Socialist councillor stands up to death threats from racists

August 7, 2015
Socialist councilor Steve Jolly.

Victoria Police announced on August 6 they had arrested and charged a 38-year-old man in connection with death threats made against Socialist Party councillor Steve Jolly, from Yarra Council in Melbourne’s inner north. The threats referred to Jolly’s prominent role in mobilisations countering the far right Islamophobic groups Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front (UPF).

Undeterred by the threats, Jolly continued to help organise a No Room for Racism speakout on August 7, to show solidarity with footballer Adam Goodes and his stand against on-field racist abuse.

In an indication of continued organising on the far right, on August 2 an Islamophobic, populist outfit, the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA), gained electoral registration. ALA national secretary Ralf Schumann claimed it would soon reach the votes of up to 20% gained by some far right parties in Europe.

Green Left Weekly’s Zane Alcorn spoke to Jolly about fighting racism and the threat of the far right.

* * *

Why do you think the fascists have been targeting you in particular?

They’re targeting anyone, including people they think are leaders of the anti-racist movement. But it’s nothing compared to what they do to isolated individuals on trains, on trams, in back alleys, to people of colour throughout Australia, if they can get away with it.

This is the extreme wing of the right in Australia, and their answer to political discourse is violence. They’re trying to terrorise opposition, but it’s not going to work.

What did you think of the counter protest against Reclaim Australia and the UPF in Melbourne on July 18?

It was very good. We have outnumbered them in every mobilisation. When they first mobilised nationally on April 4, they claimed they weren’t really racist, but they were against Islamic people who were a bit extremist. They tried to paint themselves as a mainstream organisation.

Now they have been revealed as violent thugs, the Reclaim model has really unravelled. I think they will try to come back with a more sophisticated far-right model, when they launch the Liberty Alliance at the end of the year.

The rallies have been really successful, but would have been even bigger had there been mobilisations by the unions, the Greens and the left of the Labor Party. It was left to the far left, Islamic organisations and anarchists to mobilise.

It shows the need to not just oppose racism but to hit the streets, make a stand and show solidarity, especially with the Islamic community and Aboriginal community who are in the front line copping racism right now.

There are two main groups mobilising against the far right in Melbourne. A recent article in Green Left pointed out that in Germany, unity between two anti-racist coalitions was found to lead to a much more effective anti-far-right campaign. What do you think is the best strategy for tackling the far right?

Generally I agree with that article. The main political difference on the left is over the roots of racism. The Socialist Party is of the view there’s a small minority of hard-core neo-Nazis in UPF-type organisations but unfortunately it is not as simple as that.

There’s a vast number of Australians who feel very insecure: their kids are mired in debt because of HECS; they’ve got credit card and mortgage debt; work is increasingly casualised and low-paid; there are cuts to education and health; and whole suburbs are being built with no public transport.

People are worried about the future, and disaffected with the major parties, which is a good thing. They’re looking for alternatives. Because we have a rich history of racism in Australia, people can be sucked in by populist, right-wing arguments.

It’s all very well to stand up to neo-Nazis and the UPF. The bigger challenge is to build a left narrative, a left alternative, a new left party in Australia, like we have seen in parts of Europe. We need to offer a way forward for those millions of working-class people who are increasingly disaffected with the major parties.

If we don’t do that, if we simply bang on about the neo-Nazis, and we don’t see why these far-right groups could potentially get 20% in the polls, then we are in big trouble.

Along with standing up against racism, showing solidarity with Adam Goodes, standing up against the neo-Nazis and the UPF, we’ve also got to unite to build a left alternative voice to counterpose to the major parties and the more sophisticated far right that might develop.

A contrast to the April Reclaim Australia rallies were the March in March rallies that started a year before. These were a good initial fight-back against Abbott but dissipated and there was a noticeable vacuum a year later. What is your assessment?

March in March was a fantastic spontaneous movement, and showed the potential for a fightback against the Abbott regime and its first budget. But lesser-evilism — the idea that the Labor Party is a little bit better — dominates the left in Australia. If we had had that idea in the 1890s, we never would have had the Labor Party. We’ll never have a third force built today if we maintain that idea.

There are differences on secondary questions between Labor and Liberal, but fundamentally on questions of economic policy, on foreign policy, on refugees, they are exactly the same. Organising rallies to elect Bill Shorten instead of Abbott is not going to cut it with the majority of working class people. We need to unite to build a third force, and that is what is going to help fight racism as well.

[This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted for Green Left Radio on August 7. Listen to Green Left Radio live each Friday 8 to 8:30am, in Melbourne on 855 AM or 3CR Digital and from anywhere via <>, or catch the latest show at <>.]

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