The recent invasion of the Solomon Islands by a force led by Australia and New Zealand represents a new stage in the recolonisation of the Asia-Pacific region. Like Iraq, the Solomons has been occupied in the name of humanitarianism, but in the interests of imperialism. The Facilitation of International Assistance 2003 legislation provides the 2,000-strong military force with both wide-ranging powers and immunity from prosecution under local law.
While corrupt MPs voted for invasion, the Fijian-based Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) pointed out that the invasion flatly contradicted the wishes of the National Peace Conference held in August 2000 by representatives of dozens of organisations drawn from many sectors of Solomons society. This conference had called for the demilitarisation of Solomons society, not an invasion led by an Australian army recently responsible for war crimes in East Timor and Afghanistan. The PCRC recognised the blatantly imperialist nature of the invasion, condemning plans for "a governing council of about 12 people led by a chief executive with a light infantry company on standby, a judicial team of 20, prison staff, a group of accountants and other financial managers to administer the economy".
Others have pointed to the presence of small numbers of Fijian and Tongan troops in the invasion force as 'evidence' for Pacific peoples' consent. It's true that, desperate to avoid being the next targets for intervention, Fiji and Tonga have joined the invasion force, but neither of these countries can be called even a bourgeois democracy - one government runs an apartheid system, and the other is an absolute monarchy! Proponents of the invasion do not mention the deep uneasiness of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, larger countries with closer ties to the Solomons and traditionally more independent foreign policies.
It’s about imperialism
In 'An Un-Natural Disaster?', an article in Class Struggle #48, we exposed preparations for the invasion in the mass media, the Australasian political establishment, and Australia’s intelligence services. We also pointed out that the social crisis in the Solomons has been caused by the super exploitation of the islands by imperialism, and by the intensification of this super exploitation over the past few years by the ANZAC suits who run the IMF in the South Pacific.
Last November, at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Solomon Islands government sacked 1,300 employees – that’s about 30 percent of the public sector workforce. The number of government employees had already been halved from 8,473 to 4,337 between 1993 and 1999.
As part of last November’s ‘reforms’, the Solomons government gave control of its finances to an Australian, Lloyd Powell, for whom the post of Permanent Secretary of Finance was created. Powell is the executive director of the New Zealand-based company Solomon Leonard, which has a proven track record in overseeing austerity programs in the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga.
Is it any wonder that the slash and burn policies of the IMF and Powell have created economic and social crisis in the Solomons? John Howard and Helen Clark are now using the crisis as an excuse to force neoliberalism on the Solomons at the point of a gun.
Humanitarian Aid - for ANZAC profits
The attempt by the Australian government and media to dress up the Solomons intervention as an act of humanitarian charity is a sham. Australia and New Zealand are interested in the Solomons for economic and strategic reasons.
In a pro-invasion ‘analysis’ called 'Our Failing Neighbour', the Australian Strategic Policy Institute noted: “Prior to the 2000 coup there were about 100 Australian companies doing business in Solomon Islands, with about 30 having operations there. Since the breakdown in law and order this has declined to only a handful having operations on the ground. This amounts to significant economic loss for Australia.”
Howard and Clark are also worried about instability spreading west from the Solomons to the mineral-rich island of Bougainville, where ANZAC troops only recently helped quench a decade-long independence struggle.
Anti-war movement, unions should act
The movement opposing imperialist war and occupations in the Middle East must focus some of its attention on the invasion of the Solomons. If we can’t oppose imperialism on our own doorstep, then we have no chance of helping to defeat it farther afield.
The anti-war movement should demand that all foreign forces stay out of the Solomons, and that Lloyd Powell and the rest of the IMF be kicked out of the country. The New Zealand and Australian governments should forgive the debts they are ‘owed’ by the Solomons, and should fund the recreation of the public sector jobs that the IMF destroyed last year.
The people of the Solomons have a right to defend themselves against the ANZAC invaders. Because of its isolation and underdevelopment, the Solomons lacks a strong workers’ movement, and has no socialist movement at all. Opposition to the invaders may be led at first by tribal or religious forces, but this will not make it illegitimate.
The anti-war movement in wealthy countries like New Zealand has no right to condemn oppressed people in super exploited nations who turn to religious ideas and tribal organisation in an effort to understand and combat their oppression. It is up to the left and the workers’ movement of Australasia to aid the people of the Solomons, and in doing so advance progressive and pro-worker ideas in the country.
