(Pseudo) Lefty Boot Camp

This clip from the ABC’s recently axed, ‘Tonightly with Tom Ballard’ show, is further indication that a wider range of people, including a fairly smug ABC TV comedy show, are fed up with the pseudo-left. The critique is solid and works well as satire. Of course, it has nothing much to offer as an alternative beyond getting ‘out there’ – but still very good to see.

The comedian doing the routine is Jazz Twemlow.

Confound their politics – the Australian Republican Movement

With thanks to Quadrant and the author for permission to publish this excellent essay here. Originally published in Quadrant, May 1998.

This article appeared at a time when the Constitutional Convention to debate Australia becoming a republic had been convened (in February 1998) and when the NEITHER! campaign, which is referred to in the article, had earlier challenged Australia’s ‘two party dictatorship’.

It holds good as a critique of the Republican Movement in Australia, which has lost much ground since 1998, especially among young people.

 

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Albert Langer Confound their politics Quadrant May 1998_1

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The Prague Spring 1968 – it is right to rebel!

Czech 1968

“Discarding all its fig-leaves, its so-called ‘Marxism-Leninism’, ‘internationalism’, etc., the Soviet revisionist leading clique has brazenly resorted to direct armed aggression and intervention and is trying to create puppets with the help of guns. It is exactly what Hitler did in the past in his aggression against Czechoslovakia and the U.S. imperialism of today is doing in its aggression against Vietnam. The Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has long since degenerated into a gang of social-imperialists and social-fascists”.                                            – Premier Zhou En Lai, August 1968

* * * *

Fifty years ago this month a dramatic people’s uprising in Czechoslovakia took place., in support of democratic reforms. It was made all the more dramatic because of the attempt by the Soviet Union’s ‘Red Army’ to suppress the pro-democracy movement.

Estimates vary but up to 500,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia to thwart the efforts by the Czech Communist Party government, led by Alexander Dubcek, to introduce reforms such as abolition of censorship and multi-party competitive elections.

The uprising by the Czech people was part of the great global disruption that happened in the landmark year, 1968.

Those of us on the left in Australia, who were building a movement in solidarity with the Vietnamese against US and allied aggression, supported the Czech rebellion. In the Czech workers and students, we saw the struggles of peoples everywhere fighting for freedom from imperialist aggression – and we saw ourselves, our own struggle for greater freedom.

Of all the governments around the world, none was as vehement as the Chinese Communist Party in its condemnation of the invasion. The Chinese government was highly critical of Dubcek’s revisionism too, in part because it did not go far enough in urging and organizing people’s struggle against the invaders.

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At the time, as a 17 year old, I found the invasion confusing, initially. There was appeal in the conspiratorial line spread by pro-Soviet revisionists that it was all a CIA plot to destabilize socialism. Conspiracy theories are alluring in that way: if something happens that you cannot make sense of, the conspiracy theory is always there to make sense of it for you. The problem is that it is usually wrong as it is plucked out of thin air.

Eventually, when I went to university, I met an impressive Marxist-Leninist named Dave Muller who I looked up to enormously. He patiently explained to me how the Soviet Union had abandoned socialism long ago and was now basically state capitalist and social-imperialist. I looked further into this – did some reading and arguing – and was even able to persuade my father that the Soviet Union had ‘gone bad’.

The bottom line for me at that time, as someone not well versed in theory, was that people were rising up – as we were, as the Vietnamese were, as the South Africans were, as the black Americans were – against unjust regimes and seeking something better. Czechoslovakia pushed a few of us already on the left in the Maoist direction. Including me.

Expressing the Chinese party line, Premier Zhou En Lai’s speech, made in August 1968, is worth reading in full. It is worth noting too how today’s pseudo-left takes the opposite view to the one we took back then on the elementary question of international solidarity and support for people’s struggle against unjust and oppressive regimes. The Arab Spring was seen by the pseudo-left as a CIA plot, as the Czech uprising was.

The speech in full:

“A few days ago, the Soviet revisionist leading clique and its followers brazenly dispatched massive armed forces to launch a surprise attack on Czechoslvakia and swiftly occupied it, with the Czechoslovak revisionist leading clique openly calling on the people not to resist, thus perpetrating towering crimes against the Czechoslovak people.

“This is the most barefaced and most typical specimen of fascist power politics played by the Soviet revisionist clique of renegades and scabs against its so-called allies. It marks the total bankruptcy of Soviet modern revisionism.

“The Chinese Government and people strongly condemn the Soviet revisionist leading clique and its followers for their crime of aggression- the armed occupation of Czechoslovakia- and firmly support the Czechoslovak people in their heroic struggle of resistance to Soviet military occupation.

