Largest Workplace: Social Reproduction and Wages for Housework,” 2004, Common Struggle, http://nefac.net/node/1247
(8) The campaign website is here: http://www.globalwomenstrike.net/
(9) Pat Mainardi, “The Politics of Housework,” 1970, Redstockings, http://www.cwluherstory.org/the-politics-of-housework.html
(10) Australian Bureau of Statistics, 5202.0 Spotlight on National Accounts, May 2014, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/5202.0
(11) All other statistics in this section are from Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4102.0, “Trends in Household Work,” March 2009, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features40March%202009
(12) “Trends in Household Work.”
(13) Bettina Arndt, “Marital bliss? You must be on drugs,” June 1 2013, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/marital-bliss-you-must-be-on-drugs-20130531-2nh9f.html
(14) Silvia Federici, “Why Sexuality is Work” in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, 2012, p. 25
(15) Lotta Feminista, “Introduction to the Debate”, Italian Feminist Thought: A Reader, 1991, edited by Paola Bono and Sandra Kemp, Blackwell, Oxford, p. 260.
(16) Silvia Federici, “Wages Against Housework,” 1975.

Lessons from Broadmeadows and Villawood

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Viewed against the backdrop of a campaign which has been largely stagnant since the Howard years, it is worth taking some heart from recent actions outside the Villawood and Broadmeadows detention centres. Not because these actions represent any radical shift in the tactics employed by the refugee movement, or because activists were able to do any more than delay the forced relocations. It’s not even because enough attention was drawn to the plight of those being removed to Christmas Island that it forced any sort of political reckoning on the subject of Fortress Australia. Single actions are rarely definitive in the context of broader social movements, but we should nevertheless greet the energy of these responses with a measure of cautious optimism. I say cautious because these actions have also highlighted long-term problems within “The Refugee Campaign™” that demand our urgent attention.
Continue reading Lessons from Broadmeadows and Villawood

Slackbastard on Fortress Australia

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Andy Fleming is a Melbourne based writer, anarchist and creator of the prominent antifascist blog Slackbastard. We sat down with Andy to talk about nationalism, borders and the political functions of mandatory detention.

I want to discuss mandatory detention, but I want to dig below the usual moral repugnance and discuss a few means and ends. I once had an experience with some University of Sydney Labor Club kids who simply would not believe that it was the ALP in 1992 who built much of the infrastructure of the contemporary border regime. Whilst I found the ignorance quite shocking at the time, I now wonder if it was at least partially informed by their inability to comprehend why Labor would have felt it necessary to introduce mandatory detention. Was it prescient political triangulation, pre-empting the rise of Hanson/Howard rhetoric, or is this too simplistic? What other functions does mandatory detention serve?

At the time, the Minister responsible, Gerry Hand, stated that:

“I believe it is crucial that all persons who come to Australia without prior authorisation not be released into the community. Their release would undermine the Government’s strategy for determining their refugee claims or entry claims. Indeed, I believe it is vital to Australia that this be prevented as far as possible. The Government is determined that a clear signal be sent that migration to Australia may not be achieved by simply arriving in this country and expecting to be allowed into the community.”

As I understand it, the precise reasons why Labor elected to establish the system when it did remain a little obscure. That is, critics questioned the need for such a system to be established at all, and noted that there appeared to be no pressing reason to do so. To more fully answer the question would require an examination of Labor thinking on the matter at the time: something I’ve not explored myself. I suspect that the answer may be found by locating the policy within a broader framework; that is, the transformation of Labor party politics under the Hawke-Keating (1983-1996) governments. In this regard, I think there is both continuity and disjunction with previous policy. Otherwise, I believe state controls over transnational labour movement and capital flows play a key role in arriving at a better understanding of Australian government policy during this period. In which context, Angela Mitropoulos’s essay on ‘The Exhaustion of Australian Social Democracy’ is I think a useful treatment.

