Australasian Spartacist No. 224
Down With "War on Terror" Government Repression!
U.S./Australia Out of Iraq, Syria!
SEPTEMBER 23—In a 10 September address broadcast throughout much of the world, U.S. president Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Sunni fundamentalist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has extended its reactionary rule from northern Syria across stretches of north-western and western Iraq. To prosecute Obama’s objective the U.S. administration has cobbled together a coalition of around 40 countries. This consists of Australia, the main NATO powers and ten Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which have funded ISIS or other Al Qaeda types, and other jihadist forces opposed to ISIS. Presenting very much like a “coalition of the unwilling” most of the “partners” have thus far baulked at committing military forces. This coalition is to be buttressed by the newly constituted Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad, which commands armed forces that are bathed in the blood of Sunni opponents and minorities.
The “humanitarian” cloak that Obama donned as he ordered the first airstrikes against ISIS some weeks ago was useful for imperialist propaganda purposes. Having already carried out more than 170 such strikes in Iraq, Obama now promises an open-ended, sustained “counter-terrorism” military campaign of aerial bombardment. Today, the U.S. began airstrikes in Syria. On top of the almost 800 troops deployed in June, the U.S. is sending an additional 475 military personnel to work with Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The Australian federal Liberal/National Coalition government of Tony Abbott, with full support from the ALP Opposition, has eagerly backed the U.S. On 14 September Abbott announced that Australia would be contributing 600 military personnel, including SAS special forces, eight Super Hornet fighter-bombers and AWAC and aerial refuelling aircraft. Before Abbott’s latest announcement Australia had already been running guns and ammunition to Kurdish pesh merga forces in northern Iraq. The pesh merga have been shielded by the U.S. for years as part of Washington’s efforts to secure oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan as its client.
The fact that some Muslims from Australia have joined ISIS has been used to facilitate an hysterical weeks-long media and government fear campaign over an alleged imminent threat from “home-grown” jihadists. On 10 September 180 cops raided nine addresses in Brisbane, reportedly to prevent would-be fighters from travelling to Syria. Reinforcing anti-Muslim hysteria and imperialist war moves, on 12 September the Australian government lifted the level of “terror threat” in Australia to “high.” In “pre-emptive” pre-dawn raids on 18 September, more than 800 heavily-armed cops and ASIO officers terrorised families in suburbs across Sydney and Brisbane. As helicopters buzzed overhead, police swarmed below, sealing off streets, breaking down doors and manhandling people. That evening hundreds of people, mainly from the Muslim community, gathered at the south-western Sydney suburb of Lakemba in protest. Since the raids there has been a surge of threats and violent attacks against Muslims across the country. We say: Down with the racist state siege against the Muslim community!
The raids followed months of surveillance. Of the 15 people arrested in Sydney only two were charged, one with firearm-related offences. Omarjan Azari, a 22-year-old apprentice motor mechanic, remains in detention and is charged with conspiring “to do acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act (or acts)” (Australian, 18 September). In the wake of the raids, the bourgeois media was awash with lurid claims that the police had foiled a plot to randomly seize and behead a member of the public and then post footage of the grisly execution on the Internet. If such an attack was carried out it would be a hideous crime. However as Azari’s barrister stated, “the allegation [against Azari] is based on one phone call of very limited compass that federal police have put forward.” Some media reports admitted this alleged phone conversation did not mention “beheading” and police don’t know when or where the alleged attack was supposed to take place. Drop the charges! Down with the “anti-terror” laws!
These “anti-terror” raids, the biggest undertaken in the country, serve to justify not only Australia’s role in the U.S.-led imperialist bombardment in the Near East but also the Abbott government’s ramped up suite of “anti-terror” laws. These new laws, which further erode the democratic rights of the population, will be the broadest in almost a decade. Backed by Labor, the government will spend an additional $630 million to boost “security” agencies, expand the capacity to monitor everyone through wider retention of internet and phone data, and target those travelling overseas. Proposed new measures outlaw “advocating” terrorism, which is defined so broadly that it can easily be extended to all manner of anti-government protest. Police will be given even greater powers to secretly search premises and detain people without trial.
These measures reinforce a battery of pre-existing laws, many of which can be used to criminalise political dissent and license the state to disappear political opponents without charge or trial. Police officials revealed that three people were detained during the 18 September raids and secretly held under draconian preventative detention orders. These orders allow security agencies to hold people incommunicado without charge for renewable periods up to 14 days at a time. They were introduced by the Howard government in 2005 as part of a then new tranche of “anti-terror” laws. As with today’s laws, carefully orchestrated raids occurred in the lead-up to their introduction.
