Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, talks about the legacy of her dad on what would have been his 95th birthday with Karen. #MalcolmX #IyasahShabazz #KarenHunterShow
Love 4 the People
Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, talks about the legacy of her dad on what would have been his 95th birthday with Karen. #MalcolmX #IyasahShabazz #KarenHunterShow
Welcome to Thoughts Camera Action #ProvokingThought I learned a lot from Uncle Malcolm in this video he was truly a man of integrity who had the courage to point out the double-dealing from his own people and did not smokescreen or downplay it despite the repercussions. SUPPORT THOUGHTS CAMERA ACTION HERE:
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is Minister of Defense for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. He carries out his duties while imprisoned in the US. This interview originally appeared on his website.
As a class question, we must of course begin with distinguishing between bourgeois and proletarian forms of state power. The state is nothing but the organization of the armed force of one class over its rival class(es). The bourgeoisie, as a tiny oppressor class that exploits or marginalizes all other classes to its own benefit, organizes its institutions of state power (military, police, prisons), that exist outside and above all other classes, to enforce and preserve its dominance and rule over everyone else.
To seize and exercise state power the proletariat, as the social majority, must in turn arm itself and its class allies to enforce its own power over the bourgeoisie.
Which brings us to the substance of your question concerning what lessons we’ve learned about transitioning from bourgeois state power (the capitalist state) to proletarian state power (the socialist state). In any event it won’t be and has never been a ‘peaceful’ process, simply because the bourgeoisie will never relinquish its power without the most violent resistance; which is the very reason it maintains its armed forces.
Well, we’ve had both urban and rural models of such transition. Russia was the first urban model (although subsumed in a rural society), China was the first successful rural one. There were many other attempts, but few succeeded however.
What proved necessary in the successful cases is foremost there must be a vanguard party organized under the ideological and political line of the revolutionary proletariat. This party must work to educate and organize the masses to recognize the need, and actively take up the struggle, to seize power from the bourgeoisie.
In the urban context, (especially in the advanced capitalist countries), where the bourgeoisie’s armed forces are entrenched, this requires a protracted political approach focused on educating and organizing the masses and creating institutions of dual and alternative collective political and economic power, with armed struggle prepared for but projected into the distant future (likely as civil war).
But in the rural context, where revolutionary forces have room to maneuver because the bourgeoisie’s armed forces are much less concentrated, the masses may resort to relatively immediate armed struggle, with political work operating to keep the masses and the armed forces educated and organized, and revolutionary politics in command of the armed struggle. This was Mao Tse-tung’s contribution to revolutionary armed struggle called Peoples War, and with its mobile armed mass base areas these forces operated like a state on wheels.
But the advances of technology since the 1970s, have seen conditions change that require a reassessing of the earlier methods of revolutionary struggle and transition of state power.
The rural populations (peasantry) of the underdeveloped world who are best suited to Mao’s PW model have been shrinking, as agrobusiness has been steadily pushing them off the land and into urban areas as permanent unemployables and lumpen proletarians, where they must survive by any means possible. Then too, with their traditional role as manual laborers being increasingly replaced by machines, the proletariat in the capitalist countries in also shrinking, and they too are pushed into a mass of permanent unemployables and lumpen.
So the only class, or sub-class, whose numbers are on the rise today are this bulk of marginalized largely urban people who don’t factor into the traditional roles of past struggles, with one exception. That being the struggle waged here in US the urban centers under the leadership of the original BPP, which designated itself a lumpen vanguard party. As such the BPP brought something entirely new and decisive to the table.
As the BPP’s theoretical leader, Huey P. Newton explained this changing social economic reality and accurately predicted their present development in his 1970 theory of “Revolutionary Intercommunalism,” and met the challenge of creating the type of party formation suited to meeting the new challenges of educating and organizing this growing social force for revolutionary struggle.
The BPP was able to create a model for developing institutions of dual and alternative political and economic power through its Serve the People programs creating the basis for transition of power to the marginalized under a revolutionary intercommunalist model instead of the traditional national socialist model.
The challenge in this situation where such work has been met with the most violent repression by bourgeois state forces is developing effective security forces right under their noses to protect the masses and their programs.
This is the work we in the NABPP are building on and seek to advance.
For one, the masses are our best and only real protection against repression. So in all the work we do, we must rely on and actively seek and win the support of the people, which is the basic Maoist method of doing political work and is what the imperialists themselves admit makes it the most effective and feared model of revolutionary struggle.
I’ve also learned that a lot of very important work fails because many people just don’t attempt it, due to policing themselves. Many fear pig repression and think any work that is effective must necessarily be done hidden out of sight, fearing as they do being seen by the state.
