I remember the morning I opened up the newspaper to find a huge spread on a Christian fundamentalist “men’s rights” group calling itself the Blackshirts. I felt sick. A couple of nights earlier, a Radical Women meeting featured a talk on the Citizens Electoral Council, adherents of American fascist Lyndon LaRouche (See “LaRouche: Fascism Restyled for the New Milennium.”) Both organisations are centred in Moreland, my neighbourhood and home to a diverse, multicultural working class population.
Blackshirts leader, John Abbott, owns the Dane Centre, a well-known recording studio. The centre is close to Moreland’s thriving hub on Sydney Road, and just a couple of blocks from Solidarity Salon, organising centre for Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party. It’s not clear if the Blackshirts formally organise out of the centre, but the presence of Abbott is an outrage in itself.
Dressed from head to toe in black, and masked with bandanas and sunglasses, the paramilitary appearance of the Blackshirts is definitely menacing. On their sleeves is an insignia with Aboriginal boomerangs formed into an “SS.” When asked by a reporter about this hearkening back to Nazi Germany, Abbott answered point blank: “I have no problem with fascism.”
The Blackshirts regularly demonstrate outside the Family Court, calling for the repeal of Australia’s no-fault divorce laws and a penalty for “adultery.” Quoting extensively from the Bible, they regard marriage as an institution “belonging to God” and rights for women and queers an abomination. These men (there’s a token woman as well!) stalk women, who leave them (usually after years of violent abuse) and win custody of the children. Appearing outside an ex-partner’s home to proselytise their Kinder, Küche, Kirche ideology, they blitz the neighbourhood with leaflets full of vile slander, attempting to terrorise their victims and recruit like-minded brethren.
The sexist tabloid media paints these guys as a militant angry men’s group. Great for whipping up fear — and giving a platform for their fanatical views. Yes, the Blackshirts are a bunch of misogynist, homophobic bullies trying to bring back the “man’s castle.” But they didn’t appear from nowhere, and they’re not a new phenomenon. Abbott’s endorsement of fascism goes straight to the core of this deadly ideology: its hatred of women.
Learn from history. Today’s conditions are reminiscent of the 1920s and ’30s — economic crisis and spreading scarcity, the Federal Government’s decimation of social services and its pressure on working women to return to the home, and people’s disorientation in the chaos of capitalism in its death throes.
After 1914, Europe was in upheaval. In 1917, during World War I, the Russian workers and peasants threw out first the feudal Tsarist aristocracy and then the weak capitalist class. After the war, much of Europe was in devastating recession. In Italy, big business had been stung by the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war. Its Allies, Britain, France and the U.S.A, reneged on promises of new territories. Workers were occupying the factories and tenant farmers the estates of their landlords. Desperate to thwart the rise of socialism, Italy’s leading industrialists turned to Benito Mussolini and his gangs of armed thugs, the Fasci, who roamed the country — clad in black shirts. In Germany, whose economy was destroyed by Versailles, there was a failed workers’ revolution. There too, the capitalists funded the fascists. Using anti-worker terror, mass propaganda and appeals to legitimate grievances, Hitler’s Nazi Party was elected to power, because there had been no united grassroots organising to stop it. Then followed 12 years of bloody terror. The workers’ movement was crushed and Europe was submerged in another all-out war.
One of the features of Nazism was its insistence on racial, ideological and gender conformity. Those who did not match the official profile were deemed “unfit.” And so millions of activists, Jews, ethnic minorities, queers and independent women were sent to concentration camps and either murdered or used as slave labour. In hospitals and institutions across Germany and the occupied territories, disabled people were murdered by lethal injection.
The emergence of Abbott, who has “no problem with fascism,” must be seen in this context: if the capitalist class is going to carry out this remake of society, it has to control women. We’ve always been crucial to the profit system. To survive, it needs us to reproduce the next generation, to care for it from cradle to grave and to be the workforce which sets the lowest benchmark for wages and conditions. When economic crisis tears society apart, women not only shoulder the blame, we’re given the responsibility to hold it together.
The Howard Government is not fascist, but its “family values” policies encourage the likes of Blackshirts. Fascism feeds on scarcity, and its ideas appear attractive to working people who are doing it hard. Among the Blackshirts are working men who face mandatory deductions for Child Support that seem disproportionate in comparison to their meagre take-home pay. Instead of following John Abbott, working class men should join women in a movement that opposes the privatisation of care and demands that corporate business be taxed to fund these supports. But to convince them of that requires a clear political answer to their grievances, real and perceived.
Building community resistance. Diversity in Safe Communities (DiSC) formed in August 2002, after the Blackshirts targeted two Brunswick women who confronted Abbott while he was being interviewed on their street by a TV crew. Assuming the women were lesbians — because they were sharing a house — Abbott threatened them with “a visit.” The Blackshirts did return with their megaphones, stuffing neighbours’ letterboxes with their homophobic poison.
The women called a meeting, which was held at Solidarity Salon. On short notice, more than 20 people from the local neighbourhood, community legal centres and socialist movement showed up and started planning a public campaign launch.
The municipality of Moreland is a tested battleground between fascists and anti-fascists. Its high unemployment and rundown services attract the likes of National Action, a Nazi group run out of town by a multi-movement campaign in 1994, the LaRouchites and now the Blackshirts. With a large population of migrants and refugees, queers and single mothers to scapegoat, they try to appeal to white folks facing hardship — so far, without success. Many residents are people who fled repression — predominantly from Italy, Turkey and Eastern Europe. The area is the base for several international Left groups. The thriving Wills branch of Socialist Alliance is in Brunswick. Multicultural working class solidarity is entrenched, and fascist ideology is just not on.
This mood was palpable at DiSC’s launch in September, which packed out Brunswick Town Hall. About 250 attended, and the atmosphere was fiery. People from all ages were there, including those with memories of life under fascism. The diverse platform of speakers included Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, a local lesbian mother and Radical Women. The meeting was receptive to this strong feminist voice and RW’s call for a united front that stands up for women’s liberation. The vote to hold a protest rally outside the Dane Centre was almost unanimous (2 against). In contrast, a motion to negotiate with the Blackshirts got an angry thumbs down. A woman speaking against it said: “There is nothing to negotiate over. I don’t want a half-racist society, and I don’t want my kids growing up in a society that is a ‘little bit’ homophobic.”
So Brunswick said: Shut down the Blackshirts. Period!
Socialism or fascism. DiSC provides the potential for the inclusive, broad-based and democratic campaign needed to rid the streets of the Blackshirts before they grow. History points to the urgency for the union, socialist, feminist, queer, Indigenous, refugee and anti-war movements to unite around feminist demands — such as the rights of women and all minorities to reproductive freedom, jobs and equal pay, fully-funded supports and services. Economic independence for women, whoever we are, is the bottom line if we’re to make our own choices (including the relationships we have) and claim our place in society, respected as equals and leaders. Women’s wellbeing is the measuring rod for the rest of society. Fascism would drive us all down so a few can continue to prosper. Socialism would enable us all to enjoy the collective wealth.
The capitalist system has run its course. Abbott’s gang is a symptom of how vicious things will turn if the power of the corporate world is not challenged. A decisive defeat of these 21st century blackshirt thugs would embolden and rally our side for the battles ahead.