Protest tactics: some lessons from the past


Bob Gould

11:38pm on Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rehosted from Leftwrites

My experience as a leader of the Vietnam antiwar protests in the 1960s in Sydney provides a bit of insight into the events in Melbourne at the G20 protests.

From May 1965 until 1971 I was an organiser of Vietnam antiwar protests in Sydney as secretary of first the Vietnam Action Committee and later the Vietnam Action Campaign.
I was arrested in those years about 12 times, and a bit later I was arrested another dozen times, often over censorship matters.

We started as a very small group organising modest protests of 300-400, which grew into actions of about 10,000 under our own banner, and many thousands more in big united-front protests in which we participated with the more influential CPA-influenced peace organisation. Our united front with the other organisations was sometimes stormy, but we worked hard to preserve the alliance, with some success.

When we started out in 1965 the war was still fairly popular. Initially, it had overwhelming popular support.

One of our early political advantages was that Labor leader Arthur Calwell, in his own way a very courageous man, dragged the Labor Party into vigorous opposition to the war despite the reluctance of many of his parliamentary and machine colleagues.

In Sydney, as leftists in the Labor Party, we stuck very close to Calwell for strategic reasons around the slogan of withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam.

This Liberals, who were belligerently pro-war, were in government in NSW and federally, and they imposed draconian rules against protests. For instance, it was illegal to to march in the carriageway of a street and to carry placards on poles because they might be used as a weapon.

The VAC concentrated on Friday evening protests in central Sydney and the more conservative peace movement concentrated on Sunday marches, in which we also participated.

Although to some degree we followed the political lead of the US Socialist Workers Party with our emphasis on complete withdrawal of the troops from Vietnam, we weren’t in practice the fetishists that they were in their exclusion of all civil disobedience. A certain mythology has grown up, originating from John and Jim Percy, who in their polemical and historical material talk as if we were fetishists opposed to all civil disobedience.

The first Vietnam antiwar protest I participated in was a sitdown in Canberra in May 1965, at which a bunch of students, including John Percy, Dave Nadel and Albert Langer, were pinched along with a department store book buyer (myself).

Our second VAC demonstration towards the end of 1965 was a planned sitdown in Pitt Street, which was described by Helen Palmer in an article for Outlook.

The practical struggle fairly quickly began to hinge on the right to march in the street. If the coppers had overwhelming force, they stopped us. If they miscalculated and there were only a few coppers and a large protest, we overwhelmed them and marched on the street. Quite a few of my arrests were over confrontations about the right to march in the street. A couple of times I was dragged out of high places, such as the guard house of the Garden Island naval base and a tree in the moat of the Polish consulate in Double Bay, during a protest against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.

We were a conscientious, smallish bunch of rebels. We built up our own mail list, which eventually reached 30,000, and we mailed out to every name we had before major demonstrations. Raising the money to do that kept us poor because we didn’t have mass connections in the trade unions, etc, and access to funds, like the Stalinists did.

Taken as a whole, while we confronted authority and the police, we did so with very little violence, none of it initiated by us, and we used the sporadic civil disobedience and necessary confrontations with the coppers over the right to march as a tactical device to build the movement.

The Stalinists, whose noses we often put out of joint, developed a myth that I was an agent provocateur, which they spread widely, and which has just been revived deliberately on the Green Left Weekly website. This arose from the fact that in this kind of situation it was necessary for the serious leaders of the movement to lead from the front.

I had a fairly substantial group of associates, but the media publicity often focused on me in the same way it focused on Brian Laver, Mike Jones and Albert Langer. That imposed a kind of responsibility.

We never, ever, deliberately set out to have physical conflicts with the cops, other than the necessary pushing and shoving associated with the right to march, or to release people who had been pinched at protests. I share with Mick Armstrong the honour that we’ve both been pinched at various times on allegations that we’ve tried to rescue people from police vans, and I was very pleased when Mick successfully beat that rap.

We weren’t afraid to collide with authority, but we were constantly monitoring the impact of our street activity in the labour movement, because our aim was to mobilise the labour movement and society in general against the war. We tended to look at the impact of our activities in that framework.

Of course there are differences between that time and now. One was that we had a clear, constantly evolving, focus for our agitation and anger. Vietnam was the first televised war. A second factor was mass conscription for the war, and a third was the rapid development of youth culture. Our musical emblems were Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Country Joe and the Fish.

We were constantly involved in agitation, and I personally helped organise probably three demonstrations a month for about six years in a constantly rising arc.

When we started we were in a classic defensive situation, but by the end of it we had conquered a majority of society.

The culture of protests in Sydney and Melbourne was somewhat different. The Melbourne Maoists had a strategy of demystifying the capitalist state through confrontation with the cops, etc.

We didn’t have much time for that approach. Occasionally people like Albert Langer would come to Sydney and try to “radicalise” our protests, which were a bit smaller and more militant than the united front protests, but they didn’t get far with that.

It’s kind of flattering personally that I still constantly meet people (who reactionaries call baby boomers) a little younger than myself, who remember me with affection for my agitational activities.

To summarise, we never picked fights with the cops for the sake of picking fights. In fact, in our protests we even in a jocular way adopted the quite non-politically-correct slogan of “overtime for police” (in those days the coppers didn’t get overtime), which often made them laugh.

I don’t think the question of left leadership can be solved abstractly. To get people to follow you at demonstrations, they have to know you, and to have known you for a reasonable time.
Leadership isn’t achieved by proclamation. Leading from the front is an essential element. I would imagine that Mick Armstrong, with whom I have some political differences, has won in practice in Melbourne a certain amount of authority among the demonstrating public by leading from the front in the way I’ve described. If he says something about the Arterial Bloc, it seems likely to me that a lot of people will listen to him.

I’m for defending the dingbats who’ve done silly things at protests and got pinched, despite their mistakes, which is what we used to do in Sydney protests against the Vietnam War. The buck usually stopped with me, in fact, in getting people out on bail after protests, sometimes including people whose behaviour I considered wrong-headed and politically dangerous, but solidarity is a separate question.