Essentially, they don’t know how to do aboveground work, and don’t recognize the importance of it, especially in these advanced countries. They think for work to be ‘revolutionary’ it must be underground and focused on armed struggle. And even those who do political work they stifle it by using an underground style which largely isolates them from the masses.
I think Huey P. Newton summed it up aptly when he stated,
“Many would-be revolutionaries work under the fallacious notion that the vanguard party should be a secret organization which the power structure knows nothing about, and that the masses know nothing about except for occasional letters that come their homes in the night. Underground parties cannot distribute leaflets announcing an underground meeting. Such contradictions and inconsistencies are not recognized by these so-called revolutionaries. They are, in fact, afraid of the very danger they are asking the people to confront. These so-called revolutionaries want the people to say what they themselves are afraid to say, to do what they themselves are afraid to do. That kind of revolutionary is a coward and a hypocrite. A true revolutionary realizes if he is sincere, death is imminent. The things he is saying and doing are extremely dangerous. Without this … realization, it is pointless to proceed as a revolutionary.
“If these impostors would investigate the history of revolution they would see that the vanguard group always starts out aboveground and is driven underground by the oppressor.”
It can be a disadvantage, because it slows down development. But it is also an advantage, and our party is an example of this.
Historically, most revolutionary parties began on the outside and ended up targeted with repression, which included imprisonment of its cadre and supporters — fear of repression served as a deterrent for many would be revolutionaries as it was intended to do. For the NABPP, we developed in exactly the opposite direction. We began inside the prisons and are now transitioning to the outside.
Our cadre are getting out and hitting the ground going directly to work for the people. Look at our HQ in Newark, NJ where our chairman got out and has in less than a year led in developing a number of community STP programs, organizing mass protests that have shut down a prison construction project, given publicity and support to the people facing a crisis with lead in the water systems, etc.
So unlike the hothouse flower we’re already used to and steeled against state repression. The threat of prison doesn’t shake us — we’ve been there and done that. Like Huey asked, “Prison Where is Thy Victory?,” and John Sinclair of the original White Panther Party said, “prison ain’t shit to be afraid of.” And it was Malcolm X who was himself transformed into the great leader that he was inside prison who called prisons, “universities of the oppressed.”
All of my own work has been done from behind prison walls, and I have the state’s own reports and reactions of kicking me out of multiple state prison systems to attest to the value of what I’ve been able to contribute.
So, I think that, yes, some of our best leadership is definitely behind these walls.
Consider too that some of our best leaders developed inside prison: Malcolm X, George Jackson and Atiba Shanna aka James Yaki Sayles, for example. Which is something our party has factored into its strategy from day one. We’ve recognized the prisons to be potential revolutionary universities. Since our founding the NABPP has actively advanced the strategy of “transforming the prisons into schools of liberation,” of converting the lumpen (criminal) mentality into a revolutionary mentality.
In fact we can’t overlook remolding prisoners, because if we don’t, the enemy will appeal to and use them as forces of reaction against the revolutionary forces. Lenin, Mao and especially Frantz Fanon and the original BPP recognized this. What’s more, with the opposition’s ongoing strategy of mass imprisonment, massive numbers of our people have been swept up in these modern concentration camps. We must reach them with the politics of liberation. They are in fact a large part of our Party’s mass base.
Ideally this is determined by their ideological and political development and practice. But we expect and give space for people to make mistakes, although we also expect them to improve as they go. So we must be patient but also observe closely the correlation between their stated principles and their practice.
Underground work serves different purposes and needs. One of which being to protect political cadre and train cadre to replace the fallen. Also to create a protective network and infrastructure for political workers forced to go to ground in the face of violent repression.
In whatever case the aboveground forces should actively educate the masses on the role, function and purpose of underground actions while ensuring that the clandestine forces consist of the most disciplined and politically grounded people. It must also be understood that these elements do not replace the masses in their role as the forces that must seize power.
What shifted, but I don’t think is generally recognized by many, is the PW theory is today too simplistic. Today we must organize and create base areas under the nose of the bourgeoisie with the growing concentration of marginalized people in impoverished urban settings. As I noted earlier the traditional mass base of rural peasants who feature in the PW strategy is shrinking. And Maoist forces in rural areas have been pushed to the furthest margins of those areas unable to expand.
There is little opportunity for New Democratic revolution in these countries, which calls for alliances with the native national bourgeoisie who are now being rendered obsolete by the rise and normalization of neocolonialism and virtual elimination of nation states.
Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Minister of Defense New Afrikan Black Panther Party
“The original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense challenged the prevailing socio-political and economic relationship between the government and Black people. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party is building on that foundation, and Rashid’s writings embrace the need for a national organization in place of that which had been destroyed by COINTELPRO and racist repression. We can only hope this book reaches many, and serves to herald and light a means for the next generation of revolutionaries to succeed in building a mass and popular movement.” –Jalil Muntaqim, Prisoner of War
Available from leftwingbooks.net, AK Press, and Amazon
Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson
With Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoats, Tom Big Warrior & Sundiata Acoli
PLEASE NOTE THAT DEFYING THE TOMB IS NOW AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON AS AN EBOOK
“Your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to buy multiple copies of this book, read it carefully, and then get it into the hands of as many prisoners as possible. I am aware of no prisoner-written book more important than this one, at least not since George Jackson s Blood In My Eye. Revolutionaries and those considering the path of progress will find Kevin Rashid Johnson s Defying The Tomb an important contribution to their political development.” –Ed Mead, former political prisoner, George Jackson Brigade
Available from leftwingbooks.net, AK Press, and Amazon
Rashid has been transferred out of state yet again, this time to Indiana. He is currently being held at:
D.O.C. No. 264847
Pendleton Correctional Facility
4490 W. Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46064
Joie Ray, is a racing pioneer for becoming the first African American to receive a AAA sanctioned racing license back in 1947. This is an interview by stock car legend Benny Parsons that aired on ESPN’s RPM2night.
Day of Mourning, January 26, 1938, Sydney
The movement for Aboriginal self-determination has a rich history, steeped in the internationalism of anti-colonial struggles and black liberation movements throughout the world. We shouldn’t ignore it.
Aboriginal people in Australia have been fighting for their rights since the British flag was first raised over Sydney Cove in 1788. In the radical ferment of 60s Redfern in Sydney, the movement for self-determination flourished. Fighting racist policy and attitudes at home, the movement was at the same time incorporating ideas from abroad, drawing on encounters with the Black Panther Party, African and Caribbean liberation movements, and indigenous struggles in North America.
In all this, Gary Foley has been a leading figure. An activist since his arrival in Redfern in the 60s, he is also a historian and teacher in Melbourne. In the lead up to Invasion Day, Foley sat down with Sian Vate to discuss the history of twentieth-century Aboriginal activism, and the ongoing struggle ahead. The two had first encountered each other at Melbourne University’s student union in the 2000s, where Foley had sometimes mentored a small collective of students from settler backgrounds dedicated to Indigenous solidarity, reading and organizing. His advice at the time: “Don’t go to Aboriginal communities and try to help out. Go back to your own communities and confront the racism there. Australia does not have an Aboriginal problem. Australia has a racism problem.”
You’re from Nambucca Heads on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales (NSW), which you left as a teenager to move to Redfern, in Sydney. There was a mass migration of Aboriginal people from rural NSW into Sydney at that time. What were the conditions like out in the rural areas?
As late as the 1960s, apartheid-style laws were still in force in several states. In New South Wales, around 50,000 Aboriginal people were confined to about forty so-called Aboriginal reserves, probably similar to places like Pine Ridge in America. They were regarded, in the eyes of some Aboriginal people, as concentration camps.
These reserves were government-run settlements in which Aboriginal people were forced to work. Aboriginal people who weren’t living on the reserves, who were trying to escape the apartheid system, were barred from entering to see their relatives. It was massively restrictive and oppressive, held in place by apartheid legislation.
In 1967, there was a historic referendum. Legally, the referendum was about transferring Aboriginal affairs from the states to Commonwealth control. As a result of the campaigning around it, though, the way that Australians understood the meaning of its question was, “Do you believe in justice for Aborigines, yes or no?” And the result was remarkable: 90 percent of Australians voted “yes.” It’s one of the most remarkable referendums in Australian history. And as a result, the NSW state government seemed to get itself in a huff. They decided, “Well, if people don’t want us looking after the Aborigines, we’ll pull out.” So they withdrew.
The impact of the referendum on Aboriginal people, in real terms, had nothing to do with what it was all about. After the NSW government suddenly closed down the system in 1968, about 50,000 Aboriginal people in rural areas were no longer provided with government rations. They had no access whatsoever to state government services. They were abandoned. At the same time, the rural areas of NSW were in recession, so there was no work. The direct result was a mass exodus from the country into Sydney.
I moved to Sydney in 1967 when there were about 1,500 Aboriginal people in Redfern. By 1969, this had grown to 35,000. All of a sudden, at the peak of the White Australia policy, you had this huge impoverished ghetto of landless refugees in the heart of big white Sydney. It was a very volatile situation. Out of this, the Black Power movement emerged.
At the time, young Aboriginal refugees in Sydney were developing more radical politics, partly as a result of their disappointment with the referendum?
