Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lightnin' Slim:Cummins Prison Farm

Blues is the musical expression of a pre-revolutionary consciousness of the oppressed. It's a way of dealing with despair and hardship by articulating it in song, either in order to draw attention to the cause of the problem, or in order to deal with it by making fun of it or the person or thing that has caused it.

Sure, a lot of it is a man putting down a woman or vice versa, but much of it stands as social commentary, reflecting the life stories of men and women at the bottom of society.

Lightnin' Slim was born as Otis Hicks in 1913 in southern Lousiana. Some biographers are dismissive of his lack of musical originality (“Slim's stock-in-trade had mostly fallen off the back of other people's trucks,” declared Tony Russell in The Blues from Robert Johnson to Robert Cray), but the man who recorded him at the start of his career has a different view:

“…I'll listen to anyone that will come to my studio…If you see an ole country boy, that's your blues man; not your other guy that knows his music on a higher level – because he's not a blues man no more….If they don't feel the material they're singin' - that's it. People can distinguish whether they're authentic or not or whether it's just a synthetic singer and that's all…Now Lightnin' Slim, of course as far as knowledge of music I would say he knows less about knowledge of music than anyone else that I record, but for all that he's one of my best sellers for the simple reason that what he does, he does feelin' it. His father was a tenant farmer and they lived out there in the country and after the men would get through work they used to sit out there and they'd start to playin' and singin' you know. And they'd sing these ole blues and the blues was generally bad luck and the troubles they have…Slim seems to give out more of something real…” (J. D. Miller, recording studio owner, Louisiana, in Conversation with the Blues by Paul Oliver, Cambridge University Press).

The song I've transcribed below reflects black prison life. (There is also a version by Magic Sam that I don't have, but if anyone has got it and can help me with the line I found hard to transcribe, I'd appreciate it.) The Cummins Prison Farm’s history of brutality and torture has been documented (like the use of the "Tucker telephone" - right - used to administer electric shocks to prisoners until the mid-1970s) and links to various articles can be found at Wikipedia or here at

Prof. Randall G. Sheldon has an article on the Blackcommentator website that explores the place of various types of slavery in the capitalist system. He makes the point that: “It can also be said that the use of inmates as a form of cheap labor has been part of the capitalist system from the beginning, as owners seek to maximize profits however they can, including using the cheapest form of labor, whether it be slaves, immigrant labor, or inmates. In fact, taking advantage of those imprisoned (in various forms, including slavery) has been common among nations for centuries.”

I downloaded this version of Cummins Prison Farm from the excellent “Honey, Where You Been So Long” archive of pre-WW2 blues material.


I was born in Missoura
Across the line from Arkinsaw
Oh yes I was
I was born in Missoura
Across the line from Arkinsaw
Oh yeah
Didn't have any money
I got in trouble
With the law

It's hard being a prisoner
Down on Cummins Prison Farm
It's hard being a prisoner, y'all
Down on Cummins Prison Farm
Oh yes it is
Down there start thinkin'
Till you're some of 'em and that's all
{I'm pretty sure this line is wrong, but can't get any clearer}

I hadn't been there but one day
And I learned that you don't play
I hadn't been down there but one day
And I learned that you don't play
Oh no you don't
Been there forever
Tomorrow gonna be a long
Hard day


Warden be a good man
You oughtta free me from this mess
Warden now be a good man
You oughtta free me from this mess
Warden look me in the eye
Down here with Slim
We have a lot of good men

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Howard's New Tampa - Aboriginal children overboard

(Below is the text of an article by Jennifer Martiniello which will be forwarded to major newspapers in Australia. Please pass on to your networks. Jennifer Martiniello is a writer and academic of Arrernte, Chinese and Anglo descent. She is a former Deputy Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and a current member of the Advisory Board of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the ANU. Please see Jennifer's website - address below -and read her excellent poetry on indigenous issues - Mike)

Howard's New Tampa - Aboriginal Children Overboard Howard's new Tampa children overboard are our Aboriginal children. The Little Children are Sacred report does not advocate physically and psychologically invasive examinations of Aboriginal children, which could only be carried out anally and vaginally. It does not recommend scrapping the permit system to enter Aboriginal lands, nor does it recommend taking over Aboriginal 'towns' by enforced leases. These latter two points in the Howard scheme hide the true reason for the Federal Government's use of the latest report for blatant political opportunism.

It has been an openly stated agenda that Howard wants to move Aboriginal people off their lands, and has made recent attempts to buy off Aboriginal people by offering them millions for agreeing to lease their lands to the Federal Government, e.g. Tiwi Islands and Tangentyere in Alice Springs. There was also the statement by the Federal Government that it could not continue (?!) to provide essential services to remote communities, which raised an uproar of responses in the press. The focus on the sexual abuse of children is guaranteed to evoke the most emotive responses, and therefore command attention, just like the manipulation of the Tampa situation. But while the attention of the media and the public is being emotionally coerced, what is being sneaked in under the covers?

Two issues specifically - mining companies have applied for more exploration permits in the Northern Territory, the Jabiluka uranium mining operations at Kakadu have already hit the media because of the mining company's applications to the Government to significantly expand its operations, including establishing new mines at Coronation Hill, and another critical issue - nuclear waste. The Howard Government has already mooted that nuclear waste should be dumped in the Northern Territory, on Aboriginal lands. Aboriginal traditional owners are absolutely opposed to this. We have a long history of deaths and illness from radiation, from the atomic tests at Woomera in the 1950s to the current high incidences of carcinomas in the community at Kakadu near the Jabiluka site. The main obstacle to the Federal Government's desired expansion of mining operations in the Northern Territory and nuclear waste dumping is, of course, the Aboriginal people who have occupancy of, and rights under the common law to, their traditional lands.

Following the stages of the Howard Government's usual modus operandi (defund, blame, eliminate), defunding of critical programs for remote Aboriginal community projects began in July 2004, with coerced changes to funding contracts, and monies for critically needed youth and health programs in remote areas being the first dollars to go. Take Mutitjulu for example, which was notoriously profiled by the ABC's Nightline program. I say notorious because one of Senator Mal Brough's personal staffers was the so-called ex-youth worker interviewed on that program, and the content of that interview was laden with myths and mistruths. The staffer in question failed to appear when summoned before a Senate inquiry to explain and the Senator's office is yet to issue a statement. When the community lodged a formal protest to Government, it was raided and their computers seized. But the program did show the effects of the Howard Government defunding of essential programs on that community, in particular the youth centre and health centre. The people at Mutitjulu also just happen to be the traditional owners of Uluru, one of this country's most lucrative tourist attractions. The Howard Government would not like us to ask who benefits by the people of Mutitjulu being forced off their community. Under the amendments to Native Title made by the Howard Government, once Aboriginal people have left their traditional lands, forcibly or otherwise, their rights under the common law that every other Australian enjoys over their land are significantly impaired.

Progressive defunding of Aboriginal art centres has also begun, with a range of community art centres not having their funding renewed by DCITA in July 2005 and 2006 in the Northern Territory, from communities in Arnhemland to mid and southern Territory communities. The art production facilitated by those Aboriginal art centres are the only means through which members of those communities can actually earn a living, as opposed to being on welfare. But then, dependent people are easier to control by means of that dependency. The Howard Government's failed Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) have also been the catalyst for further blame shifting and progressive defunding, take Wadeye for example.

Our Aboriginal communities are being squeezed further into dysfunction and disenfranchisement by carefully targeted political engineering, the systemic and ruthless roll-out of a planned agenda. It is no accident that Howard's scheme to address what he calls the urgency of the Little Children are Sacred report's 97 recommendations was trotted out so very quickly, and addresses so very few of those recommendations. It is sheer political opportunism to advance an already in motion agenda, and to score points in an election year. After all, The Little Children are Sacred report is not the first of such reports, nor are its findings and recommendations new. The Federal Government has had the 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002 reports gathering dust and deliberate inaction on its shelves. Perhaps Mr Howard has been saving them up for a rainy election year? And of course Mr Howard's scheme targets only Aboriginal communities, despite the fact that the findings specifically state that non- Aboriginal men, that is, white men, are a significant proportion of the offenders, who are black-marketeering in petrol and alcohol to gain access to Aboriginal children. What measures is the Howard Government going to take about non-Aboriginal sex offenders, pornographers, substance traffickers and the like? Nothing according to the measures announced, but then, they're not Aboriginal and they don't live on the Aboriginal communities where their victims live.