No amount of romanticism about Arterial Bloc can get past the fact that covering your face in the current defensive political climate facing the workers movement, and then attacking the coppers, is a deliberate blow against all protesters.

Whether these people came from Melbourne or elsewhere isn’t a parochial matter, because it’s obvious that people from other cities who put on stunts can escape back to where they came from, leaving the locals to clean up the mess.


Dave Nadel November 22, 2006 @ 9:58am  After Jill commented on a previous string about old guys reminiscing (she didn’t use those words, but that was the implication) I am reluctant to get into a debate with Bob over his memories of the sixties, however in the interests of historical accuracy… Albert Langer was not arrested with us in Canberra in 1965. He was still at High School and did not start at Monash until 1966. The Monash Maoists (and non-Maoist fellow travellers like myself) would not have regarded attitudes towards confrontation with cops as the key difference between the Sydney radical antiwar Movement and ourselves. We would have seen the key difference over the question of support for the NLF.

The Sydney comrades did support the NLF but seemed to be concerned that public demonstrations of that support might alienate supporters of total withdrawal, which they saw as the key question.

Bob and his supporters may well have been right but I did not think so at the time.  This is not an attempt to start a debate with Bob over the Anti-War Movement in the 1960s. I will try and make future posts more contemporary and less historical.

Jill November 22, 2006 @ 10:11am  “After Jill commented on a previous string about old guys reminiscing.” I was just using you guys to justify some of us still talking about an Austudy rally that happened almost 15 years ago.  As you know, Dave, I’m actually a big fan of stories about the US Consulate riot! Keep ’em coming, I say!

Jeff Sparrow November 22, 2006 @ 10:11am  Dave,  We like history. Don’t worry about Jill. She’s not gettng any younger, either! 🙂

Shannon November 22, 2006 @ 11:08am  I think that the point to be made in relation to this is that there wasn’t any attempt to lead going on from any other section of the demonstration. Bob’s right about leadership not being an abstract question — but what that means for an analysis of the G20 demonstrations is something completely different to what is implied in the this post.

To say that the arterial bloc abdicated political responsibility by taking isolated actions without attempting to politically convince the rest of the rally is fine. It’s true. It’s a point that absolutely must be made in order for people to learn the real lessons of last Saturday and to develop their analysis of the police. But to glorify the role of others (like Socialist Alternative) is wrong. It’s counter-factual.

When the red bloc left the demonstration there was no attempt to convince or communicate with the rest of the rally about this tactical decision. There was no leadership coming from anywhere else. And I fully and openly admit that I was in no position to be part of any kind of leadership of the demonstration. I am not trying to have a sectarian slinging match with SA, or anyone else for that matter.

But surely, if we’re going to actually engage in a meaningful discussion of what happened on Saturday we have to deal with these facts. The fact remains that a lot of people followed the arterial bloc because they were hungry for some kind of ongoing confrontation. If there was no political intervention about the need to build an ongoing movement, what do we expect from people?

Chav November 22, 2006 @ 12:21pm “But to glorify the role of others (like Socialist Alternative) is wrong. It’s counter-factual. When the red bloc left the demonstration there was no attempt to convince or communicate with the rest of the rally about this tactical decision.”

The Red Bloc invited as many people as wanted to to march with them.  As far as I can tell they realised the demonstration had reached an impasse and decided to leave.  They made that argument to people who had just joined the Red Bloc on the day.

Where was the direction coming from the speakers/organisers asking for a show of hands as to who wanted to do what? If there had been such a vote then I’m sure the Red Bloc would have been happy to put their case as to why it was time to leave. From bitter experience I’m quite sure if they had simply gone amongst the demo arguing for it to disperse they would have been met with sulleness or more likely vitriolic abuse.

I feel like the Arterial Bloc and their supporters amongst the Leninist Left are wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

Bob Gould November 23, 2006 @10:28pm  I have some disagreement with Shannon’s approach in saying it was a major political error that the Socialist Alternative’s Red Bloc marched in a different direction to the G20 protest at some point. I’m in no position to judge that, but the point must be made that the Red Bloc didn’t have their faces covered and they made their tactical moves fairly publicly.

I have some disagreement over the Red Bloc tactic, but that’s a decision for them, and it’s their right to have a Red Bloc if they want to. I disagreed in the 1960s with people who carried NLF flags and elevated support for the NLF as their major approach. Some of the supporters of that view were quite cynical, such as members of the Communist Party apparatus, who said that was good at VAC actions, but not at the bigger peace movement mobilisations.

Some, such as Hall Greenland and some of his friends, conscientiously believed in support for the NLF as a strategy and we never made any attempt to stop people carrying NLF flag. But none of that is the point about the Arterial Bloc.

I’ve read all the statements from this group that have been placed on Leftwrites. It’s a collection of babble, psychoanalysis and other bits and pieces, which is meant to dazzle with science. None of it has very much relevance to what the Arterial Bloc did on the day, which was to try to pick a fight with the cops while hiding behind their masks.

Agonising about the lack of leadership of the left is beside the point. You say that in the absence of leadership, in frustration, some protesters followed the people in the white suits. Well, what force was going to persuade them not to do that? Who had sufficient authority to do so?

My earlier point stands. That sort of authority is something you get in struggle, preferably when people can see your face. Should people trying to offer a lead have joined in with the masked people, and also attacked the police? It’s my view that would have been extremely unwise, given the relationship of forces.

The reality is that it was a relatively small protest, which shows that grab-all, rather general rhetoric about globalisation and other evils isn’t a particularly effective way to build a large protest in current Australian conditions. By way of contrast, the trade union movement, the Labor Party and the Greens will mobilise in a few days, on November 30, nationwide actions that will involve tens of thousands of workers and others.

The protests will be that size because the campaign against Howard’s attack on the unions has objectives that are concrete and comprehensible to many people. Mass movements can’t be summoned out of the ground by assertions about the need for the left to take leadership.

