[Marxism] Need comment re 'Militant' take on Australia election

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Aug 8 20:56:27 MDT 2004

I have fallen behind on the Australia elections and I need to know if
the following article from the current Militant captures the situation

The headline confidently declares that "Labor Party drops call for Iraq
troop withdrawal" but the article does not quite demonstrate that though
it points to many retreats that could point in that direction.
According to the Militant, the LP is now suggesting they will keep
troops if they are placed under United Nations command.  But so far the
US has opposed placing any of the occupation troops under such command.
So is the withdrawal now conditional, or has the threat actually been
dropped as the Militant headlines.

It is hard for me to imagine the US placing the troops under UN command
-- which I would oppose as a possible guise for continuing the war and
occupation, Korea-style -- unless they take further blows in Iraq.  But,
except for the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Militant denies there have been
any such blows and foresees none in the future -- at least as long as
Bush and Rumsfeld remain in command. They insist that the US has moved
from one military and political triumph to another in Iraq, and that
their position is now stronger than ever.  So in that case, Australian
insistence on UN command would seem to be a problem, if they maintained
it after the election.

I certainly place no confidence in the Labor Party's promises if they
are elected.  That will depend on the masses, and make them act as they
have promised will not be easy, in my opinion.  But what are the facts
about their present position?

I also note that in bourgeois elections, the Militant is prone to
exaggerate or minimize the differences between the candidates based on
preconceptions, or factional and tendentious considerations.
In the United States they portray the Democrats as waging a brutal
factional no-holds-barred war against the Republicans, whom they believe
have earned and ought by rights to receive the support of the ruling
class.  The Militant states that workers should vote for the SWP
candidates although aware that only a handful will do so.

In the wake of the California recall-gubernatorial election last
September, the Militant hailed the defeat of the liberals in the
election, claiming that they had gone to well-deserved defeat because,
among other things, they had sought to defeat Bush "on everything 'Iraq'
stands for." But neither of the major Democratic candidates had opposed
the war in any way, shape or form. 

In Australia, they claim there are no differences whatever on the war
now among the major parties although there were some before.  In
California, they claimed that the election was a victory  for Bush on
the war over the antiwar forces, although no major Republican or
Democratic candidate opposed the war.  And they describe a bloody
factional war being carried out by Kerry against Bush, when in fact
Kerry has been a "perfect gentleman" toward the Bush administration,
and has counted on winning support from the ruling class rather than
anti-Bush demagogy to push him over the top.

Fred Feldman 

As a result, I am not sure that I can take Ron Poulsen's report from
Australia in the current issue at complete face value.  I hope that
others will confirm, disprove, or add to his assertions so that I can
understand the situation better.

Australian rulers close ranks on Iraq 
Labor Party drops call for Iraq troop withdrawal,
affirms alliance with Washington
(back page)
SYDNEY, Australia—In the run up to federal elections here, the
opposition Labor leadership has backed away from a controversial
proposal to pull Australian troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
Mark Latham, the new leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), has
acted to assure the ruling families that if his party wins the election
the ALP would continue to be a reliable pillar of the war party and of
Canberra’s strategic alliance with Washington. 
The coalition government of the Liberal and National parties under Prime
Minister John Howard is seeking a fourth term at national polls later
this year. Howard’s government sent Australian troops to join the
U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last three years. 

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in March that the
Canberra-Washington alliance would have been weakened “very
substantially” if the Australian government had not sent troops to Iraq.
The ruling class here has traditionally allied itself with London and
Washington to advance its own imperialist interests in the Pacific and
around the world. During Howard’s visit to Washington in June, U.S.
president George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell described
Latham’s withdrawal proposal as “disastrous.” 

U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said at the time that
countries like Australia could not have an “a la carte” alliance to pick
and choose in their allegiance to Washington. He also claimed after
talks with Labor figures that the ALP leadership was “rent up the
middle” over U.S. relations. 

Several liberal capitalist politicians, mainly from the ALP, protested
these statements as “interference” from Washington in the election
process. Others, like Labor state premier of New South Wales Robert
Carr, warned Latham of Washington’s sensitivities over the occupation of
Iraq. Latham attacked Howard’s use of the statements by Armitage as
risking “running down public support for the U.S. alliance.” 

