Addressing the anti-fascists and their enemies in Canberra.
Firstly, a few notes:
Traditional fascism is unpopular. We see the far-right attempting to outmanoeuvre this unpopularity in various ways across the globe, so that we have nationalist-anarchists in Sydney, nationalist-autonomists in Dresden, Casa Pound nationalist-squats in Rome and popularised pro-nationalist street movements throughout much of the world. Reclaim Australia are only the most recent and most local innovation in this respect. As far as there are fascist elements within the movement, they deserve to be opposed with the traditional uncompromising vigour. However, it is important also to pay close attention to what is signalled by the popularity of these protests. In times of crisis and uncertainty, nationalism has always been an appealing force. Many of the people attending Reclaim rallies are not fascists, but are simply confused and proletarianised individuals who have been effectively mobilised by nationalist discourse. Obviously, we should oppose and attempt to block these demonstrations whenever they are called, but we should also be cautious about making easy generalisations out of our foes. How many of these people waver on an uncertain position, showing up because they’ve been efficiently chatted up? How many then become emboldened and convinced upon meeting a crowd of strangers intent on calling them nazis, without offering any alternatives? As we continue to fight bigotry on the streets, we should also sharpen and wield our arguments and analysis of the real problems that workers face. ‘No platform’ is often the easiest strategical agreement, but it is much harder to articulate ourselves in a way that is both convincing and uncompromised. This forces us to the uncomfortable task of self examination and clarification, which far from being inconvenient, is actually the only way we will ever win for realsies.
The following is an extended version of a speech delivered in Canberra on Sunday 19th July at the counter-rally to ‘Stand up for Australia’, a splinter group of the reactionary and pro-Nationalist ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement.
Why do we show up to these rallies? Well, we do so to oppose ‘Reclaim Australia’, the ‘United Patriots Front’, ‘Stand up for Australia’ or whatever else they want to call themselves. We do so to oppose racism generally. We do so to oppose fascism.
Is ‘Reclaim Australia’ fascist? Certainly, we have seen fascist symbols and rhetoric on display at their rallies. We know that people espousing fascist ideology are involved in organising their events, and that they are using the movement’s current momentum to attempt to win people over to more hardline fascist positions. We have seen fascists and Neo-nazis among the most militant and confrontational elements of these demonstrations. But if we look at the movement more generally, and the way it is presenting itself, the term fascist doesn’t always quite fit.
A lot of the people drawn in by ‘Reclaim’ are quite simply not fascists. They may have never even been political in this way before. Yes, they may be bigots. Yes, they hold racist ideas. But they are not necessarily ‘fascists’. They’re opposed to fascism, they’ll tell you. And they make up stories about the threat of Islamic fascism. They often see themselves as progressives. They go so far as proclaiming themselves against racism, and reports suggest they even began their most recent rally in Melbourne with a tokenistic acknowledgement of traditional owners. “We’re not fascists”, they say. “We’re patriots. We’re nationalists.” And they’re right.
More than anything else, Reclaim is a nationalist movement. We could use the term ‘ultra-nationalist’ or ‘right-wing nationalists’, but I would argue that this is unnecessary; that if we examine the ideology of nationalism we find that it is already extreme enough. Nationalism is predicated on a holy distinction between ‘us and them’. The elusive ‘us’ is supposedly defined by adherence to a common language, a common set of beliefs and values, etc etc. blah blah blah. This is what Reclaim are on about when they claim to be defending the mythical ‘Australian way of life’.
It’s easy to whip up hysteria these days. Vast sections of our global, class-based system are in the throes of profound social and economic crisis. The future is uncertain. Things are not looking good for the working-class. It’s difficult to even use that term (working-class) with much conviction now. Gone are the days when workers might identify positively with their role in the production of the world; when they could imagine organising together, taking over and running things for themselves. We don’t see the world as something we create together so much as we see a hostile place in which we must survive, isolated and alone. For many of us, work is just something that happens, that we have to put up with. At the same time work appears as scarce, precarious and meaningless; a dull figure set against the threatening background of possible unemployment. In this landscape of anxiety, nationalism offers a sense of hope and belonging.
The pro-nationalist solution is to close ranks, protect the border, protect the economy, rebuild and reclaim a national identity. At times, through their wild-eyed and euphoric promises, and through the optical illusion of commonalities, we catch a glimpse of what nationalism is really all about. Not the defence of language, religion or custom. But the development of the national economy, the transformation of people into workers and workers into soldiers, land into mines and factories. (Of course capitalism has proved itself to be adept at a certain internationalism when it comes to this imperative).
The past is the only way forward for these people. “Back to the Future”, they cry. And they long for a return to the golden days of apartheid, subjugation of women, segregation of people, patriotism and no brown immigrants. But the national solution is dead.
The forces of production and systems of human communication and collaboration are globalised and interconnected on an unprecedented level. And while this is currently driven by a capitalist imperative as we say, there is nothing that states this has to be the case. Why, then, does the Left repeatedly falter and fall back on an outmoded reliance on nationalist categories? We see this time and time again in leftist discourse: ‘Real Australians say welcome’, ‘Real Australians aren’t racist’, the ‘Real Australia’ is multicultural. Even when all the evidence suggests otherwise, we blush and excuse ourselves, point to the government and say “we’re not really like that”. Well what are we like? What does it mean to be a ‘Real Australian’? Why resort to a defence of national identity, or some earnest attempt to rescue the decaying form of the nation-state?
We can look at Australia and say that it is an advanced capitalist nation, which is not paying it any compliments. We can say that this nationhood was established through colonialism and primitive accumulation, vis-a-vis the brutal and murderous expropriation of land from indigenous people. We can say that this nationhood is kept afloat, not only with the exploitation of workers and the destruction of the environment, but with the incarceration and torture of anyone deemed unfit to be included in its constituency. Because an inside necessarily poses an outside.
And this logic of inside/outside, Us vs. Them, can be turned in on itself so that problematic sections of the population become ‘internal enemies’ – bludgers, ratbags, terrorists.
The pro-Nationalists say that we are un-Australian and anti-Australia. In response, sections of the Left fall for this when they try to beat the nationalists at their own game, and attempt to present an authentic Australian identity that is tolerant, accepting and progressive. But who wants to play the game of nationalisms? We face global problems, such as the threat of ecological collapse, for which there can be no national solutions. There are also global, human possibilities, and the potential for an emancipated human race that finally gets to create the kind of world it wants to live in. Waving a flag and demanding allegiance to a nation, in the face of all this, is nothing but ludicrous.
So let’s be un-Australian. Let’s be anti-Australia. Let’s be against nationalism. And not in an inter-nationalist sense where we have a collection of all the different nationalisms, but in an anti-Nationalist sense, that views the nation as a limitation and active stopper on real human potential. By all means, and by any means necessary, let’s fight against racism. Let’s fight against fascism. But let’s also fight against nationalism in all its forms, and for a world without nations.