I’d draw your attention to this interesting phenomenon: Peter Boyle, the new general secretary of the DSP, and the leader of the faction that has taken it over, seems to have become rather friendly towards the Arterial Bloc. He has posted their babble on the Green Left site, with apparent approval. Certainly he dismisses the idea that their behaviour is likely to have provided much possibility for real agents provocateur.

This is the same character who is the political animator of the Green Left discussion site, on which an individual called Raven has made an allegation that Bob Gould is an agent provocateur, and the moderator of that site has now said there’s nothing she can do about that and it’s a comparatively unimportant matter anyway.

So the grey-haired old agitator Gould can be libeled as an agent provocateur, apparently because of his views on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, but the cynics of the DSP leadership bend over backwards to try to accommodate the views of the Arterial Bloc.

This discussion has become very interesting because it sorts us all out as we go along.

Robert Bollard November 23, 2006 @ 10:40pm  That is interesting indeed, Bob, if Boyle is following that line.  The DSP have always been hostile even to the mildest forms of militancy.  They wouldn’t even march in Queensland under Bjelke when even the NSW right was sending some of its leaders up to be ritually arrested.  Opportunism makes strange bedfellows.

Tony Iltis November 24, 2006 @ 1:01am  Perhaps I’m not getting into the spirit of things by letting facts get in the way of a good sectarian conspiracy theory but readers should check out the following before getting too carried away with speculation about the supposed DSP-Arterial Block axis. Also, Peter Boyle was quite correct to point out that the Arterial Block’s antics was more likely the result of middle class radicalism than police infiltration. They’ll be more in next week’s Green Left.

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 8:56am  “They (DSP) wouldn’t even march in Queensland under Bjelke when even the NSW right was sending some of its leaders up to be ritually arrested.”

Well this rot simply can’t stand. We in the SWP (as the DSP was then called) did more than our fair share of marching (and plenty of other stuff) against Joh — and Beattie when he also tried to restrict political expression in the Queen Street Mall.

Where do you get your history from Robert? You’ll have to come up with some evidence for such a ridiculous statement. Of course, we have also organised and participated in large numbers of militant actions in our 40+ years. We just prefer to pick our target and our time… so that there is some chance of victory (or at least gain) for the movement out of taking on the state. Adventurism, delusions of heroism, sacrificial lambism and the “baton over the head” theory of consciousness raising hold no attraction … the point is to get a win for the class — not a rout.

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 9:08am  Well, I reckon it would be a good thing if the comrades in the DSP were to move closer to taking a more militant action at demos.  It was certainly my experience in the student movement in the early to mid-1990s that they would constantly argue and vote against and refuse to take part in militant actions.

Robert Bollard November 24, 2006 @ 9:21am  I got my “history”from first-hand accounts of the IS members who were in the Brisbane Branch in the 1970s.  (I joined the IS in 1983 — so it was pretty fresh when I heard it).  If they lied to me I would be very surprised.  But there you go.  As for the 40 years of leading militant struggles.  Well, there are, as others have noted, many different ways of defining “militancy”.

It’s just that in the 20-odd years of my experience in Melbourne, street militancy, pushing through cop lines, occupations, sit-ins etc, were never the SWP-DSP’s thing.

That was more our gig.  But maybe I missed something.  So when Bob said that Peter Boyle was chummying up to the A Bloc then I thought it …well, a bit rum.  I should have checked what he was basing this on.  So, all in all, I apologise for slipping a bit into sectarian point-scoring.

The devil (the book-shop owner with the pointy horns) tempted me.  There are more important arguments to be had at the moment and I have no desire to open up a second front over something as trivial as whether or not the SWP-DSP did or did not ever push through a cop line. So I’ll concede for the moment that you’re all seasoned street fighters and we can all get on with other stuff.

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 9:31am  “So I’ll concede for the moment that you’re all seasoned street fighters and we can all get on with other stuff.” Apology accepted. It would be a shame if LW degenerated into a Gould-style obsession with the alleged crimes of the DSP. I do need to take up Chav, tho, for his similarly non-specific allegations, ie: It was certainly my expereince in the student movement in the early to mid-1990s that they would constantly argue and vote against and refuse to take part in militant actions.

As Chav would know, if he participated in the debates about campus occupations in the 1990s, the DSP-Resistance argued then (and argues still) that “militancy” is a tactic — not a principle. The type of tactics that should be used in any specific set of circumstances should be determined by careful analyis of those circumstances … including a careful assessment of the balance of forces involved. I am willing (although not particularly enthusiastic) to have a discussion about appropriate tactics for specific actions … but a woolly accusation of “lack of militancy” is just vapid.

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 9:41 am  “As Chav would know, if he participated in the debates about campus occupations in the 1990s, the DSP-Resistance argued then (and argues still) that ‘militancy’ is a tactic – not a principle.”

I do and I did.  But somehow 9.5 times out of ten that tactic wasn’t appropriate according to the DSP-Resistance. But anyway, let’s move on talk about something worthwhile.

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 10:05am “Somehow 9.5 times out of ten that tactic wasn’t appropriate according to the DSP-Resistance.”

I was a student in the 1980s, not the 1990s, and militant tactics (at least at UQ) were often appropriate (six times out of 10? I’m guessing ;-)) in 1986 and 1987 when we occupied the VC’s office for days at a time calling (successfully) for the admin not to exclude students who were boycotting the ALP’s first $250 fee. My recollection of student comrades’ reports in the 1990s was that the atmosphere grew rather less conducive with the masterstroke of the “graduate tax” (now HECS) and other campus developments … Not sure if 9.5 times out of 10 is accurate … but certainly less than the decade before, and significantly less than the late 1960s and early 1970s from what I can gather from tales told by old-timers (sorry Bob).

September 11, 2000, was an entirely appropriate occasion for organised militant action — ie blockade of the WEF. Pity those planes hit NY and Washington a year later and made things rather more difficult. And now we have the Most Reverends Bono and Costello competing stealing many of the hearts and minds that were with us on 9/11/00 … its getting tougher to get the numbers to make wins in a stoush.

