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Settler Colonialism, Not a Nation of Immigrants

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 2:34pm in

Review of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not "A Nation of Immigrants": Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion.

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The post Settler Colonialism, Not a Nation of Immigrants appeared first on New Politics.

The Decline and Fall of the NT Legal System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 9:36am in


For over five years now I have been regularly writing, presenting papers and speaking in the media, effectively recording the decline and fall of the NT legal system. I have previously described this system as ‘broken’ and ‘not fit for purpose’. The times in which we live are all about decline and fall, and this is evident across most aspects of capitalist liberal democracy. Democratic collapse is upon us and overarching it is the failure to address the impending Anthropocene disaster caused by human-made climate change. Australia is no longer a well-run society. Many of our central institutions are failing and worse. Nothing seems to work as it once did. Everything appears faulty, if not broken. We are crumbling. It is in this context that the NT legal ‘system’ continues its decline, which I record and report accordingly, emphasising that its major victims are Aboriginal Australians, and women, black and white, who are subject to Australia’s greatest scourge: the increase in domestic violence. This legal system is daily failing to provide proper protection for women; ‘slipping through the cracks’ is the threatening order of the day. Just like the country’s slide towards totalitarianism, this decline of the legal system has been incremental.

Nowadays when I step into an NT court I often witness and participate in what has now become a curial absurdity. It’s often just a line of Aboriginal defendants on a conveyor belt, some of them appearing from remand via audiovisual link, who are taken to jail to serve sentences or for further remand. Twenty years ago the system strove for and produced due process. Now it’s just an ‘efficient’ production line. Case management prevails over all other considerations. And so, at the end of most days, beneath each court house (‘clearing house’) the cells are full of Aboriginal cargo ready to be driven down for racking and stacking into the $1.8-billion, now overcrowded, ‘Darwin Correctional Precinct’. At the time of writing the published figures inform that the Darwin jail holds its highest ever number of prisoners. This denigration is bad enough, but what is more disturbing is the stagnant disregard and resignation of twenty-first-century Australians concerning this state of affairs. Voltaire warned us, ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities’.

My article ‘The Aboriginal Gulag: The NT’s Criminal Legal System‘, published by Arena in October 2020, included the fact that the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) had refused to publish it in its official publication Precedent without its editorial additions and reductions. The ALA’s explanation is worth quoting in full:

There are a few rather controversial and provocative statements which if published in Precedent would run the risk of damaging the ALA’s relationship with the NT legal organisations named in your article, some of which have members in the ALA.

Did someone say something about an incremental slide towards totalitarianism?

The subsequent publication of my article in full by Arena then led to Justice Kelly of the NT Supreme Court, at the commencement of a criminal case in which I was counsel, disclosing that she had chosen to engage a senior defamation silk who advised her that the article had defamed her, that I was without a defence, that the damages would be substantial, and that she was contemplating taking action. It seems clear to me that many of the people who run and are part of the NT legal system, and who are, in part, responsible for its degradation, would not want this article to be written, published, distributed and discussed. They just want hush. And disturbingly, hush is increasing by the day in this country. ‘Quiet Australians’ indeed. I can’t oblige. Saying nothing is a decision I refuse to make. I can’t allow cold shoulders and criticisms of being ‘self-appointed’ and ‘always going on about the same thing’ to deter me from attempting to speak truth to power. I also speak out to stress the corrosion of accountability and the belief that history is important and instructive.

Just what have we become?

The malaise that besets the NT legal system is symptomatic of Australia’s fall from grace as a country. Over the last twenty years Australia’s inhumane and cruel policies towards refugees, its increasing incarceration of Aboriginal Australians, its standalone policy of reducing foreign aid, and its scandalous attitude to climate change have made it an international disgrace and pariah. And rightly so. Like many Australians, I am embarrassed. We have become a country without any moral authority—a shameless, wretched nation state.

The recording of this collapse and its consequences is one thing. One then really needs to critically analyse how such a fall occurred and how the decline continues, even when it has been exposed. The major recent example from the NT legal system is the abusive practices inflicted on child detainees at Don Dale and Alice Springs Youth Detention Centres. The gross abuse of Aboriginal children by their state detainers and carers was fully exposed by Four Corners, and there followed the White/Gooda Royal Commission. How could nothing really change as a consequence?

This analysis poses three questions, the answers to which reveal how far Australia has descended and why:

  1. How did Australia, a highly advanced country, adhering to the rule of law and home to sophisticated legal systems, descend into having a particular legal system (the Territory’s) that, for years, allowed the wilful abuse of vulnerable Aboriginal children in its care? How did this happen?
  2. Once fully exposed, how did the same legal and political system fail to make anyone accountable for the abuse?
  3. How does this system, after such exposure, rather than repair itself, continue to further regress?

The NT legal system

The major feature of the NT legal system has always been its extremely high imprisonment levels of Aboriginal men, women and children. The Territory has the highest imprisonment level of any country in the world, with 85 per cent of adult prisoners Aboriginal and 100 per cent of child detainees Aboriginal. Over the last thirty years those numbers have increased, but in the last ten years they have accelerated to levels that beggar belief. Along with this acceleration there has also emerged serious regression in the mistreatment and abuse of juvenile Aboriginal detainees. In July 2016, Four Corners’ ‘Australia’s Shame’ exposed the abuse and torture being inflicted on Aboriginal children in NT detention centres. This led to the White/Gooda Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. That Royal Commission sat from October 2016 to June 2017 and reported in November 2017. The report confirmed, and more, the inhumane abuse suffered by Aboriginal children over a period of years, only a portion of which was revealed in ‘Australia’s Shame’. The cruelties included staff assaults on the children, extensive periods of unlawful isolation, spit-hooding, gassing and the unforgettable use of the restraint chair on the young Aboriginal detainee Dylan Voller. The image of Dylan Voller, locked in a cell alone with his neck, arms and legs strapped to a custom-built restraint chair, spit-hooded and catatonic, is still the image of the twenty-first-century NT legal system. The abuse discovered by the Royal Commission was seriously gross.

One further illustration will suffice, being the seminal story of Jake Roper. Jake agreed to be interviewed on the Four Corners program, telling ABC journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna of his experiences inside Don Dale. He also gave evidence to Commissioners White and Gooda in the Royal Commission. I represented Jake at the Royal Commission. He is from a town in the Centre, Tennant Creek, and in 2014 he was in Don Dale on remand. On 6 June 2014 Jake was put into the infamous Behavioural Management Unit (BMU) of Don Dale. He was locked up alone in a concrete cell measuring 2 metres by 3 metres. His only furniture was a steel toilet, a mattress and a pillow on the concrete floor. There was no direct ventilation or natural sunlight; no fan, no air-conditioning. Jake was kept in that cell alone for twenty-three hours each day, with one hour or less to have a stretch and a shower in the open adjacent courtyard, exposed to one and all as he showered. All his meals had to be consumed alone in his cell, and so they were handed in through the steel-meshed ‘Judas hatch’. There was no washbasin in his cell, so after using the toilet and before having his meals, he was unable to wash his hands. Every day Jake repeatedly asked officers when his detention would end. He was told that there was no release date. He was suffering under the cruellest of the cruel: indefinite detention. Jake was fourteen years old. His distress was compounded because his traumatic upbringing meant he was already suffering from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. That torture lasted sixteen days before he managed to break out of his cell. On day sixteen, a guard forgot to lock his cell door and Jake got out, in an obvious state of distress, and ran amok in the courtyard. ‘Do you know how long I have been in here, brus?’ Jake repeatedly yelled out. The footage of this scene was shown on Four Corners. Jake and the five other boys in the BMU, who were still locked in their cells, were gassed, extracted, cuffed, hosed down, and then spit-hooded before being moved into the adult prison. That was on the night of Thursday 21 August 2014—seven years ago. It was later in 2014 that the then Country Liberal Party government reopened the decommissioned and condemned Berrimah Prison, closed down the purpose-built Don Dale juvenile facility and moved all the kids into the former jail. When questioned in the Legislative Assembly as to the reason for this, Attorney-General John Elferink said the move would ‘enable us to deal with some of these juveniles who have caused us grief’.

