Notes from the

Melbourne Gathering

Against Neoliberalism

and For Humanity


Saturday June 28, 1997

An Encounter in Preparation for the

Second Intercontinental Encounter

Against Neoliberalism and For Humanity




Bruce Lindsay

The Melbourne Encounter developed from a similar project in 1996, which occurred in response to the call of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation for a series of regional gatherings on the issue of neoliberalism and the emerging struggles within and against it. These occurred in a number of continents in the build-up to the Intercontinental Encounter in Chiapas from July 26-August 3, 1996. Last year the gathering in Melbourne produced a Resolution for Chiapas posing some of the key structures and processes emerging in the generalizable neoliberal project, including "economic rationalism" in the First World states of Australia and New Zealand, "structural adjustment" in Oceania and parts of the Asia-Pacific, and "globalization" of capitalism generally speaking.

This meeting was broadly successful in building discussion and concepts, notably in questions of definition and facing the problems of the language we use in struggle. It was the product of an activists base, rather than an academic one, which is a key division in the production of ideas in our country. There were about 50 people involved in the meeting and its workshops, drawn from different activist bases - student, Latin American, solidarity networks, autonomist, anarchist, environment movements, trotskyist, community/civil organizations, etc. This first experiment highlighted the limits of our processes and ideas: for example, we faced the fundamental problem of the language we use, the different concepts and world-views, and more practically, we faced the limitation of "forcing" the pace of the discussion and the production of our ideas. We who had organized the Meeting were ostensibly autonomist in our politics, or from a background (in Latin America) which was rethinking its orthodox politics (eg. of the Communist Parties, armed movements, etc).

Our second Meeting of June 1997 was organized in a different fashion to some degree, and it had somewhat different results. First of all its organization was not as extensive, and it was smaller, about 20 people. But we endeavored to construct it around the networks and struggles in which we were involved or with which we had some immediate contact. Formally or informally, the politics of such networks are autonomous (autonomist?), libertarian, democratic. The discussion and the Meeting was more organic to the these sort of politics. Largely we dispensed with the formalities of producing motions, resolutions, etc. We had speakers from four movements/organizations, and a speaker specializing on Mexico and the Zapatista movement. The following notes are, therefore, just that -- notes which I have drawn from the discussions, and are hence the product of my perceptions of the discussions, the key points -- analytic and strategic -- resulting from them.

The discussions centred on points made by the five speakers or groups of speakers:

-- Robbie Thorpe, of the Gunai nation, on the indigenous struggle and the sovereign power of customary law and the project of law.

-- Comrades from the Campaign Against Militarism, on the development of militarism and the problem of "solidarity."

-- Anna Barrett, from Left Alliance (a national student organization), on education system and the development of the struggles of the students.

-- Comrades from the Coalition for a Living Income, an alliance of parts of the student movement with unwaged/unemployed activists, on the constitution of poverty and struggles of the low-income sectors.

-- Barry Carr, from the Institute for Latin American Studies at La Trobe University, on the shift of struggle to the electoral arena in Mexico and the possible "tremors" of a breakthrough of the Left.

Indigenous struggle and sovereignty

Robbie Thorpe spoke on the genocidal basis of the British-derived state and society in Australia, and of determinate and strategic situation of sovereign power of that State and of the indigenous nations of this country, of which there were over 700 in 1788 (the moment of British colonization). Robbie has been involved in a case before the Commonwealth High Court to recognize the sovereignty of Aboriginal law (ie. customary Law) and hence the intrinsic "foreign-ness" of British-derived law (which is statutory and common-precendental). This necessarily involves a questioning of the fundamental historic and structural bases of the State, via the concept of sovereignty, and may be become increasingly significant in the development of an Australian Republic (especially in a radical critique and project of republicanism). Robbie is also involved in the "Pay the Rent" campaign, which is a project aimed at reparations for Aboriginal peoples, and also at a point of common struggle of Aboriginal-nonaboriginal people. His talk led to extensive discussion, effectively on the question of the status of the national project here and the means for its radical reconstitution. (NB. The following notes would be complemented in part by a critical reading of Henry Reynolds' Aboriginal Sovereignty - BL).

1. It is essential to question the history of our country, which is based upon the lie of "terra nullius" [empty land], the juridical principal by which the British state invaded and occupied the territory of the present nation-state of Australia.

2. There are in fact many names for our country, which derive from the hundred of nations that existed at the time of white occupation, and many of which continue to exist.

3. The State is founded on pre-meditated genocide (and such policies continue to predominate), especially in the loss of the economic base which exists in the land (and is essentially also a spiritual and political base.)

