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Issue #1712      November 25, 2015

As racism mobilises

Multiculturalism must be defended

Protests by racist group Reclaim Australia took place in several Australian cities last Sunday. In every case small crowds were outnumbered by people attending to register their disapproval of the anti-Islam, anti-refugee agenda of this latest manifestation of right-wing extremism in Australia. Participants from racist groups hammered the idea that they were defending the Australian way of life, its culture to which people arriving in the country, whether as migrants or refugees, must “assimilate” in every way. A reduction in the number of people permitted to settle or seek refuge in Australia was another common and very ugly theme.

Part of the counter-demonstration in Sydney’s Martin Place last Sunday. (Photo: Tom Pearson)

Unfortunately, while these ideas are not endorsed by most Australians, they are not “fringe”, either. In fact, they are simply the crudely expressed spirit of current Australian government policy for a fortress Australia holding up Anglo-Saxon cultural values and folkways and capitalist institutions inherited from the British colonial past.

Official racism is not new. It used to be overt in the form of the White Australia Policy adopted soon after federation in 1901 and scrapped only in 1973. Regrettably, the policy was embraced by many Australian workers, who were manipulated against workers from other countries to defend “their” jobs, wages and conditions. In fact, the jobs belonged then and belong now to the bosses. The echoes of this era can still be heard in the community.

Inspiration for this mobilisation of ignorance has always come from the “top” of the political heap. In recent times, it has been fanned by Coalition politicians, in particular. Former Prime Minister John Howard’s most memorable quote while in office followed the Tampa incident that kicked of the whole “Pacific solution” to the refugee crisis. “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come,” leaving open the question of who “we” are.

While leading the opposition, Howard declared that the government should set quotas for arrivals of people of various ethnic origin to ensure social harmony. The racism of this notion was deemed too blatant for the modern servant of capital seeking the top job and he was obliged to withdraw the plan. His disciple, Tony Abbott, followed in the footsteps of Howard with dog-whistling appeals to xenophobic Australians of Anglo-Saxon background. The word “assimilation” made a comeback. More and more demands were to be made on migrants to prove this assimilation, such as the speedy attainment of English language proficiency and knowing who Don Bradman was.

Malcolm Turnbull is the latest Liberal to front the federal government. His background in merchant banking sets him apart. He would rub shoulders with representatives of the capitalist class who don’t care what the colour or religion of the people they exploit are, so long as they as cheap, capable and compliant. While Turnbull projects a less culturally defensive image, he stills speaks of Australia as a “tolerant” society. The word “tolerant” suggests he is exercising self-disciple to endure something he and people like him would rather not.

White-anting multiculturalism

Multiculturalism was one of the progressive social reforms of the Whitlam government. It encouraged migrant communities to maintain their language and culture. This would enable migrant communities to flourish and embrace their new homeland and reduce potential alienation from it. It wasn’t intended to isolate communities in linguistic and cultural ghettos. The coming together and integration of different cultures worked to produce a new, distinctive and vibrant Australian culture. It was an effective, widely accepted but often misunderstood policy.

The Communist Party of Australia endorsed the policy and defended it from attacks and misrepresentations. The CPA’s support was natural. It is an internationalist party that recognises that, in spite our different ethnic, language and religious backgrounds, we comprise one working class. We are exploited by the same capitalist system and have the same interest in replacing that system with a socialist one.

The CPA supported land rights for Aboriginal people and the abolition of the White Australia Policy from its foundation in 1920. It was attacked in those early years as a “coloured party” for including members from all backgrounds. Our support, in word and deed, for a multicultural Australia has never waned.

After an initial embrace, conservative politicians and reactionary elements in society now seek to undermine and discontinue the policy. In the face of its demonstrable success, they claim it is a disaster. They single out the Muslim community in Australia and elsewhere for special blame for its supposed failure. They insist that, uniquely, Muslim Australians won’t “assimilate” and that they present a life and death challenge to the “tolerant” nature of Australian society.

It’s a familiar refrain. Before the Muslims of various national backgrounds, it was the Indo-Chinese. Before them it was southern Europeans and before that it was the Chinese workers who came during the gold rush of the 1850s. The latest wave of ignorance will subside but it will need conscious and practical effort on the part of progressive Australians.

A special role in this can be played, and in some instances has already been played, by the trade union movement. The temptation to adopt dubious slogans such as “Aussie jobs for Aussie workers” must be resisted and the resources of the organised labour movement must be directed against the attacks coming on the multicultural Australian working class. Multiculturalism must be promoted in new and creative ways.

* Bob Briton is the General Secretary of the CPA.

Next article – Editorial – Who set terrorism loose?

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