29 Oct. 2006

Howard puts public money into religious education in schools (smh.com.au).

This story is not being reported like this of course, but according to the political spin. The program is one to fund one chaplain, of any religious persuasion, per school in Australia. This is to be an "opt-in" scheme, meaning that schools will not to be obliged to have a full-time religionist on staff. However, it is difficult to imagine that many schools today will turn down the offer of a new, gratis staff member. Hence, hey presto, a religionist in every school. This does two things. The most obvious is to (further) religionise education. The second is to prop up religion itself through financing professional religionists. Both are Bad Things, militating against the rational comprehension of society and for quietism based on the existence of supervenient forces which determine social reality and promise intangible compensation for its injustices, hence making it neither possible not worthwhile to alter reality. Sure, there are exceptions, but the essential function of religion in capitalism is in this direction.

22 Oct. 2006

The Blatant Racism of Australian Television Advertising

Further to my post last year ,in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, in which I pointed out that after watching a couple of hours of Australian TV after arriving in this country I already understood why non-white Australians have antipathy towards white Australians, I'd like to share some observations of the utterly blatant racism of television advertising in Australia today. In general, Australian television caters disproportionately to white people, the exception being SBS, a television channel set up to cater to the needs of migrants. However, this channel caters to the needs of non-English-speaking communities serially. Essentially, due to obvious commercial imperatives, television and the advertising which undergirds it, is aimed almost exclusively at the white majority.

A particularly revolting example of this is the current advertising campaign for Kirk's soft drinks, a nakedly patriotic campaign in which Kirk's is ultimately portrayed as the only surviving remnant of traditional Australian culture left today, while claiming (an obvious lie, but one which plants the right associations in the viewer's mind to induce them to purchase Kirk's sugar-water) that Kirk's sponsors the revitalisation of traditional Australian familial pursuits. The Kirk's compound in the advertisement features parents and children connecting over all manner of twee diversions. All these parents and children are white. This is a revitalisation of the authentic Australia and, as we all know, Australia is by definition a white country.

While television advertising in Australia primarily operates according to an exclusionary logic, it occasionally stoops to including ethnic minorities by mocking them. A confident white housewife goes to a Chinese market to found a wizened Chinaman having no food for her, but then with a cheeky grin proffering McCain's frozen Chinese vegetables. It's incredible to me the extent to which Australian television still portrays Chinese people in such a stereotypical manner when are so many Chinese people in this country defying these stereotypes. But of course, this is how things work, and the fantastic construction of the Oriental supervenes on any reality.

There is also an advertisement that almost manages to portray 'wog', which is to say 'Mediterranean/Middle Eastern' Australians. This trope is so unsaleable however, that it has to be covered with layers of padding. Firstly, the wog voices are applied to cartoon characters. Secondly, the cartoon characters themselves are cockroaches. They are simultaneously small and inconsequential and somewhat disgusting, degenerate in behaviour and language. I refer, by the way, to a specific advertisement for the V energy drink.

There is a notable exception in an advertisement for some kind of cheap telephony product, in which a young Asian woman phoning an overseas relative is non-stereotyped, while a couple of Australians phoning each other long distance within Aus are absurdly stereotyped. Commercials naturally being a commercial province, we can thankfully expect more of this on the assumption that Asian-Australians will become a larger and larger market for advertising. However, the commerciality of commercials also dictates that poor and marginal groups will always be discriminated against, and that capitalism will always be reinforced.

16 Oct. 2006

The Israeli ambassador speaks:

"We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians," he reportedly said. "We don't have the yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are … basically the white race."
Well, this is a pretty bizarre statement in that it does not seem to me that the Arabs or Indians are either yellow or slanty-eyed. OTOH, it's quite clear that Australia and Israel are basically white countries, settler-states moreover, implanted in a foreign context. The ambassador is correct that this unites the two countries.

