Abbott ​fuels Reclaim Australia — the left ignores that at its peril

Solidarity Sydney has produced this position paper to contribute to debates and discussion in the lead up to the mobilisations against Reclaim Australia in July.


On July 18-19, Reclaim Australia will mobilise for hate-filled demonstrations around the country for the second time. It’s very important that they be challenged. That is why Solidarity has helped initiate the counter-rallies.

Yet if we want to deal a blow to racism, we have to understand what we are dealing with. The Reclaim Australia demonstrations so far have been small, with the largest of those held over Easter numbering only 500. Over recent years the tiny groups of neo-Nazis here have organised only miniscule demonstrations that have represented no serious threat. Now they are attempting to hide their Nazi face and present themselves as simply anti-Muslim.

What is giving them oxygen is the context of extreme Islamophobia peddled by Abbott and the Coalition.

Abbott has used the growth of ISIS to promote the threat of terrorism and Islamic extremism. On an almost daily basis, the government has attempted to bolster Islamophobia—trying to establish the idea that the Lindt café siege was an act of terrorism, drumming up fear about foreign fighters and ‘radicalisation’, passing newer and even harsher anti-terror legislation, commenting excessively on a series of brutal, trumped-up anti-terror raids, and most recently, proposing legislation to strip the citizenship of anyone even suspected of sympathising with a terrorist organisation. Abbott even claimed recently that the IS ‘death cult’ is a threat to ‘every government and every person’! Now he says that Q&A is a ‘lefty lynch mob’. Labor’s response has been to quietly agree or criticise the government for not being savvy enough on national security.

The even harder racist right-wing underbelly of the Liberals have been given a new lease on life, with Cory Bernardi winning an inquiry into halal food certification and George Christensen denouncing multiculturalism.

It is clearly a very concerted and very desperate attempt to use Islamophobia to bolster the government’s legitimacy in the face of a backlash against their cuts and attacks. Allowing these ideas to spread is poison for the working class.

Importantly, racism at the top has a ‘trickle down’ effect. The Islamophobia Register has received 460 submissions documenting racist attacks on Muslims since September last year. The Muslim Women’s Association has said the community feels “under siege”. Recent research at the ANU shows those with Muslim-sounding names applying for jobs are the least likely to be asked for an interview.

Any cursory examination of Reclaim Australia’s propaganda reveals that they are building almost exclusively out of nonsense myths about Islam and Muslims.

Yet some on the left, in particular Socialist Alternative, have been happy to ignore the context of Islamophobia and Abbott’s scaremongering. They are acting as if there is a major threat of fascism and large growth of the far right.

This has gone along with arguing to physically confront Reclaim Australia and shut down their rallies.

Confronting racists directly has an important role to play in making sure Reclaim Australia’s racism does not go unchallenged, and in helping demoralise their supporters.

Solidarity has argued that the most effective way to confront Reclaim Australia will be mobilising as large a number as possible in the counter-demonstrations. Only small numbers are currently willing to be a part of physical confrontation, and a focus on this will limit the numbers. Perhaps in some recognition of this, Socialist Alternative has argued for confrontational demonstrations but have refused to honestly build them as such. But not explaining the situation to people does not help win an argument for those tactics. There may be confusion on the day, with people who attend not convinced about the need for confrontation or unaware of the plan to take over the space of the Reclaim Australia rallies.

Everyone should be building the anti-Reclaim demonstrations and encouraging others to do so. But we need a broad-based movement against Islamophobia. Almost every single initiative by the government has gone un-responded to, except by Muslim and Arab organisations and individuals. This has to be turned around.

Not surprisingly, the communities affected as well as the broader left are less willing to be involved in confrontational counter-demonstrations of any variety. The insistence on physical confrontation makes this much harder. It is essential to work with these organisations to give anti-Islamophobia a wider reach.

Some on the far left appear to have put responding to Islamophobia in the too-hard basket, after initial meetings and rallies didn’t mobilise in the hundreds or thousands. This is self-serving and mistaken.