Transnational labour and capital is a crucial part of this discussion, but this is something you hear almost nothing of in the contemporary refugee campaign. Why do you think that is? Does the scapegoating of refugees and asylum seekers merely provide political cover for the expansion of policies that exploit migrant labour and depress wages? Can you sketch out the connection between the two?

To begin with, I’d suggest that many if not most of those involved in ‘the contemporary refugee campaign’ – a concept which requires some unpacking – are motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than, say, mobilised on the basis of an analysis of the capital/labour distinction and its application in a local (Australian) context. In other words, with some exceptions, most attention is being given to that category of persons known as asylum seekers or refugees, and to activities which seek to support their efforts to settle in Australia.

The distinction between the ‘good’ refugee and the ‘bad’ refugee (or migrant worker) is often expressed in economic terms: those fleeing persecution in another country have nominal rights to do so while those seeking to migrate to Australia simply in order to improve their economic or social status are regarded as illegitimate. Determinations regarding the nature of cross-border movement of labour – and thus the shape of the local labour market – are the result of calculations made by government and state. The international legal treaties to which the Australian state is a party provide a framework for these determinations; often ignored in practice, and subject to international condemnation as a result – to little, if any obvious effect. The chief task of the state is to control these population flows in the interests of the elite institutions which dominate the economy.

I’m not convinced that the scapegoating of refugees and asylum seekers is simply about providing political cover for attacks upon working conditions: here a distinction should be made between support and function. To begin with, it seems to me that this kind of scapegoating relies for its effectiveness – its popular appeal – upon long-standing racist tropes and xenophobic sentiment. Popular support for the policy of mandatory detention and the construction of a Fortress Australia is just as often expressed in non-economic or ‘cultural’ terms and it’s these concerns which seem to generate the most excitement among supporters, while the actual function of such policies are broader and more extensive.

Punitive forms of state discipline – such as welfare quarantining or extended waiting times for access to social security programs – are programs that are ‘piloted’ on already oppressed and marginalised groups (e.g. the introduction of the ‘basics card’ in Indigenous communities) a long time before they are rolled out to the broader population. Is it fair to argue that a normalisation of the prison system, particularly the component of it under for-profit control, is also an intended consequence of the spectacle of mandatory detention? What else might fall into this category?

‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ ~ Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead

It’s certainly the case that punitive policies of this sort are invariably imposed upon, at first, the most marginalised populations – for obvious reasons. The same may be said of the industry which has developed around ‘border protection’, though in this case the Australian state is pioneering managerial
techniques which are then exported and developed in international as opposed to domestic markets.

The privatisation of the prison industry dates from roughly the same time as the introduction of mandatory detention under Labor (in 1992) and may be regarded as forming one part of a broader social transformation often referred to as ‘neoliberalism’. An account of the development of neoliberalism in Australia and elsewhere in the world, rooted by some in popular challenges to austerity in the so-called Third World in the 1960s and 1970s, is a larger topic. In any case, the privatisation/ corporatisation of prison systems has obvious benefits to the state. Not the least of which is rendering conditions (and the systemic abuses) inside prisons that much more obscure to the general public. As defence, the state often invokes some concept of “efficiency”; a loaded term which, like many others in popular discourse, requires translation into English before being of any use. Broadly speaking, these and similar measures are governed by institutional political and economic considerations; of creating entrenched and systematic forms of social control which are both effective and, as far as possible, profitable, with the social costs being borne by the general population.

There is, to my mind, a close link between Australia’s unreconciled colonial identity and the resonance of anti-immigrant rhetoric with ‘ordinary’ Australians. Though the language has changed from the language of the white Australia policy (we now deploy the navy to turn boats back out of apparent concern for the lives of the people aboard), access to Australia and Australian-ness is as zealously defended as ever. How do we, especially those of us who continue to benefit from the privileges inherent in ‘being’ Australian, begin to challenge these myths?