It is moreover incredible that the ambassador's remarks are being castigated as 'racist'. Certainly the vocabulary is pretty outmoded, and the claim is empirically bizarre as I previously stated, but this is a country that imprisons and shoots Arab children, but only gets disapprobation in Australia when it accuses those people of being 'yellow'.

3 Oct. 2006

> Dear Friends,
> On the *14th of October, 10.30 am, at Sydney Town Hall,* Friends of
> Lebanon-Australia along with other community groups has organised a
> *public memorial for the Lebanese who have died in the recent war*.
> In the weeks following the war it became clear that many Lebanese
> Australian families have lost friends and relatives and were privately
> in mourning. We felt it important that this mourning be public as
> well. We were also keen that such a public event does not become a
> 'Lebanese community event' but an Australian event where as many
> non-Lebanese as possible can come to join the Lebanese in their
> mourning. This is why the event is held at Sydney Town Hall.
> Muslim Lebanese Australians have been on the receiving end of a lot of
> negative stereotyping, prejudiced ill-feelings and discriminatory
> behaviour from various sections of our society for far too long. It is
> time for those of us who disagree with this this state of affairs to
> not only be critical with those who peddle racism and prejudice, but
> to take the more positive step of embracing the victims and showing
> them that we regard them fully and unconditionally as part of our
> Australian community. Joining them in their mourning is an important
> way of doing so. Integration is not only about migrants adopting our
> values. It is also about us learning to share their sorrow and pain.
> We wish this event to be focused on a politics of inclusion within an
> Australian context rather than on the Middle Eastern politics that
> clearly underlies it. This is a unique opportunity, for those of us
> who wish to do so, to assert an inclusive politics of friendhip in the
> face of the incessant politics of hatred and division that is becoming
> part of our everyday lives.
> We urge you to join us in solidarity and to do your best to circulate
> this invitation.
> Ghassan Hage
> For Friends of Lebanon, Australia.

2 Oct. 2006

Australian imperialism's new apex

Originally published in a mildly-adulterated form in the Labor Tribune; what follows is the original text.

Over thirty years ago, in 1975, Australia made Papua New Guinea independent. Following the withdrawal of Australia from Vietnam in 1973 and the granting of human rights to Aborigines in the 1960s, this represented the completion of a shift, of which the Whitlam administration was clearly chronologically the expression and not the cause, away from the racist colonialism which had been a clear part of the Australian essence since the notion of Australianness had been invented in the nineteenth century. Prior to the withdrawal from Vietnam, Australia had been involved in continuous overseas conflict since the beginning of the Second World War. Up to the withdrawal from Papua New Guinea, Australia had been controlling territories without the consent of their population since its own inception as a self-governing entity.

This is not something to be uncritically celebrated, however. This was a national modernisation, part of the great worldwide trend in the late twentieth century away from naked racist-colonialism towards something more subtle, in which the profits of Australian companies was prioritised ahead of national chauvinism. Labor, arguing consistently that the health of Australian capital is closely bound up with the well-being of Australian workers, was able to push through a number of modernising measures which eliminated or minimised contradictions traditionally present in Australian society, while allowing profits to increase.

Two factors condemn this apparently win–win situation. The first is the fact that it is a deal with the capitalist class, by which the leaders of the working class in the Labor Party get power and prestige, but the workers themselves are ultimately denied their birth-right, namely the value of what they produce. The second is the lot of non-Australians in all this. While the rhetoric suggests that the political independence of, say, the people of Papua New Guinea, represents the opportunity for them to achieve economic prosperity on a par with Australia ultimately, the simple economic facts utterly belie any such idea. On the basic, economic level, imperialism continued unabated. Australian capital would never accept an Australian withdrawal from anywhere unless it could see a profit-maximisation. Of course, occupation is also made unprofitable by resistance of various kinds, as in the case in Vietnam. Self-government of Papua New Guinea, like democracy everywhere, was always about channelling resistance in such a way that it does not become disruptive to the operations of capital, even if this meant some concession in the bottom line. This led eventually to independence. The left wing of capital accepts the reality that without such concessions to the exploited, there will be disruption to its operations in the form of direct resistance. It chooses therefore to make a strategic withdrawal from a battle, in the hope of continuing to win the war. Resistance has today on many fronts dropped to levels which allow for a regrowth in naked exploitation and accumulation, however.

