Replying to Jose was Re: East Timor was Re:"They found absolutely nothing"

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sun Oct 17 11:39:32 MDT 1999


    I'm trying to let the troops/E. Timor issue rest a bit, so please don't
misunderstand if I take up just a couple of things.

    On the East Timorese having called for a UN force, and why it is
important in the development of the discussion here.

    Louis is the one who got me thinking about this more concretely, in one
of the very first posts about E. Timor, where he said that, in many ways,
the demand to send troops could be seen as parallel to demands that had been
raised in the U.S. by the Black movement and supported at the time by the
SWP. But that still he couldn't see it applying in this case.

    My first post, which was fairly tentative, said I did not see the
difference IN PRINCIPLE between supporting the Independence movement's call
on the U.N. to intervene in the situation and any number of other situations
where revolutionaries demand explicitly or implicitly that the bourgeois
state use force to enforce democratic rights. As the days and the discussion
escalated, it seemed to me no one offered any good explanation of the
difference. Then, fairly late in the discussion, someone said that the
difference was that in crossing borders, the issue of sovereignty was
involved. This, of course,  is correct, except that even within a single
state similar considerations apply in the case of oppressed minorities, and
that in the concrete case of E. Timor, it is the independence movement
that's called for the intervention and there's a very clear, direct and
unambiguous connection between the demand and the fight for E. Timorese

    [There's also been a whole parallel discussion with comrades like Nestor
whose starting point is not the political stance of supporting all movements
against national oppression and the right to self-determination of all
nationally oppressed peoples,  but rather to differentiate between them,
subordinating the the rights of certain ethnic groups (and I believe
indigenous peoples) to what are perceived as the needs of the broader
anti-imperialist, anticapitalist struggle.]

    Now, you say the E. Timorese have a right to call for troops and you
ALSO have a right to oppose the Australian mission. I agree with your
approach, but I believe it was correct not just to recognize the right of
the East Timorese independence movement to do this, I believe we should have
supported the demand, i.e., called on the security council to send a force.

    As you know, I do NOT think the right way to express this support to the
independence movement's demand was to unilaterally call on specific nations
to send troops. I believe the only "national" component that revolutionaries
could have supported in this way was the Cuban offer to form part of the
contingent. That's because I have *political confidence* in the Cuban
government; by saying I support Cuba being part of the contingent I'm effect
telling working people, those are the ones you can RELY on to do the
contingent's work strictly in the spirit and within the bounds of the East
Timorese request for help in getting the Indonesians off their back so that
East Timor can become a sovereign nation.

    Moreover, I believe the strategic axis of all revolutionary work should
have been and remains immediate recognition of East Timorese sovereignty and
recognition of the Timorese Resistance as the de facto provisional

    Frommy point of view, most of the arguments you make really go to, not
whether we should have supported the E. Timorese demand for a UN force, but
whether this should have been couched in terms of supporting Australian
participation in the contingent. I'm sure you and other comrades are
basically right in arguing that the Australian and New Zealand ruling
classes are trying to take advantage of this situation, cozying up to the
leaders of the independence movement and so on, just as the American and
other imperialists, once it became clear apartheid was doomed, all of a
sudden started to act as if they had been the champions of the struggle
against the racist South African regime all along, tried to bask in the glow
of Nelson's Mandela world-wide prestige and so on. In think revolutionaries
should counter such ruling class maneuvers by exposing their empty
hypocrisy, demanding real and generous aid for the people of E. Timor,
immediate recognition of East Timorese sovereignty and so on. I do NOT think
it is appropriate for revolutionaries in the U.S. and Australia at this
point to go on about how Gusmao is a bourgeois nationalist and so on. I do
not think it helps to educate working people. We should fight for complete,
immediate, and unconditional recognition of the democratic, national rights
of the people of E. Timor. If some figures associated with the independence
movement turn away from that course, class-conscious workers will be able to
see it if we do our job well.

* * *

    On the press. I agree with you that the bourgeois media did a lot to
focus world attention on the anti-independence pogrom. In these cases, it is
also true that reports have a natural tendency to get exaggerated and that
the media are rarely on their guard against this, and that it is a
relatively simply matter for conscious operatives to plant and gain wide
acceptance of even the most outlandishly improbable and bizarre stories (the
iraqui baby incubator canard comes immediately to mind).

    As to the difference in Australia media coverage in 1975-78 and today,
apart from what you note, that it obviously has to do a lot with the
Australian government's policy, I don't have much to say.

    I don't know how the Australian bourgeois press works; I *do* know
something about how the American bourgeois press works. In the U.S., the
most important thing is whether a story is "legitimized" as "important," and
THAT largely takes place informally in the Washington cocktail circuit, so
to speak.

    That said, there's a new factor since the late '70s that American
foreign policy spokespeople have tended to call "the CNN factor." Which is
the increased technical capacity of the news media to present stories in an
extremely compelling way on television, forcing a policy response. What this
means in practice is that even a reduced group of Washington insiders, if
they can get major news media interested in a subject, can succeed in
getting it put "on the map."

Clearly, a lot of this went on around Yugoslavia in the mid-90s, where a
determined minority in the D.C. "establishment" succeeded in getting certain
media to focus on various aspects of the situation there, which in turn made
it into a major issue. A similar thing could be said about the embargo on
Cuba. Every year or so you see a rash of stories all more or less leading to
the conclusion that this embargo is stupid and the Europeans are benefiting
from it. These are promoted by the "pro-engagement" minority in the foreign
policy establishment and the National Association of Manufacturers.

