It is popular for those that align themselves with the “Right” in the Australian political landscape to ratchet up fear by associating those on the “Left” with communists, socialists, and all other assorted enemies of capitalism and democracy. A seemingly unending war was waged against Julia Gillard for what some saw as her nefarious past, with questions being raised as to her suitability to lead a democratic nation. Andrew Bolt, clearly no fan of communist ideas existing in his country, has related the environmental movement to communism on a number of occasions.
When the previous Labor government announced plans to hold media regulators to account, The Daily Telegraph superimposed a picture of then Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, on the body of Joseph Stalin, and came up with this witty front page (above). (They later issued an apology…to Stalin.) Not wanting to be outdone on “clever” covers, The Australian created this pearler (left) in response to the Gillard government’s proposed increase on taxes for big business and high income earners.
It would seem that much of this commentary has filtered down to the masses. One only needs to take a glance at online forums and comments sections to see that, to many, “Left”, Labor, Greens, universities, activism, support for gay marriage, criticism of government, and the ABC are all synonyms for “communism”.
What all this represents is a clear lack of understanding of what communism actually is. This became personally apparent to me as I was discussing our election system with a family member and bemoaning the lack of plurality in our two-party system. He thought my suggestion that we should become more accepting of other parties and strive for minority governments was tantamount to communism. I didn’t then, and I’m not going to now, attempt an explanation, as this isn’t the piece for it, nor is it my place. After studying sociology and politics at university, I know enough about communist theories to realise I don’t know enough to pontificate on them. Yet even a cursory knowledge of these political, economic, and social theories is enough to realise that conflating Marxism with the Australian Labor Party, and Mao Zedong with Bob Brown is blatantly misguided.
Still, writers, commentators, politicians, and the general public like to cherry-pick anecdotes from communist history and run tenuous links to the belief system and actions of Australia’s political Left. This is an effort to denigrate without engagement; an attempt to win an argument by associating the other side with a movement that has in turn become inaccurately synonymous with totalitarianism, fascism, and even socialism. For many, “communist” is a useful pejorative; an attack that is as ad hominem as calling them a “cunt”.
The thing I have been thinking more and more about recently, is how ironic this all seems. For while the Right is desperate to tar the Left with the dreaded Red brush, it is their ideology, their policies, and their practices that most closely resemble 20th Century communism. This isn’t to suggest that they are communist. But it does suggest that they should have a good hard look at themselves, before they try to denigrate others.
The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 revealed the unflinching resolve of a communist state to suppress the protests of its people. In the lead up, the CCP attempted to dissuade the protesters by denouncing the demonstrations as a revolt, and those involved as rioters. Similar responses to protests in communist states occurred across Europe, Vietnam, and South America, and it would be reasonable to expect that democratic nations would not only celebrate protests, but also ensure that laws reflected a right of dissent.
However, various protests in Australia have attracted the ire of Right-leaning newspapers and commentators with representations of protests as “clear assault” and “riots”, and protesters as “thugs”, “ferals” (see picture), an “incoherent, impotent muddle”, and (my favourite) “small pods of malcontents”.
These kind of denouncements are in line with the philosophy of the Right, which generally promotes a dislike for protests and protesters. In this one report, The Daily Telegraph notes that one protester is “unemployed”, and another as working for the SBS, a government-funded broadcaster. This selective reporting of protests is designed to enrage the audience of hardworking taxpayers. What’s more, it is common. Check out this video from The Bolt Report, a masterclass in bias that aims – and no doubt succeeds – to paint all protesters as impediments to progress and prosperity. (Bolt conveniently ignores the fact the protest was attended by members of the community from all walks of life, and resulted in a local plebiscite which rejected the mining company’s proposal).
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, also dismissed the existence of protests against his leadership in March of this year, laughing them off as unimportant. Meanwhile, his Education minister, Christopher Pyne, has stated that protesting students should be thanking people who don’t have a university degree for subsidising their education through tax, and that he takes “protests with a pinch of salt”. (His first point spectacularly misses the fact that university graduates also pay tax, and thus also subsidise tertiary education, but facts are not his strong suit.) In print, The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen claims protesters “don’t want to miss out on a free feed”.
Perhaps most startling of all, Tim Wilson, current Human Rights Commissioner, tweeted in 2011 that Occupy Melbourne protesters are “time wasters” who should be subjected to “the water cannons”.
The implications are clear: protesters are lazy, ungrateful good-fer-nuthins’, who are a drain on the taxpayer, and need to shut up, shape up, and chip in.
And it’s not just in media and political commentary, with the Right-leaning Victorian state government recently passing legislation that will make it more difficult for protests to occur. The amendments to the Summary Offences Act give the police enhanced powers to move on protesters if they believe the protest is obstructing businesses or there is a reasonable belief that it will become violent. It all sounds rather subjective, and even the Victorian attorney general, Robert Clark, has stated that the new laws “limit the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and freedom of association.”
It is often noted that communist states exhibit a fervent denial of freedom of speech and of the press. It stands to reason then that any Red-phobic individual or institution would completely reject any notion of the state controlling the flow of information. Right?
Yet in Australia, the current Right-leaning federal government’s policy against people smuggling – named Operation Sovereign Borders – has been shrouded in secrecy since day one. While the government does have a plausible reason for this secrecy, it doesn’t change the fact that it is controlling the flow of information to the people about the implementation of one of its most controversial and flagship policies.
However, that is nothing compared to the stink that was kicked up by the Right-media in relation to so-called “whistleblower”, Edward Snowden. Earlier this year, the ABC reported that Snowden leaks revealed that the Australian government, under the stewardship of former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, spied on the Indonesian president and his wife. In the aftermath, Janet Albrechtsen called for ABC managing director, Mark Scott’s resignation for his choosing to “undermine…immigration policy”, Piers Akerman mocked Q&A host, Tony Jones, for defending freedom of the press, and PM Tony Abbott stated that the ABC should not “leap to be critical of your own country” and called on it to show some “affection for the home team”.
In modern communist states, citizens enjoy little to no option in who leads them. Elections are few and far between, and often when they do occur – as is the way in North Korea – they are orchestrated shams. However, in a democracy, political participation of the populace is its most fundamental aspect. Yet it would seem that there are many on the Right who would rather that a single party (presumably the Liberals) have complete control.
One of the biggest indicators of this was the response after the election of a minority government at the 2010 federal election. Firstly, there’s the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry with its statement that a minority government is bad for business. Then there’s Tony Abbott trashing minority government as “an experiment that failed”, despite the fact that the Gillard minority government was the most productive in terms of passing legislation, as well as passing the most bill amendments and private members’ bills in our federation’s history. You would think that this is sign of democratic health, but it seems our Right-leaning Liberal Party would prefer that only one party had full control, where legislation could be controlled and passed without significant debate or discussion. Such is the case currently in Queensland, where the Liberal party hold a massive majority in a unicameral parliamentary system. This is seen as a good thing, and (apparently) good for democracy.
Of course, plurality is something the Right seems to fear. Not only did Tony Abbott pledge to not lead a minority government, but he also made a move to wipe the Australian Greens Party from the Lower House at the last election. The move failed, but Abbott is clearly antagonistic towards political beliefs that differ wildly from his. But then, the Greens have been punching bags of the Right for awhile, with Senator George Brandis famously delivering a pitiful speech to parliament relating the party to the Nazis. His intention was clearly to smash them from existence. Similarly Barnaby Joyce’s statement that the Palmer United Party is a “cult” appears to be designed to discredit the minor party, lest it impede on the political dominance to which the Right feel they are entitled. And it’s not just the minor parties, with The Courier Mail suggesting that Tony Abbott could “annihilate Labor”, as if a federal government requiring no external approval of its proposed legislation is a good thing. Indeed, as one commentator has noted, such an arrangement would create a parliament where “majority government slams legislation through and creates a situation where only one side wins and all the others are alienated.”
I want to be clear that I am in no way suggesting that the Australian Right are exponents of, or draw their inspiration from, communist doctrine. Yet when making comparisons, it would appear that there are some common features in the way our current government, and their supporters, go about things.
In print and in policy the Australian Right appear to view protests as an impediment and annoyance to the status quo. Whilst the response to protest may not be a violent crackdown, it is clear that they would rather there be no protests at all. Some corners of the media eternally paint protesters as non-normative denizens who fail to do their bit for the community, while those in leadership positions encourage the populace to resent demonstrations, and use legislation to make it more difficult for them to occur.
The way in which the current government has controlled information – starkly different to the former government – and responses to Edward Snowden are interesting to consider in relation to key facets of media control in communist states. These seek to control what information about government is released to the people and take steps to ensure that it is always painted in a good light. As noted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, North Korea consistently promotes only positive news, whilst the government in Uzbekistan shows a complete intolerance for negative press.
In what has become a bit of a bugbear for me, the lack of diversity in our political landscape is not only ignored, but appears to be celebrated by those on the Right. But look, I’m just a lowly community youth worker and don’t understand the machinations of political power. Although a political ideology that seeks a legislative environment where only their voice is heard doesn’t sound very democratic to me. Sounds more like what we’ve come to expect from modern communist states.
Above all else, I think the ignorance of those who hypocritically point the finger at others, whilst failing to examine themselves, is perhaps best summed up with a quote. Taken from the comments section of an Andrew Bolt piece, it is written in support of Bolt’s seething at the apparent Marxist-inspired educators that are rampant in our schools.
“Parents should stand up and demand their eradication from our education system.”
That’s right. In order to free ourselves of an ideology that (supposedly) seeks to control thought and impinge on personal freedoms, we must “eradicate” those who think differently from us.
The irony slays me.
And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.