So who are the real victims here, the silenced victims of John Howard's scheme? Aboriginal children, of course, who will be subject to physically and psychologically invasive medical examinations, irrespective of their home and family circumstances, and who will deal with the mental and emotional fall-out from that? Aboriginal men, too, who become the silenced scapegoats, painted by default by John Howard as all being drunken, child-raping monsters. Perhaps the fact that almost every picture shown of Aboriginal men in the media these days shows them drunk, with a slab, cask or bottle under their arms leads Mr Howard to expect that one to pass unchallenged, irrespective of the fact that statistics show that only 15% of Aboriginal people drink alcohol, socially or otherwise, compared to around 87% of non-Aboriginal Australians. The greater majority of Aboriginal men are good, decent people. Perhaps the media would like to rethink its portrayals of Aboriginal men? How about some photos of the other alcoholics, you know, the white ones. There's more of them.

And what of our communities? The Howard Government also hasn't mentioned that the majority of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory are already dry communities, decided and enforced by those communities. But then that would spoil the picture Mr Howard wants to paint of our Aboriginal communities. Other large communities, such as Daly River, have controlled the situation by only having alcohol available from the community's club and enforce a strict four can limit. Also forgotten in the current politically opportunistic furore is the fact that Aboriginal communities around Tennant Creek and Katherine have been lobbying Governments and town councils for decades to restrict the sale of alcohol on Thursdays, when Aboriginal community people come to town for supplies. So far their pleas have been rejected. Nothing in Mr Howard's plan to facilitate that, either. Or about the control of alcohol when those people, once forced off the communities into the towns, bring their problems with them, child abuse or alcoholism and all the rest. Of course that would make access to Aboriginal children a lot easier for white offenders, they won't have to go so far to find a victim.

One last word on focus of attention. In the famous Redfern Address, the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating asked perhaps the most important question for all Australians to consider. He said 'We failed to ask the most basic of questions. We failed to ask - What if this were done to us?' What if this were done to us - to Mr and Mrs Average Australian, to our schools, youth centres, health centres, access to medical care, communities, homes, children, grandchildren? After all, current national health reports from a wide range of health organisations name sexual abuse of non-Indigenous Australian children as a crisis area in need of urgent attention. And the numbers of victims are higher. National reports into mainstream domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse also call for urgent action, again the issues are at crisis level, and the numbers of victims and abusers are far higher than in the Little Children are Sacred report. None of the recommendations in all of those hundreds of national health reports recommend compulsory sexual health tests for every Australian child under sixteen. Not one of them recommends that a viable solution is closing down youth and health programs, in fact they all advocate that more are needed. None recommend that the victims' or the offenders' communities and homes should be surrendered to the Federal Government and put under compulsory lease agreements, and none advocate processes which would lead to either the victims or the abusers losing their rights under common law to their property as measure to control or remedy the occurrence of abuse. Would the Howard Government even dare to contemplate such as that? I think not. It would be un-Australian, and the Government it would expect immediate legal repercussions on the grounds of impairment of human rights, extinguishment of rights under common law, discrimination, and a raft of other constitutional issues. Besides, Mr and Mrs Average Australian don't, for the most part, live on top of uranium and mineral deposits or future nuclear waste dumps.

But seriously, the most critical question for all Australians to ask themselves in the lead up to this year's Federal Election is just that - What if it were done to us? With full acknowledgment of what has already been done to workers, trade unions, student unions, public primary, secondary and tertiary education, elderly care, palliative care, medicare, crisis health care, nurses, teachers, multicultural affairs, migrant groups, women, child care, small businesses and artsworkers, among the many, through the exercise of policies of social engineering and fear, your answer at the polling booth may just determine whether it will be done to you, or continue to be done to you. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald 25th June, the Howard Government last week used the military to seize control of 60 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, which are now under military occupation. This is not Israel and Palestine. The Northern Territory is not Gaza or the West Bank. This is Australia - but is it the Australia you thought you lived in? Walk in our shoes, Aboriginal Australia's, and ask yourselves, what would it be like to have this done to us? And then, walk with us.

Jennifer Martiniello

Warning: This email may contain creative spelling!

Jennifer Martiniello e: m: 0423629470 w:

"There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is, an idea whose time has come". Victor Hugo.

Andrew Biven: Communities Overboard

(I am posting this article as it helps clarify the issues at hand. The writer, Andrew Biven is currently working at Maningrida in Arnhem Land - prior to this he was the Director of the South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services.)

Dear people who are in my Address Book,

My apologies for contacting you out of the blue - however numbers of us Balanders (whitefellas) up here have decided we needed to contact as many people as possible and begin to get the message out that what Howard and Brough are proposing is not the way to go.

Picture sixty Aboriginal communities in the NT floundering in the sea of national indifference for decades. Suddenly, in a time of political crisis for the ruling party, an emergency that has been slowly emerging during those decades is grasped and radical, ill conceived (and some would say entirely cynical) measures are imposed with expressions of general self righteous indignation and opprobrium at the behaviour of those communities in flinging themselves and particularly their children, into the waters of dysfunction.

Shame and blame are two powerful weapons of the dominant culture and can only spell a further deterioration in the conditions for Aboriginal communities. I urge you to contact your local politician and in all other ways help to bring to light the ill-conceived nature of the responses Howard and Brough announced last week.

Few would question some of the desired outcomes protection of children, greater participation, motivation and self-esteem. However, what has been proposed is short-term, imposed, misdirected and unsupported by decades of evidence of what works and particularly, what patently doesn¹t work. To make impositions on functional as well as supposedly dysfunctional communities make even less sense.

It is, of course, difficult for anyone to speak out as it is so easy to brand them as indifferent to the plight of abused children. It is also so easy and convenient to trample the rights of whole communities in the scramble to remedy a situation that has been known and ignored for at least the last ten years and has it origins 200 years ago.

Let¹s leave aside our cynicism about why this issue suddenly needs such focus and closely examine what is being proposed to see if it can be done and if it will work. First though, a word about situations where perceptions of child sex abuse may in fact be children exposed to sexual situations leading to assumptions that the kids are directly the targets.

This is not to deny that there are not situations of direct physical sexual abuse. However, the more common situation may be less shocking.

The average household occupancy in this community is 17 people. Houses are small, miniscule by McMansion standards. People mostly sleep on foam mattresses scattered around the floors with two, three or more to a mattress. People don't like to be alone anywhere - you don't go out without a couple of family or friends - too scary. Privacy is rare and children from their first years no doubt witness sex occurring in all its manifestations much as they do in all societies where there is communal sleeping. Therefore, the knowledge even very young children have about sexual acts is very much greater than in our single person per room culture.

In those circumstances it would be understandable that some young children might play act the scenes they witness most nights. It’s also pretty lively in these homes at night with lots of people coming and going, tvs on, card games, lots of conversations and laughing. Kids don¹t get a lot of sleep sometimes. And it is pretty exciting with half a dozen brothers, sisters, cousins in your bed. If some of those brothers, sisters, cousins happen to be at the age of sexual awakening naturally there will be lots of ’investigation¹ and that may involve very young children. Not a good thing, but when you see how and why it arises you have an insight into how to begin to address it. It¹s hard to see how medical examinations will help, easy to see how improving housing will. Certainly pornography doesn¹t help yet we have been slow to do anything about it anywhere. Parent education and support is a big one too the collapse of communities has eroded parents’ knowledge and authority. Dysfunction is passed from one generation to the next. Alcohol and other drugs are in the mix and need addressing see below.

So what are the proposals for this emergency of the last decades? Will they work? And if not these proposals, what?

1. Compulsory health checks for all aboriginal children under 16. Doctors and health clinics currently struggle to cope with the burden of chronic disease and primary health care needs. There are severe shortages of all medical staff in remote areas, just as there are in most rural towns across Australia. To draft in the legion of extra staff to conduct these tests requires simple things like accommodation there are no hotels, motels, no available rooms so it will require a building program or a tent city a building program is hardly within the emergency response time proposed. If its hard enough to attract medical staff with current incentives, the prospect of tent city is an unusual strategy to incline minds towards volunteering. So send in the army for maximum publicity, minimum impact.

Medical examination is one tool in identifying sexual abuse, patient and sensitive inquiry a more likely successful one. In many NT communities English is the second, sometimes third or fourth language spoken and not well understood by most people. Effective inquiry requires that the investigator not only speaks the primary language of those being investigated, but speaks it so well and understands the cultural environment so well as to be able to interpret the nuances of oral communication. And what do we do on discovering evidence of possible sexual abuse/activity?

