DSP and PRD statements on East Timor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Sep 7 08:41:02 MDT 1999

>The Democratic Socialist Party calls on all supporters of democracy to
>mobilise to demand that the Australian government insist that the United
>Nations authorise the immediate dispatch of Australian troops to East
>Timor. The task of these troops must be to assist the East Timorese
>resistance forces to stop the current bloodbath being organised by the
>Indonesian armed forces (TNI) and police (Polri). This can only be
>achieved through the disarming of the pro-Jakarta terror gangs. In
>addition, these troops must supervise the rapid withdrawal of all
>Indonesian military and police personnel from East Timor so as to enable
>the East Timorese to take full control of their nation's affairs.

This represents a departure from Marxist principles. Marxists should never
call for "humanitarian interventions" by bourgeois armies. Not only do they
backfire politically, they also represent an ideological concession to the
notion that the state can be a neutral enforcer of human rights or social

In the 1950s the American SWP, which was a strong ideological influence on
the Australian DSP early on, supported the call of the civil rights
movement to send in the army to protect black children attending formerly
segregated schools in Little Rock. By the same token,  Trotsky was
operating from the same principled standpoint when he requested Mexican
police protection after an assassination attempt in Coyoacan. This is just
an aspect of demanding that the bourgeoisie enforce its laws without

With respect to the value of "humanitarian interventions" by capitalist
armies per se, I would urge comrades to take a look at "The U.S. Response
to Humanitarian Crises" on the Z Magazine archives
(http://www.zmag.org/zmag/articles/shalomhumncri.html) written by Stephen
Shalom. Shalom, who is no Marxist, seems to have a more acute understanding
of the problems than our self-described Marxists of the DSP. He writes:

"In domestic politics, we oppose forced confessions or arbitrary searches
by the police, even though in a particular case such actions might prevent
a crime or help bring a criminal to justice. Because giving the police
unlimited power is so subject to abuse, we accept a greater incidence of
crime in order to reduce even greater threats to our freedom. Similar logic
applies in international relations. Landing foreign troops every time a
government was alleged to violate human rights would be a prescription for
global chaos. Such interventions, even if taken in response to genuine
human rights violations, would likely lead to more death and destruction
than would have occurred otherwise. And to allow each country, or each
powerful country, to judge for itself when human rights have been violated
in other countries would be dangerous in the extreme. But there are some
cases where the level of human rights violation is so massive, where
hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives are at stake, that one
might want to permit some exception to the general prohibition against
humanitarian intervention.

"But when a country has a record of not protesting mass murder (as in
Biafra, Bangladesh, and Burundi), of not taking simple steps that might
have saved millions (such as opening immigration quotas during the
holocaust or threatening to cut off coffee purchases from Burundi), of
actually cooperating with mass murderers (as in Cambodia), and of
supporting mass murderers (as in Indonesia, East Timor, and Guatemala) then
one has to be very wary when that country tries to justify an intervention
on humanitarian grounds."

Louis Proyect

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