The Australasian union movement has a shocking record of support for ANZAC imperialism in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1999, for instance, Aussie trade unionists gave money and labour to build the walled compound that became the headquarters of the UN army of occupation in East Timor. It was from these headquarters that ANZAC thugs launched attacks to crush workers’ and students’ protests with guns and batons, once the reality of occupation had set in for the 'liberated' East Timorese.
Today Australasian unions should aid the victims of imperialism, not the bullies. Strikes and blockades should be organised to stop the movement of supplies and reinforcements to ANZAC troops in the Solomons. The struggling trade unions of the Solomons should be aided, so that they can defend their members against continued IMF cuts and the restrictions on civil liberties which the ANZAC occupiers will introduce.
Khaki Greens hail invasion
Across Australasia, the anti-war movement while united in opposing a US invasion of Iraq is divided over a US-backed invasion far closer to home. The Green and social democratic politicians who tried to dominate the movement against an invasion of Iraq are amongst the loudest supporters of John Howard's latest military adventure. Bob Brown, the leader of Australia's Khaki Green Party, has actually criticised Bush and Howard for not being keen enough, saying that the invasion of the Solomons was 'long overdue'.
Here in New Zealand, the Khaki Greens have shown similar enthusiasm. Greens Foreign Affairs spokesman Keith Locke gave pre-emptive backing to the invasion in a July the 1st speech to parliament. Locke told MPs that he was “not really concerned about the New Zealand troops operating in an insensitive way because they have a very good record internationally”. Does Locke know anything about history? Does he think that the murder of civilians in Vietnam and Korea and the mass execution of POWs in North Africa counts as ‘very good’? Locke went so far as to identify the Greens with the National Party's attitude to the Solomons, saying "I think Bill English was right" in a reference to the National leader's earlier statement to parliament.
Like his friend Bob Brown, Locke has spent years urging the Australasian political establishment to launch an invasion of the Solomons. He’s also been a cheerleader for military intervention in Bougainville, East Timor, Kosovo, and (under UN auspices) Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s doubtful whether any other sitting MP has been such a wide-ranging advocate of the use of New Zealand armed forces overseas as Keith Locke.
Impressed by the size of protests against the invasion of Iraq, some people have argued that the anti-war movement is also an anti-capitalist movement. But the pro-war position of many 'peacenik' liberals and Greens and the gutless silence of the Alliance tell us otherwise.
How can we understand the pro-invasion stance of the Greens? Are they contradicting themselves by opposing New Zealand occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan but supporting a New Zealand occupation in the Solomons? We don’t think so. The Greens are a pro-capitalist organisation rooted in the least efficient section of the New Zealand capitalist class – struggling and small businesses that have nothing to gain from the continued globalisation of the New Zealand economy supported by their more prosperous cousins who back National and ACT.
But the Greens’ business backers oppose globalisation because of their bottom line, not out of concern for workers at home or the Third World. They disagree with Helen Clark not over support for imperialism, but over where exactly and under what banner the army should repress workers and peasants and help extract superprofits. The Greens’ patrons have no chance of competing with the hotshot multinationals carving up the Middle East under the banner of the US (as opposed to the French and Germans), so they naturally opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and called New Zealand military support for these wars a waste of money. It is in the Asia-Pacific region that the green capitalists hope to mark their mark.
The invasion of the Solomons has exposed the politics of the Green Party just as surely as the war on Afghanistan exposed the Alliance. To be sure, the Greens have some honest, hardworking pro-worker rank and file activists, but this doesn't change the class location of the bulk of the party's membership and class nature of the politics their leaders push. By its very nature the Green Party is a futile avenue for pro-worker activism. Now's the time for lefty Greens to get out of this rotten organisation and become full-blooded reds!
Instead of busting their guts for careerists like Locke, they should join the revolutionaries around the world and mobilise the working class to take direct action against the wars of recolonisation which are the survival-mechanism of capitalism in the twenty-first century. The anti-war movement can only develop an anti-capitalist backbone if it attracts the support of the organised working class. Unlike their local capitalists, workers do not have an economic interest in wars of recolonisation.
Keith Locke's pro-invasion speech is online at http://www.greens.org.nz/searchdocs/speech6482.html