Even when Pauline Hanson was on the rise in the 1990s—mobilising thousands for her demonstrations and meetings—the left beat her with a united front approach, working with unions, Labor​ members​, The Greens and migrant communities to organise mass demonstrations and meetings. Importantly, it involved campaigning to respond to the basic racist myths that fuelled the hard racism against migrants. As with any movement, much of it started with small grafting work and building trust and connections through joint activity. This laid the basis for convincing larger numbers of people to demonstrate against and shut down her meetings.

Already, Reclaim Australia has split with more hardline neo-Nazis breaking away from the simply Islamophobic and racist elements among the organisers. Encouragingly, the neo-Nazis failed in their effort to mobilise people in their rally at the Richmond Town Hall around a harder platform of taking on “left wing violence”. It remains to be seen if they will continue to have success mobilising—another reason why simply waiting to respond to their protests cannot be the sum total of the left’s response to Islamophobia.


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  1. The Reclaim Australia movement is marginal, the real threat comes from the reactionary Abbott government. Yet the threat of fascism is nonetheless real. This threat does not come from the fringe neo-Nazi movement but from within the political establishment itself. Islamophobia is just the thin edge of the wedge. The Abbott government’s political strategy is far more insidious than using Islam as a ‘distraction’ to bolster legitimacy and shift attention from the ‘cuts and attacks’ that otherwise make the government so unpopular. This is no way intended to downplay the growing racist attacks against Muslims, but to look past the expression of racism to the politics behind it: there is a deeper political realignment taking place, and it represents a rise of chauvinistic exclusionary politics as the ‘new normal’. And much like bipartisan cruelty towards refugees, such politics are largely unchallenged and gaining traction within the political establishment as a whole, which includes sections of the ALP. The left needs to confront this reality if we are to beat back the reactionaries.

    Let’s not draw the wrong lessons from the anti-Hanson movement – the left didn’t ‘beat’ Pauline Hanson. She won. For a time when her politics were maligned and on the fringe of the mainstream. But the politics she espoused – let’s call it ‘white nativist national chauvinism’ – are in the process of becoming entrenched as a mainstream and accepted political position championed by the Liberals. Hanson of the 1990s looks positively tame compared to Abbott and some of his henchmen. This surge has to be taken seriously. It is no longer a fringe issue pushed by racists like Bernardi. The Liberals are openly taking steps to build and politically empower the constituency that Hanson opened up. Most alarmingly, the parliamentary ALP has embraced the core aspects of Abbott’s security state reforms, while the most reactionary sections of the so-called ‘labor movement’ increasingly look to win over the constituency with their own versions of nativism (as a case in point, the AWU’s public attack on Chinese workers as a reaction to Abbott signing the Free Trade Agreement with China, the sort of racist politics that would be fitting for the 1890s).

    Right now we are facing an unprecedented attack on the remnants of the liberal-multicultural Australian nation state, including now the very definition of citizenship. The left needs to confront this political vision, and start talking seriously about the threat of fascism it opens up. Ideological Nazis need to be forcefully confronted and driven off the streets. They cannot be allowed to win their symbolic battles, to ‘reclaim’ what they consider to be ‘their’ public spaces, whether their efforts are to intimidate Muslims, Jews, non-whites, migrants and other ‘undesirables’. But they are not in power. And to fight effectively, we need to challenge those in a position of political power. We need to pick our battles. If we do what the far left usually does – engage in escalating radical action that is nonetheless confined within our cultural ghettos – we will not challenge power effectively, or indeed at all.

    The left can play a pivotal role in building effective movements to bring down the Abbott regime. But we shouldn’t look to the ALP leadership for guidance. If we want to win, the fightback we need requires us to challenge the co-option of the ALP, to halt the ALP’s slide into reactionary politics and the increasing pandering to white nativism and national chauvinism. We need to be pushing hard to end the collusion of Shorten with core aspects of Abbott’s politics. This, most likely, will only be achieved with an end to Shorten’s pitiful career.

  2. I have some difficulties with this. Socialist Alternative don’t dismiss Islamophobia, and they don’t overplay the fascist threat. Further, no one as far as I know is insisting that we all physically confront Reclaim Australia.

