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Attacking the institutions of genocide: an anarchist perspective on solidarity with anti-colonial struggles

This article is written as a prompt for discussion, in hope that many probably more specific and sophisticated analyses can come after: analyses that are not afraid to approach solidarity in ways that recognise that Aboriginal peoples are the most collectively oppressed people within Australia, whilst also growing an anti-authoritarian analysis in relation to all struggles. Including this understanding within analysis of the larger collective oppression helps us form solidarity against these acts of separation.

This article only touches on matters of culture when attempting to name cultural genocide and the resistance to this violence. It is also an attempt to address some components of interaction between struggles. An awkwardness in relation to the recognition of cultural differences that also seems to tie into a lack of ingenuity around finding ways to express and share solidarity.

Time and hurt are related

Archaeological studies currently show that people have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. Culturally there is much diversity in creation or dreamtime understandings within language groups. These cultures have been kept alive for thousands of years, passed down through generations.

This could mean that dreamtime was understood to sit anywhere from five or six generations of people previous to the existing time, or to be much further back. Depending on different dreamtime stories this could mean ancestors were living in human or another form such as kangaroo people or plant people, one indicator of strong connection of people and country. Ancestors are a living presence in the landscape today.

No culture can or should be fetishised as a perfect social system of equality but it is inspiring that ways were found to facilitate cultural diversity across Australia, coexisting in a decentralised framework with no one culture markedly dominating another for thousands of years.

These cultures and belief systems may be hard for people from the present advanced capitalist setting to comprehend for many reasons. It might be helpful to consider that although most of us may know what was going on in the time of our ancestors the same distance back, for example what the 1800’s looked like in that time, many of us (especially if our lineage doesn’t trace down wealthy and powerful blood) wouldn’t know what our ancestors were doing in these past times. With so much individual history lost what then is important to know – in order to inform our current struggles is what the social-political climate was.

Capitalism asks us to be ahistorical and ignorant, the workers and the oppressed that is. To maintain capitalism we must behave as though we have forgotten all of the social conditions past and present that produce our subject positions within capitalism. The cultural genocide of non-individualistic collective cultures is also necessary for this kind of domination. After over 224 years of cultural genocide people are still connected to these cultures, and aspects of culture still inform survival and organisation throughout struggle. Connection to place and people isn’t only reliant on culture in a traditional sense. Connection may in itself be borne of shared struggles and resistance to colonial oppression.

When solidarity is established in recognition of all struggles under capitalism, across elements of social or cultural diversity, we have a revolutionary dynamic. The approach of working collectively, applied within struggle, is a powerful praxis and way to find common bonds, solidarity and diverse and decentralised means of attack.

It has been the ongoing tactics of the Australian state and the media machine, to propagate the lie that the only people left with any connection to land and culture live in the North. At the same time, they make just as strong a propaganda campaign that portrays communities in the North as inherently destined to self-destruct.

Some groups in the Northern Territory had been fictitiously veiled by the legal subterfuge of governmentally acknowledged land rights. These ‘rights’ allegedly meant they had achieved the recognition of traditional connection to lands allowing their collective use and control of these lands. However using the same mechanisms of propaganda and genocide, the ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill’ also termed ‘The Intervention’, has for the last five years seen these same communities forced by iron fist tactics into ‘leasing’ back their lands to the federal government for up to 99-years. Many of these lands and resources are to be mined away, poisoned and lost to these people forever.

Bringing solidarity in this place …

Aboriginal people’s struggles throughout colonisation have shown the most resolute and militant examples of struggle within Australia but it’s not only these people that need to fight the systems of domination. Non-indigenous people need to also strongly counterattack the Australian state, in solidarity, and for their own liberation.

Solidarity is the act of joining strengths across struggle. It must be recognised that if non-indigenous people are not to militantly struggle against capitalism and colonisation, that this is collusion with the Australian state, a mechanism of colonisation. From this platform they cannot be more than symbolic allies for Aboriginal struggles.

‘White guilt’ cannot simply be a residue from the historic violence done throughout earlier stages of colonisation but comes directly from a compliance with the continued genocide. We need to become responsible for our present lives, to learn of what has happened in this country and of what is still happening and to act to fight against the systems of oppression and advanced colonisation in its current state.

