A few thoughts after the “Reclaim Australia” rally and counter-rally

Photo from Perth counter rally, stolen from @zebparkes, zebedeeparkes.com.

I can’t be arsed putting together anything intelligent on “Reclaim Australia”, but there are a couple of brief comments I wanted to make.

1. Islam is not a race – and you are still a racist!

A message to the “reclaimers”: you are a pack of utter racists. You might think you’re being really clever with the whole “Islam is not a race” line, well it’s time for a sixty-five year old news flash: there is no such thing as biological ‘race’.

The category of ‘race’ is socially constructed; it is the product of a system of domination. ‘Race’ is constructed in order to define the out group. The creation and maintenance of a social system of domination and oppression that targets this outgroup is racism.

It doesn’t really matter if you are building a system of oppression that defines the outgroup by religion rather than skin colour, the essential element of racism is the construction of a system of oppression that targets an entire segment of the working class for villification and discrimination. Religion or skin colour, the dynamic is the same; “Reclaim Australia” is a racist project.

It is worth noting that without a relationship of power and domination, someone using a racial slur is not being racist, merely rude. The indigenous teenager who calls you a white c-nt is not creating or maintaining a hierachy of which you are the victim, she’s just being coarse (and in view of history, understandably so).

Related: Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race”, a presentation by Jeffrey Perry.

The sad fact is that the vast majority of Australians still think biological race exists. The majority now think it is bad to discriminate on the basis of race, but if race really does exist (in the world of “commonsense”) and “religion is not a race”, then the likes of Pauline Hanson and Shermon Burgess can continue claiming they’ve escaped being racists on a technicality.

Islamophobic racism is hardly the exclusive preserve of working class fascists like Shermon Burgess. The real work in constructing Islam as the “other” has been done by the state. The raft of “anti-terror” legislation, public propaganda, and fear mongering rhetoric that has emmanated from the top of the political hierachy has created the space in which fascists like Shermon Burgess are now operating.

See also: First Dog on the Moon, ‘A racist carrot reclaims Australia’, The Guardian.

2. If you equate abusing racists with racism you are a f-cking muppet

In the aftermath of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies it’s been pretty clear that the “I’m not racist but…” crowd aren’t the only ones who haven’t got the faintest idea of what actually constitutes racism. Take this choice quote is from Brad Chilcott, director of Welcome to Australia, in The Guardian yesterday:

Fighting hatred with hatred at Reclaim Australia rallies is a failure of progressive politics

What’s less obvious is what “progressives” were hoping to achieve this Easter by opposing naked hatred and foul abuse with public expressions of the same hatred and abuse.

If the counter demonstrations in Melbourne were nothing more than “public expressions of the same hatred and abuse”1 as “Reclaim Australia”, then racism is little more than foul language and a bad attitude.

To the likes of Chilcott racism is simply a vulgar attitude held in sections of the working class. His is the kind of analysis that assumes public policy in Australia is so racist because the Australian working class is so racist, our political leaders have not created racism, merely pandered to it and failed to “show leadership”. His role as a liberal anti-racist is to promote “diversity, compassion, generosity”2 amongst those unenlightened working class types. When that is your analysis, of course getting in the streets and shouting at racists is as bad as racism itself.

Chilcott is utterly wrong, he confuses the symptoms of racism with racism itself. “Hatred” and “foul abuse” are not racism itself, they are public expressions of racism. The public expression of racism creates, re-creates and reinforces the system of racism, but the system itself is more than this. Racism is a social structure of domination: one part of the working class is segmented off from the whole and subjected to greater oppression; the remainder of the class are co-opted into the process of racist oppression and are bought off with a position of relative privilege.

If you cannot criticise the structure of racism, and the system that creates and re-creates it, how can you attack racism? Obviously you can’t; if you cannot see the problem you cannot be effective in combatting it (except by pure chance). Chilcott is worse than ineffective, in failing to see what racism is he reacts against forces that actually have the potential to combat racism.

3. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist

Let’s call a spade a spade. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist, and I am not saying that simply because it has drawn the participation of an array of far right and overtly neo-Nazi supporters.

Fascism “is as a particular form of mass movement, possessing a core set of ideas, and in which the ideology and movement interact. … [It is] a specific form of reactionary mass movement” which is “racist, nationalist, and militarist”3. “Reclaim Australia” fits the fascist bill on all counts:

  • racist, in it’s demonisation and attacks on muslims and Islam, and its attempts to construct muslims as an other counterposed to “Australia” and “Australians”;
  • nationalist, with it’s overt flag-draped appeals to “Aussie pride”, continual talk of ‘patriotism’, and the casting of its campaign as ‘Islam vs Australia’;
  • militarist, in its continual appeals to the ANZAC myth, valorisation of the ADF, etc. It was telling at Melbourne rally just how many of the assembled bigots claimed they had “fought them” (meaning Muslims) “over there” (meaning in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afganistan).