It’s likely the case that popular anxieties over immigration are informed by some lurking sense of historical injustice. That is, the Australian nation is understood as being an especially precarious ‘imagined community’, one whose foundation is the theft and murder of non-Whites (Indigenous peoples) by Whites (British Empire), whose geographical situation is Asia, not Europe, and which is subject to continual attacks upon its sovereignty by both outsiders and domestic elements. A brief survey of both far right literature and important segments of the popular media on the subject reveals a good deal of evidence to support this thesis. As to how to combat such ideas and practices, I think Ken Knabb provides a useful (if somewhat lengthy) guide in the following:

“It’s often said that a stateless society might work if everyone were angels, but due to the perversity of human nature some hierarchy is necessary to keep people in line. It would be truer to say that if everyone were angels the present system might work tolerably well (bureaucrats would function honestly, capitalists would refrain from socially harmful ventures even if they were profitable). It is precisely because people are not angels that it’s necessary to eliminate the setup that enables some of them to become very efficient devils. Lock a hundred people in a small room with only one air hole and they will claw each other to death to get to it. Let them out and they may manifest a rather different nature. As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, “Man is neither Rousseau’s noble savage nor the Church’s depraved sinner. He is violent when oppressed, gentle when free.”

Others contend that, whatever the ultimate causes may be, people are now so screwed up that they need to be psychologically or spiritually healed before they can even conceive of creating a liberated society. In his later years Wilhelm Reich came to feel that an “emotional plague” was so firmly embedded in the population that it would take generations of healthily raised children before people would become capable of a libertarian social transformation; and that meanwhile one should avoid confronting the system head-on since this would stir up a hornet’s nest of ignorant popular reaction.

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.

Andy writes about politics for outlets such as New Matilda and Overland. He also keeps a close watch on the ‘master race’ on his blog http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com

Interview with Kojo Barbah from South London Anti-Fascists and the Anti-Raids Network

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Kojo Barbah is a London based activist and a founding member of South London Anti-Fascists. He is also a member of the direct action migrant solidarity organisation the Anti-Raids Network.

Maybe we can begin by discussing the origins of South London Anti-Fascists (SLAF). Though London is a city with a long, continuous and quite notorious history of anti-fascist organising, SLAF only came to my attention last year, in the wake of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on May 22nd. How and when did the group come together? Was the decision to reactivate the group out of mere necessity, in response to far-right attempts to capitalise on Rigby’s death, or were there other factors?

South London Anti-Fascists were originally formed by trade unionists in 2008, namely Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council and Croydon Trade Union Council. It was in reaction to the London Mayor and Assembly elections, which returned the highest proportional vote for the fascist British National Party (5%) in London and guaranteed them a seat in the Assembly. The vote, though overall still small, was acutely concentrated in Barking and Dagenham, poor deindustrialised North East London suburbs where the BNP were made the official local council opposition with 12 elected councillors. In South London, Morden was also a flashpoint for far-right activity. In 2009, the BNP’s membership was leaked and though some people on it were never fully paid up fascists there was a sizeable number in this area, including a small scaffolding business run by a fascist which still operates today. Our view was that the far right were gaining ground in traditional working class areas and the privatisation agenda pursued by Labour had abandoned and alienated working class interests. We were lucky to have a paid organiser to support our efforts. The far-right needed to be tackled using a diversity of tactics and the divided efforts of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) (predominantly SWP) and Searchlight/Hope Not Hate (HNH) were clearly not working.

Antifa at this time was at a low point as the BNP had moved away (though never completely abandoned) from street confrontation to wearing suits and appearing like professional politicians. Also, there were stories of Antifa attempting to blow up cars belonging to the wrong people and getting sent down for it. SLAF worked initially as a collective where HNH, UAF and autonomous antifascists could work together to organise against local threats and support individuals and communities who were targeted or concerned about local activity. We dwindled in activity as the threat of the BNP receded after 2010. The EDL emerged as a new threat and the UK Independence Party, though marginal, were in the background. I was the chair and my political orientation was changing too. I moved from a democratic socialist orientation to a more social anarchist position. During our down period, I read a lot more!

