Hey hey it’s yesterday: Australian capitalism and racism
Australian capitalism is built on two pillars of racism. They define Australia today.
The first is the ongoing genocide against Aboriginal people.
It began in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet.
It continues today, as evidenced by the Northern Territory invasion.
The second was Federation in 1901 which was based on a number of compromises between capital and labour, including protectionism, arbitration and a white Australia.
The changing nature of Australian capitalism, especially its integration into the global economy, has seen these three federation foundations collapse, at least in name.
Thus Whitlam abolished the last vestiges of the White Australia policy in 1973.
And yet anti-foreigner and anti-aboriginal sentiment abound.
Governments of both persuasions have changed the nature of racism in Australia from virulent anti-black and anti-Asian restrictions and rhetoric to an inclusive ‘Australianism’ against the rest of the world, and sometimes against perceived unAustralians in ‘our’ midst. Anti-Muslim hysteria comes to mind.
This doesn’t mean overt racism no longer exists. The Cronulla riots, the Tampa and the anti-refugee campaign, Hansonism, the Northern Territory invasion are all examples of the crimson thread of ‘Australian kinship’ that supposedly runs through us all.
The racism of the Northern Territory invasion is couched in terms of paternalism to make it saleable to the soft liberals, the sort who have illusions in Rudd and Obama.
The racism of the Cronulla riots and Tampa are more overt, reflecting the success of the ruling class in creating divisions among workers along racial lines. This division aids and reinforces the exploitative process and reduces its cost.
Racism is essential to Australian capitalism’s extraction of surplus value from Australian workers.
While attitudes to race might be changing, racism is institionalised. Aborigines are jailed at more than 6 times the white rate. They die 17 years earlier than whites. They are the poorest group in society.
Similarly Muslims, the other target for racism, are overrepresented among the unemployed and poor.
While we are fighting among ourselves, we are less united and less capable of winning the battle for a better share of the surplus we create.
Racism is but one of the divisive tools the bourgeoisie use. Homophobia and sexism are convenient tectonic plates they can set into action to help keep pay lower than it would otherwise be.
for example the fact that women’s wages are on average 17 percent lower than men’s acts as a break on the class as a whole winning larger wage increases.
These divisive tools resonate with some sections of the the working class.
There is a seeming overcoming of institutionalised alienation (arising from the social relations of capital and labour) when race or nationalism become flags for superiority.
Those of us who threaten those flags or do not drape ourselves in them or are perceived through difference to not be part of Australian nationalism become ostracised and doubly oppressed – at work and in society.
As the overwhelming support in Australia for the overt racism of the Jackson Five skit on Hey Hey it’s Saturday shows, racism is such an ingrained part of the exploitative process which rules us and determines our lives and livelihoods that we don’t even recognise it.
Is there a solution?
Education and laws are a furphy. They do nothing to address the essence of racism under capitalism – an expression of our profound alienation from ourselves and others in the production and consumption process.
A combative working class, fighting for its interests, can give a real sense of hope and power to workers.
It can unite workers of all races and move the country from the racist backwater Australian capitalism has made it to one where relations between people are on a more equal footing.
True equality can only arrive when we abolish the source of inequality – the wages system and the classes that give rise to it.
The fight against racism is an integral part of the fight for a socialist world.