- by Franc Stregone
- The Guardian
- Issue #2021
Senator Pauline Hanson
To say that the Indigenous Voice to Parliament has caused consternation among Australia’s far-right would be an understatement.
Earlier this month, speaking in the Senate, Senator Pauline Hanson condemned the Indigenous Voice to Parliament as follows: “Why does this have to be in the Constitution? What is the real ulterior motive? This can only be about power – creating a nation within a nation. This can only be about taking power from whitefellas and giving it to blackfellas. This is Australia’s version of apartheid” (emphasis ours).
Ignoring for the moment the racist undertones of Hanson’s comments, the Indigenous Voice to Parliament cannot create nations. In the first instance, it is an advisory body with no legislative powers and therefore cannot create anything, let alone a whole nation. Secondly, Indigenous nations already exist. Here, Hanson’s remarks reflect a general racist attitude that ignores the very real cultures and societies that were on this land before colonisation.
For the Communist Party of Australia (and Marxist-Leninists generally), the question of nations is largely understood through the framework developed by J V Stalin in his pamphlet The National Question and Leninism. This text has informed Marxist-Leninist policy throughout the world but offers those unfamiliar with Marxism-Leninism how the CPA understands this question: On what basis do nations exist?
Here, we can turn to Stalin’s concept of a nation: “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”
This is a robust definition because it privileges a set of societal features present in all historically-known groups of people. In other words, it does not have a cultural bias. Additionally, these features can be crossed referenced with each other to present a rich tapestry of life.
Examining this definition through a case study of the Kulin nation (south central Victoria) we can gain a deeper appreciation of Indigenous nations and why it is important for them to have a Voice to Parliament and a Treaty.
THE KULIN NATION: A CLOSER LOOK
Returning to the above definition, it is hard to deny that the Kulin nation is “historically constituted.” According to Gary Presland, in his book The First Residents of Melbourne’s Western Region, “there is some evidence to show that people were living in the Maribyrnong River valley, near present day Keilor, about 40,000 years ago.” This evidence only becomes greater the more recent the history becomes.
We can follow this assessment by examining whether or not the Kulin nation was “formed on the basis of a common […] territory”? We can answer this question in the affirmative. This territory is comprised of five tribes: Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Taungurong, Ngurai-illam-wurrung, and Wathaurung. These tribes have clear, demarcated borders with one another.
Adam R Brumm, in his paper “ ‘The falling sky’: symbolic and cosmological associations of the Mt William greenstone axe quarry, Central Victoria, Australia,” provides us with a concise answer for several other criteria:
“The historically known Kulin occupied much of southern Victoria […]. The Kulin ‘nation’ or ‘confederacy’ was a regional cultural bloc comprising local land-owning groups linked together by similarities in speech, burial and initiation practices strengthened by kinship ties resulting from generations of inter-marriage […].”
Here we find that the Kulin nation is comprised of tribes with a common language as well as a “psychological make-up manifested in a common culture” the latter of which is indicated in their burial and initiation practices.
The last remaining criteria to account for is “a common […] economic life.” The Yarra Healing website states, “Each of these [tribes] consisted of up to six or more land-owning units called clans that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marriage ties” (emphasis ours). Here, we understand that these tribes traded together and mutually assisted each other.
Through having developed answers to the criteria set out by Stalin we can assert the last aspect of his definition that, indeed, the Kulin nation constituted a “stable community of people.”
VOICE AND TREATY
Returning to Hanson’s words, it is now apparent that “creating nations” as if they could be written into existence is complete nonsense. What is likely, is that Hanson was implying that such procedures would allow First Nations people to create a state. States, according to V I Lenin are “a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.” As a result, states can be created or transformed on the basis of antagonistic class formations in a region. Thus, a state and nation are two separate things. The former has nothing to do with a Voice to Parliament or Treaty and is not subject to those discussions. The latter, through both processes, are simply being recognised for what they are: the oldest continuing cultural traditions in existence.
With a communist understanding of the National Question, the significance of a Voice to Parliament and a Treaty becomes clearer. These nations, with a diverse expression of their communal life, have a right to be involved in managing their land. By agreeing to a Voice to Parliament and Treaty, we are not “giving up” anything we did not already properly possess. Australia is the product of genocide and colonisation, nothing less. By having these conversations and developing these instruments, we can start to correct the injustices committed against First Nations people.