Lee Rigby’s death definitely prompted a reactivation. I personally got a lot of calls asking what should be organised as the then leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, was coming to Woolwich. We were disorganised and too small in number to respond so initially we had to watch him on TV unopposed. A meeting was called by a prominent local anarchist a day later and I suggested using the SLAF banner as it happened in our patch. We made a callout to confront the EDL outside Downing Street and have started to hold regular meetings ever since.

Organised antifascists like Anti-Fascist Action (1985-1990’s) and the contemporary Anti-Fascist Network have stressed, alongside the necessity of counter mobilisation and confrontation on the streets, the importance of ‘filling the political vacuum’. This type of counter analysis generally consists of a class-struggle critique of capitalism, but often extends to critiques of the state, political liberalism and nationalism. SLAF seems to take this responsibility very seriously, and argues persuasively that struggles against all other forms of oppression (ubiquitous police harassment and violence inflicted upon communities of colour through policies like the Met Police’s ‘Stop and SEARCH’; the targeting of sex workers in Soho; ‘raids’ by the UK Border Force targeting migrant workers and asylum seekers to name but a few) are also antifascist activities. Can you elaborate on this connection?

There isn’t unanimity in our group on this, we have Trotskyists and some who avoid political labels but this is the majority view.

Anti-fascism, bluntly, is stopping fascists from growing either in number or in confidence at the very least. At the maximum it is dismantling their capacity to be effective. Liberal antifascists believe antifascists are bad because they are illiberal and pay only lip service to parliamentary democracy. We oppose fascists because they seek our complete domination by exterminating working class power.

When we reformed, we wanted to express our beliefs about the nature of fascism and the state. Fascism is the ultimate expression of capitalism’s need to control and subordinate human activity to its logic and authority. The state is its most effective tool. When societies are failed by capital, the preferred solution is state repression. However in liberal democracies, unlike military dictatorships, repression cannot be nakedly deployed, apologetics are utilised to explain the contradiction of affirming human rights and the exercising of sub-human treatment. The law is the crystallisation of this – the targeting of minorities, whether it is asylum seekers, cultural groups or sex workers is the State practicing and perfecting its power to oppress. The more we allow this to happen, the better the police get at wielding it, the more polished politicians are at arguing for dehumanisation, and the more efficient media outlets are in convincing the public. We oppose state repression because it is antithesis of our power, which is our solidarity. We want to bring together the full spectrum of our human expression against state oppression. Capital, through the state, wants to divide and categorise us into economic utilities and human resources.

Fascism is capitalism unrestrained by historical appeals to morality or universal rights. The popular appeal of this doesn’t happen overnight, but is a culture that can take decades, or in times of crisis, a few years to develop and become entrenched. If we do not resist state oppression then we allow the tools of our destruction to sharpen and be ready to put into fascist control.

In an excellent piece published on the SLAF blog in May, you identify the predominance of ‘populist’ anti-immigrant rhetoric in the run-up to the European elections as a reason ‘antifascism is necessary but insufficient’, adding ‘in our analysis, the state is a much bigger threat and generator of popular racism’ (than UKIP, BNP etc). This is an observation with great relevance in the Australian context, where social justice campaigns often ignore structural issues, instead focusing on appeals to politicians, commentators and the state to be nicer, more compassionate and less racist. Given Australia’s role as a global pioneer of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and the fact that much of this infrastructure was built by the Australian Labor Party, this too seems insufficient. How does SLAF identify the role of the state in creating, exploiting and perpetuating racism? Any thoughts about organising outside of borders and against the
state?

Australia’s legacy of white supremacy is an outpost of British imperialism. The policy of White Australia may have been publicly restrained by the British but it was tacitly endorsed and clearly financed. In managing a global empire, Britain has learned to be less explicit about its racial hierarchy but it is clearly a deeply embedded part of British culture.

