Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

The Great Cause of Australian Independence


The essential immediate question in the real politics of Australia is thus complete independence from all imperialism. In present day circumstances the main enemies of that anti-imperialist independence are U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. The immediate barriers to the independence of Australia are the multinational corporations (the core of them being U.S. multinationals), U.S. imperialism and the Soviet social-imperialists. Added to these are Australia’s monopoly capitalists particularly those in partnership with one or other of these imperialisms.

It is for these forces that Australia’s state machine (coercive apparatus) exists. This state apparatus increasingly suppresses the people as people’s revolt grows. More and more it moves to repression, to attack upon all sections of the people but particularly the workers.

The state apparatus plus the armed might of U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism are forces which stand against Australia’s independence. The advance to socialism must be directed at overcoming that immediate barrier. An essential step in the attainment of socialism is to overcome this barrier. Because the desire for complete independence for Australia embraces wide sections of the Australian people in addition to the workers, there can and must be united action of all anti-imperialist independence-loving sections of the people. There can be a great united front of all sections of Australian people who want to carry Australia’s independence through to the end of thoroughgoing anti-imperialist independence. As we have seen, the economic foundation of Australian dependence in modern times lies in the position of U.S. and Soviet imperialist economic interests plus collaborating local monopoly capitalists. To protect that is the Australian state apparatus.

Australian people have historically shown that they want independence. Today even wider sections of people demand carrying that independence still further.

In the first place are the workers, particularly those employed in the great multinational factories. In these factories they are exploited with particular “efficiency”, oppressed, pushed about. It is against these particular workers that the coercive state apparatus is particularly directed. The Arbitration Commission, the police (in the background, the army), the courts, the gaols are eternally poised against them. When there is revolt by these workers then all arms of coercion go into action against them. When there is a strike for better living conditions every ideological weapon is used against them. The press, radio, television sing a hymn of unremitting hate, government leaders denounce them, the “trade union movement” is used to suppress them, deceive them, sell them out. The state apparatus coerces them with penalties for industrial action, fines, threats of gaol, police protect scabs and knock strikers about, the army is kept in readiness. The multinationals and local monopoly capitalists rally all their forces particularly against the workers. Without a working class either voluntarily submissive or beaten into submission the lot of the multinationals and monopoly capitalists is very difficult.

Intensified exploitation of the workers calls into being still more revolt. Repression intensifies resistance. In conditions of economic crisis the whole process is intensified. Exploitation becomes fiercer, workers are thrown out of work, more repression is invoked.

The fact is that in recent years there has been a great upsurge of working class struggle. In a general sense that struggle has been on economic issues, on the defence of living standards. But it has extended significantly beyond that as conditions of economic crisis have intensified and as the world-wide contention and struggle (which embraces Australia) between the super-Powers has deepened. So also has repression and resistance to repression deepened and developed.

The very process illustrates and underlines the importance of Australia’s securing complete anti-imperialist independence. Examples may be taken. The name “Utah” is well known in Australia. Utah is a gigantic U.S. multinational taken over by the even bigger U.S. multinational General Electric. It has invested heavily in Australian coal, has ripped up Queensland to grab coal, made millions and millions in profits all remitted to the U.S. (over $100 million in one year). It has exploited cheap labour in the ships carrying the coal. When the seamen insisted on better wages and conditions, Utah secured action against them by the Federal and Queensland governments, by arbitration tribunals; in short, Utah called into operation the repressive Australian state apparatus that acts for it and other multinationals. Simultaneously, the daily press which serves Utah and other local multinational and monopoly capitalists, published reams of abuse against the workers. The old stereotyped abuse of “holding the community to ransom”, “irresponsible” etc., was advanced with monotonous repetition.

This illustrates the question of Australian dependence very well. Here is a U.S. multinational really taking Australia’s natural resources dirt cheap, making immense profits which it takes out of the country and when people resist, invokes the whole weight of the coercion of two state apparatuses (Federal and Queensland) and accompanies it with ideological “justification” in the daily (and other) press. Every government in Australia springs to attention to do the bidding of Utah. It is no exaggerated conclusion that an Australia in that position is subject to external interference in its internal affairs and external control. When added to this is the fact that the U.S. government represents Utah and other multinationals then it is not very difficult to see the role of U.S. imperialism in Australia.

