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Manifestos for our Times

by Sujatha Fernandes on October 13, 2017

A manifesto is a statement or declaration that describes the injustices of the world and outlines a program of the kinds of changes that should take place within it. People throughout history have written manifestos, from the Cartagena Manifesto by South American independence leader Simón Bolívar in 1812, Marx’s Communist Manifesto in 1848, the radical feminist SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting up Men), written in 1968, and the socialist-feminist, high-tech Manifesto for Cyborgs, written in 1985.

Marx’s Communist Manifesto was one of the most important manifestos ever written. The manifesto talked about class exploitation of the lower classes and it outlined a program for the proletariat (working class) to overthrow the bourgeoisie (ruling classes) and establish a just and equal society without class distinction. The manifesto inspired revolutions and radical social change around the world and its language and passion continue to inspire those who dream of an alternative and just world.

Students in my course, ECOP2911, Class: Exploring Theory and Method, within the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, read Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and they wrote manifestos about the issues that are our relevant to our society today. Here are their voices.

Boundless Plains to Share

Dilir Ali

This is the story of Fatima. She loved her family, her language, her home. She used to sing Arabic covers of her favourite Western songs and weave fine tapestries of words in her poems. She would spend hours running around Juba’s grassy outcrops, bare feet digging into the clay below. Before long, her whole family had to run, six siblings sobbing gently in the cold, bumpy womb of a truck. The sea smelt like salt, the camps tasted of sweat. Years of isolation within a flood of people, with time blurring behind the bars. Longing eyes searched beyond the fence for the day when she could be free from the violence that shadowed her, from the strangers’ hands which grabbed out at her, from the mental anguish of just sitting there and waiting in hopelessness. And when that day finally came – she’d lost her voice.

This is the story of Murtaza. He was born without a home, in a refugee processing town by the south of Pakistan. He’d always try and copy how Salman Khan took off his sunglasses and he’d dream of being an actor. But when he came to Australia, his dreams couldn’t come with him. Just 13, Murtaza would work at a family friend’s garage so his little sister could eat. He wanted to make videos and play theatres but his parents had no work, no money. At school, he’d sit in the corner, humming to himself, as words he couldn’t quite understand floated by his ears. A school system of overworked teachers gave up on Murtaza, saying it’d be better if he dropped out. No dream and no future, the young boy was left alone.

These are the stories of Australia.

In my work as a Mentor at the Community Migrant Resource Centre, I’ve been fortunate in working with Fatima, Murtaza and over 50 students who have recently arrived as refugees. They’ve shared the tragedy of their stories, each unique but with a common thread – being let down by the Australian government. While exceptionally grateful for the opportunity that being in Australia presents, the experiences in torturous camps and an overcrowded school system prevent them from being able to properly fulfil their potential. And they’re the lucky ones, those able to make it to Australia. Overall, the mental anguish of waiting in uncertainty, the lack of proper integration or education on an individual level, coupled with the high cost of living and issues of employability for those settled in cities like Sydney, it all adds up to a fundamentally broken system. And while there appears to be little political momentum to change anything, the overwhelming costs on refugees, taxpayers and society at large necessitate these systems of processing and resettling to be overhauled and refocused.

According to UNICEF and Save the Children, the offshore detention centres have held child refugees for upwards of two years, exposing them to both physical and mental harm, with there being over 189 reports of children harming themselves or threatening to self-harm. The report details how further evidence exists of their deteriorating mental health, but these have been silenced by the government in its ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ policy. Leaving to one side the multiple manners in which this policy violates the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, the inhumanity of placing children in offshore detention absolutely stunts their potential and destroys their trust in the Australian government – creating the problem of disaffected, unemployed refugees which the policy of deterrence is supposed to prevent. But not only is the policy cruel and self-defeating, it makes no economic sense at all. For every refugee they keep in offshore detention, the government pays $573,100 per year, or $1570 per day per refugee. Onshore detention, though not perfect by any means, costs about half this, not to mention the relatively inexpensive support services. At its core, this $500,000 price tag is devoted to deliberately preventing refugees from working and contributing to the economy, as well as directly limiting their skills growth and employability. I’ve spent weeks with Murtaza and my students, helping train them for menial jobs at Hungry Jacks because they received next to no help in English or working skills while held in detention, leaving them far behind the rest. And for students who had already suffered so much, every skill they had to catch up on only worsened their disengagement.

