Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 992

The unity discussions between the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative have come to an end.
In a November 3 letter on behalf of the Socialist Alternative National Executive, Mick Armstrong wrote: “The overall political projects of both organisations are not sufficiently similar to carry through a sustained and productive unity that could advance the cause of the revolutionary left in Australia and the broader class struggle.”

The Socialist Alternative letter lists four major political differences:

It’s wrong to think that we can campaign to stop climate change in the same way we might campaign to end a war. All the evidence says we are well past that stage now. That is, even if by some impossible, magical course of events all carbon pollution on Earth was stopped tomorrow, we’d still be in really, really deep trouble.

So many greenhouse gases have been pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere that we have rushed far past the safe upper limit — the famous 350 parts per million of CO2, the number that climate action group 350.org took for its name.

At the national refugee protest in Canberra on November 18, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young concluded her speech by saying her first involvement in politics was through the refugee movement and that she used to come to rallies like this, until she realised that it was more important to change the minds of the people inside parliament, so she stood for parliament instead.

I’ve heard Hanson-Young and Greens candidates make similar statements previously.

I think such statements need to be challenged.

More often than not I am not quick enough with a comeback and probably that is just as well. Just the other day, when I was out in the street distributing Green Left Weekly, a person roughly brushed past and muttered “traitor!”

She walked on and from about two metres away turned around, aimed her beady eyes at a poster I had put up advertising a Christmas visit to refugees in detention and shouted: “You are traitors, that’s what you are!”

“Give refugees some solidarity this Christmas,” was the headline on the poster.

Refugee rights advocates spent much of this year dreading the election of the Tony Abbott government and its predicted fallout for those seeking protection in Australia. What can they now expect in 2014?

GLW Issue 991

Peter Boyle interviewed Florencia Melgar, a former SBS journalist about her research into Australia's involvement in the 1973 military coup against the progressive government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

Watch the full interview here.

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When Japanese forces occupied French Indochina in 1941, it was not entirely without French opposition. But for the most part it was close to business-as-usual for the French in Vietnam. Japan left the French colonial administration intact, beholden now to Tokyo rather than Paris.

It was oppression-as-usual for the Vietnamese, 2 million of whom Japanese forces starved to death in 1944.

Finally, Aussie pride is back after a dominant display in a crucial international contest. Sure, our side came in for criticism for aggressive bullying and disrespectful behaviour towards the opposition, but you can't argue with results.

True, this was nothing so crucial to the fate of humanity as an Ashes Test. It was merely the United Nations Warsaw climate talks that ended on November 23 with no agreement for rich nations to severely cut the greenhouse emissions fuelling climate change or offer compensation to poor nations bearing the brunt of its increasingly devastating effects.

Australian oil and gas company AWE has signalled its intention to mine for unconventional gas on farmland bordering Western Australia’s Lesueur National Park. The proposal, released in October, includes plans to use the damaging process known as “fracking” to extract gas, starting in March next year.

The national park is a environmentally significant area. It holds more than 900 different plant species and more than 10% of the total known flora of WA. It also holds seven species of declared rare fauna, and nine taxa found nowhere else in the world.

The Grattan Institute and the Productivity Commission both released reports on November 22 into the affect an ageing population will have on Australia’s economy.

The Grattan Institute proposed that the pension age should be raised to 70, owner-occupiers should not be exempted from the Age Pension asset tests — meaning people could be forced to sell their home when they retire — and GST should be applied to fresh food.

The Productivity Commission suggests access to the Age Pension and retirement should be linked to life expectancy — to continue rising as people live longer.

As a mother and her baby fight to avoid the “rat-infested” Nauru refugee camp, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll showed half of Australian voters disapprove of the Coalition government's refugee policy.

The poll also showed Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come to the end of what has been described as the shortest “honeymoon period” of a PM in history. Abbott's popularity took an unprecedented dive — with a personal approval rating of 1%, believed to be fuelled by his attitude to the “diplomatic stand-off” with Indonesia over substantial spying allegations.

A new battleground has opened over the introduction of “foetal personhood” laws as the anti-choice lobby tries to use these laws to roll back women’s reproductive rights.

A private member’s bill giving legal rights to foetuses older than 20 weeks or weighing more than 400 grams passed the New South Wales lower house on November 21 by a large margin.

A similar bill was introduced in the South Australian Legislative Council on November 27 by right-wing Christian party Family First. It lost by one vote. The Western Australian parliament considered a “foetal homicide” law last year.

Twenty-two people from Bourke and Enngonia are about to graduate from the first intake of the Yes I Can adult literacy campaign classes. This new way of learning literacy for adults originated in Cuba and now operates in 28 countries round the world.

It came to Bourke and Enngonia after a successful trial last year in Wilcannia. Now it is set to spread further across the region. Jack Beetson, the national campaign coordinator, is overjoyed at the success in Bourke and Enngonia.