Astonishingly, Aboriginal children are today still detained in that condemned prison, which the government perversely calls ‘Don Dale’. Calling it ‘Don Dale’ is a sinister ruse to disguise the fact that children are being locked up in a condemned adult prison that, back in 2011, Commissioner for Corrections Ken Middlebrook described as ‘only fit for a bulldozer’. Aboriginal children have now been in there since 2014. The Royal Commission’s first recommendation, in November 2017, was to shut it down, get the children out and move them into a purpose-built juvenile facility. That recommendation has been blithely ignored ever since, and there the children remain. At the time of writing there is now a record high number of boys and girls kept in this prison, 80 per cent of them on remand. The only significant opposition to this has come from the children themselves, who have attempted to escape, rioted and, on one occasion, tried to burn the place down.

How did this happen?

1. Racism, silence, truth-telling and the moral decline

Lest there be any doubt, this is racism writ large. Aboriginal people have been subjected to the evil of racism from day one of white colonisation of Australia. Murders, rapes, land theft through the legal fiction of terra nullius, Stolen Generations and this incarceration cancer all stem from racism. Make no mistake: this protracted abuse of Aboriginal children in state institutions by state employees could never have occurred if those children were white. No chance. The level and amount of racism in Australia today is worse than it was thirty years ago. Booing Adam Goodes into retirement and throwing bananas at Eddie Betts demonstrate this decline.

The decline I have described is not unique to the NT legal system. The whole world is in similar decline. What seemed immutable twenty years ago is no longer so, but very little is actually said about it. As they said about the last years of the Soviet Union: ‘everything was forever until it was no more’. Australia, including the Territory, has now very little real public-interest journalism. There are few to no voices attempting to hold power to account. The local NT media seem normalised and government-friendly. Why is a lawyer writing this article?

Australia is currently susceptible to a form of collective amnesia: a wish not to confront the troubling details of its present and recent past. The English art historian John Berger stated that ‘the role of capitalism is to destroy history, to orientate all effort and imagination to that which is about to occur’. Throughout my readings of Australian history and Aboriginal affairs, I always return to Professor William Stanner. It was he who exposed the then central feature of Australian history: its failure to accept the truth about its treatment of Aboriginal Australians. That feature has, up to recent times, been effectively suppressed. As Stanner described it in his 1968 Boyer Lecture:

It is a structural matter, a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape. What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness practiced on a national scale. We have been able for so long to disremember the Aborigines that we are hard put to keep them in mind even when we most want to do so. [my emphasis]

This ‘cult of forgetfulness’ also partly explains why the regressive slide of the NT legal system continues.

2. Moral decline

This descent has very much been part of a general moral decline that has occurred across the Western world. Neoliberalism and the catastrophe of ‘individualisation’ have combined to significantly change and dehumanise Australians of 2021 compared with Australians of thirty years ago. We are now a more selfish and less informed lot than we were then. This, along with the addiction to consumerism, and the lack of economic and employment security, has also led to a drop in most professional standards. Further, a perennial feature of Australian society has always been apathy. This has increased significantly to become the evil of indifference, and now, resignation and unashamed disinterest. Words like ‘altruism’, ‘integrity’, even ‘honesty’, are literally heard less in Australia’s daily life. This is why, after writing for over five years on this topic, I am forced to wonder if anybody out there cares or is even interested in hearing about this continued catastrophic decline.

3. Non-accountability—the age of impunity

Jake’s isolation detention was unlawful. It was done to Jake knowingly, not only by his immediate jailers at Don Dale but also by the then Executive Director of Youth Detention, Salli Cohen, and the then Minister for Corrections, John Elferink. They all gave evidence at the Royal Commission that revealed they knew that Jake was being held under those conditions. No one, including them, was ever held accountable for Jake’s treatment in Don Dale. Further, concerning accountability, those abuses committed against Jake and all the other Aboriginal children in Don Dale and Alice Springs Detention Centres occurred over years, not days. Throughout the entire period, all the children were represented by lawyers from either the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) or the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission (NTLAC). What were they doing? During the Royal Commission, Commissioners White and Gooda refused to examine what the lawyers did or did not do for their clients in relation to all of this abuse. It thereby became ‘The Royal Omission of Inquiry’. The politicians, including the then chief minister, Adam Giles, as well as high-level bureaucrats and prison officers, were all summonsed and made to give evidence. They were thereby exposed to cross examination and duly criticised in the media. Not so any of the lawyers. Needless to say, not one of the scores of vulnerable and exposed Aboriginal children who were abused within custody made any complaint to the NT Law Society about their lawyers’ participation in all of this. It was situation normal— to be expected. The NT Law Society, which is fully aware of this aspect, have chosen not to use its legislative power to make the complaint itself and investigate the question. Its decision not to do so was exposed by the Legal Affairs Editor of The Australian,Chris Merritt in a September 2018 article.

This impunity is one of the symptoms of the decline pervading current democratic systems. You see it everywhere, from the Global Financial Crisis to the Banking Royal Commission—and watch this space for the Brereton Afghanistan Inquiry Report. It includes and is caused by the community becoming habituated to seeing politicians and the system regularly exposed for transgressions. Nowadays, following years of attrition, lies are accepted, corruption goes on, the corrupt are rewarded, and no one cares. A core feature of this decline has been the steady and incremental drop in professional and moral standards. As the ever-prescient Richard Flanagan said in his 2011 Alan Missen Oration: ‘we have agreed with too much that was wrong for too long’. Non-accountability is now a hallmark of contemporary Australian society. It also strongly suggests that our society is on its last legs. No one ever pays the price for wrongdoing—unless, that is, you happen to be an Aboriginal juvenile who has stolen a car. For them there has to be, as the sentencing judge tells them, ‘consequences for their actions’. They ‘go straight to jail’ on the system’s still-functioning raison d’être: the video-audio-linked conveyor belt to prison. Following the exposure by the Royal Commission, no one was effectively held accountable and since then little has changed. Much has been written and recorded about this non-outcome, this nothingness. It is not seriously in dispute. This clearly confirms that we live in an age of impunity.

Why is it getting worse?

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist…

Martin Niemöller, Berlin, 1946

Concerning opposition, in 2021 one hears very little real or effective protest from the traditional representative bodies tasked to represent and agitate for these vulnerable Aboriginal children. Neither NAAJA, NTLAC, the NT Bar Association, the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory (CLANT), etc., present any form of real opposition to this disgraceful state of affairs. But then, this was also the case during the period the Royal Commission investigated. Epitomising this, during the Royal Commission, the then president of CLANT and the NTLAC senior lawyer, Russell Goldflam, gave evidence. When asked about the performance of the legal profession and what they knew during this horror period, he said:

We all knew that there were terrible things going on in the Youth Detention facilities. Although Four Corners hadn’t been aired, it wasn’t a secret that spit hoods and chairs and all the rest of it were being used. I had written about this myself publicly, over a year before—just on a year before Four Corners was aired. So it was an issue of the most pressing concern.

Goldflam further said in his witness statement that CLANT’s policy had been one of ‘cooperation’ and ‘collaboration’ with government. He considered it to be a ‘cordial’ and ‘productive’ relationship.

These representative bodies are all now well and truly co-opted into the system and the retention of the status quo. The occasional article published in lawyers’ journals, which no one reads, plus some short-lived lip-service disagreement are as good as it gets.

Further deterioration

Within this muted environment the current NT Labor government played its latest trick: taking with one hand whilst giving nothing with the other. In May 2021, it made amendments to the Bail Act that restricted bail and diversionary programs for juveniles, thus increasing to a record high the numbers now remanded in custody in this prison. Dovetailing with the amendments, and anticipating the inevitable increase in juvenile detention, $5 million of expenditure was dedicated to ‘refurbish’ and open disused cells to detain the growing number of Aboriginal children being ‘remanded in custody’. As I have said, there are now record high numbers of Aboriginal children being held in Berrimah prison.

While the NT Labor government passes real laws to increase the number of Aboriginal children in jail, it produces its long-awaited and much-touted solution to this disaster. It’s called the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, and a bigger example of political cynicism you wouldn’t want to encounter. It’s truly a product of the post-truth age. It’s a signed agreement between the Labor government, the co-opted NAAJA and others that contains a lot of words taken from the dictionary of mission statements and the recipe for fairy floss. It’s also, of course, beautifully decorated with dot paintings by Aboriginal primary-school children. What is not in this agreement sums up its real worth.