At the very moment that Utah was acting in the way described above the monopoly capitalist Colonial Sugar Refinery was involved in a dispute with Japanese sugar refineries about the price to be paid for Australian sugar contracted to be supplied to Japan. Ships which were carrying Australian sugar were held up in Japanese waters while this dispute was being negotiated. A significant proportion of those ships (10 per cent) were Soviet ships. An important feature of this is that the Soviet Union claims to be socialist. Yet in this action it revealed itself as a commercial capitalist carrier of cargo for private profit between one capitalist country and another capitalist countries long distances from the Soviet Union. Side by side with a merchant navy goes a military navy. The Soviet Navy prowls the world. One serves the other. And in Australia is a partnership between the monopoly capitalist stevedores James Patrick & Co. and a Soviet maritime corporation. Soviet imperialist “interest” in Australia and pressure against the “have” power in Australia, U.S. imperialism, is thus a fact. Nor would reference to Soviet imperialism be complete without reference to Soviet passenger (tourist) vessels plying in Australian waters nor general freight reductions by Soviet cargo vessels with the aim of getting into the trade of Australia, a country vitally dependent upon shipping. Soviet freight rates undercut others for the sole purpose of Soviet penetration into Australia. When the wedge is in to the satisfaction of the Soviet imperialists, then Soviet freight rates will rise. Together with this, Soviet imperialism gets its hands on Australian primary products in order to make Australia dependent upon the Soviet Union.

On November 17, 1977 the newspaper Vanguard said:

Russian inroads into all spheres of life in Australia are proceeding at a breakneck pace. In the agricultural sphere there is a veritable breeding ground for comprador partners for Russian social-imperialism. In June a S90 million meat sale to the USSR was completed. A consortium of 11 meat exporters, led by Thomas Borthwick and Sons, shipped 72,500 tonnes of boneless beef and mutton carcasses to Black Sea ports.
The other companies involved were W. Angliss, Consolidated Meat Holdings, T. A. Fields, R. G. Gilbert-son, J. C. Hutton, Jackson Corio Meat Packing, Metro-Meat Industries, Thomas Playfair, Smorgan Consolidated Industries and F. J. Walker. (Stock and Land, 23/6/77) On August 1, the Australian Wheat Board announced the sale of 450,000 tonnes of wheat, worth about $45 million, to Russia. Then on August 13, the North Queensland Register reported that the latest beef sale to Russia was worth S40 million. Six days later the Sydney Morning Herald said that Sir Peter Abeles of T.N.T. and Sir Arthur George had ’pulled off their latest coup’, a large meat export contract to the Soviet Union. Together with Developments, Abeles and George own a Sydney-based meat trader, Oceanic Traders.
In October a delegation which paid a sales promotional visit to the USSR returned with the news that the Russians are interested in buying Murray Greys to improve their cattle-breeding stock. (Stock and Land. 6/10/77) Particularly in the depressed conditions of the Australian rural industries, the Russian social-imperialists see great potential for making inroads into Australia. Of all the countries buying Australian meat, the Soviet Union and Poland have registered the greatest increase in the last year. Soviet purchases rose from 2 tonnes in 1976 to 47,708 tonnes in 1977 (11 months to May) and Polish purchases rose from nil to 30,308 tonnes.
Nor is the agricultural sphere the only area of growing Russian economic penetration. An official of the Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union hit on a plan in September to swap Australian meat for Russian oil. This scheme was favourably reported in the revisionist and pro-Russian newspaper Tribune, saying that it would reduce ACTU-Solo’s ’dependence on supplies controlled by the big oil companies’. (14/9/77)
Also in September, Rocla Industries Ltd. won a large contract in the Soviet Union for concrete pipe-making machinery and technology. A cooling system was installed on Soviet licences in the blast furnaces of Wollongong, much to the delight of an article in the Russian magazine Sputnik, which published this information under the heading ’Cooling that promotes detente’. An advertisement in the Financial Review (30/6/77) one of a veritable flood of advertisements for Russian goods, reads: ’Soviet aircraft, helicopters and equipment. Avail yourself of our complete package service. V/O Aviaexport supplies: aircraft for short, medium-haul and trans-continental routes, multipurpose helicopters, aircraft engines, instruments and electric equipment, radio equipment on board, airfield, traffic control. . . . Aviaexport assists in setting up aircraft maintenance bases’. The Russian foreign trading company Tractrowexports had established a company named Belarus Tractors Pty. Ltd. in Sydney, with the intention of setting up an importing and distribution operation for tractors and equipment from the Soviet Union.
The importance of the above lies in the potential capacity of Soviet-Australian trade for producing dependence on Russian social-imperialism in a section of the capitalist class in Australia, whose whole outlook on life, trade and politics is well advanced. How such a situation can arise is demonstrated in the following extract from the Primary Industry Newsletter (17/8/77) which deals with the question of meat sales to the USSR:
’Further to our comments last week, the sale augurs well for the beef market, but a lot of blood will run across the slaughter floor before the market pulls out of the doldrums. Australia is still a weak seller. The Japanese don’t want our beef and can do without it, and our other major market, the USA, is in an over-supply situation relative to domestic demand. Our best guess is that the USSR sale will have to help the market but further sales will have to be made before there are any dramatic changes. If the USSR sale had not been made, however, prices would have slid further, so it’s a plus.’

