Grasp the nettle

Carlos Eduardo Rebello crebello at
Sat Nov 6 12:00:29 MST 1999

Very intersting post from David Welch. I remember that, in the similar
referendum held in Brazil in 1993 - according to a proviso held by the
1988 Constitution 5 years before - one had to choose, first, the
country's _regime_ (Monarchy or Republic) and, second, the _form of
government_ (presidential or parliamentary). That created, formally, the
possibility of a blooper, if a majority choose the monarchy and a
presidential systemn (perhaps this should be taken as a vote for the
absolutist systemn?)but, as it was, the referendum produced a heavy
majority for the republic and duly buried the obnoxious pretentions of
the scions of the old house of Orleans and Bragança (the result of the
cross of the junior branch of the Portuguse royal house that had ruled
Brazil between her independence in 1822 and 1889 with a son of the
French "Citzen-King" Louis Philippe) that the Republic in Brazil was
merely the product of a military coup in 1889 headed by Comtean

Also, the Brazilian referendum produced a heavy majority for the
presidential form, something that must be more closely studied. The fact
is that the chanonical form of bourgeois democracy is the parliamentary
systemn, with welds together the power of the Executive branch of
government with the existence of a clear bourgeois consensus, as
expressed in Parliament, should be something to which Marxists should
pay more attention. The parliamentary systemn, in Brazil, was rejected
as very prone to political manipulations that would allow unpopular
governments a very extended margin of survival, provided such
governments would keep pleasing and/or bribing the MPs _ expecially when
the Parliament itself was chosen by that most wretched systemn of
majority, 1st.- past-the-post voting that prevails in most anglophone
countries (in Australia too?) and the example of the more than 10 years
of undisputed rule by Margareth Thatcher in England were repeated
brought to the debate. Bonapartist as it is, the presidential systemn
was favoured as granting the possibility of allowing a president elected
by a surge of the masses' political activity (most a state of vague yet
heavy discontent felt by the jelly-like petty-bourgeoisie, including a
heavy blend of lumpenised elements, the makes most of Lat.Am. masses)
from below to impose him/herself to the oligarchical consensus and to
make the political debate revolve around new terms (something that was
felt. viz., during the Goulart presidency in the early 60s). In itself,
of course, a bonapartist democracy is no substitute for the Marxist
programme, but a bonapartist surge can act as a catalyst from making the
political debate get beyond a tight straitjecked imposed by an
entrenched political oligarchy... This is something, I think, that the
Aus. Marxists shoul perhaps think about more.

