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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
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Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Noel Pearson and the myth of the radical centre


On Australia Day Noel Pearson told us of the need for a ‘radical centre’ in Australian politics.   This ‘sensible’ centre would balance between the mad right and the loony left and come up with ‘solutions’ to problems that the nutcases to the left or right couldn’t because they are trapped in the language and practice of ideology. Well, that is my summation of what Pearson said.  You can read an edited extract of his speech in the well know centrist newspaper (sarcasm alert) The Australian.

There is nothing new about what Pearson is arguing. In fact he has been sprouting the need for a radical centre for a decade or so. It seems his attempts at setting up just such an enterprise have floundered on the shoals of reality. If the radical centre is where all the sensible people with their sensible solutions are why has Pearson made absolutely no progress in the last ten years in setting up this political Shangri-La?

One of the answers is that the distinction between left and right in Australia is blurred. The Australian Labor Party is in the process of moving from being a CAPITALIST workers’ party to a capitalist party. To call it left-wing is a long stretch. To give one current example: Anthony Albanese, the darling of Labor members for the leadership and one time Minister in various neoliberal Labor governments, faces a challenge in his seat from Greens candidate and former member of the International Socialist Organisation Jim Casey. Rather than addressing the issues, Albanese has red baited Jim. Jim’s response is classic:

“I make no apologies for my socialist ideals. It is a bit sad [Albanese] is running away from this; he’s happy to DJ songs by Billy Bragg for his mates but when it comes to a political context he’s channelling Joe McCarthy,” Casey said.

The dichotomy between left and right that Pearson argues for doesn’t actually exist. There may be some differences over the detail of policy and the speed of austerity but on the major issues of shifting wealth from labour to capital, of moderating real wages and cutting welfare, Labor and the Liberals agree.

It is not just Pearson who has been arguing for the need for a centrist party, balancing between a non-existent radical Labor left and Liberal right. This appeal to the centre has a long history. This third way was the election strategy of Bill Clinton in 1992 and Tony Blair in 1997. Ah, but they won elections and were re-elected I can hear you say. True, but that was in the specific context of people looking for alternatives to the status quo and believing, wrongly, that Clinton and Blair offered an alternative to austerity, war and class war. They didn’t. Clinton and Blair gave us Bush and Cameron. Frankly Mitchel Pearce’s dog could have won those elections.

And let’s look now at the long term consequences of this appeal to the centre in the UK and the US. Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders is winning more and more support in his campaign, against Hillary Clinton, to become the Democrat Party Presidential nominee. He is even ahead in some recent polls in the forthcoming Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.

In the UK Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed and practising socialist, is the leader of the Labour Party Opposition. He is giving the Blairites, the radical centrists in the party, nightmares. He is winning more and more support for radical left wing policies and left wing solutions. Such is the level of support that he may well become, contrary to the nonsense from the establishment and its echo chambers in the Labour Party, the next Prime Minister of Britain.

By the way Corbyn’s policies align with the desires of most voters in Britain who on most issues are well to the left of their politicians. The same is true in Australia and the US. His policies were in fact the policies previous Labour governments carried out 50 or 60 years ago.

In Australia, the radical centre was the Democrats. They collapsed after they did a deal in 1998 and 1999 passing a modified GST, one of those ‘sensible’ solutions that involves attacking the poor and working class. Their supporters abandoned them.

Pearson’s policies – support for the milksop that is constitutional recognition, support for Tony Abbott, support for the intervention for example – are essentially conservative. The radical centre is rhetoric that gives cover to conservatism.

In Australia there is no and will be no radical centre. There is no demand from ordinary Australians for a group of politicians who will compromise to make capitalism run adequately, in other words politicians who sell out. We don’t need a radical centre in Australia today. We need a radical left.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.

The Canberra Times whitewashes Invasion Day

Up to 500 people attended the Invasion Day Protest in Garema Place in Canberra on 26 January to highlight the genocide then and now against Aboriginal people. There was not one mention, not one photo of the protest in The Canberra Times. Amid the many pages of superficiality in the Canberra Times about the celebration of Australia Day the day after, ‘my’ newspaper saw fit to edit out this part of our history.