We as a group have not theorised how the state has created racism, but the works of Walter Rodney, Theodore W. Allen and bell hooks would illuminate here. I believe that racism was an imperialist construct invented to justify enslavement, genocide and subjugation of darker skinned peoples and their cultures. It is necessary for imperial capitalist accumulation to continue and allay moral qualms about inhuman treatment. If they are not human, went the theory, then it was justified.

It also helped and still does help the ruling elite manage class relations. Nationalism and whiteness create a powerful collective identity that politicians use to generate a sense of pride and superiority amongst the white working class. Invoking whiteness, however subtly, signals that to be white is to be associated with being the dominator not the dominated, to be part of the history of Kings and Queens not the enslaved and impoverished, and that they are heirs to the pioneers of democracy and modernity and not savagery and barbarism. This is a myth of course, but it is said or inferred so often that it is widely believed. Even if racial myths based on biology have waned, they have transferred seamlessly into cultural myths. These ideas underlie why immigration controls are popular. They refer to the mortal danger that their biology or now culture may be irreparably damaged by the contamination of foreign bodies.

These myths aid class relations for the ruling class in another way, as they can form powerful associations to aid labour discipline. The welfare scrounger is the class equivalent of the asylum seeker. In other words, a pariah, a human to legitimately loathed. The stereotypical connotations of being Black, that is to be lazy, unable to organise your own affairs, scheming, preferring base pleasures to self-improvement and lacking a “decent” disposition provides a basis for reducing state social subsidy and weakening the power of organised labour. Racism and class hatred are interrelated, it is difficult to deploy one without making reference to the other. In breaking down these myths, we require socialisation, solidarity and struggle. Racial myths have been largely destroyed by the act of racialised people fighting to be recognised as human and white working class people living and working with racialised people and accepting that reality.

South London Anti-Fascists is part of the UK wide Anti-Fascist Network and the London based Anti Raids Network.

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Anti-Fascist Network
http://www.antifascistnetwork.org

South London Anti-Fascists
http://www.slaf.org.uk

Anti Raids Network
https://network23.org/antiraids

London Black Revolutionaries
http://www.facebook.com/London-BlackRevs

Movement For Justice
http://www.movementforjustice.org

Unity Centre Glasgow
http://www.unitycentreglasgow.org

Border Violence as Settler Nativism

By Lia Incognita

The following article is adapted from Lia Incognita’s speech for the Movement Beyond Borders public forum held on Wurundjeri land at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 30 November 2013. The forum was organised by the Beyond Borders Collective, with speakers Kaneez Raza, Angela Mitropoulos, Dawood, Ruben Blake and Lia Incognita sharing their perspectives, followed by questions and discussion with the audience. You can watch the video of the forum online (1hour 54 minutes)

Asked to contemplate what a cross-border politics in Australia could look like today, I want to stress that for me, a movement beyond borders is not a movement of no nations or against nationhood. In fact one of the earliest interactions I had with the Beyond Borders Collective when it first formed was to question a photo on the Beyond Borders page at the time which showed a banner stating ‘no borders, no nations’.

I believe supporting Indigenous sovereignty is essential to cross-border politics, and indeed no contradiction, if a cross-border politics understands that all people have the right to determine their law and the future of their land, though no nation has the right to refuse entry to vulnerable peoples. This is no contradiction unless the only way you can conceive of a country is as private property – which unfortunately seems to be not only a popular metaphor but the dominant interpretation driving government policy. As Lorenzo Veracini said recently in Arena magazine (No. 125, Aug/Sep 2013)

“global condemnation of Australia’s stance in 2001 was met with ‘No one can tell me what to do’, ‘Nobody understands us’, and ‘I didn’t do it’ responses (that is, they threw the children overboard). Furthermore, Australia had a Prime Minister who was extraordinarily in touch with public sentiment was speaking about entry to the country as if he was sixteen and talking about his room: ‘We will determine who comes to this country and under what circumstances’.”

We should not accept this metaphor, this myth that a nation is dependent on border policing, and that a country is analogous to private property.

