For some decades now in every English-speaking state from Singapore to Canada there has existed a numerically significant, university-educated section of the bourgeoisie which holds “enlightened” and progressive views on various issues. Both among themselves and among revolutionary socialists it is known that our basic response to their existence consists of something along the lines of:
While the liberals are more ethical in their rhetoric than the conservatives on both an individual and structural level, in practice they cannot meaningfully liberate the oppressed, even if they intend to, which is not always the case.
I would indeed be a revisionist if I did not hold that the above is true. However, it is necessary to show how our line is theoretically and practically different to that of the liberals. The reason I bring this up is Martin Flanagan’s piece “The problem with Australia Day” in The Age. Now it should go without saying that we stand in solidarity with Aboriginal Australians and condemn the recognition and celebration of so-called “Australia Day”, which our real friends will agree is better termed “Invasion Day”. However, Flanagan’s underlying assumptions are themselves chauvinist and to be rejected. The very first sentence shows Flanagan’s misunderstanding of the issue:
“National days should unite.”
No, they should not. National days by their very nature divide the world into nations. This is perfectly natural, as the world is indeed thus divided. But the assumption that all Australians constitute one “nation”, that should have one “national day”, is incorrect. Australia is a single state at present (the terminological issue of calling the main subdivisions of the Australian state “states” being as irrelevant as in the United States, both are indeed sovereign states), and surely its citizens ought to all enjoy equal rights, but it is not correct to say that Australians are all one nation. Even if persons of immigrant background assimilate totally to the settler Anglo-Australian national culture and thus do not even constitute minority nationalities with Australian citizenship (an oversimplification of the reality at best), Aboriginal Australians are not part of the same nation as the settler Anglo-Australian nation. Assuming the bulk of the readership to be Marxist-Leninists, I can simply refer to Comrade Stalin’s words on the subject, which all would be hard-pressed to dispute apply as much to the oppressed Aboriginal Australians as they do to the Irish (which nearly all English-speaking Marxist-Leninists agree are not part of some “British nation” and are right in seeking national liberation against British occupation).
Regardless of the specific terminological issue of “the nation”, even many liberal readers would agree that the issue for the Aboriginal Australian is not specifically the “driving apart” of settler and Aboriginal Australians. After all, New Zealand and Australia are “apart” from one another, but no tears are shed for this fact. The concrete issue is that Aboriginal Australians are OPPRESSED by the settler Australian bourgeoisie as represented by the Australian state. The removal of Invasion Day from the calendar and full opposition to its celebration on the grounds that it celebrates invasion and subjugation of aboriginal Australians are, in light of this fact, the proverbial “lowest common denominator” of opposition to national chauvinism by the oppressor nation of settler Australia. We must object every year, but this is not because we, like Flanagan, believe the problem can be solved by the choice of a new “Australia Day” and a new flag:
“New Zealand is in the process of changing its flag which, up until now, has had the Union Jack in the corner. Presumably, if the Scots had won their bid for national independence last year, the Union Jack would have ceased to be flown in what remained of Great Britain or at least the blue of Scotland’s flag would have been taken out.”
New Zealand’s flag debate in part reflects its own relative success at collective bargaining between the settler nation and the Māori nation. I do not wish to pretend that the Māori nation has achieved its sovereignty to the point where they are no longer subject to national oppression, but because we must understand any “superiority” of New Zealand over Australia in terms of superior advocacy for Māori rights, not a ruling class which by its very nature cares more for the feelings of minorities. Similarly, in Scotland the question was of whether or not Scotland would exercise its right to secession, which itself reflects organisation and will which exists within Scotland itself.
The case of Scotland shows us quite clearly: The point is not to make sure to be a polite oppressor who doesn’t remind the oppressed nations and nationalities of their subjugated status, but to stand for real equality of rights. Aboriginal Australians are not oppressed by not being able to share barbecue days with the rest of Australia. Indeed, Aboriginal Australians oppose their forcible inclusion, as exemplified by the issue of the Stolen Generations. The truly progressive stance on the part of members of all oppressor nations must be one of concrete support for the struggle for liberation of all oppressed nations and nationalities.
In conclusion, when Flanagan complains that:
“an occasion which supposedly exists to bring us together serves each year to drive us apart”
he misses that the Australian state (or any other capitalist state) does not intend to bring its citizens together in a principled unity. It seeks to subjugate them and exploit them as a whole, and in order to do this, their hierarchical division is desirable. If we want to “unite” Aboriginal Australians and settler Australians, it must be a unity in struggle against the Australian state and its imperialism. Strange though it may sound, settler Australians can best unite with Aboriginal Australians by not merely opposing Invasion Day, but by supporting what amounts to further division from “mainstream” Australia, on their own terms.