And still, despite these undeniable humanitarian and economic costs, both the government and opposition parties support off-shore detention. Why? To save lives at sea and remove the incentives of people smuggling? That’s certainly the government’s go to response. But if they were concerned about the lives of asylum seekers, they would not turn back the leaky boats across rough seas. They claim that boats have stopped coming, but then criminalise any means of verification as such information becomes an ‘on water matter’. No, this policy is simply one of weakness as both parties try to placate the nationalist xenophobes and keep the issue ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for the rest of the populous. And once processed, the services once in place to assist refugees continue to have their budgets cut based on direct correlation to employment outcomes. Moreover, if provided with a Protection Visa for meeting the requirements of the Migration Act 1958, they are no longer able to access assistance from the Humanitarian Settlement Services. Instead, you just get a five day course to ‘prepare for living in Australia’. It clearly doesn’t matter if they are healthy or fulfilling their potential, so long as they don’t remain dependent on Centrelink. These policies deliberately punish refugees for expressing their right to seek asylum, no matter what the cost, then leave them to their own devices for being a ‘burden’ on the taxpayer and the already struggling social and physical infrastructure. Draconian detention laws and censorship of the press regarding the wellbeing of asylum seekers offshore come not from concern but fear, as both major parties fixate on polls over people.

The deep dissonance between the government’s processing and settlement policies comes from a fundamentally flawed view of refugees as a burden rather than as people or even a resource. If viewed in such terms, refugees stop becoming a problem that needs to be solved, but rather an opportunity for Australia to grow economically and in compassion. I propose a two-step plan to manage humanitarian inflows.

Primarily, offshore detention must be moved exclusively toward a system of community detention where refugees are able to access English schools and TAFE accredited training while waiting for their claims to be processed, which will still only cost about half of the current offshore processing program. The government should immediately cease referring to them officially as ‘illegal maritime arrivals’ as they are breaking neither Australian nor international laws in simply seeking asylum.

Once claims are processed, the funds saved by shifting from offshore to onshore detention may be reinvested into proper settlement pathways which seek to include refugees into Australian culture without further straining the infrastructure capacities of major cities. The new Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) system, where the refugee must indicate an intention to work and/or study in a designated rural area for at least three and a half years, should be expanded to be the default option for all refugees, unless they can show a close family or employment need, as well as create actual paths towards permanent residency if they are able to prove some contribution to the communities they have lived in for at least five years. This system will further incentivise the entrepreneurial and hardworking spirit which refugees have statistically been shown to have in spades, as well as exposing them to the depths of Australian culture in a controlled and safe environment, surrounded by locals and other refugees. The movement from employment-only outcomes to a simple ‘contribution’ further expands their potential in the arts and volunteering, and, most importantly, this program will directly confront some of the most xenophobic parts of Australia with the reality of the refugee experience. And all with less ‘burden’ on the taxpayer and our aging infrastructure.

Though it may seem like there is little political motivation to change, the relatively recent announcements that children will be processed onshore following Gillian Trigg’s ‘Children in Detention’ report and the introduction of SHEVs are both promising signs that the system is gradually moving towards one which is more equitable and humane. With continued pressure from civil society and an in-depth study to make the business case for expanding SHEVs, it seems almost inevitable that the system will continue to shift, slowly but surely. And maybe one day, Fatima and Murtaza will properly be able to call these boundless plains their home.

