The witch-hunting of radicals and marshalling of state forces against significant struggles happen on an international scale. The Guildford Four case has recently exposed “British justice” for what it is. The United States has its own infamous history of ‘legal’ persecutions. None of this is surprising, given that capitalism, and therefore struggles within it, are international.
Two Australian political activists, Kerry Browning and Tim Anderson, are fighting separate frame-ups by Australian intelligence’ forces in bizarre prosecutions against them. We know that the bourgeois state does not choose its targets randomly: its targets are activists in struggles considered to be threatening, or they are simply exploited as pretexts for the state to unleash attacks against civil liberties, and therefore mass struggles.
On October 14, 1988, the Australian Federal Police raided the Canberra home of Kerry Browning and her partner, Maxwell Nemadzivhanani. Both were arrested and charged on October 17 for allegedly firebombing the cars of South African and American diplomats. At the time, Nemadzivhanani was the UN representative of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Browning is an anti-apartheid activist as well as being involved in women’s, indigenous and trade union struggles. The charges against Nemadzivhanani were subsequently dropped, but committal hearings for Browning’s case began in April, 1989 and still continue. The bail conditions for Browning were unusual, to say the least: she was placed under a curfew between 10 pm and 6 am, or virtual house arrest.
The swift and resolute action against these anti-apartheid leaders is in sharp contrast to police inaction over earlier fire bombings of the transmitter of a community radio station which supports the South African Black struggle, the South African Liberation Centre outside Canberra’s South African embassy, and the premises of the militant Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) which supports the PAC. In their raids, police seized letters, passports, bankbooks, pamphlets, address books and mailing lists. In the two previous months, police had systematically harassed anti-apartheid activists, taking photographs at demonstrations and cross-examining them in their homes and interstate. The committal hearings for Browning have revealed that ASIO had controlled the operations against Browning and Nemadzivhanani. ASIO has been thickly involved in the surveillance, phone tapping and other monitoring of the PAC. The delaying tactics by police at the hearings are intended to stifle anti-apartheid activity. The federal government’s consistent attempts firstly to deny Browning legal aid — without which her defence is impossible — and then a barrister of her choice makes its intention obvious. The government’s precedent-setting cutback in legal funding in November, 1989 now denies her a defence altogether. The connection between the government’s intention to squash the burgeoning anti-apartheid movement and a more generalised attack on civil liberties is striking.
Read a letter from Kerry Browning here
On May 30, 1989, Tim Anderson was charged with the infamous 1978 Hilton Bombing. A bomb in a rubbish container exploded outside Sydney’s Hilton Hotel where heads of state attending a CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) conference stayed. Two council workers and a cop were killed when the rubbish was being collected. In a seemingly separate case, Anderson, then a member of the Ananda Marga, and two other Margis were convicted in 1979 of conspiracy to murder the leader of the neo-Nazi group, National Action.
Their conviction resulted from ASIO and NSW Special Branch intervention. Through verbals (false confessions which police regularly use , in the absence of evidence, to gain convictions) and a discredited police informant (a medically-declared psychopath), the intelligence services and police fabricated “evidence” which clinched their convictions by linking the three defendants to the Hilton Bombing. For this, they were sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment, even though (1) they were never charged or tried for the bombing and (2) the prosecution had only contradictory police stories to argue the conspiracy to murder. Seven years later, they were pardoned and eventually compensated for false imprisonment. Police now claim to have new evidence that Anderson was responsible for the bombing. But like that of eleven years ago, this “evidence” has no credibility.
Why these frame-ups of Anderson? Credible evidence points to ASIO and Special Branch involvement in the Hilton Bombing. Since the late 1970’s, capitalist states have been diligently constructing the chimera of international terrorism and protesting the need to increase surveillance and arresting powers. Australia has been no exception. The Hilton Bombing accomplished this: ASIO powers were extended and the Australian Federal Police Force (who later swooped on the PAC) was created.
The current (and conservative) NSW Greiner government, elected in March, 1988, has been under intense popular pressure to conduct an inquiry into the bombing. They even had to make this an election promise. The prosecution of Anderson deflects that responsibility and precludes any inquiry. Additionally, Anderson emerged from his seven-year ordeal as an activist in Aboriginal and prison struggles, both time-bombs (so to speak) for the state authorities. Anderson’s political work, including published material, has revealed incriminating data on police and ASIO/Special Branch activities. As his committal hearings progress, Anderson suspects that the Prosecution is not so interested in convicting him (especially since their case against him is clearly nonexistent) but to discrediting and isolating him.
So much can be said about the Browning and Anderson cases. Their significance, though, can be distilled to a few inter-connected issues which weave an ominous picture.
First, Browning and Anderson have been activists in struggles which pose special problems for Australian authorities. The duplicity of the Australian government’s anti-apartheid posturing is easily matched by its hypocrisy in Aboriginal affairs and contempt for the working class. That Prime Minister Hawke was meeting the sister of one of the incarcerated Sharpeville Six as he police squads were raiding Browning’s and Nemadzivhanani’s home illustrates its position on apartheid.
Meanwhile, Hawke’s government has treated Aboriginal demands for land rights and self-determination with contempt and limited the parameters of a recent royal commission into Black deaths in police custody to ensure damage control. When the interests of capital collide with the rights and sovereignty of indigenous people, capital is intended to win. The same principle holds in the conflict between capital and labor. In the current climate of economic crisis and austerity, federal and state governments have escalated, through their legal machinery, assaults on wage-earners, women, lesbians and gay men, the disadvantaged and poor through wage-cutting/productivity-raising schemes, strike breaking laws, sell-offs of government facilities, threats to public funding for abortions, summary offence laws, privatisation of social services, prosecution of welfare “cheats”, and increasing surveillance.
Second, the anti-apartheid, Aboriginal and prison struggles — tightly inter-related — are in the forefront of class struggle and consequently encounter the state’s most brutal blows. The struggles of South African and Australian Blacks are gaining broad working class support in Australia. The Aboriginal movement mobilised around 1988 (the Australian bourgeoisie’s bicentennial “celebration”of colonial invasion and 200 years of capital growth) to advance non-Aboriginal consciousness of Black struggle. The connection between the oppression of indigenous peoples and prison — reluctantly highlighted by the Hawke government’s royal commission into Black deaths in custody – and the strengthening anti-apartheid movement has also won popular recognition and stirred wide protest. With widening circles of the working class being harassed and jailed, however, prison becomes more broadly perceived as a class issue. The connection of oppression, policing and prison then becomes explosive.
Finally, like their overseas counterparts, the prosecutions of Browning and Anderson demonstrate the state’s mobilisation of all arms of the law to undermine, isolate and marginalise democratic struggles. Using unprincipled, unstable or desperate stooges to do its loathsome work and employing court proceedings and police raids to procure internal information, the state claims its neutrality. By harassing activists — and hoping to divide them and scare off support — the aim is to demobilise democratic struggles, actual or potential, which threaten the capitalist order.
Read an interview with Tim Anderson here