Friday, April 24, 2009

Rudd and refugees: the new racism

This article, by Leonie Bronstein, first appeared in En Passant. Both sites hope this can be the beginning of a comradely exchange of ideas and debate and discussion to help socialists and other left wingers better understand the world we live in. Leonie Bronstein is nom-de-plume.

Australia is a nation founded doubly on racism.

The British established Australia as a colonial settler state in 1788. Like other colonial settler states, such as South Africa and Israel, racism was essential to setting up the new nation.

This involved the de-humanisation of the original inhabitants and the concomitant deification of the invaders as a screen for driving Aborigines off their land and tying convicts and settlers to their British masters.

The second tranche of racism reflected itself in the unification of the states into one country, Australia.

The new nation was built on a grand compromise between labour and capital - protectionism, arbitration and White Australia.

One of the first Acts of the new parliament was the White Australia law.

This melded racism against the internal 'enemy', Aborigines, with racism against an external 'enemy', Chinese and other Asian workers.

This racism served (and continues to serve) both economic and ideological purposes.

It found a ready audience among many white workers and their political expression, the Australian Labor Party. The 1890s depression, and the defeats the labour movement suffered, saw both the birth of reformism and a further swing to racism.

Apart from the economic and ideological 'justifications' for racism, workers often find solace in a false sense of superiority over others as some sort of response to the alienated life they lead under capitalism.

This is refined and magnified by laborism which replicates and reinforces the ideology of the bourgeoisie in terms that workers can understand and which, in the absence of any anti-capitalist formation to challenge the dominant ideas, they can accept.

It is in the arena of ideology that the ruling class benefits too from racism. A divided working class is a weak working class.

In times of recession workers can question the legitimacy of the rule of capital. The ruling clique will resort to racism to divert that questioning away from the system to external factors.

That has been happening to some extent over the last 18 years or so as the benefits of the boom gushed to the bosses and trickled to workers.

But with the advent of the Great Recession the Opposition, bereft of relevance until now, has shifted to a more right-wing position on a range of issues.

The explosion on the refuge boat has allowed them to beat the drum of racism using code words like border protection, softness and 'illegals'.

Labor has responded not with a drum but a dog whistle. According to Kevin Rudd 'People smugglers are evil scum who should not only rot in jail but also in hell.'

The subtext is clear. 'See, we in Labor are tough on border control too, keeping out all those nasty dark skinned people.'

Rudd can't say so so straight out so his rhetoric concentrates on targets (like refugee travel consultants and being tough on 'border protection') that he thinks will resonate with those who oppose refugees for racist reasons.

When it comes to the evil scum stakes, I think Australian soldiers killing innocent kids in Afghanistan ranks much higher than any crime Indonesian people smugglers might commit.

Rudd Labor supports Australian soldiers killing innocents in Afghanistan in the name of defending rape in marriage. But that's OK. They were just darkies, weren't they? Killing them is alright because, nudge nudge, wink wink, they are not really human like us whities.

And I think the 1 million dead in Iraq that Howard and Rudd and Bush and Obama have killed or are killing makes a strong case for those bastards rotting in jail now.

People smugglers would be irrelevant if we set up quick process points near the borders of countries where people are fleeing war and poverty - places like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq or even in Indonesia.

Then the refugees could start their new lives in peace, not having to bear unimaginable horrors and the risk of death on the way to Australia.

Rudd thinks that politically he cannot allow the Liberals to dominate the racist centre ground. Yet he knows the old racism is unworkable in a country like Australia whose labour force is and will continue to be drawn from hundreds of countries.

He has developed a new racism - a balancing act which gives the impression of even handedness but in reality attacks those poor and defenceless who have dark skins.

The resultant 'soft' racism, which may be politically advantageous, also cons leftists who support Labor.

We assert our 'superiority' by attacking defenceless people fleeing war and poverty, war and poverty that our rulers impose on other countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a rational world people could move from land to land as they want.

Under the irrational world we currently live in, capital is free to move around the world but labour is not.

Some workers will be attracted to ruling class racism and this may only increase as unemployment worsens.

If unions started to fight to defend jobs and living standards, the siren song of racism would disappear as workers recognised that the enemy was the system, not other workers.

It's time for a rational world in which all human beings are equal - a world without borders, where no one is illegal, where we live in peace and harmony and prosperity for all.

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