On July 19, Reclaim Australia will lead a coalition of conservative, Christian fundamentalist and fascist organisations in another set of rallies to “defend Australian values” from “Muslim invasion”.
The propaganda being spread by the far right is unsubtle racial coding and recycled fascist messages that have been appearing in the West since the 1920s. The “lefties” and the immigrant community are involved in a conspiracy to undermine “Australian values” with “multiculturalism”. In response to this perceived threat, Reclaim Australia is calling on “Aussies” to unite and fight against this threat.
In the face of rising social inequality and economic instability, this message may indeed be appealing to a certain layer of Australians. It does seem, for some, as though their country is being stolen by forces beyond their control.
These feelings are legitimised and encouraged by the government and mass media, whose spiral of propaganda about terrorism and refugees has sent Australian political discourse on a deeply authoritarian and racist path. The federal government’s policy is to develop a “fortress Australia”, where Global South populations are kept out and the local populations are isolated, kept in a state of fear by constant surveillance and extreme police power.
In a political context in which even the Labor Party “Left” — whatever that means any more — supports turning boats full of desperate people around at sea, the far-right movement has gained momentum. The official racism of the Australian government has given them legitimacy and a justification to wheel out their tired rhetoric.
It is tempting for people who oppose racism to write off the far right as “a bunch of idiots” who are of no real concern. However, these groups, when given room to grow, can become a threat, both on a personal level to migrants and members of marginalised communities, but also to democracy as a whole.
An example of this is the growth of the PEGIDA movement in Germany. This movement takes a similar political line to Reclaim Australia in taking aim at “Islamification” of the nation and trying to merge casual racists with the extremists of the far right. While their rallies at first did not pose a massive threat, their continued growth in size led to the violent murder of a young immigrant after one such rally.
In other countries where far-right movements have been allowed to grow, it is a similar story. In France, where the National Front under the leadership of Marine Le Pen is at times rated the most popular political party, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks have increased in the past three years. This includes arson attacks, racist vandalism and physical violence against marginalised communities.
In Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik is a rapidly growing and highly disciplined neo-fascist force, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and anti-LGBTI violence is on the rise. In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party still occupies a position as the third most popular party in Greece, despite its use of paramilitary force and its connection with the murders of migrants and leftists.
Beyond Europe, we can look to the United States, where unresolved issues of deep racism, the ongoing existence of the Ku Klux Klan and other paramilitary organisations and institutional white supremacy that goes unbroken back to the time of slavery, has caused a political climate in which white terrorists are able to commit mass killings and where several Black churches can be put to the torch.
Australia is lucky that far-right violence has not been able to grow to such a degree here. However, the relentless promotion of racist-tinged national security paranoia by the government and corporate media has created an increase in racist violence towards foreigners, particularly Muslim women. Reclaim Australia, representing the largest far-right mobilisations since the rise of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party, could also potentially further legitimise government racism. Their propaganda claims that their xenophobia and racism are the authentic voice of ordinary Australians — a claim with which the Abbott government is quite comfortable.
It is for this reason that it is vital for young people to mobilise against racism. Racial violence and far-right movements are the product of a complex series of policies and social relationships, some of which date back all the way to colonisation. It is necessary to mobilise against all forms of far-right organisation, as well as official racism being pushed by the government and establishment media.
Historically, young people have always played a leading role in confronting the far right. In Germany, the Red Youth-Front made a valiant effort to defeat the rise of Nazism alongside other revolutionaries aligned with the Communist Party of Germany. In Italy in the ’60s and ’70s, it was young people who led the insurgent popular struggles, which sought to defeat police terror and fascist violence, swelling the ranks of the “workerist” organisations and doing battle with neo-Nazis on university campuses.
In Britain, young people, especially from migrant communities, directly confronted racist violence from both the police and the National Front during the ’70s and ’80s, in particular during the “Short, Hot Summer” of 1981. In this period, thousands of young people from all ethnic groups mobilised against meetings and marches organised by the far-right National Front. In Brixton, Southall, Liverpool, Wood Green and Moss Side, racist skinheads repeatedly clashed with thousands of young migrants and supporters.
Even today, it is young people who are most directly engaged in struggles against racism. It is Black youth who are currently leading the revolt against racist policing and institutionalised racial discrimination in the United States, often putting their lives on the line to confront the police and the National Guard. In Australia too, the last wave of Reclaim Australia rallies was confronted by very diverse and mixed crowds, but few could deny that it was young anti-racists who made up a substantial section of these big demonstrations.
Young people are often told that they have no power in society, that they should sit back and be “good citizens”, but passive citizens. This is not an option in the face of far-right movements and official racism from the government.
Now more than ever it is important that young people from all ethnic groups and backgrounds unite and fight racism and fascism, bigotry and Islamophobia. Whether it is in resisting Reclaim Australia, fighting for the rights of refugees or opposing the closure of indigenous communities, it is vital that young people take on the responsibility, along with all sections of the Australian population that support tolerance and democracy, of consigning racism to the dustbin of history.