Remove them from these situations? Our foster care system for indigenous children is already at the point of collapse due to lack of places. There is no foster care in remote communities another branch of the family steps in but there are 17 or more in their household too! Do we reopen Colebrook and similar institutions of the past? Probably not a good idea.
Intervene in the family situation? Ah counselling . well yes Mal and John, do we have legions of culturally attuned social workers able to speak an Aboriginal language (at least one of the 13 dialects in this community) and ready to fly in to remote communities with sufficient on-the-ground knowledge to be able to understand the dynamics of the family and to know the best option for the child, motivated to stay in a tent city, and self-assured enough to feel protected from the anger of parents and relatives?

2. Linking welfare payments to school attendance in the long run not such a bad idea but to simply impose it in a short time frame ignores the inability of the education system to cope and the reality of many children who are not attending for very understandable reasons if you don¹t get much sleep the night before because of all the people partying in your room, if you are too shamed to go to school because you don¹t have adequate clothes compared to those who are at school (because you share all your clothes with everyone else your size in the house), if you¹re hungry in the morning and there¹s nothing in the house ’cause all those people eat anything as soon as its bought and anyway you can¹t store it if the fridge isn¹t working and no-one knows how to fix it. And your parents don¹t understand the importance of school they never went either.

Who will act as the truancy officers? The teachers are great for building trust and rapport and great for personal safety too. The police - they are going to be both very busy and very unpopular and at the moment community police spend a lot of their time cultivating trust and cooperation as they know that force will never control a community. Well then, let¹s employ truancy officers - that would be a popular job likely to attract very suitable characters into a traumatized community wouldn¹t it? Don¹t fantasize that you could get community people to do this they would be even more at risk of reprisal than would an outsider.

If all school-aged kids did all turn up on the same day here, there are nowhere near enough classrooms, chairs, teachers and education resources.

The school needs to double in size. Right John, lets fly in a whole bunch of teachers but where do they stay? Tent city? And where do they teach?

And where are they now because the education system has been trying to recruit them for the last 10 years. Let’s getting cracking with the building program, the training of teachers who want to work out here, the support for them doing what must be the most challenging teaching job in Australia. We might get somewhere in about 5 years minimum.

Education is central to improving Aboriginal communities. At present many community organizations struggle to find Aboriginal people with the skills and commitment to work in them. Sadly, after 50 years of schooling, training and apprenticeshipping there are very few young local Aboriginal people working in full wage paying jobs most are in work-for-the-dole CDEP positions and earning a ’top up¹ for extra hours worked beyond the required 20 per week. CDEP promotes underemployment but it successfully disguises the high levels of unemployment in communities so Mal and John can quote a figure of only 13% unemployment for Indigenous Australians those of you who have visited remote communities - do you believe that? There are some older Aboriginal people who trained in the seventies and eighties who do have the skills and are the Health Workers, Rangers, Works Supervisors of the community. However, they are retiring, getting sick, dying from the burdens of responsibility for their communities. There are so few younger ones coming through to replace them. In this community there are training positions leading to full paid work in most organizations health, council, services, retail, industry and all struggle to get anyone local to apply, let alone complete. Balanders (whitefellas) do most of the work. Again, the reasons are complex and require long-term solutions. Attending, prospering in and completing schooling is the key. Blaming is no solution and only serves to undermine any remaining self-confidence a community may have. Force simply will not work.

3. Banning pornography not too many arguments there, but hey, that opens up a good black market doesn¹t it and with the roads open due to abolition of the permits system, there looks to be a few bucks to be made there. And let¹s not believe trafficking in pornography will be done only by Aboriginal people - there are plenty of very dodgy whitefellas in the Outback and Top End frontier land seems to attract them.

4. Banning alcohol on the surface it looks promising but our experience over the last half century of dry communities is that:-
**People leave to drink in towns and cities, sometimes leaving children to be looked after by already overburdened extended family. Those who leave are often young to middle-age and who should be the backbone of the community.
**Black markets for alcohol, gunga, kava, petrol and other drugs quickly develop.
**Alcohol remains that elusive substance to be consumed in as great a quantity and at as great a speed as possible because it is expensive, precious, illicit and it does quell the physical, emotional and spiritual hunger, if only briefly.

Rather, we need programs that encourage responsible consumption of alcohol, where there are rewards for sensible drinking and sanctions for irresponsible drinking. We should also encourage (not impose) non-drinking as a best option (wouldn¹t that be a challenge to the alcohol industry in mainstream society). This community has one of the best models I have seen it would of course be a lot better if it had resources to back it up. Here, you can apply for a permit to drink up to two cartons of beer a fortnight, or 8 bottles of wine (for us balanders). You start off on light beer and if you go OK on that you can apply for full-strength after three months. If you bugger up any violence, breech of other rules (such as sharing with people on a ban), neglect, missing work too much, etc., you lose your permit for three months and have to reapply a committee of balanders and locals make the decisions. It¹s not perfect but is a realistic attempt to encourage responsible patterns of drinking. It¹s a long-term process at the moment the role modelling around alcohol consumption is very negative how can kids grow up with a different relationship to alcohol when all they see is binge drinking or their parents leaving them to go and drink in town.

Alcohol is not going away anytime soon so somehow and sometime Aboriginal people are going to have to learn other ways to deal with it.

5. Taking control of Aboriginal land and abolishing the permit system ahah, are we finally getting to the real agenda? Many Aboriginal people believe so and the evidence for them rests with the decision to abolish the permit system. It makes no sense to them to open communities up to a whole lot more people wandering in and out. Trafficking in alcohol, drugs, pornography and sex suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. It certainly makes no sense if indeed it is a “crisis” normally a time when restrictions are imposed, not lifted. Look at our response to terrorism.

In their announcements Johnny and Mal talked vaguely of removing some of the rights of Traditional Owners, instituting different rent arrangements in remote communities (as distinct from outstations or homelands), moving towards individual land ownership. We all know that relationship to land is the defining difference between Indigenous and mainstream culture. There may be a case for changing some land arrangements in some places. However, there is little evidence available to encourage Aboriginal people to trust Johnny on this one. And there is ample evidence of the conservative agenda to deny the special rights and place of Aboriginal people in Australia .

One would hope that they will treat each community individually as there is such a diversity of experience and relationship in the different parts of Australia some communities may lend themselves to conversion to individual landholdings, in others it could spell the destruction of all traditional relationships and cultural values. Communities in Arnhem Land are very different to Noel Pearson’s home community on Cape York. Here language is alive, culture is practiced every day. The Queensland Government of the past had a conscious and largely successful policy of eradicating language and much culture heritage.

The latest calls to arms for volunteers send shivers through communities - the last thing needed are ill-informed, ill-prepared and ill-supported hordes of volunteers descending on these communities to peddle their own brands of concern, judgement and condescension. You can't say this situation has not been known about for years - genuine volunteers are or have been here already.

There are solutions you have no doubt picked some of them up in the course of reading this. There are many more suggested by others more knowledgeable than me. Solutions require patience and cooperation, are long-term, difficult, expensive and achievable. We need a national commitment beyond the electoral cycle.

Please note these thoughts of mine follow barely a month in residence here I don¹t profess to have all the answers, some of what I say may well be misinformed but I, at least, am prepared to stand corrected. If you are in a position to speak out about this situation or to inform others, please grasp it.

Andrew Biven
C/- Malabam Health Board
PO Box 136
Maningrida NT 0822
Phone: Home (08) 8979 5755
Work (08) 8979 5772

Smash the “Iraq” solution to indigenous problems

Proving yet again that he is the worst Prime Monster in Australian history, John Howard has seized on the deplorable state of remote aboriginal communities to once again play the race card prior to a federal election.

British imperialism invaded the aboriginal lands of Australia from 1788 onwards. Violence, or the threat of violence, was the core factor in the “settlement” of Australia by the British.

Indigenous Australians carry with them on a daily basis the devastating effects of the loss of their land.

With the release of the report Little Children Are Sacred, the Prime Monster has found a way of grabbing the moral high ground from his Labor opponent (are they really in different parties?) Kevin Rudd.

Howard’s response to the report on the sexual abuse of aboriginal children is like his craven support for the US imperialist invasion of Iraq. Things can be settled by the imposition of force from outside. There is no need to respect or understand the viewpoint of those whom we are “saving” – might makes right!