Carlos Rebello

> Date: Fri, 05 Nov 1999 19:07:03 +0100
> From: David Welch <david.welch at>
> Subject: Grasp the nettle
> Weekly Worker           #311     November 4 1999
> ================================================
> The constitutional referendum in Australia looks set to be a cliffhanger.
> Recent polls suggest a slim majority nationwide will vote ‘yes’ to the republic
> on offer on November 6. Unfortunately for the ‘yes’ campaign this will be
> distributed unevenly amongst the country’s six states. As well as requiring a
> majority of voters, successful referenda in Australia also require a majority
> in a majority of states.
> Polls are putting the ‘yes’ vote at around 49% with the ‘no’ camp recording
> about 47%. However, while the most heavily populated states of New South Wales,
> South Australia and Victoria are likely to vote ‘yes’, the peripheral and more
> conservative Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia look set to vote ‘no’.
> Importantly, the question is not whether Australia should be a republic, but
> whether you approve a republic model with a president with reserve powers
> appointed by parliament. Polls suggest that if the republic model on offer was
> for a president directly elected by the people, then more than 60% would vote
> ‘yes’.
> This situation has split the mainstream republican camp, with a significant
> minority advocating a ‘no’ vote. The question, set by monarchist - and Liberal
> Party - prime minister John Howard, after recommendations from a partially
> elected constitutional convention, has been cynically designed to split the
> republican camp.
> However, in all debates, what has been lacking is the third choice in this
> referendum. It can, though, still be created, using the referendum as a
> springboard. While voting is compulsory in Australia, the ballot is secret.
> Each elector may do what they like to their ballot paper.
> On November 6, Australians are being offered a false choice. They are being
> asked to choose between the unelectable and the unacceptable. No one who
> cherishes genuine democracy wants anything to do with the monarchy, an
> institution which symbolises privilege, inequality and unaccountability. Yet
> what a ‘yes’ vote would mean is a continuation of a monarchical system in
> presidential form. Such a minimalist constitutional change is designed to keep
> ordinary Australians as removed from the real political process as they are
> today. It will be change to prevent further change.
> Most Australians recognise the false debate taking place. From the monarchists
> who refuse to mention the monarchy, the republicans who refuse to discuss what
> sort of republic, to the supposed ‘radical republicans’ who, amazingly, will
> vote for the continuation of the status quo - the entire debate has been one of
> shadows.
> The ‘no’ republicans at least realise that there is a stitch-up. Yet they are
> making themselves indistinguishable from the monarchist ‘no’ camp. Ted Mack,
> Phil Clearly and the other ‘no’ republicans hope that by defeating the
> establishment of an undemocratic republic, they will force a vote on a
> democratic one. Yet their ‘no’ votes will be indistinguishable from John
> Howard’s and other monarchists’ come November 6. They have no way of making
> their voice heard. They will force nothing.
> Democratic republicans cannot vote ‘yes’ either, as this will be endorsing a
> most undemocratic form of republic. Hidden in this campaign is the fact that
> the president will retain the powers of the royal prerogative. For instance:
>       The president will have the power to sackg the government of the day and
>       call elections without the approval of parliament or the prime minister.
>       The constitution has a proposed new section 70a. It reads: “Continuation
>       of prerogative: ... in particular, any such prerogative enjoyed by the
>       governor-general shall be enjoyed by the president.” Ultimate political
>       power will be in the hands of the president, not the people. The proposed
>       section 59 of the constitution, ‘Executive power’, makes it clear: “There
>       shall be a Federal Executive Council to advise the president in the
>       government of the Commonwealth, and the members of the Council shall be
>       chosen and summoned by the president and sworn as Executive Councillors,
>       and shall hold office during the pleasure of the president.” Legislation
>       cannot become law unless passed through this presidential royal court.
>       The president will be able to reject parliamentary bills. The president
>       will be able to reject laws passed by parliament.
>       There is no power to impeach. Only the PM can sack the president ... if
>       the reverse doesn’t happen first. An indirectly elected president who
>       retains ‘reserve powers’ is the worst of both worlds. With both the
>       president and the prime minister retaining power to sack each other, in
>       the event of a constitutional crisis it will be a case of who draws
>       first.
> In this referendum there is, however, the inkling of the third choice that
> establishment politicians dare not mention. Voters are being urged by the
> Campaign for a Real Republic to refuse to answer a loaded question and instead
> write ‘democratic republic’ across the ballot paper.
> A mass of voters in Tasmania employed a similar tactic in 1982 when 38% of them
> wrote ‘No dams’ across their ballot paper. The next year, the
> Franklin-below-Gordon River wilderness area became a protected World Heritage
> site.
> On the night of November 6, there will be three piles of votes counted: ‘yes’,
> ‘no’ and informal. Revolutionary democrats such as the CRR want to see the
> highest possible informal vote; at the same time the CRR is campaigning for a
> constitutional convention with full powers to abolish the monarchical system
> and replace it with a genuinely democratic centralist republic.
> If Australia is not a republic now, switching to an undemocratic form of
> presidentialism will not make it a fully democratic republic later. A
> democratic republic can only be a society where power is invested in the fully
> mobilised people, headed by the working class, not a political or economic
> elite. The current proposal is not a ‘step in the right direction’, as the
> left of the ‘yes’ campaign suggests. It is more of the same truncated bourgeois
> democracy in different form.
> In an amazing display of short-sightedness influenced by worse theory, the left
> in Australia is letting an excellent opportunity pass it by. The Democratic
> Socialist Party and the rump of the Eurocommunists in the Search Foundation
> have politically equivalent, yet separate calls, to vote ‘yes’ but, like Oliver
> Twist, meekly ask for more. True to form, the DSP is capitulating to the
> populist mood by actually endorsing a directly elected president - an anathema
> for Marxists who oppose all presidential systems whereby one individual can
> claim to speak on behalf of the whole country. The DSP campaign has even less
> gumption than the ‘no’ republicans, who also favour a directly elected head of
> state. The DSP pathetically calls for a ‘yes’ vote, alongside the plaintive
> epithet, “elected by the people”.
> The International Socialist Organisation advises a ‘no’ vote, lacking the
> courage or imagination to call for an active informal vote. The ISO’s slogan,
> ‘Stuff the bosses’ republic: fight for real change’, isultra-left economism. It
> crudely counterposes phoney political change from above with ‘real’ economic
> change from below. The ‘official’ Communist Party of Australia is uncritically
> calling for a ‘yes’ vote.
> Trapped by economism and the Menshevik ‘theory’ of bourgeois democratic
> revolution, the left has been content to leave the debate to the bourgeois and
> political elite. A united left grabbing hold of this political chance could
> have fought for and won a real place in Australian political life. Instead, the
> sects seem content to remain on the fringe. As the Alliance for Workers’
> Liberty’s Martin Thomas puts it so succinctly, “Why not vote ‘yes’ - on the
> obvious grounds that we prefer a republic to a monarchy - while saying that we
> want radical democratic reform?” But do we prefer this republic to a monarchy?
> There is nothing concrete in comrade Thomas’s position, just poor Menshevik
> theory. (‘We obviously prefer the tsar’s duma to no duma at all’.) We’ve heard
> it all before.
> Marcus Larsen
> For a real republic
> At the Australian High Commission in London the CRR has been distributing
> leaflets calling for an informal ‘democratic republic’ vote. It has hit a real
> chord among expatriate electors - 22,000 are expected to turn up at Australia
> House.
> Individuals previously supporting either the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaigns have been
> so impressed by our arguments that they have actually begun to hand out CRR
> leaflets instead. The response is extremely encouraging. The spokesperson for
> the CRR in London, has been interviewed by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and
> Brazil’s Falho de Sao Paulo. This week, campaigners will be leafleting at
> Australia House and at the London performance of Yothu Yindi, Australia’s best
> known predominantly Aboriginal band. Their hit song, ‘Treaty’, calls for a
> democratic treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia - one of the
> CRR’s demands.
> People are genuinely relieved that there is a third choice, that they do not
> have to be corralled into either of the mainstream bourgeois campaigns for ‘yes’
> or ‘no’. It is the way to be heard through the ballot box. An informal vote is
> not a wasted vote.
> Democratic republicans in Australia campaigning around the CRR’s slogans will
> be able to claim the informal vote as theirs and go on to cohere a fighting
> organisation demanding real constitutional change from below.
> To join the campaign contact the CRR at BCM Box 928, London WC1N 3XX. Or
> telephone 0181-4597146, email realrepublic at

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