4. Central to our situation is the question of the jurisdiction (sovereignty) of Aboriginal customary law, and British-derived common and statutory forms of law.

5. When the High Court abolished the doctrine of terra nullius [in the case of Mabo v Queensland, no. 2, recognizing limited tenure of indigenous people on the land since "time immemorial"] is provoked something of a "constitutional crisis" in regards to land and the occupation of the country. Native Title (ie. the form of tenure resulting from this rejection) is a product of British law, aimed at subsuming Aboriginal law and its constitutional project to British-derived law. It is an attempt to recognize the "Law of the Land." It is especially significant in preparing the way for a Republic. (NB. Native Title, as it was developed by the Court, was a very weak form of land tenure, with weak property rights, consequently absorbed into statutory law in the Native Title Act 1993, and presently on the verge of being all but destroyed by the conservative federal government. The latter development is being pushed by a process of massive expropriation of land by agribusiness and mining capital.)

6. The system of apartheid laws and reservations developed in colonial Australia become the basis for the South African Apartheid system. This included systems of concentration camps for indigenous people throughout the continent. The history of occupation is a history of massacres and genocidal slaughter. There is at least a massacre sight in Victoria for every day of the year, and every day is a "Day of Mourning" for Aboriginal people.

7. Australian Aboriginal people are the most legislated and documented people on the planet. A key part of the invasion has historically been the invasion of anthropologists and archeologists. Most of the artifacts of this pillage are scattered around the world in museums, etc. These need to be repatriated, and this may be a point of practical and active intervention of European and North American activists, and of the resolution of the Encounter itself.

8. Most Australian people relate to Aboriginal people and the land with overwhelming ignorance.

9. There is still a reservoir of goodwill in the country toward Aboriginal people, but an inability to make a connection, link, with them, to aquire the means of doing so. Nonaboriginal people are steeped in the system, and there is a need to step outside of the system.

10. The end of terra nullius as a constitution of the occupation of the country is a definitive point.

11. There continues to be an undeclared war in our country. There is a need to stop the war, and the mechanism of a Treaty between Aboriginal-Nonaboriginal people to do this. Any other agreement exists under duress. A Treaty is a means of accommodating non-Aboriginal people, as an "honorable and legal way," into the original sovereignty of Aboriginal sovereignty and Law.

12. Aboriginal refuse the electoral and political processes of the State on a massive scale.

13. When the white occupiers arrived they were literally in an appalling state, and the Aboriginal people justifiably took pity on them. The State and society was founded on brutalization. Progressively they sought to accommodate and to resist them, and the process of occupation.

14. In the eclipse of terra nullius, the Australian State has no (juridical) basis on which to negotiate a Treaty. There is a major question of: who writes the Treaty? There must first of all be an end to hostilities, that is a detente, before determining who Aboriginal people desire to negotiate a Treaty with. The end of hostilities must be a prelude to a proper, informed decision among peoples, etc. (While the detente may be constituted with the British-derived State, the Treaty in fact poses the question of the legitimate and sovereign basis of Non-Aboriginal jurisdiction.)

16. The construction of the "Pay the Rent" movement is a principal means of reparation and of self-determination, determining the reconstruction of an economic base on the sovereignty of Aboriginal Law and the negotiation of detente and Treaty with Non-Aboriginal peoples in Australia. It is a significant mechanism of a new system, administration and deal between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

15. The distinction between peoples is fundamentally not a problem of color, it is a problem of Law, of the jurisdiction of peoples, of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

Militarism

The companeras from the Campaign Against Militarism -- Chris Raab, Rachel Schmidt, -- spoke on the development of militarization, etc in Australia and the region. The Campaign had held a large anti-militarist conference in Melbourne in April, drawing activists from all around the Asia-Pacific and culminating with a demonstration against the Army headquarters over the Australian state's support for the Bougainville war (the armed resistance being prosecuted by Bougainvilleans against the Papua New Guinea government and military in support of the multinational mining company, CRA-RTZ: an essentially genocidal war). They posed the problems of "solidarity" as a concept and as a practice among the peace/anti-war movements, especially the deep ideological differences that still exist, crossing generational, methodological, etc lines. This is deeply relevant to processes of solidarity and struggle, including the Zapatista movement, as the Collective in Melbourne has been aware for some time. The Campaign in Melbourne is more radically situated in its politics, intrinsically seeing the process of militarism as a present condition of capital, and hence it is more definitively "anti-war" than of the "peace" movement. The contemporary anti-war movement in Australia has largely grown out of the anti-nuclear movements of the 1980s, and built mass campaigns around the removal of "joint" US-Australian military bases (mainly communications bases) and stopping the mining and export of uranium. Also it was a focus of mass opposition to the Gulf War in 1991, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets in militant actions.

1. Militarism is more than a question of standing armies and military battlefields. In the broad sense, militarism is also fed by questions of destruction of the ecology, the enforcement of development, the force of policing, etc.

2. The Australia state's role in regional militarism includes establishing itself as a centre of troop training, the structure of its foreign aid budget, and its foreign policy (especially of appeasement toward militarized states such as Indonesia, Burma, China, etc).

3. There has been a shift of militarism toward internal repression, counterinsurgency, etc. This is most demonstrated in the context of the Bougainville War, East Timor, West Papua, and repression against aboriginal people in Australia.

4. Militarism in not just a condition of the army but centrally constitutes the role of the police in Australia. There has been a notable militarization of the police, including general training and equipment, paramilitary police, methods of policing demonstrations. This is the changing nature of policing. It includes the repression of workers' movements, student movements, etc.

5. Aboriginal deaths in custody (which continue to increase despite, or because of, a Royal Commission in the 1980s into this issue) is perhaps the most critical point in the development of internal repression in Australia. It exposes genocidal implications of policing.

6. In development and industrial issues, there is process - equally genocidal - of military-enforced development, especially of mining. Mining companies (eg. CRA-RTZ) have close relations with the military and with the development of paramilitary forces (eg. Panguna in Bougainville, Freeport in West Papua). The same logic occurs in relation to mining and development in Australia without the military presence. The development of the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory and the Century Zinc mine in Queensland are overwhelming processes of manipulation and coercion.

7. The Australian State sees itself as having a "policing" role for the region. It is a training centre, especially in regards to methods of repression. It is a major provider of military aid, such as $30 million dollars in unties aid the PNG military.

8. Militarism is one means of coercing people into doing things they don't want. A means of incorporation and exclusion.

9. At the anti-militarism forum there was a major contention over question of solidarity. What basis do you work on? How to work in solidarity without just paying lip-service. For example, a major contention in Philippines solidarity movement between activists wanting to highlight the situation in that country, send money, etc, and those highlighting common structures and processes in the Philippines and Australia. Also key division between those advocating pacifism and "non-violent direct action" (NVDA) and those in support of armed struggles. There is a need to NOT ignore difference - strategic, cultural, methodological, etc.

10. For Australia, the Bougainville war has strong parallels to the Vietnam War. (I also would say that there are strong parallels between Bougainville and Chiapas.)

11. There is also a significant need to look at the non-military elements of independence/revolutionary movements, and of the struggles occurring within a militarized framework. For example, the issue of a social income, access to the means of existence/subsistence is a logical consequence of any anti-militarism, especially in a region where a State social wage or social security system is non-existent.

12. A critique of the Bougainville war and of the solidarity movement (eg. condemnation of the armed BRA from a pacifist perspective) must begin with its real social context, especially the extent of corruption in the civilian population and civil administration (both State and NGO).

13. There has been a significant transfer of knowledge, etc, from older generations of activists in the peace and anti-war movements to younger activists, and from the NVDA activists to other parts of the movement.

14. Largely the differences are not generational but about different politics.

15. There is a key problem and difficulty in the dynamic of language and struggle, and the use of terms, such as social justice and human rights in order to NOT talks about power. Often with more interest in doing deals with those in power, to get them "on side," etc. There continues to be a crisis in language. We confront the question of using language to open up common ground with others.

Education/Unwaged

The latter talks and discussions which come out of the student movement and of groups around low-income struggles cross in some areas, and more recently there has been an intersection of these struggles in the resistance to government austerity and policing around the social wage. Effectively there is something of a common struggle developing around the intensification of exclusion of those on low incomes (students, unemployed, welfare recipients, etc). The education system, the precarious labor market and the social security system have become principal mechanisms in this process. Since at least August 1996, when university and high school students occupied part of the BHP building in Melbourne (this is a very large Australian-based multinational) the students have shifted their struggle more toward direct action. In April and May there was a brief wave of occupations and sit-ins at university campuses against up-front fees (ie. the progressive privatization of the university system). At this public level the situation largely involves university students, and they have organized networks [coordinadoras] around the country. The wave of high school student agitation has apparently receded (they held several "wildcat" strikes last year). Their methods of struggle have shifted in this time, as the traditional process of protesting government policy until some compromise - between the government and the student bureaucrats - is reached (NOT until the policy is withdrawn) has obviously been marginalized. The function of representation has been eliminated. The restructuring of education and welfare is occurring unilaterally by the State, and the initiative at the base is occurring in a shift toward participatory-democratic networks.