It does not contain and should contain a commitment within twelve months to implement all the recommendations from the Royal Commission’s report, including getting those children out of that jail. It does not contain and should contain increasing the age of criminal responsibility from ten to fourteen years. It does not contain and should contain dismantling the curse of mandatory sentencing. It does not contain and should contain legislating to return to allowing NT sentencing courts to take into account, when appropriate, Aboriginal customary law.

Those aspects aside, the best thing that could happen here—and it would be based on the evidence seen and heard in the Royal Commission—is for juvenile justice to be taken away from NT government control and taken up by an Aboriginal-controlled organisation consisting of appropriately qualified and experienced Aboriginal people. This would be culturally appropriate, effective, and cheaper.

On the 28 June 2021, in the Local Court of Alice Springs, Jake Roper pleaded guilty to various offences, including three police assaults that he committed, two of which occured while resisting arrest for a breach of bail. He is now twenty-one. Since his release from his experiences in Don Dale and giving evidence at the Royal Commission, his criminal record reveals several convictions for police assaults. He was sentenced to sixteen months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of eight months. Bearing in mind his criminal record relating to assaulting authority figures, his prospects of ever getting parole are probably thin. Jake Roper’s story says it all. As was the case seven years ago, his fate can be seen as acutely symbolic of an entire generation of young Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory living under a broken, decaying and extremely punitive carceral system.

‘It’s Raining Motorcars’: Mining and the destruction of Aboriginal Sacred Sites

Jack Green, Seán Kerins, 20 May 2021

We were out in Gudanji country, a place some of us older people know well. But we didn’t know where we were. The river had gone, huge mountains of waste rock were piled high in the sky, blocking our view of The Barramundi Dreaming… We were lost in our own country.

Bus advertising. New

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/08/2021 - 9:45am in

Bus advertising. New exhibition at Sydney’s Australian Museum - recently refurbished at a cost of $A57M - re-examining the country’s colonial history through the experiences of the Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately closed until current outbreak of the Coronavirus Delta mutant is under control. Canterbury.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/07/2021 - 6:54am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

July 22, 2021 Robert Fatton, author of The Guise of Exceptionalism, on the assassination of Haiti’s president and the long history that led to this sorry pass

Book Review: The Economic History of Colonialism by Leigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/07/2021 - 9:02pm in

In The Economic History of ColonialismLeigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy offer a new historical account of the relationship between economic development and colonialism, showing how diverse processes of colonisation impacted on patterns of economic growth. Seeking to understand the roots of growth as well as poverty and inequality in formerly colonised nations as well as the origins of the environmental challenges we are facing in the current century, this book offers a nuanced study of the economic history of colonialism and its lasting legacies, finds Ritwika Patgiri.

The Economic History of Colonialism. Leigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy. Policy Press. 2021.

Understanding the Economic Legacy of Colonialism from a Diversity Perspective

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Economic inequality is a reality of the world that we live in today. Many economic historians tend to agree that the root of most of this economic inequality is a path-dependent outcome of many historical processes, European colonialism being one of the most important ones. Leigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy’s The Economic History of Colonialism is a reminder of the economic impact of this colonial legacy. However, by taking into consideration how the process of colonisation was diverse, they show that it was this diversity rather than the shared colonial legacy that shaped patterns of growth. The book contains ten essays or chapters on various aspects of the economic history of colonialism, starting from understanding the link between colonialism and the emergence of large gaps in terms of per capita incomes between countries.

Two transformations shaped the world – as Europeans conquered 84 per cent of the globe between 1492 and 1960, trade and industrialisation benefitted some regions with sustained growth while others were not at the receiving end of this (1). The book explores the complexity of the colonial process in different regions, leading to different experiences, and suggests that there is no linear narrative of colonial rule and economic change.

The diversity of the experiences of various colonies raises the important question of whether there can be a general account or theory of colonialism. The authors find that there is a general theory of the origins of colonialism which is a combination of European expansion and the local conditions of the regions that were colonised. The book explores four distinct pathways of the origins of colonialism that have emerged as a result of this combination – the political or the militaristic route (this route involved invasion or imposition without definite economic gain in sight, like in the case of Algeria in the early nineteenth century); the commercial path (which can also be called the maritime route, in which merchants had more agency and involved trading partnerships with local merchants and traders rather than outright conquest, like in India from the late eighteenth century); the inland settler pattern (settler-led colonisation or governments with the intention of resettlement like the Portuguese traders and missionaries settling in seventeenth-century southern Africa); and the island settler pattern (plantation societies emerging not as a result of a grand plan, like in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans).

The book also tries to understand the interconnectedness of globalisation and colonialism. The authors reject the claim that globalisation was a one-sided exchange between the colonies and the colonial power. The book also pays attention to the dynamics of growth and development in the colonies during the colonisation and subsequent decolonisation periods. The book further iterates that colonial states did not merely exploit or benefit from the local population. It is suggested that the interests of colonial governments might not necessarily be antithetical to economic growth in their colonies: ‘Colonialism offered little in the way of political or civil rights to most indigenous inhabitants of the colonies, although there were opportunities of social mobility which may have given some individuals greater political voice than they had under pre-colonial systems, which were in many cases neither democratic nor egalitarian’ (69). Even minimal colonial interventions in education and healthcare played a role in improving the standards of living for at least some sections of the people living in some of the colonies.

Image Credit: Building of a railway bridge in Sri Lanka (then ‘Ceylon’). Crop of photograph ‘CO 1069-573-22’ from The National Archives UK, No Known Copyright Restrictions 

But this did not mean colonialism aimed for the development of all sectors or all sections of society. In fact, most of the time, the consequences of a colonial policy were either unintended or surpassed their intention. The case of railways can be understood in this context. Irrespective of the intent, the construction of railways led to a reduction in transport costs, hence opening up new possibilities for the production of exports in regions that were not previously connected to ports. Railways also contributed to internal market integration in larger colonies like India.

However, the railways, along with the new technologies in transportation and farming, also led to rising unequal access to markets and increased the vulnerabilities of colonial economies. With better transportation and farming technologies, colonies saw opportunities to increase the incomes of both producers of exports and suppliers of food and labour services to exporters. But this growth through trade made these colonies more susceptible to economic reversal when prices fell. For example, when cocoa prices declined in the 1930s, poorer farmers were forced to sell their trees, accelerating inequality in Caribbean island colonies (68). Colonial governments were also uninterested in encouraging development in the manufacturing sector in the colonies.

If the economic benefits and costs of colonialism were mixed, why did these colonies exist? Was it just for the sole purpose of serving power and prestige? Did the possession of colonies repay the cost of maintaining them? It is also noteworthy that apart from the economic costs and benefits, colonialism has also led to social and psychological effects, or the ‘imperial experience’ as termed by A.G. Hopkins (1988, 234), which are often excluded by economic historians. The authors provide no conclusive answers to these questions, but rather explore how the drive to prestige and power did not intentionally aim for a particular consequence. The economic legacies of the colonies remain a product of a combination of colonial policies and indigenous factors.

The book then delves into areas less commonly featured in economic history debates. In most of the previous colonies, it is important to understand the role of colonialism in shaping environmental discourses and policies. Imperial history and environmental history often overlap, leading to a distorted form of environmental history. Approaches like the post-colonial and colonial environmentalism dictate the scholarship in this area. The former maintains that environmental policies of regulation are a form of extending power over indigenous people; according to the latter, state regulations stem from theories of ecological balance and human action can upset this. However, the authors mention that this scholarship remains incomplete as it does not take into account all the regions that witnessed indirect and limited colonial rule.

The book finally concludes with a chapter on decolonisation, which often remains ignored in the economic literature on colonialism. Gardner and Roy have argued that it is not just the ‘high points of colonial rule’ but also the end of the empire that are as much a product of the European expansion of power and policies and indigenous factors. Some regions saw a peaceful transfer of power, while others witnessed conflict as an immediate aftermath of decolonisation. The transfer of power was crucial as it offered opportunities as well as risks, the choice of retaining close ties with imperial businesses or looking to rival powers for trade and commerce.