Another question this panel was asked was how can we break from the language that defines the discussion around borders now? This is imperative because a lot of pro-refugee rhetoric doesn’t challenge the problematic ways the discussion has been framed by the right. We need to resist phrases like ‘genuine refugees’ or ‘economic migrants’ or ‘the lucky country’ when it has only ever been lucky for some. We need to resist language that feeds the lie of terra nullius by suggesting Australia is ‘young’, ‘free’ and full of empty space. We need to refuse to make these constant ongoing reassurances that only a small, manageable number of refugees will arrive, that they will be harmless and grateful and assimilate, that they will contribute labour and consumable diversity but nothing disconcerting or transformative. We need to reject this rhetoric not only because it legitimates a claims process that is traumatising, invasive and victimising, but also because it legitimates the Australian government’s right to decide.

The perceived threat of people crossing borders is only part of what motivates Australian policy, so assuaging this anxiety is only part of challenging border violence. Operation Sovereign Borders is very explicitly and obviously about the colonial state performing sovereignty, as are earlier iterations of border control. This tactic has been part of Australian history since the start of colonial occupation. The Colony of Victoria passed the Chinese Act limiting the number of Chinese immigrants on 11 June 1855, before even the first Constitution Bill passed the Victorian House of Commons. And, of course, the Immigration Restriction Act was quite famously the first major piece of legislation passed after Federation in 1901. As well as forced eviction from their lands, there have been numerous controls on Aboriginal people’s movement in their own countries through Australia’s history. This includes the exemption certificate system by which one could leave a reserve and access rights otherwise denied to Aboriginal people at the time, such as the right to own land or open a bank account, but in exchange was required to seek state permission before visiting family on reserves.

Border violence is central to colonial governments in Australia establishing and legitimating themselves, not least by promoting the notion of Australia as a single country and presenting the border as a natural geographic feature, formed by oceans and waters as Suvendrini Perera discusses. And, in fact, Australia’s colonial past is brought up quite often in relation to border violence, for example in images of the First Fleet as ‘boat people’. This imagery is important because the fear of invasion as retribution is a powerful motif in white Australian imagination, a motif that Meaghan Morris calls ‘the chain of displacement’. Border violence is part of projecting the invader as outside and other, and functions as a concealment of European invasion.

But bringing up the colonial past can also normalise or nativise settler colonisation, and erase Indigenous subjectivity and sovereignty in slogans like ‘we are all boat people’. A focus on the moment of invasion or on the colonial past positions colonisation as history. It makes colonialisation a done deal, to which the only sensible responses are regret and apology, or pride and forgetfulness – but Australia has a colonial present. The border is not a natural or inevitable thing and neither is colonisation.

Understanding colonisation as an ongoing and always incomplete process suggests a future that’s open to change. It shifts the onus of explanation to those who want to create and maintain borders rather than those who want to question them. It challenges the myth that refugees are a breach in an otherwise secure border. And it reaches through to a space where white Australia is and can only ever be a fiction that is made material through violence.

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Attacks on Higher Education

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The current Liberal government’s changes to higher education reflect a neoliberal agenda, in that they are attempting to change the entire way that higher education is thought of and organised in a ‘prosperous’ society like Australia. They are positing a series of radical right-wing reforms that aim to create a market of universities, this will create a class divide, largely excluding the working class.

To put it simplistically, the previous model worked in the way that once a previous student earned enough, they could pay back their loans and pay tax which would pay for the next generation, then that generation would pay for the next through their taxes and then it would be paid back, and so on. While this system still involved debt and an assumption that all people who have a degree will earn more, it was superior to what is suggested through the new system. This new system will create an even worse debt burden for students.

However, it is not impossible for education to be free under capitalism. It should be an expectation that the government make higher education free. There are any number of fields where excessive government spending are prevalent; the military budget is an example. Or the excessive funding of the Australian Ballet School. The next obvious answer is tax on the ruling class and corporations. The suggested new, de-regulated system assumes that people attend university purely to earn more money in their careers. This neoliberal conception of the individual pursuit of education is at odds with reality, as people attend university for various reasons. It also ignores all the manifold forms of oppression that affect outcomes for students, placing all blame, and pressure around failing or succeeding upon the individual.