Latham’s promise to pull Australian troops out of Iraq “by Christmas”
came days after José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist
Party was elected prime minister of Spain. Zapatero had promised to pull
Madrid’s troops out of Iraq, and did so after taking office. Latham’s
call caused alarm in ruling circles despite ALP pledges soon afterwards
to keep Australian naval and air forces in the Arab-Persian Gulf region
as part of the imperialist encirclement of Iraq, as well as small forces
inside the country.  
War on ‘identifiable sources’ of attack 
On July 12, Latham brought his former rival in the ALP leadership, Kim
Beazley, back to the front benches of the party as his military
spokesman. Beazley, an ardent supporter of the Australian government’s
alliance with Washington, was defense minister in a previous Labor
government from 1986 to 1990, when Canberra sent troops the U.S.-led
Gulf War. He later served as deputy prime minister. Howard, while in the
opposition in 1990, had said Beazley would be the only Labor member of
his ideal “war cabinet.” 

The same day, Latham gave a speech to the Australian Institute of
International Affairs pledging a military commitment to future U.S.-led
wars against any “identifiable source” of attack, saying this was why
the ALP backed the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan. He described Washington
as a “force for good” in the world. He further qualified his
controversial call for the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq “by
Christmas.” A Labor government, he said, would continue a form of
military commitment to the occupation of Iraq, albeit under United
Nations command. 

This contrasted with a speech on foreign policy Latham had given April
7, soon after his election as ALP leader. Appealing to “Australia first”
nationalism, he had declared “a sovereign foreign policy” would mean
directing “military capabilities primarily to the defense of
rather than to expeditionary forces overseas.” 

U.S. ambassador to Australia Tomas Schieffer welcomed Latham’s policy
“evolution.” Schieffer said the ALP’s differences with Washington had

Before his ascension to the ALP leadership, Latham had criticized Bush
as “the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.” He
had also called Howard an “arselicker” for being among the first to join
Washington’s “coalition of the willing.” He and other ALP leaders had
said they opposed the U.S.-led invasion without full UN backing. 

Soon after being elected opposition leader at the end of last year,
Latham held a press conference, flanked by the Australian and U.S.
flags, to affirm his support for the Australian capitalists’ key
alliance in the world. Latham later explained in an ABC TV interview
that as leader of the opposition he now had responsibility “to put the
American alliance
as the starting point.” 

At the same time, Latham issued a joint statement with his shadow
foreign minister Kevin Rudd. Titled “Australia’s Alliance with the
United States,” the statement said alignment with Washington is
fundamental to the Australian rulers’ “national interests” and security.
They said the alliance was “formed by Labor Prime Minister John Curtin”
in 1941 during World War II in the midst of interimperialist conflict
with Tokyo. Saying this has been the stance of “every Labor leader over
the past 62 years,” the statement noted that “from time to time our
interests will differ, as they did on Iraq.”  
Joint bases with Washington 
In February, Latham and Rudd made a much-publicized tour of Pine Gap, a
key U.S. communication center for spy satellites in central Australia.
Latham described the base, now run as a “joint” station, as “a very
important facility in Australia’s national interest.” 

On July 9, Australian ministers for defense, Robert Hill, and foreign
affairs, Alexander Downer, met U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and Colin Powell at annual bilateral talks in Washington. At the end of
the meeting, the two governments announced a set of joint military
training bases to be set up in northern Australia. 

The three ranges will be at existing Australian military sites near
Rockhampton in Queensland, and near Darwin and Katherine in the Northern
Territory. They will be linked by high technology communications to U.S.
bases, including the U.S. Pacific War Fighting Center in Hawaii. 

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Australian forces will use the facilities
to conduct joint operational training, including with live munitions.
The base near Darwin is planned as a staging post to store heavy U.S.
military equipment such as tanks for rapid deployment in the region. 

Michael McKinley of the Australian National University noted that the
new bases would extend Washington’s capacity for intervention in
Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Underdeveloped countries in the region,
he said, will see this as another step in Australian imperialism’s role
as Washington’s “deputy sheriff.” 

Chris Evans, Labor’s military spokesman, who has now been replaced by
Beazley, welcomed the bases plan. “Labor has always strongly supported
joint training between the Australian Defence Force and the military
forces of all our allies, including the United States,” Evans said. 

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