The far right Islamophobic “Reclaim Australia” movement burst onto the streets in what was the biggest racist mobilisation since the Cronulla riots, in 16 places across Australia on April 4. They were armed with swastika tattoos, Australian flags and a few simplistic slogans such as “No halal food”.
They were also met by counter protesters who stood up to reject racism, chauvinism and bigotry.
Reclaim Australia is arguably the most significant attempt to build a far-right movement in Australia since the early days of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party almost 20 years ago. They are threatening to mobilise again on a date yet to be announced. There have also been threats from some of their supporters to attack other anti-racist and left-wing rallies and stalls in coming weeks.
They have denied that they are a racist or far right movement, but this argument is impossible to sustain given their bigoted platform of demands — before even looking at the unsavoury character of some of their supporters.
The new attempt to build a far-right movement has resulted once again in a discussion about the best means of resisting the growth of the far right.
There are four things that need to be done, all of which are crucial.
First, we need to resist the official racism of the “mainstream” Liberal and Labor governments. This includes fighting for the rights of refugees to not be locked up without charge or trial. It also includes building the movements against forced closure of Aboriginal communities and against the new stolen generation.
The more success that governments have with racist policies such as these, the more fertile will be the soil in which far-right movements can grow. By contrast, the more we can beat back these policies, the harder it will be for the far right to gain traction.
Second, we need to defend communities under attack. They may not have yet begun organised physical attacks against Muslim people and other religious or racial minorities but this is the logic of such a movement. An increase in unorganised attacks has already begun.
Even if it remains at the level of helping communities clean racist graffiti from mosques (or Sikh temples for Islamophobes who can't tell the difference) — such as the Anti-Bigotry Response Team in WA — this is an important means of building solidarity.
Third, we need broad counter-mobilisations every time they organise a public presence.
Some people hope that we can just ignore them and they will go away. That would be a fatal mistake. We need to actively counter their arguments and show that large numbers will resist their racist tirades.
On the other hand, some on the left believe that we should “no platform” the fascists — that is, on principle, deny them a right to speak. This position in the end amounts to liberal moralism — not that different from the view that we should defend free speech for fascists as a principle. It doesn't address the root problem of why hate speech in happening in the first place.
The Melbourne Rally Against Racism on April 4 was successful, not primarily because it took the form of a blockade but because it clearly outnumbered the right and was a vibrant, militant action.
The blockade also had the positive features of disrupting the right-wing mobilisation and making anti-racist activists feel good.
The negatives were that it allowed some media to present the anti-racists as the opponents of freedom.
The most important point is not that we fetishise any particular tactic but that we maintain a determination to mobilise large numbers against hatred and bigotry.
Finally, we need to actively build the movement for socialist change.
This may not be obvious to everyone, but it is absolutely essential. The far right can only grow in a context of discontent with the status quo. Their nonsensical slogans only make sense to people who are hurting — and looking for someone to blame — because of mainstream capitalism.
The only way to counter this is to actively build a left-wing alternative that can create a positive and inspiring socialist antidote.
[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convener of Socialist Alliance.]