ANZAC Day is once more upon us. We are told that it is a time for reflection. And, so it is. The sad truth is that we engage in little actual or meaningful contemplation of the date or of its deeper meaning. There are, of course, exhortations, there are reminders (lest we forget), there are nationalistic refrains, there are figurative and literal calls to arms, but very little by way of real or objective consideration. If we were encouraged to a deeper thoughtfulness then we would not hear school-children repeat, and sincerely mean, the nonsense that the ANZACS went to Gallipoli to preserve or win the freedoms we have today. No, we are not meant to reflect, but rather to accept that the sacrifices of a century past had merit and that we must prepare for future sacrifices.
Once upon a time in a land that now seems far away, Australian political leaders spoke of ‘plans’ by which the people would prosper. Not all that long ago, the leaders talked of an ‘industry policy.’ The people were comforted by these words and all seemed to be well. The best that our good and honest leaders have to offer today is the promise of an increasingly militarised economy. On the eve of last year’s Anzac Day festivities, we learned that $4 billion was to be spent supporting Australian weapons manufacturers in a quest to place Australia in the top 10 global arms exporters. And so, all logic, all reason flies out the window. An industry policy, based on destruction, death and war! Oh, brave new world indeed!
It must gladden the heart of those who would herd people off to war, to know that ‘defence’ spending in Australia is set to rise by more than 80 percent by 2026. It must be a comfort to know that military spending will reach two-per cent GDP by 2021, a percentage rate that is higher many other countries, China and the UK included. The war drums beat, in time to the clink of coins being siphoned into the coffers of the military, and the brass bands tune up for a rousing chorus or two, designed to stir the blood of those whose blood might well be spilled by such ‘industry’ policies.
While this is disturbing, it is made more so when considered against the fact that there are clearly defined contradictions at play. We live in challenging economic times, whether it be Australia or anywhere else in the world. There is a massive and fundamental contradiction between an increasingly integrated global economy and a strong system of nation-states. Recent and rapid capitalist globalisation has resulted in a rise in economic nationalism and in nationalist rhetoric. It is hardly a coincidence that we are experiencing a growth in nationalist symbolism and in populism. It was Bill Clinton who, in a presidential debate, once dared to state the obvious – it’s the economy stupid! Is it any wonder, then that ANZAC sentiment has been nurtured and made to become almost a ‘natural’ condition of life?
This is made even more worryingly clear when a very short trip down memory lane is undertaken. The post-WWII period has sometimes been almost affectionately described as the ‘golden-age’ of capitalism. This Elysian time, so ridiculously short in the history of capitalist relations, lasted only until the 1970s when a crisis in capitalism propelled economies to rapidly globalise. Capital had always been a globalising force, but things began to move almost at warp speed. This placed intense pressure on nation-states that must still administer a political system linked to an economic one that no longer recognises national borders. The ‘golden-age’ had passed, entire industrial bases were moving to cheap-labour regions, and a great confusion stalked the land. A war-driven industry policy, however, will not resolve an economic crisis that constantly threatens the world. It can only make such a crisis even more deadly.
In the wake of growing economic upheavals, political leaders made a conscious decision to encourage a sense of ‘oneness’ and unity. Nationalist symbols were resurrected and along with them a growth in militarism as both sound business practice and as a means of rallying us all to a common cause. It is almost as though a great ‘lever’ is pulled. Pull it this way and we have a society that abhors the idea of khaki-inspired jingoism. Pull it that way and we have children believing that the ANZACS were protecting future generations from the depredations of some threat from across the seas. Many of the same teachers who now promote the ANZAC myth, were derisive of it just a few short years ago.
Yes, ANZAC Day is a time for reflection and a time to pause to remember the countless lives lost in wars that serve particular interests. And, if at some point in the near future our young men and women are exhorted to take up arms, they might be reminded of an anti-war slogan of 1914. ‘Workers follow your masters to the trenches.’
Dr William Briggs is a political economist with special interests in the global political economy and political theory. His book, Classical Marxism in an Age of Capitalist Crisis: the past is prologue, has recently been published.