Australasian Spartacist No. 206
Defend Overseas Students!
Racist Terror Sparks Indian Student Protests
No Illusions in the Capitalist State!
Early last year, a gang of eight racist thugs, out to bash Indian students, murderously assaulted 41-year-old Chinese academic, Dr. Zhongjun Cao, as he walked home from his research job at Victoria University in Footscray, a western suburb of Melbourne. The talented Dr. Cao was set upon, bashed, picked up and dropped on his head, and then viciously kicked in the head. Later that evening, a Mauritian man, Bhinesh Mosaheb, was also attacked, grabbed from behind, lifted and dropped, by one of the same thugs. Mosaheb now suffers headaches, neck pain and has a twisted spine. While Mosaheb survived, Cao died from his horrific injuries four days after the cold-blooded, vicious attack. There was an outpouring of deep and justified outrage, particularly among the Chinese community, when those who were prosecuted for the killing of Dr. Cao got off with terms ranging from fifteen years in jail (with a minimum of ten) to two years in youth detention. Four of the gang members were not charged at all!
Racist brutality is fundamental to the rule of the venal Australian capitalist class. Australia was founded as a British penal colony, a colonial settler state built on the mass murder and dispossession of the Aboriginal people, pogroms against Chinese, and a racist colour bar to keep out non-white people. Today, Australia is largely dependent upon U.S. imperialism—the most powerful enemy of the world’s oppressed—to help enforce a smooth flow of profits obtained from the plunder of resources and superexploitation of the working masses in the region. The Australian capitalist class has always viewed itself as vulnerable, which accounts for the rawness of its racism. Indeed fear and hatred of Asia has conditioned Australia’s development as an imperialist country. While no longer a lily-white enclave, and increasingly economically dependent on Asia, it remains a virulently racist jackal imperialist power. The current wave of murderous attacks epitomises the violent reality that immigrants and minorities, including Africans and Aborigines, confront in capitalist White Australia.
Last September, Indian-born Mukash Haikerwal, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, was bashed with a baseball bat and kicked repeatedly by a gang of five youths, resulting in doctors placing him into an induced coma. On 23 May, 25-year-old Indian student, Sravan Kumar Theerthala, was left comatose after he was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver in Melbourne. The next day, Sydney student, Rajesh Kumar, was severely burnt when a petrol bomb was thrown at his home. A survey of one hundred Chinese overseas students, conducted by the Chinese consulate in Sydney, showed that one in four had been subject to crime, often involving violent threats and assault. In Hobart, many Chinese students are too scared to go out at night following the murder of 26-year-old student Zhang “Tina” Yu in May and ongoing racist attacks.
Earlier, in February, in response to mounting anger over the violent assaults, a Victorian police spokesman grotesquely sought to place blame on the victims, warning that Indian students should not be “openly displaying signs of wealth with iPods and phones, and not talking loudly in their native language” (Age, 19 February). Later, in June, Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, dismissed ongoing attacks as “just a regrettable fact of urban life,” pushing the lie that capitalist White Australia is a country of great openness and tolerance (Australian, 11 June). This official contempt and indifference towards the wellbeing of overseas students was highlighted by a 1 July Sydney Morning Herald report that revealed coroners had suppressed information about the deaths of at least 54 overseas students in the period between November 2007 and November 2008.
The police have meted out severe repression against Indian students who have mobilised to protest racist terror. On 31 May, after gathering outside Royal Melbourne Hospital where Sravan Theerthala remained in intensive care, thousands of Indian students took their protest to Melbourne’s city centre where they began a blockade of the busy Flinders Street Station intersection. In the early hours of the next morning, the protest was violently dispersed by hundreds of police using horses and batons. As one student explained, “The criminals are stabbing us. We are getting killed and if we are doing protest...the police [are] bashing us” (ABC Online, 1 June). During the cop riot eighteen people were arrested. We demand: drop the charges!
At protests in Sydney and Melbourne the following week, speakers expressed outrage at the behaviour of the police. At a Sydney rally, angry Indian students pointed out that the cops couldn’t care less when students are bashed but turn out en masse, including with riot and mounted police, when they dare protest these attacks. On 8 June in Harris Park, a suburb of western Sydney, hundreds of Indian student protesters, who had assembled in response to a violent assault that evening, were surrounded and cordoned off by police with dogs. When significant numbers from the Indian community, including students and workers, took to assembling at Melbourne’s St Albans railway station at night to ensure the safety of others arriving home by train, the police cracked down hard to stop these organised self-defence efforts.
