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The innocence of student protesters - they can't see their puppet strings

By Tim Wallace - posted Monday, 31 March 2003

"Books not bombs" has been the rallying cry for tens of thousands of students around the nation in recent weeks. It is a sentiment difficult to disagree with - one, in fact, that was once endorsed by the CIA, which ran an extensive covert cultural campaign to win the Cold War by bombarding Europe with, among other things, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jackson Pollock paintings and George Orwell novels.

Initially "Books not Bombs" encapsulated the exuberant but largely peaceful approach of student protests against Australia's participation in war on Iraq in particular, and war on Iraq more generally. Last week, however, the mission statement was sidetracked by violent clashes with the police, causing second thoughts among those sympathetic to the students' cause about the worth of continuing protests and whether those behind them are necessarily the right activists to entrust with managing the political
passions of youth.

The Books not Bombs coalition, according to Kylie Moon, who has been quoted in the media as national co-ordinator, was formed out of the March 5 student protests. But I was at the Sydney protest that day and it was clear the movement had already harnessed considerable organisational energy.


It wasn't too hard to work out where that was coming from. There was the young man in the Riverview High uniform lugging a megaphone with the word "Resistance" scrawled on it, identifying it as the property of the youth wing of the Democratic Socialist Party. There were several Resistance stalls, all which appeared to be staffed by activists somewhat older than 18 (and, in the case of a few, older than 28 or 38). There was the slickness of delivery of the most incendiary speakers, which made me think they might have had practice. And too many of those who appeared to be in the inner organising group clustered around the ute on which the PA system is mounted were wearing Che Guevara T-shirts.

Che Guevara? Let me fill in some biographical detail. Though Che has been dead since 1967, executed at the ripe old revolutionary age of 39 following his capture by the CIA-supported Bolivian army, his cool revolutionary visage, replete with beret and wispy goatee, lives on. Che (given name Ernesto, and how) was born into a middle-class family in Argentina. He qualified as a doctor before laying down the stethoscope to take up the AK-47. Joining the exiled Fidel Castro in Mexico City, he played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution, hanging around in Cuba until his itchy trigger finger finally led him, in 1965, to depart for central Africa before moving on to Bolivia, where he met his fitting end. Those that live by the gun die by the gun.

Che is the poster boy of Resistance. Which is ironic given this organisation is now looking to pull in young recruits on the basis of its anti-war credentials. The Encyclopaedia of Marxism notes that Che's main contribution to revolutionary thought is his theory of the primacy of military struggle. So Che was no pacifist. But then neither is Resistance. It simply prefers its killing to be done in the cause - or at least the name - of socialism and the workers. And the United States does not fit the bill.

The young, idealistic and impressionable recruits being signed up at this protest deserve to have a few things explained to them. Like how the DSP, when it was calling itself the Socialist Workers Party, wasn't too peacenik to actively support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and how the party managed to adopt such a shame-faced position on the Chinese government's massacre of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square, and how the radical left is largely deaf to human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of Marxist revolution.

While we're at it, let's also hear the DSP explain why they insist on defending Castro's Cuba as a socialist success story, and how the party's devotion to the "popular front" and the practice of "entryism" worked itself out with the Nuclear Disarmament Party and the Greens.

After I finished chatting with one DSP recruiter about the Books not Bombs coalition, and a second DSP comrade about Che and militant politics and non-violent protest (which he readily agreed has its place, particularly today) I declined to buy the newspaper of the Spartacist League and headed out of Hyde Park. There was one last table. "So who are you guys?" I asked. They were the Communist League. "Are you in love with Che too?" No, they didn't fetishize Che like the DSP, they told me smugly. But they did believe odd things about the United Nations - a tool of the United States, apparently (no wonder the Americans are irate). And then, of course, there was Cuba. There are no political prisoners in Castro's Cuba, the senior comrade told me. Not now, not ever. We argued. Finally I told him he should read a little more broadly and walked on.


But his conviction rattled me. He was unwavering in his certainty. When I got home I checked the Amnesty International website. There are still prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Then I checked the Books not Bombs website, and the Resistance website. The phone numbers for coalition organisers in Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Wollongong are the same as those listed for Resistance. And Kylie Moon also happens to be the national co-ordinator of Resistance.

Writing in the latest issue of Green Left Weekly (the official organ of the Democratic Socialist Party), Moon reports that Books not Bombs is now "a large and powerful network of anti-war activists across the country". She reports that in Sydney, the BNB email discussion list includes some 900 students from 197 schools, TAFE colleges and universities. "New activists are using the discussion list to share ideas on how to do anti-war campaigning in their school, deal with school repression and take the next steps for the anti-war campaign," Sydney Resistance organiser Simon Butler is quoted as saying.

So this is what I have to say to all you students who marched for peace, and especially to those of you more deeply involved. It is for you that I have written this. I want to applaud you. But I do not care to salute you. The former, you will note, is a civil act, the latter a militant one. If you want militant look no further than the array of radical groups keen to sign you up at the next "student-organised" protest march. I ask only that you treasure the precious luxury of being able to think for yourself, and trust you have the innate sense to realise an independent mind does not flourish by subjugating itself to a party line.

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About the Author

Tim Wallace is a Sydney-based freelance journalist. He has worked for The Canberra Times, The Age and The Australian Financial Review and the Sydney Morning Herald. He has one book, True Green @ Work: Making the Environment Your Business, to his name and edits a website,, focused on social and environmental sustainability issues and media.

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