Along with the historical roots of poverty, growth and inequality in the colonies, the book also attempts to understand the origins of the environmental challenges that many of the emerging countries are facing in the current century. The book gives a nuanced view of how colonial rule was not merely intended as an exploitative tool but was a combination of the empire’s desire for power, the intended or unintended consequences of their policies as well as local factors. While most of the past literature on the economic history of colonialism has looked at the exploitative motive or the policies of the empire in question, this book attempts to provide a new understanding of the process which has had a lasting legacy for the Global South even today.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.


The Holocaust "comparability" debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 10:09am in

The question of how to understand the Holocaust has troubled historians since the first knowledge of the war of extermination against the Jews of Europe became widespread in the 1940s. Is the Holocaust unique in human history? Can the crimes of the Holocaust be compared to other periods of genocide in the twentieth century? Is there a connection between Hitler's war on the Jews and German character, German colonialism, or German philosophy?

The most recent iteration of the debate is taking place through a spate of articles, books, and internet contributions by talented scholars like Neil Gregor, Michael Rothberg, Jurgen Zimmerer, Achille Mbembe, Dirk Moses, and others, and the debate has been intense. A. Dirk Moses, author of The Problems of Genocide, frames the debate in a contribution to Geschichte der gegenwert (History of the present; link) that has stimulated a series of excellent responses in the New Fascism Syllabus (link). Moses' article is short and polemical, provocatively titled "The German Catechism" (link). Moses believes that the politics of the Federal Republic of Germany over the past several decades have led to a dogmatic and limiting set of assumptions about how scholars and the public should understand and remember the Holocaust. And he believes this set of strictures makes it difficult to bring forward the facts of genocide and atrocity that were part of the European colonial practice in Africa and other parts of the world. Moses puts his view in these terms:

For many, the memory of the Holocaust as a break with civilization is the moral foundation of the Federal Republic. To compare it with other genocides is therefore considered a heresy, an apostasy from the right faith. It is time to abandon this catechism. (link)

Moses describes the debate as revolving around a "catechism" of beliefs about the Holocaust which, according to some, should never be questioned:

  1. The Holocaust is unique in that it involves the unrestricted annihilation of Jews for the sake of their annihilation.In contrast to the pragmatic and limited goals for which other genocides were undertaken, a state here tried for the first time in history to wipe out a people solely for ideological reasons.
  2. Since it destroyed interpersonal solidarity in an unprecedented manner, the memory of the Holocaust as a breach of civilization forms the moral foundation of the German nation, often even of European civilization.
  3. Germany bears a special responsibility for the Jews in Germany and is obliged to show particular loyalty to Israel: "Israel's security is part of the raison d'être of our country."
  4. Anti-Semitism is a prejudice and ideologem sui generis and it was a specifically German phenomenon. It should not be confused with racism.
  5. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. (link)

The discussion of Moses' polemical piece has alternated between general support for Moses' ideas in broad strokes and criticisms of the sharper edges of his piece. On the "support" side is a very thoughtful piece by Neil Gregor (link), including this general remark about the importance of understanding the Holocaust in a broader historical context: "For a long time, the history of National Socialism has made much greater sense to me when understood as European history as well as German history, and I have always thought it important to locate it within wider histories of European colonialism and racial science, to read its ideological drives within the contexts of more generic nationalism, militarism and anti-democratic thought, and to see it as having been incubated by powerful tendencies in not just German, but European histories from the nineteenth century onwards." Gregor also offers a series of thoughtful hesitations about Moses' article, mostly having to do with its categorical and polemical tone.

The heart of the debate has to do with the status of the Holocaust in world history. Is the Shoah historically unique and incomparable to other terrible events? Does it represent a "civilizational break"? Do historians diminish the moral importance of the Holocaust by discussing it in the context of broader historical circumstances and actions in Europe and the world? Is a concern for colonial violence and European racism in Africa, Palestine, or other parts of the colonized world a tacit diminishment of the importance of the Holocaust? Is it possible -- as historians do in the nature of their work -- to analyze the Holocaust in a comparative mode, considering regimes of killings in other parts of the world as well?
A very basic thread of this debate is the relationship between the crimes of the Holocaust by the Nazi regime and the crimes of colonial powers in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. From outside the debate -- and outside Germany -- it seems clear that it is necessary to be able to consider the historical causes of multiple human catastrophes -- as Timothy Snyder does in treating the Holocaust and the Holodomor in the same book (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin). This effort at placing large events in a historical context and considering their dynamics in comparison to other historical processes is at the heart of the historian's craft. This does not imply one evil is the same as another; it simply reflects a very ordinary moral conviction that it is crucial to honestly recognize the crimes of the past, whoever the perpetrators and whoever the victims.
The fifth item in the catechism is especially politically charged in the context of today's geopolitical realities. It implies that criticisms of the military and governmental policies of the state of Israel are inherently anti-Semitic. And yet this position is plainly fundamentally unacceptable from a moral point of view. It is evident that scholars and citizens alike must be free to express their disapproval and alarm about official actions of the government of Israel in its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied territories, and Israel itself. The equation of criticisms of state policies by Israel with anti-Semitism connects directly with international disagreements about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), as well as efforts in Germany and the United States to limit support for BDS. Again, whatever the justice of the demands associated with BDS, it seems evident on its face that a liberal state cannot enact legislation prohibiting support for the BDS movement.
A recent eruption in the controversy about memory and the Holocaust is a debate that arose in Germany in 2020 concerning the writings of Achille Mbembe (link). Mbembe is a noted Cameroonian scholar on post-colonial history, with a long record of highly-regarded scholarship. He has been an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of Palestine. "The occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our times, one of the most dehumanizing ordeals of the century we have just entered, and the biggest act of cowardice of the last half-century" (foreword to Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy). He has expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) as a response to policies and military / police actions of the state of Israel against Palestinian citizens. The controversy was taken up officially in Germany by Felix Klein, the first Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Mbembe was accused of anti-Semitism for his position on BDS, and he was accused of relativizing the Holocaust, apparently because of his use of the concept of apartheid in application to Israel. Mbembe has vigorously denied the charge of anti-Semitism at all levels.
One of the historians whose work has been at the center of the debate about comparability is Michael Rothberg. His Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization makes the effort to draw own the relationships that exist at multiple levels -- structural and moral -- between the extermination campaign against Europe's Jewish population and the systematic violence and murder that occurred through colonial governance in Africa and elsewhere. The idea of the "multidirectionality" of memory plays a key role in his treatment; instead of comparison, we are invited to consider a range of facts and causes of the evils of genocide, slavery, and mass violence. Here is how he formulates the basic issue in Multidirectional Memory (discussing Walter Benn Michaels' treatment of the parallel facts of US slavery and the Holocaust):
In this passage Michaels takes up one of the most agonizing problems of contemporary multicultural societies: how to think about the relationship between different social groups’ histories of victimization. This problem, as Michaels recognizes, also fundamentally concerns collective memory, the relationship that such groups establish between their past and their present circumstances. A series of questions central to this book emerges at this point: What happens when different histories confront each other in the public sphere? Does the remembrance of one history erase others from view? When memories of slavery and colonialism bump up against memories of the Holocaust in contemporary multicultural societies, must a competition of victims ensue? (kl 154)
Rothberg is a participant is the current debate about historical memory, and his interpretation of the Mbembe affair is especially helpful for readers trying to understand the terms of the debate (link). Here is Rothberg's summary of the circumstances of the affair in Germany:

Mbembe, one of the world’s most prominent theorists of race, colonialism, violence, and human possibility, was slated to speak in August 2020 at a cultural festival in Germany, the Ruhr Triennial. A regional politician, Lorenz Deutsch, decided to try and block Mbembe’s appearance by issuing an open letter that presented a handful of citations from Mbembe’s work mentioning the Holocaust, apartheid, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. On the basis of these short and decontextualized excerpts, Deutsch accused Mbembe of “anti-Semitic ‘Israel critique,’ Holocaust relativization, and extremist disinformation.” Deutsch’s interpretation of Mbembe’s work—which I consider tendentious, partial, and misleading—was taken up and affirmed by a more prominent voice, that of Felix Klein, the German Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and for the Fight against Antisemitism. Although the Ruhr Triennial was canceled because of the coronavirus, Deutsch and Klein nevertheless wanted its director censured and Mbembe disinvited because the latter had allegedly profaned the Holocaust, demonized Israel, and offered support to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). BDS, a non-violent campaign that calls for the end of the occupation, the return of refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians, was deemed intrinsically antisemitic in a controversial 2019 Bundestag declaration, despite protests by intellectuals and activists, including many Jewish ones. Mbembe stated that he was not a member of the BDS movement, but even a tangential association with BDS has proven enough to tarnish reputations in contemporary Germany—as the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Peter Schäfer, also learned last year. (link)

