Workers Vanguard No. 939
3 July 2009
Labor Government Demands Sacrifice from Workers
Recession Australia: Unemployment, Racism, Militarism
For a Revolutionary, Internationalist Workers Party!
The following article is reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 205 (Winter 2009), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
MAY 30—As the capitalist economic crisis unfolds, millions around the world are facing immiseration. In Australia, over 600,000 are now officially unemployed and this figure is expected to double before the year’s end. In its attempts to “save capitalism,” the federal ALP [Australian Labor Party] government has spent more than $80 billion in the past year. This, along with plummeting tax revenues, will contribute to a projected $300 billion national debt within five years. While government ministers claim they are spending to save jobs, their real concern is kick-starting capitalist investment.
The May federal budget continues the onslaught against workers and the poor. Impoverished aged pensioners received a few extra dollars, to be paid for by raising the pension age by two years. While the employed are expected to work harder for less, the unemployed and others on pensions such as single mothers got no increase to their meagre payments. Meanwhile unemployed youth under 20 who haven’t completed high school will lose their unemployment benefits, and their parents will have their family tax benefits slashed, if they don’t pursue some form of “education”!
Under the reactionary rubric of “nation building,” the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, cynically trumpets the budget’s projected $22 billion infrastructure expenditure as a pro-working-class measure to create jobs. In reality, it simply fulfils Labor’s pre-election commitment to big business to make Australian capitalism more competitive by reversing the former Howard government’s neglect of key communications, transport and port facilities. Meanwhile, the budget allocates a comparative pittance to the crumbling health and education systems which, along with public transport, have fallen into decay through years of capitalist neglect.
The Laborite trade-union tops, who view the world through the lens of the bourgeoisie, are working overtime with their parliamentary “mates” to rebuild confidence in the capitalist system. Imbibing in Rudd’s “nation building,” in response to growing unemployment they are calling to bail out the bosses’ industries using workers’ taxes while telling workers to sacrifice in the “national interest,” i.e., for the bosses’ profits. For example, in April, General Motors Holden management and union tops cooked up a deal that halved shift times, cutting penalty rates [overtime] for workers. Described by the federal ALP government as “a model,” such deals slash wages, undermine hard-won union conditions and devastate the livelihoods of workers.
Alongside this, the government is slashing the immigration intake and heavily funding and enforcing xenophobic “border control” measures. They are expanding the cop and military takeover of Aboriginal lands to town camps around Alice Springs and continuing to enforce racist welfare “quarantining” against besieged Aboriginal people. This all-sided reaction is buttressed by draconian “anti-terror” and anti-union laws, the latter almost identical to those of the [previous John] Howard government apart from the name. The Labor government’s despicable anti-immigrant measures include using the navy to target refugees fleeing the horrors of the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the genocidal war against the oppressed Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. Prevented from landing in the country, refugees have been intercepted off shore and dumped at the government’s Indian Ocean Christmas Island detention centre where many await deportation, which can mean death.
Defend the Chinese Deformed Workers State!
We Marxists stress that the future for workers in Australia lies in common struggle with the working masses of Asia against capitalist exploitation. Our fight for a workers republic of Australia is part of our perspective for socialist revolutions throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. Key to this proletarian internationalist perspective is our defence of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state that issued out of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. This revolution overthrew capitalist class rule, liberating the Chinese masses from the yoke of bloody imperialism, and led to the development of a collectivised economy that laid the basis for massive social progress. However, the workers state was deformed from its inception under the rule of Mao Zedong’s peasant-based Chinese Communist Party regime, a Stalinist-nationalist bureaucratic caste resting atop the workers state. Despite capitalist inroads under decades of the bureaucracy’s “market reforms,” China’s economy remains dominated by state-controlled banks and the core of its industry remains collectivised, an historic gain for the world’s working class that the imperialists seek to overthrow.
Unlike reformist groups such as the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) who declare China capitalist in order to join counterrevolutionary causes from “Free Tibet” to “independence for Taiwan,” we Trotskyists fight for the unconditional military defence of China and the other deformed workers states of North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution from within. In direct opposition to the imperialists’ provocative threats against North Korea following its recent missile tests and underground detonation, we note that our defence of China and North Korea includes supporting their testing and possession of nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent against the threat of annihilation by the nuclear-armed imperialists in Washington, backed by their lackeys in Canberra.