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 10:25am “Its getting tougher to get the numbers to make wins in a stoush. ”

Yeah, and last year’s VSU campaign in Melbourne saw very little, if any militant actions … I wonder if they would still galvanise activists and encourage others to get involved like they used to, given the structural changes to education and the fact that most students these days work part-time as well as study?

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 10:35am  Ahhhhhhh. Now we’re talkin’ Chav. I agree. Campus has changed a lot since the glory days! I have been working on campus on and off the last few years and I just feel overwelming sadness every time I set foot there. We can only hope that, at some point, a critical mass of students in the sausage machine (with prompting from a savvy political leadership that will hopefully emerge from the wreckage of the student unions that were so effectively eviscerated by the ALP and then killed off by the Libs) will begin to wonder, May-June 1968-style, “There must be more to life than this…”

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 10:55am  “…will begin to wonder, May-June 1968-style, ‘There must be more to life than this'”

Yes, that would be nice! I’m just wondering if the fact that most tertiary students have to work at least part-time these days and seem far more focused on their courses has something to do with the lack of militancy, or indeed the lack of political involvement?  Or is it just a symptom of the general conservative, apolitical climate today?

Margarita Windisch November 24, 2006 @ 11:09am

G20 protest: Obscuring the violence inherent in the system, by Tony Iltis (submitted to Green Left Weekly)

More than three thousand people had a somewhat surreal experience on November 18. They attended a rally, called by the Melbourne Stop the War Coalition and Stop G20, to oppose the genocide by poverty being promoted by the finance ministers’ meeting, and the warfare that makes the corporate plunder of the Third World possible.

They listened to speakers from the Koori and Muslim communities and the trade union and antiwar movements, all of whom passionately and militantly opposed what the G20 stood for, and demanded change not charity.

They then took their message to the streets in a loud and vibrant march that ended at the barricades erected by police near the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where a street carnival was held.

What made the experience surreal was turning on the evening news, or opening the next day’s papers, to see what coverage the protest had received. They were confronted by scenes quite different from anything they’d witnessed at the rally, involving people in strange white outfits and masks battling it out with police.

These people, who carried flags identifying themselves as the “Arterial Block”, had made a cameo appearance at the rally, and had reappeared at the street carnival calling on protesters to join them in trying to get closer to the Grand Hyatt.

Reaching another barricade they launched a rather ineffectual assault on the assembled riot police, arming themselves with empty plastic milk crates and garbage. A couple of hundred protesters had followed them: some cheered them on, others complained that they were detracting from the protest, while most just bemusedly watched the spectacle.

Failing to break the police line, the Arterial Block charged off in the other direction, presumably to try and reach the back of the hotel. They failed to do this, but did succeed in smashing the windows of a police truck.

These events, which were somewhat peripheral to the protest, dominated the media coverage. That a large, peaceful protest had happened received just one sentence in the Sunday Age, and no mention in the Sunday Herald-Sun, which instead devoted five pages to hysteria about protester violence.

The media thus not only avoided mentioning any of the issues raised, they used the opportunity to launch a witch-hunt about the threat posed by protesters.

Scenes of the police truck windows being smashed were repeated endlessly. One TV station played a short clip of Stop the War speaker and Socialist Alliance candidate Margarita Windisch urging protesters to take their message to the streets, then cut to scenes of the Arterial Block clashing with police.

Media pundits demanded that police be given more powers, with the Herald-Sun’s resident neanderthal Andrew Bolt complaining that the cops had become “girly”! More sinister was the campaign launched by the Herald-Sun and the commercial TV channels demanding that the protestors be identified.

The Herald-Sun did this with a photomontage of Arterial Block people clashing with cops and other protesters just chanting or standing around.

Given those who weren’t involved in the clashes were not wearing masks, they are in more danger of being dobbed in. For those who have witnessed police horse and baton charges for such “riotous”’ behaviour as sitting in the road or standing with linked arms, the initial response, or lack of it, from the police was surprising.

However, once the media disappeared this changed and police violence continued throughout the weekend. A concert was attacked on the evening of November 18 and an attempted occupation of the State Library, which G20 delegates were visiting, was baton-charged the next day.

Un-uniformed and unidentified police grabbed people at random in the vicinity of counter-G20 meetings at RMIT.

Monash University student Akin Sari, who police accuse of smashing the cop truck windows, was remanded in custody until his trial next February. On the scale of violent behaviour, throwing milk crates and garbage and smashing a couple of windows is minimal, particularly compared to the violence being promoted at the G20 summit.

To take just one example: 9 million children die each year through lack of access to clean water and medical services as a direct result of debt relief programs that demand privatisation of utilities and slashing of health budgets.

Representing the IMF at G20 was Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the war on Iraq in which more than 650,000 Iraqis have been killed so far.

However, this does not alter the fact that the behaviour of the Arterial Block was extremely problematic. While the corporate media will always downplay the message of political protests, the Arterial Block’s apolitical rampage played right into the their hands.

Their actions were elitist in that they showed total contempt towards thousands of protesters, simply using the protest, which they played no role in building, as a platform from which to “fuck things up”.

In the lead-up to next year’s APEC summit when George Bush will be in Sydney, the question of the right to protest and police violence at political actions needs to be taken seriously.

Pelting cops with garbage, at a moment when the cops were not attacking anyone, obscures the violence of the police. Furthermore, it plays directly into the hands of those wishing to increase police powers and stifle dissent.

Already there have been proposals to arm Victorian police with Taser stun-guns and Glock semiautomatics.

The Arterial Block members might identify with those who fought back against police in Redfern, Palm Island, Macquarie Fields or Paris. However, all of those were spontaneous mass uprisings resulting from people dying at the hands of police.

A small hard-core group, dressed in a way to suggest that they are looking for trouble, and substituting themselves for the masses, is quite different.

From police violence against working class and minority youth, to the ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples, from the brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the silent genocide-by-poverty of neoliberal globalisation, the capitalist system is based on violence.