Shame, Canberra Times, shame for blacking out this important protest and highlighting yet again the discrimination Indigenous Australia suffers. Its whitewashing will not silence the voices against celebrating genocide and their just demands for a treaty, recognition of sovereignty and paying the rent.

Here is a video by Matthew Rivers of the 500 or so marching around Capitol Hill.

On the other hand, the Canberra Times did run a full two pages on 27 January on the Australia Day ‘celebrations’. It had lost of happy photos of smiling, drinking, barbecuing and swimming going on. It even included an interview with an Australian in Lahore at a secret location drinking beer. What a brave Aussie to celebrate our national day in the traditional way in spite of such adversity! That is the true ANZAC spirit. Or is it the true Australia Day spirit.

Let this reality sink in. The Canberra Times could interview someone in Lahore about Australia Day but couldn’t report on 500 citizens protesting against the Day in Canberra. That should tell us something about the media and in particular about  The Canberra Times. The rest of the two pages, plus the puff piece on the front page, were full of this celebratory rubbish.

The Americanisation of Australia Day – the hoopla, the parties, and the incessant message that we are all in this together – is a product of austerity. The neoliberal  agenda requires an overarching  unifying theme that might make us accept cuts to health, education, transport and public housing, and an increased tax burden through GST ‘reforms’.

Invasion Day protests challenge that agenda. That is part of the reason The Canberra Times airbrushed out of history our protest against celebrating genocide. I also think there is another more self-interested reason. The paid readership of The Canberra Times appears to be in freefall. In the last six months of 2015 it lost 20% of its paid weekday readership (from 25,000 to 20,000).

Clearly the editorial brains trust at The Canberra Times thinks that jingoism sells and that having lured innocent readers into the fly trap the paper wants to keep these new, or perhaps even returning, readers. Running even one story on the protest against Invasion Day might alienate this potential readership, or so management my think.

If we couple this jump to the right of the paper with its cost cutting and what we are witnessing is the degeneration of an occasional irritant in the eye of the Australian ruling class into a tabloid, dumbed down for an audience that it won’t attract and won’t hold.  Luckily there is still social media where there are many many reports challenging the narrative of the ruling class and uncritical lackeys like The Canberra Times.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.

Any suggestions for alternative days to celebrate Australia Day?

The idea that we are all one, that we are all in this together, that we are all about the fair go, [fill in the usual class illusions here] takes a bit of a hammering on Invasion Day (aka Australia Day.) Demonstrations across the country remind us that white settlement on 26 January 1788 marked the beginning of 228 years of genocide.

There has been some talk about an alternative day. The bourgeoisie might toy with this idea if the chorus against Invasion Day grows louder and wins a bigger audience.  But the suggestion itself for another day does nothing to challenge the myth that we are a united country.  Having the celebration of Australia Day on 1 January (the day we federated) or 9 May, the day the first Parliament in Canberra sat, or even Anzac Day, 25 April, will do nothing to challenge the systemic racism driven by the ruling class against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, nor stop the ongoing genocide and its consequences.

I have a few suggestions for an Australia Day which reflects the class divided nature of Australian society. Hit the comments button to make your own class based suggestions.

21 May – the day in 1969 that rolling general strikes across Australia in the days previously freed union official Clarrie O’Shea from jail and helped smash the penal powers for about 20 years

2 June – the day in 1802 that freedom fighter Pemulwuy was killed

26 October – the day in 1916 the first conscription referendum was defeated

7 November – the day in 1917 Russian workers established the first workers government anywhere in the world; it is also Leon Trotsky’s birthday

11 November – the day in 1854 the Ballarat Reform Group made basic democratic demands; the day the authorities hanged Ned Kelly; the day the German Revolution ended World War I; and the day the ruling class dismissed the Whitlam Government

3  December – the day in 1854 that diggers stood against the gold licence and its brutal collection at the Eureka Stockade and died for freedom and no taxation without representation

11 November looks like a bit of a winner although the reactionaries would try to appropriate it to celebrate war.

Just to show I am not biased here are some dates worth considering from the other side

21 April – the day in 1926 Queen Elizabeth was born (as compared to the holiday for her birthday which varies from state to state but is mainly in early June)

19 September – International talk like a pirate day, because nothing captures the spirit of the Australian ruling class better than pirates

20 October – the day in 1950 when the Communist Party Dissolution Act came into effect

4 November – the day in 1957 Tony Abbott was born

11 November – the day in 1975 democracy was destroyed

I will no doubt add more as they occur to me or as you make suggestions. To do that hit the comments link under the heading to the article.




Invasion Day is the groundhog day of genocide

I wrote this 2 years ago. It remains depressingly relevant today.




Australia Day is Invasion Day but we will never hear that truth. Bourgeois clichés about the lucky country (what irony!) and our great nation compete with bullshit about our brave soldiers overseas and how we all in this together.

It’s time for some truth about our genocidal and racist history. As George Orwell said telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

White Australia has a black history.

For 65000 years Aboriginal people lived here in harmony with themselves and the environment. Australia Day does not recognise that proud history and prior stewardship. It whitewashes this history by celebrating the arrival of a bunch of neocolonialists and their convicts and guards a mere 225 years ago.

Australia is built on the bones of Aboriginal people.

Our country is trapped in its genocidal history.

Henry Reynolds estimates that, between 1788 and 1920, 20,000 Aboriginal people fell defending their land in an ongoing war against the invaders. The Indigenous population dropped from 300,000 at the time of the invasion to 70,000 130 years later.

Many of these people died because of disease, itself a consequence of the invasion, but they also died as a result of the consequences that flow from genocide and dispossession – murder, poverty, alienation, loss of social structure, alcoholism, racism, lack of food, stolen generations to name a few.

Genocide against Aboriginal people is one theme that runs through the history of the last 225 years. The failure to recognise that genocide is another ongoing theme.

The myth of Australia Day – of Australia as some sort of peacefully settled country – reflects the white bourgeoisie’s attempts to airbrush its brutal role from history. It is also about lulling working people into a mistaken belief they have an interest in the present economic system, that we are all in this big one happy family together.

Aborigines were not passive victims of the white invasion. In and around Sydney, for example, Pemulwuy was a famous freedom fighter defending his land and life. From 1790 to 1802 he waged a sporadic, and then more concerted, guerrilla war against the white invaders.

In 1801 Governor King ordered that Aborigines around Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect could be shot on sight. Late in the year he offered a reward for Pemulwuy’s death or capture. That ‘worked’. Pemulwuy’s killers decapitated him and sent his head to England in alcohol.

There are many other Indigenous freedom fighters we whites ignore; fighters who in a less racist society would be honoured for their stance and the courage of their resistance. Where are our monuments to these fallen heroes?

It was Marx who wrote that the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the mind of the living. This is true in two senses for Aborigines.

First the consequences of the invasion continue today. The war against Aborigines, what I describe as genocide, has fundamentally alienated many Aboriginal people from their land, their identity, their culture and themselves. For example there is a shocking 10-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

The second aspect of being trapped by the past is that the policies of dispossession and genocide are being implemented even today.

The Howard Government invaded the Northern Territory in 2007 to further the destruction of our Indigenous people’s links to their land and culture. 1788 is being repeated today.

Disgracefully the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments continued Howard’s racist Northern Territory intervention, an invasion clearly aimed at further dispossession of Aboriginal people and their complete subjugation to the dictates of their white masters around grog, what they can buy, how much they can spend and whose land it really is.

The Stolen Generations represented an attempt to wipe out Aborigines through forced assimilation.

The Bringing Them Home Report on the Stolen Generations says that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians.

The report clearly recognises that removing children from their parents in order to wipe out the Aboriginal race is genocide. It says:

Systematic racial discrimination and genocide must not be trivialised and Australia’s obligation under international law to make reparations must not be ignored.

Far from being socially divisive, reparations are one essential step the process of reconciliation.

I would suggest to the Labor Party and Greens they re-read the report and when in power implement its recommendations: recommendations that for years festered in the bowels of John Howard’s mind and remained undigested in the constipation that is the ALP.

Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations was symbolism substituting for action. It is clear that Rudd had no intention of taking the apology its next logical step,a step Roland Wilson urged in his Stolen Generations report – reparations for this attempted genocide.

The minimal land rights that exist at the moment are a sop to big business and the racist mentality that Aborigines will steal our backyards.

The proposal to include Aboriginal recognition in the preamble to the Constitution is another feel good do nothing suggestion that continues the whitewash.

The limitation of an enquiry into alcohol abuse to Aboriginal people at the same time the media is creating hysteria about ‘acohohol fueled’ violence in the major cities indicates the Abbott government is about scapegoating Aboriginal people in its ramping up of racist rhetoric and action.

I have been struck by another solution, encapsulated in a Midnight Oil song called Beds are Burning. Peter Garrett sang:

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

Exactly. Let’s pursue real land rights in the context of fundamental reconciliation, because reconciliation is about more than a half-hearted apology or constiutional recognition aimed at disguising the lack of action.

Garrett of course was a committed member of the Gillard Labor Ministry and such words no longer pass his lips. He has sold out.

It is not the man who changes the system but the system that changes the man. Or maybe it is a case of the host taking over the parasite.

Like the warriors of old, Aborigines today will need to fight for justice. Appealing to the good nature of all Australians will not work. Relying on Gillard and Macklin will not work.

Our goal must be to recompense the stolen generation, withdraw the troops and others from the Northern Territory, introduce land rights that recognise prior ownership and set up a system of compensation for the loss of sovereignty.

It is time for a Treaty.

Aborigines have never ceded sovereignty to the colonial invaders. There must be a treaty recognising prior ownership and all the legal, social and financial responsibilities that flow from that. Just as importantly there has to be aboriginal management of aboriginal affairs.

None of this will be won by petitions, or electing Aboriginal people to Parliament, or relying on Labor. As the Arab Spring shows, only struggle from below offers the chance of changing the world.

That means to me uniting the struggle for aboriginal liberation with the struggle for the liberation of all humanity – the fight for socialism.

Australia Day perpetuates the country’s ‘founding’ racist myths and is part of the system that enslaves our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters and, as a consequence, all of us. In the spirit of true reconciliation let’s abolish this celebration of genocide. Let’s instead celebrate the 65000 years of indigenous history and stewardship of this land. Recognise Aboriginal sovereignty, negotiate a treaty and pay the rent. It is time to fight for justice. It is time for justice.


Watch this G-little rap video if you have a spare five minutes. Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this video contains images of people who have died.

How about an elected council of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to be Australia’s President?


There are two major issues on the agenda today – Invasion Day and an Australian Republic.

On the republic the small ‘l’ liberals have revived the push for it.  The same problems that plagued the bourgeois republican model last time will plague it again. The liberals want a model that involves little change. They want a President who is a Governor General in everything but name.

This push for Australian ‘independence’ reflects the economic reality of Australian capitalism today, and for the last 70 years.  Australia is independent of Great Britain and ahs been for aeons. Our economic relations are today with China and the rest of Asia, with the US and Europe rather than the UK, apart from some minor arrangements and capital investment into Australia. But even that capital investment shows the independence of Australian capitalism in the sense that it is a dealing between equals, and reflects the globalisation of capitalism and the safe and secure investment environment Australia usually is.

For the more sensible members of the Australian ruling class ties with the English monarchy are an anachronism, but one they can live with since the arrangements place no restrictions on their capacity to exploit us.

I voted against the republic of the bourgeoisie on offer in 1999. I wanted a directly elected head of state, arguing all our institutions should be democratised.

It is no accident the establishment republicans are pushing the idea of a republic on the eve of Australia Day, the day the invasion and destruction of Aborigines and their homelands began. That genocide and its results continue today. They see the celebrations as an attempt to unify us all around vague expressions of Australianisms such as the fair go, a rhetorical flourish that hides the reality that the fair go is denied Aboriginal people, it is denied workers, it is denied many women, it is denied refugees.

Short of revolution and a workers’ republic, what is a republic we on the left can support and even argue for. Australian capitalism must address the genocide it unleashed and unleashes against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. That would require a treaty, a recognition of prior sovereignty and paying the rent.

