A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Dutch_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Australia, Aboriginal Sovereignity: an Anarchist Critique : In Ya Face Zine

From dr.woooo@nomasters.org
Date Sat, 8 Mar 2003 11:59:28 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

> The following is from, In ya face, "the zine from Barricade Books/Infoshop" No 5. 
deadlines for submissions for next issue is march 31st. 
details at the end of this article. 

An important part of the anarchist project in Australia involves
repairing the damage caused by white colonisation and the
attempted genocide of indigenous peoples. As Owen Gager argues in
the following article, part of this process involves critically
examining the issues of sovereignty and how it relates to the
struggle for a classless, non-hierachical society. 

Aboriginal Sovereignity: an Anarchist Critique 

Some people within the anarchist community are now, after looking
understandably, at the expropriations of the Aboriginal people as
the basis of white settler state and economy, trying to appeal to the
concept of "sovereignity" as the basis for an anarchist conception of
Aboriginal struggle, a struggle they see as crucial to ending
Australian capitalism. In taking this course, however, they follow
the dominant rhetoric of the campaigns promoted by the
state-funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commision
(ATSIC), the rhetoric that is, of those who claim to be Aboriginal

In looking at Aboriginal society, we are looking at a form of society,
which long antedates our own. The concept of "sovereignity", as it
has developed in Western (white) political theory, takes its point of
departure from an analysis of such early societies, "societies without
government", as the English writer Hobbes called them. Hobbes
characterised these societies as sites of "war of all against all". Such
societies, it is claimed, are unsustainable as social entities and
provide for their members only radical insecurity which threatens
life and property. In Hobbes' theory, the earliest statement of what
sovereignity means apart from Bodin's, this "war of all against all"
can only be ended through a "contract" with a sovereign - a King, a
parliament, or a "Lord protector" such as Oliver Cromwell. This is
for Hobbes, sovereignity. This "contract", very much like the
Newstart Activity Agreement and other Centrelink creations, is a
contract which gives one party, the soverei
n, all power, and the other parties to the contract the 'right' to obey.
As a theory of state totally irresponsible to its subjects because the
alleged alternative is chaos, or "anarchy", it prefigures fascicm and

Readers of Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible will notice
both extreme similiarities and extreme dissimilarities with Hobbes.
Most pre-twentieth century anarchist writers envisaged anarchy as
the continuance of natural laws carried over from the very earliest
societies, where the "natural rights" of men and women were
respected and guaranteed, as outcomes of consensus in a society
where each person knew everyone else. The state, when it arose,
shattered these existing non-contractual rights, destroyed existing
natural law with unjust edicts by all-powerful rulers, for whom, in
Randolph Bourne's words, "war is the health of the state". The
tranquility of a natural society is overthrown by a "war of al against
all" as states dragoon ordinary people into wars for extension of
state power and territory. For both Hobbes and his anarchist
opponents, "sovereignity" and "anarchy" are diametrically opposed
ideas. The differences are over the content of these concepts. 

40, 000 Years is a Long, Long Time... 

The problem with both kinds of theory is that they are based on
myth rather than history. There is no historical record of "social
contract", in the forms Hobbes envisaged, ever being agreed to on a
specific time or a specific date. Conversely, the search for societies
which gave equal rights to all genders, and had no record of
eradication of non-human animal species, has not produced large
numbers of early utiopias. Nor has the geographical spread of the
social principles of these few model societies always extended very
far or for very long. One can say, nevertheless, that most of the
earliest societies of which there is some record, including Australian
Aboriginal societies, were not "chaotic" or unstable in Hobbes'
sense; as we have noted, until undermined by external invasion,
Austalian Aboriginal society lasted a very long time indeed. The
abscence of state and of employment and of money is characteristic
of a great number of early societies. 

"Sovereignity" in international law arrived, like all written law, with
white colonialism. It was in more ways than one the law of the
conqueror; as international law of the conqueror; as international
law it was an etiquette of conquest agreed on between rival
conquerors. Imperialism immediately proclaimed the "sovereignity"
of the racist power it imposed, describing the pre-existing society as
Hobbesian chaos. Where, as in New Zealand / Aetearoa, a militantly
undefeated indigenous majority confronted a white settler minority,
this majority were told that they were "sovereign" - using a word for
"sovereignity" unknown to most Maoris - and that "sovereignity"
would be recognised in the "treaty" in which they agreed to sign
sovereignty away to Britain. Once, as a consequence of this treaty, a
white settler governement was set up, which waged open and
victorious war against the indigenous people, the "treaty" was
declared a nullity since the Maoris suddenly were found not to ha
e been "sovereign" when they signed it! The New Zealand treaty, Te
Tiriti o Waitangi, is still not recognised. 