Us young people, we were all living in Redfern. At the time, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) were the acceptable, respectable wing of the Aboriginal political movement — the Australian equivalent of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). None of its leaders lived there. None of them were experiencing what we experienced on a daily basis. The same respected older leaders were the ones who had told us to get involved in the campaign for the referendum.
It’s not that the situation on the ground remained the same — things actually got worse. The exodus to the city after the referendum created problems of a different, but significant, nature. We began to read things like The Autobiography of Malcolm X. We felt betrayed by the older generation. Or, at least, we said to ourselves that the older generation’s tactics and strategies had clearly failed. And as young people, we were confronted with an in-your-face problem every day: namely, persecution by the NSW police. We needed to do something immediately.
We decided to go our own way. Paul Coe, a very charismatic young Aboriginal law student, came up to me and said: “I’m thinking about setting up a little discussion group to talk about what’s going on with the cops in Redfern.” And I said “sure,” because I’d been bashed rather seriously by some coppers two weeks before. So it began with a small group of probably five people at most. It was a little group, and we realized that if we were going to try to change what was going on around us, we needed to make ourselves a lot more aware than we were.
We needed to educate ourselves politically. We looked to examples from America, we looked at what was going on in Canada, and we developed some connections. We were very interested in what was going on in Africa because it was the era of decolonization. Some future African leaders and future ministers in independent governments were actually studying in Australian universities at the time, giving us the chance to meet.
We looked at ideas from around the world and drew from them. We looked to Cuba and we were really impressed with Che and Fidel because — to this day — they held the greatest military might in the world in abeyance. We were also interested in certain aspects of what was going on in China, especially the system of communes that we saw, at the time, as a potential way of organizing. We were developing a long-term plan for land rights, independence, and self-determination.
And that’s when you started using the term “Black Power.”
In 1967, Bruce McGuinness, who was then the director of the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL) in Melbourne, and Bob Maza, who was the president, invited an otherwise obscure Caribbean academic by the name of Roosevelt Brown to give a talk about self-determination and resistance among non-white colonized peoples. In the course of his talk, Brown spoke about the importance of political independence, economic independence, and self-determination. He used the term “Black Power” to describe what he was talking about. It resonated with us.
Even so, Black Power would not have entered the Australian political language as dramatically as it did, had it not been for typical Australian journalists of the Rupert Murdoch variety sensationalizing it in the tabloids with headlines like “Black Power Fears.” At the same time, images of the Black Panther Party were filtering through to Australian TV audiences, who saw them as a threatening alternative to Martin Luther King Jr singing “We Shall Overcome.” The sensationalist Australian tabloid media had an easy time stirring up all sorts of unwarranted fears.
It’s like today in Melbourne. The same media is intent on stirring up fears about young immigrant Sudanese men and African gangs roaming the streets. It was a similar situation back then, only they were talking about Black Power, suggesting that Aborigines were training with guns and all that sort of nonsense.
You also made connections with African American soldiers fighting in Vietnam who pit-stopped in Sydney.
Yes, suddenly Sydney became the focus for thousands of American soldiers shipped in from Vietnam for ten days’ leave before being sent back to the jungles to be shot up by Ho Chi Minh and his brothers. A significant number were African American. We realized that the American military was using poor African Americans from the ghettos as cannon fodder in Vietnam. These troops brought personal, firsthand accounts of what was going on politically in the ghettos of Oakland, California, and Harlem, New York, and elsewhere.
They also brought political literature that was unavailable in Australia the time, including The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Seize the Time by Bobby Seale. A strong interest in the African American political scene grew in Redfern. When we looked at the police harassment we faced, we realized that the Black Panther Party was talking about the same kind of harassment in Oakland. We regarded our situation as almost identical to theirs: impoverished black communities were being intimidated and harassed by police forces. So we looked at what the Black Panthers had done. We adopted and adapted some of their tactics and strategies into our movement.
In 1972, amid widespread radical action — not just Aboriginal action, but also mass anti-war protests, feminist action, environmental action, and trade union militancy — the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. What led to the Embassy’s set up?
The Aboriginal Embassy protest in Canberra, which took place between January 27 and July 30, 1972, was the most significant Aboriginal political action of the twentieth century.
In the lead-up to it, the Black Power movement had been calling major marches and campaigns for land rights in the eastern state capitals. And these demonstrations were making the McMahon government nervous. Throughout 1971, the cities saw nonstop demonstrations. They happened on a weekly basis, and they were growing. One result was a growing debate about land rights in the mainstream media and elsewhere. All the while, the government maintained a consistent line, that assimilation was the only option for Aborigines.