The other monopoly capitalist powers bitterly resist Soviet encroachment.

In the discussion on Utah (General Electric) and Soviet shipping, indeed on the whole of Soviet activity, can be seen the contention and struggle between the superpowers and the real holding of Australian people to ransom.

It goes further than this. The Soviet imperialists “support” the struggle of seamen against Utah. At the very same time, Soviet seamen are paid extremely low wages and work in bad and oppressive conditions. On the face of it, Soviet support for the seamen against Utah is pure hypocrisy. There is a very good reason for the hypocrisy. Soviet social-imperialism’s struggle in Australia (as elsewhere) is to oust U.S. imperialism. Utah (General Electric) is a major constituent of U.S. imperialism. In fact the leaders of the Seamen’s Union are members of the “Socialist” Party of Australia. This “Party” was created by the Soviet imperialists and is nurtured by them. It is an organisation critical to the Soviet imperialists for their penetration of Australia. The leaders of the Seamen’s Union put service to Soviet social-imperialism in the first place. They manipulate the workers to deal their main blows against U.S. imperialism. Weakening of U.S. imperialism and U.S. imperialist interests in Australia means strengthening of Soviet social-imperialism and Soviet social-imperialist interests in Australia. Such a result is unavoidable in a world where these two superpowers compete so ruthlessly with each other. Weakening of one is strengthening of the other. Strengthening of one is weakening of the other. In conditions of today as U.S. imperialism is declining. Soviet imperialism is advancing. This process embraces everything. In such a struggle as that which involves Utah (General Electric) it is entirely correct for the workers to act, but it is entirely incorrect for them to be manipulated against one superpower to the advantage of the other. The only correct conclusion is that complete anti-imperialist independence must be directed at both superpowers and even more against Soviet social-imperialism because of its very youth and growth.

In Victoria, the workers in the electricity generating centre in Gippsland went on strike in defence of their living standards. The electrical generating plants in every Australian state serve primarily the multinational and other monopoly capitalist industries. That is their primary purpose; otherwise capitalism could not function. Without electric power these industries could not work. Without electricity to the homes of the workers and for other ancillary services the multinationals and other monopoly capitalists could not function. Electricity and other such public services fundamentally serve the local and multinational monopoly capitalists for it is these monopoly capitalists who own the decisive means of production. And it is these decisive means of production which lie at the foundation of capitalism in Australia. Accordingly the electricity authorities are essentially the instrumentalities of these monopoly capitalists. Such industries are sometimes spoken of as “nationalised”. In conditions in Australia, that merely means they are owned and run by the state apparatus. The state apparatus is owned by these monopoly capitalists. The reason such authorities as electricity, railways etc. are nationalised and not privately owned, is that the capital involved in them is so large as to be more conveniently invested on behalf of all monopoly capitalists, partially funded from taxation (the burden of which falls disproportionately heavily on the working people). One advantage to the working people of such State instrumentalities is that they show that private monopoly capitalists are not necessary in running industry, that they are parasitic. Nationalised industries are essentially the monopoly capitalists in another guise. Contrary to assertions sometimes made by Labor “theoreticians” they are not socialist at all.

