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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Of songs & flags - Nationalism, Patriotism and the Arrogance of Arrogation

Of songs & flags - Nationalism, Patriotism and the Arrogance of Arrogation

The global rise of nationalism is disturbing considering its correlation to the rise of nationalism in 1930's Germany. And we all know how that ended. It seems that any criticism of the 'mother' (or 'father') country is tantamount to treason and all left-wingers are traitors.

Of course, nothing new to see here. Herman Goerring stated at the Nuremberg trials, ' ... the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country'.

Recently, Australia has seen a couple of incidents in which patriotism was tested. The first was by a call from boxer and former rugby league star, Anthony Mundine, for indigenous players to refuse to stand for the national anthem. Mundine's call was partly in relation to the over-representation of indigenous people in the prison system and on-going deaths in custody(1). Since the conclusion of Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody in 1991, few of its recommendations have been implemented and the incarceration rates of indigenous people have increased from 14% to 27%(2).

Mundine also opposes Advance Australia Fair because he believes that it glorifies Captain Cook's invasion of Australia. At the bottom of this article there is a copy of the full national anthem which has five verses, not just the two (verses 1 and 3) that are commonly sung. Mundine has a point when looking at verses 2, 4 and 5 as they do bang on about Britain's glory and conquest of this great southern land. These verses are no longer sung in polite company, so in essence it could be argued that Australia is already boycotting elements of the anthem.

Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP(3)

One other reason for Mundine's boycott was that the anthem was written at a time when indigenous Australians were not even considered human, but were covered under the Flora and Fauna Act. It wasn't until 1967 that indigenous people were counted in referenda and the federal government was given the right to legislate for aborigines regardless of whether they were in a State or Territory. Unfortunately, since then much of the human rights abuses against Australia's indigenous population has continued through stolen wages, removal of children from families, prejudice in education, health services, employment, housing, incarceration and so on.

The key word from Advance Australia Fair is 'fair', yet there is no fairness in Australia's treatment of its indigenous people. For our first nation people, 'fair' is a word that much of Australia only pays lip-service to as they continue to be discriminated against in all areas of society.

Over the last 20 years or so there has also been a marked increase in fear and intolerance towards asylum seekers and refugees. Ironically, the verse 3 of the national anthem, states 'For those who've come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share', yet these days few Australians want to share the land with migrants of any type.

So if Australians are failing to honour the words of the national anthem in relation to fairness and sharing, why get so upset when someone calls for it to be boycotted? If the words are meaningless to the majority of Australians, then it appears that people are valuing the concept of patriotism and nationalism, and as Mundine points out, the racist origins of the anthem rather than any real appreciation of fairness, equality and welcoming others. How can anyone claim to be a patriot if selectively ignoring key elements of the national anthem?

This comes as no surprise because only recently, one of the right-wing anti-everything parties, Australia First has won the right to use the Eureka Stockade flag as its logo(4). This is from a party that opposes migration, opposes the settling of refugees in Australia, opposes multiculturalism - so is already ignoring those elements of the national anthem. To compound the patriotic selectivity, Australia First is appropriating the Eureka Stockade flag which is a flag for all the oppressed from all nations on earth. Its origin is in the acceptance of refugees and in the fight against oppression from a belligerent and racist government that was robbing and exploiting workers. The flag stood for fairness, acceptance, inclusion and represented the fight against tyranny.

Raffaelo Carboni, one of the architects of the Eureka Stockade rebellion when the flag was first flown, stated in his speech four days before the battle in Ballarat: 

'Irrespective of nationality, religion and colour, I call on you to salute the 'Southern Cross' as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries on earth'(5).

Like the concept of fairness and welcoming of migrants and refugees in Advance Australia Fair, the extreme right wing is ignoring the true meaning of the Eureka Stockade flag in its arrogant arrogation of it.

Nationalism requires symbols of national pride. National anthems and flags are the go-to symbols for self-styled patriots. These symbols often take on a meaning that is far removed from their origins in order to exploit, oppress and discriminate against. The scapegoating and fear of others is used to justify the fascism and tyranny that accompanies nationalism.

This isn't the first time that symbols or ideologies have been misrepresented in order to mislead people and to invoke national sentiment.

The archetypal nationalist, Adolf Hitler, reinvented the flag for Nazi Germany, hijacking the Swastika which was a symbol of good fortune and hope in India for a number of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Odinism(6). The Swastika was misappropriated by Germany's extreme right-wing and used to represent white racial purity and supremacy.

