The Recognise campaign, to include more recognition of Aboriginal people in the Constitution, has been rejected by 75% of Aboriginal people in independent polls. Journalist Amy McQuire, a Darumbul woman, described Recognise as “a white-led, top-down government approach to shutting up Aboriginal aspirations for treaty and sovereignty.”
‘Recognise’ amounts to nothing but words, with no guarantee that the ongoing violence against Aboriginal people will ever stop. But treaty and sovereignty, which are raised as a counterpoint to Recognise, will also amount to nothing but words in the eyes of capitalists.
For 228 years Indigenous people in Australia have been resisting the destruction of their land and culture. The Aboriginal community faces systematic violence at the hands of police around the country, with endless accounts of deaths in police custody and no consequences for the killers. Aboriginal people are faced with an undermining of their working rights and welfare, and face attacks on their very legitimacy as people, leading to higher rates of poverty and suicide.
There is an ongoing attempt to impose draconian laws and welfare restrictions via the Northern Territory Intervention and to wipe remote communities from the map to clear the land for mining interests. At every stage these attacks have been driven by the needs of capitalism.
Treaty has a different meaning depending on who you ask, but the common feature is a desire for self-determination. Socialists fundamentally support self-determination, but it cannot be achieved via a capitalist treaty. In New Zealand for example, the Treaty of Waitangi has not prevented the impoverishment and dispossession of the Māori people.
Similar treaties in the US and in Canada have been either ignored or entered into dishonestly by colonial governments. Native Americans, who have seen endless treaties, suffer poverty, dispossession, high suicide rates and racism at every turn. Why should people trust a treaty with the Australian government to be different?
The reason capitalist governments ignore Indigenous treaties is that the logic of the capitalist economic system demands the dispossession and exploitation of land and people. This can’t be stopped with words.
Even if a capitalist government signed a treaty, the decisions affecting Indigenous people are made by a ruling class that privately own industry, not by diplomats or politicians, who really just serve those private interests. The solution, therefore, is to fight for the collective, democratic ownership and control of land, resources and industry – for democratic socialism.
Capitalists make decisions to maximise profit, and are only pushed back when the working class uses its social weight – as nothing in society happens without workers – to force them to make concessions. It was the militant use of strikes and protests that led to real material gains for Aboriginal people, not pieces of paper. Aboriginal people launched a series of major strikes from 1946 onward that fought for better wages and led to the 1967 referendum, as well as laying the groundwork for limited gains made on land rights.
Racism itself is a tool for capitalism. This tool won’t be abandoned for the sake of sovereignty. Right now it is being used to slander Aboriginal remote communities in an attempt to clear them from their land and cut off services. Racism enables Aboriginal communities to be targeted first with measures such as work-for-the-dole and cashless welfare, to make it easier for governments to roll these out to the rest of the working class. Racism is a part of capitalism.
And building Aboriginal capitalism is no solution – this was starkly highlighted by Mick Mundine’s attempt to redevelop The Block in Redfern. Because The Block is privately owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company rather than owned by the community, it was possible for Mundine to run it into the ground and clear the land for developers, breaking apart the local community. At best capitalism can enrich a tiny elite, at the expense of everyone else.
Real self-determination can’t be achieved without ending capitalism and replacing it with genuine democratic socialism – a society where land, resources and industry are collectively and democratically owned and controlled. This is the only way to take the whole of humanity forward – it is everyone’s fight.
By David Elliott