Students Need to Join the Movement to Stop the Far-Right

Last weekend the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) hosted the first counter-protest against the growing far-right, anti-vax movement in our city. The protest was a resounding success. Over 1,000 people attended the rally and made it a lively event that drew in people from across Victoria, with contingents coming from as far away as Bendigo, Ballarat and Albury Wodonga. It brought together people who have been concerned by the rising far-right movement, which has seen Trump supporters, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and known neo-Nazis in Melbourne’s streets. Now, people have been given the ability to begin to push them back.

Image: A woman holds a “Melbourne is an anti-fascist town” placard at the rally

This counter-protest can be seen as one of the most important rallies this year. The rise of the far-right has been one of the most disturbing political effects of COVID. The far-right demonstration in Melbourne on the weekend was part of an international ‘Worldwide Freedom Rally’ with rallies occurring across Australia and the world. The rallies in Vienna against the imposition of new lockdown measures to combat a new wave of COVID were headed by the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, while the protests in Rotterdam against the Netherlands’ new restrictions turned violent and one person was shot by the police.

The fact that these protests are not just located in Victoria, where the state pandemic powers bill is being passed, should send a strong indication about what the rallies are really about. The message that is being sent is that any and all public health measures, like lockdowns and mandates, should be rejected if they interfere with ‘individual liberty’, no matter how many lives they save. This has found an audience from small business owners who have had their ability to make profits curbed due to lockdowns, to right-wingers who see any form of government action as ‘big government’ overreach, and those social Darwinists who are resentful that they’re being taxed to provide welfare for people who have lost their jobs.

These ideas have merged with the existing right-wing of Australian politics in an attempt to create a US-style right-wing ‘freedom’ culture that stands against any social democratic policies. People like Craig Kelly’s United Australia Party is backed by Clive Palmer, clearly someone who would benefit from reduced government restrictions in any sphere of the economy as he tries to open a new coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s in this context that providing a left-wing opposition on the streets is so important. Our rally showed to the people of Melbourne that the right-wing marching in our streets are not going unopposed. Countering their anti-human politics in the streets will continue to be vital, as this far-right movement is sustained and confident. It also helps to give a lead about pushing back against the right globally. Our protest was picked up by the media in local outlets like The Age and The Guardian but also in overseas outlets like Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle.

Image: A CARF banner that reads “Pro-Vax, Anti-Fascist” leads the march

In Italy in early October the fascist group Forza Nuova smashed up the main trade union office in Rome. In response, the union movement mobilised over 100,000 people to send the message that there will be no fascism ever again. It’s this type of mobilisation that we need to have in Melbourne if we are to stop the far-right.

We believe that our student union, RUSU, should also be playing a role in mobilising students against the far-right. Students, and student unions, have always played a big role in fighting for progressive action – and RMIT is no different. In 1997, students occupied Building 48 for 19 days in Australia’s longest ever student occupation to protest against the introduction of full-fee places for domestic undergraduate students, and in 2014 student

unions across the country mobilised to defeat Tony Abbott’s deregulation of university fees. We need RUSU today to play the same role in drawing together students to participate in serious activist campaigns to fight against the far-right and everything they represent.

Join the next Stop the Far Right protest on Saturday, 4 December hosted by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism.

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Article written by Ben Milne and Ella Marchionda

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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