Meanwhile, as part of the imperialists’ so-called international “counter-terrorism” measures a new satellite ground station is being built at the spy base near Geraldton, Western Australia. This station will enhance Washington’s sinister program of drone assassinations against alleged terrorists such as Christopher Havard and “Muslim Bin John,” two Australians who were killed in a drone strike in Yemen last November. Thousands of “unintended victims” have been blown away in such strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. Run by the highly secretive electronic eavesdropping agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, the new Geraldton station will also enhance access to military satellites for the U.S. Pacific fleet, assisting in the U.S.-led encirclement of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state.
ISIS—Imperialism’s Frankenstein Monster
In a ghastly repeat of scenes from the 2003-2011 imperialist occupation of Iraq, more than one million Iraqis have been driven from their homes since the beginning of this year. Atrocities have been committed by both sides in the infernal communal slaughter pitting the Shi’ite dominated Baghdad regime against a Sunni-based insurgency that encompasses ISIS, tribal leaders and former Ba’ath party officials. Seemingly seizing on the script for the second Gulf War, co-authored by former U.S. president George Bush Jr., Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, today Barack Obama, along with British prime minister David Cameron and Tony Abbott, have simply replaced all references to the “evil” Saddam Hussein with references to the “evil” ISIS. To date, these ultra-reactionary Islamists have not been accused of harbouring weapons of mass destruction, the lie behind the 2003 imperialist blitzkrieg and subsequent occupation. In fact, ISIS—whose method of rooting out “apostates,” like the Christians and Yazidis as well as Turkmen and other Shi’ites, amounts to mass butchery—is the spawn of Al Qaeda in Iraq, itself a product of the U.S./British/Australian imperialist occupation. The founding elements of Al Qaeda, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of its Iraqi affiliate, were trained and funded by the CIA as it assembled a reactionary horde to oppose the Soviet Union’s progressive intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The wave of communal bloodletting in Iraq has been nourished by the devastating civil war in Syria, where sundry imperialist and regional powers, such as Turkey, have backed an insurgency dominated by reactionary forces centrally from the Sunni Muslim population directed against the murderous Ba’ath party regime of Bashar al-Assad. In January ISIS forces expanded their operations from Syria into Iraq. Harking back to the formation of Islamic states in the seventh century, ISIS celebrated its gains by proclaiming a “caliphate” extending from its bastion in northern Syria across the extensive tracts that it controls in Iraq.
The U.S.-led campaign to topple the Assad regime in Syria has been driven by Washington’s longstanding hostility toward Iran, a key ally of Syria. Yet by installing a Shi’ite dominated regime in Baghdad, the U.S. has ended up handing Iran great influence in Iraq. Across Syria’s increasingly meaningless border with Iraq the U.S. and Australia now find themselves on the same side as Damascus and Tehran. As ISIS forces approached Baghdad some months ago, Iran rushed daily arms shipments to the Iraqi regime and deployed Revolutionary Guard forces to join the fight while Syrian jets have bombed Sunni positions inside Iraq. With the U.S. now extending its bombing of ISIS to Syria, these attacks are supposed to be conducted in a manner that does not benefit the enemy Assad regime—an impossibility exposed by Assad’s earlier offer to support such strikes if the U.S. requests Syrian permission. This was a clever riposte but it may well backfire given that the U.S. maintains its opposition to Assad’s rule. The world’s toilers have no side in the communal conflicts in Iraq and Syria. However, the international working class definitely does have a side in opposing imperialist intervention in Iraq and Syria and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all U.S./NATO/Australian troops and mercenaries from the region.
As we have pointed out, it is European, and more recently the U.S. imperialists, who have historically triggered and continue to fuel the reactionary, mainly Sunni-Shi’ite communal conflicts. And it is U.S. imperialism (supported by junior partners like Australia) that is the bloodiest enemy of the world’s working people, as was most graphically illustrated by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered in the service of its quest for dominance in the region. Any force, however unsavoury, that attacks, repels or otherwise impedes imperialist forces strikes a blow in the interests of the exploited and oppressed.
Iraq today is a shattered society. The future of the Iraqi masses as a whole is dependent on working-class struggle in nearby countries with strategic concentrations of proletarian power. We have no illusions it will be an easy task to win workers of the Near East, ground down by their capitalist rulers and imperialist overlords, to the Marxist program of proletarian revolution. But there will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no emancipation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of overthrowing the capitalist order. That requires the forging of revolutionary proletarian parties in opposition to all forms of bourgeois ideology, religious reaction and imperialism, as part of a genuine Trotskyist Fourth International, which would link the fight for a socialist federation of the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres.
