In 2011, there were the massive actions of the Arab Spring. In the decade since, there have been the Occupy, Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements originating in the US. The French workers created the Yellow Vests movement of social protest. Young people around the world go on school strikes to protest inaction on climate change.
And now huge popular uprisings in Chile, Lebanon, Haiti, Ecuador and Iraq against material problems such as corruption, repression, unemployment, and the increasing cost of living.
There is mass action for self-determination (e.g. Catalonia and West Papua).
In other cases, there is action by some sections of the masses against perceived problems, and for some vague, convenient but superficial instant remedies (e.g. Brexit), often whipped up by demagogues and reactionary populists.
Despite the diversity of the demands and causes, the common factor is the preparedness of people to take action.
Building up the repressive resources of the State
The consistent response of the ruling classes around the world is the build-up of the repressive resources of the state, to stamp out opposition. Over the last twenty to thirty years, there has been a steady militarisation of police forces and policing. More and more heavily repressive equipment, black Nazi-style uniforms and brazen bullying and suppression of opposition, and accompanied by legislation that has steadily wound back democratic rights, often in the name of anti-terrorism.
All this has occurred in Australia.
Australian police forces have been acquiring more and more weaponry, drones and vehicles. The Australian government has passed several pieces of legislation increasing ASIO's powers to secretly detain and question people, with no access to lawyers and no right to even tell anybody. Evidence surfaces of police acting against protesters giving white power hand gestures and wearing right-wing slogans.
The Australian Federal Police have raided journalists, and arrested lawyers. ASIO has raided the lawyer representing East Timor in its dispute with the Australian government over oil and gas rights in the East Timor Sea. The police and ASIO have been intimidating and repressing actual and potential whistle-blowers who believe, for some reason, that the Australian people have the right to know the truth about what governments, the police and the armed forces are doing.
The world-wide upsurge in the popular movement to save the planet from destruction has been so strong that it not only threatens to get out of ruling-class control, but also has pressured banks, super funds and now insurance companies to start to divest from fossil fuels, to refuse finance and insurance. This is a huge threat to the fossil fuel industry and to the ideological fossils who will not see beyond their bloody-minded myopia. (The latest incarnation is the belief, alluded to by Morrison, that this is all part of an international conspiracy to take over the world and impose a single world government, presumably the United Nations, which in reality could not organise itself to get out of a wet paper bag).
Threats against people’s rights
The response of the Australian ruling class is repression. Dutton threatens to withhold welfare payments. Morrison threatens to extend anti-secondary boycott provisions to outlaw divestment and boycott campaigns The Queensland Labor government threatens repressive legislation and action, reminiscent of Bjelke-Petersen. The Victorian police viciously attacked demonstrators at the recent rallies against the international mining conference in Melbourne. The Federal government is introducing legislation to hobble and repress unions even further.
Morrison patronises and belittles the students who joined the environmental rallies, telling them they should stay in school. As Paul Oosting of GetUp! observed, “Morrison talks of quiet Australians because he wants Australians to be quiet”.
It is all proof of the accuracy of the comment by former Prime Minister John Gorton when he said “Dissent will be tolerated so long as it is ineffective”. And how little room they allow for ineffectiveness – the slightest threat is met with repression.
This raises the issue of democratic rights. Despite all the hype about the beauty of our democratic system, our democratic rights are actually very limited and fragile. What has been hard won over centuries is easily and quickly lost – dispensed with by governments that sense the slightest threat.
Australian people, indeed all people around the world, must and will continue to stand up for their rights – civil liberties; rights to speak up, to organise and to protest; to protect the planet; for a decent standard of living; for clean honest government; for national independence and self-determination.
However, in the long run, these limited defensive actions are not enough There can never by political democracy without economic democracy. The whole system of private ownership of the economy, the power of the multinationals to exploit the world's people and environment, to control the media and what people see and hear, and to impose their selfish will through weak, subservient governments, needs to be overthrown. We need a socialist economy, with full democratic rights for the people, a popularly controlled media, and respect for the people and the environment.
Only full economic and political control can guarantee our democratic rights.