East Timor, historical examples and analogies

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Mar 4 15:48:04 MST 2003

Bob would like to pretend that there are no Marxist principles involved
in the call by the DSP and the liberal-left in Australia for Canberra to
send troops to East Timor.

Since there actually is a Marxist principle involved here - that of
Marxists in an imperialist country not supporting their own ruling class
at war (let alone calling on their own ruling class to intervene
abroad!) - Bob is forced to press non-analagous examples into service.
Thus his dragging in of Murmansk.

This is clearly not an analogy.  To make an analogy, rather than
bluster, Bob would have to show us where Lenin and the Bolsheviks called
on the capitalist government in Russia to send troops into another country.

One of the problems with the DSP and Bob's position is the way it shows
how far even the revolutionary left has retreated from positions that
were taken for granted for decades, and even into the 1930s.

For instance, can anyone imagine Trotsky calling on the League of
Nations to send troops to Spain to save the Republic?

Revolutionaries in those days were very clear about the importance of
political (and military) independence from the capitalist state.  People
raised international brigades, workers joined up and went to support
workers in other countries, like Spain, entirely independently of the
global institutions of capitalism and national imperialist governments.

In the 1960s, Che didn't call for the UN to send troops to the Congo to
deal to Tshombe and co.  He went there himself.

Clearly much of this has been lost since.  Many of the people who
understood these principles in the past, even in the 1960s, are now
advocates of imperialist intervention - from the Balkans to the Middle
East to East Timor.  Others, like the DSP, have maintained revolutionary
politics on most questions but, unfortunately, been overwhelmed here and
there by the surge of the aging and rightward-moving liberal-left 1960s
generation towards pro-UN politics.

In the years to come there will be more tests along these lines.  Some
time or other Australian and NZ imperialism will intervene more broadly
in the south-west Pacific area - eg if there is another coup in Fiji,
there will be increased calls for intervention there, as there were in
1987 when NZ came very close to sending troops (the Labour government
wanted to, but the military commanders in NZ said it wouldn't be wise as
the Fijian Army is as big as the NZ Army and more used to combat
situations because they're used continuously as UN mercenaries).

The job of revolutionaries in Australia and NZ in such a situation would
be to completely oppose any dispatch of troops to Fiji, not to call for intervention.

So this argument is not mere abstract principle-mongering.  It has a
very real political importance.

Philip Ferguson

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