The media’s role is to cover this up. There are “anti-poverty campaigners” who knowingly assist in this, such as multimillionaire rock star Bono, with his praise of rich country governments alternating with grovelling pleas for them to be a little more charitable.

Those in the Arterial Block, however, say they wish to challenge the system. Unfortunately their apolitical and narcissistic fetshisation of being “hard core”, and the consequent disdain for other protesters means they end up assisting the media and politicians in obscuring the real causes of violence.

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 11:23am I’m just wondering if the fact that most tertiary students have to work at least part-time these days and seem far more focused on their courses has something to do with the lack of militancy, or indeed the lack of political involvement?

Or is it just a symptom of the general conservative, apoliticcal climate today? I think it’s all connected, but the death of free education and the evisceration of student income support has clearly impacted student life experience and therefore consciousness and political activity … which has in turn had its impact on the Australian far left … which then impacts political activity more broadly. The student movement is weaker. The socialist movement is weaker. The left is weaker. Trying to think of a positive way to end this post … ummmmmm… Incredibly tenacious people are still out there organising. Better days will come …

Dave Nadel November 24, 2006 @ 12:48 pm  This is one case where an old guy does want to say something. Chav and Karen complain that students are harder to organise than in the glory days of the early nineties. But older radicals in the nineties would have been comparing the 1990s unfavourably to the 1980s and the student and far left in 1980s were told by older comrades that their position was much weaker than in the seventies.

Those of us who had been student radicals in the sixties were very critical of much of the student left in the seventies because they seemed to be much more concerned about winning positions in Student Unions than organising the mass actions that we had in the sixties.

However before the anti-Vietnam war movement got into full swing you could read articles in left-wing journals or hear reminiscences from old CPA members or Labor lefts complaining that youth in the sixties had their head full of rock’n’roll and were not as serious about political struggle as the ex-Service radicals at Melbourne and Sydney Uni after WWII or the Depression era radicals.

And So On.  (Not only that, the music, movies, clothing etc, etc was better when we were young.) That is not to say that there are not objective differences in the political and economic realities of the times.

I am not convinced that the lack of free education is the significant factor. We didn’t have free tertiary education before 1974 either, and we did have a movement. I think that it is much more a question of issues.

A small number of dedicated radicals or would-be revolutionaries will go out and organise and demonstrate over world capitalism-world poverty. A slightly larger group will demonstrate over “solidarity issues” not personally involving them like the plight of the Palestinians or black deaths in custody. However, you only get something like a mass movement when the majority of demonstrators feel personally involved in the issue.

In the 1960s young men were getting conscripted and some were dying in a war that increasingly the majority thought was wrong. Every male of a certain age was involved, effectively their sisters, wives and girlfriends were too.

That is the difference with Iraq, where huge demonstrations were not followed by a mass movement. Only professional soldiers were going to Iraq and the Australian soldiers were being kept away from dangerous action.

The Women’s Movement in the 1970s also involved half the population directly and the rest of us by association. The campaigns over Fees, HECS and Austudy also had the potential to build mass movements among students. I don’t think that VSU did, because so much of it (ever since the late seventies) has looked to outsiders as a fight between Left and Right student bureaucrats — and those bureaucrats were and behaved like ALP and Liberal politicians in waiting. I am not saying that the political conditions have not changed (although they have changed more in terms of the industrial working class and the parties available to it than they have for students) but I am not sure that the place to start analysing change and weaknesses is by comparing the student movement with its predecessors.

Karen Fredericks November 24, 2006 @ 1:08 pm  I meant to be ironic in referring to the “glory days”. Sorry that wasn’t clear. My “glory days” were actually the late 1980s and, of course, they didn’t seem that glorious at the time … just in comparison with the rather barren life on campus as I observe it today. Despite appearances to the contrary, I really don’t want to paint myself as a sad 40-year-old woman reminiscing over past glories and bemoaning the state of youth today … I radicalised around free education, so I probably do overemphasise it a bit … but I do think that the commodification of education and the impoverishment of students over the last two decades has had a marked impact on the left in Australia.

Mainly I feel sympathy for the clutch of great young activists who are giving it a go on campus today. Its really fucking tough.

Rose November 24, 2006 @ 1:33pm  No, you are right Robert, it is true that the SWP in Brisbane in the mid-late 1970s (I joined after this and was in Sydney by this time, though from Brisbane) took an oppositional point of view in the civil liberties movement and refused to march on the streets in the big (illegal under Joh) protests. The SWP insisted, (to the amazement of my older, not that radical, siblings and their peers) on marching on the footpaths!

I am told by leaders of the SWP who were members at the time, this was largely because of the line of the US SWP who opposed civil disobedience in a similar fashion and only sought to participate in, or advocate, peaceful, legal mass protests. The Oz SWP pretty much took its line on everything from the US SWP until the fall-out over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (which in retrospect was probably also not the great thing the SWP proselytised at the time).

Corey Oakley November 24, 2006 @ 1:52pm


For Melbourne Stop the War Coalition, the G20 summit meeting was an important opportunity to mount a protest at which public opposition to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan could be expressed. This is because the gathering to discuss how to improve the profits margins of the world’s richest economies was bringing together some of the biggest war criminals in the world today including Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, and Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. The G20 leaders agree on and promote neoliberal and militaristic policies to increase their wealth and power. These people are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as millions of others across the globe who die needlessly from starvation, human-induced climate disasters and preventable diseases.

Since the G20 collective didn’t have plans for a mass rally and march during the summit, the Stop the War Coalition initiated a discussion with them about organising one with a focus on ending the war in the Middle East, ending the war on workers and ending the war on the environment. While there were differences in approach, it was agreed to incorporate the political focus suggested by Melbourne Stop the War.

It struck a chord: the turn-out of 3000 is proof. The G20 collective’s Carnival against Capitalism was only going to appeal to a narrower layer — people who defined themselves as anti-capitalist. We felt that the opportunity to mount a serious rally that could bring out masses of people who are against the wars in the Middle East and against the war criminals was too important to waste.

And given that the blockade tactic, that was effective at S11 in 2001, was not going to work this time, we argued that the mass rally should march to the G20 summit site. The mood was peaceful, but angry and determined.

The speeches were very political, and covered the range of issues that people feel passionately about today. There was nothing stopping the 3000 people from confronting police with direct actions or trying to get over the barricades. The fact that the vast majority didn’t is an indication that most people felt that this form of direct action was not a useful tactic, in this particular instance, to get our message across.

The misguided and counterproductive actions at this protest of a small group of people, centred around the “arterial block”, found no resonance among the 3000 protesters. But it played into the hands of the corporate media, putting an otherworldly spin on what was actually very successful political protest.

We also don’t think that in current Australian political context wearing masks at protests is either necessary nor useful. The actions of a tiny minority have subsequently made it easier for the police to escalate their harassment of progressive activists.

The very next day, police attacked a peaceful protest at the museum, seriously injuring a woman. They are also carrying out arbitrary arrests and witch hunts of activists.

Stop the War Coalition condemns police violence and harassment, and the media witch hunts stemming from the G20 protests. But we do not agree that the tactics that the “arterial bloc” decided on helped to make the protest a success.

This is not just because of the media focus on them exclusively. It is because most protesters expected to be taking part in a peaceful protest.

The need to be public about our opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is as urgent as ever, especially now that Bush, Blair and Howard are increasingly being exposed as war criminals.

Increasing the strength of the antiwar movement to the point where it manages to win its main demand, that the troops be pulled out, relies on the correct tactics to involve greater and greater numbers of people: those actions in which huge numbers of people feel that they have a voice, and it is being heard, are the most successful.

23 November 2006

red pepper November 24, 2006 @ 4:03pm  At least that statement doesn’t identify anticorporate protests as a potential spawning ground for terrorist murders like the SocAlt document does. Moderators, have you considered whether you really want to publish the SocAlt statement on your site?

Everyone knows that the cops would eventually like to move from targetting Muslim groups as terrorists to targetting demonstrators as terrorists, too. Yet here you’ve got a leftwing blog making that argument for them. “Student revolutionaries turned in frustration to small-group violent guerrilla-type actions against the state … assassinations and mindless violence.

“The actions of the Autonomists in Italy began with isolated violent attacks. The irresponsible provocations of the Arterial Bloc have all the hallmarks of the same destructive dynamic.”

Call the Arterial Bloc fools or hooligans for throwing bins. But in the midst of the war on terror it is the political irresponsibility to say they they have the “hallmark” of a “dynamic” that leads to “assassinations and mindless violence”.

Why shouldn’t the security forces monitor protests when even the socialists say that people attending them might well become violent terrorists?

Chav November 24, 2006 @ 4:16pm  “But in the midst of the war on terror it is the political irresponsibility to say they they hav the ‘hallmark’ of a ‘dynamic’ that leads to ‘assassinations and mindless violence’.”

Because they do have that hallmark. And it’s one of the end results of the dynamic behind that brand of politics.  The other being reformism a la Joschka Fischer.

“Moderators, have you considered whether you really want to publish the SocAlt statement on your site?”

You’ve obviously missed the point of this site.  It’s about debate amongst the Left. Anarcho-censorship … now I’ve seen it all! Then again, why should I be surprised?

red pepper November 24, 2006 @ 4:30 pm  You could just as well say that various Oz Islamic groups have that “dynamic” or “end result” or whatever and point to overseas examples. But no one on the Left (or no one I know) would respond to Halili by warning about “assassinations and mindless violence” partly cos they know that, just like with the Arterila Bloc, the end result is a long way off.

More importantly, they don’t want to reinforce every rightwing prejudice like the Soc Alt statement does. You say on the basis of some people throwing bins, that anticorporate demos are breeding terrorists and murderers. Bolt would be proud. As for censorship, the internet is a big place. You dont have to publish something just cos its out there. But do what you want. I’m out of here.

jeff November 24, 2006 @ 5:13pm  Mr Pepper, We publish it all on this site. In fact, I’ve just added an ISO document to the other G20 thread, meaning, I think, that we’ve now collected the whole set.

jeff November 24, 2006 @ 5:21pm  No, I tell a lie. I’ve just added the Socialist Party, too.

Rose November 24, 2006 @ 5:36pm  The aforementioned Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the impetus for the only in any way ultraleft thing I think I was formally permitted/asked to do as a member of the SWP-DSP. It was 1984. Scene: Lysaghts, BHP subsidiary, Newcastle. Metal manufacturing plant of about 500 workers over three rotating shifts. Comrade X and I had been working there as process workers  about three months. Branch organiser says, it’s about time people at work know what you stand for. No point in hiding your light under a bushel. Good idea, we said. The media was full of the proposed Oz boycott of the Soviet Olympic Games because of the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. So. We turned up at work extra early, 6.45am. Went in the gates into the factory proper and clocked on. We then went back to just inside the entrance and string-tied crudely hand written posters saying “SOVIET TROOPS AID AFGHAN REVOLUTION” to the wire fences leading down to the entrance of the factory. I seem to remember it was a blistering hot day. Or perhaps it was mortification at the looks on the faces of my workmates as I regaled them with a Direct Action in one hand and a clipboard in the other, asking them to please sign the petition opposing the Olympic boycott.

I’ve never seen workers move so fast towards a day of mindless, exhausting drudgery. Revolutionary duty completed, of course then we proceeded, as normal, to our work stations, mine by the furnace, X’s to the slightly better environment of the (male) labourers’ loungeabout. Tap on the shoulder. The General Manager wants to see you rightaway in his office. Mr Brutal doesn’t mince words. You made a fatal error he said. You clocked on first. From the moment you clock on I own you. You’re sacked.

X had had the presence of mind to grab the union rep, a mate, and he said he would call a stopwork if we were sacked, because we hadn’t been given a prior warning about such behaviour being unacceptable. Incredibly, the GM thought this an unassailable argument and we were told to go back to work. And were, thereafter, beheld with new, but forever distant eyes by our workmates.