We can combine the two. Let’s ditch the Queen for a Presidential Council made up of elected representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Council would have the right and duty to pass or reject legislation. Membership of the Presidential Council would be decided democratically by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters in the process of electing the Council. The Council would negotiate with the Parliament a treaty recognising prior sovereignty and paying the rent.

Now I know that this too, like the workers councils, has little chance of being acceptable to Australian capital or at this stage most workers.  That is not a reason for making the argument. It is a reason for fighting for what could lead to progressive change in Australian society. It challenges capitalist relations in Australia and has the potential to undermine the capital accumulation process.




Stan Grant’s IQ2 Australian dream – Australian racism speech

Stan Grant tells us about the genocide and racism against Aborigines. IQ2 Racism Debate: Stan Grant

Welcome to the hotel academia

Welcome to the hotel academia

In a dark deserted classroom, stale odour in my hair
Warm smell of exams, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the room, I turned on the shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop research for the night

There I was in the doorway;
And students heard the bell
I was thinking to myself,
“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”
Then I started the lecture and I showed them the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the Hotel Academia
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a great rat race
Plenty of unpaid work at the Hotel Academia
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Management’s Tiffany-twisted, they got the Mercedes bends
They got a lot of pretty donors they calls friends
How they corral in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some regulate to remember, some regulate to forget

So I called up the committee: Give me my PhD
They said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1963”
And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night just to hear them say

Welcome to the Hotel Academia
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a great rat race
Plenty of room at the Hotel Academia

Bosses are living it up at the Hotel Academia
What a nice surprise
(What a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Student numbers under the ceiling, the courses are on ice
And the V-C says, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers they gathered for their feast
They stab us with their steely knives but they just can’t kill us beasts

Last thing I remember I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the job I had before
“Relax,” said the Dean, “We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like but you can never leave”

Apologies to the Eagles.

The vote, the war and working class women – the story of the Suffragettes


In the latest edition of socialist magazine Solidarity, Geraldine Fela discusses the new film Suffragette, and how the fight for the vote polarised between wealthy and working class women.

She says among other things:

‘Suffragette is a timely reminder that rights such as the vote were not handed to us by sympathetic parliamentarians. They were fought for, in this case by a movement that had the British establishment terrified.

‘Suffragette pulls no punches in showing us police brutality, and the horror of the force-feeding that hunger striking suffragettes endured as political prisoners. Nor does it hold back in showing us the women’s militancy, from destroying post boxes and smashing windows to blowing up politicians’ country homes. Where the film falls down is in its commitment to portraying a “sisterhood” combining different classes. In reality, wealthy women and poor women didn’t have a common cause. Upper class women ultimately betrayed the movement; it was up to working women to win the vote.’

To read thew whole article click here. Suffragettes: The vote, the war and working class women

Martin Luther King – oppressed and oppressors

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Martin Luther King, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963)


Patriots fighting the state?

The right-wingers who have taken over federal property in eastern Oregon claim to be fighting a tyrannical government, but their outrage is selective, writes Eric Ruder in Socialist Worker US.

Militia members near the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Center
THE ONGOING occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon raises a thicket of political questions significantly more important than the squabbling collection of anti-government protesters and right-wing militia members at the heart of the standoff.

The standoff began after the federal government ordered two ranchers–73-year-old Dwight Hammond and his 46-year-old son Steven–to serve the federally mandated minimum sentence of five years for their arson convictions in 2012 for setting two fires on their ranch, one in 2001 and one in 2006.

The first fire, which the Hammonds say was aimed at killing off an invasive plant species on their land, spread out of control and charred 139 acres of federal land. The second fire, intended to prevent a wildfire that began on federal land from reaching their property and their store of winter feed, damaged one acre of federal land.

In 2012, a federal judge sentenced the Dwight Hammond to three months and his son to one year, arguing that the five-year mandatory minimum would “shock the conscience” and violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Hammonds served these sentences and were released.

But the Department of Justice appealed the judge’s sentencing and won, meaning that the Hammonds would have to return to prison to serve the rest of the five-year mandatory terms. These harsh sentences were the spark for right-wing militias to call for the occupation of the wildlife refuge–though the Hammond family didn’t welcome the support.

In any case, Ammon Bundy, the leader of the Malheur takeover–and also the son of Cliven Bundy, who made headlines over his own 2014 standoff with federal agents at his Nevada ranch, as well as his benign view of slavery–seemed content to let the issue of the Hammonds’ sentences fall by the wayside in order to focus on what he and his cohorts clearly consider the real crime: the federal government’s control of vast areas of Western land.

The so-called Patriot movement spearheading the occupation has relatively little local support. But that likely has as much to do with the locals’ anxieties about getting caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out as it does apathy about the issues involved, which strike deeply in eastern Oregon.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AMONG LIBERALS, progressives and the left, the response to the Oregon occupation has run the gamut.

On the one hand, there’s an understandable outrage at the double standard in the media’s distorted coverage and government’s timid treatment of the right-wing protesters–which at times has spilled over into calls for a crackdown by law enforcement.

On the other hand, there’s been a tendency among some to regard the Malheur occupiers, based on their anger at government repression and federal mandatory minimum sentences, as a potential ally of those on the left who also oppose the state leviathan.

But in a standoff between right-wing militias and the state, the left should resist the temptation to reduce the matter to taking one side against the other.

For example, the kid-gloves treatment of the Oregon occupiers by the media and by law enforcement–in stark contrast to the repression directed at unarmed Occupy Wall Street protesters or the military hardware used to suppress protests in Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore–has been endlessly referenced on social media. It is, indeed, outrageous.

But wishing for law enforcement to crush the protest, as the federal government didduring the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, not only creates martyrs out of the right-wingers, but will inevitably strengthen the legitimacy of the state when it comes to crushing the left. (Who remembers the 1985 attack by Philadelphia police on the Black counterculture group MOVE?)

The double standard applied to the Oregon protesters is absolutely a reflection of the racism embedded in U.S. law enforcement at all levels. But perhaps even more crucial to explaining the authorities’ polite and patient treatment of the protesters is not their whiteness, but their “right-ness”–that is, the reactionary political views they share with an influential wing of the Republican Party.

Consider, for example, the response to a 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Extremism and Radicalization Branch suggesting that a growing anti-government movement oriented on recruiting military veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan could “lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists.”

Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner ranted against this particular line in the report, calling it an unfair characterization of legitimate criticisms of “the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.” The tirades of Boehner, other Republicans and right-wing media outlets compelled then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to retract the report, issue an apology to military veterans, and quietly dismantle the Extremism and Radicalization Branch, according to the New York Times.

The Republican offensive against what would otherwise have been a largely ignored report stands in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s behavior after FBI Director James Comey gave a speech last October blaming an alleged spike in crime on the increased scrutiny of law enforcement–known as the “Ferguson effect”–as a consequence of the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Did Obama fire Comey? Or at least issue a public rebuke of his utterly unfair characterization? Nope, his administration announced that the president supported the FBI director.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A FULL appraisal of the political issues at play in eastern Oregon should start from an understanding of the Hammond family and the nature of its dispute with the government.

The federal judge who refused to impose the mandatory minimum sentence of five years in 2012 may have been right that such a sentence should “shock the conscience”–but Forrest Cameron, the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge back in the 1990s, might beg to differ.

That’s because Dwight Hammond repeatedly threatened Cameron, other wildlife enforcement officials and their families with violence over an eight-year period, according to radical journalists Jeffrey St. Clair and James Ridgeway, whose articles on right-wing movements in the West 20 years focused on the very same rancher in the headlines today.

The conflict began when the Malheur refuge, in order to safeguard wetlands used by migratory birds, refused to renew a grazing permit for Hammond’s cattle. Cameron’s wife received “one call threatening to wrap the Camerons’ 12-year-old boy in a shroud of barbed wire and stuff him down a well,” wrote St. Clair and Ridgeway.

Dwight Hammond started his ranch about 50 years ago on 7,000 acres of land. Today, Hammond Ranches covers about 12,000 acres, and the Hammond family is wealthy and successful. Family members serve as members of school boards, industry groups and various “nonprofits.”

