Fwd (GLW): Did the East Timor intervention kill off `Vietnam syndrome'?

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Tue Jan 30 01:44:31 MST 2001

> From: Nestor
< I have snipped much stuff secondary to the main point.>
> > Nestor, if any Australian leftist held your position, they would be
> > scabs and *genuine* social patriots.
> It is my view (and I guess it should be a matter to be debated among
> Australian leftists, in particular) that the greatest boulder that the
> Australian bourgeoisie finds in order to establish its own sphere of
> influence (wow, are we returning to the early 20th century?) is NOT the
> creation of small, inevitably dependent, states along "national /
> cultural" lines, but the constitution of a powerful center of power which
> will incorporate those areas to the common struggle against imperialism
> in general and Australian bourgeoisie in particular.

Here is a fine example of the two different planets we are on in this

OK, here is why I say that any Australian leftist that held the position of
_opposing_ the East Timorese national struggle would be a social

For about 24 years, the Australian and Indonesian ruling classes formed a
bloc against the East Timorese struggle (and, for longer, of course,
against the Indonesian working class).  By declaring the East Timorese
struggle "reactionary", Australian leftists would be joining that bloc, and
all the fine arguments they could make would all still reek of rat.

The ALP, in fact, is full of people who did one version or another of
exactly that.  Yes, here are the real social patriots/chauvinists/whatever.

If you want to raise the question of the interests of the Indonesian
workers, remember this:  this bloc between the ruling classes was against
them as well.  We should have no part of it.

This bloc, by the way, was military (Australian training of Indonesian
troops), economic (Timor Gap treaty dividing up the gas fields), and
especially diplomatic (Australian diplomats busily ran around deflecting
criticism of Indonesia).

Now, yes, the Australian ruling class changed its policy in the aftermath
of the fall of Suharto (and the fragmentation of the Indonesian ruling
class crony structure), the "Asian" economic crisis, and the failure of the
Indonesian neo-colonial state to crush the East Timorese struggle.

They, (slowly and with some reluctance), chose to support the establishment
of East Timor as an "independent" neo-colonial state, under their

The supporters of the Timorese national liberation struggle in Australia
had a choice here.

One option was to say "well, the imperialists are supporting East Timorese
self-determination now, we obviously have to oppose it!"  In fact, nobody
took this option.  It came into being elsewhere, amongst those who had had
no (or little) previous awareness of the East Timorese struggle, who formed
a media/event driven impression of the situation along the lines of "the
imperialists are supporting the East Timorese?  Death to the East
Timorese!"  All we can really say about this is that it shows that the
habit of _all_ leftists of forming impressions and "analyses" of events as
they happen needs to be viewed with more caution than we use at the moment.

Then there was the "consistent" line:  supporting the East Timorese
struggle even to the point of accepting (actively or tacitly) the use of
imperialist troops in removing the Indonesian forces and death squads.
This necessarily means accepting that the struggle will continue under new
circumstances, and, indeed, that imperialism will attempt to use this as an
excuse for further, less justifiable, aggressions.  This was the DSP

The third position was the one I attempted to take, and which Gary
Maclennan, the ISO, Socialist Alternative, and a whole bunch of the rest of
the Australian left attempted to take:  maintaining support for the East
Timorese struggle while opposing the use of imperialist troops.  This
position would have been the "safest" option.  *If the DSP had taken it,
none of this debate would have occurred.*

But there are problems with it, and the first of which is that it is a
compromise and a fudge.  Within this general range can be found "tacit
acceptors" of the use of Australian (and other) troops, who just aren't
happy about it.  (This was pretty much where I was.)  You can also find
those who don't really support the ET struggle at all, but pay lip-service
to it.  (I won't attempt to give examples here, because it risks slandering

The other problem, the critical one, is that nobody was really able to come
up with an adequate alternative.  Various demands were raised, but none of
them really made sense.  (I studied them all very carefully, because I
_wanted_ one that made sense.)

Without a viable option three, this loose bloc tended to break up into the
other two.

In my case, I just bit the bullet, and carried on supporting the East
Timorese struggle under the new conditions.

In my opinion, there is no truely "principled" line.  Denial of the
legitimacy of the East Timorese struggle is absurd, sectarian, and
historically one of class collaboration.  Support of the ET struggle
implies at least a temporary (tacit?) acceptance of the use of imperialist
troops, *in this specific case*, and having to deal with the consequences.
There is no option three.

Does this mean that the supporters of the ET struggle are necessarily going
to be supporters of imperialist adventures in the future?  Well, I guess
that depends on what is tactically advantageous to believe....

Oh dear.  I should have known I couldn't resist getting involved.

Alan Bradley
alanb at elf.brisnet.org.au

*An aside:  the Portuguese are actually trying to bring ET back under
_their_ influence.  Yes, honest to goodness inter-imperialist competition!
My guess is that they will come out second, but there will be some kind of
compromise.  Hopefully the Timorese may get some maneuvering room out of

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