The organisers of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies certainly intended them to be the launching point for a far right movement. The anti-Islam conspiracy theories of “Reclaim Australia” are its core set of ideas, and I think we are seeing an interaction between the people gathering around the “Reclaim Australia” banner and these ideas.

Further Reading: Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice.

4. Racism and fascism have a public space agenda

Public space matters, and a heck of a lot of societal control and power is bound up in who is allowed in public space, how they are legally or societally required to act, dress, and so on. Fascism seeks to dominate public spaces and to drive opponents, targetted groups, and rival politics out of public space.

This is a half developed thought on my part, but a sizeable chunk of the historical experience of racism seems bound up in public space. Segregation for example, whether in Australia or the United States, had a heck of a lot to do with who was allowed where in public, and how they were required to act.

A good deal of a lot of the “Reclaim Australia” rhetoric is also basically about public space. Outlawing “the Burqa or any variant thereof”4 is essentially an attempt to control how people look in public. The conspiratorial rubbish around halal certification boils down to an attempt to determine what can or can’t appear on the packaging of goods sold in public.

Public rallies by racists and fascists are attempts to control or change who feels safe and comfortable in public space. At present (thankfully) it is socially unacceptable (mostly) to make overt statements of outright racism publically; the public expression of racism often results in some form of social sanction. The far right is attempting to reverse this situation. By rallying in public they are seeking to embolden racists, and bring racism directly into public space. The results of this will be reaped in a increased harvest of racist abuse and attacks directed at muslims.

More than anything else, the public space agenda of racism and fascism is the reason racism must be fought directly and in public, not behind closed doors on some farm in the hills.

A vocal and determined counter-rally is both a general rejection of racism, and a direct action to disrupt a specific attempt by racists to build an overtly racist movement in the public sphere.

Final thoughts

Bringing all this crap together… The last time the so-called “Australian Defense League” tried to have a rally in Melbourne thirty people attended. Four years later and with four months of preparation (and a significant rebranding), the far right managed to assemble a few hundred in Melbourne and Sydney, and concerningly large numbers in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth. They are seeking to build a far right movement on a base of anti-Muslim racism, and their rallies are clear attempts to embolden racists, intimidate Muslims, and build a milleu in which the far right can recruit and propagandize. The qualms of liberal anti-racists and social democrats should be dismissed, because when fascists rally on the streets they need to be smashed back into the sewers they rose out of.

Earlier Post: #Reclaimwhat and being stalked online, 28 March 2015.

  1. Emphasis added.
  2. Welcome to Australia ‘About’.
  3. Renton, D. 1999. Fascism: Theory and Practice. Pluto Press. pp 3-19.
  4. Source is their god-awful website, which I refuse to link to. Check out Slackbastard instead.

9 Comments

  1. John Josef ZahrtApril 7, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Thats a fantastic breakdown. I was hoping you or Andy would address Brad Chilcott. Thanks and keep writing.

    Reply
    • Thanks John. Chilcott’s derp is the kind of stuff that oft comes packed with calls to respect fascists’ ‘right’ to ‘freedom of speech’. Bugger that!

      Reply
  2. Jonathan SherlockApril 8, 2015 at 1:02 am

    This is much more than half-formed thoughts, it is an excellent analysis. You have articulated my thoughts in detail, thank you.

    Reply
  3. and your comment Bugger that, shows what a bigot you are and you cant be arsed putting together comments – mmmmm what a little treasure you are

    Reply
  4. I really think it is time people just let others have their say and not try to deny people that right. Time to stop lashing out and abusing people for expressing what is bothering them.

    Reply
  5. The problem is of high rates of immigration, and the feeling of not of loss of “race” but Australia’s living standards, and identity. Islam is not a “race” and it’s not merely another religion. What’s hidden is that Islam is a way of life, and thinking. It’s got legal, political, social, and military aspects that are threatening on a global scale and there’s lack of integration with the values of freedom in Western countries. Why should Australia accommodate every race, culture and all the world’s diversity, when our human carrying capacity is already being impinged on and threatened? There should be more emphasis on sustainability – environmentally, economically and socially. Each nation should have a right to determine their own identity, demographics and values. Australia does not have to be the melting pot of the world!

    Reply
  6. ablokeimetApril 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Kieran has said many valuable things in his article. I’d like to make a few comments:

    1. Kieran is spot on about racism being a system of power. Racial prejudice has been around since the dawn of class society, but racism has only existed since capitalism arose.

    Capitalism carries within it a basis presumption of equality, the idea that “my money’s as good as yours”. To the rising agricultural capitalist class of England in the 17th Century, the end of feudal privileges and arbitrary restraints on trade like the sale of monopolies were very attractive. At the same time, though, the “primitive accumulation” through which capitalism became the dominant mode of production in England was financed off the back of black slavery and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.