ALP Government’s War on Minorities Fuels Racist Reaction
The capitalist rulers consciously whip up racist divisions in order to paralyse the working class, drive down the conditions of all and thus maximise their profits. The current escalation of racist violence on the streets has been fueled by successive Liberal and Labor governments, not least through the “war on terror,” which has particularly targeted Asian and dark-skinned people while shredding the democratic rights of everyone. As the economic crisis destroys the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of working people, including the growing numbers of young unemployed, the Rudd Labor government enforces draconian anti-union laws while pushing xenophobic “border protection” measures. The ALP’s mandatory detention and deportations of refugees, and expansion of the police/military takeover of Aboriginal communities, leading to more Aboriginal deaths in prison, give the green light for terror against immigrant and minority communities. Particularly sinister were the huge police mobilisations in August against the Somali community in Melbourne. These “anti-terror” raids, which resulted in four arrests, were accompanied by saturation levels of openly racist bourgeois propaganda (see article, page 1). Following similar raids in 2005, the frenzy whipped up by the capitalist media fueled a wave of attacks on Muslims, particularly women, leading to the thousands-strong December 2005 fascist-infested riot at Sydney’s Cronulla beach, where anyone of Middle Eastern or non-white appearance was subject to murderous assault.
The current period of capitalist reaction, with rising unemployment and despair exacerbated by economic recession, is a culture medium for racist scum. It is telling that long-time fascist, Jim Saleam, who was imprisoned in 1991 for organising the shotgun attack on the Sydney home of black South African and then-African National Congress representative, Eddie Funde, is now able to posture as a “respectable” bourgeois politician and so-called “academic.” We warn workers and minorities that Saleam’s Australia First party seeks to organise into one deadly force the gangs of racist thugs and small bands of fascists currently spawned by this rotting capitalist system. We stand for labour/minority mobilisations to stop the fascists from organising for their program of genocide and the destruction of all workers organisations.
Free Quality Education For All!
In their relentless attacks against working people and drive to lower overheads, the bosses have trashed public transport, childcare, health care and education. Over the last 25 years, union-busting attacks on jobs and conditions of academic staff and all campus workers have accompanied the push to turn education into a vast commercial enterprise through gradually reimposing student fees. In the mid 1980s vulnerable overseas students were the first to be targeted by the federal Hawke Labor government for upfront fees. Those who couldn’t pay faced deportation. Spartacist supporters joined with outraged overseas students in protest against these racist attacks which presaged the imposition of fees for all students.
Later, in 1995, when the then-federal Keating Labor government announced it would eliminate Austudy payments for all permanent residents who did not take out citizenship, we Spartacists organised spirited protests in Sydney and Melbourne (see Australasian Spartacist No. 156, Winter 1995). Today, following continued attacks by Labor and Liberal governments, the elimination of affordable tertiary education has reinforced the class bias of campuses, excluding many working class and minority youth. Those who do get to attend university are often forced to work to support themselves while studying, frequently having to take non-union jobs with low pay and poor conditions.
With education now transformed into a lucrative industry for the capitalist rulers, overseas students are particularly discriminated against. Forced to pay higher fees than domestic students, they also face work restrictions, including a cap of 20 hours per week, and are denied access to travel concessions or Medicare. We Marxists stand for free quality education and health care for all, including overseas students; for free public transport and access to decent, affordable housing. To open tertiary education up to working-class youth and minorities there must be a living stipend for all.
Faced with the enforced poverty that a 20-hour working week entails, many overseas students resort to cash-in-hand jobs that pay below the paltry legal minimum in order to survive, while living in constant fear of deportation should they be caught by immigration department agents. The situation is often worse for those enrolled in vocational courses. Many of these overseas students hope for eventual permanent residency through gaining employment in Australia. However to satisfy the government’s “skilled migration” requirements, they are required to do 900 hours of “work experience” with no obligation they be paid. Thus tens of thousands of these students pay thousands of dollars in placement fees to shonky private “colleges,” which in turn offer students up as a vast pool of unpaid labour to the bosses! In May this year, more than ten thousand Victorian academic staff in the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) stopped work for better conditions. As part of fighting for their own interests, such union actions should also champion the rights of all students. The working poverty of students and youth, especially immigrant students, cries out for a union fight to organise the unorganised into jobs with full union rights and conditions and for full citizenship rights for all who have made it here.