1. The tendency to privatized higher education occurs in user-pays mechanisms, introduced firstly in HECS as a compulsory loans scheme. At the same time there has been a bureaucratization of the student unions, accelerated by State policy which directs student funds away from student unions to their mediation in the university Administrations. Funding Agreements are basis of deals between student unions and universities. Diverting attention away from traditional representative functions and activism to problem of financing, entrepreneurialism and service functions.

2. Austerity and corporatization of the university. With introduction of up-front fees, there are three developments for students: 1. students, who already massively work part-time, casual, low-income jobs, will work more, intensification of their waged work, 2. shift burden onto the family structure, 3. emergence of scholarships, corporate scholarships, as a form of bonded labor for the most successful students.

3. There is a limited space that is opened up by State funding of education. Beyond this there is question of the control of curriculum.

4. Main focus of the student movement has been full State funding of universities and no up-front fees. This does not consider 1. international students (who already pay inflated fees), 2. the problem of the Common Youth Allowance and the attack on social income (ie. reduction of benefits to students and young, and increased policing), 3. possibility of not paying for education at all and attacking HECS, 4. and the question of the content of curriculum.

5. Methods of struggle: direct action has become a conspicuous feature, as have occupations and sit-ins. There has been a lot of violence from the police, a high degree of repression, including illegal police activity. There has been some effect of this shift in methods: 1. many universities have stated they will not introduce up-front fees or will defer decisions on it, 2. There has been a shift toward participatory-democratic organization.

6. The student movement can be described as elitist. Many activists are from well-off backgrounds, which perhaps explains the focus on fees. Students are of a "transient" nature. There is a difficulty of many students participating because of the pressures of work and family responsibilities. (Together these points tend to point to the question of subjectivity in which "students" exist, as transience and work intensification are increasingly characteristic of different parts of the population). Secondary students, parents, and TAFE (ie, technical, "polytechnic") students are all too absent from a lot of the organized student movement (and its thinking), although not completely absent.

7. There is a need for a political analysis within the student movement to complement the development of its methods, etc.

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1. We are in a period in which the wage system is partially collapsing.

2. The goal of the Coalition for a Living Income is the guaranteed minimum income at the level of the average wage. It is built on a rejection of government schemes of welfare and transfer payments, eg. amalgamation of payments for the young, work-for-the-dole.

3. The Coalition is at least so significant that it has provoked formation of a grouping by union officials, social workers, etc of the "poverty industry," to counteract it. Called "Coalition for Real Jobs." Especially to split any movement of the unemployed, by keeping it under control of unions, churches, social organizations, etc. This official construction went into crisis when the Labor Party announced it was supporting work for the dole schemes.

4. Students are an ally in this movement in spite of their thinking not because of it. Their thinking tends to be dominated by defensive strategies, and this represents an offensive position. The students are not dealing with question of student-controlled education (which proposes something beyond "education" as such). There is a question of the meaning of solidarity between students/young people and the unemployed. Schools, for example, are being turned into labor-market brokers. There are many issues that have not been drawn together. It is a movement of the underclass, and it remains whether there will be a movement for the emancipation of the underclass or a reinforcement of it.

5. There is also the question of solidarity with those people who are denied social welfare payments or social income. (Part of recent government moves to intensify austerity against the young has been to deny any form of payment from those under 18 years old.) We are at present excluding the possibility of support from others in the region with similar or comparable situations.

6. The problem of building links between struggles is knowing what those struggles are in the first place, who are involved in them, etc.

7. There are specific areas where there have been massive decline in social services, especially in the country areas. Also the level of domination and oppression used against people is not really represented in any discourse, as employers, etc, are using brute force.

8. We need to develop a situation where we know what is happening in different contexts. There is a need for a *mapping* of struggles and of domination.

9. Social movements and social-justice discourse are not really pointing out and describing what is going on, and the level of attacks which is quite massive. Most of them are still constructing their language in the desire to influence or be part of elites, rather than the process of describing what is going on.

10. There are areas where collectivities and networks have developed necessarily as an insulation against the social deterioration. There are the development of sorts of "micro-collectivities."

11. (It has recently been noted - by conservative analysts - that about a third of Australians are on some form of transfer payment, and require welfare assistance.) Transfer payments and discourse of transfer payments as such do not deal with the question of power. There is not and never has been a redistribution from rich to poor through the taxation system. We need to analyze the class struggle in welfare. The extent to which the middle class and the rich benefit from welfare, especially through superannuation, state subsidies, etc. There is the question of private welfare, eg managers' special perks, and that welfare is not something that is just paid to the poor. Mostly it is paid to the rich. We need an accounting of it.

12. Give to the poor the leisure the rich enjoy. We need to deal with the reorganization of the system of leisure and the resources (social production, social wealth, etc) involved in it.

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