    This contradiction can only be managed by setting the subject population up as “the other”, to be despised and, upon occasion, feared, but in any case to be excluded from the great social contract of “liberty, equality and fraternity” which was becoming the new ideology. Before the rise of capitalism, it was taken for granted that people weren’t equal – there were all sorts of grades and privileges in society and people were almost always born into them. It was only with the rise of capitalism, therefore, that it became necessary to hate one’s inferiors.

    Racism and racial prejudice are related, in that it is impossible to have racism without racial prejudice – though the beneficiaries of racism are not necessarily, and often are not, the people exhibiting their prejudices. Thus, the mining magnate benefits from racism, despite being impeccably polite and filling their Peppermint Grove mansion with Aboriginal dot paintings, while the foul-mouthed unemployed skinhead slagging off Aborigines for being drunken layabouts has nothing to show for it but a group to look down on.

    Finally, as Kieran points out, the racial prejudice of racially oppressed groups is not “racist” in the same sense as the racial prejudice of oppressor groups. It’s not helpful, in that it is a barrier to the formation of the solidarity in struggle of the multi-racial working class, but it’s not an expression or manifestation of oppression and it’s nowhere near as much a barrier as the racial prejudice of working class members of the oppressor group.

    2. As Kieran says, the major actors in propagating racism in Australia are the principal figures in the State. Governments are much bigger and more effective propagandists for Islamophobia than the Fascists, who at this stage of the game are only bit players. Anti-Fascist work necessarily involves fighting racism and this means, first of all, fighting the racism that is embodied in official policy.

    3. One point on which I differ from Kieran is on muppets. I think Kermit, Miss Piggy and Ernie are all much superior in intelligence and common sense than the Brad Chilcotts of this world. And they’re probably much better with children, too.

    4. A more serious criticism of Kieran’s piece is my response to this:

    “the remainder of the class are co-opted into the process of racist oppression and are bought off with a position of relative privilege.”

    Firstly, not all of the remainder of the working class are co-opted. There is restiance and adherence to countervailing ideas. Co-option of the working class sections of the oppressor “race” is a project, in continuous need of re-creation, rather than an accomplished fact and only ever partially achieved.

    Secondly, the term “bought off” is misleading. It over-states both the fixity and the consciousness of the phenomenon in the minds of working class racists, while it also conjures up the idea that the main “privileges” for racist workers are material. In fact, the “relative privilege” in material terms is so transparently illusory that the appeal of racism for workers has to be sought elsewhere. One of my favourite examples to cite when the topic of racism comes up is the chapter of a book I saw years ago*, which set out the difference between wages for white workers and wages for black workers in different States of the US. The striking correlation which emerged was that the States where the difference between white wages and black wages was greatest were the States where the wages for white workers were lowest. You could hardly ask for a better demonstration that working class racists lose out from their own racism – what white workers in the US gain in relative privilege over black workers they more than lose through their inability to forge the solidarity needed to defend their own living standards against their bosses.

    5. Kieran is definitely correct in labelling Reclaim Australia as Fascist. The organisers are well established Fascists and the Reclaim Australia strategy is, in their own words, an “undercover op” through which they hope to gain an audience for their ideas.

    On the other hand, the dot points about Fascism being racist, nationalist and militarist are insufficient. Tony Abbott is all of these, but he’s no Fascist. The defining feature of Fascism, the one that separates it from Right wing populism, is what Kieran touches on in the next section – violence. Fascism is a mass movement which aims to gain State power by, or with the aid of, extra-legal violence, crushing the organisations of the working class in the process and proceeding to rule by terror.

    It is the unique nature of Fascism that calls for unique methods of struggle. Unlike a Right wing populist group (e.g. One Nation), a Fascist group is not a debating society. Rather, it is a standing conspiracy to murder. As such, the principles that apply are not those of free speech and political protest, but the use of reasonable force in self defence.

    Social democrats and liberals talk a lot about free speech – in fact, I think they might value it almost as much as I do. An argument they make, and with which I agree, is that you can’t prove an argument with physical force. What they miss, however, is that there is one political ideology which can be DIS-proved by physical force – Fascism. This is because an essential part of Fascism’s political appeal is the idea that “might makes right”. Defeating the Fascists when they mobilise, however, undermines their position fatally. This is because, if “might makes right”, and you’ve been proven not to have the might, you can’t be right. On the other hand, if a Fascist tries to get out of that bind by abandoning the principle of “might makes right’, the entire ideology starts to unravel and they’re on the road back to populism. Either way, a defeat on the streets for the Fascists causes them to fall away in confusion, dissension and bitter recriminations.

    Finally, I’d like to agree with Kieran’s final line. The Fascists need to be driven back into the sewers from which they came. And, when workers’ revolution overthrows capitalism, we’ll flush those sewers clean.

    * As is the way of things with me, I often don’t realise the significance of what I’m reading till later, when I’ve forgotten the title and author and no longer have access to the text.

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