Melbourne coalition turns out to fight fascists

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Australia is not on the brink of revolution. But protest is escalating against the cruelties of a collapsing global and domestic economy. Since March 2014, hundreds of thousands of Australians have marched to tell the conservative Abbott government that its harsh austerity programs will not be tolerated. It is trying to decimate social security, public education and healthcare, gut public sector jobs, and undermine other fundamental working conditions that labor unions have won over decades. More and more people are finding it hard to survive. Young people face a life of joblessness, and retiree pensions are getting slashed.

As history has shown, such economic decline and suffering, combined with growing protest, are conditions that make flailing capitalists consider the fascist solution.

A good bit of Australia’s political shift to the far right started after the attack on the World Trade Center in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The Australian government eagerly fell into step behind Washington’s “war on terror.” Successive regimes, Labor and Coalition alike, have drawn on the racist “White Australia Policy,” which officially banned non-white immigrants from 1901 to 1973. This abhorrent policy is now being remodeled for Australia’s refugees and Muslims. They are scapegoats for the misery caused by an economic system in chaos, just as Jews were blamed for post-World War I devastation.

In addition to peoples of colour, other culprits are feminism and homosexuality, which have deprived capitalism of wives’ free labor and destabilised the sacred family. “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church) was the slogan in Nazi Germany. Today, Australia’s far right is set against these “immoral elements.”

In the flesh. A fascist movement is indeed trying to take root in Australia. Brown-shirt types have been lurking around for years. Their most public entity is the United Patriots Front (UPF). So far, organised community action has sent them packing.

Last year, Radical Women initiated the Coalition to Beat Back the Far Right (Coalition) to counter-mobilise against the World Congress of Families (WC). This U.S.-based international network of extreme-right religious and fathers’ rights groups was attempting to hold a congress in Melbourne. Government Ministers and politicians, notorious for their bigoted politics, were invited speakers.

The Coalition exposed the network’s misogyny and homophobia together with its xenophobic and anti-working class political program. Intensive media work and network organising built grassroots pressure. It worked. Venues cancelled Congress bookings and parliamentarians bailed out of speaking engagements. In the end, only the hard core showed up at the small gathering on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Debating united front strategy. The far right, super-nationalist group Reclaim Australia (RA) then formed in early 2015. Its current targets are Muslims and the Left. RA announced it would hold rallies in Melbourne and across the country on April 4. This was doubly sinister, given developments in Europe, where fascism is on the rise (See Europe: austerity breeds electoral advances by the far right at Although an organised fascist movement is not yet winning parliamentary seats in Australia, the economic conditions for this possibility are developing.

As soon as RA declared itself, Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women joined with anarchist and other socialist organisations to counter-mobilise against the April 4 and far-right rallies in May and July. A massive community response trounced them every time.

But so far, this campaign is divided over what we are fighting and how we should fight back. Some participants initially resisted using the term fascism and educating about it. They thought that single-issue focusing on Islamophobia and racism would draw bigger numbers. But after the April success, the campaign chose the name Campaign against Racism and Fascism (CARF), signaling a positive shift on this question.

However, the Socialist Party (SP in Australia, part of the Communist Workers International, Socialist Alternative in the U.S.) split off to work in the Muslim community exclusively around Islamophobia. When United Patriots Front announced a rally on May 31, the same afternoon as a Socialist Party forum, SP called on activists to ignore the fascist rally and come to its forum. Fortunately, anti-fascist demonstrators ignored SP’s call and counter-demonstrated with CARF against the UPF rally. We outnumbered the fascists five to one, and drove them out again!

The union movement is crucial to building anti-fascist resistance, because it brings together workers from all communities and movements. This power to mobilise makes unions prime targets for fascists. But labour misleaders are keeping their distance from CARF — whose core organisers are rank-and-file unionists. One Victorian Trades Hall official told me that 20-30 fascists are not a threat to the union movement! Yet VTH’s recent resolution of solidarity with Muslim targets immediately drew fire from the fascists who called on their union supporters to denounce this “treason.”

Stamp out before it grows. Far-right forces are seriously organising. Their targets — feminists, LGBTIQ folks, unions and the unemployed, First Nations, socialists and anarchists, Muslims, people of colour, refugees and immigrants — need to join forces to overpower them.

Ultimately, the fascist threat will end when we uproot its capitalist source. For now, the united front is our best weapon. Together, we are the majority of the working class, and we can stop fascism from spreading.

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