The Vegan Manifesto

Isabella Devine-Poulos

“If enslavement begins with humans it must end with the simultaneous liberation of humans & animals from the yoke of commodity fetishism & narcissistic effusions. The brutal confinement of animals ultimately serves only to separate men and women from their own potentialities, and to make them victims of their own insidious barbarity. It is the reality of dreams that necessitates the reintegration of humans and animals in everyday life. In the realization of its deepest desires, humanity will achieve what it has always sought: a universe of the incredible.” – The Surrealist Group of Chicago, 1989

I. THE HUMAN IDEOLOGY

Of all of the issues of injustice, oppression and violence in the world, animal exploitation is that which is the most ignored, and the most rampant. Of any group of living beings – within and without human societies – animals are the most abused. Different species, which occupy different roles for human beings, different types of property or commodities, suffer in different ways – some suffering from human ‘love’ in being commoditized from the first weeks of their lives; others suffering from human apathy, appearing as lifeless objects for pleasure and satiation. And nowhere is there a strong and committed movement, even amongst the ‘Left’, that community of activists against oppression and exploitation who promise to know and bring forth the real truth about society; nowhere is there a movement that takes this widespread abuse seriously. To most, being concerned with animal rights and animal liberation is to be a bleeding-heart, an annoyance, deserving of derision and disdain. To those who are usually concerned with movements against oppression – feminists, anti-racists, socialists and other leftists – being concerned with animal rights and animal liberation is to be a ‘lifestylist’, a liberal, an anti-materialist, bourgeois; in other words, deserving of derision and disdain.

But in every case of derision and disdain, whether coming from the general population or those supposedly more enlightened, there lies the ideology of human dominance, one that may need more than a sensibility against injustice to be unraveled.

This ideology has been given different names – speciesism, carnism, anti-veganism – and it manifests itself in the most abject forms of cruelty, to seemingly benevolent notions such as ‘animal welfarism’. I use the phrase ‘human dominance’ as contrasted to ‘animal liberation’, in order to draw attention to the specific oppressor and the specific victim; the specific condition and the alternative logic which can be mobilized against it. In all societies, humans dominate over animals in ways that are universally unjust and violent. And to truly create a world in which exploitation is shunned and overcome, animals must become part of our narrative, our moral focus, and our consciousness.

The ideology of human dominance is one that is so deeply embedded into our human society in the West and other industrialised nations, that it permeates every aspect of our day. We rely on animals constantly, and do so with no sense of gratitude, only entitlement. We may wake up and eat a chicken egg and a slice of toast smeared with cow butter, then shower in soap tested on rabbits, before getting dressed in sheep’s wool suits and cow leather shoes, walking through our homes on woolen carpets, before leaving for the day to work, no doubt stopping at lunch for a pig ham and cow cheese sandwich. Substitute in whatever fabrics and foods are regionally and personally preferred, and generally you will have the reduction of a living, sentient being into what is a mere commodity or use-value. Everywhere, the flesh, fur, feathers and skin of animals is used as raw materials in production. And everywhere we must separate ourselves from the facts of animal consciousness and conscious animal suffering, so that our own consciences remain intact, and no disruption is made to our daily routines, our ability to be a part of normal society.

II. HUMAN SOCIETY

On the surface, our societies in the West may appear benign and stable. But in every way they are far more barbaric than any society has ever been before. Technology progresses, education becomes more widespread, international war takes place overseas; but in every way our societies, modern capitalist societies in the post-Industrial age, are built upon and sustained by violence and exploitation.

This is not only a problem for animals, of course. Every worker producing more than they are paid, every woman abused and exploited sexually, every Indigenous person treated as a stranger in their own land, every unemployed person ever close to crisis, every over-medicated and neglected mental health patient, every queer person branded ‘dyke’ or ‘faggot’ knows this very well, even if they do not express it in those ways. Human society is made up of divisions and hierarchies, where human bodies themselves become sites of sexual, physical and mental violence.

What is it, then, about being human that we are so proud of? What really places us above animals, if we associate them with violence, irrationality and self-interest?

Our societies are firmly hierarchical, and in every hierarchy there must be a plethora of those left alienated, weakened and oppressed. We must survive as atomized agents, never more co-dependent in a web of social relations composing a complex social totality; and yet separated by the hierarchies and modes of oppression that form part of that totality. In our dependence on market transactions in order to reproduce our very Selves, we can be led to forget the rest of the complex web, and focus only on our own work, our own preferences, our own accumulation of commodities.

