Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Peter Garrett: from radical activist to Australian Labor Politician

Felipe Castillo el_escrutador at linuxmail.org
Sun Oct 10 13:36:17 MDT 2004

Hi all!

I've found this article from James Cogan who is the candidate from the 
Socialist Equality Party (SEP) for Kingsford Smith. Certainly there's a 
political "evolution" of Peter Garrett if we consider his silence about 
US government militarism and his decision not to close Pinegap.

I don't share the author's opinion that dogmatic marxism is the answer 
to humanity problems but I also don't share Laborist ideas about an 
improvement of capitalism.

Was Peter Garret just a lead singer or will he show us that his way in 
politics is quiet diferent from Machaivelli's Paradimg?



Taken from World Socialist Web Site


    Lessons of Peter Garrett's evolution: from radical activist to
    Australian Labor politician

By James Cogan, SEP candidate for Kingsford Smith

          5 October 2004

Workers and young people can draw important lessons from the decision of 
former Midnight Oil singer and anti-nuclear and green activist Peter 
Garrett to stand as the candidate for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) 
in the Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. Especially for those looking 
toward the Greens as an alternative, Garrett's evolution is a timely 
reminder of the necessity of carefully examining political program and 
perspectives, rather than simply taking as good coin radical appearances 
and phraseology.

Labor pollsters calculated earlier this year that by enlisting Garrett, 
the party could hope to swing a few potential Greens voters back to the 
ALP. The celebrity rock star was referred to as "Mr One 
Percent"--indicative of Labor's desperation to regain whatever ground it 
possibly could in the lead-up to the federal election.

The poll results stemmed from Garrett's rock star status and lingering 
illusions in his role in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s. Many 
people entering politics at the time saw Garrett as a left-wing 
alternative to Labor. He was one of the most prominent figures in the 
movement that developed against the right wing character of the 
Hawke-Keating government and the nuclear and military build-up being 
carried out by the Reagan administration in the US.

Midnight Oil albums produced in the early 1980s, such as /10 to 1/ and 
/Red Sails in the Sunset/, tapped into the opposition to US militarism, 
as well as concerns over the environment and social inequality. Oils' 
concerts, dominated by Garrett's undeniable stage presence, assumed the 
character of political rallies.

In 1984, Garrett entered politics as the main public spokesman for the 
newly-formed Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP). In the federal election of 
December 1984, he stood as the NDP's Senate candidate for New South 
Wales and won 9.6 percent of the vote. Nationally, the NDP polled 
650,000 votes and NDP leader Jo Vallentine was elected to the Senate 
from Western Australia.

Twenty years on, Garrett has stressed that he will submit to Labor Party 
discipline on all issues. He has publicly renounced the positions with 
which he was most identified--closing the US-controlled Pine Gap spy 
station and banning uranium mining.

Despite the fact that Labor has endorsed the illegal US-led occupation 
of Iraq, at his maiden press conference Garrett declared his allegiance 
to the party's foreign policy. He repudiated his past opposition to the 
US-Australia military alliance and declared that, "with the maturing of 
time", he no longer believed nuclear war to be a serious threat. "[The] 
international situation has changed. It's terrorism now, not nuclear 
disarmament". He was "satisfied", he said, that Labor's policies served 
the interests of "national security".

Garrett's standard refrain to all media enquiries about his about-face 
was quickly established: "I agree with the policies of Mark Latham".

*Garrett and the ALP*

In the course of the election campaign, Garrett has remained as quiet as 
possible about the thoroughly right-wing agenda of Latham's Labor. He 
has avoided mentioning the Iraq war or Labor's support for the mandatory 
detention of refugees, and has failed to comment on the retrogressive 
character of Labor's taxation and Family Benefits policy, which will 
deliver tax cuts to better-off layers at the direct expense of the 
living standards of single-income families earning less than $35,000.

Garrett has also been notably silent on Latham's policy of forcing all 
non-residents to carry identity cards--a reactionary form of social 
control that has not been suggested since the Hawke Labor government's 
attempt in 1987 to introduce the so-called Australia Card. At the time, 
Garrett denounced this as a step toward "a one-party state".

Garrett declared when he joined Labor that it was the "primary party of 
reform." Taken at his word, this amounts to Garrett's open endorsement 
of the measures carried out by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments 
from 1983 to 1996.

Throughout that period, Labor presided over declining real wages, 
widespread casualisation and contracting out, and the dismantling of 
trade union rights--all in the name of making Australian industry 
"internationally competitive". Labor introduced user pays in health and 
education, including fees for university courses, mandatory detention 
centres for refugees and a wholesale program of privatisation of major 
state-owned entities. It deregulated the banks, and carried out the 
first major tax cuts for high-income earners and corporations. In 1991, 
Hawke was among the first world leaders to back the US attack on Iraq.

The conservative Howard coalition government of the last eight years has 
simply continued and deepened Labor's policies.

When challenged in the course of the election campaign to justify 
Labor's record and Latham's agenda, Garrett has offered the pathetic 
platitude that, inside the party, he will try to be a voice for the 
concerns of ordinary people. His only differences with official Labor 
policy appear to be from the right: a Christian moral opposition to the 
right of abortion and to state support for in-vitro fertilisation. But 
Labor deems these "conscience issues" and therefore agrees to disagree.

*Garrett and the Nuclear Disarmament Party*

Many people have expressed surprise, and even distaste, at Garrett's 
decision to join Labor. The spectacle of a man repudiating everything he 
once stood for is certainly not an attractive one. At the most 
fundamental level, however, there is nothing surprising about Garrett's 
evolution. Enlisting with the ALP is the logical outcome of the line he 
has espoused since entering politics on behalf of the NDP.

Garrett's response to militarism was shaped by his acceptance of the 
political and economic framework of capitalism. Along with other leaders 
of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s, he uncritically identified 
socialism with the Stalinist bureaucratic regime in the Soviet Union.

The anti-nuclear activists made no attempt to study the causes of the 
betrayal of the Russian Revolution or the program advanced by the 
Trotskyist movement against both imperialism and Stalinism. They 
rejected the Marxist analysis that the underlying cause of war and 
oppression lay in the global contradictions of capitalism--between world 
economy and its division into rival nation-states, and the subordination 
of social production to the accumulation of private profit--and that, 
therefore, it could only be ended through revolutionary social change 
carried out by the international working class.

Instead, the anti-nuclear movement reduced the Cold War to power-lust 
and stupidity in both Washington and Moscow, and argued that to end the 
threat of a nuclear holocaust, leaders on both sides only needed to be 
convinced to disarm.

Such a pacifist and ignorant analysis offered no answers and no way 
forward. The nuclear and military build-up initiated under the Reagan 
administrated flowed organically from the economic crisis that had 
gripped US capitalism since the early 1970s. After several decades of 
"coexistence", it represented the first stage of the turn by Washington 
to military might to overcome its declining world position--a process 
that has vastly intensified in the last two decades.

Above all, the US military build-up was aimed at bringing about the 
collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the Stalinist bureaucracy's 
decades of collaboration with imperialism, the territory of the USSR 
remained sealed off from capitalist exploitation by the nationalised 
property relations established in the 1917 Revolution.

The struggle against militarism and the danger of war demanded the 
defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist aggression, combined 
with an orientation to the international working class to construct an 
independent political movement fighting for a socialist perspective in 
the capitalist countries, and for the overthrow of the Stalinist 
apparatus and reestablishment of genuine workers' democracy in the 
Soviet Union.

The struggle against militarism was thus inseparably connected to the 
social issues confronting the working class.

The tremendous political upsurge from 1968 to 1975 had been betrayed and 
dissipated by its Stalinist, social democratic, trade union and 
nationalist leaderships, opening the door for a global counteroffensive 
by the ruling elite. Particularly in the US and Britain, state-sponsored 
attacks on the working class were being unleashed to meet corporate 
demands for mass layoffs, the reduction in wages and the restructuring 
of working conditions. Governments internationally were implementing 
economic deregulation to remove all obstacles to the global flow of 
capital, as corporations employed new forms of technology and 
communications to reorganise production and transfer entire processes to 
low-cost labour regions.

In Australia, it was Labor, in collaboration with the trade unions, that 
implemented this agenda and by 1984, it was already well underway.

Flowing from their pacifist renunciation of the class struggle and 
socialism, however, Garrett and the NDP explicitly opposed any struggle 
to build an alternative political movement to the Labor and union 
bureaucracy in the working class. The conclusion drawn by Garrett and 
other "left" intellectuals from the betrayals and defeats of the 1970s, 
was not that a genuine socialist leadership was needed, but that the 
working class was incapable of changing society. As anti-militarist 
sentiment spread among Australian youth, Garrett and the NDP came 
forward to tell them that all they could hope to achieve was the narrow 
perspective of pressuring the Labor government to adopt an anti-nuclear 

The organisation was so limited politically that it advanced just three 
policies in the 1984 election: no foreign military bases in Australia, a 
ban on uranium mining and a nuclear-free zone in Australian waters and 
airspace. One of its main arguments was the somewhat inane declaration 
that it was not in Australia's "national interest" to be a target in a 
potential nuclear war.

The Australian nationalism that permeated the NDP led it to denigrate 
any orientation toward the bitter struggles of the American working 
class against the Reagan administration occurring at the time. Instead, 
the NDP promoted anti-Americanism--an outlook that draws no distinction 
between the mass of ordinary American people on the one hand, and the 
policies of the US ruling elite on the other.

Summing up his own outlook, Garrett told a 1984 press conference: "I'm 
not a radical and I'm not an anarchist. I believe I'm more of a patriot 
and more jingoistic than these people who see me as a radical."

*Garrett, radicalism and the Greens*

The NDP's basic conservatism did not stop the opportunist Socialist 
Workers Party (SWP)--predecessor of the Democratic Socialist Party, now 
part of Socialist Alliance--from promoting it as the means of opposing 
war, just as the Socialist Alliance now promotes the Greens. Such was 
the infatuation of the SWP leadership with the NDP, it instructed its 
membership to join the NDP's ranks.

At a time when considerable illusions existed in Garrett, the Socialist 
Labour League, the Australian section of the International Committee of 
the Fourth International (ICFI) and predecessor to the SEP, was alone in 
publicly differentiating itself from his pro-capitalist politics. The 
SLL pointed out that the NDP and SWP were functioning to channel the 
discontent of youth back into the harmless arena of parliamentary 
illusions and prevent their political education.

On the eve of the 1984 election, /Workers News/, the SLL's newspaper, 
editorialised on "Why we oppose the NDP". The editorial explained: "The 
NDP is a bourgeois pacifist organisation of political confusion, which 
seeks to maintain confusion about the role of the Labor government." It 
specifically warned of the role of Garrett in promoting illusions that 
the parliamentary system could be made to work in the interests of 
ordinary people.

The correctness of this warning was rapidly verified. The Labor 
government stepped-up its backing for Reagan and its assault on the 
working class, while the NDP degenerated into unprincipled factional 
in-fighting. Garrett, Vallentine and others came into conflict with the 
SWP entrists over organisational issues, and resigned en masse just four 
months after the elections. The effective collapse of the organisation 
served to further confuse sections of youth and reinforce the conception 
that the working class was powerless against the political establishment.

Internationally, the working class proved unable to establish its 
political independence from the Stalinist and Labor bureaucracies and 
advance a genuine socialist and revolutionary perspective. This led to 
major defeats by the end of the 1980s, the most catastrophic being the 
turn by the Stalinist regime under Gorbachev, in direct collaboration 
with US imperialism, to restore capitalist relations in the territories 
of the former Soviet Union and liquidate the social conditions of the 
Soviet working class.

Whatever their intentions, those like Garrett who rejected a struggle 
against capitalism and Stalinism as "unrealistic" contributed to 
creating the political conditions of the last decade-and-a-half, during 
which the international working class has faced a constant assault on 
its living standards, along with the global eruption of US military 

Those looking toward the Greens, or Socialist Alliance for that matter, 
should take note of the obvious similarities between the two 
organisations' politics and those of Garrett before he joined Labor. The 
NDP of the 1980s faded into obscurity. The conceptions that guided it, 
however, are expressed everyday by Bob Brown, Kerry Nettle and other 
Green and radical politicians: acceptance of the capitalist market; the 
politics of pacifism, protest and pressure; the rejection of a 
scientific understanding of society; parochialism and nationalism; and 
the same scepticism in the working class.

It took Peter Garrett 20 years to decide that nothing essential in his 
political outlook stood in the way of working with the Labor Party and 
serving in a Labor government. Given the economic and social shocks that 
are on the agenda, the Greens and Socialist Alliance are unlikely to 
take that long.

In the course of this election campaign, the SEP has spoken with many 
students, workers and intellectuals who seriously want to fight for 
equality and revolutionary social change. Over the coming months, we 
will work with them to study the strategic experiences of the 
international working class throughout the twentieth century and, above 
all, the history and lessons of the Russian Revolution. This is the only 
way to fight the re-emergence of militarism and imperialist war.

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