Abbott’s “Team Australia” “Anti-Terror” Witchhunt
The targeting of the Muslim minority across Australia escalated as moves for imperialist military intervention in Iraq/Syria grew. With front-page headlines such as “We’ll fight Islam 100 years” (Australian, 9-10 August), the bourgeois media have been promoting a tawdry amalgam between the small Muslim population as a whole and terrorism. In this climate even muted voices of bourgeois opposition have been smacked down. When Labor Senator Sue Lines accurately noted that the government was whipping up a scare campaign to divert attention from its hugely unpopular and cruel austerity budget she was quickly rebuked by ALP leader Bill Shorten who declared “Labor’s position, is that we will work in the best interests of this nation and our stability and security.” Meanwhile, attuned to the fact that there was scepticism in the population about a military intervention in Iraq, the Greens opportunistically hedged their bets, demanding a parliamentary debate and vote on the question. This had nothing to do with opposition to imperialist militarism and everything to do with their loyalty to the Australian capitalist nation state. Greens leader Christine Milne railed, “Australians deserve to know if, and why, these dangerous operations are in the national interest and if they can succeed” (Greens website, 29 August). After Abbott announced the deployment of troops to the Near East, the Greens fueled the “anti-terror” fear campaign by condemning the decision on the grounds that it would “only elevate the risk of terrorism” at home.
There is no doubt that the relentless cycle of imperialist military mayhem is generating a stream of people who hate the imperialist countries and the people within them. The perpetrators of the 2002 Bali bombings took aim at everyday people from all walks of life and nationalities including many Australians. Those who perpetrated this act of criminal terror equated the Australian populace with its own capitalist rulers. This is the same equation that is made by the Australian rulers, promoting the “unity” of all Australians while grinding down the working class and oppressed and taking an axe to democratic rights.
Prime Minister Abbott’s repugnant “team Australia” rhetoric is designed to isolate and intimidate anyone who won’t sign on to the nationalist flag-waving. Abbott, himself a deeply conservative Catholic, has been strong-arming Muslim leaders into grovelling acceptance of every measure taken against their communities while they are repeatedly called upon to denounce every atrocity committed by any Muslim anywhere. The transparent subtext is that if they don’t, they must support ISIS atrocities. Reflecting the mounting pressure, some members of the Muslim community donned “Proud Australian” T-shirts at a widely-publicised 14 September barbecue attended by the immigration minister in Lakemba. “Anti-terror” hysteria is also being used by the government to further its moves to slash welfare, with the despicable tabloids running headlines about jihadists on the government teat. In such a climate, perhaps it won’t be long before Muslims have to prove they are not terrorists in order to receive welfare payments, just as youth have to prove they are not “dole bludgers” and the disabled that they are not malingerers.
In yet another new “fortress Australia” measure, the government has announced the formation of “border protection counter terrorism units” at airports. Under the new “anti-terror” laws it will be illegal to travel “to a designated area where terrorist organisations are conducting hostile activities” unless you can prove to the government that you are travelling for “a legitimate purpose.” This measure, which in the first case clearly targets Muslims, will only ramp up racial profiling. It means that the presumption of innocence is reversed for a minority of the population who may happen to have family, friends and personal business in government-proscribed parts of the world. Even before the legislation has passed, “counter-terrorism” operatives have begun seizing passports, dragging people off planes and detaining them.
More than 60 Muslim individuals and organisations have rightly denounced the government’s new “anti-terror” measures as “unjust, unjustified and hypocritical.” Early on, as the frenzy mounted, a statement by leaders of various Muslim organisations declared, “There is no solid evidence to substantiate this threat. Rather, racist caricatures of Muslims as backwards, prone to violence and inherently problematic are being exploited” (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August).
Profit-Gouging Bosses Target Unions, Refugees
Under capitalist class rule, democratic rights exist for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. The only rights to which they are committed are their rights to own the means of production and to maximise profits through the exploitation of wage labour. We have consistently opposed the “war on terror,” which is a political construct designed to give the bosses a pretext to increase the state’s police powers and repressive apparatus. If the government succeeds with their latest attacks, it won’t be long before such measures are extended to others in society, like trade unionists and the left. Already, as part of their continuing Royal Commission witchhunt against the trade unions, the bourgeois media are trying to associate the CFMEU construction union with terrorists. Based on the premise that if you throw enough mud some of it will stick, the shonky case currently being peddled is that because some CFMEU officials may have had dealings with a labour hire firm that employed individuals like Khaled Sharrouf—who went on to join ISIS—this proves the supposed depth of corruption in the construction union and union movement more generally.