And so we have the first contingent of Federal police - to be joined by members of the armed forces – “farewelled” from Canberra as they leave for remote Northern Territory aboriginal communities. It’s like farewelling the Sudan Contingent in 1885 (see left).

Then Aboriginal Affairs Minister Brough, who has an armed forces background, tried to calm fears of what might happen when the taskforce arrives by declaring that the first task will be to “secure the sites”. Isn’t this what we did so brilliantly in Vietnam, and now Iraq and Afghanistan? It is language that is appropriate to a state of war with a foreign power, and not to the processes required for solving problems in indigenous communities within our own country.

Howard is imposing two “invasives” on indigenous communities: personally invasive body inspections of children under 16, and territorially invasive practices of denying indigenous communities the right to traditional lands and who can enter them.

Behind all of this stand the giant mining and other companies who want to have unfettered access to aboriginal lands.

It is shameful that a Government that states its intention to protect aboriginal children from paedohiles, sly grog merchants, dope and porn peddlers immediately removes the permit system that enabled aboriginal communities to have some say on who entered their communities.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Victory by Teachers on WorkCover

Sleepy Hollow has been active the last couple of weeks!

First, the nurses lodged a claim for a 14% pay rise over 2 years and were given the South Australian Government’s “best offer” of 10.5% over 3 years. Public opinion, already firmly behind the nurses, became more strongly pro-nurses when it was revealed that State pollies would get an automatic 6.7% per year flow-on pay rise following that granted to Federal pollies.

At about the same time, teachers began a campaign (see earlier posts) against cuts to education, ambulance officers placed a ban on charging people for their services following a breakdown in their wage negotiations, dentists in the State dental services slapped a ban on charging patients for services for the same reason, and psychiatrists in public hospitals filled out mass letters of resignation as part of their dispute which includes the employment of 15 extra psychiatrists to offset workload problems.

Now it has been announced by the Premier that the WorkCover levy will not proceed.
This 11th hour decision was announced as final plans were being made by teachers and schools for tomorrow’s strike, supported by more than 80% of AEU members.

This is a great initial victory for teachers and parents in their campaign to stop cuts in public education. However, we need to bear in mind that the WorkCover levy represented about 10% ($16.9m) of the total savings ($170.3m) required over four years. And only $104m of the "savings" were actually identified in any case - there's still $64m in cuts as yet unidentified and unannounced. As an example of these, schools are just discovering that the "Security" and "Fire" lines in their Repairs and Maintenance Statements - previously paid by the Government - will now be passed onto schools for payment. This could be anywhere from $6000-$10,000 per year. We have to be vigilant that the Government does not pass on what it expected to be saving by getting schools to pay for WorkCover into other charges and levies on schools.

The AEU Executive has announced that in the light of today’s announcement by the Premier, tomorrow’s strike will be postponed, and that the Government will have until August 17 to negotiate in good faith around other elements in the cuts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

CD Review: Ry Cooder, "My Name Is Buddy"

Any song that begins with the lines:

Down on the farm we had a pig
J Edgar was his name

is OK with me.

And any CD that has a song that begins with those lines is OK with me too.

I’m talking about Ry Cooder’s newie, My Name Is Buddy. Set during the Depression of the 30’s, it’s a three-way combination of Woody Guthrie’s union and children’s songs, Neil Young’s thematic/concept CD Greendale, and Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions.

And none of its songs would sound out of place in that eclectic mix that is Bob Dylan’s weekly Theme Time Radio Hour program.

Let’s judge the CD by its cover first. The only clue on the front is a pencil drawing of a cat. This is Buddy Red Cat, the central figure in the series of songs on the CD, and also the protagonist in the little children’s story book that is part of the CD’s packaging. (There is one short chapter in the book complementing each song on the CD.)

Buddy is joined by traveling companions Lefty Mouse and the blind Reverend Tom Toad (a nod in the direction of Tom Joad from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath).

It is the accidental coming together of Buddy and Lefty that provides us with our first sense of political direction. Buddy has to overcome his narrow upbringing which taught him to stick with his own kind. But in giving Lefty shelter in a storm (my nod in the direction of Dylan), Buddy gets some lessons in life:

“I never knew anything about unions and solidarity before I met Lefty. Back home, you just worked all your life and died poor….Lefty showed me we have to work together in this world if we want to get something done and make things better for everybody.”

Buddy gets caught up in a strike by zinc miners, hearing some singing that he thought might be a birthday party:

It was miners and their families
They had left the mine that day
Walked out for safe conditions,
On strike for decent pay.

He gets thrown in jail with the miners, then released, then jumps back in through a window to rejoin the singing of miners’ songs.

There is reference to a brief love affair with a “little union kitty” named Nellie, who spends all winter on the Ladies’ Garment Workers picket line.

The chapter that accompanies the lament called “The Dying Truck Driver” begins:

“The American worker-citizen is fed a daily diet of garbage and lies that makes him sick. Lefty Mouse likes to think of the power elite as a bunch of garbage collectors in reverse…”

The song relates how Buddy, Lefty and the Rev. Tom Toad making their way up Highway 99 come across a dying truck driver by the side of the road. They suspect he may have been done in by either a vigilante gang or a ranch-boss, but he tells them that it was the meatloaf special he had just eaten in a roadside diner. They revive him with whiskey and join him for the trip to Frisco town, singing:

Now the working man must be well-warned
Whenever headlines scream
“Your rights must yield, the bombs must fall
To save democracy”
The flag they fly, their stew of lies
Served up at voting time
Like poison under the gravy
On Highway 99.

“Red Cat Till I Die” is a song about staying loyal to who and what you are, sticking to your politics no matter what. “One Cat, One Vote, One Beer” references John Lee Hooker’s classic “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” and attacks (contemporary) intereference with the voting process in the US. “Cardboard Avenue” is structured a bit like an abridged version of Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and is a tribute to the American underdog.

The CD’s 17 tracks pay more than one tribute to the pioneers of the musical Left, including the cowboy junkie Hank Williams. “Three Chords and the Truth” sings the praises of Joe Hill, Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger (Seeger plays banjo on “J Edgar”) - for all three, see below.

Perhaps more than anything, the CD pays tribute, although there is no acknowledgement of this, to Cooder’s parents, supporters of the Communist Party of the USA who Cooder has previously spoken of as having introduced him as an infant to the music that influenced his life.

A great album at a critical time!

(Left: The body of Joe Hill, executed by the state on false charges, but really for his labour agitation and union songs)

(Above: Great singer, great communist Paul
Robeson, picketing for civil rights)

(Right: Folk singer Pete Seeger, testifying before McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee hearings which sought to persecute communists and other progressive activists in the USA)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joe MacDonald's Statement on Refusing to Resign from the ALP

Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd has demanded the resignation from the party of CFMEU Western Australia Branch Assistant State Secretary Joe McDonald for refusing to leave a building site, and for swearing at a boss.

Rudd is to be thanked for the line that he has drawn between himself and genuine working class leaders in the ALP. There is no doubt that some of those leaders are still convinced that the ALP is the party of Labour, and that the Liberals are the party of Capital. They have an admirable loyalty towards what they see as "their" parliamentary party.

But the ALP was never a genuine party of the working class, even when it had its famous "socialist plank" in its policy platform.

As Lenin said, Australia is a rather peculiar place where the Conservative party is called the Liberal Party, and the liberal party of the bourgeoisie is called the Labor Party.

Events are proving that now, more than ever before, Australian workers need a genuine party of their own, one that is free to pursue the interests of the workers without commitment to the political institution of capitalism, Parliament, and beyond the confines of the economic system of private ownership of the means of production.

McDonald's statement follows:

June 21, 2007:

"On an average one worker is killed on a construction site every week.

“Both of the jobs where I was filmed were plagued by safety issues and continue to be.

“This whole debate is a huge distraction from the real challenge confronting building workers.

“I hope that when Kevin Rudd speaks of zero tolerance on lawlessness he means that bosses who kill workers with unsafe work practices will be jailed and workers who have had their entitlements stripped away by employers with the backing of the Howard Government will see justice.

“That is why I joined the Labor Party and why I would still like to see them elected at the next elections.

“Since coming to power, the Howard government has put in place the most draconian set of industrial laws in the Western world.

“Building workers now face massive fines for taking industrial action even when that action is to fix safety problems and they can be jailed for six months for refusing to answer questions from the ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commission) about what happens at a union meeting.

“Yet a negligent boss who kills a worker or robs entitlements from his employees still retains his right to silence.

“It is an appalling double standard, something the public has come to expect from the Howard government.