The masses of heavily exploited immigrant workers, far from helpless victims, form a vital component of the multiracial proletariat and are a living bridge to workers and their struggles in many countries. With its hands on the levers of production, the working class has the class interest and potential social power to overcome racist divisions and push back the capitalist rulers’ attacks. What is desperately necessary is some racially integrated working-class struggle. This would help to unify and strengthen the working class as a whole. A class-struggle leadership within the unions would have organised well-prepared multiracial worker defence guards alongside Indian students and workers at railway stations earlier this year. Drawn from responsible union men and women such contingents could still act to teach the race terrorists a lesson and give the cops pause.
Last year, following the stabbing of a 23-year-old Indian taxi driver, and student, more than a thousand South Asian taxi drivers blockaded the same busy Flinders Street Station intersection that the students occupied this May. Threatening to also blockade Melbourne airport, they quickly won the promise of improved conditions, including fitting safety screens in all vehicles. This action could have sparked wider struggles, particularly amongst the thousands of heavily exploited immigrant workers, many labouring in unsafe working conditions and threatened with job losses, in the textile, hospitality and manufacturing industries.
However, far from opening up a fight against injustice and exploitation, the union tops have been telling workers to sacrifice for the nation as they try to rebuild confidence in the capitalist system. In the face of union busting, job massacres, savage racism and state repression of building workers, the Labor-loyal union bureaucrats are in the main prostrate. But when it comes to rallying around the Australian flag, be it through pushing protection of “Australian industry” or saluting the bloody Australian imperialist military occupiers from East Timor to Afghanistan, these traitors show great energy and purpose (see “Recession Australia: Racism, Unemployment, Militarism,” Australasian Spartacist, No. 205, Winter 2009).
As proletarian revolutionary internationalists we fight against the poisonous nationalism funnelled into the working-class movement by these agents of the bourgeoisie. In preaching the lie that workers have a common “national interest” with their “own” capitalist rulers, the “labour lieutenants of the capitalist class” serve to divide the proletariat against their class brothers and sisters overseas and subordinate the working class to bourgeois rule. The struggle for independent proletarian action against racist terror demands a political fight within the unions to break workers from Laborite nationalism and loyalty to the capitalist state.
Reformists Sow Illusions in Capitalist State
As Australia’s third largest export after coal and iron ore, education to overseas students is a $15.5 billion industry. With the escalating racist attacks producing a drop in overseas student enrolments (already diminished by the global recession) and faced with outrage from the Indian and Chinese governments, the Australian bourgeoisie quickly moved into damage control. Desperate to reassure their “client base” that all is well and good in the land of the Cronulla riot, government ministers have held talks with Indian and Chinese government representatives. Parliamentarians have also flown to India to reassure their “market,” i.e. worry-stricken parents of overseas students, that no harm will come to their children.
In June the Victorian Labor government promised new sentencing measures that supposedly will punish violent racially-motivated crime. Any such laws will inevitably serve to target those resisting racist terror. This was demonstrated following the pogromist 2005 riot in Cronulla. The NSW Labor government quickly passed draconian legislation allowing the police to lock down whole suburbs, giving cops free rein to search residents, vehicles and homes. Weeks later, when Aborigines in the rural New South Wales city of Dubbo protested the police bashing of an Aboriginal youth, the cops moved to lock down the Aboriginal neighbourhood.
The Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA) and the ALP-dominated National Union of Students have raised a series of demands that appeal for improved safety, chiefly through greater policing. It is a dangerous illusion for overseas students, or anyone, to seek protection from the very state forces that enforce exploitation and racist oppression. As Marxists, we understand that this society is fundamentally divided into two main classes whose interests are irreconcilably counterposed: workers who must sell their labour power in order to survive, and the property-owning capitalist class to whom their labour power is sold. The state is not an independent arbiter of the class and social conflicts inevitably thrown up by capitalist society. At its core, the state consists of special bodies of armed men—cops, courts, prisons and military—whose purpose is to violently suppress the struggles of the workers and oppressed, defending the private property and wealth of the tiny capitalist class who exploit the labour of the overwhelming majority. The same oppressive state forces that today bully and attack protesting overseas students also attack workers’ pickets, such as those of the striking workers at Westgate Bridge in Melbourne earlier this year.
As V.I. Lenin, Russian revolutionary leader, wrote in his 1917 work, State and Revolution, “The state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another.” This state cannot be reformed, or pressured to act on behalf of the working class and oppressed but must be overthrown through victorious workers revolution.
This perspective is anathema to the reformist opponents of revolutionary Marxism. For example, the anti-communist Socialist Alternative (SAlt) supported the Victorian Labor government’s 12 July “Walk for Harmony,” which was transparently designed to whitewash the racist attacks and channel support to the state. Declaring that Victorian premier, John Brumby, “wants a big turnout on this walk as a public relations stunt,” SAlt cadre, Jerome Small, nonetheless enthused “But a big rally can also go some way to showing Indian students and other victims of racism that many, many people in Melbourne want to stand with them in the face of the racist attacks” (“Support the Indian students—no more racist attacks” [undated]).
Meanwhile, as SAlt were busily building the rally, Brumby was preparing to ban Indian students from speaking at it! While many outraged Indian students boycotted the walk, SAlt and the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP)-run Socialist Alliance embraced it. They marched along with the reactionary Falun Gong cult, Vietnamese rightists, and Brumby and his cops, who spoke at the end of the walk. Sowing illusions in the capitalist state, particularly when administered by Labor, the reformists stand counterposed to the necessary independent class-struggle actions against the racist capitalist system.
Typically, the youth group of the DSP, Resistance, put forward grovelling reformist solutions to pressure the cops, giving a tortuous explanation that “While we should call on the police to take act [sic] against racist violence, the police are riddled with racism themselves so can’t be relied on to take action against racism.” The DSP are past masters at calling on the state to act on behalf of the oppressed. Last year when Aboriginal activist Lex Wotton was being outrageously railroaded through the courts and into prison for protesting the 2004 brutal cop killing of Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee, the DSP and the Communist Party worked overtime appealing to the capitalist state to carry out a royal commission into the death of Doomadgee. In the mid-1980s, the forerunners of these groups channeled anger against Aboriginal deaths in custody into a campaign for a royal commission. Duly established by the Hawke Labor government, this royal commission set about whitewashing the crimes of the state and dismissed any wrongdoing on the part of the cops and prison screws in all 99 cases it “reviewed.”
The very idea of appealing to the capitalist state ought to be repellent to anyone seeking to fight for the rights of workers and the oppressed. Promoted by those who purport to be socialists, it is abject treachery. For more than 200 years racist state persecution and terror against the Aboriginal people, Chinese and Pacific Islanders has been etched in blood and systematically covered over through government lies. That reformist groups such as the DSP seek redress from the state that exists to defend White Australia capitalist rule speaks volumes about their hostility to Marxism and marks them as a roadblock to the liberation of the working class and oppressed.
Build a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party
The cornerstone of Australian capitalist federation, “White Australia” was also the ALP’s founding core principle over a century ago. An uncompromising class-struggle fight against racist Australian capitalism requires breaking the proletariat from the politics of Laborism, which serves to keep workers in thrall to capitalist class rule. For this it is necessary to build a multiracial, proletarian and internationalist revolutionary workers party. Such a party will be constructed through splitting the working-class base of the ALP, a bourgeois workers party, from its pro-capitalist leadership, centrally through a political struggle against the nationalist Laborite misleaders of the trade unions.
A revolutionary party would seek to transform and organise the most advanced layers of the proletariat into a conscious force for revolution. Fighting for socialist revolution on a world scale it would champion a fight against all manner of capitalist oppression on the road to overthrowing this sick capitalist system. This is what the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky achieved in Russia in 1917. We of the International Communist League fight to build Bolshevik parties in every country of the world to lead the struggles of workers and the oppressed to sweep the racist capitalist system into the dustbin of history.