The fires set by the Hammonds in 2001 and 2006 didn’t destroy massive amounts of federal land, but it has also been alleged that the arsons were committed to destroy evidence of deer poaching.

According to a report in the Oregonian, one key witness for the government was a Hammond family member who was a teenager when the fires were set. According to the teen’s testimony, he was told by his relatives to take a box of matches and “light up the whole country on fire.” The teen also told federal agents that “he feared when Steven Hammond learned he had talked to police, that Steven would come to his front door and kill him.”

So whatever the injustice of the mandatory minimum sentences imposed on the Hammonds–and to be clear, mandatory minimum sentences are an affront to justice–it’s also true that this is merely the latest episode in a decades-long string of confrontations caused by the Hammond’s provocative behavior.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AT THE heart of the Hammonds’ grievances against the federal government–like the militias’ complaints–lies a festering hypocrisy: The same ranchers who claim to detest Big Government also benefit handsomely from Big Government.

For example, the Hammonds leased 26,420 acres of land from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for summer grazing–until the government refused to renew the lease due to the arson convictions. Tens of thousands of ranchers across the West lease BLM land each year, usually at very cheap rates. If the BLM stopped providing land at cut-rate prices, it would bankrupt some ranchers–only the most prosperous ones who could buy their own land or afford the higher rates would survive.

But leased land at cheap rates is just the beginning. The government also provides water, roads, fences and other infrastructure that ranchers depend on for their livelihoods.

And many of the militia types protesting in eastern Oregon today have no problem with mandatory minimums when they’re applied to “drug dealers”–coded language for Black and Latino people–or Muslims accused of connections to terrorism. Jon Ritzheimer, one of Malheur occupiers, made headlines when he organized an armed anti-Muslim protestoutside a Phoenix mosque last May.

To be sure, the federal government changes regulations and policies regarding various parcels of land from time to time, and this can cause hardship for ranchers, not to mention the cowboys and ranch hands employed by them. Just as changes in government policy can have devastating effects on social services–such as the federal government’s 2013 decision to cut timber payments to Oregon, which resulted in deep cuts to the state’s 911 emergency services.

But these realities can’t serve as a justification for imagining that the left can have solidarity with the “anti-government sentiment” of the Oregon occupiers. Their rationale for challenging the federal government is wedded to an agenda of land privatization, the “free” market and opposition to environmental regulation.

For the left, our solidarity should be directed not at wealthy right-wing ranchers, but at working people mired in rural poverty. For years, dating back to the mid-1990s,unemployment in Oregon has outpaced national joblessness.

Ranch hands–like those employed by the Hammonds, the Bundys and other major operators to feed, brand, herd and otherwise care for cattle–typically make less than $25,000 a year. They, along with the government workers who deliver the mail, supervise federal lands, teach the kids of the ranchers and the ranch hands, provide emergency services and build the roads–that’s who truly deserves our solidarity.

The Rural Organizing Project (ROP), a progressive group dedicated to organizing in the vast stretches of land outside Oregon’s few urban areas, has provided ongoing accounts of the militia occupation of the wildlife refuge. Its approach is based on social justice, inclusive of groups–such as workers and the LGBT community–often marginalized by the wealthy landowners who dominate the politics of rural communities.

As ROP volunteer Mike Edera puts it in his firsthand account of what’s unfolding at the eastern Oregon occupation:

[W]ho is the real opposition to the militia challenge in rural communities? Right now, the fight is between the established good-old-boy network that has developed a working relationship with federal land managers and an upstart elite that would like to overthrow environmental protections for the benefit of landowners. But who speaks for the majority of folks who are not landowners, who have no voice in the community? And where are the legitimate claims of sovereign Native Nations, whose lands have been so encroached by the ranching and mining industry, and whose accounts have been so criminally mismanaged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs?

Edera and the ROP are putting forward a left alternative that stands for better living standards for working people and the oppressed. For anyone who wants to see a real challenge to the tyranny of the federal government, there can be no common ground with right-wing militias committed to bigotry, violence and unrestrained private profit from public lands.