“I would like to tell the Labor Party how hard it is to represent workers in the building and construction industry under the Howard government's industrial laws.

"It's a story I intend telling them during the expulsion proceedings they are going to bring against me.

“For this reason I am not going to resign.

“These are the real issues facing workers in the building and construction industry.

"Whether I remain in the Labor Party or not, I will continue to campaign to protect the rights and entitlements of building workers.”

What CFMEUs McDonald said to the boss

Under Federal Government legislation, building industry unions had their rights of entry to construction sites removed. They had to give notice to the bosses in advance, and gain approval, for meetings to be held with members on site. As the banner above says, "Defiance Becomes Our Duty, When Injustice Becomes Law".
The CFMEUs Joe McDoanld has exemplified the great working class spirit of defiance and has attempted to hold meetings on building sites in Western Australia despite the injustice of the law.
This transcript of a radio broadcast depicts the reality of class struggle in the building industry. Opposition Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, in calling for McDonald's expulsion from the ALP becuase of this incident, has shown which side he is on.

M - Union tape released by court [This is the print version of story]

PM - Wednesday, 20 June , 2007 18:21:33
Reporter: David Weber

MARK COLVIN: A Perth court has released a new video which allegedly shows a union official threatening a construction boss.The footage shows CFMEU Assistant State Secretary Joe McDonald calling the builder a "thieving, parasite dog" and warning him his days are "numbered".The judge agreed to release the footage after an application from media organisations.David Weber was in the Perth Supreme Court today. A warning: by the nature of the story, this report contains crude language.

DAVID WEBER: The ABCC (Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner) video recording is one of two that show Joe McDonald confronting managers on worksites.Mr McDonald is holding what appears to be a meeting of union members at a site on St George's Terrace earlier this year.Company managers arrive and can be heard asking Mr McDonald and another union official to leave.(video excerpt)

JOE MCDONALD: I just want five minutes to meet them about union business. You… anyone here got a problem? Shut up, fat man! Anybody here got a problem?

COMPANY OFFICIAL: I'm the occupier of the site, so I'm asking you to leave.

JOE MCDONALD: Anybody got a problem with a union meeting?

COMPANY OFFICIAL: I'm asking you to leave the site.

JOE MCDONALD: Anybody got a problem with a union meeting?(shouts of "no" from workers)JOE MCDONALD: We'll go have a union meeting, leave us and we'll get out of the way.

COMPANY OFFICIAL: Joe, this is a notice for you to leave the site. I'm asking you to leave the site.

JOE MCDONALD: We'll get out of the way.

COMPANY OFFICAL: Please take the notice and leave the site.

JOE MCDONALD: You just… get the fuck…

COMPANY OFFICIAL: You don't… you don't… you don't have right of entry for here, Joe. You don't have any right…

JOE MCDONALD: It's a union meeting.

COMPANY OFFICIAL: …You're trespassing. Mick and Doug, I need you to leave the site, you don't have right of entry here.

JOE MCDONALD: Fix your safety, mate we're… (inaudible)(end video excerpt)

DAVID WEBER: Amid the commotion, there's joking and laughter.However, the company's management can clearly be heard repeatedly asking Joe McDonald to leave the site. (video excerpt)

JOE MCDONALD: Let's go for a safety walk… (inaudible) …we'll show you how bad your safety is (inaudible).

COMPANY OFFICIAL: You haven't followed… (inaudible) you need to leave the site.

JOE MCDONALD: Anybody here feel threatened by the union meeting?

COMPANY OFFICIAL: Joe, I'm asking you to leave

JOE MCDONALD: Shut up! Will you shut up? You're interrupting me all the time, you…COMPANY OFFICIAL: You are illegally here. You're trespassing…

JOE MCDONALD: Has anybody here got a problem with…(shouts of "no" from workers)(inaudible)

JOE MCDONALD: They don't want you, they want me. They hate you.(laughter)

COMPANY OFFICIAL: … please leave the project.

JOE MCDONALD: If you are hated more than me, you've got fucking problems.

COMPANY OFFICIAL: Joe, I'm asking you to leave the project.(end video excerpt)

DAVID WEBER: Then, Joe McDonald agrees to leave. But before he does, he makes a gesture towards either a company official or an ABCC employee. He says his days are numbered, and he'll be working for a fast-food company before too long.(video excerpt)

COMPANY OFFICIAL: Joe, I'm asking you again. Leave the site.

JOE MCDONALD: (inaudible) …but I'm not going because Jello here said so but I really have got some important union business to do. I'm quite happy to go under the walkway down there and have the meeting if you are, or we'll have it here. I'm easy. This fucking thieving, parasite dog's days is numbered. He'll be working at Hungry Jack's when I'm still a union official.(end video excerpt)

DAVID WEBER: Broad Construction is in the Supreme Court seeking orders to ban Joe McDonald from entering its building sites. Justice Rene Le Miere has already granted an interim injunction, but last week he refused to allow the videos to played in court because he'd already seen them in private. He believed there was no need for them to be made public.Media organisations appealed and today, the judge agreed to release them. The Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey says it's a clear case of intimidation.

JOE HOCKEY: Well this sort of behaviour is unacceptable in modern Australia. Kevin Rudd has to stand up to these union thugs. This union is the biggest donor to the Labor Party in Australia. More than $6 million comes from these sort of people to Kevin Rudd's Labor Party. He has to stand up to these people, disaffiliate the CFMEU and walk away from these union bosses.

DAVID WEBER: Mr Hockey believes Kevin Rudd has set a precedent in relation to the behaviour of union bosses.He says the Labor leader must take similar action.

JOE HOCKEY: Kevin Rudd must react to this. He can't throw out Dean Mighell and turn back the ETU's funding in the Labor Party and accept Joe McDonald, Kevin Reynolds, Noonan and all that mob, and accept the CFMEU's money.

MARK COLVIN: The Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey ending David Weber's report.

Mighell Defends CFMEU's McDonald

Electrical Trades Union leader and former ALP member, Dean Mighell, has sprung to the defence of Joe McDonald.

Mr McDonald is facing expulsion from the Labor Party after a Perth court released a tape showing him abusing an employer on a Perth construction site.

Mr Mighell has told ABC radio that Labor is suffering from a John Howard induced identity crisis.

He says Mr Rudd still doesn't understand unions or the passionate commitment of militant union leaders like Mr McDonald.

"If he understood the battle we face and how hard it is to represent workers .. and people like Joe and I were very passionate," he said.

"We love representing workers and that's what we do with a passion and we'll fight to the death for them."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Collective Bargaining OK for Bosses but not for Workers

This morning’s copy of the Murdoch rag the Advertiser once again features ads for government assistance with collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining has long been one of the basic rights of working people, a right won from the capitalists in bloody struggles of the past.

In Australia, those rights were taken away from many workers when they were forced onto individual contracts, the un-Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), legislated for by the Federal Government.

Australia has rightly been criticized by the International Labour Organisation for destroying the right to collective bargaining by workers.

(Interestingly, the Canadian Supreme Court has just handed down a 6-1 decision confirming that the Canadian Charter of Rights upholds the right of workers there to collectively bargain with their bosses. Australia does not have a Bill of Rights.)

In a piece of breathtaking hypocrisy, this same federal Government is now lauding collective bargaining - for businesses!- to the skies.

Their ad reads in part: “Collective bargaining enables businesses of all sizes to work together cooperatively. Small businesses can benefit by joining together to negotiate with a larger business, who is their common customer or supplier.”

Previously, the Trade Practices Act, 1974, prohibited companies engaging in boycotts as part of bargaining. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission pointed out: “A collective boycott occurs when a group of competitors agree not to acquire goods or services from, or not to supply goods or services to, a business with whom the group is negotiating, unless the business accepts the terms and conditions offered by the group.”

The Government has recently changed the Trade Practices Act to make possible collective bargaining by businesses. Hence the ads.

Don’t expect Labor to do much if it wins office in this year’s Federal elections. As I write, the Party is demanding the expulsion of yet another trade union official in the construction industry where the bosses regularly kill and main workers (see my earlier post on Dean Mighell and the Labor Party). This official had the temerity to resist being thrown off a building site, and had called the building site supervisor a “fucking thieving parasite dog”.

As noted by Charles Power, a workplace relations specialist in, “Far from ‘tearing up’ the Work Choices reforms, the proposals contained in the Labor Party’s ‘Forward with Fairness’ policy paper accept many of the principal features of the Coalition’s industrial relations model.”