    The fascists, emboldened by their success in Reclaim Australia, attempted to shut down socialists in Melbourne. I think in those circumstance a counter demo of the left and others to prevent them doing that is entirely defensible.

    We need to build inclusive counter demos and that includes those who understand the threat of fascism and how the fascists are using state driven Islamophobia for their own ends to try and build. I am not sure this Solidarity formulation helps in doing that.

  3. The ALP needs to take it’s share of the blame . As Abbott’s scaremongering drags the debate further to the right, the ALP sits back and meekly submits to his mad rantings and flag waving ,
    worried about how it’s polling might be affected if it takes an opposing view.
    But getting rid of Shorten will not fix the ALP, he will be replaced by another from the same mold.
    The good news is that groups like RC are short on brain cells and racist rhetoric is easily beaten with simple arguments and a good showing by those opposing racism.

  4. Karol F’s post includes the throw-away comment “Yet the threat of fascism is nonetheless real. This threat does not come from the fringe neo-Nazi movement but from within the political establishment itself. Islamophobia is just the thin edge of the wedge”.
    Karol seems to be saying that the ruling class led by the Libs is trying to build a fascist movement. I can understand the anger at Abbott that leads someone to use “fascist” as a general term of abuse, but if it’s intended to be a serious analysis it’s a serious mistake. The capitalist class HATES fascism. It’s preferred form of government is parliamentary democracy.
    From the opposite direction it’s a parallel mistake to referring to ISIS as “Islamofascist”. It is not fascist. It is extremely reactionary, certainly, but does not have the same aims, and perhaps not even the same class composition as fascist parties.
    I think we need to clarify what fascism is, for discussion of Islam, for understanding bourgeois democracy, and for analysing extreme right-wing gangs which are genuinely fascist in aspiration.

  5. Here’s a rough and ready start to a quick ID of fascism. Note, it does NOT include racism, which is not a sine qua non of fascist movements
    What is fascism?
    Liberals ISIS Fascist
    Reactionary Yes Yes Yes
    Mass movement No Yes Yes (inc.aspiration)
    Middle class Yes ? Yes
    Pro big business Yes Probably no Yes
    Extreme social crisis No Yes Yes (inc. perception)
    Extreme nationalist No No (Internationalist) Yes
    Phys.smash w/class No Side effect? Yes (inc. aspiration)
    Smash bourgeois No Yes Yes

    In my opinion ISIS is not fascist. It’s AIM is not to physically smash the working class and it’s not nationalist. Certainly the Libs are neither fascist nor wishing to be.

  6. Specifically in response to John: Soc Alt have underplayed Islamophobia in Sydney, for instance not proposing it as a slogan and not wanting it very visible when it was voted up as one. They have focused on slogans about fascism and shutting down fascists everywhere, e.g. calling groups ‘no to fascism, no to racism’, etc, compared to say ‘no room for racism’ or ‘united against racism and Islamophobia’, which are slogans proposed by ourselves, the Socialist Party and some others elsewhere. There is no attempt to make a connection Islamophobia, Reclaim’s growth, and Abbott. There is a fudge about ‘physical confrontation’ but it is the logic of the argument/rally proposals. I’m happy to give you more ‘ins and outs’ but my experience makes me very confident in this.
    This seems to me to be a ‘let’s have an exciting demo against the bigots’ strategy, that doesn’t do anything to convince people to get involved in ongoing campaign work around these issues, and that isn’t concerned about mobilising the affected communities or the trade unions now or in the long run.
    Everybody is in favour of the counterdemos, there’s no question about that – that’s why we were part of initiated the ones back in April. We need to build counter demos that help us build against Islamophobia and Abbott’s terror threat, as that is what Reclaim are feeding off.
    I don’t agree with Karol that the federal government is sliding towards fascism, but I do agree that it’s the AFP, ASIO, the federal government and the acquiescent Labor leadership who pose the serious threat and who are acting violently against Muslims, refugees and so on, and that this the political challenge we face.


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