Further to this, Hitler noticed that Marxism was attractive to the masses and so appropriated the title 'Socialist' because of its broad appeal(7), particularly to workers and hopefully to trick the left-wing into embracing his ideology. To further this, he even went so far as to appropriate the colour red that represented Socialism and Communism. Hitler's rambling biopic, Mein Kampf is full of vitriolic attacks on Socialism and Communism which he believed were part of a Jewish conspiracy to control the world's economy. In Hitler's own words:

'The suspicion was whispered in German Nationalist circles that we also were merely another variety of Marxism, perhaps even Marxists suitably disguised, or better still, Socialists. The actual difference between Socialism and Marxism still remains a mystery to these people up to this day ... We used to roar with laughter at these silly faint-hearted bourgeoisie and their efforts to puzzle out our origin, our intentions and our aims. We chose red for our posters after particular and careful deliberation, our intention being to irritate the Left, so as to arouse their attention and tempt them to come to our meetings--if only in order to break them up--so that in this way we got a chance of talking to the people'.(8)

Hitler's idea of Socialism was not the same as Marxism. For Hitler it was a 'social' ideology, one full of nationalist fervour and Aryan supremacy. It had nothing to do with the class struggle and socialising the means of production into the hands of workers that Marxism espoused. In his own words, Hitler described how the Socialist (social) and Nationalist elements of National Socialism were represented in the flag thus:

'We National Socialists regarded our flag as being the embodiment of our party programme. The red expressed the social thought underlying the movement. White the national thought. And the swastika signified the mission allotted to us--the struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind and at the same time the triumph of the ideal of creative work which is in itself and always will be anti-Semitic'.(8)

The rise of nationalism in Australia and globally is not a new thing. Like Nazi Germany, it is founded in a dissatisfaction by the people with the current economic system which has resulted in mass redundancies, out-sourcing, off-shoring, extreme profit-driven behaviour by large corporations at the expense of workers, the creation of the 'working poor' in which many workers need more than one job to make ends meet, the casualisation of the workforce, the privatisation and subsequent increased costs of essential services and price gouging by corporations. Right wing politicians are using migrants, refugees, Muslims and even the poor themselves as scapegoats for the world's economic ills, just like Hitler did with his scapegoating and demonisation of Jews, Unionists, Communists, Socialists, gypsies, homosexuals, the infirm and so on.

The great irony in the current rise of the extreme right-wing is that it is capitalism that has led to their dissatisfaction with the world, that has led to the destruction of the workforce and also to the creation of refugees and poor who are demonised so much by the right-wing. But instead of embracing an ideology, such as socialism, that would promote the welfare of the worker and a more equitable sharing in the profits of their labours, the misguided right continues to worship at the altar of capitalism in some sort of perverse version of the Stockholm Syndrome - the more they are abused and oppressed, the more they glorify their oppressor.

Capitalism is based on competition, greed, selfishness and fear; the very things that motivate the ultra right-wing in the pursuit of extreme Nationalism at the expense of those who don't fit their picture of perfection or who they deem to be a threat to their 'way of life'. A way of life that ironically, was established in Australia through the vast contribution of our first nation's people and more than 200 years of immigration.

Nationalism is a cry for help from those who don't understand who or what is truly to blame for their social ills: namely the insatiable greed of unfettered capitalism and neo-liberal economics.

It's time to end the demonising and maligning of other races and religions. No race or religion is better than another, no nationality is better than another. Patriotism, as a love for one's nation, should never become hate for another. This is when it descends into nationalism, jingoism. And from there the slippery slope to fascism and tyranny.


1., AAP, 'Anthony Mundine wants national anthem boycott at NRL, AFL grand finals', 30 September 2016, Accessed 15 October 2016.

2. The Conversation, Thalia Anthony, 'Deaths in Custody: 25 years after the royal commission, we've gone backwards', 13 April 2016, Accessed 15 October 2016.

3. The Guardian, Elle Hunt and Paul Farrell, 'Anthony Mundine says he will never stand for the national anthem again', 30 September 2016, Accessed 15 October 2016.

4. The Courier, Jessica Black, 'Australia First wins right to Eureka flag', 14 October 2016, Accessed 15 October 2016.

5. Carboni, Raffaelo. 'The Eureka Stockade', chapter XXIX, location 642, Kindle version. Amazon Digital Services, Inc, ASIN B004TP1N5I, 24 March 2011. (Digital version of original book published in 1855).

6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 'History of the Swastika', Holocaust Encyclopedia, Accessed 15 October 2016.

7. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume I: A RETROSPECT, Chapter XII. THE FIRST STAGE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GERMAN NATIONAL SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY, translated by James Murphy. Project Gutenberg,

8. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume II: THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST MOVEMENT, Chapter VII. THE CONFLICT WITH THE RED FORCES', translated by James Murphy. Project Gutenberg,

Advance Australia Fair 

(Only verses 1 and 3, highlighted below in blue text, are usually sung these days). 

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in Nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
'Advance Australia fair!'

When gallant Cook from Albion sail'd,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England's flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
"Brittannia rules the wave!"
In joyful strains then let us sing
'Advance Australia fair!'

Beneath our radiant southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
'Advance Australia fair!'

While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We'll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England, Scotia, Erin's Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
'Advance Australia fair!'

Should foreign foe e'er sight our coast,
Or dare a foot to land,
We'll rouse to arms like sires of yore
To guard our native strand;
Brittannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean's roll,
Her sons in fair Australia's land
Still keep a British soul.
In joyful strains then let us sing
'Advance Australia fair!'

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