See also former South Australian Trades and labour Council Secretary Chris White’s take on Labor policy here.

Australian workers have a proud history of struggle. Some new chapters are about to be written.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Xie Tao “Adopted” by Imperialists

Xie Tao, the author of the “Preface” under rebuttal in the article “Democratic Socialism is Capitalism”, has been noticed by the imperialists. Reuters, the capitalist news agency, brought him to the notice of the English-speaking world on May 6, 2007 in an article titled “In China a call for democracy stirs secretive storm” (here). The article ends with that tactic long-favoured by bourgeois journalists: the anonymous “insider” source who, in this case, indicates that there is widespread support for what is going to become “further calls for reform”.

On 16 May, a certain Li Datong, who is mentioned in the previous piece as a “think-tank researcher who advocates reform”, wrote a piece on the open Democracy website (see here), extolling Xie Tao’s “revolutionary credentials” and further pushing his “reform” agenda.

On May 26, The Washington Post Foreign Service ran a piece entitled “China’s Reform debate Surfaces in 2 Essays” (here). This piece referred to the inspiration gained by Xie Tao from “Northern Europe’s democratic socialist systems” (sic.) and noted that calls for “reforms” were encountering opposition within the CCP leadership.

On June 4, the Chinese version of AsiaWeekly, a Newsweek-style magazine, published an interview with the editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, the publisher of Xie Tao’s piece (see here).

Naturally, Xie Tao has also been picked up by media in Taiwan and by Falungons’s Epoch Times media group.

The so-called “reforms” advocated by Xie Tao and others are designed to allow the imperialists and the newly-emerged Chinese capitalists to have their own political parties so as to further erode the socialist remnants of the Chinese economy, and to further disenfranchise the proletarian and peasant masses.

I am slowly translating Wu Bin’s rebuttal of Xie Tao, which is a Marxist-Leninist critique of Xie’s “democratic socialist” worldview (see below). This was posted on the Mao Flag website in China.

For the moment, the current CCP leadership also opposes Xie Tao’s “reforms”, and has just published an article entitled “Democratic Socialism is not Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” on the Chinese-language page of its “News of the Communist Party of China” website, (the English-language page is here, but the article I am referring to has not been put on this version.)

Xie Tao’s “adoption” by the imperialists is proof that his proposals do not serve socialism in China or anywhere.

Democratic Socialism is Capitalism Part 3

(This is Section 3 of Wu Bing's rebuttal of an article by Xie Tao. For the Introduction, and Parts 1-2, scroll down).
3. The superiority of socialism over capitalism cannot be denied

In the Preface, Mr Xie Tao makes no secret of his praise for or defence of capitalism, and plays down the bourgeois world view and political stand of the denial of socialism. He attacks Soviet and Chinese socialism, founded by Lenin and Mao Zedong, as so-called “violent socialism” that pales into insignificance by comparison with democratic socialism. He says: “Seeing the vigorous development of our capitalist economy, some call out in alarm ‘It’s a disaster, capitalism is restored in China!’ If there was no slavery in ancient times, there’d be no modern Europe today. Without the material wealth created by capitalism, socialism here would be forever a fantasy, forever at the level of the lowest common denominator.”

He says: “Owing to its ‘equality of poverty’, bringing about socialism “creates several decades of stagnation and decline in production”, “the so-called ‘superiority of socialism’ is always only partially emerging, smashing the ‘socialist’ signboard etc etc”.

Indeed, the development of capitalist economy has created the material conditions for the realisation of socialism; it can also be said that capitalism is the mother of socialism.

At quite an early stage, Marxism has further elaborated in relation to this truth. The goal of Mr Xie Tao is not in this passage - it is that while thoroughly negating violent revolution, to completely deny the superiority of socialism, to deny the magnificent achievements of socialism. Isn’t Mr Xie Tao saying that for humanity, the “model competition” for the most outstanding social system in the long run, is to hear their words and watch their deeds, and by comparison make rational judgements and decisions?

Ok then, let’s use historical facts to make the judgement.

Firstly, the socialist countries over a number of decades of speedy economic development and magnificent achievements, have fully demonstrated the superiority of the social productive forces of the system of public ownership. Take the Soviet Union and China as an example. The Soviet Union began the implementation of Five Year Plans in 1928, and by 1938 had increased production by over 7.5 times, reaching first place in Europe and second place in the world, providing the important material guarantee for the victory of Soviet troops in the anti-Fascist Second World War. During the war, the losses suffered by the Soviet Army compared to those of England, France and other Western countries, were much more serious, but the speed with which it restored its post-war economy was much quicker than them. Prior to the October Revolution, Russia’s gross value of industrial output was only 6.9% of that of the U.S. By the 1980’s it was more than 80% of that of the U.S. Other socialist countries also obtained a relatively large growth in their national economies. The achievements of socialism in China over several decades attracted worldwide attention. Capitalism was carried on in old China for nearly 100 years, with the result that national capital only occupied 20% of the fixed capital of the national industry, transportation and shipping industries. The major part of China’s economic lifeline and finances and banking were controlled by imperialism and bureaucrat-capitalism. Up until the eve of Liberation, national industry was in a hopeless situation, and not only did factories in the chemical, electrical and other departments go bankrupt one after the other, but even the spinning and weaving and flour industries that Chinese national capital depended on for its growth were also smothered and could not gain a foothold. At the time of the Liberation of the whole nation in 1949, we received from the hands of the Guomindang, an economy in collapse, a shambles in which people could not earn a living. Many imperialist elements asserted that China would be unable to heal the terrible wounds created by war, and would be incapable of changing the stagnant conditions of the last couple of centuries. However, it only took two years to restore industrial and agricultural production to the highest pre-war levels. Then we started planned economic development, winning our fastest development. From 1949-1978, the total output value of our country’s heavy industry grew by 90.6 times compared to that before Liberation. The total output value of light industry grew 19.8 times, total agricultural output increased by 2.4 times. Industry’s fixed assets grew by more than 20 times. The total output value of industry and agriculture over 30 years averaged an annual increase of 9.5%. In less than 30 years we covered the distance that it took many capitalist countries half a century or even 100 years to traverse, and had established the beginnings of an independent category of a relatively complete national economic system and by the 1980s already had more than 300,000 industrial and communications enterprises. Not only is Old China’s economy unable to match all of these, it cannot even be done by the capitalist world. Not only are the economic achievements of the two great socialist nations, the Soviet Union and China, huge, moreover the entire socialist world tasted the superiority of socialism. Up until the 1980’s, with an original economic basis of almost one third of the world’s total population, the majority of which were all relatively backward socialist countries, the gross value of industrial output had already reached 2/5 of the world’s gross output value, and national income had already reached 1/3 of the total world national income. How can it be said that these facts are “overshadowed”? Comparing the two types of system, it is not the socialist countries that are “overshadowed”; rather, it is the capitalist countries.

Secondly, what is even more important in the superiority of the socialist system over capitalism is that the socialist system eliminated the bourgeoisie’s exploitation and oppression, and the working class and the broad mass of labouring people truly obtained democracy and freedom and had people’s rights and truly became masters of the country, controlling their own destiny. Is this Mr Xie Tao’s so-called “fantasy”? A “Utopia”? No, this is an absolutely true fact.

Thirdly, the existence and development of socialism stops and defeats imperialist wars of aggression and is a mighty force and mainstay for protecting world peace. In the Second World War, the people of the Soviet Union made the biggest contributions and greatest sacrifices in fighting against German, Italian and Japanese fascism.

In the US-initiated wars of invasion in Korea and Vietnam, the Chinese people stood together with the Korean and Vietnamese peoples and crushed the imperialist aggressors and safeguarded Asian and world peace. In the more than half a century since the ending of World War Two, the existence and development of the socialist countries and the emerging strength of the Third World supported by them have been the decisive factor in determining that there has been no new world war. This could not be imagined if there was no socialism.

Fourthly, with the rise of the socialist countries, their great historical significance lies in the strength of their example, allowing the people of the whole world to see the light, to see hope. With the vigorous promotion and support of the socialist countries, the national democratic liberation movements of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples have developed vigorously, seriously attacking and shattering the imperialist and colonial systems. After the Second World War, more than 100 colonial countries achieved national independence and liberation, and the Third World quickly became a great political force that the world could not ignore. Today people often say that this phase of history is the so-called “Cold War”. The reason why this “Cold War” phase emerged, looked at in a certain sense, is precisely explained by the emergence and development of the socialist countries and the destruction of the pattern of world imperialism, leading to a serious attack on and weakening of the political, economic and military strength and ideology of imperialism, to a great reduction in their spheres of influence, forcing them over a long period of time to not dare to act rashly or in a self-serving manner.