At the same time, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist, Stalinist bureaucracies whose appeasement of imperialism and bureaucratic mismanagement pave the way for capitalist restorationist forces. A genuinely communist government in China, based on workers and peasants councils and an internationalist program, would look to the extension of proletarian power through the struggle for socialist revolutions throughout the region, and particularly in the imperialist centres of Japan, North America, Europe and Australia.
While the global economic crisis has slowed China’s economy, for decades it has escaped the cyclical crises inherent to capitalism and been growing at a rate unmatched by any capitalist country. As a consequence, over the last 15 years the Australian bourgeoisie has accrued enormous wealth from mineral sales to China, now Australia’s largest two-way trading partner. With the Japanese economy currently spiralling deeper into recession, the Australian bourgeoisie’s reliance on exports to China has increased markedly such that many bourgeois economists look to China to pull Australian capitalism out of recession.
In this framework, earlier this year a xenophobic anti-China backlash erupted over Chinese state-owned companies seeking to invest in capital-starved and crippled Australian mining companies. This media-driven campaign, saturated with “yellow peril” racism and overlain with “red menace” anti-Communism, targeted China for supposedly using the economic crisis to “seize control” of Australian resources, threatening “national security” including the highly secretive U.S. intelligence base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. This was the context for the “security scare” whipped up around the ALP defence minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, whose friendship with a Chinese-Australian businesswoman was portrayed as a national security risk. Next, Kevin Rudd was admonished in Murdoch’s Australian for a lack of transparency in his meetings with China’s propaganda chief and for lobbying “for Beijing” because he argued that China should have a bigger say in the IMF. Such was the hysteria over investments, the Chinese ambassador felt compelled to call for “rational” discussion, noting that at the end of 2008 “less than 1 percent of total foreign investment in Australia” came from China (Australian, 2 April).
The government quickly made a slavish show of loyalty to the Australian capitalist rulers by denying an application by state-owned China Minmetals to invest in the moribund OZ Minerals’ operation at Prominent Hill in South Australia on “security” grounds. Some experts opined that the application was rejected because the Chinese could “spy on” the Pine Gap base. It is not China which is targeting the U.S. and Australia but the opposite! Pine Gap, which collects electronic intelligence from around the world, is part of a string of U.S. military installations and bases from South Korea to Central Asia that assist bloody imperialist interventions and enforce capitalist “stability” in Asia and the Pacific while targeting the bureaucratically deformed workers states, particularly China.
Down With Australian Imperialist Militarism!
With their strategic aim of capitalist counterrevolution, the imperialists have for years pursued a combination of economic and political subversion while increasing military pressure against China. The recent xenophobic, anti-China hysteria further serves to line up the population here behind the counterrevolutionary aims of U.S. and Australian imperialism. The invention of a Chinese “threat” has been used by the bourgeoisie to legitimise the government’s recently released Defence white paper, which projects a vast program of future military spending and hawkishly targets China. The biggest buildup of the Australian military since World War II, the proposed expansion of the airforce and navy includes up to 100 new fighter jets, more submarines and new classes of warships equipped with long-range cruise missiles.
Commenting on the Defence paper, a 27 April Australian editorial expressed the view of a section of the ruling class:
“This is a plan for a world where Australia may need to defend its territory and economic interests from attack, and might have to project military power a great distance from home.... It appears the Government wants to cover contingencies from an East Timor-style deployment to fighting a regional power, for which read China, with a blue-water fleet.”
Despite this braggadocio, Australia remains a second-rate jackal imperialist power that looks to the U.S. for protection. As such, they offer their services in dirty murderous operations from the southern Philippines to Afghanistan where Australia has recently sent an additional 450 troops as part of the blood-drenched U.S.-led occupation.
In this sparsely populated, white imperialist enclave in Asia, the counterrevolutionary U.S./Australia military alliance has always had the bipartisan support of the Liberal and Labor parties. Following the surrender of the British and Australian forces in Singapore to Japan in 1942, it was the Labor government of John Curtin which transferred Australian imperialism’s allegiance from British to American imperialism. In response to the post-war nationalist and revolutionary ferment among the Asian masses, anti-communism and anti-Asian racism within the Australian ruling class fused in common fear of the spectre of social revolutions in Asia, particularly after the victory of Mao’s Red Army in China in 1949.