“Over a period of time, modern revisionism with the Soviet revisionist leading clique as its center has been beset with internal contradictions and riddled with crises. The aim of the Soviet revisionist leading clique in brazenly invading and occupying Czechoslovakia is to prevent the Czechoslovak revisionist leading clique from directly hiring itself out to the Western countries headed by U.S. imperialism and to prevent this state of affairs from giving rise to uncontrollable chain reactions. This is an inevitable result of the great-power chauvinism and national egoism practised by the Soviet revisionist clique, and of the Khrushchev revisionism the Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has practised over the years.

“Discarding all its fig-leaves, its so-called ‘Marxism-Leninism’, ‘internationalism’, etc., the Soviet revisionist leading clique has brazenly resorted to direct armed aggression and intervention and is trying to create puppets with the help of guns. It is exactly what Hitler did in the past in his aggression against Czechoslovakia and the U.S. imperialism of today is doing in its aggression against Vietnam. The Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has long since degenerated into a gang of social-imperialists and social-fascists.

“The Soviet revisionist leading clique has all along pursued the counter revolutionary policy of U.S.-Soviet collaboration for world domination. Since the Glassboro talks, not to mention anything earlier, U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism have struck a series of dirty deals on such important questions as Vietnam, the Middle East and the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The present Czechoslovak incident is no exception. It is a result of the sharpening contradictions in the scramble for and division of spheres of influence by U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism in Eastern Europe; it is, moreover, a result of the U.S.-Soviet collusion in vain attempt to redivide the world. The aggression by Soviet revisionism was carried out with the tacit understanding of U.S. imperialism. Since U.S. imperialism has acquiesced in the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet revisionism, how is it possible for Soviet revisionism to oppose the forcible occupation of south Vietnam by U.S. imperialism? In fact, Soviet revisionism has long become the No. 1 accomplice of U.S. imperilaim in its aggression against Vietnam and the rest of the world. That a big nation should have so wilfully trampled a small nation underfoot serves as a most profound lesson for those harbouring illusions about U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism.

“The armed aggression by Soviet revisionism has brought calamity to the Czechoslovak people, but it has also educated them, enabling them to realize gradually that revisionism is the root cause of this calamity. This is likewise a very good lesson for the people of the Soviet Union, the other East European countries and the rest of the world.”

 

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Happy 25 millionth! People are precious – and not the problem.

workers have no country

‘… only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations… ‘

–  Lenin, 1913

‘All the gang of those who rule us/Hope our quarrels never stop/Helping them to split and fool us/So they can remain on top’

– Brecht, Solidarity Song, 1929-1930

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Australia’s population reached 25 million the other day – way ahead of schedule. Experts thought it would happen at least a decade from now. The increase is mostly a product of immigration.

 

I’m all for mass immigration, primarily because it’s very good for immigrants. Of which my parents and I were three, in 1954. But even if I wasn’t one myself, I’d still be all for it. It’s also good for the locals, as it expands economic opportunity in the domestic market and enriches the culture and cosmopolitan sense.

 

At the time my parents arrived, Australia’s population was barely ten million. With more than double the population today, Australia is a much better and more interesting place than it was back then.

 

It makes me angry to hear politicians – sometimes ‘left’ and sometimes Right – suggesting or directly stating that migrants – ‘too many people’ – are to blame for infrastructure problems, unemployment and high house prices. How difficult is it really to run more trains in the cities at peak hour and to plan ahead? These are services that we are generally happy to pay taxes for.

 

Unemployment? The only way to reduce unemployment is by creating jobs, something the economy is meant to do. When we have the government actually creating the jobs, or even seeming to, we have an economy that is losing its mojo and acting as a restraint.

 

House prices? The great majority of people who own more than one property are Australian-born.  Stop blaming immigrants!

 

Let’s question capitalism rather than immigration levels. No wonder bourgeois politics is pretty much on the nose all over the advanced world.

 

Infrastructure expansion is a political question, as is the development of new cities and regional centres. Capitalism is such a backward system in countries where it has reached maturity and outlived its previous usefulness that rapid growth doesn’t happen and people – the most precious of all things – are regarded as a problem. What’s with a system that has always had a ‘reserve army of labour‘ – the unemployed – when there is so much work that could and should be done?

 

Don’t blame immigrants for the fact that capitalism is a sluggish moribund system, not dead yet but certainly unable to realize genuine, realistic, opportunities for all round development, and that the governments administering it can only do good things on the basis of increasing debt.

 

* * * *

 

Many years ago, possibly the early 1990s, I was at a party in a beautiful property in Sylvania heights, Sydney, overlooking the Georges River. The property was set on several acres of attractive native bush.

