Australasian Spartacist No. 192
"Trotskyist Platform": Opportunism in Action
In mid-May, P. Balasubramaniam, then a Central Committee member of the SL/A and editor of Australasian Spartacist, resigned from the International Communist League (ICL) and declared himself to be a new tendency on the left, Trotskyist Platform (TP). Trumpeting that TP stands in the best past traditions of the SL/ICL, Balasubramaniam mythologised that the immediate cause of his defection was our supposed recoil from turning written defence of the Redfern and Palm Island Aboriginal militants into actual action.
Contrary to his assertions, key to the political dispute with Balasubramaniam was our struggle to organise a proletarian-centred demonstration in defence of the Redfern militants that would be exemplary and a concretisation of our revolutionary program. A motion from our last National Conference, passed with the support of Balasubramaniam, stated in part: We understand that holding a protest on the streets of Sydney in defence of the Redfern militants is conditional on several key union endorsements.
For over a year we sought bases of support particularly amongst the trade unions, Aboriginal groups and the left. However, expressing their loyalty to the Labor Party and the capitalist state, the trade-union misleaders responded to our efforts with indifference. Unwilling to face this harsh reality and driven by a moral imperative to do something, Balasubramaniam elevated the tactical question of having a demonstration to a principle. On the basis of this one-point program, he justified his quit from our revolutionary party, which had become a hindrance to his divergent political appetites.
Balasubramaniams quit is far removed from the best past traditions of the ICL on which he claims to stand. Rather, it was parochial and narrow. He did not raise other programmatic issues nor did he attempt to win SL/A or international comrades to his positions, which is what a Leninist would do. Instead he jumped ship, and on the very day of his resignation miraculously was able to produce two articles appealing to those programmatically to the right of the ICL. Balasubramaniam is a casualty of the retrogression of consciousness following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. Faced with a reactionary period in which the prospect of proletarian revolution seems distant, and when those impelled into defensive struggles are too often isolated, he has fled the often arduous struggle to build a revolutionary internationalist party.
Shortly after his quit, Balasubramaniam announced a demonstration for 11 a.m. on Friday, 8 July around the slogans Demonstrate Against Racist Brutality on Aboriginal Day: Defend the Aboriginal Opponents of Racist State Terror! Drop the Charges Against the Palm Island Black Defendants! Free the Remaining Political Prisoners from the Redfern Struggle! Defend the Block! In a 26 June letter to Balasubramaniam, we noted:
To our knowledge this protest lacks any significant backing from the organised working class. Moreover, to hold a demonstration at 11 a.m. on a working day would seem to preclude any meaningful participation by trade unionists, likely indicating that you are accommodating to political forces whose perspective is very distant from a union-centred mobilisation.
We are not endorsing this demonstration because we cannot take responsibility for, or lend our authority to an event which could result in increased persecution of its participants, including the very vulnerable Aboriginal youth. Of course we will vigorously defend any participants in the event that they are persecuted by the capitalist state.
The demo was co-initiated by TP and two long-time Aboriginal activists, Jenny Munro and Gracelyn Smallwood. Both in the building of the demo and at the event itself, Balasubramaniams conduct confirmed that his rejection of the necessity for a proletarian-centred demonstration would lead him to accommodate other political forces.
The rally was timed to occur during the Australian government-sponsored NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week, whose calendar in the Koori Mail advertised the 8 July rally at The Block under the minimal demand to defend Aboriginal Rights. That this demonstration was grafted onto the official NAIDOC Week events was one indicator of its non-proletarian trajectory. Another was the deliberately ambiguous demand Defend the Block! Such a demand allows for many interpretations, from militant defence of the community against rioting police to welcoming the police to clean up drugs and crime. The latter is the line of Aboriginal leader Mick Mundine, who is chief executive of the Redfern Aboriginal Housing Corporation, an endorser of the 8 July demonstration. Neither at the rally nor in his propaganda did Balasubramaniam attempt to characterise NAIDOC or expose the pro-cop Mundine, who is on record opposing the Redfern militants for their heroic protest against the cops in February 2004.
While between 60 and 80 people rallied on the day, there was no organised union presence, just a few individual unionists and a couple of paper endorsements. A number of speakers evocatively described the relentless brutal nightmare that many Aborigines experience under racist capitalist rule. Jenny Munro and Gracelyn Smallwood deplored sell-out Aboriginal misleaders like Noel Pearson, who are handsomely rewarded by the government for pushing blame for dire conditions onto Aboriginal people themselves. Overall, the speeches were a mix of religiosity, reformist appeals to the state, some appeals for trade-union solidarity and one or two comments in opposition to capitalism.
Despair in the possibility of working-class struggle to defend the oppressed breeds reliance on the capitalist state or other anti-proletarian strategies. Illustrating the latter point, at the rally the word resistance was used to describe not only the Redfern and Palm Island protests against racist cop terror, but also cowardly and criminal acts such as the London Underground bombings of the day before. Whoever carried out those attacks shares the racist outlook and vicious mindset of the imperialist ruling class, holding the working class and population as a whole responsible for the crimes of the British ruling class. That Balasubramaniam allowed these anti-proletarian remarks to pass without public comment, including in later written propaganda on the rally, indicts him for the opportunist he has become.
Referring to government inquiries into police killings of Aborigines, the latest issue of Trotskyist Platform politely reports that Some speakers at the July 8 action pointed out that Aboriginal people have got nothing from such inquiries. The article continues A TP spokesman, in advocating a working-class centred strategy, argued that no justice whatsoever can come from state-run inquiries (Trotskyist Platform, August-October). Yet in the very same article, Balasubramaniam uncritically upholds Aboriginal activist Lyall Munro as Spokesman for The Block, knowing full well that Munro helped lead a demonstration which put dead-end demands on the police and called for a Royal Commission soon after the cop killing of TJ Hickey last year! Calls for inquiries and commissions serve to clean up the image of the racist bourgeois state and to reinforce reformist illusions that its worst atrocities can be curbed by popular pressure. They paralyse the necessary working-class struggle in defence of the oppressed and strengthen the bourgeois state, the central agency for the oppression of Aboriginal people.
Balasubramaniam carried out a non-aggression pact with his bloc partners. The rally was like one that any number of garden-variety reformists might have organised when talking out of the left side of their mouths. As an event it did nothing to break people from the idea of using the state or other non-proletarian strategies to advance the cause of Aboriginal rights, much less to make concrete that the road forward is the independent mobilisation of the working class against the bourgeoisie.
The heroic Aborigines of Palm Island continue to be railroaded through the courts, and at least one of the Redfern militants continues to languish in prison. Across the country Aboriginal neighbourhoods suffer ongoing racist terror. Police and fascist killings in the lockups and on the streets continue unabated (see article, page 12). The courage of the Palm Island and Redfern Aboriginal militants is impressive; but militancy is not enough. The best Aboriginal fighters must be won to a proletarian revolutionary perspective. As we stated in our article Defend Redfern Aborigines—Mobilise Union Power! written immediately after the cop killing of TJ Hickey:
Key to our perspective is the struggle to break the working class from racist Laborite nationalism and reliance on the capitalist state. Only in coming to the defence of the most oppressed against capitalist rule can the working class liberate themselves. It is urgently necessary to build a Leninist/Trotskyist party, a tribune of all the people, to overthrow this brutal capitalist system through workers revolution. Only then will the desperation and poverty imposed upon the indigenous peoples and increasingly felt by all, be eliminated once and for all.
—Australasian Spartacist No. 186, Autumn 2004