Politics

All articles about “mainstream” politics, bourgeois democracy, etc.

Guest review of John Safran, ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist’, 304 pages released by Hamish Hamilton, May 2017.

I got very irritated reading John Safran’s latest book Depends What You Mean by Extremist. As someone who had been to most of the anti-fascist rallies in and around Melbourne in the last few years; watched in horror as Pauline Hanson clawed her way back to power; and scrolled through my Twitter account with interest as Phil Gallea as well as Blair Cottrell, Neil Erikson & Co faced criminal charges for trying to blow up the Melbourne Anarchist Club (the former) and staging some cringe worthy and offensive public theatre (the latter) – I picked up Safran’s book with interest.

And my interest quickly turned to frustration.

Safran’s book fails on two counts. It fails firstly to identify, critique or explain the deeply held political ideas of people on all sides; instead relying on amusing caricatures and Safran’s interest in religion as both the organizing principle and fuel to progress the story.

Secondly, whilst attempting to be a cross between Louis Theroux and Hunter S Thompson, Safran fails to become truly immersed, or really understand, any of the people he surrounds himself with.

I also found I had concerns about some of the ways Safran conducted himself, or at the very least the way he has expressed himself.

Safran offers up curiosity and caricature, without understanding, interrogating or attempting to explore the deeply held political views by the people on all sides of this story. After reading all 304 pages, the reader is left with no clear idea on anyone’s ideology. There is no attempt to unravel the far-right’s seeming preoccupation with Muslims from their wider ideologies, any more than there is any evidence of understanding that for “the left” anti-fascist activism is just one part of broader political work.

This is not only a failing of Safran’s book, but a disappointment. While there is one Chapter The Hustings that talks about the broader political situation of the time (Trump, Brexit, One Nation etc), there is no real discussion of how the characters are, or could have been, influenced by the current political climate. The cast of characters appear with no context, or even any musing about how they have come to their beliefs. It is as if they have appeared with no history, no story, no ideology – just kooky characters for Safran to examine as curiosities. Almost as if he is collecting them like Pokémon– the Neo-Nazi, the garden variety racist, the socialist, the anarchist, the ISIS supporter.

Without interrogating people’s core beliefs and finding what drives them to action, every character comes across as either a weirdo or entirely irrational. Safran milks this for all it’s worth. He presents himself as the only rational actor; the only one looking at both sides of arguments; the only one not blinded by ideology, dogma or religion. It is sensible, moderate Safran against a world of not only flawed, but contradictory characters.

Safran spends much of the book examining these contradictions. “I like looking at tangles,” he says to the unkindly nicknamed Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer (seemingly if you won’t go on the record, but you are a good plot point you get an unkind nickname). Whether it is a Sri Lankan Christian associating with Nazis; Muslim converts who also happen to be Monty Python fans or racists having Asian girlfriends – Safran is there to savour the juxtaposition. He seems incapable of comprehending these very human contradictions. As he divorces his subjects from their broader politics he also robs them of their lived experiences. It is these experiences that not only influence someone’s politics, but also form their individual quirks and foibles. The resulting contradictions seem to leave Safran’s mind spinning. It is as if he expected only two-dimensional stereotypes. And as he comes face to face with living, breathing, and contradictory humans – he is shocked.

The result of not examining individuals’ politics is, obviously, a very unpolitical book. It makes no attempt to understand or explain the politics involved. Safran instead roundly focuses on religion. While religion does have a part to play in this story, I don’t believe it is at the centre of what is happening amongst “Australian Deplorables.” Everyone has bigger agendas to push than religion – whether that be a return to White Australia, or fighting back against capitalism. Those who profess to have strong religious beliefs, are not content with simply practicing their religion- there is an element of a crusade about it, and at least some political dimension. Not a single sentence in his book is dedicated to the discussion that filled column inches, placards, and the shouts across police lines: is the current wave of Islamophobia in Australian society racist? There is no discussion about the intersection of Islamaphobia and racism. Those who are involved in anti-Muslim politics are described as racists, but there is no discussion around how this particular strain of racism is a product of current global politics.

Safran’s failure to examine both the broader political landscape and people’s individual politics makes the characters on all sides of this story less relatable than they most likely are in real life. It is easy to laugh at a character study of Jim Saleam or the anarchist “ninjas”. As Safran depoliticizes them, they are as two dimensional and stereotypical as the Channel 9 news would like us to believe. This is a disservice to everyone involved. How can we combat racism and Islamaphobia without understanding where it comes from? And similarly, how can the ideas of anti-fascism, socialism or anarchism be shared and understood when the only representation of these people are hokey stereotypes, devoid of motivations and ideology.