Assimilation had been official, bipartisan government policy since Federation in 1901, since Australia became Australia. The whole idea of assimilation is genocide. Its desired end goal is that, eventually, there are no natives left. It was a genocidal policy.
The other thing that happened in 1971 was that the white, racist South African rugby team toured Australia. South African apartheid was still alive and well, and the tour attracted major protests. Aboriginal political activists challenged the anti-apartheid activists here, saying: “Support us. How can you fight racism over there but not here?” It worked. The numbers in our demonstrations grew.
At the end of 1971, Billy McMahon — the nervous, tragic little man who was then prime minister — made a fateful decision. Given the public uproar about land rights, he decided that his government must make some sort of definitive policy statement. His worst mistake was to make this statement on the most sensitive day in the political calendar for Aboriginal people: January 26, Invasion Day. The Day of Mourning. But not only did Silly Billy McMahon make his ill-fated statement on that day, his statement rejected Aboriginal claims for land rights. He said that his government would never grant Aborigines land rights.
So that same night in Redfern, a meeting was held. We decided that four of us should be dispatched to Canberra to set up a protest on the lawns of Parliament House. In the first instance, we only intended for four guys to go. We’d arranged with the Canberra newspaper to have a photograph taken. We figured they’d get arrested the same night and that we’d bail them out of the cells the next day.
But when the Canberra constabulary arrived, they told the guys that they weren’t breaking any laws. They said it was legal to camp on the lawns of Parliament, as long as no more than eleven tents go up. So we’d stumbled upon a loophole in Canberra’s law. The next day, a tent was set up as the office, and the Embassy remained on the lawn for the next six months.
When Gough Whitlam, then opposition leader, visited the embassy, he made a speech about giving land back to Aboriginal people. Paul Coe jumped up and challenged him, saying: “Hang on, isn’t the Labor Party’s policy assimilation, the same as the Liberal-Country Coalition? Assimilation equals genocide. Don’t come here and bullshit us, Mr Whitlam.” After that, Whitlam went away and changed the Labor Party’s policy to support land rights for Aboriginal people.
This was the first time since 1901 that bipartisan support for Aboriginal assimilation was broken. It was the Embassy that provoked Whitlam to do that. It was incredibly significant.
The Embassy also made the whole world aware of what was taking place in Australia. During those brief six months, journalists from seventy countries reported on it. It put Aboriginal affairs on the national political agenda and into the front-page headlines as an issue, where it has remained to this day.
In concrete terms, what were you fighting for? You weren’t just out there to change laws or express yourselves?
We wanted much more than that. Unlike the generation before us who wanted citizenship and the right to vote and things like that, we developed an analysis that drew from Native American political ideology, but which was grounded back home. We came to see ourselves as independent nations of people, and that as such, we were entitled to certain areas of land in NSW. We talked about the old reserves, which, despite having been abandoned, were still owned by the government. We demanded they give us that land.
We developed a philosophy stressing self-determination as well as political and economic independence. We believed that the basis for any form of economic independence was land. The proposition we made did not involve dislocating any settler colonials. We thought, “Oh, fuck them, we’ll let them go.” Still, the proposition gave us significant areas of land — land that many of our people still lived on anyway.
We also wanted money. We said to the government: “Call it back rent, call it compensation, call it anything you like.” But we wanted a significant amount of money to enable communities to develop economic enterprises that weren’t in conflict with their basic cultural values, but which could generate employment, bring resources into the community, and enable them to then upgrade their infrastructure. Our aim was to develop sufficient economic independence to be able to secede from Australia. The ultimate ideal for us was always secession.
I don’t consider myself an Australian; I’m a member of the Gumbaynggirr nation, which predates Australia by something like 80,000 years. Why would we want to be part of this nation called Australia that has historically treated us so badly? This was the ideal for us. I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime. But I know that there are Aboriginal groups around Australia who are capable of ultimately attaining that goal. If there’s the political will among their people, they should secede and become independent nations in their own right.
The radical internationalism of the Black Power movement is really striking. Your doctoral research on Aboriginal political organizing in the twentieth century shows that it’s part of a tradition that reaches back as far as the early 1900s.
That’s right. In 1907, the legendary Afro-American boxing champion Jack Johnson attended an event on the Sydney waterfront held by an organization called the Coloured Progressive Association. Back then, he was the most hated man in the world — he held the World Heavyweight Championship, and the white supremacists of the settler-colonial societies couldn’t find a white man capable of beating him. During the visit, two Aboriginal wharf laborers, Tom Lacey and Fred Maynard, met him and were inspired. Lacey and Maynard’s ongoing association with the waterfront also allowed them to meet visiting African, African American, and West Indian sailors, and they were developing their political awareness.
