January 26th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: The magic of Middle Earth

Editorial: Argentina - from role model to basket case

Al Qaeda network must be destroyed

Policy not structure the problem for National Party

Industry policy behind Celtic Tiger's success

Straws in the Wind: Great Helmsmen: past and present / A tale of two branches

Anti-war protests leave Melbourne cold

Media: When the Left calls for time-out

Letter: Exports and imports

Letter: Alcohol abuse

Trade: APEC’s demise paves the way for China’s free trade pact

United States: Year of the Right?

Japan: a nation in search of a role

History: Roosevelt’s timeless wisdom

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Anti-war protests leave Melbourne cold

by Dr Mark Lopez

News Weekly, January 26, 2002

Sixties revival or survival: yet another peace demonstration that failed to ignite Melbourne.

Approximately 300 Marxist peace demonstrators wove their way up Bourke Street, Melbourne, on December 9, for the rally to stop the war in Afganistan.

"One, Two Three, Four, We don’t want your racist war", was the official chant.

"Wankers!", was the contemptuous reply of a young man who was enjoying coffee al fresco with friends on this sunny Sunday Melbourne afternoon. The others at his table laughed in approval. "Power to the People", read a banner.

Well, the people, these bystanders, were speaking and they did not like the message of the Left.

I observed many of these responses when I watched the latest peace demonstration, which began in the City Square and ended at the Treasury Gardens.

These are the revealing incidents that are mysteriously left out of the mainstream media’s reporting of these types of events.

One man, whose car was briefly held up as the procession passed the intersection of Bourke and Russell Streets, was so incensed that he got out of his Holden and furiously demanded that a nearby policeman clear the streets of these "bastards".

Perhaps this is the voice of the Australian workers, the very people whom the Marxists expect to unite under the revolutionary red flag and liberate the world.

At past events organised by the Marxist Left, Melbournians were content to sneer or shake their heads in disapproval. Most still do this, but since the September 11 terrorist bombings in the United States, many citizens wanted to loudly voice their disapproval as they walked or drove past the tiny cluster of red flags, placards and banners and the eclectic counter-cultural types who carried them.

In the 1960s, the peace movement was part of what was hailed as a counter-culture. But by 2001, this has degenerated into merely a subculture.

About three hundred people tuned up to this rally. A rally to stop a war that, since the surrender of the Taliban forces in the Kandahar pocket a few days earlier, was already almost over; a peace demonstration almost subverted by the outbreak of peace.

This was a rally for the die-hards, the same old faces who are behind almost every demonstration in Australia’s urban centres - the Marxist splinter groups which include the International Socialists, along with the Socialist Alternative who officially split from them, the Democratic Socialists and their youth wing called Resistance, and several others including the grandly named Workers Power that boasts five members.

This was a surprisingly cheerful event; the regulars being happy to "touch base" and chat to old friends.

As I mingled, I noticed that there was no sense of earnest concern about the loss of life in West-Asia. Nobody talked about the war at all. What they did want to enthusiastically talk about to the few newcomers, such as myself, were their organisations, conversations that always ended with a sting, a request to buy their party’s newspaper or to attend a meeting. In other words, it was business as usual.

If these demonstrations are a means to an end, they are a means towards marketing and recruitment.

These are the main activities that can be observed by anybody who attends one of these events. Although the outrage seems genuine about the causes, be they the Afghan war, refugees, uranium mining, or heroin shooting galleries, the causes serve as excuses for these get-togethers that keep the movement going.

When observed from this functional perspective, one is no longer confronted by confounding paradoxes: an anti-war demonstration to stop a war that is almost over or an anti-globalisation demonstration (S11) that is organised using the Internet, the definitive communications apparatus of globalisation.

Hence the rush to capitalise on the war to expand the Marxist movement, its activities festooned with the delights of sixties anti-Vietnam War nostalgia that were evident everywhere you looked, in tee-shirts bearing Che Guevera’s iconic image or in revived slogans such as "Make love not war".

The Australian Left’s anti-Americanism is also ironic, since most of its ideas and culture are derived from the American Left, the queen bee that spawned generations of soldier bees to propagate the messages - anti-racism, Marxism, feminism, gay-rights, environmentalism and pacifism; the anti-Vietnam War movement being the cathartic event; its glorious revival was subconsciously yearned for on this Sunday.

While these demonstrations are means to an end - promotion - they are also ends in themselves. To paraphrase Descarte’s epic statement of material belief "I think, therefore I am", these events can be seen as supporting the dictum "I demonstrate, therefore I am". These people demonstrate to assert that they exist.

All subcultures have codes of behaviour, and the code of this subculture demands periodic access to the city streets, the disruption of traffic and urban commerce being seen as measures of potency. But how potent are they? A banner that read "Workers against the war" was held by two people, one was a pensioner and the other a student. The workers and their families, doing their Christmas shopping, kept their distance, their dispositions obviously too damp to be ignited by the revolutionary spark.


The Marxist activist movement is not healthy, and the signs of its vulnerability are probably not evident to its participants - or its detractors, for that matter. A close dispassionate observation of its nature reveals its Achilles’ heel. Most of its events are boring and poorly attended, a fact that causes concern for organisers and stalwarts alike.

Defeat would not come from governments ordering their police forces to hit these people with their batons.

This would only serve to rationalise their Marxist rebel ethos and draw many others to the cause, attracted by the drama and action. Defeat would come from making the act of organising or participating in demonstrations inconvenient. It is this inconvenience, especially the lack of time, that prevents most Australians from participating in political activity, whether left, right, or otherwise.

Most of the demonstrators are public servants or students (who are yet to enter the public service after graduation). These public servants are protected by hardline left-wing unions, such as the CPSU, which make it extremely difficult to sack people, even the deliberately lazy or irretrievably incompetent.

Many Marxist activists prefer to work in the notoriously slackest departments where they can take time to pursue political activities, even using office email and photocopiers to further their campaigns.

If the power of unions, such as the CPSU, were broken and vigorous productive workplaces were instituted, most of the demonstrators would have far less time for political activism. "Sorry, can’t make the demo, too much work. My job depends on it", would be the frequent reply.

Similarly, greater academic rigour at our universities would tie students down with homework. "Sorry, I’ve a major essay due next week. I can’t make this demo. Maybe next time", would be another reply. These workplace changes would reduce hundreds of demonstrations to only a few.

The workplace agreements for the public sector are due for renegotiation. With a tough minister like Tony Abbott involved, a more efficient public service may be possible, and then the Marxist political subculture would be in dire straits.

It would wither away, undramatically, until eventually people found themselves asking why there were so few demonstrations.

  • Dr Mark Lopez is the author of The Origins of Multiculturalism (Melbourne University Press)

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