Where has the year gone? It feels like 2013 has rushed past like the high-speed train we still don't have in wealthy 21st century Australia.

And now, with just a month to go, we have the urgent task of catching up with the Green Left Fighting Fund. Our target for the year is $250,000, but so far only $160,338 has been raised. We will need some generous donations from our supporters to help us get there over the next four weeks.

GLW Issue 990

Australian environmentalists welcomed the October announcement that mining giant BHP was abandoning its plans for a coal export rail and port development at Abbot Point in Queensland.

However, the company is simultaneously involved in a giant new coal export development on Kalimantan in Indonesia.

The formation of the Labor Party — created as part of a global movement to form mass workers’ parties in the 1890’s — differed markedly from the formation of social democratic parties in mainland Europe. The tendency in these countries was for the formation of workers’ political parties to precede the formation of a mass union movement which the parties then encouraged.

At the recent UN climate talks in Poland, poor nations and NGOs singled out the Australian delegation for doing the most to block progress on a new deal to cut carbon emissions.

Since capitalism began, socialists have debated how to bring to an end to class divisions and make society more fair and just.

Early on, a split developed between those who thought revolution was necessary to overthrow capitalism, and others who thought a socialist society could be created gradually through parliamentary reforms.

Some socialist parties started with radical politics but gradually became part of the system and gave up on calling for revolution.

It's long been a favoured wish of many environmentalists to go off the grid, to be self-sufficient in energy and other services, and avoid the corporate utilities and their coal-powered electricity. The ambition for freedom from energy bills and fossil-fuel electricity is understandable.

And now in the age of relatively cheap solar panels (which weren't around in the 1970s), you can live off the grid and use a huge battery attached to a large array of solar PV (photovoltaic) panels, to maintain a hi-tech lifestyle on clean solar energy.

After attending the national day of action on climate change, organised by GetUp on November 17, Sally Rawsthorne wrote in the Guardian that “fringe dwellers” like the Socialist Alliance and the Green Left Weekly participating in the rally “does climate action a disservice”.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo on November 15 — boycotted by India and Canada in protest against the Sri Lankan regime's crimes against humanity towards the Tamil people — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the regime's crimes: "Sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.”

Imagine if we found out exactly who was systematically destroying the habitability of Earth? If we had their names and addresses? Wouldn't a responsible society make them stop the destruction?

Climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado has done a study which found that just 90 companies — among them Chevron, Exxon, BHP, Rio Tinto and BP — have been responsible for producing two-thirds of all global warming-causing emissions.

On the same day that Tasmania decriminalised abortion, the New South Wales parliament took a big step backwards for women’s rights. The Legislative Assembly voted 63 to 26 for a bill aimed at giving 20-week-old foetuses the same legal rights as human beings.

The Socialist Alliance condemns the violation of Indonesia's national sovereignty through the actions of the Australian government in tapping the mobile phone of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and nine of his closest advisors, including his wife.

These actions are a reflection of how Western nations such as Australia treat poor nations with neo-colonial contempt.

GLW Issue 989

World War II was fought to resist fascist aggression; the Vietnam War was an imperial war of aggression fought chiefly by France and the US, alongside allies that included Australia. The wars have been well documented, but rarely will you find an account of how they were instrumental in rejuvenating and then expanding the heroin trade.

At long last the reality of the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka is appearing in the Australian media. Not just the fact that more than 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan army in a month in 2009, but that Sri Lankans of all ethnic backgrounds continue to be subject to torture, rape, arbitrary detention, disappearance and death.

The Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which opened in Sri Lanka on November 15, has meant special attention is being paid to these human rights abuses.

Another round of United Nations climate talks were being negotiated in Warsaw, Poland, this week when the strongest typhoon recorded to hit land swept across the Philippines before moving on to Vietnam.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, has killed an estimated 10,000 people in the area of Tacloban, mostly from the strong tsunami-like storm surges that accompanied the typhoon. Entire villages were flattened and a large rescue effort is underway to evacuate survivors.

For as long as rulers have abused their power there has also been political satire. Satirists have used wit and comedy as a weapon against the powerful, sometimes braving imprisonment, torture or the gallows.

Over the years, I have heard many left-wing activists say that mass peaceful protests do not achieve anything. Rather, “militant actions” which “take it up to the ruling class” are more important.

But for smaller direct actions to have any real political significance, they have to be connected to a patient and democratic approach to building mass movements that can win reforms. Smaller direct actions that are not tied to this political aim are a posture.

Brisbane activists, academics and unionists have resolved to launch a broad community campaign to fight the Queensland Coalition government’s attack on civil liberties.

The decision was made at a forum organised by Green Left Weekly on November 12. Dr Mark Lauchs from the Queensland University of Technology, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope, and assistant secretary of the Queensland Electrical Trades Union Peter Ong spoke at the well-attended meeting.