In 1951, during the Korean War, the Liberal government of Robert Menzies signed the ANZUS pact to “contain” communism across Asia. In part the alliance was bought with Australian acquiescence to a peace treaty with Japan, which the U.S. sought to rebuild as an anti-communist bastion, including against the Soviet Union. The ANZUS alliance has seen the U.S. and Australian military act to slaughter millions of workers and peasants in counterrevolutionary wars from Korea to Vietnam. It was the Australian Secret Intelligence Service stationed in Jakarta that collaborated with the CIA to help orchestrate the 1965-66 anti-Communist bloodbath in Indonesia, which helped “stabilise” Southeast Asia under the imperialist yoke at the cost of more than a million lives.
Australia remains a strategic ally of the U.S., not least through hosting the U.S. military installations and spy bases. With its current police/military occupations of East Timor and the Solomons, Butterworth airforce base in Malaysia, counterterrorism base and training of “special forces” in Indonesia, and training troops in the southern Philippines, Australian imperialism plays an aggressive role in the region as a counterrevolutionary gendarme under the U.S. umbrella, while pursuing its own predatory neocolonial interests. Australia’s projected military buildup is an expression of the system of capitalist imperialism. As Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin explained, under this system the ruling classes of the richest capitalist countries, ever in search of greater resources, new markets and sources of cheap labour, enforce their neocolonial looting and protect their spheres of exploitation through the coercive power of their respective states. It is an elementary principle for Marxists to uncompromisingly oppose the imperialist depredations of their “own” ruling class. An end to imperialism and imperialist wars will only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system internationally.
We Trotskyists, as proletarian internationalists, stand for class-struggle opposition to the Australian imperialist military. In the tradition of our revolutionary communist forebearsRosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Leninwe demand not one person, nor one cent for the Australian imperialist military! We say: Down with the U.S./Australia alliance! All U.S. bases and military installations out now! Implacably opposed to Australian imperialism, we demand that U.S./NATO/Australia get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and that Australia get out of Malaysia, the Philippines, East Timor, the Solomons and keep its bloody hands off the South Pacific!
Down With Nationalist Laborite Protectionist Poison
Such a perspective is anathema to the pro-imperialist Laborite misleaders sitting atop the unions. This bureaucracy is historically based on a thin layer of privileged workers who are bought off by crumbs obtained from the profits from Australian imperialist exploitation abroad. This conditions their loyalty to the Australian imperialist military from the occupation of East Timor to the war in Afghanistan. The bureaucracy’s overall role is to subordinate the interests of the working class to the bourgeoisie.
Illustrating the labour tops’ promotion of collaboration and class peace with the national bourgeoisie is the ACTU’s [Australian Council of Trade Unions] current protectionist “Buy Australian” campaign. They are reportedly proposing at their upcoming national congress that the government give local companies a 25-percent price advantage when bidding for contracts. Meanwhile, the CFMEU construction and mining union is appealing to the Rudd government to only provide “stimulus” monies to those employers “that give preference to local content” and “local labour” (Australian, 26 May).
The bureaucrats’ protectionism was highlighted following the February decision by clothing manufacturer, Pacific Brands, to cut 1,850 jobs and move some operations “off shore.” Rather than defend jobs, the response of the textile union tops was to beg the state to prop up domestic industry. Giving a “militant” cover to this grovelling nationalism, the Federation of Transport Unions (FTU), which includes the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Transport Workers Union and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, organised a union “blockade” should this “iconic” Australian-owned company attempt to shift equipment overseas.
The FTU’s action was backed by construction, firefighters, health services and ambulance unions who called for contracts with Pacific Brands to be cancelled if the move went ahead. Such was the poisonous nationalism associated with this campaign that the Sydney gutter press, Daily Telegraph, demanded, “Bring on the Blockade.” Support from the Telegraph was in turn trumpeted on the MUA website. Falling in behind the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy are reformist opponents of revolutionary Marxism such as the DSP, Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and Solidarity who all wrote about Pacific Brands without a word of criticism of the nationalist protectionism of the union bureaucracy. Taking a slightly different tack, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, in a triumph of historical falsehood and political cowardice, simply disappeared any mention of the trade unions or the blockade from their article on the issue.