The current meshing of the government’s racist “war on terror” and its attacks on the trade unions is not new. As we stated in March 2002, “The link between the ‘anti-terror’ laws and the capitalists’ war on unions was made clear by a Perth construction boss who branded as ‘terrorism’ a blockade of a scab site by 500 construction workers” (“Sinister ‘Anti-Terror’ Laws Target Workers, Minorities” ASp No. 178, Autumn 2002). It is no accident that the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) ASIO-style powers to spy on, secretly interrogate and prosecute militant workers, were modelled on the “anti-terror” laws.
For Marxists, it is ABC that anti-union “corruption” allegations and government investigations are always wielded with the aim of further shackling the unions, the basic economic defence organisations of the working class. Unlike the existing pro-capitalist union misleaders we oppose on principle any interference by the capitalist state—its cops, courts and commissions—into the union movement. The working class must clean its own house! In order to become weapons of struggle, capable of taking on the bosses and winning, the unions must be completely independent of the capitalist state. As we have repeatedly emphasised, what the government can actually get away with will be determined by the level of social and working-class struggle. We need a class-struggle leadership of the unions capable of taking up a political fight against the current union tops who, out of loyalty to the state and support to nationalism, have in the main bowed to the bosses’ anti-union witchhunt and embraced the reactionary “anti-terror” measures. Such a leadership, linked to a revolutionary workers party, would fight to sweep away the whole repressive and exploitative capitalist system through workers revolution.
This fetid reactionary climate marked by anti-Muslim hysteria will be grist to the mill for the government’s hate campaign against refugees. Fleeing imperialist devastation of their homelands in Afghanistan and Iraq, or imperialist-backed terror in places like Sri Lanka, refugees (including children) continue to be rounded up on the high seas, detained and disappeared without rights in camps under atrocious conditions. It was at the Manus Island hellhole that 23-year-old Iranian Reza Berati was beaten to death by guards earlier this year. In early September the appalling conditions and medical neglect at Manus resulted in the death of 24-year-old Iranian asylum-seeker Hamid Kehazaei after he developed septicaemia from a cut in his foot. Meanwhile some refugees, such as more than 40 mostly Tamils who have been denied protection visas due to “adverse” ASIO security checks, have languished for years in a torturous Guantanamo-style twilight zone, neither deported nor released. Fighting for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and refugees we demand the government release the detainees, close the detention camps and that there be no deportations.
Targeting immigrant minorities in the first instance the government’s “anti-terror” and anti-refugee measures spawn racist and fascist attacks. This was recently seen in the multiethnic Sydney suburb of Marrickville where the fascistic “Party for Freedom” (PFF) rampaged through the Woolworths supermarket because the outlet had the temerity to display posters wishing shoppers a “Happy Ramadan.” When a small clot of these PFF scum attempted to return two weeks later to mobilise for race-hate they were sent scurrying by around 100 anti-fascists, including Spartacist supporters. Fascists pose a deadly threat to immigrants and minorities as well as to the organisations of the working class. Thriving in the mass poverty, nationalism and racism bred by decaying capitalism, they are paramilitary shock troops of all-sided reaction; the last line of defence of the bourgeoisie against proletarian struggle. It is thus in the direct immediate interests of the labour movement to fight against the ever-increasing attacks on minorities and the oppressed and to crush the fascist scum spawned by this racist, exploitative system.
For Class Struggle Against the Capitalist Rulers At Home
Why is there this unrelenting “enemy at the gates” furore? The capitalist rulers play this card to poison the working class with “one nation indivisible” patriotism, all the better to shore up their rule. Since the end of World War II, across the political spectrum, apologists for U.S. imperialism, and Australia’s alliance with it, have argued that the U.S. is the only power with the resources, military power, money and size to assure the perpetuation of a liberal, stable and peaceful world order. And if America forsakes this burdensome responsibility, then it is claimed that liberty, stability and peace on the planet will be forfeited.
From Korea to Iraq today the reality has been a virtually unending series of wars since WWII ended. In the quest to maintain and extend its world dominance, U.S. imperialism, with support from beneficiaries like the Australian bourgeoisie, has produced some ten million corpses of those who stood in its way. Apologists for the U.S.-dominated world order see the overthrow of the bureaucratically degenerated workers state in the USSR as its crowning achievement. That capitalist counterrevolution has led to the increased ravaging of the world’s toiling masses by their profit-bloated capitalist masters. It is that historic defeat for the international working class that has resulted in the political disarming of many of its advanced layers by erasing their belief in the superiority of socialism and, thus, of the possibility of an alternative to capitalist exploitation and oppression. An atmosphere of freedom and wellbeing may pervade the think tanks of the bourgeoisie, but it is not to be found in the world where most working people reside, not anywhere.
