||Issue No. 176||02 May 2003|
Interview: Staying Alive
Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Industrial: Last Drinks
National Focus: Around the States
Politics: Radical Surgery
Education: The Price of Missing Out
Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
History: Massive Attack
Culture: What's Right
Review: If He Should Fall
Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The Locker Room
Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
War and Peace
A Strange Light
A Little History
Does It Have To Be?
Letters to the Editor
Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
AN OPEN LETTER TO BARRY YORK AND GERARD HENDERSON
THE MORALITY AND JUSTICE OF THE IRAQ WAR, MARXISM AND RELIGION.
Former Maoist, Barry York has burst into the "Australian" newspaper attacking the left for not supporting the Iraq war, and former secretary to B.A. Santamaria, Gerard Henderson, has laid down the law in the "Herald", as a kind of cultural commissar for religion, attacking most world religious leaders for not supporting the same war.
Both men have, in my view, in the past, produced some useful things. Barry York, of Maltese background, has written the definitive and useful book on Maltese in Australia, and also, a few years ago, several magazine articles which were a critical balance sheet on the Maoism of the 1960s and the 1970s.
Henderson's book, "Mr. Santamaria and the Bishops", is one of the better books on the Australian Catholic Action movement. Anne Henderson, his wife, who is his partner and collaborator in the right wing think tank, the Sydney Institute, has published a number of useful books on migration, the experience of Catholic education and Catholic religious experience, which are workmanlike and culturally useful books.
Barry York skates over the rabid Stalinism of his own Maoist current in the anti war movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which he retrospectively idealises and he conflates his own group's role with the whole Vietnam War movement. Perhaps this is intended to soften his debut as the Murdoch Press's favourite Stalinist. This is just a bit on the cute side.
The actual anti Vietnam War movement in which I was also a vocal and energetic participant, was, in fact, a heterogenous and diverse popular movement. The more conservative side of it campaigned mainly for peace in general. The more leftist side of it had different strands with different views.
York's strand in the left, predominant in Melbourne, was ferociously Stalinist, which did not stop it being quite popular. They, for instance, were enthusiastic supporters of Mao's barbaric Cultural Revolution in China. They supported, retrospectively, the Stalinist frame-up trials of the 1930s in Russia and their particular political hero was Comrade Stalin. Thankfully, they were a distinct minority of the movement, even in Melbourne.
The other current of the left of the anti Vietnam War movement, was an anti Stalinist "Trotskyist" socialist current, which was predominant on the left in Sydney. Our main emphasis in the Vietnam agitation was on the withdrawal of Australian and American troops from Vietnam (not just peace negotiations), and self determination for the Vietnamese. We were, however, also a minority in the anti Vietnam War movement, though our slogans of withdrawal and self determination eventually prevailed in the massive Moratorium movement. The overwhelming majority of demonstrators in the 1960s and 1970s were simply against the Vietnam war.
It's difficult to find anyone in the world now, except a few crackpot neo conservatives, who admit to being supporters of the Vietnam War when it was being fought.
The left wing of the Vietnam movement I was associated with, bitterly opposed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. (I was arrested planting a red flag with Che Guevarra's head on it, on the roof of the Polish Consulate in protest against the invasion.)
A lot of water has obviously gone under the bridge since the 1960s. Barry York justifies his support for Bush's war in classic Stalinist form, in terms of a "popular front" with George Bush against "Iraqi fascism", and refers us to his fellow Stalinist old mate, Albert Langer's web site (www.lastsuperpower.net). I went to this web site, and it was like a trip down memory lane. Most of the content was in Albert's old Stalinist language and paradigm, with the one change that George Bush and the US neo-con government are now said to be main allies of the world's peoples in opposing "Iraqi fascism". Pretty weird.
(Albert's other current fetish, widely publicised in the press, is his campaign for the legal right to vote informal. Many of Albert's political activities have a slightly clownish aspect. In the 1960s this clownishness actually had a certain agitational quality, in the spirit of the times, but repeated in the 21st century, it is extreme farce. People misguided enough to support Albert's agitation for the right to vote informal, ought to note that he is not voting informal in relation to Bush's imperialist war, but supporting it energetically.)
Barry York now attempts to distinguish between the protestors of the 1960s, whom he now implies were wise and sensible, and the opponents of the Iraqi War now, who he says are "the pseudo-Left, which is more akin to a subculture than a political movement: a mish-mash of Third World romanticism, pacifists, environmentalism and suspicion of progress and modernity."
This is just humbug on Barry York's part. This is the sort of language he and Albert Langer used against everybody else in the anti Vietnam War movement, who disagreed with them. Nothing has really changed in the public contempt which York and Langer hold for the bulk of the people on the left in Australian society. York and Langer's sudden discovery of "progress and modernity", is pretty rich considering the barbaric and pre-modern character of the Stalinism they have defended for over thirty years.
Gerard Henderson's "political commissar for religion" role in the media raises another aspect of current reality. Henderson chides the leaders of most world religions, for not climbing on Bush's military bandwagon, and he correctly locates the objection of many Christians to Bush's war in the traditional Christian doctrine about the elements that make up a just war, which go back to St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine.
One of the interesting features of all notions of just and unjust wars, Christian, liberal and Marxist, is that they have many elements in common. As both Fr. Bruce Duncan, the author of the Catholic Bishops' statement, and another authority, an Evangelical theologian at the Anglican Moore College, pointed out in a discussion paper, Bush's war fails the test of a just war on a number of points. Henderson does not really address this question seriously, but just chides the religious leaders, really, for not being smart and lining up with the global hegemon, the US. (Barry York does much the same thing for the left and Marxists).
Henderson points to the overt religious convictions of Bush, Howard and Blair, good Christian men all, in their brutal assault on Iraq. The rather cruder Frank Devine made a similar religious reference earlier on, comparing Bush to Don John of Austria who, it is said, defeated the Turks at the battle of Lepanto, thus "saving Western Civilization from Islam".
When I was a kid at a Christian Brothers school in the 1950s, the culturally energetic Brothers, who gave us the useful rudiments of a classical education, taught us a lot of poetry, particularly Gerard Manly Hopkins, Francis Thompson, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Devine's crudeness brought back to my mind the rollicking quality of Chesterton's poem "Lepanto", with the boisterous chorus, "Don John of Austria is marching to the sea". I tried my hand, a few weeks ago, at a caricature of that poem, which ran something like, "Don Bush of Texas is marching for the oil," but it didn't quite scan.
What has to be said about the religious aspect of Bush, Howard & Blair is that their religion is the "Born Again" Calvinist Protestant religion currently undergoing a bit of a rebirth in the Atlantic countries. It is peculiarly a type of religion appropriate to arrogant imperialist powers. Whenever I see Howard, Bush or Blair on TV talking about "Christian values", I have to shyly confess that I often snap back (only for a moment) into the Catholic medievalism of my youth, and remember and spit out with venom, the wonderful line from a Hilaire Belloc poem, which runs, "The men of the new religion, with their Bibles in their boots". In my view, the "Born Again" Protestant fundamentalist form of religion belted out by Bush and Howard, tends to enrage the rest of the human race against American, Australian and Anglo imperialism. It has no appeal at all to secular free thinkers like myself, or Catholics, civilized modernist Protestants, Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and!
just about the whole rest of the human race, other than the couple of hundred million mainly secure middle class English speakers, amongst whom it is spread, like a noxious weed, with the vigorous support of the American State.
Henderson has the problem of attempting to explain, or understand, why most world religious leaders, including His Holiness the Pope, have been so vehement in their opposition to this Iraq war. In this context, it is worth quoting the following lines from Chesterton's Lepanto.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
Well, on this occasion, the Pope was in his chapel, praying not for the victory of the crusaders, but for the defeat of their Iraqi war plans. He was also mobilising the considerable diplomatic and political power of the Vatican machine against this war. One ought to concede, as Fr. Duncan points out to Henderson in a dignified way in a letter to the "Herald", the autonomy and reality of Fr. Duncan's (and the Pope's) theological convictions on this question. This does not, however, exclude consideration of the realpolitic of the opposition of most world religious leaders to this imperialist war. They realise, particularly the Pope, who is the boss of an international religion that operates in many countries and cultures, the absolute madness in the modern world, of world religious leaders climbing aboard Bush's assault on the interests, religions and cultures of many peoples.
Many of the same considerations apply to the American and Australian media barrage attacking the many leaderships of capitalist powers who opposed Bush's war. What force in the real material world is capable of bludgeoning major capitalist powers, with interests divergent to those of the United States, into supporting Bush's war, other than sheer fear of the military might of the US. This was not sufficient to force many major European and Latin American powers to sign on to the drive to this particular war.
Barry York and Henderson both chide religious leaders for not supporting Bush's "introduction of bourgeois democracy in Iraq". Like them, I regard bourgeois parliamentary democracy as a better, though limited, alternative in Iraq (and most colonial and ex Stalinist countries) to dictatorial rule. So do the overwhelming majority of the many millions of people who have demonstrated against the Iraq war. The reason that we don't follow York and Henderson's advice, is that it's absolutely clear that Bush and Howard have no organic and particular interest in introducing bourgeois parliamentary democracy anywhere. They certainly haven't done it in Afghanistan. (Or Saudi Arabia or Israel/Palestine, or the many other countries with dictatorships, most of which are solidly supported by the US administration.)
The evidence for the bad intentions of Bush, Howard etc in Iraq is (a) their reconstruction of the police force with the hated police of Saddam Hussein, (b) their deliberate complicity in the looting and destruction of the national infrastructure and even the seven thousand year old historical artifacts, (c) their clearly stated intention of postponing elections for many years, and (d) their equally clearly stated intention of installing military bases in Iraq. Some bourgeois democracy, all this!
Now that the regime of Saddam Hussein has been overthrown in Iraq, the democratic minded peoples of the world who have opposed the Iraq war, are now campaigning in their vast majority, against Bush and Howard, for real representative democracy, the right to form trade unions, free speech, etc, in Iraq. Many of us also support genuine independence for Kurdistan (including the Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk and their oil). Bush and Howard, quite clearly, on their side, are fighting for military control, bases, commercial interests and particularly for oil. Myself, being a lifelong activist in the labor movement, I share with other labor movement activists, a particular interest in supporting the Iraqi people in their struggle for the right to form real trade unions, and such things as the right to strike, which they have never had for any lengthy period in the past.
The dramatic and rapid appearance of a mass movement in Iraq, expressed in many large popular demonstrations, with slogans like "No to Saddam, No to American Occupation," etc, bodes well for the future of mass politics in Iraq. Civilized people in other countries should support the withdrawal of American, British and Australian troops from Iraq and immediate elections to achieve a genuinely democratic regime in Iraq.
It is quite clear that the Iraqi people will attempt to take advantage of the fall of Saddam Hussein to achieve freedom of speech, basic trade union rights, real representative institutions in the country, and it's quite clear that the Kurds will struggle for autonomy and possibly independence.
On form, it's highly likely that the American occupiers will do their best to prevent any of these things taking place,
Both Barry York and Gerard Henderson blackguard the members of the mass movements against the war in Iraq, and York in particular says they are misguided and stupid, not like "his generation" of protestors. Well, I participated in all the recent demonstrations in Sydney. The thing that struck me was the enormous number of people I met from the Vietnam times, Marxists, Catholics, liberals, Laborites, Greens, and their children, and their grandchildren, and they were the very significant core of the demonstration. The demonstrations, however, were vastly larger in proportion to the whole population, than the Vietnam demonstrations and much more diverse.
Henderson and York have a kind of conspiracy theory to explain the historically unprecedented, enormous size of the demonstrations against the Iraq war. They attempt to imply that the demonstrators are not representative of "real Australians" and are somehow corrupted by intellectual "elites". This is a rather mysterious and non materialist explanation, considering the extraordinary way the public culture, the newspapers and TV are, in fact, now dominated by pro war owners, and conservative news and features journalists and editorial writers.
I have a different, more materialist, explanation for the deep and widespread hostility in Australia to Bush and Howard's war, one more worrying for the interests that York and Henderson now support. The ethnic composition of the Australian population has vastly changed in the last 30 years. There are many more people from other cultures who now live and exercise citizenship rights in Australia, than the dwindling numbers who are exclusively from the previously dominant Anglo stream. The cultural level of the population is higher than it was at the start of the Vietnam War. The social and material basis for support for the narrow war of Anglo American imperialism on the peoples of the world, is far smaller in Australia than it has been in the past. The higher cultural level produces a situation, where a bigger section of the population can more easily distinguish between "patriotic" rhetoric and the genuine social and economic realities in the world.
This changing ethnic composition of Australia and higher cultural level, has produced a sharp divide in Australian politics, into a dwindling conservative side, the "old Australia", and a rapidly expanding Labor-Greens side, which includes most ethnics, most non believers, most Irish Catholics, most organised industrial workers, and also a large part of the section of the population with tertiary education. It's worth noting that all the polls, particularly the ones in the last week or so, since the unfolding of the military "success" of the war, show a persistence of majority anti war sentiment, amongst both the young and the Labor voters, despite the predictable general pro war bounce in the polls, once the invasion actually started.
It's highly likely that this growing Labor-Green majority in society will strongly oppose further military adventures by the American Empire. The venom of Barry York and Gerard Henderson and, indeed, of a number of other journalistic pundits, whose personal origins lie on the Labor-Green-migrant-Irish Catholic side of the cultural divide in Australia, but who have crossed over to the other, Tory, declining side, is partly driven by a painful awareness that this socio-cultural divide now exists in a massive way, and that they are on the wrong side of this divide.
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