Fifthly, we obviously completely affirm the historical inevitability of the replacement of capitalism with socialism, and at the same time completely affirm the superiority of socialism overt capitalism; we also need to keep a clear head and remain sober-minded. On the one hand we must see that socialism is still in the initial stage of communism, still needs to be constantly perfected and needs to constantly make progress. As Marx pointed out in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, owing to the fact that “it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” So, as it advances along the road to the higher stage of communism, it still needs to continue the revolution, continue the struggle. On the other hand, owing to the fact that socialism first of all wins victory in the relatively economically backward countries, the economic basis of the socialist countries compared to the developed capitalist countries which have had several centuries of growth, is therefore quite weak and still pursuing a higher stage. In addition, owing to the existence of imperialism and class struggle, the road stretching out in front of the socialist countries is covered with prickles and thorns and hazardous tests. The struggle over “who defeats who” between the two social systems and the two main classes has still not finished nor has it relaxed; it will be conducted intensively.

Sixthly, in Mr Xie Tao’s view, the Soviet Union and other socialist countries took a path backwards, restored capitalism, and this is a so-called “defeat for violent revolution”, “violent socialism is at the end of its tether”, but it is a “victory for democratic socialism” which is “changing the world”. This is purely a prejudice of the bourgeoisie. It is clear that with a slight understanding of the ABCs of Marxism and of historical facts, that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the drastic changes in Eastern Europe certainly is not a defeat of the socialist system itself, even less is it a fault of Marxist theory; in fact, it’s just the opposite, it is precisely because of the betrayal of Marxism by the revisionist cliques in the Communist Parties of the original socialist countries and their departure from the correct path and the correct line of socialism, giving rise to tragedy and great social regression for the defeated parties and nations. On this question, aren’t the revisionists and the cream of the reformists in our country also in there shouting out loudly that the socialism of the Soviet Union and our country was not real socialism, but so-called “Stalinism” and “the Stalin model”? In the same year that Chairman Mao directed a powerful rebuff at the Krushchov renegade revisionist clique’s total repudiation of Stalin, he incisively pointed out: “So long as we have an all-round view of the problem, then, if we need to talk of “Stalinism”, we can say, firstly, it is communism, it is Marxism-Leninism. This is the main aspect.” (Manuscripts of Mao Zedong Since the Founding of the Nation, Vol 6 p 283-284 Chinese ed.). This passage of Chairman Mao’s was not only an objective and correct appraisal of Stalin and “Stalinism”, but moreover has firmly defended the historical status of Marxism and socialism. In addition, these “masters of reform” accused socialism in our country of being premature, of making a mess of things, saying that we needed to draw a so-called “lesson” from the economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe having failed to “move forward”, and advocating “making up the lesson missed from capitalism” and going by way of “the Caudine Forks” etc etc. Although these fallacies are all rubbish that disregards basic facts and are not even worth glancing at, this trend of thought certainly has a market in our country, and is bearing down menacingly! This is probably decided by the “big international environment” and the “small international environment”. (The Battle of the Caudine Forks occurred in 321 BC when a superior Roman force was ambushed and surrounded by the Samnites. The Samnites had the choice of freeing the Romans or of killing them all. They chose to free them, but forced them to depart by passing under a yoke, thus humiliating and demoralising them. Marx referred to this in his letter to Vera Zasulich in March 1881, when he said that the ancient form of the Russian commune, in the international environment of advanced capitalist production and technology, might enable the Russian people to leap over the Caudine Forks and proceed directly to socialism, i.e. without getting caught in, and having to proceed through, a capitalist stage, a Caudine Forks. A Uighur friend told me that the debate over whether or not China had to go through a capitalist stage had occurred in the Chinese Communist Party in the late forties and early fifties of the last century, and that Liu Shaoqi and others had argued that it should. The debate resumed at several stages in the life of the People’s Republic of China, and has re-emerged recently, with a Google search in Chinese revealing more than 134,000 hits for “Caudine Forks”. Xie Tao is here accused by Wu Bing of being amongst those who are arguing that China needs to go through the Caudine Forks of capitalism before it can begin to build socialism – Trans.)

In short, Mr Xie Tao actively opposes and negates “violent socialism”, and truly represents the “demands for the development of the advanced productive forces”, whilst we must support and guard scientific socialism; moreover, he actively advocates so-called democratic socialism, and was basically unable to represent the “demands for the development of the advanced productive forces”; this is real capitalism and fake socialism. Therefore, putting this together leads to our topic below: where are the main expressions of the differences between socialism and capitalism?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Education Rallies Successful

Two and a half thousand teachers, parents and students crowded on to the steps of Parliament House yesterday to oppose the State Labor Government’s latest cuts to public education.

AEU President Andrew Gohl compared the huge reductions in payroll tax – demanded by big business – with what the government was taking away from schools, and declared that Labor Premier Rann had forfeited the right to be called the “Education Premier”.

Similar rallies were held in regional centres throughout the State. Two hundred rallied in Port Lincoln. A similar number, representing some 30 Riverland schools, rallied in Berri. There were large turnouts in other centres as well.

Despite the Parliament House rally being large enough to block eastbound traffic along North Terrace, it was completely ignored by the Murdoch-owned sole local daily, the aptly-named Advertiser.

Gohl told the crowd that Education Department bureaucrats had said that there was to be no negotiation over the cuts when they met with Principal organizations, yet the Minister had only just stated on radio that “the matter hadn’t been decided” and the WorkCover issue – the major source of the cuts – “is yet to be resolved”.

He said this was testimony to the pressure already applied by the decision to hold an after-hours rally, but that if the matter was not properly resolved in the next week or so, teachers would be balloted for a strike.

(The main rally in Adelaide, above, and below, in the Riverland town of Berri)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Norman Bethune and The Communist’s Daughter

As an Australian, I have always admired those who renounced the perceived comforts of their advanced capitalist country to seek out the truth of revolutionary struggles in China during the desperate years of the thirties and forties.

I sort of resented, I suppose, that our claim to a link with China was through fin-de-siecle Morrison of Peking, whereas they had Rewi Alley (New Zealand), Edgar Snow and Agnes Smedley (the US), and, of course, Norman Bethune (Canada).

Of these and other foreign friends of China, Bethune stands out because he made the ultimate sacrifice in order to serve the Chinese people, a fact noted and commemorated by Chairman Mao in the months after the Canadian’s death.

Put simply, Bethune was a doctor and a Communist.

He served in World War 1, and in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1937), where he pioneered the development of mobile blood transfusion services at the front. In 1938 he was sent by the Communist Party of Canada to China. He traveled to Yan’an and met Mao Zedong and then threw himself into the midst of the War of Resistance Against Japan, conducting hundreds of life-saving operations in his mobile field hospital.

He contracted septicemia from one such operation, and died after a brief illness.

Bethune’s own writings show his character as a Communist. The post below is one of his short writings, Wounds.

Unfortunately, none of its fine sentiments surface in the portrait of Bethune created by Canadian writer Dennis Bock in his latest novel The Communist’s Daughter.

I began reading this with great enthusiasm, and have no argument with the author’s literary style or his ability to evoke, for example, battlefield conditions in France, Spain or China.

But I do take exception to his portrayal of Bethune. The great man would not know himself as the man depicted by Bock. He would despair that there was so little of his Communist passion and conviction on display.

Instead, as Bock himself says on his website, it is a story of a “man at war with himself”. This cliché of bourgeois literature is voiced through a series of letters that this “Bethune” writes to his “daughter”.

“Bethune did not have children”, admits Bock, but the possibility was “too good to ignore”. “Good” for whom? For the real Bethune and his memory? For the causes for which he fought?

In an Acknowledgement at the end of the novel, Bock offers this justification: “the aesthetic concerns of storytelling often outweighed the more standard historical versions of the Bethune story.”

For Bock, aesthetic concerns and historical fact are in contradiction with each other.

That is because his “aesthetics” are bourgeois, whilst the historical facts of this story are on the side of the proletariat.

Instead of exploring Bethune and his role in the struggles that he supported, Bock explores the man’s supposed “internal struggle”. “Obfuscation,” he writes, “indirect truths, outright lies - they are all within Bethune’s repertoire.”