The proof of the utter callousness of Australia, the Labor leadership and the left of Australian capital was its complicity with the genocidal annexation of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975. Although this in fact happened shortly after Whitlam’s dismissal, his administration had already greenlighted it. One would be right to point out of was ultimately given by the US rather than Australia. For the US, having Suharto bulldozer a left-wing enclave in the archipelago made clear sense. But for Australia too, this was true. While Whitlam’s government had policies which were left-wing enough that the US orchestrated its removal, its overseas policies were in line with America’s, which had in this period shifted to a policy of withdrawal from Vietnam and recognition of the PRC, in other words towards a new strategy for dealing with Asian communism through more subtle methods.

Now, Australia is in an odd situation apropos of imperialism given its largely subordinate relation to the US in particular. This has led to some confusion, specifically that of the now-nugatory Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), which has maintained that Australia is a victim of imperialism, a second world country which needs to be liberated. There is some truth to such a claim, although Marxists should know better than to base their analysis on this nugget of truth. The truth in question is that Australia is not politically independent. Of course, Australia has a head of state who is a foreigner, but we all know that this means little. It is no longer Britain that controls Australia, but principally America, and often America and Britain in concert. America and Britain don't care much in general about what happens in Australia of course, but about Australia's foreign policy, its trade policy and certain domestic policies which might affect US or British interests. As a result, Australia buys American military hardware, signs a farcical, catamite's free trade agreement with the US, and sends its sons to serve as auxiliaries to the US military in its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much of Australia is owned by US and British concerns. However, this economic reality does not change the fact that Australian capital does exist in its own right. While it does not have clear control of its own domestic market, it is nevertheless spread widely throughout the world in close alliance with British and US capital, and is itself also rapaciously imperialist. In most parts of the world, it more or less relies on the protection of British or US military might. It is only in Australia's own 'back yard', where George Bush has appointed John Howard his "deputy sheriff", where Australian capital is often far larger than that of other countries, and where the Australian military may operate directly in small and powerless adjacent territories, that Australian imperialism is clearly visible.

Indeed, under Howard, Australia is again flexing its muscles and expanding its imperial apparatus to the greatest extent since the Whitlam withdrawal. Not only is Australia doing its bit for its alliance with the rest of the Anglosphere in helping to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, it is also in its own right now on its own account occupying two of its neighbours, East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and threatens to invade others. The economic interests here are patent. Australia, having helped the East Timorese to liberation from a genocidal occupation by Indonesia to which it had long turned a blind eye, now shows its true colours by shamelessly trying to grab its natural resources. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) are also deployed in these missions, and in Vanuatu (where the Australian ruling class likes to hide its money, which the Australian state is trying to dig up) and Nauru (where Australia imprisons refugees) besides.

Australia is readying for further imperial expansion, moreover. Both the AFP and ADF (Australian Defence [sic] Force – the Australian military) are in the process of major expansion, on the back of recent expansions to the ADF and the extension of the field of action of ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service – Australia's external secret service) in 2004.

Conventional wisdom, the kind you hear from blokes in the pub, will tell you that Australia is a country with a small population, vast size and small military, vulnerable to all comers, and in principle Indonesia. This is a grotesque miscalculation. It is analogous to claiming that the wolf is threatened by the flock of sheep because there are so many more of them. It’s true that a hundred sheep could maul a wolf to death, but equally obvious that this does not happen and will never happen. It’s true that there are enough Arabs to defeat the state of Israel, but this has never ever happened, at least until this year, when the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was halted by a new breed of sheep with horns – but this is merely a sheep the wolf does not know how to eat yet, not a sheep that will hunt the wolf.