To be kind, one may excuse Safran for failing to interact with the political side of this story by arguing that he wasn’t trying to write a political book; that this was an exercise in gonzo journalism. That Safran was merely “going along for the ride” and reporting on what he saw and experienced. But on this count, Safran fails as well.

While Safran attempts to immerse himself in both the far-right and “the left” – it feels obvious throughout the book that neither side trusts him; and he never “lets go”. The book feels less like a wild ride on the fringes, and more like covertly observing from the corner. By trying to play all sides of the issue, Safran is neither trusted or respected by anyone. It feels like both sides are keen to capitalize on his platform to promote their causes, but constantly weighing up the risks of having him along. Safran “participates” – whether that is smoking a cigarette with Ralph Ceminara, or showing up to a community day at the Melbourne Anarchist Club, but it is obvious through his writing that he views himself as separate to proceedings. Unfortunately for Safran it takes more than a joint with the fascists or a beer with the anarchists to really get amongst these people and understand them. Safran’s reluctance to “pick a side” results in almost everyone treating him with extreme caution; and this prevents him from doing what the book’s subtitle would have us believe happened: “Going Rogue with Australian Deplorables.”

Throughout the book, the reader is conscious that Safran is trying to write a book. It is not just out of interest or curiosity that Safran is hauling himself around the country attending rallies, interviewing people and following leads. It feels that he is single mindedly chasing moments, experiences and people that would translate well into his narrative. Safran is at his most delighted one the sole occasion he has the opportunity to change the narrative. When the UPF decide to shift a rally from the Melbourne CBD to Melton, but to do so at the last minute to stop counter protesters from effectively organizing; Safran vacillates on whether to tell No Room For Racism this information. When his personal trainer tells him to tell the anti-racists what is going on, Safran reflects:

“I first think he’s being moral, but it’s not that. My trainer also does graphic design so he has a creative bent. He thinks my duplicity will be better for the book, because it will change events. “You’ve become the puppetmaster,” he tells me.

..I’m like, My God, the conspiracy theorists were right! It’s exactly what they say: beware of the Jews, they play both sides – the communists and the capitalists. I am the devious Jew.”

I think this attitude, while understandable, is deeply concerning. No one would argue that it is the worst thing in the world to want to write a successful book. However Safran presents himself as someone with an interest in what is going on and possibly led people involved to expect him to eventually choose a side and use his platform for good. Anti-racist activists care so much about the work they do that it seems inconceivable that someone who is viewed as “progressive” would ever do anything to assist Neo-Nazis. Yet it was only through self interest that Safran tipped off No Room for Racism about this crucial piece of information. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the book for Safran. “Mr Snort” at the Melbourne Anarchist Club challenges Safran about his role – “Are you part of building an anti-racist movement or are you just about books and selling and career and profile?” Safran never answers the question. At one point Safran says “I would love, for the sake of this book, to be mildly beaten up.” He is lucky enough that this never comes to pass; unlike many who put their bodies on the line to resist against racist organizing and sustained injuries from both racists and the police.

It is notable that Safran hardly mentions the police. As he sketches out rallies he mentions the numbers of police. Anyone who has been to any demonstrations in Melbourne over the last 5 years will have noticed an increase in police presence and the intensifying nature of what a police response looks like. He does not at any point mention the violence perpetrated by police – both with physical violence and pepper spray. So out of touch with police attitudes at these rallies John Safran obviously felt safe enough to bring a knife with him to the Melton rally.

I have a number of concerns about Safran’s behavior and conduct, and the biggest of them is his carrying of a weapon. In a moment fuelled by whiskey and reading about the Warsaw Ghetto, Safran in what can most kindly be described as a severe case of Hemingway stumbles into a camping supply shop and buys a pocket knife. He mentions this in a somewhat offhand way, and the reader (well at least this reader) forgets about it until Safran upon seeing an act of violence unfold in Melton writes: “I feel the knife in my pocket.”

To be clear, Safran doesn’t do anything with the knife, but I don’t think that is the point. To carry a knife, or any weapon, into a high stress, high emotions situation like the rally in Melton is a plain and stupid dumb idea. It’s not jut dumb. It’s highly disrespectful. It puts in danger every single person in your vicinity. It made me absolutely furious that at this rally people were put at risk for the sake of Safran’s ego. To bring a knife to the rally, but not have the foresight to pack a bottle of water and some sunscreen – that, as far as I’m concerns, bumps up your charge from stupid to moronic.