In 1914, Marcus Garvey, the father of the international black consciousness movement, created his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Garvey’s strategy was to recruit African, West Indian, and African American sailors, and to tell them that wherever they went in the world, wherever their ship pulled into port, they should set up a chapter of UNIA. It’s one of the more remarkable moments in Australian history that in 1920, in still-white-supremacist Australia, a branch of UNIA was founded on the Sydney waterfront. Lo and behold, Maynard and Lacey were members of that branch.
And as a result, Maynard and Lacey went on to set up the first modern Aboriginal political organization, the Australian Aboriginal Progress Association (AAPA). It’s an extraordinary thing. Most historians don’t realize that the first modern, political Aboriginal resistance organization, set up in 1924, was inspired by the teachings and writings of Garvey. But as I’ve always said, that was the beginning; the first significant engagement by Aboriginal activists with international ideas of independence, self-determination, black consciousness, black nationalism — the works.
The AAPA only lasted three years before it was suppressed politically by the NSW police and authorities. It wasn’t till 1936 that two more significant Aboriginal political organizations emerged: in Victoria, the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL) was set up in Fitzroy, and a year later, in NSW, an organization called the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) was founded, which followed on from the earlier AAPA.
These were the organizations that held the first Day of Mourning in 1938, which protested the Australia Day celebration on January 26 — the date that the British flag was first raised over Sydney Cove.
Yes, 1938 was the sesquicentenary — the 150th anniversary — of the arrival of the first British settlers in Australia. So the NSW government decided to have a big celebration in Sydney — including tall ships sailing into Sydney Harbour and all manner of nationalistic nonsense. Like what happened in 1988, the government spent millions of dollars reenacting the arrival of the First Fleet, including forcing a group of Aborigines they’d shipped in from northern NSW to take part, who they’d coerced into cooperation by threatening to cut off their rations.
Remember, in 1938, Australia was still very much an Anglophile nation — most Australians thought of themselves as British rather than Australian — so it was a nightmare event of monumental proportions. Also, because of the White Australia policy, Sydney was very white, as it still was when I went there in the ’60s. As all of that was going on in various parts of Sydney, the Aboriginal organizations, the AAL and APA, joined forces to mount a protest. They held a meeting in a hall in Sydney, made speeches, and gathered out front with placards. The most important thing about that 1938 protest is that it was the first time an Aboriginal protest had been noticed both locally and internationally.
More important, William Cooper of the AAL deemed January 26, 1938 to be a Day of Mourning. Ever since, on January 26, Aboriginal people have mounted various forms of protest. And it’s gaining momentum. Recently, the activities of the young mob from WAR (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance) have increased awareness about why celebrations on that day are particularly offensive to Aboriginal people. If we can get 80,000 people in the streets marching against Australia Day in Melbourne, like we did last year, it’s a sign of a shift. I think that the younger generation of Australians are a lot more conscious of these issues than older generations were.
Your doctoral research has also focused on how the trade unions and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) formed genuine collaborations with the Aboriginal movement, right up to the 1970s.
The Aboriginal resistance received the strongest solidarity and material support from the trade union movement. In 1946, the Wharfies’ and the Seamen’s Union strongly supported the Pilbara strike, the longest strike in Australian history, which was mounted by a large group of illiterate Aboriginal stockmen in remote parts of North Western Australia. It’s a historic strike, and it was strongly assisted by the trade unions.
Much later, one of the most important land-rights struggles occurred in Wave Hill in the Northern Territory, where another group of Aboriginal stockmen walked off and challenged the owner of the land, a wealthy British aristocrat named Lord Vestey. The Gurindjis were penniless stockmen who worked for rations rather than wages, and they walked off the station. Their strike lasted nine years, and it eventually won. To survive that long, the Gurindjis needed support from a wide range of groups around Australia. Once more, in particular, the trade union movement came to the fore. The National Wharfies’ Union levied its members to provide the money that kept the Gurindjis going.
In general, the trade union movement — or at least the left-wing trade unions — always strongly supported the Aboriginal struggle for justice. The Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in NSW, led by Communist Party official Jack Mundey, was also a strong supporter. In fact, the only person to go to jail as a result of the Tent Embassy protest was a white BLF member. There’s a long history of those sorts of expressions of solidarity between various parts of the working class in Australia and the Aboriginal movement. And during the 1940s and ’50s, the CPA was the only political party that supported Aboriginal land rights. It had a very strong platform supporting our political independence.
To return to Redfern in the 1970s, in addition to the political and community organizing led by the Black Power movement, there was also a lot of cultural work, including the National Black Theatre and the comedy sketch show Basically Black. During this period, it seems like Aboriginal art came to take a central place in Australian arts overall, which is something that hasn’t changed.