Australia, like its pack-mate Israel, is a wolf, which is to say, an imperialist nation. Imperialism is closely correlated with richness: imperialism is essentially the control of foreign resources by one country’s companies such that profits from the other country flow to the imperialist country. Australia is rich, hence the Australian ruling class’s own diverse holdings overseas, perhaps most notably in the minerals sector, which are mined using cheap, super-exploited native labour to give Australia’s rich the greatest possible profits. In order to maintain such a grossly iniquitous arrangement against the natural tendency of humans to resist exploitation, imperialism must include a powerful coercive element. While the colonialist form of imperialism in which troops from imperialist countries were directly dispatched to colonies to discipline local people has declined in favour of delegation to local state apparatuses, there are significant signs of its resurgence. The poorer nations themselves tend to resist imperialism, and therefore need to be threatened with a coercive apparatus, ultimately leading to the carrying through of such threats in full-scale invasions, as well as bribed through the enrichment of local elites.

Hence, Australia maintains a military, which acts in concert with other imperialist militaries, those of nations with whose ruling classes the Australian ruling class is in synergy. It is true that the ADF has fewer personnel than many armies of poorer nations, about 53,000. Although it is expanding fairly rapidly, by 1,485 last year, and 2,600 this year, though of course recruitment is not easy at present, given the vastly better employment opportunities available to most young Australians (maybe Howard’s trying to bring on a recruitment crisis so large it necessitates reintroduction of conscription, though that’s never been popular in Australia), it is nevertheless miniscule compared to the military of, say, India, which has nearly two-and-a-half million members, or close to 50 times as many troops as the Australian force.

However, in modern war, the major determinant is not manpower, but technology, which of course largely means money. In the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last occasion on which a first world army fought a third world army, albeit with the third world army having a defensive advantage, the purely-military kill ratio was 542:17,298 or approximately 1:32.

Certainly, Australia is not about to invade India any time soon. But nor is India about to invade Australia. Their troop carriers would be bombed out of the water before they landed. They would be lucky to take Broome and would never advance beyond it.

India spent nearly US$17 billion on its military in 2004. So did Australia. That is, they spend about the same amount on its military. That is to say that Australia spends as much on preparing to fight wars as does a country that

  • has a population of over a billion, making it the second most populous country in the world
  • has nuclear weapons
  • has two nuclear-armed neighbours, Pakistan and China, with whom it shares significant borders, and with whom it has fought bloody wars in the past, and with whom tension still simmers
  • fought a defensive war as recently as 1999
  • faces at least four domestic guerrilla movements
  • faces several actually-active (as opposed to merely suspected and invisible) terrorist movements.

    In Australia’s immediate region, Oceania, it is the superpower. In South-East Asia, China and India are also regional superpowers, but Australia is still also a force to be reckoned with in comparison with these.

    Why does Australia need such a mighty military? To conduct wars overseas in pursuit of imperialist interests, of course, the same interests that mean that Australia has about the same GDP as India, a country with 500 times Australia’s population. The two spend about the same proportion of that GDP on weapons to fight wars with (although India is today surpassing Australia on both indices for the first time – until recently it was well behind). India uses its weapons to threaten and cajole and support pliant regimes in its local sphere of influence, the even poorer nations of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka. Australia does much the same thing in the South Pacific. Apropos of America’s vastly superior financial and military might, both are subordinates, however. For many years, during the Cold War, the Indian ruling class aligned itself as much with the Soviet Union as with the U.S. ruling class, but in the current global configuration of forces, American imperialism is effectively the only game in town. Formerly autonomous nations, such as Russia, India and China now play the game of allowing unbridled American investment, American ownership, American exploitation in their economies in the hope of becoming rich.

    Of course, for Australia, this makes little difference. Australia has been aligned to US imperialism for decades, and before that to British imperialism, which in the last fifty years has itself become an adjunct to US imperialism, as British foreign policy today demonstrates, with a supposedly-left-wing British regime falling over itself to co-operate in the reckless expansionism of radical right-wing American administration.