Rothberg suggests that we would be well advised to reconceive the issues by recognizing that comparison is not the most fundamental issue; instead, the subtext of both historians' debates has to do with responsibility and the denial of responsibility.
The juxtaposition of Historikerstreit versions 1.0 and 2.0—as well as the wide-ranging discussions about Holocaust memory, colonialism, slavery, and Israel/Palestine that continue in Germany and elsewhere—clarifies the need to link memory to solidarity and historical responsibility: that is, to the ethical and political commitments that subtend public forms of remembrance. Beyond comparison lies the implication of the intellectuals who debate comparisons in the histories they dispute. In the simplest terms, we can say that the original Historikerstreit involved a clash among Germans over Germany’s particular responsibility for the Holocaust. In the new discussions, the participants are not all Germans and the histories at stake are more than European. Far from diluting the participants’ implication in historical and contemporary injustices, however, this enlargement of the field of comparison sharpens the question of responsibility. The new Historikerstreit is not a controversy only for Germans and Europeans, but it is not one they can evade either.
Dirk Moses offers a very extensive reply, rebuttal, and reinforcement of his views in a concluding post in the series (link). There is a great deal of developed argumentation in his closing article, and it is worth reading carefully. However, it doesn't become less polemical. If anything, Moses raises the stakes in his polemics, making German white supremacy the key to the German catechism that he attacks. But as numerous contributors to the debate have already shown, the motivations and moral positions of the scholars and thinkers whose work led to what Moses describes as "the catechism" were anything but reactionary and racist.
Plainly these debates are complicated and intertwined with academic, political, and emotional allegiances. Johannes von Moltke's contribution to the New Fascism colloquium is an especially thoughtful effort to disentangle the many threads of the debate (link). Here is a very concise statement of Moltke's position from the end of his article in the New Fascism colloquium:
However, especially in view of the analogy that Moses admittedly furnished by his choice of imagery, it is worth noting that the parallels end right there. For where Moses critiques the catechism in the name of greater differentiation, where Rothberg and Zimmerer call for more multidirectionality and comparison, the far-right advocates for its outright abolition as the only way to free the Germans from the burden of guilt. To them, the problem lies, neither in the singularity thesis nor in the ritualization of Holocaust memory per se, but in their “psychological and political effects on the German Volk.” The purpose of critique, consequently, is not inclusiveness, recognition, or solidarity across multiple identity groups but ethnonationalist retrenchment. Agreeing at first blush with the thesis of a catechism that rules Germans lives, Sellner winds his way to conclusions diametrically opposed to both the letter and the spirit of Moses’s intervention. If for the former the catechism demands to be countered by “inclusive thinking,” the latter sees it only in terms of its “inescapable consequences”: “the exchange of the population through replacement migration as well as the routine, targeted traumatization of indigenous youth.” By which he presumably means “bio-Germans.” Moses, Rothberg, and Zimmerer want a different culture of memory; Sieferle and Sellner want none.

The contributions to the extended series in New Fascism Syllabus are deep and provocative. The series is an important contribution to the large topic of how to make sense of the atrocities of the twentieth century, and a collection of the articles would make an excellent short book. These contributions by leading scholars of genocide and the Holocaust provide a great deal of insight into the difficult question of how to confront evil in history. 

Lest We Forget: The Harmful Policy Legacies of the Northern Territory Intervention

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 3:00am in



Editor: The fourteenth anniversary of the intervention was met without any coverage in Australia’s mainstream news media. Considering the below, this silence is deafening and damning.

The date 21 June 2021 marks the fourteenth anniversary of the day the Howard government, with Opposition support, intervened in Indigenous affairs and population management in the Northern Territory, deploying its constitutional powers, and its fiscal and military might.

Using the pretext of addressing universal dysfunction in remote Indigenous communities, a national emergency response, the Intervention, was declared, and the government deployed its monopoly over the legal use of force and violence. The privilege of citizenship was erased for remote-living Aboriginal people in seventy-three prescribed communities that had been government settlements and missions in an earlier policy epoch.

The Intervention sought to revisit and amplify a colonial attempt by the Commonwealth in the 1950s to assimilate Indigenous peoples, some then still living at or even beyond the frontier, speaking Aboriginal languages, largely adhering to their own laws, customs, beliefs and values. Government policy looked to reform those with tradition-influenced ways of living into compliant mainstream subjects.

This assimilation project deployed brutality, including the taking away of children and the deliberate destruction of distinct lifeways in the name of Western development. By 1972 the assimilation project was assessed a failure and was abandoned, assumed dead and buried forever as forms of self-determination, self-management and community control became the bases for a more benign and humane approach.

One can debate the so-called outcomes of the new ‘self-determination’ approach from 1972 that was more keenly attuned to global trends to decolonise subjected populations.

But two things are certain.

First, the Australian settler state and society has never given up on an overarching goal to assimilate—now more politely couched as ‘normalising’ or ‘mainstreaming’—remote-living Indigenous peoples. In other decolonising places, assimilation is more bluntly called what it is: absorption (in the United States) and cultural genocide (in Canada).

Second, self-determination was never properly resourced on any equitable needs basis that by reason of fairness took into account historical injustice and extreme remoteness. Despite the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act (Cth) in 1975, the policy approach remained fundamentally racist: Aboriginal people in remote places were treated as second-class citizens, with poor access to all services, including health, housing, education, employment and community infrastructure.

The Intervention set out to eradicate the ‘self-determination’ approach and unleash restorative free-market capitalism on remote places, to be expertly guided by state schemes to modify behaviour and educate and train the workforce.

Having failed once in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth was back for another go, this time targeting not just individuals classified as deviant irrespective of their local status or behaviour but also targeting communities, kin networks and organisations that had been judged as failures according to the ideological metrics of the powerful.

This was to be a once-and-for all, do-or-die, big-daddy state intervention to eliminate Aboriginal ways and replace them with Western ‘Aussie’ ways. A year later, a national approach was introduced by the Rudd government to measure progress to sameness with unnegotiated, uniform  Closing the Gap statistical targets for all.

Fourteen years on, one looks back sadly at the devastation and havoc wreaked by the Intervention, with contemporary morbidity—long-term ill effects—experienced by many whom the imposed measures were supposed to heal and restore.

People in communities in the Territory have experienced over a decade of discriminatory racist exceptionalism, with state attempts to regulate all aspects of the lives of those deemed unworthy. The main triggers for such an assessment are whether a person is employed (in places where only three in ten adults have paid work) and whether they are seen as conforming to Western ways in the upbringing of their offspring and the maintenance of their households.

A set of disciplinary measures has been put in place, and the only route to liberation is conformity with settler-colonial ways of being. The only option available to those who resist is ongoing exclusion and neglect.

Crude and sophisticated forms of surveillance have been deployed in this biopolitical Intervention: people’s expenditures are controlled and managed with electronic cards; access to welfare is subject to draconian and onerous mutual obligation requirements; school attendance is policed by ‘yellow shirted’ school attendance and truancy officers; community stores are regulated by licencing officers; public housing is checked by tenancy officers; social workers seek out children deemed ‘failing to thrive’ to be taken to risky foster care outside community; and more and more police with extraordinary powers criminalise people for minor offences, many of whom are then sent to prison. These are hyper-regulated places supposedly normalised and opened to market capitalism.

In rehearsing all this surveillance, I am not suggesting that there are no problems. Most communities face massive social and economic challenges. But these are largely the result of poverty and disadvantage that has snowballed after decades of neglect, not a direct consequence of Indigeneity.

What have these cruel attempts at behavioural reprogramming achieved as individuals, communities and their organisations have experienced the intensification of the old assimilationist approach?