We are only confused by our guilt when we are not listening to what it is actually telling us, when it is shrieking at us “stop slicing small parts off me with a charity mentality, I am rational, I won’t go away until you fight me face to face”. It is the lie that we have any choice within capitalism that propagates the feelings of guilt, remaining inert and ineffectual against its workings.

The act of being bought off is the process by which those that accept the bribes, subsequently then have a participatory engagement in the exploitations. All non-indigenous people (whether they like it or not) in this land have benefitted materially by the theft of resources and exploitation of Aboriginal people.

Via the acceleration and violent appropriations of resources by the Australian State, Australia is presently in a false sense of security while other nations are presently exhibiting the extreme effects of capitalism’s ‘crisis’. As the oppression intensifies, the Australian State banks on the continued ‘blind eye’ attitude from non-Indigenous citizens towards Aboriginal struggle. To ensure this, living is tight for the working class: high rents, living costs and hard work keep us more than busy.

Capitalism’s social and environmental impacts mean that Australia’s present economic status is not only environmentally exhaustible and destructive but also genocidal. To overcome this we fight. If non-Indigenous people are to have solidarity with and be trusted by Aboriginal people  in struggle there must be honesty about our different subject positions within a colonial context and a commitment to deconstructing the practical and ideological workings of colonisation.

‘Western culture’, referred to as an advanced culture is a culture that likes to be viewed as ample with ‘rights’ and ‘choices’: freedom of thought, equal opportunity and democracy, a culture where its subjects have a say in the transformations of the culture itself. Western culture is adherent to capitalism, individualism and Nationalism. Any changes that are against these non-virtues can only come about through mutiny.

Our land is our home, this land belongs to us, we belong to the land, Aboriginal people have been struggling for years; deaths in custody, lack of housing and infrastructure, stolen generations, stolen wages for the hard earned work that Aboriginal men and woman throughout this country have done. They built Australia on Aboriginal hands, blood, they’re still taking our children away today.

– Barbara Shaw, from Tangentgyere Town camp, Tent Embassy press release 2012

Left ? – up to us!

When it comes to non-Indigenous engagement with anti-colonial struggle and within the Left and activism in general, there is a lot of time spent lobbying- creating campaigns and organising often in hierarchical forms. Hierarchical -who is the most seasoned activist, or which socialist or other group has stacked the coalition or collective. These methods are largely unchallenged within Australia -the means and the ends are fixed. Of course some very valuable achievements are being realised thanks to these committed activists. For instance they are finding ways to better connect remote communities technologically so as to share information and experiences regarding struggle, creating websites of information that collect current policies of genocide, or prompting people on to the streets to join demonstrations.

But we have to get used to the idea that creating events (people on to the streets) and resources (alternative media) are not intrinsically tied to the favoured discourses and ways of organising. The nature and opportunities within protesting, in a country where demonstrations are poorly attended are guided by more than simply the politics of the ‘organising groups.’ With an emphasis on decentralisation, solidarity between struggles, non-specialisation and collectivity we can promote diversity of tactics to confront the State, establish self-determination and take direct action.

Non indigenous people in Australia who care enough to acknowledge the relative difficulties faced by collective Aboriginal struggles due to being in minority, are challenged by the question of how best to engage with these struggles in the most respectful and meaningful way. This can result in a tendency to try to engage almost subserviently, in an attempt to strengthen Aboriginal activity within struggle. Without including their own liberation in to the picture. Within this ‘single issue’ activist approach it is not the
strongest anti-authoritarian/libertarian acts and voices that are quoted in the ‘awareness building’ materials that are disseminated. Or when those quotes are included, they are still alongside the reformist discourse because this awareness material is tied to ideas of lobbying. So if you are to read and take it for what it is, there are these hard facts and quotes from people within struggle but the only action to be taken is to ask the oppressor to be nicer. Which is confusing, and defeatist.

It is generally seen as natural to ask for reforms of government, it is just the language that it is believed must be spoken. If asking for reforms there must be a view that the State needs to continue to make decisions over people’s lives. It needs to be acknowledged that this is the underlying political view. It is coercive to expect that this is the political arena that people must conform to. Also any point that any government function/ policy would be potentially reforming from is already a ‘reform’ or coercive ‘reorganisation’ of people’s lives. The false democratic system of oppression has forcefully imposed itself. It is assimilationist and paternalistic. Must we also work towards maintaining the legitimacy of the very institutions, which perpetuate genocide?

