Is Anders Breivik just John Howard with a gun?
There is little in the political concerns of right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik that would be out of place in Coalition Party meetings or the mainstream media and especially on the shock jock radio shows.
Breivik saw 3 threats to Western society – Islam, multiculturalism and cultural Marxism. The ‘left’ is seen as the repository of these supposed evils or in the case of Islam as a supporter, facilitator and protector.
This is stock standard right wing discourse. Indeed some of Breivik’s comments could just as easily have been made by Australian Labor Party Parliamentarians and certainly some rank and file members.
Breivik was opposed to Islam and so-called Islamisation.
So too are bourgeois politicians across the world. Some in Europe and the US talk openly of this non-existent ’danger’ and owe their current parliamentary positions and power – they hold between 5 and 30 percent of the seats in various European Parliaments – to trumpeting the ‘threat’ of Islam to Western society.
The clash of cultures or civilisations is also a common right wing theme, carried in sometimes disguised sometimes open form in the war on terror, a war that has unleashed horrific western destruction on the peoples of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
John Howard was and is more subtle than Breivik in his rhetoric.
Perhaps he did learn a lesson from his 1988 call to racism when he argued that to support ‘social cohesion’ the rate of Asian immigration must be ‘slowed down a little’. He lost his job as Opposition leader partly as a consequence of that statement.
Although Howard later ’recanted’, in power he used racism and xenophobia as part of his wider demonisation approach to divert working class anger from his neoliberal economic agenda.
This wider attack includes or included at various times Asians, Muslims, aborigines, refugees, ‘terrorists’; basically anyone who didn’t fit within his narrow white anglo-centric view of what it meant to be ‘Australian’. The Labor Party has mirrored this to varying degrees because it too wants to disguise its neoliberalism and the consequences.
Howard is the man who refused to call the 5000 Cronulla rioters who attacked Muslims the racists they were and denied that his warnings of a home-grown terror threat had contributed to the attacks.
Instead he blamed alcohol! That is a bit like blaming killing 76 Norwegians on the actions of a lone wolf or a madman. It’s an excuse to avoid one’s own complicity.
Howard is also the man who lied about children overboard, who used the Tampa incident to demonise refugees and win an election and who sent Australian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to the deaths of over a million civilians at the hands of Western imperialism.
In 2006 Howard’s supposedly more socially liberal deputy Peter Costello attacked ’mushy misguided multiculturalism’, saying that ‘Australian values’ were ‘not optional’. He declared that migrants who did not have those Australian values should have their citizenship stripped from them. Howard endorsed him.
A week before Howard had warned that a small part of the Islamic community was ‘utterly antagonistic to our kind of society’. One Liberal Party backbencher at the time warned that Australia could become a Muslim nation in 50 years because we were aborting ourselves out of existence.
The politics of exclusion, of racism, of scapegoating and warmongering, are part of the mainstream political discourse.
It wasn’t just Islam and multiculturalism that Howard attacked.
He was a major warrior in the culture wars too, an idea that found expression in his denigration of the ’black armband view of history’ and his attacks on the failure to celebrate the positive past of Australian (ie capitalist) development. At one stage he even claimed victory in the culture wars, saying it was the end of the ‘divisive, phony debate about national identity’.
This makes indigenous people special targets for mainstream attacks from both the right and the social democratic left. Couple that with the needs of mining capital for their land and the result is ongoing dispossession, poverty and racism, and policies like the Northern Territory invasion to further those aims and entrench those outcomes
These John Howard themes - the rejection of multiculturalism, the hysteria aimed at Muslims and the fight for a white pro-capitalist vision of culture and history – are the themes too of Anders Breivik.
Howard used these themes, themes he believed in passionately, as cover for his neoliberal agenda. He built on the tactics of Labor Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating as they searched for distractions to their neoliberal program and its consequences, just as Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have built on Howard’s legacy.
The most obvious recent example of this under Gillard is the Malaysian refugee ‘solution’.
Of course the more reactionary politicians of the right, those who might be intellectual if not actual accomplices, condemn Breivik’s violence. They would, wouldn’t they? Their tactic, at least in Europe, is to use the cloak of respectability to win power through the ballot box, much as Hitler did in the late 20s and early 30s.
For other more established right wing and social democratic parties the tactic has been to harness racism and the fear of Muslims that they themselves have generated through in some cases dog whistles and in some cases outright appeals.
Howard for example corralled much of the One Nation support behind his Coalition by dog whistling to them and seemingly understanding their concerns.
But while Breivik was an individual armed with home made bombs and guns, Howard and Gillard had or have control of the Australian military, a killing machine which is part of the most vicious, brutal and efficient killing machine the world has seen, US imperialism.
The violence of the state is a thousand times more horrific than anything individual terrorists can unleash. Just as we condemn the violence of individual terrorists we must condemn too the violence of the terrorists of the capitalist state and organise collectively against both.
The right disagree with Breivik’s actions and tactics, not his political concerns. Their aim is to win control of the state and use its power to impose their anti-working class programme on their populations.
Breivik’s individual right wing terrorism threatens their state led right wing agenda. By exposing the reality of conservative themes Breivik’s terrorism may threaten that project and the the bigger picture of imperialism and capital accumulation and the extraction of surplus from workers.
That of course will depend on a range of other factors, especially the level of class struggle across Europe against the ruling class’s austerity program and its racist and xenophobic attempts at distraction from that program.
There is hope. A few days after the killings around 150,000 people went on a walking rose remembrance procession through Oslo and finished their journey with ‘For Youth’, an anti-Nazi song of the Norwegian resistance.
But much much more will be needed as the racist and brutal agenda of the right becomes clearer and the attacks on workers more and more vicious.
Across the world the working class is beginning to stir. From Egypt to Europe and on to the US workers are starting to fight back. Therein lies the way to beat back reaction and fascism.