The Black Theatre emerged as a means of communicating our political message in the 1970s, but I’d argue that the broader appreciation and awareness of Aboriginal art took root in the ’80s. In 1982, I became the first Aboriginal director of the Aboriginal Arts Board, which had been set up by Gough Whitlam ten years earlier. In its first decade, the board had been run by white people, and most of the money that it was dispensing was going to non-Aboriginal organizations and individuals.
Chicka Dixon and I put a stop to that. Chicka became the chair of the board, appointed by Bob Hawke. He appointed me as director, and we transformed the appreciation of Aboriginal art. You can trace the beginnings of this huge international awareness of Aboriginal art back to that period of the Arts Board.
To this day, the most successful exhibition to have ever left Australian shores is the Aratjara exhibition. It was organized by me and a Swiss-German artist, Bernard Lucia. It was significant because we argued in Europe that Aboriginal art should be placed in the modern art museum, and not in anthropological and ethnographic museums. That’s now become an international standard. It was also the first time for a major exhibition of Aboriginal art to include both contemporary urban and so-called traditional art. Many of the artists who we promoted in that Aratjara exhibition, like Richard Bell, went on to be exhibited in some of the most prestigious museums in Europe. Aratjara broke ground in a range of ways.
The fight for Aboriginal self-determination and land rights is ongoing and, as you’ve pointed out, the same powerful, racist forces in Australia are still in play today. Not much has changed in that sense. Yet, at the same time, if you’re born in Australia after the 1970s or ’80s, I’d argue, you’re aware of Aboriginal identities and cultures in ways that earlier generations, for the most part, weren’t. Black Power is a big part of that.
That’s right. It shows that in the late 1960s and ’70s, Redfern was, in certain ways, a dynamic and really exciting place, despite the fact that everyone was impoverished. The 35,000-strong community that grew there in just three years created, unwittingly, a place that spawned all sorts of really exciting stuff. For example, we introduced legal aid to Australia fifty years ago this month, in 1970. The Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre was set up by Carole Johnson during that period, and out of that evolved the theater we were doing, and the Bangarra Dance Theatre.
It was a sudden burst of creativity. That’s why the government felt compelled to break up the community as early as 1975. They did it surreptitiously by introducing new public housing regulations in inner Sydney. They said that Aboriginal families applying for public housing — which was most of them — were not to be housed in the inner-city estates. Instead, they were to be sent into the western suburbs. The policy set a limit of one family per street. In other words, they enforced and imposed assimilation, resulting in a deliberate, modern-day dispersal of a strong Aboriginal community.
The same thing happened in Fitzroy in Melbourne — only it was achieved by gentrification, and not by government intervention. The end result was the same: today, the strong Aboriginal community that once existed in Fitzroy and Collingwood is no longer there.
When Australians talk about the issue, they sometimes say: “Oh, but all of these things that happened to you Abos happened a hundred years ago, it’s got nothing to do with us.” They should think about what’s going on around them today — the ongoing effects of settler colonialism. Australians need to wrap their heads around the notion of intergenerational trauma. They have shown they can understand it with respect to the Jewish community and the things that happened to that community a mere eighty years or so ago. But they can’t understand the similar things affecting Aboriginal people through multiple generations.
This is partly the reason why so many Aboriginal people are incarcerated today. As you know, all of these things are interconnected.
You teach Aboriginal students, who look up to you as somebody who has continued the fight, in spite of the difficulties. What do you say to students who are thinking about how they’re going to focus their efforts to survive and fight?
I would say to them: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. I don’t usually quote old miserable fascists like Winston Churchill, but in this instance, it’s accurate because anyone, any young person who wants to become a political activist, needs to realize that in order to stay true to your principles, you’re going to end up living a life of poverty. It will be a difficult struggle because you’ll always be outside the tent pissing in. And that’s a preferable place to be, even though it can be extraordinarily difficult over extended periods of time. It is a tough life you choose, if you go this way.
It seems to me that part of the payoff is comrades.
A key element underlies the massive protests: the search for a different model of political representation.
By Gioconda Belli (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – November 2, 2019 – The world is witnessing with astonishment a series of popular rebellions: France, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, and Haiti have seen multitudinous protests, each with its particular origin, that have provoked diverse responses.
The most violent reaction was in Nicaragua, costing the lives of more than 328 people. But in the other countries, the governments have stumbled in the face of the actions of the multitudes. Pinera brought tanks out into the streets. Evo, like Ortega, called it a “Coup d’etat”.