When the Victorian power workers went on strike, the forces of the local and multi-national monopoly capitalists went into action against them. The coercive state apparatus was called upon to declare a state of emergency, the arbitration tribunals moved against them, the police broke picket lines, the army was held on alert to be used to operate the generating plant, the ACTU (Hawke) was called in. The daily (and other) press kept up a continual barrage of “holding the community to ransom”, “irresponsible”, “industrial bandits” and so on.

Who, however, was holding the community to ransom, who was irresponsible, who was a bandit? It must be replied that it is this instrument of monopoly capitalists both of local and multinational persuasion. It is they who sit astride Australia, who take enormous profits, remit them overseas. In the Victorian power dispute the whole thing was thrown into clear relief. The gigantic factories of the multinationals and Australian monopoly capitalists put off thousands of workers, inflicted enormous hardship on the people and then wept crocodile tears for them and for the smaller businesses, all because this handful of rich refused to pay a paltry $40 per week. At that very moment the parliamentarians in Canberra, servants as they are of monopoly capitalism, handed themselves $60 a week (no strike was necessary). Simultaneously record multinational profits were remitted overseas.

At about the same time workers on the oil rigs of BHP-Esso were struggling for better conditions. Again the whole state apparatus, press etc. were mobilised against them. They too were “irresponsible”, “holding the community to ransom”. BHP is Australia’s 1 sole steel producer. It makes enormous profits. It is in partnership with Esso (Exxon) one of the biggest multinationals in the world. They dominate Australia’s petroleum products industry. Cut off the oil and Australia comes to a standstill. Who owns the oil? – Exxon and the other multinationals. Is that not a blow at Australia’s independence, is this not sitting astride Australia, is it not holding the community to ransom? Yet these monopolies raise the price of petroleum products and do so supported entirely by the law. This is because it is their law. Australia’s people have nothing to do with it except to pay the greatly increased prices charged. The absurdity of the whole situation can be readily seen. Australia’s oil is cheaper than imported oil. Yet no Australian gets the advantage of Australia’s own oil natural resources. BHP-Esso, BP etc. systematically raise prices (within and by the law) to achieve world parity prices. Hence Australian people pay more: the profits of the local and foreign monopoly capitalists go up.

In 1977, Australian oil workers went on strike for better living conditions. Compared with the profits of these giant monopoly capitalists, exploitation derived from the workers, what the workers were asking was a mere nothing. Yet again the coercion of this state apparatus went quickly into action, the stereotyped abuse by the press was trotted out. Who was “irresponsible”, who was “holding the community to ransom”? The fate of millions of Australians was in the hands of a tiny handful of multinational and local monopoly capitalists. Is that rational, is it sensible?

Behind these multinationals in every case stands the might of U.S. imperialism spurred on by Soviet social-imperialism breathing its rivalry and served by the Australian coercive state apparatus.

It can thus be seen that the spearhead of the attack is upon the workers and particularly the workers in the multinational and other monopoly capitalist factories. Correspondingly the spearhead of the resistance is the working class in these particular industries and other key industries. Attacks are intensified, resistance mounts. The ranks of the workers are unified in the very process of resistance. Consciousness of the need to direct blows, particularly towards the goal of an anti-imperialist independent Australia, develops.

A critical aspect of the repression visited on the workers is that of the trade union bureaucrats, the “trade union movement” typified in the ACTU. The attack upon the workers by the coercive state apparatus, by the press is paralleled by the suppression of the workers in the name of the “trade union movement”. In every one of the cases taken for illustration above, this “trade union movement” was used to suppress struggle, to find a way out for the monopoly capitalists. The clearest example is that of the power workers. These workers persisted longer in struggle. Open repression got nowhere. The state apparatus, the press, etc., were compelled openly to call on the ACTU, the “trade union movement” to suppress the struggle. There was a picture of this trade union movement co-ordinating its actions with those of the coercive state apparatus with its Arbitration Commission, state of emergency, government leaders, in a joint effort to suppress struggle. This has occurred time after time. Though the tie-up between the monopoly capitalists and this ACTU “trade union movement” is not so open as that between the state apparatus and governments it is nonetheless just as real. What this coercive state apparatus, governments, press, etc. cannot do, the ACTU “trade union movement” has more chance of doing. This is because they speak in the name of the workers, appear to represent the workers. They are one of the main props of Australia’s lack of full independence. Side by side with them go the Labor Party leaders. Their role is slightly different. But they serve in the same field. In the course of these vital struggles not a single Labor leader raised his voice let alone organised against the multinationals. This is not accidental. In all circumstances, though its tactics may be different from other parliamentary parties, it serves monopoly capitalism. Its very passivity in these particular struggles represented objective support for the monopoly capitalists.

Indeed a whole pattern of increasing repression, in accordance with the multinational and other monopoly capitalist attack, can be seen in the Labor Party and “trade union movement”.

The Labor Party and the ACTU “trade union movement” sponsored what is called “wage indexation”. Wage indexation is theoretically a system of adding to the wages of the workers the quarterly cost of living increases revealed in government statistics (the Consumer Price Index). This may seem a concession. But there is something to be said about that. The cost of living figures always understate the real increase in cost of living. Just as important, the “wage indexation” adopted in Australia always contained an escape clause for the capitalists. The escape clause was that the Arbitration Commission was never bound to grant the whole of the cost of living increase (inadequate though that was). It was in accordance with the wage indexation formula that none or a part only of the cost of living increase would be granted. As part of this, the “trade union movement” was to forego any general increase in wages outside certain very limited cases, the so-called guidelines. The idea behind this “wage indexation” was an estimate that the workers were very discontented with wage levels, the life of capitalism depended upon something approaching a subsistence level in wages, if the workers were not given just sufficient to stop them from struggling strikes would occur and disrupt production and profit. Hence “wage indexation” by appearing to grant cost of living adjustments was meant to pacify the workers and head off immediate struggle. Then within the so-called guidelines when the ground had been prepared, an all-round attack upon real wages could be more gradually made.

Precisely this has occurred. Under the cover of “wage indexation”, real wages of Australian workers have been substantially reduced.

“Wage indexation” has been operated and defended by the National-Country Party, the Labor Party, the “trade union movement” and through the institutions of the state. “Wage indexation” is a device of the multinational and local monopoly capitalists to reduce the living standards of the Australian workers and people, and when the workers struggle there is a concerted, co-ordinated howl that these workers are breaking the “guidelines” of “wage indexation”. Part of this goes that wage indexation is beneficial to the workers.

Once more this demonstrates the decisive position in Australia of the working class and the decisive importance of its struggle. Sections of workers have resisted “wage indexation”, striven to break away from the state coercion and “trade union movement” suppression. Large-scale struggles have developed. Nor has struggle been confined only to the economic issues. The economic issues have forced to the fore the whole question of the multinationals and local monopoly capitalists, the whole question of the coercion of the state apparatus and the co-ordinating suppression of the “trade union movement”. Its effect has been to push towards the central question of Australian independence. When to that is added consciousness that the direction of struggle must be independence and socialism the workers are commencing to show that they have potentially inexhaustible enthusiasm and capacity to struggle for Australian independence as an essential step in the struggle for socialism.

When the workers struggle, their incomparable strength and importance are obvious. Their existence as the decisive useful people in the community comes out. Whereas a handful of oil millionaires, motor vehicle manufacturers, food processors, coal producers, steel producers, hold the Australian community up to private ransom (billions of profits) the workers show in action how useless these private owners are. When the workers struggle they are advancing the interests of the Australian community as a whole because they are struggling against enemies of Australia common to many other sections of Australian people.