The vile nationalist nature of the union tops’ campaign was summed up by the national secretary of the textile union, Michele O’Neil. While addressing a Sydney meeting of Pacific Brands workers in May, O’Neil railed, “Why hasn’t the Government acted to ensure that contracts for the manufacture of uniforms for Government agencies and the Defence Forces are only given to companies that guarantee ethical, Australian production?” She followed this chauvinist appeal to the supposed “superior ethics” of racist Australian capitalism with more of the same: “It’s completely unacceptable that Australian taxpayers pay for our troops to be clothed in uniforms made offshore” (www.tcfua.org.au, 6 May). O’Neil grotesquely seeks to mesh the interests and welfare of the working class to the armed fist of the capitalist state—the military, police, prisons and courts—which serves to defend the private property of the capitalists, with the cops, for example, being used to smash workers picket lines. O’Neil’s statement exemplifies, yet again, the nationalist obeisance of the trade-union tops to capitalist class rule.
Last year, in response to the loss of 600 jobs at South Pacific Tyres, the manufacturing workers union in Victoria declared: “The decision demonstrates a worrying trend of companies taking their work offshore to places like China for cheaper unregulated labour” (AMWU website, 26 June 2008). Anti-China protectionism, so prevalent in the manufacturing union, is particularly pernicious because it lines workers up behind the imperialist rulers against the Chinese deformed workers state. Against the bureaucrats’ attempts to pressure the capitalist rulers to adopt protectionist policies, we Marxists put forward an internationalist class-struggle program to fight job losses at the bosses’ expense.
While elements within the union bureaucracy may, from time to time, be moved to some militancy (for example under pressure from their working-class base), they will attempt at every point to chain workers’ interests to those of their exploiters. We stand on the important but all-too-rare examples of international working-class solidarity, such as the Waterside Workers Federation bans on loading war materiel bound for the imperialist war against the revolutionary struggle of the Vietnamese workers and peasants in the 1960s.
Trade unions are mass organisations to defend the immediate economic interests of the working class against the capitalists and their state. To consistently carry out that role, they must be independent of the capitalists and their state. Stressing this point, Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky noted in “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (1940),
“The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”
Against the chauvinism of the union tops, and the ALP to which they are connected, it is necessary to forge a new leadership in the labour movement through class struggle, a leadership that begins with the understanding that the interests of labour and capital are irreconcilably counterposed. The ALP is a bourgeois workers party—thoroughly bourgeois in its outlook and program, but based on the trade unions. A revolutionary workers party must be built by splitting the working-class base away from this pro-capitalist leadership.
For Class-Struggle Defence of Immigrants and Refugees
The bureaucrats’ nationalist defence of “Australian jobs” pits workers against their international class brothers and sisters, poisoning the potential for working-class solidarity, and does nothing to save jobs. Blaming overseas workers for the job losses caused by the irrational capitalist system, protectionism also fosters the bosses’ divide-and-rule schemes by scapegoating immigrants and fuelling racist attacks on minorities. Against this we declare with Karl Marx: the workers have no country—workers of the world unite!
The union movement must champion asylum rights for all refugees and oppose deportations. It must stand unequivocally on the side of immigrants, demanding full citizenship rights for all. New layers of immigrants bring into the multiracial working class valuable experiences from struggles abroad. A class-struggle fight for immigrant rights would help build a bridge to the struggles of workers from Indonesia to the Philippines who are heavily exploited by Australian imperialism. The fight to organise the unorganised, combined with the struggle for jobs for all at equal pay for equal work—including for women, youth and minorities—would strengthen the organised labour movement and help to unify the working class in struggle against the bosses’ attacks. A class-struggle leadership in the unions would fight to mobilise the social power of the working class, with its strategic immigrant component, in a broad struggle against the racist exploitative capitalist system.
This perspective is counterposed to that of the reformist opportunists who seek to pressure the ALP or bourgeois parties like the Greens to act in the interests of the workers and oppressed. A case in point is the Cliffite Solidarity group. Crawling to the ALP, they wrote in the April issue of their paper, “The Rudd government can continue to let the Liberals whip up hysteria, or it can go on the front foot. That means ditching the Liberals’ rhetoric of ‘border protection’ and ‘people smuggling’ and implementing a genuinely humanitarian policy that says ‘refugees are welcome’.” What planet do these people live on? It was the federal Keating ALP government that introduced mandatory detention of refugees in the early 1990s and Rudd’s Labor government aggressively enforces this policy today. Indeed “White Australian” racism has historically been a principal pillar of the ALP. While the White Australia policy has been formally abolished, Australian Laborism continues to identify with the xenophobic fears of its own ruling class.