 

Among the guests was Tim Flannery, whom I had known very briefly at Melbourne’s La Trobe University in the mid-1970s. Tim told me, with characteristic earnestness and enthusiasm, that Australia’s optimum population was seven million. By optimum, I think he meant what ‘the natural environment’ could ‘sustain’, without being changed for the worse.

 

I politely told him that he needed to consider what kind of society Australia was when the population was seven million, which was in 1947. With a population of approximately 17 million, as it was in the early 1990s when we talked, Australian society was a much better place, especially for women, than it was in 1947.

 

I also pointed out to him that Canberra, where I had settled, was now a very lush green place with tree-covered hills and a rapidly growing population of almost 250,000, yet in the early 1900s, when the population was barely a thousand, the landscape had been mostly denuded of trees.

 

* * * *

 

What kind of times are these, when/To talk about trees is almost a crime/Because it implies /silence about so many/horrors?

–   Brecht, To those who follow in our wake, 1939

 

* * * *

 

Reactionaries adhere to an essentially Malthusian view that says resource development and food supply cannot possibly keep up with population growth. Malthus wrote that, ‘The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation’. (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798, Chapter VII) This has been proven wrong – thanks to human ingenuity, democratic politics, science and technology. While population has increased to 7 billion, world hunger has declined greatly over the past few decades, as this data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation shows.

 

The Greens and some trade union bosses also tow an anti-population-growth line. The Greens want only ‘sustainable’ population growth, which logically must mean no population growth as more people will always strain existing infrastructure and require more physical space (which involves destruction of some ‘natural environment’). The union bosses warn against competition from foreign workers who, they say, will undercut local wages and conditions. Yet this happens when such workers are only allowed to work in Australia on restrictive temporary visae rather than on the same basis as everyone else.

 

The left has never fallen for such views. When it comes to ‘foreign workers’, we understand that there’s no such thing: the working class is a class not a nationality.

 

Marx appropriately said of Malthus’ population theory, which blamed the poor for their poverty, that he was ‘a shameless sycophant of the ruling classes’.

 

‘Utter baseness is a distinctive trait of Malthus—a baseness which can only he indulged in by a parson who sees human suffering as the punishment for sin and who, in any ease, needs a “vale of tears on earth”, but who, at the same time, in view of the living he draws and aided by the dogma of predestination, finds it altogether advantageous to “sweeten” their sojourn in the vale of tears for the ruling classes’.

Marx, Chapter 9, Theories of surplus value, 1861-63

 

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A final note: this year marks the 50th anniversary of Paul Ehrlich’s bizarre book, ‘The population bomb’. I read it back then and it made me quite worried about the future.

 

In 1970, in a magazine wrongly titled ‘The Progressive’, he argued that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.” Fifty years ago, this was extremist  stuff, more on the periphery (although ‘newsworthy’). Now it is thoroughly mainstream: a reflection of ongoing and deepening crisis.

 

In the 50 years since the first edition of his ‘Bomb’, the opposite has happened on most measures, from longer life expectancy through to greater education opportunities and women’s rights, better health and greater prosperity across the globe (with a few exceptions). Check out this excellent article from The Guardian for more evidence of just how wrong Ehrlich was and is.

 

And in that time, world population has doubled from 3.8 billion to more than 7 billion.

 

* * * *

 

Lenin’s words, from ‘Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration’ are still relevant:

 

‘Capitalism has given rise to a special form of migration of nations. The rapidly developing industrial countries, introducing machinery on a large scale and ousting the backward countries from the world market, raise wages at home above the average rate and thus attract workers from the backward countries.

 

‘Hundreds of thousands of workers thus wander hundreds and thousands of versts. [A verst is a Russian measurement equal to about 1.1 kilometres]. Advanced capitalism drags them forcibly into its orbit, tears them out of the backwoods in which they live, makes them participants in the world-historical movement and brings them face to face with the powerful, united, international class of factory owners.

 

‘There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations…

 

‘The bourgeoisie incites the workers of one nation against those of another in the endeavour to keep them disunited. All the gang of those who rule us/Hope our quarrels never stop/Helping them to split and fool us/So they can remain on top. Brecht Class-conscious workers, realising that the break-down of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers from the backward countries’. enlightening them that the problem is not development, but ownership.

 

– Lenin, ‘Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration‘ 1913

 

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If Bertolt Brecht were in Alice (Springs)…

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Many thanks to Tom Griffiths for this excellent poem.

For overseas’ readers, Alice Springs is a town in central Australia. The population is about 24,000, of which 18% is Indigenous. The town has very serious crime problems and is the ‘murder capital of Australia’. Domestic violence is especially bad.