In the aftermath of the world economic crisis that began in 2008 the diminished prospects that face most working people have led to a generalised disdain for those holding or running elected office, who are justifiably viewed as do-nothings, at best indifferent to the plight of the common man, and as self-seeking predators. This holds true in Australia as elsewhere. The sizable protests that have erupted against the Abbott government’s barbaric budget, which takes the axe to social welfare and aims to slice $80 billion from schools and hospitals, highlight widespread discontent. The distrust and anger spreading from the most oppressed Aboriginal and immigrant communities, to the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers thrown on the scrapheap, to militant trade unionists being criminalised for defending their jobs and livelihoods can be an explosive mix. The bourgeoisie recognises this fact, which helps explain its constant strengthening and extending of its punitive laws, police forces and prison systems, even though widespread social rebellion is clearly not now on the agenda. The proletariat—the only social force with the objective interest and social power necessary to overturn the capitalist system—finds its struggles blocked by a union bureaucracy whose loyalty to their own capitalist masters eclipses their concern for the very survival of the trade unions as a meaningful force of resistance to the profit-gouging bosses.
Meanwhile the ALP, a bourgeois workers party based on the trade unions but with a leadership devoted to capitalist rule, again masquerades as the friend of working people and the oppressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Rudd/Gillard regimes oversaw the economic crisis for the bosses. Shoring up the large banks and corporations, the ALP in power enforced brutish measures against workers and welfare recipients. They also embraced and strengthened the reactionary military alliance with the U.S. including by approving the permanent stationing of U.S. Marines in Darwin. None of this gave the reformist left pause as they scrambled to get out the vote for Labor (however backhandedly) and the bourgeois Greens in last year’s federal election. Unsurprisingly, these groups frequently march in lockstep behind their own imperialist rulers. Particularly blatant have been the Cliffite groups Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and Solidarity, whose forebears, along with those of Socialist Alliance (SA) cheered capitalist counterrevolution in the then-USSR and in recent years have made common cause with the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime.
In “Intervention in Iraq: so many lies, so much hypocrisy” (3 September), SAlt leader Tom Bramble reproaches the imperialists for not providing enough aid to the Syrian rebels engaged in the reactionary civil war: “And when Syrian revolutionaries[!] were begging for anti-aircraft missiles to help them defend liberated territory from president Assad in 2012, they were offered nothing.” Now that Obama has gained Congress approval to train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels, Bramble may well get what he wishes. However such illusions in the benevolence of imperialism are deadly for workers and oppressed peoples everywhere. When it comes to cheering on “rebels” that are aided and abetted by the imperialists, particularly in the name of anti-Sovietism, SAlt cadre have a long history. During the 1980s Cold War II many of the current leaders of SAlt and Solidarity were among the foremost “left” cheerleaders for the Islamic reactionary mujahedin in Afghanistan, which were armed and funded by the CIA and backed to the hilt by imperialism, including Australia. “Resistance” by the mujahedin “freedom fighters” included throwing acid in the face of women teachers and committing unspeakable barbarities against Soviet soldiers and any supporters of the modernising nationalist regime that requested Soviet intervention. In the sharpest contrast, we declared: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and “Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!” We correctly said it was better to fight the forces of counterrevolution there than fight them in Berlin and Moscow.
As for Socialist Alliance, implying opposition to the current round of imperialist bombing in Iraq they pronounce in “Liberals/Labor unite for imperial war, again” (30 August) that Green Left Weekly will “keep telling the truth even as the drums of war beat louder.” We can only respond: caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)! In 1999, then as cadre of the Democratic Socialist Party, the leaders of SA mobilised for the Australian imperialist military occupation of tiny East Timor. In 2011 SA carried out a gentlemanly debate in their Links “theoretical” journal over the efficacy of the savage NATO imperialist bombing of Libya. Their more recent calls for the imperialists to “Send aid, not bombs to Iraq,” is par for the course. Whether it be through guns or butter, these social chauvinists can be relied upon to promote the fraud that Australian imperialism can be pressured to act in the interests of humanity and not its own predatory interests.
On at least a superficial level, many working people perceive that the hardships they endure here are not unrelated to their rulers’ exploitation and savagery abroad. The truth is that the arterial bleeding caused by the stagnant and decaying capitalist system will not be stanched by reformist Band-Aids. In contrast to the reformist left, we Marxists aim to win the most conscious layers of the working class to the understanding that what is necessary is the overturn of the imperialist order through socialist revolution, beginning with our own capitalist rulers at home. It is vitally necessary to fight to forge an international revolutionary working-class party committed to that end.