In some places there is better physical infrastructure—houses, schools, shops, even swimming pools. Some of this is funded from mining moneys from mineral extraction on Aboriginal-owned lands. And kids are getting better dental services and in many places school lunches.

But all the available official statistics tell us that the behavioural Intervention to assimilate, develop and close the gaps is failing: unemployment is higher than ever, school attendance is lower than ever, poverty rates are higher than ever (more than 50 per cent of people live below the poverty line), overcrowding in public housing is everywhere and—most damning of all—more than 40 per cent of households report running out of food, many living in rich Australia are going hungry, and people are dyintimtimg prematurely because of poverty.

The intentional destruction of existing institutions has been a disaster for the 50,000 Indigenous people living in remote NT communities. Unfortunately, there is no accountability for this failure and waste—neither for the architects of this approach nor for their political masters. Both sides of mainstream politics are to blame for this abject failure of policy and practice, yet neither side is apologising or seeking the radical change in direction back to self-determination and community control that is so urgently needed.

Instead the national project remains to open Aboriginal lands for mineral exploration and extraction; to train Aboriginal people to be precarious labourers; and to use black capital from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (that holds royalties raised on Aboriginal-owned land) in this risky developmental process.

This ongoing process of extraction is now dressed up as ‘co-design’, the new buzzword alongside old buzzwords like ‘workability’, ‘reform’ and ‘development’. (One is reminded of Paul Keating’s warning in 1995: ‘Beware the whispered word workability’—workability for whom? Development for whom?)

Some of the current approach reeks of indirect colonial rule, Canberra capture and deal-making with northern elites to get its imposed way; some reeks of selective amnesia, a national speciality, overlooking the millions and millions wasted and the harm done in the name of improvement; and some reeks of path dependency and lazy policy-making by governments and a political reorientation to fresh priorities like ‘constitutional recognition’ and ‘Treaty’ by many Aboriginal people and their allies.

Things can and must be better. Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a glimpse of what is possible, as remaining Aboriginal peak and community organisations played the major role in ensuring there were no COVID-19 infections or deaths in remote places. For a time, a combination of COVID welfare supplements and less mutual obligation improved living conditions and allowed the revival of old productive ways. Aboriginal people again mobilised grounded resistance and persistence to live on and care for and live off their country and its natural resources.

We cannot wait another fourteen years, until 2035, before common sense prevails. Intervention measures, now maintained under Stronger Futures laws to 2022, must end.

To conclude on a positive note, it is important that local institutions and political organisations are again empowered so that local voices in all their diversity can be heard. It is time to fund remote places equitably, now perhaps adding compensation for the harm done since 2007 as well as before. As a nation, we need to stop wasting dollars on what does not work—dogged maintenance of Intervention and Stronger Futures failures. Instead we must move to support success that is evident in many places in environmental management, carbon farming, cultural industries and the provision of care. These successes accord with local aspirations and have all been driven by local initiative, effort and (where they have survived) local organisations. The amplification of these successes will benefit all: the residents of remote Aboriginal communities as well as national and global interests.

Note: This is an edited version of a presentation made on 20 June 2021 at a conference called ‘The Endless Intervention: First Nations Speak Out’, convened by the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG) in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) in Sydney.

‘It’s Raining Motorcars’: Mining and the destruction of Aboriginal Sacred Sites

Jack Green, Seán Kerins, 20 May 2021

We were out in Gudanji country, a place some of us older people know well. But we didn’t know where we were. The river had gone, huge mountains of waste rock were piled high in the sky, blocking our view of The Barramundi Dreaming… We were lost in our own country.

The Lausan Collective on Colonialism in Hong Kong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/06/2021 - 5:40am in



This is an original translation into English of an interview conducted with Lausan, a collective of writers, translators, artists, and organizers, that appeared in German in IZ3W, a left German publication.

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The post The Lausan Collective on Colonialism in Hong Kong appeared first on New Politics.

Social democracy is bound to struggle in a world of nation-states

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/05/2021 - 8:09pm in

One of the lessons of Branko Milanovic’s work on global inequality has been the realization that location, and perhaps more pertinently, nationality, is a more important explanation of how well and badly off people are than class is. Citizens of wealthy countries enjoy a “citizenship premium” over the inhabitants of poor ones that exists because they have access to labour markets and welfare systems that their fellow humans largely do not. Of course, there’s a sense in which this global difference also represents a class difference, with many of the workers simply located elsewhere while the residual “proletarians” of the wealthy world enjoy a contradictory class location (to repurpose a term from Erik Olin Wright). While it might be that world GDP would increase dramatically if barriers to movement were removed, as some economists have claimed, the relative position of the rich world poor depends upon those barriers being in place. Or to put it another way, free movement could make many poor people much better off and might not make the rich world poor any worse off in absolute terms, but it would erode their relative advantage. And people, however misguidedly care about their relative advantage.

What kind of politics would we expect to have in rich countries in a world like ours, if people were fully cognizant of this citizenship premium? I suspect the answer is that we would expect to see stronger nationalist movements seeking to preserve the advantage of members of the national collective over outsiders and correspondingly weaker parties based on class disadvantage within those countries. Which is, in fact, the tendency we do see in many European countries where traditional social democracy is struggling badly at the moment. In those same countries we might also expect to see some voters who are unthreatened by freer movement, or by the rise of new powers in the world, being more open to a more cosmopolitan politics and more preoccupied by other issues such as climate change and the environment. And this is, in fact, what we do see.

But the citizenship premium has existed for a long time, perhaps for most of the twentieth century, so why is it only now that class-based parties are struggling and that a new cleavage between cosmopolitan and national populism has emerged. There are, I think, a couple of reasons that are important. The first is, that people are not very well informed, focus on internal and national conditions and so misperceive class, the old division between workers and capitalists, as being more important than it is in explaining how well and badly off they are. This misperception — which is not entirely a misperception since locally at least the capitalists are still pursuing their advantage over their fellow-citizens who labour — continues to the present day. But in a world of globalized manufacturing and much freer trade, where rich country workers are feeling more anxious and insecure, the shift of jobs and factories to places where people are paid much less is eventually going to impinge on the consciousness of the locally poorer. And even if immigrants have little to no impact on rich country wages, perceived competition from those immigrants in labour markets may be seen as a threat by workers who see increased labour supply and who don’t hear or don’t understand or don’t believe the debunking arguments from economists.

The second reason is that, for a long time, populist nationalism was taboo and some limits on how human beings can be treated were widely accepted in official discourse, even if often breached in reality. The heaps of bodies at Auschwitz and Belsen and the idea, however problematic, that the Allied aim in the Second World War was to defeat the Nazis because of their racist character, made an overtly racist conception of nations harder to sustain that it had been in an earlier period (when countries like Canada and Australia imagined themselves as exclusively white). The international declarations of human rights issued after the war also drew strength and sustenance from Cold War competition: “we” were the respecters of human rights and “they” were anti-democratic tyrannies which recognized the dignity and equality of everyone. Of course this oversimplifies: to get to being a simulacrum of colour-blind, rights-respecting liberal democracies, the UK and France had to divest themselves of empire and the United States had to go through a battle for civil rights. But two or three decades after the war, not unassisted by dramatic rises in living standards, those countries could tell Rawlsian stories about themselves, and then, with communism vanquished in 1989, the end of history could be declared.

There’s something else too, which the proponents of national class politics as “normal” often choose to forget, namely that the division of the world into nation states makes the nation permanently available to people as a source of collective identification and entitlement, and one that too readily trumps class as a focus of solidarity in times of stress. The key moment after which this ought to have been clear to socialists was August 1914, and the global proliferation of the nation-state form has only made this pressure to a counter-class identification more intense since then. But too often the national forum in which class politics has played out has appeared to people as a kind of neutral and natural background to that contest rather than as something which always has the potential to sabotage class.