Police were checking bags at the Melton Rally. The bag checks were very targeted. Wearing a balaclava – bag check; carrying a flag – bag check; punk – bag check. As an unassuming white girl in sensible shoes and no balaclava, my bag wasn’t checked. It would seem D Grade celebrities are similarly exempt from police suspicions.

Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer at the Anarchist Club are entirely suspicious of Safran, which after reading the book – I think they were right to be so. The way Safran characterizes some of the “radicals” he meets is, as “the left” are want to say, highly problematic. Halfway through the chapter entitled “Left-wing pinkoes and right wing death beasts” starts the section dedicated to Comrade Snort and Comrade Sneer (seriously, how did Safran not think to call them that!) with “There are more hot anarchists than I expected here. Don’t get me wrong, there are also flabby radicals who wouldn’t be able to throw a Molotov cocktail without breaking into a wheeze, but still.” How this is relevant to anything that is happening in the book is not clear to me. Having recently had the UPF turn up on its doorstep, the Melbourne Anarchist Club had opened its doors on a Sunday afternoon to bring the community together. Not to perform traditional, socially acceptable levels of beauty for John Safran. This sentence started to make me feel uneasy about the way Safran was viewing, and then writing, about women.

The reader doesn’t see the backstory between Mrs Sneer and Safran, but it seems tense from the start. He describes her first sentence as a snap. Other words used to describe her speaking are – snaps; sneers, complains; demands; hisses. She also “pushes” a pamphlet towards Safran, and when she tires of the conversation she “huffs off”. Meanwhile, Mr Snort just “asks”, “says” and “tells.” Is it too much of a stretch to imagine Safran hurt that the “hot anarchist” women don’t implicitly trust him, talk to him and fawn over his celebrity. And that in return for this, he paints them as mean, irrational, stupid and annoying?

That said, Mel from No Room For Racism gave Safran her undivided attention on several occasions, let him into the inner machinations of No Room For Racism, and invited him to the bizarre truce talks with Reclaim Australia. Safran repays this assumedly invaluable access by referring to her continually as Mel the matriarch. The UPF guys are leaders, the anarchists have a CEO, but when Safran sees a woman in charge she is a matriarch. I can’t help but feel that word minimizes Mel’s position. It plays into the idea of women being soft, social and family oriented. It’s soft power; not hard power. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad. But you’re not calling Blair “Daddy”, are you? Similarly, a woman who explains herself as being “half-Jewish” and is introduced as Rebecca is referred to by Safran only as the “Half-Jewess”. While some Jewish women have embraced or reclaimed the word – it’s hardly a universal reclamation. As with Mel, Safran is quick to make her title particularly feminine, though this is not crucial to the narrative.

The weird sexism, paired with the lack of political insight have made me really question what John Safran is about. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would caution activists to remember these things the next time he’s hanging around. It seems clear to me that Safran is neither interested in immersive experiences, nor politics. That, coupled with his careless behavior and problematic depictions of women make me irritated. The political work of others has provided Safran with a successful product to hawk. He has never picked a side, but is not impartial. This book lacks the academic rigor to explain what has been happening in Australia recently, and the energy and personal commitment of true gonzo journalism. Its one success is as a best seller for John Safran.

See also:

Andy Fleming, May 19, Depends What You Mean By Extremist : A Review (of sorts).

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The federal government yesterday announced the creation of an Orwellian super department under the control of former Queensland police officer, Peter Dutton.

The new “Department of Home Affairs” will include the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (itself the product of merging the Australian Customs Service with the Department of Immigration into a veritable “border security” paramilitary), the Australian Federal Police, and ASIO.

Under Peter Dutton, Australia’s already deplorable Department of Immigration was combined with the Customs Service to create an armed black suited paramilitary force that spends more money on medals than the military.

As immigration Minister, Peter Dutton has been responsible for maintaining Australia’s brutal system of “offshore detention” system. Under Peter Dutton’s watch, more asylum seekers have been killed than resettled on Manus and Nauru, and these camps continue to record a critical incident almost every single day.

So far, six people have died in Immigration detention facilities under Dutton’s control, seven others have committed suicide in circumstances likely the product of the immigration system.

When Peter Dutton entered Parliament in 2001, he highlighted his priorities as attacking on refugees and civil liberties. In his frankly bizarre maiden speech to the Parliament, Dutton showed a particular obsession with the Refugee Action Collective, the Civil Liberties Council (whom he described as “criminal lawyers”).

This disturbing, bitter, and nasty little man, a person responsible for the ongoing torturous treatment of of men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island, now has a national police force and a spy agency at his disposal.