The level of domestic violence in Aboriginal communities has been described as “out of control” by the Northern Territory Coroner. Women are taking the lead in calling for an end to violence.

Tom has been working in Alice with a family violence program run out of Tangentyere Council. The group program is for anyone but is overwhelmingly attended by men from the town camps or public housing. It addresses men and women of all ages who want to draw a line in the sand. The need on the ground and the adaptation of the original reminds us that art (of whatever form) must strive to do more than reflect reality, but must strive to change it.

 

Praise of Learning

Learn the simplest things. For you

Whose time has already come

It is never too late.

Learn your ABC’s, it is not enough,

But learn them! Do not let it discourage you,

Begin! You must know everything!

You must take over the leadership.

 

Learn man in gaol

Learn woman in the camps

Learn child roaming the streets

Seek out the school, you who are homeless!

Sharpen your wits, you who shiver!

Hungry man, hungry woman, reach for the book: it is a weapon.

You must take over the leadership.

 

Don’t be pushed around sister

Don’t be humbugged brother

Stand by your children parents

Stand up for yourself

And for others

You must take over the leadership.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask brother!

Don’t be won over sister,

See for yourself!

What you don’t know yourself,

You don’t know.

Add up the reckoning.

It is you who must pay it.

Put your finger on each item,

Ask: how did this get here?

You must take over the leadership.

 

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World Cup Pussy Riot protest – ‘the heavenly policeman’

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A few hours ago, four members of Pussy Riot ran onto the soccer field during the World Cup final match, to protest against the Putin regime. They have been arrested.

They are very brave and their demands, as expressed on facebook after the protest, deserve support.

Youtube has apparently taken down a video of the protest, put up by Pussy Riot, due to copyright complaints by FIFA. But here is other footage:

 

My only gripe with the Pussy Riot demands is that there is no mention of Russia’s military aggression in Syria, no demand for an end to Russian military adventures.

Still, the other demands deserve the support of every leftist worthy of the label.

Here’s what they put on their facebook page:

Today is 11 years since the death of the great Russian poet, Dmitriy Prigov. Prigov created an image of a policeman, a carrier of the heavenly nationhood, in the russian culture.

The heavenly policeman, according to Prigov, talks on the two-way with the God Himself. The earthly policeman gets ready to disperse rallies. The heavenly policeman gently touches a flower in a field and enjoys Russian football team victories, while the earthly policeman feels indifferent to Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike. The heavenly policeman rises as an example of the nationhood, the earthly policeman hurts everyone.

The heavenly policeman protects baby’s sleep, the earthly policeman persecutes political prisoners, imprisons people for “reposts” and “likes”.

The heavenly policeman is the organizer of this World Cup’s beautiful carnival, the earthy policeman is afraid of the celebration. The heavenly policeman carefully watches for obeying the game rules, the earthly policeman enters the game not caring about the rules.

The FIFA World Cup has reminded us of the possibilities of the heavenly policeman in the Great Russia of the future, but the earthly policeman, entering the ruleless game breaks our world apart.

When the earthly policeman enters the game, we demand to:

1. Let all political prisoners free.
2. Not imprison for “likes”.
3. Stop Illegal arrests on rallies.
4. Allow political competition in the country.
5. Not fabricate criminal accusations and not keep people in jails for no reason.
6. Turn the earthly policeman into the heavenly policeman.

 

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‘Freedom. Down with the regime. Your turn, Doctor’

These young blokes are true heroes. I hope they survive and thrive in a democratic Syria. A single spark can start a prairie fire!

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(Photo of them in 2011, after arrest and torture)

From eNCA:

“Your turn, Doctor.” Seven years after scribbling the anti-Assad slogan that sparked Syria’s war, activists-turned-rebels Moawiya and Samer Sayasina are bracing for a regime assault on their hometown of Daraa.

They were just 15 when they and friends, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions they saw on television, daubed a groundbreaking message on one of the southern city’s walls in the spring of 2011.

“We’d been following the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, and we saw them writing slogans on their walls like ‘Freedom’ and ‘Down with the regime’,” said Moawiya, now 23.

“We got a can of spray paint and we wrote ‘Freedom. Down with the regime. Your turn, Doctor’,” referring to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist.

Within two days, security forces stormed their homes and detained the boys, who are unrelated but share a common family name.

“They tortured us to find out who had provoked us to write it,” Moawiya said.

The teenagers’ detention prompted a wave of angry protests demanding their release, in what many point to as the spark to Syria’s nationwide uprising.”

The rest of the report can be read here.

 

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