The angle that what people need most is help to get into mainstream media and politics can be simply creating a means to boost political standings of the parties involving themselves in these campaigns. Other activists may be earnest but it is still ignoring the fact that there are systemic reasons why these voices in struggles are not received, welcomed or acknowledged and are constantly manipulated within the institutional mechanisms of an advanced colonial state. This is also often without addressing the part in their own lives that non-Indigenous people can play in the social war against inequity, towards individual freedom and social-political equality.

There are many examples of struggles against capitalism to be seen both past and present that demonstrate the social war at hand. Non-Indigenous people within Australia can consider this when critically reflecting on forms of struggle against the forces of domination – capitalism – the state – colonisation within Australia. Intensifying resistance against the systems of domination by creating libertarian counter information and making counter attacks are strong forms of solidarity and from this position comes a potential to form trust and affinity within struggle.

One thing that will be interesting to see in Australia is how things may change in relation to struggle in this time of mass uprisings in other parts of the world. Using the rhetoric of ‘unforeseen collapses’ and ‘austerity measures’ the systems of capitalism intensify the exploitation of people for its own survival, however this is being met with intensified resistance of mass insurrections and other forms of defiance. It is worrying to see Australia continuing on with our low level resistance to capitalism and neoliberalism in this time of heightened revolutionary potential.


This year was a coming together for the 40-year celebration of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. The Tent Embassy is a meeting place for people of differing experiences and praxis within struggle, which cultivates a stronger anti-colonial resistance. In resisting together, in solidarity, a culture inclusive of diversity in struggle is fostered. The struggle against the Intervention in the Northern Territory is clearly different to the struggle against gentrification in Redfern but there is always potential to share knowledge that can be useful across struggles.

Many people, who have experiential history with the tent embassy as an act of resistance, are also people whose parents were in the civil rights movements who told them stories of ancestor’s struggles in frontier times before. Those who established the tent embassy were connected with struggles across Australia and were learning more of other ‘black’ resistance movements abroad, and their kids can and do continue this praxis after them. This cultivating of resistance shared inter-generationally is a direct attack on institutions of genocide that angle their lathes between the generations.

We wish for the Australian people who are here sharing our land with us that we have to think, we have to work our strategies as peoples about the terms on which we coexist in the future, for our children, for our grandchildren and your grandchildren.

-Paul Coe, an initiator of the Tent Embassy, press release 2012.

Solidarity stronger than sovereignty…

The people who initiated the Tent Embassy across from the Australian parliament house desired a certain nature of political voice to come from all things connected with the Embassy. A question for this particular gathering was how could this be satisfied in a way that strengthens the Tent Embassy while having solidarity for diversity of actions?

The Tent Embassy is one example of resistance, an incredibly strong voice and form of resistance spanning 40years. Spokespeople from different Aboriginal groupings in 1972 came together to represent collective ideas regarding the oppression and genocide of colonisation. The original messages from the tent embassy were about sovereignty and self-determination and were a statement on the colonists’ government making the decisions that rule people’s lives. These same issues apply today.

The government, no matter which party is in power, tries constantly to present their distractions as if they are something new: the latest being that the constitution of Australia is to be altered to present the illusion that the law can be used to address Aboriginal oppression. Of course none of this will ever give people what they want, as the legal system is upholding the existing power structures and any small symbolic gesture like this is only to distract people from struggle.

Drip-fed ‘rights’ are not self-determination, but a way to prolong relationships of dependence. And so Parliament House has no new meaning for any Aboriginal person in struggle. It remains the same colonial, capitalist centre of oppression and genocide. Perhaps it has new meaning for those who will play the reformist game, those who buy into their own deception, wish to become politicians and benefit themselves but it has no new meaning for people collectively in struggle.

People marched up to the doors of parliament, strong in numbers and voice. Later that day by surprise it became apparent that both heads of the false democratic ruling system were enjoying themselves in a café nearby, soap boxing and clearly not expecting any unpleasant interruption to their occasion. This isn’t surprising considering the reality of the ruling class politic is that it doesn’t encounter any real political opposition – this is why we can call it a ‘false democracy’. People coming from the Embassy gathering made noise around the café, banging and yelling at the two heads of the snake. They startled the politicians and their lackeys, disrupting for a moment the stasis of the system of our oppression. This though small, was direct and meaningful.

The consequences of this action were widespread attacks by the mouthpiece of the system -the media, and divisions amongst those converged at the tent embassy. Not all consequences are inherent and we can choose how to deal with the ones that we are subjected to. We do not have to buy in to the media’s rhetoric by trying to play the good protester. This is a political choice that is made.

You and Me and Them

This was a confrontation with the puppets of ‘Intervention’. I refer to the ‘Northern Territory Intervention’ – this year renamed ‘Stronger Futures’ and extended for a further ten years with even more harsh and punitive measures, which perpetuates the genocidal project that began in 1788. But I also refer to every part of the State’s political charter, historically and in the present, as an intervention into our free lives.

If we are honest with each other, how do we really feel about a situation where nothing really ensued but a simple flash of fear instilled for just one moment in their whole lives, lives that they have dedicated to fucking us over? If we can talk freely with each other away from surveillance and manipulation, in the trust of each other’s company, could we then feel safe to say that we would love to see them stripped of their powers in our lifetimes, left to deal with the world in a realistic way as apposed to as an abstraction at our expense?

Nobody was arrested that day, and there was no raid on our camp. This could not have been due to the denouncing of the action to the media. Creating our own media is one of our strengths, our dynamic revolutionary action against the controlling media, which as it currently exists, as always is our enemy.

After Aboriginal people met together in different groupings of people present from all over Australia there was a decision made to speak to the media. The people that spoke were very strong in their assertion of the real issues at hand: of land theft, genocide, deaths in custody and of a government organisation that continues to violently control Aboriginal lives through every policy. They also chose to speak of the collective and grass-roots organising within struggles and their refusal of representation by government or any other self nominated representatives.

Kids attacking the institutions of genocide

As opportunities for direct action can present themselves unexpectedly and with little time to make a choice it is impossible to receive approval before or even after from all those involved in struggle. This is a part of our diversity of struggle and diversity of tactics within a social war. If we do not wholly agree with certain forms of struggle it is still possible to engage in discussion, to be honest about our critiques or preferences and ideas on tactics.

On the third day a march took to the streets and to the steps of parliament house. A lot of people participated and some of the Aboriginal fighters had dancing, words and symbolic gestures that they wanted to animate.

Burning the flag has significance as a symbolic gesture in Australia, as resistance to the genocide and pain of colonially asserted nationalism. Nationalism is glorified by a day of celebration that is celebrated across all of Australia and exists every single day through institutionalised racism and ongoing genocide. This nationalism is the ongoing mechanism of colonisation’s inclusion and exclusion process.

We can also note symbolism, familiarity and tradition in the burning of the flag in other struggles around the world. The flag is a symbol and so it is a symbolic action to burn it. This communicates a meaning and we recognise that it is but one symbolic reference to struggle. It was a young girl who burnt this flag and also showed amazing strength in the words she chose while explaining her need to burn and spit on the Australian flag.

Direct action is meaningful for the kids of this society. To refuse from very early in life the institutions of hate that we are supposed to inherit carries deeper meaning almost than we can say. A culture of resistance becomes cross generational and there are many things to be learnt from the generations before and those still to come, not simply from the top down from older to younger. The challenge is to foster autonomy across all the ages that would try to resist. To grow solidarity to support actions practically in a situation where adults are also kept as children by the state. We need to think of how minorities can foster strong direct action, stay strong against the repression and counter-insurgency of the state. This will always be a question for Anarchists/anti-authoritarians and Aboriginal people also.

There is a lot to be learnt from the history of Aboriginal struggle; the Tent Embassy was a strong, militant, act that has also facilitated and ignited many other tools of struggle; the Wave Hill Station walk off that the Tent Embassy was initiated in solidarity with, the insurrections that occurred after T.J Hicky and Mulrunji Doomadgee’s deaths at the hands of the police and so much more.

Our time together: shared not stolen, invested or spent

This time at the Embassy gathering there was a reduced presence of political parties and big trade unions and this allowed decisions to be made autonomously. It is important to recognise political opportunism and entryism but also to distinguish between this and real solidarity between struggles.