Human society is wickedly deceptive, presenting as a state of normality and masking a cumulative amount of suffering and exploitation. And no suffering and exploitation is as great as that of animals. In all of our barbarism, human beings exert the most over those who lack power the most – the voiceless, the supposedly morally unworthy, the trusting, the physically small, the herbivorous. The subjugation of animals is so complete and embedded in our society that animals themselves and their unpaid work as entertainers and labourers form commodities: fictitious commodities that should instead be valuable and valued lives. In this way, the common person forms a part of human dominance over animals in their everyday lives by disassociating their leather belt from the reality of the mass death and skinning of cows. They do it by maintaining a cognitive dissonance between principles of equality and their partialness to the taste of milk acquired from confined and artificially inseminated mother cows separated from their young. They do it by going to the zoo to observe animals imprisoned in cages for human consumption and capital profit. They do it by purchasing animals as fetishized commodities, forgetting about the mothers of these animals used for breeding. They do it in apparently benign actions which are in every way barbarous because they are both unnecessary and indifferent.

III. HUMANITY

What, then, can be done to break the hegemony of human dominance, when it is an ideology so deeply embedded, and a material reality so ruthlessly organized and widespread? How can we begin to treat animals ‘humanely’ rather than ‘like animals’? The answer to that can only lie in a multiplicity of approaches and actions – but this must all be firmly rooted in the principles of abolishing human dominance, and getting at animal liberation. There should be no compromise on the principles of animal liberation – that animals are morally significant and that their sentience should grant them certain rights that have been arbitrarily taken away – for the benefit of the human ego, or to obfuscate the ultimate goal of overturning the existing order.

To push against an oppressive system such as capitalism, to which human dominance over other animals and nature generally is essential, being conscious of these divisions and joining together in solidarity is essential to any hope of change. First Nations demands cannot be answered without the solidarity of white folks and other non-Indigenous people. Women will not be liberated unless men fight alongside them. Workers in different industries cannot fight alone, nor can individual workers in the same industry or even the same shop floor. This is a fundamental reality of radical activity – that is, activity done in the name of fundamentally changing the existing order and breaking old modes of oppression in the interest of the common good and the good of others with different struggles and experiences to one’s own. No one person or group can fight alone, not only because they will be overpowered, but because all of their struggles are linked. Just as capitalism produces needless exploitation and division amongst human beings, so too does it produce animal exploitation. Without private property, animals could not be owned, used as slaves, or demoted to objects. Until private property is abolished, animals will remain oppressed.

It is now time for the principles of solidarity to be extended to animals, and for there to be a united movement for animal liberation that has the power to break the ideology of human dominance and reverse the material conditions of animals where they exist to serve, satisfy, and obey humans, alongside broader movements against capitalism.

And before private property and class itself are entirely abolished, we must work every day to break that ideology of human dominance within ourselves and with others. One cannot show solidarity to someone who one feels comfortable cooking, eating, wearing, owning or imprisoning, for that necessitates a relationship in which one has power over the other and exploits that power for their own gain. In every way, abstaining from meat, wearing cotton and boycotting the zoo is not so much necessary because it is designed to have any lasting economic impact – we know that the current order of the economy cannot sustain a world of equality between humans and animals. These actions are necessary because they represent a fundamental rejection of the ideology of human dominance, and an opportunity to pursue animal liberation.

Animal liberation cannot be achieved without revolutionary action, but in the mean time we must act in accordance with its principles and promote the cause of animals as part of a broader programme for emancipation from capitalist exploitation – raising awareness about the case of animal exploitation, protesting for animal rights, releasing animals from slaughterhouses en masse, and constantly speaking on behalf of other animals.

Animals are already liberated from our human discriminations and divisions, they know nothing and practice nothing of sexism, racism, homophobia or class. It is time we freed them from their prison which we have built up around them by no fault of their own but for being too small, too gentle, too different.

 

Sujatha Fernandes

Sujatha Fernandes is Professor of Political Economy and Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney.

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