It is this colonialist conception of "sovereignity" which "leaders" like
Pearson and Langton want to enshrine in a "treaty" they now chatter
about - a "sovereignty" which has never existed under white rule,
which they will formally renounce by signing a treaty, in return for
promises, which, like the Wik judgements, will never be kept. 

Sovereignity & Globalisation 

How relevant is any form of national sovereignity under conditions
of transnational corporate globalisation? Clearly, today, the national
sovereignity even of existing "independent" states can be overruled
by decisions and actions of transnational corporations backed by
international economic bodies like the WTO, most obviously in
freedom to make economic policy. The erosion of sovereignity
through the abscence and withdrawl of capital, which can take the
form of a refusal of capital to employ, has been experienced by a
would-be "aboriginal nation" pre-emptively as a strike on pastoral
and mining capital in tropical Australia, following on court rulings
giving Aboriginal workers equal pay. 

The transnational corporations made explicit claims to a new form
of sovereignity in the late 1960's ( see Global Reach, available from
Underclass Freedom book collective ). This was the claim, in the
terms borrowed from neo-Keynesian economists like Benham, of
"consumer sovereignity", on its face a claim to a form of popular, not
state sovereignity. Here is the illusory social contract of Hobbes
found a new expression, the social contract as the contract between
buyer and seller, a contract on the basis of which transnational
corporations claimed power over and against the state as the only
entity which allegedly could sell to the consumer what s/he 
"demanded". This claim is obviously tautological, since "consumer
demand" is in turn defined as demand for what corporations
produce, and can sell at profit, while any kind of demand ( demands
for basic commodities by the world's poor )is excluded by definition,
as incapable of expression in a contract of sale, since the poor lack
the income to buy. 

Aboriginal "Sovereignity" 

This definition of sovereignity has excluded Aboriginal people since
the beginning of European settlement as too poor to buy what
capitalism produces and committed to social forms of moneyless
exchange. The new global definitions of sovereignity do not
recognise states and nations. Even if they did, Aboriginal states are
composed of a majority of poor citizens, excluded by definition from
sovereignity. There have been less of those who view ATSIC as
precursor to an Aboriginal state than as a kind of corporation, with
a land base, provided by land rights legislation (Michael Mansell), a
capital base, provided by the expropriation of Aboriginal social
security payments, and a labour force (forced unpaid labour of those
deprived of social security payments). The existing Community
Development and Employment Program (CDEP), which pioneered
work for the dole in the Australia already uses dole payments to
some extent as capital, but still provide renumeration to workers
and is not 
ntirely conscriptive. The bulk of existing ATSIC funding is
earmarked by the white government for CDEP programmes. CDEP
is not a model of "consumer sovereignity " in that only a few
consumer goods are produced for sale, but it is intended as a
beggining. The problem of this model of "sovereignity", which
attracts Pearson, Langton, and even Foley in a recent issue of The
Paper, is that a corporation, especially when the WTO's projected
General Agreement on Trade and services is introduced, can be
taken over by another corporation. Unpaid unskilled forced labour
is not unattractive to some multinationals. ( This might even be a
bit much for Noel Pearson, though one wonders.) It is no protection
against TNC takeover to limit claims to sovereignity to political
dimensions; nations, too, can be taken over, as many Australians
have noticed. One must ask, indeed, if a white Australian
sovereignity remains for aborigines to supplant. 

Sovereignity, in its traditional political sense, is the ability of an
elite to make laws with the backing of an elite to make laws with
the backing of a standing army. Sovereignity is not government
itself, but the physical and legal conditions for government. Once in
place, such political sovereignity, placing beyond legal challenge
government as a property-protecting agent, can be transferred to
corporations. As the incarnation of property succesfully protected,
TNCs grow bigger than governments, subordinating them to
themselves and base themselves more on economic than military
power as an ultimate resort. 

How can anarchists endorse such a concept? Aboriginal societies
have never needed such "sovereignity", relying as they did and still
do for their social cohesion on forms of consensus decision-making
that lond anticipated anarchists finding a name for the process.
How can the form of liberation od an oppressed grouping be defined
in the oppressor's language? 

Each distinct Aboriginal people has its own description of the
relationship to the land which link it to a particular geographic area,
in its own language. Although this is often now described as
"traditional ownership", it is not ownership in the capitalist sense of
a right to do what one pleases with the land. It involves duties to
the land as well as rights, more duties, probably, in most cases, than
rights. Once might, in very Western terms, describe such relations
to the land as expressed - if one knew, or were permitted to know,
the languages in which they were expressed - as poetic popular
ecologies. And why should not ecology be expressed as poetry? If
there is to be any claim to decide who may or may not enter a
geographical area, it should be ecological, not political. (By
"ecology" I do not mean a theory of "population pressure".) 

The arguement between Aboriginal and white capitalist ways of life
is about ways of life, not sovereignity. Ecology before economics.
Consensus decision making, not "leadership" by individual
politicians, white or black. Moneyless economies based on mutual
exchange, where no one is left hungry as resources are shared,
instead of the creation of poverty for corporate power. Work
reduced to physical minimum not systematic overwork. Self-activity
(collective not individual) not employment. Yes, we know Aboriginal
society was neither a paradise, nor a utopia - that it had many
problems, in many ecological and social areas. But, compared with
the society we are now living in, its values, what it tried and may
often have failed to do, where infinitely preferable to the society we
now live in unhappily. Shouldn't that be what we are argueing about,
not "sovereignity" - the imposition of the state on an anarchic
people? The Aboriginal community leaders who fail to argue this- to
nt the dominant values of pre-European Aboriginal society as values
that everyone, Aboriginal or not, can share and develop further - are,
as their own people will tell them, not speaking after traditional
discussion and debate, and are using whitefella language. It is not
for anarchists to follow in the footsteps of any leaders, especially
this kind. 

The defence of Aboriginal society by raising issues such as
sovereignity - which it claimed, so far wrongly, can be contested in
Australian or international courts - assumes that the issues of what
society we choose to live in raised by the Aboriginal past and the
issues of proletarianisation raised by the Aboriginal present can be
somehow resolved by litigation. This is ridiculous. These kinds of
issues are not resolvable in law but raise questions about the
relevance of law to radical social change. The dispossesion of the
Aboriginal people is not an historic act which occured illegally in
1789. The wave of expropriations, of land, of children, the now
threatened expropriations of personal incomes, have been
continuous and still continue. Talk of "sovereignity" addresses, at
best, only one of those attrocities, historically the most distant.
Such talk tells people, like the politicians in the old Wobbly song,
that the quickest way to revolution is "talking constitution!". T
at is and has always been a lie. 

Most Aborigines - with the exception of a few non-traditional
leaders aspiring to be corporate CEOs - are now members of an
unemployed underclass, who, unlike other unemployed, can look
back to a past inwhich almost all capitalist relations were reversed.
That early society arose, as it were, spontaneously, without
conscious design - "natural", in the sense that it could not and did
not make plans to prevent its overthrow, which it did not foresee. A
future society, borrowing enormously from from Aboriginal and
similiar societies, will be a product of planning and agreement
between all members of the oppressed classes - especially because
it will comprise not capo individuals but real, social individuals who
will try to form a society in which the forms of the present total and
overwhelming sovereignity of capital we now experience can never
be repeated. 

Anarchists respect Aboriginal societies, and other indigenous
societies adhering to the same family of non-capitalist values, not
because they are compelled somehow to do so by pre-existing forms
of "sovereignity" but because they choose the values of indigenous
over against non-indigenous societies. The social values of
Aboriginal society were worked out by people for whom
globalisation in its present form did not exist and was
inconcievable. The new international underclass, the millions
thrown out of "their" countries by political persecution and poverty -
and facing concentration camps in the countries in which they seek
refuge - is the living critique of and the new destructive force
threatening capitalist globalisation. The insights of the new
underclass, one meshed with the old, combine the future and past in
ways that global capitalism cannot counter 

Owen Gager 

barricade books has moved. 
5 pitt st, brunswick at "Irene community arts warehouse" 

postal address 
po box 199 
east brunswick, vic, 3057 

ph. 03 93876646 
email : infoshop@bedlam.anarki.net


       ****** The A-Infos News Service ******
      News about and of interest to anarchists
  COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
  REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
  HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
  WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
  INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
                unsubscribe a-infos
                subscribe a-infos-X
 where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center