    Australian imperialism is tied to American imperialism because it is part and parcel of Australian capitalism, the rule of the Australian bourgeoisie, the control of Australian society by the capitalist class, whose rapacious profiteering is Australia’s ultimate foreign policy principle, and because the Australian bourgeoisie is allied to the American bourgeoisie.

    There is little discernible difference between Labor and Liberals apropos of Australian imperialism, precisely because they are both ardent supporters of Australian capitalism. While the ALP may balk at certain pieces of adventurism, perhaps because they squander young working class Australians’ lives, ultimately the only rhetoric the ALP today seems capable of producing is a left-capitalist rhetoric which argues that says that in fact the Australian economy is benefited by more peaceful policies than the Liberals are advocating. The ALP continues to peddle policies to its working class base in which the interests of Australian capital are identified generally with the interests of Australian workers. Contradiction between the two is almost never explicitly acknowledged by either political party. The WorkChoices legislation, clearly legislation for the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie against workers, is presented by neither side explicitly as such, but rather as good for Australia by the right and bad for Australia by the left – only the socialist left (small ‘s’, small ‘l’) of the ALP is capable of actually pointing out that there is a class conflict here.

    When it comes to Australia’s imperial expansion, real voices of criticism are relegated to the far left. All sections of the Australian media uncritically accept Australia’s most recent invasion of East Timor as being a simple matter of an invitation by a friendly government for assistance. Such presentations are disgraceful hogwash, however. The deployment of the military in foreign contexts is clear interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and effectively abnegate those countries’ sovereignty. There are inevitably forces in any country who would welcome any forces who intervene from without on their side. Certainly this is the case in East Timor; such was the case too in Iraq. It is quite clear however that in intervening in East Timor, Australia backs its friends, and wins favours for itself while its friends remain in power, which they assuredly will with such powerful backing. Which is to say, that Australian imperialism, both as practised by Australian companies and by the Australian state, is essentially a subversive, corrupting force in the region. Australian ministers and CEOs generally complain about corruption whenever they don’t get their way, but in reality the converse is the case: those who are pliant to Australian interests have been bought-out by Australian largesse.

  • 1 Oct. 2006

    Australia: Colonial Phatasm

    You see this figure iterated everywhere in this country, like a corporate logo, a badge of identity where none is needed, where it is completely certain to everyone that we are on the continent depicted. Other countries don't do this, but Australians need to continually claim the entirety of the continent. This is partly because they do not have much of a hold on it. Most Australians have hardly seen any of it; there are parts of it which have hardly been seen by anyone. Australians cluster together at certain sites on its eastern and southern coastlines.

    Opposing this periphery is another periphery, and outback, northern periphery. Its population is much smaller in number, and even smaller in the significance it is accorded. This is occupied territory, in which white Australia continues to impose its will on the descendents of the original inhabitants of the continent that white Australians so neurotically claim.

    Aboriginal Australia was forced to coagulate around missions and townships in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Formal freedom in the twentieth century meant the difference between forced labour and simple imprisonment. I just read this article by Alan Ramsay about Palm Island. In it, he quotes a description of Palm Island, a former penal colony for Australia's most recalcitrant Aborigines, as having been a gulag. Today, it is no longer a labour camp, but rather simply a prison camp. It is not even a ghetto, since the officials are all white outsiders.

    In 1975, Australia formally (as opposed to really) relinquished control of Papua New Guinea. Ostensibly, this was the end of Australian colonialism. But this lie could only be perpetrated via the phantasm of the single Australian continent, an indivisible nation united by the undeniable objectivity of geography. This masks completely the reality of colonialism within this continent. Even Alan Ramsey's otherwise-excellent article falls flat on this score: it dares to talk about "our Aboriginal Australians". Calling them Australians is one thing – that's for them to accept or deny, and it may be taken to express a geographical or legal fact, although of course in Ramsey's usage it is meant to say 'they are Australians too', which is a discourse which ultimately serves to legitimise their colonisation. But calling them 'ours' is really disturbing. Perhaps because there's some truth to it. Along with their land, Australia needs to give them back their selves.