I have a memory, which I’ve been unable to verify, of someone telling me in about 1990 that Jean-Marie Le Pen, the notorious French far-right leader had declared that with the fall of the Berlin wall, “the Second World War is over”. What Le Pen meant was that in the new post-post-war era, a politics that had been toxic, a politics that prioritized nationalist grievance over human rights and equal concern, would become progressively detoxified. He wasn’t wrong about that. The nation is now back, and, with it, a predictable drive to define it in ways that make clear who, in the eyes of nationalists, is of it, and who is not. Just as Maurras distinguished between the “pays réel” and the “pays légal”, our contemporary nationalists, whether MAGA-fans or Likudniks or Brexiters with their concern for the “white working class” have reasonably clear if deniable conceptions of who doesn’t really belong among us. And if “human rights” are an obstacle to doing what needs to be done for the nation, then “human rights” will become a term of derision and abuse: after all, as Michel Foucault put it, “society must be defended” and against its internal enemies too.

It is clear now that social-democratic parties that put class at the centre of their appeal are going to struggle in nationally-bounded wealthy democracies in a world where nationality dominates class as a determinant of income. So what are such parties to do. Up to now they have largely soldiered on, with their activists pretending to themselves on the basis of a mixture of muscle memory and dogma that it is all “really” about class and that phenomena like racism are epiphenomena of class exploitation rather than also being central to ideas of national belonging. Lexit fans and the supporters of La France Insoumise are typical in this respect: with a proper national economic plan and a bit of 1970s revivalism it is all coming back. There’s a lot of this among Bernie Sanders fans and the Jacobin brigade for that matter (often cosplaying workerism from an Ivy League desk or a Washington think tank). Another option is “Blue Labour” or the full Danish, namely to follow their “traditional supporters” down the rabbit-hole of nationalism, clamping down on immigration and demonizing minorities for “failing to integrate”. According to this approach, the parties exist to represent people of a certain sort, those people are resentful that the jobs went and apt to blame the foreigners and the immigrants, so that’s where the party should be too. If you are professional politician, with an eye to the electoral short-term then this all makes a certain amount of sense: you need to defend you heartlands. But the kind of people who join and work for left-wing parties tend to be idealists with a strong sense of justice, committed to anti-racism, and internationalist in outlook. To the extent to which you try to beat the nationalists at their own game, your “left wing” party will atrophy from the inside.

It would be nice to finish a piece like this with “the answer”, but I can’t do that. What I can do is to suggest first, that climate change, anti-racism, feminism, defence of basic human rights, form the basis for an alternative coalition within wealthy countries, one that stresses global solidarity with workers everywhere rather than seeing the rest of the world as a threat. Second, although nationality dominates in-country class as a determinant of individual prosperity, there’s still quite a lot can be done locally in terms of class politics, given that within wealthy countries life can still be pretty miserable for those at the bottom, especially if we look not at globally-indexed income but at housing, health outcomes, job security and other capability measures. So an alternative to social democracy, such as various Green parties, can and should still make the case for local redistribution. But we need to be clear-eyed about the fact that a normality of class being the dominant axis of politics is not coming back because it never was normal in a world of national division. It merely appeared so because the disasters that nationalism had twice brought to the the wealthy world suppressed the natural expression of its extremism here. No longer.

Note: there’s much in this blog that I wouldn’t have written without having read Nandita Sharma’s magnificent Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants (Duke, 2020). There’s more about the citizenship premium in Branko Milanovic’s recent books Global Inequality and Capitalism, Alone (both Harvard, 206, 2019)

‘It’s Raining Motorcars’: Mining and the destruction of Aboriginal Sacred Sites

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/05/2021 - 3:03am in

Editor: This article has three sections, beginning with Seán Kerins giving background on the destruction, then Jack Green’s account of the situation, following by a collection of Jack’s artworks that express the same concerns in a visual way.

Background, Seán Kerins

The destruction of Juukan Gorge is far from an isolated event. Rather, it is part of a far larger pattern of extraction, colonial dispossession and erasure.

In the first week of May 2021, the Australian Government’s Joint Senate Standing Committee on Northern Australia flew into Borroloola, on the banks of the McArthur River, in the southern Gulf Country of the Northern Territory.

Borroloola, a town of about 1000 people, is home to the Gudanji, Garrwa, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples, who live in a number of camps, in overcrowded housing, that surround the small town of a few shops, a police station and a post office. Aboriginal people make up about 90 per cent of the town’s population. Their ancestral territories lie under and surround Borroloola, and extend for hundreds of kilometres in all directions. The Gudanji, Garrwa, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples own significant areas of this land following passage of the Commonwealth Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The Borroloola land claim was one of the first heard in 1977 under the then newly minted act. Over the remainder of their ancestral lands—areas they have never been able to regain ownership of because of legal barriers—they hold exclusive and non-exclusive native title rights through determinations made under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). None of this land ownership has empowered them to halt mining on their country.

The standing committee was tasked by the Senate in June 2020 to undertake an inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Juukan Gorge had been carelessly blown up by Rio Tinto in its pursuit to extract as much high-grade iron ore as possible. Rio Tinto, aware of the gorge’s enormous cultural significance to the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, and its high archaeological significance to wider Australia, and the world, determined that the economic gain outweighed any penalty it may encounter in blowing up the site.

The committee, initially focused on the Pilbara region of Western Australia, soon became aware that, despite a diversity of laws established to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, across the country there were many other Aboriginal peoples whose sacred sites had been destroyed, were being destroyed or were about to be destroyed. The committee received over 150 submissions and soon extended its work to other significant sacred sites, as well as important cultural heritage places.

Long before lead, zinc and silver mining began at McArthur River, 65 kilometres upstream from Borroloola, the Gudanji, Garrwa, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples had valiantly fought mining companies and governments to protect a network of sacred sites at the mine site and port at Bing Bong. Mt Isa Mines, the first owners of McArthur River Mine (MRM), began underground-mining the ore in 1993. The ore formed part of a significant sacred site of a Snake Dreaming. At the time most Aboriginal people opposed the mine.

The Gudanji, Garrwa, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples were determined to make their voice heard in the Juukan Gorge inquiry. In 2006, when MRM was given approval by the NT and Australian governments to double in size, it changed from an underground mine to a massive open-cut operation in the bed of the McArthur River. To do this, MRM diverted the river through a 5.5-kilometre-long artificial channel and dug an open-cut pit in the river bed. The pit was dug at the sacred site of The Snake, which was destroyed when the river was diverted. The Gudanji, Garrwa, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples found court action ineffective in trying to protect their rights because, even when they won, the NT Government would swiftly amend legislation to overrule the court, allowing the massive development to proceed.

Since open-cut mining began, MRM’s independent monitor has reported annually on a number of serious environmental problems. In late 2020, despite these problems never really having been adequately addressed or resolved, the NT Government approved a further expansion of the mine that increased the size of its massive waste-rock dump. The dump now encroaches on sacred sites and will destroy a site of cultural and archaeological significance.

Glencore, the current owner of the mine, claimed that it had an agreement with ‘the custodians’ of the sacred sites to proceed.

This agreement was kept secret. It promises six people, selectively chosen by MRM, a vehicle to the value of $85,000 each, as well as $400 food and $400 fuel vouchers every month for the duration of mining. Once all the environmental and regulatory conditions are signed off the agreement promises $250,000 for each of these people to spend on their homelands.

For over a century now, Australian governments’ policies for developing northern Australia have had little to do with progressing the aspirations of the region’s Indigenous peoples but rather have served as policy tools for legitimising the government’s ‘open for business’ developmental agenda, where wealth is extracted from Indigenous peoples’ lands while they bear the costs. 

‘Our Country is alive and whitefellas don’t want to know’, Jack Green, as told to Seán Kerins

I felt really worried first up, when I heard the government mob was coming to Borroloola to talk about the sacred sites. In the back of my mind I thought we’d just get another Peter Garrett. [Garrett was minister for the environment when the expansion was happening in 2006]. We all knew his songs, ‘pay the rent’ and all that, but he signed off on the diversion of the river and from then on everything got worse. I was hoping that this time they would come to hear us. I wanted them to take this one very seriously, so they could start to feel how we feel in our hearts for these places. I want them to know how it worries us and causes hurt inside us when these places are interfered with, or damaged. I wanted them to come and listen to us, see our country, hear our words and then take it all with them back to Canberra.