Many people expressed analysis of the role of Aboriginal government officials and representatives being disconnected to the collective struggle, and this kind of analysis is really important for strong anti-colonial struggle. A clear analysis of any of the mechanisms of colonisation, the ‘native police’ for example would include the limited opportunities for survival within colonisation as a reason that people would find themselves in these positions, that tie in to their own and others oppressions. The potential of inter-cultural collectivising and solidarity within Aboriginal struggles has been formed via organising in decentralised ways in this time of coming together at the Tent Embassy and within Aboriginal struggle generally. This could never be established through top down representation by politicians, for the latter only brings dilution and betrayal of struggle.

People speak for themselves in struggle from their own subject position, although it is also symptomatic of the systemic functions of oppression, and the frame-work of reformist politics that the most oppressed people find themselves in a position to ‘ask’ for the least. After all how much can you really ask of the powers that oppress you? For people who have to deal with terrifying facts such as rampant and constant deaths in custody, it would be understandably hard to conceive of carrying a political discourse that embraces an end to incarceration altogether. This would be a point of collaboration- a nexus between Anarchist and anti-authoritarian philosophy and Aboriginal struggle. To ask for equality within the penal system, the very language of ‘rights’ being used as a government abstraction when people will continue to be locked up and tortured, and the difficulty of finding a political language are bypassed when people find ways to respond directly against the root cause of the harsh realities they face every day.

Capitalism is in no way beautiful, but burning it is

Nobody should be homeless or dying in prisons. These are gross inequalities caused by capitalism; the state – the enforcer will never turn around and be accountable. We need to remain strong and refuse to buy into the state’s rhetoric, believing that it will reform. The state, the abuser, is the problem; the obstacle between a person and what they need, unless you are part of the middle and upper-ruling class is the state.

It is the nature of domination and class oppression and also of the limitations of any ‘recognition’ or ‘reconciliation’ of Aboriginal life within a capitalist society, that what is forced upon all the underclasses as goals to be achieved keeps us further away from what we really want. We must work to buy a house or pay the rent and to find and keep the job and we must conform to society in many other ways. This is consuming and total.

Within this same power structure, Aboriginal people have a better chance of striving for these same ‘achievements’ than of having autonomy duly recognised. This example illustrates the impossibility of the situation because as we know Aboriginal disadvantage within this game is virtually still just segregation from even participating in it, yet with no exit point. With an entire society based on a one dimensional competition, all players chained to each other intrinsically, we are expected to believe, no matter how low in the system, that the only way to affect our differences is individually, to do ‘better’ within this society, via changes to government or receiving charity or finding individual success. This is also an oxymoron, as buying land, land that was first stolen, is still a massive exploitation by the colonists therefore it would surely be hard for any Aboriginal person to recognise as an achievement, even after all the work and struggle involved in obtaining it.

Capitalist society cannot exist without this class tension, no matter the differences in class presentations according to the different powers at play. Solidarity binds stronger than chains; practical, down to earth and dignified solidarity is our strength as we intensify the class clash from below. To be true to collective need we begin to engage with the acts of equal re-distribution of wealth and resources; for example taking over work places towards an end to class inequalities. Some inspiring examples, though they vary greatly and each has had limitations, are -the Aboriginal Medical Centre, a community controlled organisation initiated in 1971; Tranby College for its philosophy of communal ownership and self-management, shared working and learning; the Tanengtyere council of the Town camps in Alice Springs where before the Intervention people collectivised in many ways including moneys for community needs; two recent (2012) hospital occupations by workers in Greece where the hospital workers who had not been paid for six months decided to continue to run the hospitals how they wanted -turning the hospital into a free public health facilities.

What are under attack are, as always, our strongest weapons: collectivity, solidarity, sharing, trust, un-surveilled communication and self-determination. This is visible in the struggle up until now and of course evident in the Intervention/Stronger Futures and other vicious acts of our later years of advanced colonisation; a clear attempt to finally deal with ‘the Aboriginal problem’. For example in the case of Palm Island’s Lex Patrick Wotton, who was charged with inciting a riot following the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee. On his release after six years, his parole conditions stated that he was not allowed to speak to the media and needed to gain permission before he could attend any public meeting on Palm Island.

It is only when we continue to strike ever-escalating fear in the minds and hearts of those who orchestrate our suffering, exploitation and oppression that we know we are beginning to win. Together let’s create a bigger Aboriginal and non-Indigenous ‘problem’. To win is to render all the systems of our oppression no longer serviceable by those that would otherwise continue in using them, as with the bush fire burning off refuse, we make way for the work of attaining, fixing and living our own free lives.