In this article, I don’t intend to emit judgements regarding the correct or incorrect behavior of the governments that have been called on the carpet by those they govern. My interest lies in venturing some hypotheses on the social phenomenon manifested by these enormous marches, with the masses taking over the streets, the plazas, and menacing the supposed serenity or the supposed “well-being” or growth of their societies.
To me, these complex events point towards a very particular moment in the history of this century and are the consequence of an accumulation of factors that can’t be summed up by purely economic explanations.
In Nicaragua as in Chile – two countries at different ends of the spectrum: one poor and the other economically successful – the initial causes, a reform of Social Security and an increase in transit fares respectively, very quickly stopped being the motivation for the large protest demonstrations. Feeling the power they had, the demonstrators expressed, beyond the shadow of any doubt, a far deeper demand: that of a radical change.
In the past few days I read an interview with Ece Temelkuran, Turkey’s most followed columnist. She stated: “Since the seventies, the western democracies have distanced themselves from one of their essential components: social justice. For that reason, now their democracy is merely theater with the members of Parliament sparring among themselves and that’s all. The result is that people no longer feel represented. So, at the same time that we’re looking for a model of different representation, populism proclaims that the system is finished and proposes that we forget about democracy.”
Neither of those two positions – democracy without social justice, or authoritarian populism without democracy – have ascertained a key element that, in my judgement, is underlying the great, massive protests: the search for a different model of representation.
In the past few days I read an interview with Ece Temelkuran says: “It’s not only a crisis of democracy, of neoliberalism or of the model of the industrial revolution. These mutations are passing away simultaneously, and we’re moving towards a lack of human comprehension of themselves as human beings.”
An era of bewilderment, I’d say. We could speculate that the capitalist model, upon globalizing, revealed to human beings that satiation and consumerism don’t lead to happiness, nor are they the goal of history. On the other hand, the antithesis of capitalism, the socialist model, with its collapse in Eastern Europe or the evidence that it can’t coexist with the right to freedom, as in the case of China and Cuba, has been stripped of its robes of idealism and utopianism.
So, we’re living in a stage when the compasses with which we guided ourselves ideologically have stopped registering a propitious North. We know what’s bad, but we still haven’t succeeded in formulating what would be good.
It’s enough to read what many young people post in the social networks in Nicaragua when they talk about not repeating the errors of the past, or when they talk of a different democracy, to perceive the desire for a design that, nonetheless, they don’t manage to describe or to articulate. Instead, it’s paradoxical to see them return to the old discourse of the class struggle. They reject the Sandinista thought of the eighties at the same time that they repeat the same arguments on which the politics of the eighties was based: down with capital and zero trust in bloodsucking business magnates. If we could only get them out of the picture, Nicaragua would magically surge ahead.
In Chile as well, the demands run from changes in education, to the redistribution of wealth or a new constitution, to Pinera’s resignation. A mixture of ideas that also reveal more criticisms than alternative proposals. There, as here, those most experienced in radicalisms of the left or right attempt to fill that philosophical vacuum.
In one of the best articles that I’ve read on the Chilean ‘explosion’, Fernando Mires laments the economic focus with which they’ve attempted to explain what happened:
“This paradigm is so established that not only the macro-economists but also a great part of the political class can’t conceive of thinking some other way. It doesn’t matter that all of the great demonstrations of our time, from the French May, through the ecology movements and on to those in Chile and Hong Kong, don’t have any visible economic causes. The economics paradigm must be salvaged even at the price of denying reality. The purely economics lens has come to be the dialectic of fools.”
Here in Nicaragua we’re divided, not about the central objective of a change of government and the end of the dictatorship, but about vague conceptions: on one side, half reformist or purely economic; or those who propose, without much imagination, a different kind of Sandinismo or leftism, that’s been rehabilitated – it’s not explained how – from its own genetic faults. It’s a more serious problem than it appears because the prejudices against the person proposing doesn’t allow us to weigh the validity of what’s being proposed, nor to find the basic points of agreement.
I believe it’s worth the trouble in our particular case to reflect without dogmatism or limiting economics lenses, on that model of representation that still profiles itself more as a temptation than a reality. Being in crisis isn’t necessarily negative; crises are also opportunities to grow. We could try to propose, imagine, and put down on paper that model of representation that we aspire to. We could think about what changes would take us to a society that not only could satisfy its most urgent material necessities but could also generate a way of existing that would give sense and purpose and happiness to our lives.
Who would deny the possibility that we could formulate a lever to move the world or to diminish our bewilderment?
Note: The interview with Ece Temulkaran that I’ve quoted here is well worth the time to read and can be found in Spanish at this link.
Fernando Mires’ article in Spanish can be found here.
Why So Many Rebellions? – Havana Times: