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A Left without class can only be left behind by the culture wars

By Marko Beljac - posted Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The passing of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, a mere five months apart, have rightly seen us reflect upon their significant place in Australian history, especially with reference to the transition from a self-avowed racist nation to a more diverse, multicultural and cosmopolitan society.

It is important, however, not to exaggerate their role.

There were important underlying economic and global transitions that provided the impetus for this shift, most especially the entry of Britain to the common market, increasing economic engagement with Asia and the advent of a more globally interdependent system of production, distribution and exchange.


The needs and requirements of capitalism in Australia and the old racist order no longer were in sync, and so racist Australia "was buried, almost in secret, by the governments of Holt, Gorton and McMahon" to cite Robert Manne.

You will struggle to find the realisation that White Australia was abandoned because of changes in the regional and global economic order in much of the commentary in the mainstream. To merely hint at underlying economic dynamics affecting social and cultural change is to be dismissed as a "Marxist," whatever that term means.

Just as significant was the role that the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s played in changing Australia. They made Gough Whitlam and the social Malcolm Fraser possible, and they made it possible for avowedly racist discourse and dispositions to become if not unthinkable then largely illegitimate and beyond the pale.

But even here it was the hard struggle in the most hardest of years by the working class activists of the Communist Party of Australia that kick started the movements that came to fruition in the 1960s and 1970s. Their role in our history has, most unjustly, been put totally aside.

So much had attitudes changed in Australia that John Howard's attempt to whip up a frenzy over Asian immigration in the 1980s floundered and, in part, caused him to lose an election.

My, had and have times changed.


John Howard famously stated his time would come and his time most emphatically did come when racist attitudes and opinions became more prevalent in Australian society.

From Asians in the ghetto, Kalashnikov totting boat people, the attack on Indigenous self determination, and the shariaisation of Australia, we increasingly have witnessed a backlash against multicultural and cosmopolitan Australia.

A backlash seized upon by the acolytes of power and privilege to further a neoliberal jihad against the broader population.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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