    The autonomy of this process should not be exaggerated. For example,
with the resources of a CNN. or a News Corp., or a BBC, or an NBC, you COULD
turn starvation and deaths from preventable diseases among infants and
toddlers into a top issue on a world scale. You send out the camera crews,
deploy two or three fly-away satellite uplinks, and hammer away at how
every, day, week or month, more children die than in the holocaust, or than
Americans died in Vietnam, than all the dead in WWII, and so on. In the case
of CNN/Time Warner, you'd probably have the enthusiastic support of
vice-chairman Ted ("I'm a socialist, too") Turner for the project.  It would
make the most compelling kind of television, human drama up close.

    It's not going to happen because there's no one in ruling-class circles
willing to legitimize the idea, the top editors will say "we don't make the
news, we only report it" and "it's wrong for news organizations to set the
agenda" and so forth and so on.

    I hope this clarifies a little how the US news media actually works.


-----Original Message-----
From: Gary MacLennan <g.maclennan at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Saturday, October 16, 1999 3:30 AM
Subject: Replying to Jose was Re: East Timor was Re:"They found absolutely

>>This is an extremely odd post. Surely, you don't concede that there is ANY
>>level of killing or genocide that would have justified the demand of the
>>Timorese Independence Movement for UN intervention? I thought it was a
>>matter of absolute, bedrock principle.
>Hi Jose,
>Now you found my post 'odd'.  Well I must confess that I found your habit
>of calling the Australians 'blue helmets' rather odd too.  You are seeing
>the same images from East Timor that I am no doubt.  Have you noticed many
>blue helmets around?  The UN is not in East Timor.  The Australian Army is.
>That is a somewhat different matter, is it not?
>I have written copiously about the impact on Australia of our sending
>troops in. You have ignored all this. I don't blame you.  You live
>somewhere else.  However I do blame the DSP and their proxy.  They have
>remained silent about the result of supporting the Australian Army.  I have
>said that the militarization of Australian society has reversed the gains
>of the Anti-Vietnam war movement.  That made the sending of Australian
>troops abroad a political impossibility.  Al this has been reversed. But
>take my word for it click on some of the local Murdoch papers here and you
>will see that what I have said is true.
>Now yesterday I turned on the evening news and I was confronted with the
>spectacle of Xanana Gusmao sitting proudly in  the chamber of the
>Australian Parliament.  That little scum bag Prime Minister Johnny Howard
>talked about the honor it was to have Gusmao sitting among them.  The far
>right leader of the Labor Party got up and joined in the congratulations.
>What was I supposed to make of all this?  Gusmao called for troops.  You
>say he had a right to do this. Perhaps, but I too have a right and that is
>to oppose the militarization of this country.  And also I have a right to
>oppose the cuts in welfare and education that will follow because Gusmao
>called for troops.
>Let me be clear here. I support the rights of the East Timorese to their
>independence.  But I am not a bourgeois nationalist. I reserve the right to
>be critical of the likes of Horta, and Gusmao.  Still If the Australian
>Army was an army of liberation I would support them going to the aid of
>Falantil. But they are not in East Timor to liberate the people of East
>Timor.  I know that you understand this.  I have given up hoping that the
>DSP and their proxy do.
>Let me try Lou's patience and repeat what I said before.  The killings
>could have been stopped with a word from the USA.  The Australian troops
>are there as part of the increased militarization of this country.  As the
>DSP pointed out in an August edition of Green Left Weekly the 1997 Defence
>plan of the Australian Govt called for increased military spending and for
>a policy of committing Australian troops abroad. The DSP called for
>opposition to this and for a total cut in Defence spending. They
>conveniently forgot about these essentially correct positions when they
>screamed for the troops to go in. BTW I have not heard anything from them
>or their proxy with regard to how you can eliminate military spending and
>also send in the troops.
>Now Jared has put in what I think is a measured post about the media
>reporting of the atrocities in East Timor.  I have actually read your post
>on the though I follow the Chomsky-Herman model outlined in Manufacturing
>Consent.  However it makes the typically anarchist mistake of denying the
>relative autonomy of the state and that puts it in the crude but good
>In earlier posts I paid a great deal of attention to the silence of the
>Australian media in 75-8 and contrasted that with the huge coverage in Sept
>99. As far as I am aware neither yourself nor the DSP and their proxy have
>replied to my basic point, which is that the change in coverage is a direct
>result of the change in government policy towards Indonesia and East Timor.
>My point here is that the Government wants moral outrage over East Timor
>and they are very prepared to manipulate the truth to get it. This morning
>for instance they even revisited the murder in 1975 of five Australian
>media workers.  This event has been covered up for years by successive
>Australian governments.  Lo and behold we are now told that they were
>killed by Indonesians soldiers.  This is of course the truth but why are
>the bastards telling us that now?  This is the kind of question I have been
>trying to teach my students to ask.  Perhaps the DSP and their proxy might
>try and think about it as well.
>Now finally about the missing 200, 000.  Other reports put this at 250,000.
>Who knows?  There was massive displacement and the systematic burning of
>villages. All of it is to be condemned and I have repeatedly done so.  But
>let me say it again, there is some evidence, though it is too early to be
>definite, that the bourgeois media has lied to us and exaggerated the
>deaths. Now Norm has asked me would the resistance lie about the killings.
>The simple answer to that is of course they would.  But that does not mean
>that I think they are lying. The point of disagreement with myself and the
>likes of Horta and Gusmao is over their current attitude towards the
>Australian military.
>The reason why the DSP and their proxy get burned up about my post on the
>reporting of the killings is because if it is established that reports of
>the killing were deliberately exaggerated it could prove that  when they
>called for Australian troops to go in they were pushing an open door. They
>were in fact entering an alliance with a bourgeois army and a bourgeois
>government.  A fundamental error I would have thought for a revolutionary
>Marxist organisation. That to use your phrase is bedrock for me.


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