Meanwhile, posturing as militant anti-racists, SAlt scream “Rudd’s betrayal of refugees” while lamenting that the Greens “have conspicuously avoided explicit calls for mandatory detention to be scrapped” (Socialist Alternative, May 2009). SAlt’s hollow outrage at Rudd notwithstanding, the ALP are in fact doing exactly what they promised at the last federal elections. At that time SAlt led the charge in calling for a vote to the capitalist Greens in order to pressure the Labor Party. This truly was an act of class betrayal. In contrast, we Marxists told the truth about the objective interests of the working class. Declaring the elections a bipartisan war on the working class and oppressed we demanded, “No vote to Labor or bourgeois Greens!” (see Australasian Spartacist No. 200, Summer 2007/2008).
We Need a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party
The economic crisis currently immiserating workers and the oppressed exemplifies the anarchy and decay that besets capitalist production in general, and for which there are no simple trade-union solutions. The key contradiction of capitalism was identified by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: under capitalism production is socialised, that is, concentrated and organised in vast corporations, but the means of production—and the appropriated socially produced wealth—remain the private property of a tiny, rich capitalist class.
In their drive to expand profits, the capitalist rulers have looted the wealth of this country and sabotaged its vital infrastructure. They squander the economic surplus they appropriate through the exploitation of labour on speculative binges, which inevitably end in the idling and destruction of productive forces. To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the capitalist owners and the swindles of the banks, we demand the bosses open their books to all members of society. As the bosses continue to throw hundreds of thousands into the ranks of the unemployed, the fight for jobs becomes equivalent to the fight against the devastation of the working class as a whole. What is necessary is a massive program of public works, with workers paid at union wages, to rebuild the infrastructure of this decaying capitalist system, to tear down and replace the crumbling public schools, hospitals, roads and rail systems. Against layoffs we demand jobs for all by calling for a shorter work week at no loss in pay to spread the work around.
We call for free, decent public transport and education, and free 24-hour quality health care and childcare; for fully paid retraining programs and an increase in unemployment benefits equivalent to a living wage. Such demands, the elements of which were laid out in Trotsky’s Transitional Program, the founding document of the Trotskyist Fourth International, will not be granted by the profit-gouging capitalist rulers. Capitalist decay and the catastrophe of mass unemployment, which threatens the disintegration of the working class, can only be effectively fought by a workers movement led by those committed to the liquidation of capitalist wage slavery through socialist revolution.
Years of betrayal by the union misleaders have led to a haemorrhaging from the unions and atomisation of the working class. Internationally the proletariat continues to suffer the effects of the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolutions in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This historic defeat for the world’s working class has resulted in a regression of political consciousness which, albeit uneven, means that few workers today identify their struggles with the need for socialism. However, as was seen in the recent mass picket at Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge against the scab-herding union busting of the John Holland company, there is a felt anger and willingness to fight amongst many workers. The capitalist mode of production, which creates the very conditions which grind down the working class and set them one against the other in the fight to survive, also propels the working class to do battle against its exploiters. As long as capitalism exists it will generate the conditions for potential class-struggle opposition to capitalist rule.
Today the working class is at an historically difficult pass. The anger of workers and the poor must be organised around a revolutionary Marxist program and directed against the capitalist class as a whole, not channelled into chauvinist belly-crawling before the ALP. History has repeatedly shown that “unity” with the capitalist rulers or their social-democratic political agents in the workers movement is the road to defeat. It is necessary to break with the politics of Laborism! Workers need a political party that represents their interests against the capitalist class. Integral to the building of this Leninist vanguard party will be forging an internationalist class-struggle leadership within the unions.
The Spartacist League of Australia, as part of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) is committed to building such a revolutionary Marxist party to lead the proletariat, at the head of all the oppressed, in sweeping away the entire capitalist system of wage slavery, repression and war. The only way to allow for the development of the productive forces, assuring a society of abundance, is by ripping them out of the hands of the capitalist class through socialist revolution and the establishment of an international planned economy. If humanity is to have a future, those who labour must rule. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!