* * *

At the same time the government was announcing plans to merge responsibility for ASIO, AFP and DIBP into a single department, DIBP called for tenders. The government plans to privatize large aspects of the tradition function of the Department of Immigration.

According to the Canberra Times:

the government has floated changes to its immigration system letting companies administer tests, detect fraud and recommend decisions to grant or refuse visas

A privatized immigration system would effectively outsource the assessment of most visas applications. The government invitation for tenders flags the possibility of a largely automated system, with immigration staff only having input on “complex matters”.

People who’ve experienced the Centrelink robo-debt debacle can no doubt attest, this is a great idea that couldn’t possibly go horribly horribly wrong.

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The Andrews Labor government has announced a $2 billion bid for the support of Victoria’s Police Association.

In a recent article on the so-called ‘Apex gang’, I noted that:

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

The bidding war has now well and truly begun, and it comes complete with thousands of new police, extended police powers, and billions of dollars in spending.

The entire ‘Law and Order’ package is rotten. There is no crime wave, the new powers are not necessary, and the entire thing is rooted in racism.

The premise, pushed by the Herald Sun, the Liberal Party and the Police Association of Victoria, is that Melbourne is in the grips of an unprecedented crime wave.

Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy has claimed that recent crime statistics are evidence of a “crime tsunami” and that he has “never felt more unsafe in my life”.

For over a year, Victoria’s tabloid newspaper and talkback radio stations have told us to fear a largely mythical ‘Apex gang’.

In reality the ‘Apex gang’ is part of a racist code used by the media to stigmatise young black men from migrant backgrounds. As Anthony Kelly (from the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre) put it in recent comments to the ABC:

“The Apex gang is a convenient code word; essentially it means ethnic or African crime — it’s a code word that can be used by a greater number of commentators, like a dog whistle”

The other common dog whistle used by the media, police and commentators in Victoria is the ever threatening “youth crime”.

When the Police Association’s Rod Iddles bemoans “youth crime and the Apex gang and all that” he’s not talking about drunk middle class white kids punching each other after getting pissed at some city nightclub.

No, he’s latching onto a racist media beat-up that demonizes migrant kids from an African background, who we’re told will jack your car, invade your home and beat your white kiddies for want of something better to do on a Saturday night!

Media, police and political commentators on “youth crime” pin the blame for Victoria’s “crime wave” on kids from migrant backgrounds, in particular the Sudanese community and the Pacific Islander community.

Matthew Guy exemplified this with his call for legislation that would allow the government to immediately deport young offenders.

Unfortunately for Matthew Guy’s racist ambitions, the overwhelming majority of people committing the offenses the media has labeled a “crime wave” were born in Australia, and the crime statistics that purportedly prove the existence of this terrifying crime wave actually show nothing of the sort.

There has been an increase in the rate of reported criminal offenses in Victoria over the past year, largely as a result of the increased reporting of family violence offenses.

“Youth crime” over the same period has actually declined as:

crimes committed by people aged between 15 and 19 fell by 5 per cent, and there was a decrease of 4 per cent in crimes committed by people aged under 25.

Related, the ABS records a steady decline in youth crime across Australia since 2009-10.

But of course, it pays not to place too much trust in official crime statistics. Victorian crime statistics are obtained from the Victoria Police LEAP database. The more people the police arrest, the more “crime” Victoria records.

In reality, the number of people Victoria Police arrest for various offenses has as much to do with levels of police resources (more police means more offenses are “detected”), changing police priorities (expect a “spike in crime” among any population Victoria Police decide to target) as well as changes in which behaviors our society criminalizes.

The increased rate of family violence offers is an illustrative example. No one seriously expects that Victorian men became 10% more violent towards women in the past year. Male violence against women is appalling and commonplace, but the change in “levels” of family violence recorded by the police has as much to do with new processes that have been adopted in order to force police to take family violence seriously.

Media reportage on the so-called crime wave has highlighted increases in the number of ‘carjackings’ and ‘home invasions’ (recorded by police as thefts where the owners were present), and often links these to increases in the number of assaults recorded.

But again, this is hardly a crime wave. The Herald Sun might breathlessly report that there has been an 80% increase in carjackings, but they are still talking about an increase of 76 offenses in a city of four million people.

The media’s tendency to link this to increased reports of assaults is also deceptive. In the past two years societies’ attitude to assault has changed as the media has pushed narratives around “coward punches” and “one hit kills”.

A great many assaults that would once have been passed off as part of the standard risk involved in a night’s drinking are now reported and prosecuted. Many others are connected with increased police measures targeting domestic violence. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hardly proof of a crime wave.