The first day, it was all us Aboriginal people culturally tied into the sacred sites through song lines and ceremonies who met with the committee. There were many of us. We sat and told the committee how we feel. We told them what Glencore had been doing to undermine our Law and decision-making processes so that the company could damage or destroy our sacred sites and cultural places. I felt it was one of the few times that our people could talk freely about what’s been going on with MRM. There’s always mining people or government people about; they are always interfering in our decision-making. There’s always one or two of them looking to rub one of our people’s backs, getting him to talk up for them, support them.

I told the committee: because I can’t read or write I paint what I see going on with the mine, the sacred sites, the water, and the way the company works. I’ve been watching, close up, painting and recording my stories for years. I told them that I sent a whole lot of these paintings with their stories to Canberra as my submission. This is the only way I can get them to see what we are worried about. I told the committee that Glencore just pick certain people; they don’t represent the custodians under our Law. These people are getting paid off to agree with the mine. Under our Law, Aboriginal law, you can’t do that. We’re all in this together, the four clan groups, and the families who are connected to that land.

On the second day we took the committee to visit the sacred sites on the mining lease that our people have visited since the beginning of time. The Snake lines, Jirriminni, The Garbula Tree, The Turtle and The Barramundi Dreaming—these are all powerful places. They are important places. Old Musso Harvey, a Yanyuwa man, used to say that ‘those Dreamings travelled like human beings and their spirit is still there in the country. We talk to them as our own relations and we believe their spirits come back into our families in the new generations that are born’. That’s how we feel.

I knew that we were going to the sacred sites with the custodians and traditional owners for those places, and that we were going there under our Law and customs. But we were met at the gate of the mining lease with Australian law that made us all dress in orange high-vis clothing and behave not like we were entering our own country to visit our ancestors but like we were entering their country.

It was very hard for us when we got into the mining lease.

For some of the young people it was their first time to visit their mother’s sacred sites. They had never been there before. This is not unusual for those families whose sacred sites have been fenced off, away from them. Places within or near the mine site have long been off-limits to us Aboriginal people.

At the place where McArthur River had been cut and diverted, at the place where they dug The Snake Dreaming, cutting the snake line, cutting the kujika (song), the Junggayi (ceremonial manager or policeman) for that place wept. We all hurt deep inside seeing the damage to our sacred sites.

For the young fella, coming to the sacred site for the first time, a place his mother had passed to him, should have been a happy time for him, and the Minggirringi (traditional owners) for the place—for all of us. But it wasn’t. It really hurt us.

As the day went on it got worse. We were out in Gudanji country, a place some of us older people know well. But we didn’t know where we were. The river had gone, huge mountains of waste rock were piled high in the sky, blocking our view of The Barramundi Dreaming. We couldn’t see the sacred sites in relation to each other. The whole place has been destroyed. There were roads everywhere. It was like being in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne.

We were lost in our own country.

NB. The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia will report to the Senate by 18 October 2021. Background material to the Gudanji, Garra, Marra and Yanyuwa peoples’ struggle to protect their ancestral lands can be found at the online exhibition Lead in My Grandmother’s Body.

Jack Green’s Artworks

The images below are from Jack Green’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Also included are Jack’s commentaries on the artworks.

Red Country, 2017

Jack Green, Red Country, 2017

Right across the McArthur River region are The Dreaming tracks of the ancestral beings. The barramundi, the two snakes who travelled together and the one that come up from the south. The Rainbow Snake and the Stinking Turtle. They all there. So too are the places where they coiled or rested, or went down under the earth like at the place I have marked in the river. Big name places, important and sacred places, they are right across the region and they tie people to places and people together. Right in the middle of this sacred country is a torn-up place, right where the Sacred Tree is that forms part of the Rainbow Snake story. It’s a big name place, right where the massive open cut pit now is. The black represents the hole that keeps getting bigger and bigger and the brown represents how the mining company is now talking about stuffing all the toxic waste rock back in the hole before they take off with their money and leave us and generations to come with their toxic mess.

Whitefellas Work like White Ants, 2014

Jack Green, Whitefellas Work like White Ants, 2014

The whitefella bulldozer is pushing over what he thinks is just a tree. But it’s not. It’s a sacred site tied in with the song lines that run through our country. Above the bulldozer is a white ant. White ants destroy things. On the right of the painting I show how white ants attack and kill healthy trees. The white ants find the weak spot, like a decaying root, they get in there and slowly start eating the tree from the inside out until they kill it.

This is what whitefellas do to us Aboriginal people when they want to get us to agree to one of their mining projects. They find the weak ones in our cultural groups. They look after them. They use them to sell their plans, and to tell us there will be jobs and good things from the mine.

This way of working always causes conflict among our people. It starts to eat away at our cultural groups and our Law, from the inside, just like white ants do. When they pick us Aboriginal people off and separate the weak ones from our cultural groups they killing them and our culture. I symbolise this in my painting by the body hung by the neck in the tree. The person is separated and isolated from our cultural group—might as well be dead.

Whitefellas, they just work like white ants.

It’s Raining Motorcars, 2017

Jack Green, It’s Raining Motorcars, 2017

In the sky, close to the ground, an evil cloud forms. He’s smiling, teeth showin’ and he rains motorcars down on our people.

Sitting on the side are two miner blokes, they sitting under their umbrellas laughin’.

They laughin’ because they reckon they can just throw a few motorcars around and people will agree to our country being contaminated with toxic waste from Glencore’s mine at McArthur River.

While some of our mob might have their eyes shut tight and arms open wide and will take a motorcar, plenty of us won’t. We going to keep fightin’ that mine until it closes and they clean up the mess they made and make the country safe again.

Heart of Country, 2014

Jack Green, Heart of Country, 2014

The heart represents the life of the country. It’s the heart of Aboriginal people and the country, together, as one. Through the heart runs McArthur River. Rivers are really important places for us. In the middle of the heart are the four clan groups of the Borroloola region. Lined up are four people sittin’ down. They are the singers. In red are Yanyuwa, black and red Mara, yellow one Gudanji and brown Garrwa. Above them in the heart are their dancers. It’s though our song and dance that we all pass the knowledge of the country. Above the heart is what the country used to be like. Beautiful, with everything there for us, lots of bush tucker and water. On the right-hand side at the top are four people. This is the mining company and government. They work together, lookin’ out for each other. Below them are the drilling rig, grader and dozer belonging to the mining companies who are comin’ into our country and damaging it with all their machinery. People and bush tucker get pushed aside, having to move somewhere else, sometimes dyin’. You can see the area around the miners is empty—no bush tucker and no Aboriginal people. No good.

How can Junggayi (Ceremonial Boss for Country) and Minggirringi (Traditional Owner of Country) do their job looking after sacred sites when their land, water and food been poisoned?

Like an Ice Cream in the Sun, 2014

Jack Green, Like an Ice Cream in the Sun, 2014

This painting is about how Glencore work in Borroloola. Glencore won’t let us organise under our own Law. Instead, they pick off one or two of our people. They say to them, ‘If you can work for us we’ll get you a motorcar, we’ll give you tucker. You’ll be well looked after, and you’ll have money and everything. So, if you want this, you help us get an agreement. You talk for us to your family’.

They want these people to say to the families, ‘Look, if you work with the mining company you will get money, you’ll get motorcar, and you’ll get everything you need’. But in the back of Aboriginal people’s minds we worried about our land, our song lines, and our sacred sites. We worried about our bush tucker. We worried about our future.

Three men under the dollar signs represent the Aboriginal fellas that have been picked off by the mining company. The mining-company man is standing behind the Aboriginal fella, patting his back and saying to him, ‘You talk up for me, old man’.

The ice cream, lollies on a plate and cake symbolise the absurdity of what’s being offered to us. Things that have little long-term value to us. Things that won’t last. Here now, but quickly gone, just like an ice cream in the sun.

Glencore throw down scraps like this while they destroy our sacred sites and contaminate our land and water, while the government watches.

There’s no way we should be played off like this. We want people in the cities to know what’s happening to us. They have to know how their governments work with mining companies to do us over and destroy our land.

Fracking on Trial in the Northern Territory

Lauren Mellor, 19 Nov 2020

As carbon dioxide in our atmosphere pushes 410 parts per million, fuelling a dangerous climate emergency, the world simply cannot afford to let the Northern Territory become the fossil-fuel industry’s next fracking frontier.