This, from an author whose “aesthetic” creation is itself an acknowledged lie: there is no daughter and the whole story is just a fabrication, book-ended, as it were, and as a major admission of Bock’s personal hostility to his subject, by the supposed writing of Lu Dingyi, a real figure in Chinese Communist history.

Bock’s “Lu Dingyi” introduces the “letters” to the reader by way of a request that members of the Chinese Communist Propaganda Department at Yan’an read them and forward recommendations for their distribution and use.

Bock’s “Lu Dingyi” casts his own judgement on the “letters” and on Bock’s “Bethune” at the close of the book when he writes to Mao Zedong, on 19 December, 1939: “…this committee has found that they (the letters) cannot be used to serve the People in their struggle against the Japanese Imperialist invaders or the Nationalist Kuomintang Army…certain of his (Bethune’s) actions and beliefs can be viewed as less than exemplary of and likely harmful to the Communist ideal, as it is so clearly and inspiringly detailed in the Chairman’s own political writings…It is advisable that these documents remains sealed…However, given the revolutionary and international importance of Doctor Bethune’s life, a brief, more idealized biography or political eulogy of the subject might prove extremely beneficial to the present war effort, and find continuity in the larger canon of the Chairman’s political and philosophical writings.”

This piece of poison kills a number of birds with one dose: firstly, it “endorses” the book’s portrayal of Bethune as significantly less than the Communist that he was in real life; secondly, it depicts Communists as people for whom the truth is not something to be sought but something to be concealed; thirdly, it reinforces the Western bourgeois stereotype of Mao as a person requiring fawning and flattery; and fourthly, and given that Mao’s eulogy for Bethune was written on December 21, 1939, it suggest that it was a duplicitous, hurried and offhand creation that Mao penned, less for his own sorrow at Bethune’s passing, and more for the expediency of an “idealized biography” that suited the war effort. Nasty commies - the end always justifies the means!

If you have the time to read this book, please do so. It is an education in the bourgeois world view.

But read also, Bethune’s Wounds (below), and Mao Zedong’s In Memory of Norman Bethune here.

(Poster: a true "daughter" of Comrade Norman Bethune!)

Wounds - by Norman Bethune

By Dr. Norman Bethune, written in 1939; published in 1940.

The kerosene lamp overhead makes a steady buzzing sound like an incandescent hive of bees. Mud walls. Mud floor. Mud bed. White paper windows. Smell of blood and chloroform. Cold. Three o'clock in the morning, December 1, North China, near Lin Chu, with the 8th Route Army. Men with wounds. Wounds like little dried pools, caked with blackbrown earth; wounds with torn edges frilled with black gangrene; neat wounds, concealing beneath the abscess in their depths, burrowing into and around the great firm muscles like a dammed-back river, running around and between the muscles like a hot stream; wounds, expanding outward, decaying orchids or crushed carnations, terrible flowers of flesh; wounds from which the dark blood is spewed out in clots, mixed with the ominous gas bubbles, floating on the fresh flood of the still-continuing secondary haemorrhage.

Old filthy bandages stuck to the skin with blood-glue. Careful. Belief moisten first. Through the thigh. Pick the leg up. Why it's like a bag, a long, loose red stocking. What kind of stocking? A Christmas stocking. Where's that fine strong rod of bone now? In a dozen pieces. Pick them out with your fingers; white as a dog's teeth, sharp and jagged. Now feel. Any more left? Yes, here. All? Yes; no, here's another piece. Is this muscle dead? Pinch it. Yes, it's dead, Cut it out. How can that heal? How can those muscles, once so strong, now so torn, so devastated, so ruined, resume their proud tension? Pull, relax. Pull, relax. What fun it was! Now that is finished. Now that's done. Now we are destroyed. Now what will we do with ourselves?

Next. What an infant! Seventeen. Shot through the belly. Chloroform. Ready? Gas rushes out of the opened peritoneal cavity. Odour of feces. Pink coils of distended intestine. Four perforations. Close them. Purse string suture. Sponge out the pelvis. Tube. Three tubes. Hard to close. Keep him warm. How? Dip those bricks into hot water.

Gangrene is a cunning, creeping fellow. Is this one alive? Yes, he lives. Technically speaking, he is alive. Give him saline intravenously. Perhaps the innumerable tiny cells of his body will remember. They may remember the hot salty sea, their ancestral home, their first food. With the memory of a million years, they may remember other tides, other oceans, and life being born of the sea and sun. It may make them raise their tired little heads, drink deep and struggle back into life again. It may do that.

And this one. Will he run along the road beside his mule at another harvest, with cries of pleasure and happiness? No, that one will never run again. How can you run with one leg? What will he do? Why, he'll sit and watch the other boys run. What will he think? He'll think what you and I would think. What's the good of pity? Don't pity him! Pity would diminish his sacrifice. He did this for the defence of China. Help him. Lift him off the table. Carry him in your arms. Why, he's as light as a child! Yes, your child, my child.

How beautiful the body is: how perfect its pads; with what precision it moves; how obedient, proud and strong. How terrible when torn. The little flame of life sinks lower and lower, and with a flicker, goes out. It goes out like a candle goes out. Quietly and gently. It makes its protest at extinction, then submits. It has its day, then is silent.

Any more? Four Japanese prisoners. Bring them in. In this community of pain, there are no enemies. Cut away that blood-stained uniform. Stop that haemorrhage. Lay them beside the others. Why, they're alike as brothers! Are these soldiers professional man-killers? No, these are amateurs-in-arms. Workman's hands. These are workers-in-uniform.

No more. Six o'clock in the morning. God, it's cold in this room. Open the door. Over the distant, dark-blue mountains, a pale, faint line of light appears in the east. In an hour the sun will be up. To bed and sleep.

But sleep will not come. What is the cause of this cruelty, this stupidity? A million workmen come from Japan to kill or mutilate a million Chinese workmen. Why should the Japanese worker attack his brother worker, who is forced merely to defend himself. Will the Japanese worker benefit by the death of the Chinese? No, how can he gain? Then, in God's name, who will gain? Who is responsible for sending these Japanese workmen on this murderous mission? Who will profit from it? How was it possible to persuade the Japanese workmen to attack the Chinese Workman - his brother in poverty; his companion in misery?

Is it possible that a few rich men, a small class of men, have persuaded a million men to attack, and attempt to destroy, another million men as poor as they? So that these rich may be richer still? Terrible thought! How did they persuade these poor men to come to China? By telling them the truth? No, they would never have come if they had known the truth. Did they dare to tell these workmen that the rich only wanted cheaper raw materials, more markets and more profit? No, they told them that this brutal war was "The Destiny of the Race," it was for the "Glory of the Emperor," it was for the "Honour of the State," it was for their "King and Country."
False. False as hell!

The agents of a criminal war of aggression, such as this, must be looked for like the agents of other crimes, such as murder, among those who are likely to benefit from those crimes. Will the 80,000,000 workers of Japan, the poor farmers, the unemployed industrial workers - will they gain? In the entire history of the wars of aggression, from the conquest of Mexico by Spain, the capture of India by England, the rape of Ethiopia by Italy, have the workers of those "victorious" countries ever been known to benefit? No, these never benefit by such wars. Does the Japanese workman benefit by the natural resources of even his own country, by the gold, the silver, the iron, the coal, the oil? Long ago he ceased to possess that natural wealth. It belongs to the rich, the ruling class. The millions who work those mines live in poverty. So how is he likely to benefit by the armed robbery of the gold, silver, iron, coal and oil from China? Will not the rich owners of the one retain for their own profit the wealth of the other? Have they not always done so?
It would seem inescapable that the militarists and the capitalists of Japan are the only class likely to gain by this mass murder, this authorized madness, this sanctified butchery. That ruling class, the true state, stands accused.

Are wars of aggression, wars for the conquest of colonies, then, just big business? Yes, it would seem so, however much the perpetrators of such national crimes seek to hide their true purpose under banners of high-sounding abstractions and ideals. They make war to capture markets by murder; raw materials by rape. They find it cheaper to steal than to exchange; easier to butcher than to buy. This is the secret of war. This is the secret of all wars. Profit. Business. Profit. Blood money.

Behind all stands that terrible, implacable God of Business and Blood, whose name is Profit. Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stand the militarists. Behind the militarists stand finance capital and the capitalist. Brothers in blood; companions in crime.
What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. they are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. They obey the law, their law, the law of property. But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners. Such men as these must perish if the human race is to continue. There can be no permanent peace in the world while they live. Such an organization of human society as permits them to exist must be abolished.
These men make the wounds.