Melbourne is not in the grips of an “Apex crime wave” (as The Australian termed it in a recent racist beat up), but this hasn’t stopped the Andrews Labor government capitulating to the racist narrative pushed by the Police Association and the Murdoch press.

The government has announced “sweeping new measures” that promise to lock up more Victorian children and young people, longer. Due process will go out the window as new powers allow the police to forcefully obtain DNA samples from suspects without a warrant or court oversight. A two billion dollar spending spree will massively expand the police force, with thousands of new cops, a new helicopter and a bunch of new police stations.

The “Apex crime wave” may have been a myth, but the attacks on due process, the adoption of new authoritarian measures, and the growth of police power are very real. And they must be resisted.

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This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
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A small fascist group are trying to make their presence felt on the streets of Melbourne’s CBD, today they got a free-kick in The Age.

Today’s Age reports that “a vigilante-style group is running ‘safety patrols’ in Melbourne’s CBD”. The article reads like it could have been scraped from a Soldiers of Odin (SOO) press release, the video that accompanies the article is worse.

The Age happily compares Soldiers of Odin to New York’s ‘Guardian Angels’; a multi-racial group of who ‘patrolled’ the New York subway system in the 1980s. A more apt comparison for the Soldiers of Odin would be Greece’s Golden Dawn.

The Soldiers of Odin are not simply some confused vigilante group concerned with amorphous ‘crime’ in the CBD. Rather, they are implementing a strategy of intimidation with the aim of building a far-right street gang in the heart of the Melbourne.

Their politics are racist, nationalist, and fascist.

For the Soldiers of Odin, ‘crime’ is a euphemism. Their agenda is to target Muslims, and non-white immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. They talk about crime in terms of the minority groups they seek to target. ‘Crime’ provides the Soldiers of Odin with the cover they are seeking to demonize religious and cultural minorities.

If you have any doubt about the racist agenda of the Soldiers of Odin, check out their repulsive public Facebook presence. The racist material directed at Muslims and other groups of perceived non-white immigrants is there for anyone with eyes to see.

The Soldiers of Odin are implementing a tried and tested racist strategy; and if Chris Vedelago and Cameron Houston of The Age wanted to compare it to anything they should have compared it to the strategy adopted by Golden Dawn in Greece.

The Soldiers of Odin are conducting “street patrols” in the city, and purport to run a soup kitchen. They do both of these things with deliberate political objectives in mind.

Fascist rhetoric centres around the idea that the state has failed the ‘nation’ in some way. The Soldiers of Odin are asserting that the state has failed to provide for “our homeless”, or that the state has failed to provide “safety” from “crime”, and they are purporting to react to this failure. But at a deeper level they are reacting to what they see as the state’s failure to maintain white supremacy. The state has failed to stop “Islamisation”, “left-wing treason”, immigration and so on.

The soup kitchen is about legitimacy and political cover. Our society gives all sorts of leeway to cranks if they purport to undertake charity work. It is politically difficult for anti-racist activists or any other force to go out and bust up a supposed soup kitchen.

The street patrols fit into this rhetoric as well, but their purpose is far more sinister. The Soldiers of Odin are actively hostile towards non-white immigrants, refugees, Muslims and “the left”. Their presence in the CBD is about projecting intimidation.

I have written before about the fact that fascists have a public space agenda. They are making a claim about who can feel safe in public space and who is not allowed to feel safe in public space. They are making the claim that racism is acceptable in public space, and that all people who disagree with them should feel unsafe in public space.

The uniformed march of bone-heads is deliberately calculated to make non-white immigrants, and people who are identifiably Muslim, feel unsafe in our city.

Should they be stopped?

The Soldiers of Odin are presently a tiny far-right grouplet, however, unopposed, the knowledge that even a small group of thugs is roaming the streets can have a disproportionate impact. There is also no guarantee that this group will stay small.

Australia has not yet experienced the scale of economic shocks that facilitated the rise of these kinds of groups in different European contexts, however there are other factors that could support the growth of this model of far-right group.

In Victoria we are in the middle of a racist “law-and-order” scare. The Herald Sun and various tabloid current affairs outfits have been pushing garbage about “Sudanese crime” and the supposed threat of “Islamic” terrorism, and the state opposition is talking up a law-and-order election.

Whilst unemployment is officially down, there is still meaningful economic discontent in the disadvantaged outer suburban communities that far-right groups have been targeting over the past two years (Melton, Bendigo, Narre Warren). There is also simmering resentment, encouraged by racism from the media and various political leaders, at the apparent decline of white supremacy in Australia.

The Soldiers of Odin are unlikely to experience rapid organizational growth; they are not likely to become a major extra-parliamentary political force in the near future. That said, in the current context there is the political opportunity for a group of street thugs to build and organise. A couple of dozen roaming fascists can make a city centre feel decidedly unsafe; a couple of hundred could pose a significant threat.

Fascist street thugs, like the Soldiers of Odin, need to be opposed. Their presence in the CBD has to be rejected, and their activities ejected. Fortunately they are still a small group of political opportunists.

Anti-racists need to get together and debate tactics in their organisations and campaign groups, but I’d suggest one possible tactic that might be worth exploring is a counter presence.

Any anti-racist counter-presence would need to be bigger, have better food, and be prepared to go and dish out the grub and friendship whenever and wherever the Scum of Odin seek to set up shop. It would have to be an ongoing project, and to work it would need to draw in the participation of the people that these fascists seek to target.

Who’s Who

The Soldiers of Odin seek to convey a sense of semi-anonymous menace. The images and video included in The Age article merely contribute to this, in particular by using their “from behind” style photos (a style also popular with the fascist groups they descend from).

Well, here are their less than impressive faces (thanks to DYVRS for digging up most of these).

Soldiers of Odin, Melbourne.

Soldiers of Odin, Melbourne.

1. Jay B Moore, ‘President’, ex-PDLA.
2. Cam “Moody” McCann, (Facebook handle), Werribee based.
3. Ashley McIvor, Heidelberg based, here next to Kane Miller (TBC)
4. Shaun Butinar, hanger-on
5. Mick Bevans
6 (1st). (Typo, I used 6 twice) Swiv McKay (Facebook handle, likely false)
6 (2nd). Garry Mattsson
7. Dez Aster (Facebook handle, likely false)
8. Corey Baines
9. Group shot.

If you recognise any of the above, contact your local anti-fascists! Slackbastard has more.

Neo-Nazi Iconography

It’s utterly laughable that Age reporters Chris Vedelago and Cameron Houston did not challenge SOO on their neo-Nazi origins. They’ve adopted the name and branding (apparently with endorsement) of a Finnish fascist group. That name and logo draws from the post-WWII neo-Nazi embrace of “Odinist” and other forms of “Norse” symbolism.

And it’s not like fascists in Australia are unaware of the neo-Nazi connotations of the use of norse iconography by far-right groups!

For more on this topic, check out Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Or just browse any gallery of common neo-nazi symbols or tattoos!

Update: From Slackbastard:

SOO was founded by a neo-Nazi, Mika Ranta, with a criminal conviction for racially-motivated assault;
SOO branches around the world have attracted the participation of neo-Nazis and White supremacists;
the President of SOO in Melbourne was previously a member/supporter of the Patriots Defence League of Australia;
SOO member Cam Moody McCann particpated in the April 2015 Reclaim Australia rally in the company of neo-Nazis;
the great majority if not all of the SOO Melbourne boys are drawn from the (White) nationalist milieu.

Anti-Racist Canada has a ton of info documenting links between the Soldiers of Odin and neo-Nazism.

Further Reading / Links

Slackbastard, antifa notes (october 10, 2016) : Soldiers of Odin Redux
Slackbastard, Soldiers of Odin Versus True Blue Crew
Junkee, Anti-Muslim Vigilante Group Roaming the CBD
DYVRS, Who’s who in the Zoo?

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There is a federal election tomorrow. A few people have asked how I intend to vote, or if I intend to vote.

The standard line you will get from most anarchists is “Don’t Vote! It only legitimizes the bastards!”. The Anarchist FAQ spills some 18,000 words to this effect. As a position it misses the point.

Anarchists are utterly marginal within the Australian polity. The decision of a couple of hundred people to abstain for this reason or that, or to vote for this reason or that, is utterly without consequence. Even if we were a sizable political force, the legitimacy of the state rests on a hell of a lot more than the overall rate of participation in this or that election. States do not miraculously collapse when electoral participation rates fall below some magical number.

Whether you vote or not is of little consequence. If you do vote, you have no effective control over the representatives you participate in electing. The choices you are presented on the ballot are no choice at all. The major political parties operate as a cartel to lock out rivals, and only parties that accept the logic of the capitalist status quo gain access to the financial resources and media time necessary to compete. This includes The Greens.

The most important question is not who you voted for on election day, it’s what you do every other day of the year. Playing by the rules of the established political process is a mugs game; the deck is stacked in favour of the existing bourgeoisie political parties. If you want to change the world, don’t just vote, get organized and get active.

Join a union or start one. Go to a protest, sit-in, occupation, strike or demonstration. Join a political group, if there isn’t one that reflects your politics, start one. The social force necessary to effect real change has to be built, it can’t simply be voted for.

Further reading: Errico Malatesta, Reformism.

A few thoughts about tomorrow…

Acknowledging that voting or not voting is, by itself, unlikely to have any impact on anything, here are a couple of thoughts about your options tomorrow.

1. Whether you vote or not, you can decorate your ballot. So long as your drawings, obscene slogans and hashtags do not obscure the boxes, your vote will still be counted (so long as the boxes are numbered). The AEC keeps stats on the defacement of ballots.

2. If you refuse to vote, consider casting a blank ballot rather than staying home. Not only does this avoid the fine, statistics on spoiled ballots make it possible to estimate how many people are consciously refusing to vote.

3. The harder it is for a major party to form government, or to pass legislation, the better. If you do vote, I’d recommend putting the Liberals and any other fascists running at the bottom, then Labor, then the Greens, then any left wing party or independent.

4. The Greens are NOT an anti-capitalist alternative and they are NOT good enough on asylum seekers. That said, if you decide to vote, the Greens are still a better choice than Labor.

5. If you are voting Green in the Senate in Victoria, consider voting below the line. Richard di Natale is at the top of the Greens senate ticket. He shouldn’t be at the top of yours.

Tomorrow’s poll will not bring about significant change. Climate change will not be addressed, capitalism will not be challenged, and gross inequality will not be overcome. It is up to us to build the social force necessary to achieve any real change in our society.

I still intend to vote. I’ll vote cynically. I intend to preference the Greens then Labor because it is easier to make the case for their inadequacy when they are in power. And I will vote for any left of centre independent or minor party, simply because the more chaos and gridlock there is in the parliament, the better.

After that, lets eat a sausage and get back to the politics that matters, on the streets, on the campuses, and in our workplaces.

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I promised I’d write a review of Marxism 2016… well…

Marxism is an annual political conference hosted by Socialist Alternative in Melbourne. In the past I’ve attended and written reviews; if you’re interested you can read my review of Marxism 2012 here and Marxism 2013 here.

There is no denying that Marxism is the most significant political conference on the far-left in Australia. Socialist Alternative claims to have sold 1,253 tickets to this Easter’s conference, which seems broadly plausible. There were several hundred people actively participating across three days, with up to seven concurrent sessions at any given time. Socialist Alternative presented a range of international speakers, as well as streams on workers’ organizing, Indigenous struggles, current political debates, ‘Marxism 101’, and more.

For all anyone might like to criticize Socialist Alternative’s conference, no one is putting on anything better.

Yes, their conference is geared towards recruiting new members to Socialist Alternative. There is no great debate or diversity of opinion in the material presented (that is not to say that the material itself is not diverse, but the political perspective is largely uniform); Socialist Alternative has their line and they advance it. As an organisation they know what they are doing with Marxism, and they do it well.

I say this as someone who wishes there was something better. I am not a member of Socialist Alternative; I am an unapologetic and unrepentant anarchist. I sincerely wish that anarchists in Australia were prepared and willing to undertake the work to put on an explicitly anarchist political conference that could rival Marxism.

No, scratch that, I wish we would put on a conference better than Marxism. I wish we could put on something with greater depth, better debate, and more diversity of opinion. I wish we would put on an event that gets people excited about politics!

Socialist Alternative should rightly be proud of the work they’ve put into Marxism. Anarchists and others should rise to the challenge that it presents.

Odds and Ends and Gossip

Members of the Spartacist League attended the conference on the first day (they even purchased a ticket!) but it seems their welcome was conditional and they were soon ejected. Socialist Alternative members inform me the Spartacist League were ejected for disrupting a ‘Marxism 101’ session. Others claim that the Spartacists were informed they could attend a ‘101’ session but they would not be permitted to participate in the usual Q&A/Discussion these involve; it seems they decided to participate nonetheless.

For all their rhetoric about fighting “left wing treason” and “communism”, the sewer dwellers of the United Patriots Front were nowhere to be seen all weekend.

Raif Rawandi takes issue with Socialist Alternative’s attitude on Islam in his review, .

The lanyards were colour coded.

After his session on the Cuban revolution, former RSP member James Crafti wrote:

Discussion on the Cuban Revolution held at Marxism… organisation did not explode.

I hope he gets to host a session on post 1959 Cuba at a future conference, I look forward to going to troll!

Bonus David Rovics trolling

http://www.youtube.com/embed/dSeU9q6zyT4?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent
Clash Of Clans Cheat And Hack Tool

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Richard di Natale has a simple pitch to the bourgeoisie, “You can trust us, we’ll play by the rules”.

In a puff piece in this weeks’ Australian Financial Review, di Natale and Peter Whish-Wilson are keen to highlight just how trustworthy they really are.

First, they’re keen to point out that as a parliamentary party, they are no longer beholden to Greens members and internal democratic processes:

Greens finance spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson, a former investment banker, has also revealed how the party’s newly operational “lightning” decision group has helped them seal deals with the Turnbull government, some of which one senior Greens source said “would never have happened under [former leader] Christine Milne”.

They are a “new generation of Greens parliamentarians”, who understand and will respect the rules of Australia’s political class:

The first Greens leader not to have spent time in jail for environmental activism, Senator Di Natale said 2015 has seen “a significant transition” for the party since he took over in May. “People have described it as a new generation of Greens parliamentarians,” he said.

They are prepared to work with, rather than against, the established forces of the political class, they are prepared to be “pragmatic”:

After coming under heavy attack from Labor at the end of the year after clinching two major deals over multinational tax transparency and foreign investment in agricultural land, Senator Di Natale said he wants this sort of pragmatism to define his leadership.

Pragmatic is important. The Greens leadership will argue about the merits of this or that compromise from a policy perspective, but what it demonstrates to both the ruling class and Greens supporters is that the inherently anti-environment, anti-worker and anti-social justice forces of the right are no longer beyond the pale as far as the parliamentary Greens party is concerned.

Importantly for a pitch to the ruling class, the Greens are keen to highlight that they are bankable:

Senator Di Natale said he is confident the party can make progress on his aim of two senators in every state this year.

He says the party’s internal figures have shown a 30 per cent rise in membership from the 2013-14 to 2014-15 financial year, from around 10,000 to 13,400 members nationally, and said he believed they had “significant success” in state elections.

2016 is an important year for the Greens.

The Greens have been searching for mainstream acceptability since at least 2004. At the Greens national conference that year Bob Brown finally won the argument for a stronger federal parliamentary party room and a formal party leadership.

The campaign for respectability has reached remarkable depths since 2004. People and policies that might offend bourgeoisie acceptability have been progressively jettisoned. Redistributive justice went by the wayside in 2012, check out Hall Greenland’s account of the Greens 2012 policy conference for some idea of what that involved:

The “party room” (as the federal MPs are called) moved for the deletion of the plank in an abbreviated debate – about ten minutes – in which Bob Brown seized the mike to spell out the reason for the elimination: it was electoral poison and costing us one or two percent of the vote. That was it. Truly.

A few hours earlier in a special plenary session called to farewell Bob Brown, both he and his successor, Senator Christine Milne, laid out the strategy of an alliance with what might be dubbed “the green bourgeoisie”, but which is usually referred to as Green businesses. The thinking is that there are firms out there with a real interest in an ecologically sustainable economy and that they can be split away from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group to form a capitalist base for the Greens. As one of the leaders said – I think it was Bob Brown – this new alliance will also “afford us new funding opportunities”.

I first joined The Greens in the aftermath of Tampa, today the Greens support the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Recent developments are the finishing touches on a long-running process.

For ten years many in the Greens have assumed that the next ten percent is out there, they’re just being scared off by this or that non-core promise, person or practice (or mainstream media misrepresentation of the latter!). In 2016 the Greens are expecting a payoff for work towards political respectability.

If the leadership of the Greens seriously believe their bullshit (and there is every reason to suspect they do), the 2016 federal election will be a disappointment for The Greens. A “me-to” minor party cannot substantially change Australian politics. There is little reason for people who accept the logic of ‘lesser-evilism’ to vote Greens, and there is no reason for people who do not accept that logic to do so.

Their search for respectability has made it clear, The Greens are no alternative for any person who wants real change, real economic and social justice, and a real shot at ecological sustainability.

The most interesting political development for those of interested in real change are the growing numbers of the Australian working class disillusioned with all parties, and Australian politics as a whole. From the ABC:

Most Australians no longer think it matters which major party is in government according to new research, which also reveals a significant decline in support for democracy over the past seven years.

The number of Australians who believed it made a difference which party was in power plunged from 68 per cent to 43 per cent in the same period.

Nearly 20 per cent of eligible voters, about 3 million Australians, effectively opted out of the last federal election by either failing to enrol to vote, not showing up to vote or voting informally.

They tend to be younger, poorer, outer-metropolitan and rural, according to Dr Tim Battin from the University of New England.

He says most of them are not apathetic but they believe the political system excludes them.

No person, party, movement or ideology will successfully speak to the disillusioned by playing by the established rules of the Australian political system.

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