Robert Bollard November 24, 2006 @ 6:22pm  Had to be 1980 though.

Rose November 24, 2006 @ 6:38pm  Ah yes, resident historian. It would indeed be 1980, now that I googled. I give the Oscar Wilde defence for my inaccuracy.

Shannon November 25, 2006 @ 9:20am  In response to Bob — I’ve got no disagreement about people’s right to have blocs at demonstrations. I think it can a useful tactic. I’ve seen red blocs used quite effectively to lead demonstrations into militant action.

I’m merely arguing that it’s a bit rich for people to try and claim that the was an alternative pole of leadership within the demonstration. There was not a lot of collective political discussion or decision making going on. In response to the statement from Melbourne Stop the War — I think that the argument that ‘The fact that the vast majority didn’t (attack the barricades) is an indication that most people felt that this form of direct action was not a useful tactic, in this particular instance, to get our message across” is a little spurious.

People need to be convinced of the political necessity of direct action. It is not about form over content (which is one of my main disagreements with what happened at the demonstration). It is the role of the left within demonstrations to make these kind of arguments.

If people thought mass militancy wasn’t tactically useful on the day, that’s one thing. But to try and put it at the feet of the 3000 people at the demonstration is not right. Particularly since I think that the mood on the day was quite militant.

Tom O’Lincoln November 25, 2006 @ 7:59 pm  Briefly on the exchanges about the SWP (now DSP) and its role in the anti-Bjelke campaigns. Rose has substantially backed Robert, and I agree that Robert is substantially correct.

Note these were illegal marches. The SWP believed that marching illegally (ie civil disobedience) was ultraleft. I didn’t share that view, but up to a certain point I can understand how they could hold it at first, when the demonstrations were by students with little mass resonance.

At that stage the Communist Party and Labor Left had a similar view to the SWP. I’m not interested at this late date in scoring points about it. What perplexes me to this day is that even after the Seamen’s Union and senior Labor Party politicians had committed to participating in this civil disobedience campaign — as were John Ducker, the notoriously right wing NSW Labor Council secretary, and also the Communist Party— the SWP still didn’t participate.

That was weird. I mean, this had become a mainstream movement. Apart from anything else, it was a gift to the newly formed International Socialists Brisbane branch, who in the absence of SWP competition recruited big-time out of the radicalising movement. Then, of course, we blew much of it away in a mad faction and fight and split. Such is life.

Rose November 26, 2006 @ 5:59pm  It is an interesting question Tom. It is interesting because it does suggest that it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that a position, that on the face of it is less “ultraleft”, ie refusing to break the law by marching on the streets, can in actuality be sectarian, or at least abstentionist — in the face of the rest of the movement’s position, which won the battle in the long run, which was to engage in “civil disobedience” and march on the streets.

My older sister, after I joined the SWP, used to berate me for joining by pointing to the infuriating and counter-productive role, as she and other non-aligned activists saw it, of the SWP in the organising meetings for the Brisbane right-to-march campaign.

Also, I suspect that a factor here, also interesting in and of itself if true, is that the SWP position was part of its defining of territory/position/identity against the more militant Communist League with which it was in the process of fusing around that time.

When I joined, the CL-SWP fusion had just taken place, but there was still a great deal of angst emanating from the Brisbane branch about the perceived ultraleftism of the Brisbane CL. The issue I remember that the Brisbane SWP leadership was most up in arms about, and was personally lobbied on not long after joining, was the fight-debate over the merits of the competing demands of “Repeal All Abortion Laws” (SWP) vs “Free Abortion on Demand” (CL).

The latter demand, the SWP argued, should not be used because it implied the broader, more radical issue of the need for a free public health system which, they said, was immaterial to the more specific, popularly understood and supported issue of the simple democratic, human right of women to control their own bodies.

The sad thing for many of us women in particular was that one of the best, smartest, most feisty woman I (briefly) met in left politics, from the Brisbane CL, left the party over the vilification she received after the fusion, because of her positions on this and related issues. And the people who really went after her were men too.

Karen Fredericks November 27, 2006 @ 8:58am  Aplogies again for leaving the thread over the weekend … still battling to get an internet connection on at home. On the “Is the DSP/SWP militant enough?” question … I am loath to stoke Rose’s fires with detailed responses about the precise tactical issues in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s … Unless there are other people actually interested.

I have chatted to a couple of members who were there at the time and there were certainly tactical calls made on particular street march demos (about stepping from the footpath on to the street) that comrades now question — particularly in light of our later separation from the apron strings of the US SWP, as Robert and Rose have mentioned.

If anyone is interested in the details of this — for reasons other than tedious DSP-bashing — I am happy to chase them up. I maintain my basic point though: tactics are tactics, not principles, and should be tailored to the actual material conditions to which they are going to be applied.

Whilst I acknowledge the value of (relevant) historical analysis I still think we’d be better off, here, analysing the conditions we fact now rather than in Brisbane in 1980.

Tom O’Lincoln November 27, 2006 @ 12:05pm  Karen, I’m  not the slightest bit interested in bashing the DSP over things that happened decades ago. I’ve had too many stupidities to my name over the years. I’m genuinely puzzled about the group’s thinking as outlined above.

The reason it matters is that there were historic events. Otherwise I would agree it makes more sense to talk about today. If people have changed their mind, I respect them for it. The last thing we need is a climate where we can’t admit mistakes because someone on a blog is going to pounce on it.

Karen Fredericks November 27, 2006 @ 1:06pm  Thanks Tom. I’ll chase up Sue Bolton and a couple of other Briz veterans and try to get the details. She’s absolutely flat out like the proverbial lizard with Nov 30 organising at the mo … but maybe I’ll be able to get her to post something later in the week.

Tom McLoughlin November 30, 2006 @ 4:44am  Thanks for an interesting read. Perhaps the most interesting was the 12 + 12 arrests experienced by Bob Gould (by his own report). I once saw Lee Rhiannon (new Green MP at that time) verbally do over Bob at a politics in the pub in Sydney about seven years ago, after Bob similarly tried to hijack a discussion with a lengthy soliliquy.

I thought she was so clever. I’m not so sure now. If even half true as to number of arrests that’s quite a commitment. Bob is a jolly large looking fellow these days, not sure what that means either. Lose his way as per Rhiannon.

I also offer this which was sent off today, which brought me to this string (the Albert Langer reference in a Google). I am wondering if I have misquoted the effect of the Langer High Court voting case about the commonwealth constitution allowing for someone to be “an agitator”.

There are plenty of echoes in the discussion above. Even if misquoted my complaint to the Inspector General of Intelligence based on the Rainbow Warrior precedent is still timely as US vested interest here, as everywhere:

Original Message From: ecology action australia To: Sent: Thursday, November 30, 2006 4:28 AM Subject: complaint to the Inspector General of Intelligence, Canberra Inspector General of Intelligence, Canberra Australia, 30th November 2006

I note your counsel to not rely on email at your website when making a complaint as here:   “We point out, however, that email is not a secure means of communication and if a complaint contains sensitive information it will normally be preferable to transmit it by ordinary mail.”

Nevertheless I am writing by email to preface a more detailed complaint I will submit to you later this morning. This complaint relates to advice I have recently received of my domestic computer being the subject of some kind of FBI manufactured surveillance technology called “CR 2”.   My understanding is this technology cannot be detected by standard software security for Trojans, virus and worms in computer technology.

That is via, for example, Kaspersky firewall, spybot search and destroy, Ad-aware, use of Mozilla Firefox browser, and track eraser for general maintenance of duplicate and redundant files.

I have no actual problem with any Australian intelligence agency subject to the Australian Constitution and the legal framework monitoring my entirely lawful and indeed highly necessary democracy work as an independent media and environmental activist, but I have major problems with a western ally trespassing on my civil liberties and privacy, just as I have with the French spooks bombing the Rainbow Warrior.

In this regard I refer to the famous Albert Langer case decided by the High Court of Australia where it is stated that Albert Langer was entitled to be “an agitator”. Indeed I assert my right and that of my technical adviser to be “an agitator” in the terms of that High Court of Australia decision and to be free of western ally trespass on our electronic lives, and or otherwise.

Yours faithfully,

Tom McLoughlin, principal private foundation, ecology action sydney   Solicitor in NSW

Robert Bollard November 30, 2006 @ 12:38 pm  Googling Albert Langer will get you nowhere because the phrase you’re remembering is “Mr Neal is entitled to be an agitator”. It was from a ruling by Lionel Murphy and was the title of a documentary about Murphy.

Mr Neal was, from memory, an Aboriginal union activist. In any case, you should be able to Google more fruitfully now.

Rose November 30, 2006 @ 1:11pm  Percy Neal was the chairman of the Cairns Yarrabah Aboriginal community council. He spat at a government bureaucrat and was sentenced to two months imprisonment for assault. A higher Queensland court, under appeal, extended this sentence to six months.

In one of his best and boldest judgments ever, Lionel Murphy described the racism suffered by Aboriginal people since white settlement, the context in which Percy Neal had acted, attacked the magistrate’s over-the-top conviction and sentence, and famously said in his ruling ( the text makes a great workplace poster): “That Mr Neal was an ‘agitator’ or stirrer in the Magistrate’s view obviously contributed to the severe penalty. If he is an agitator, he is in good company. Many of the great religious and political figures of history have been agitators, and human progress owes much to the efforts of these and the many who are unknown. As Wilde aptly pointed out in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, ‘Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization’. Mr Neal is entitled to be an agitator.”

Andrew January 28, 2008 @ 8:31pm  It’s strange how the truth diminishes as the years pass. You were not an antiwar protester on the Vietnam war Gould. You belived the Russian and Chinese-backed communist North Vietnam (who were the agressors as the south did not rise up to join the communist those that did were coerced with the murder and harm to family by the communsist should they not comply) should win and that thier violence was right.

You are a pathetic joke you knew nothing of what you were protesting about or the war the Australians were conducting. If you supprted the Communist North so much why didn’t you put your money where your mouth was and go fight for them? Why didnt you?

I’ll tell you why you didnt because you are a weak cowardly dog without intergrity.  Vietnam Veterans have rightfully commanded a place of respect in the community for the way they conducted themselves and did their duty.

They did not commit war crimes and have not been convicted of any. If you belive they have done as you claimed in the bullshit you and other misinformed lunatics spread, show some evidence! You on the other hand Gould have no respect for the way you conducted yourself in that era and have been left on the sidelines of history as a misinformed try hard rebellion leader of self gratification and inulgance.

frillneck January 31, 2008 @ 8:03am  Andrew, you bought the patriotic claptrap back in the late sixties and went off to fight as a loyal Aussie for the stars and stripes in Vietnam. That wasn’t your fault, but the fault of the Australian government of the time.

Doing your duty involves using your brain to think about government policy and working to change policies that are wrong.

It’s not doing your duty to jump to attention and shout “yes, sir” when the government tells you to do something. When ordinary people fail to scrutinise government policy, democracy ceases to exist.

The US had no right to be in Vietnam, it’s indisputable that it committed war crimes there, and Australians were drawn in because our government tagged along behind the US like a faithful dog, as it still does in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A majority of US citizens and a majority of Australians eventually turned against the Vietnam War, largely because they didn’t want to keep sending people like you off to be killed or psychologically damaged by their experiences of war and killing. That’s democracy. You obviously don’t like that. Too bad.

Chav January 31, 2008 @ 9:45am  “Australians were drawn in because our government tagged along behind the US like a faithful dog”. Frillneck, while I largely agree with the sentiments behind your comment, I think its important to realise that the Australian government didn’t allow itself to be dragged into  Vietnam behind the US, it actively sought a piece of the action and actually sent troops without a formal invitation from the the South Vietnamese rulers.


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: