Bob Gould, Australian nationalism and multiculturalism

Philip Ferguson PLF13 at
Mon Jul 21 23:32:20 MDT 2003

Bob Gould wrote:
> I would be very interested to see Tom, DMS and others make some sort of
> sustained response to Dixon, Ed George and myself on these questions, rather
> than just tossing off assertions. In this context, I'd be very interested to
> hear Tom's Lenin quotes and to look at their context.

I've been unable to participate much in this discussion, or even read
all the contributions, due to a new, massive workload.

However, I will make some comments on Bob's own article on
multiculturalism and Australian nationalism, in no small part because I
think his ideas are really quite anti-Marxist on this subject and
indicate that he is more interested in modernising capitalism than
overthrowing it.  In this case, his ideas on nationalism fit well with
his auto-Labourism.

I am also surprised that he links himself and Norm Dixon together as
having the same views, as Norm's article, which Bob recommends, seems to
my eyes to offer something quite different from Bob's own views.  I
pretty much agree with Norm's article in 'Links' on Marx, Engels and
lenin on the national question (while disagreeing with the DSP's stance
on particular issues like their analysis of the break-up of Yugoslavia
and their siding with the KLA etc).

I haven't read the Iggy Kim article which Bob's piece on
multiculturalism refers to and attacks, but from what Bob says of it
below, it sounds pretty good too!

Anyway, here are some extracts from Bob's article on multiculturalism
and Australian identity, which go to the core of what is involved in
relation to Australia:

> In recent years, with the notable exception of Malcolm Fraser's government, all the major practical moves to humanise migration, get rid of the White Australia Policy, recognise
> multiculturalism, etc, have come from the labour movement side of politics. The fault line on all the matters of race, multiculturalism etc now lies between the Labor and Tory side
> in politics, so much so that reactionaries like Sheehan concentrate their fire on these matters on the Laborites -- for good reasons.
> Some socialists advance another argument. They assert that any accommodation with Australian nationalism is wrong because Australia is now a significant imperialist power.
> That proposition is incorrect. Australia is a modern capitalist economy, with multinational elements having a very major role in the domestic Australian economy, and with some
> Australian firms having overseas interests. The proposition that Australia is primarily an imperialist power is methodological gibberish from a Marxist point of view. A new
> Australian labour movement nationalism is emerging, incorporating multiculturalism, fairness in immigration and the full recognition of Aboriginal rights and prior occupancy.

Bob claims that the argument that Australia is a First World country, ie
an imperialist power, "is methodological gibberish from a Marxist point
of view".  Now it always strikes me as kind of amusing the way Bob
complains about people not taking his arguments seriously and not
producing evidence, merely dismissing ideas out of hand.  An important
part of Bob's methodological arsenal is the wave of the arm, dismissing
ideas he disagrees with in the manner with which he dismisses the basic
Marxist proposition that Australia is imperialist.

One wonders what Bob thinks Australia is.  If it's not imperialist, does
he think it is a semi-colony?  But what semi-colonial characteristics
does Australia share with other countries in the region - like Fiji,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Solomons?

Or perhaps Bob believes that in the epoch of imperialism there can be "a
modern capitalist economy" which is clearly part of the First World and
yet is not imperialist.  Does Bob think Lenin got it wrong when he
divided the world into imperialist and oppressed countries and nations?
Or is that some new category of nations has emerged since Lenin's time?

The alternative is that Bob's auto-Labourism leads him to follow the
course followed by Ross Dowson in Canada in the 1970s, who argued that
Canada was not imperialist.  This, of course, is the traditional
argument of the Australian and Canadian CPs and social democrats.  That
is not to say it is wrong, but it does mean that we should be somewhat
wary of the argument and, at least, require a clear argument about how
and why Australia is not imperialist.

For myself, I agree with the DSP and also the tradition that Tom O'L
comes from in Australia, and recommend the sections of the book "Class
and Class Conflict in Australia" (edited by Tom himself and Rick Kuhn,
published by Longman, 1997 I think) which deal with Australian
imperialism and Australian nationalism.  Presumably  both Tom and the
various DSPers lurking on this list can recommend other readings.

> I advance this proposition, which I believe is completely in accord with Lenin's general ideas on nationality. Australia is a normal modern capitalist state with some secondary
> sub-imperialist elements. It has evolved from being a colony of British imperialism, with Australian nationalism historically always having been posed against British imperialism,
> and with Australian nationalism having been the rubric of Irish Catholic and working-class Australia, under which it advanced its independent interests which, while limited and
> reformist in character, were righteous and defensible.

Australia's "independent interests" were "righteous and defensible"!
What, like invading New Guinea?  Or how about the White Australia
policy, which was the *number one* platform point of the Australian
Labor Party when it was founded.

Australian nationalism, including in its "Irish Catholic and working
class" guise was racist to the core in the late nineteenth century.
Indeed, it reflected the ideological domination of the working class by
the middle class and also by ruling class ideas.  It was shaped by
demagogic publications whose 'socialism' was more like a precursor of
Nazism than Marxism.

The struggle that had to be waged against the dominant nationalist
pseudo-socialist (in reality, anti-socialist) ideas in the labour
movement is well-documented in Verity Burgmann, "Racists and
revolutionaries" (PhD completed in early 1980s) on the labour movement
in that era.  Verity is now one of Australia's leading historians and
remains a Marxist.

> The worst feature of Australian nationalism was its secondary racist aspects, which were taken over wholesale from the ideology of British imperialism.

Untrue.  Its racism was not some secondary aspect, it was pivotal.
Bob's auto-Labourist dogma here leads him to prettify the sordid racist
past of Australian nationalism in the 1800s and early 1900s.  Australian
nationalism was defined, to a very large degree, *in opposition to*
(especially) Asians, but also people of colour in general.

> That has now been
> pushed aside and the general labour movement notion of Australian nationalism now incorporates full and complete recognition of the rights of Aboriginal Australians, a
> completely non-racial immigration policy, and the general defence of multiculturalism.

The dominant ethos of nationalism in NZ also involves a clear move away
from a throughly racialised immigration policy.  This is because the
further development of capitalism, and in particular neo-liberal
eocnomic policies, have tended to sweep away old forms of discrimination
based on non-market mechanisms.  Immigration policy in NZ and Australia
these days is about class and wealth more than colour.  People are now
kept out because they;re poor and/or unskilled, not because they're the
'wrong colour' as used to be the case.  of curse, since the people of
the Third World are poorer and less skilled, they continue to be the
main people who are kept out.

So Bob makes a number of errors above.  Mainly, he confuses the
modernisation of capitalism, which requires the removal of many old,
formal discriminatory practices, with some great conversion of
Australian nationalism to emancipatory politics.  Different cycles of
accumulation actually require different social policies.

> A new Australian labour movement nationalism has emerged, incorporating all of the above elements, and it is completely defensible.

This is a succinct statement (and exposure) of Bob's position.  His
auto-Labourism actually requires him to defend the "new Australian
labour movement nationalism".  Thus Australian nationalism, at least in
this form, is "completely defensible".  This is just plain reactionary!
It also totally fails to understands that the "new nationalism" is the
*necessary* expression of capitlaist ideology today - a point which the
DSP seems to understand, judging from what Bob says about Iggy Kim's
articles in GLW, but which is totally lost on Bob who seems stuck in the
1950s and incapable of understanding that the further development of
Austraian capitalism throws up modifications of nationalist ideology.

> Socialists and left-wingers should take their initial stand on this general framework in relation to nationality and race, and conduct their campaigns for their other programmatic
> aims on this basis, rather than conducting a sterile and, in fact, implicitly racist polemic against Australian nationalism and multiculturalism.

This is bizarre.  Opposing Australian nationalism is "racist".  Opposing
the *new dominant capitalist ideology* of multiculturalism is "racist".

All this shows is that Bob is addicted to supporting capitalist
modernisation rather than its overthrow.

Bob, in NZ the *entire ruling class* is committed to multiculturalism.
It is the necessary new form of capitalist ideology, it goes alongside
neo-liberal economics (which has played a key part in producing it).  In
Australia there are sections of the ruling class that are hostile to
parts of multiculturalism (eg those with vested interest in mining
Aboriginal land), but even in Australia, multiculturalism is more
dominant in ruling class and the upper circles of state power than
redneck racism.  You are part of the new ruling class consensus!  And
you present this as Marxism!

There are a number of good critiques of multiculturalism from a left
standpoint.  Angelo Novo, who is on this list, wrote a very good one for
'revolution' magazine a few years ago, arguing that multiculturalism is
the necessary logic of neo-liberal economics and modern imperialist
development.  There is a feature by me in 'revolution' #4 (back at the
end of 1997) on "New Identities for Old?' which also served as the basis
of a paper I presented at the Australasian Political Studies conference
a year or so later.  Verity Burgmann and Andrew Milner have an excellent
chapter in the O'Lincoln & Kuhn (eds) "Class and Class Conflict in
Australia" examining, from a Marxist standpoint, the process of removal
of non-market forms of discrimination.

There has also been some interesting stuff in the 'Journal of Australian
Political Economy' on the new Australian national identity and how and
why it is the necessary socio-political expression of Australian
capitalism today.

Even in the politically backward US, huge chunks of the ruling class and
military leadership now favour affirmative action (witness the mass of
Fortune 500 companies and retired top US armed forces commanders who
submitted briefs to the Supreme Court on this subject leading up to the
recent decision there).  No US cabinet these days would be complete
without a few blacks and/or women.

The task for Marxists is not to merely cheer over this and imagine that
old-fashioned racists still call the shots, but to analyse why and how
capitalism is able to embrace *inclusion* rather than *exclusion* - of
people who used to be 'Other' - as a new organising principle.

> This polemic, in fact, puts them pretty much into the same camp as Paul Sheehan and Hanson on multiculturalism. The Iggy Kims, Humphrey McQueens and Ghassan Hages
> imply that there is some kind of original sin in proclaiming a cultural pride in any national identity. That sort of approach is stupid rubbish, and has no real basis in the method
> and politics of the great teachers of Marxism such as Lenin and Trotsky.

Attempting to link Iggy Kim, Humphrey McQueen and other leftists with
Pauline Hanson is daft as well as a nasty slur.  It also reflects the
fact that Bob hasn't a clue who rules Australia.  It ain't a fish and
chip shop racist from some Queensland backwater, like Hansen, who runs
Australian capitalism.  It's the liberal smart folk in skyscrapers in
Sydney and Melbourne - who also possess offices all over the world - and
who are predominantly advocates or sympathisers of multiculturalism.

Bob's inability to comprehend any of this - to even understand who the
ruling class is and what they think and do on this issue and thus what
the *dominant* capitalist ideology and practice is today - is what truly
has "no real basis in the method and politics of the great teachers of Marxism".

His inability, moreover, to comprehend that Labour parties are in the
business of capitalist modernisation - bringing the institutions and
practices of society in line with the changed economic realities since
the end of the postwar boom - may be the logical and necessary
corrollary of his attachment to Labourism but it too "has no basis in
the method and politics of the great teachers of Marxism".

Philip Ferguson

More information about the Marxism mailing list