If it is assumed that students only study to earn more, degrees that lead to higher earning potential will be prioritised and those which do not will decrease in quality or be cut altogether. We have already seen the kind of choices made by universities with this in mind, what has been devalued, defunded and threatened to be cut has been units such as gender studies and indigenous studies. This is not a coincidence. It is obvious that the system this government is working towards is one where all universities are private companies with no funding from the government that compete with each other in a market system. De-regulation of fees is just the thin edge of the wedge. Supporters of this have, and will, continue to argue that this will bring prices down, however, the reality is that our university system will divide along class lines. Currently Australian universities are of a high standard in world terms, once deregulated, there will be a divide between “good” universities and “cheap” universities. The quality of education will decrease at these “cheap” universities, yet the quality will not necessarily increase at the “good” universities. This is where the class divide will exist.

As we have seen in recent years, all universities will cut costs by mistreating staff; they will further casualise positions, keep wages at a minimum and attack working conditions. This divide been “good”, expensive universities and their “cheap” counterparts will create a further class divide where only the rich will be able to afford the “good” education. In contrast, the social mobility of those from low and middle-income families will continue to be wrecked. The most alarming part of this plan for higher education is CSP places for private institutions, it is clear that this government want to make private and currently public universities part of the same market. This is more than likely to create what they call in the UK “cashpoint” colleges, rather than improving the quality of education for the most people. These “cashpoint” colleges take public money and abuse the loan system in place to use students like ATMs; the result being empty classrooms in some universities and over-crowded ones in others. As once students have taken out loans to attend university it is only in the university’s interest to keep them so long as they are getting fees: there is little incentive for students close to burning out to continue. Thus, these institutions value courses that will make money over providing a quality, well-rounded education. The current model that is being pursued by the Liberal party, is to take us as far down the market route as the American university education system. We do not want neoliberal education in Australia. We are all well aware from the American system, the cost of higher education in America stops people from attending a quality university, or going to university at all.

We reject that this is the best model, that Pyne idealises as the best model for Australian higher education. At the moment, according to analysis by the National Tertiary Education Union, a medicine degree costs the ridiculous sum of $60,000, however with deregulation and interest rates, it could cost up to $200,000. It is hard to work exactly how much a degree will cost as it will be up to the discretion of each university, but it guaranteed to be to the detriment of university students and staff.

This new model will reinforce the growing disparity between Group of Eight universities, and other tertiary institutions. Universities such as those in the Go8 can more readily capitalise on a prestigious reputation and will outpace other universities in a price gap, narrowing the options low-income students have as prices diverge. This, in turn, will cause inequality between universities, not only in what is available to students, but also in funding to these universities – universities with higher fees will be better funded, however, better resources cannot be promised, as universities will consider themselves more of a company, therefore their concern will be in profit not education quality.

There is also a less publicised aspect on the issue of privatising education in Australia, that is how women will be affected with these changes. Due to the socialisation of gender in relation to work, women currently dominate total enrolments in the humanities compared to other degrees such as engineering and the sciences. As outlined above, the systemic undermining of less profitable degrees such as the humanities will lead to the disproportionate decrease in women who attend university. Plus, as total debt increases with time, this will negatively effect women, who are more likely to take time off work due family commitments (also due to socialisation), which will increase the amount and amount of time to pay off their debts.

The move to this explicitly neoliberal mode of tertiary education may fall under the radar of many Australians: this is because changes to student loans are expected, going by international trends, the main concern is the privatisation of education. We can see that there is an underlying agenda to move to a model which exacerbates unequal opportunities for a broad range of students, particularly those who come from low income, rural, indigenous backgrounds and international students (who are already treated as “cashpoints” and forced to live in poverty). Education needs to be preserved as an opportunity for all. Education should be free for all.