Indigenous Communities in N. America & Nationalist Politics

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birdtiem
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Sep 29 2019 05:17
Indigenous Communities in N. America & Nationalist Politics

I'm curious about the political views of people who use this site concerning nationalist politics when espoused by people from indigenous communities/backgrounds. I don't have the energy to make a very thorough/articulate post about this issue, but I was just hoping to get some discussion going because I feel like there is a massive blind spot on this.

The tendency I notice is that the N. American 'left' (to use the word in the broad and imprecise sense where it also includes anarchist communists etc), including those small pockets who are opposed to national liberation struggles (and national struggles in general) and who normally have a principled position against 'the nationalism of the oppressed', seem unable or unwilling to extend this political logic to indigenous groups and instead actively pander to all kinds of weird blood and soil cultural nationalism, worshiping 'the ancestors', the politics of  'national sovereignty', claims about 'the real owners of the land' (meanwhile, I thought the aim was a world where the entire concept of 'ownership' of land is a nonsense...). I noticed this a lot with respect to protests around the DAPL and Trans Mountain pipeline projects in particular. 

I don't know, to me, communist politics entails a kind of cosmopolitanism that is antithetical to the impulse to retreat into some sort of romanticized cultural identity that looks to the past. Never mind that these identities are more anachronistic than ever, and in many cases (especially among millennials and gen Z) they appear more like calculated performances/roleplaying than incidental byproducts of peoples' cultural background. 

Would be interested to hear anybody's take on this stuff. 

birdtiem
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Sep 29 2019 09:56

I guess an example of what I'm talking about is the eagerness to frame things like Dakota Access and Trans Mountain pipelines as being about indigenous sovereignty or whatever, when this stuff is happening to people all over the world, especially poor people in rural and semi-rural locations (which is a large part of the reason indigenous populations are disproportionately impacted).

Here is an article that is memorable to me for the absolute ridiculousness of its perspective: https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/gaslink-pipeline-1.4973825

And here is an article about poor white people in Appalachia whose lives have been destroyed by mountaintop removal: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47165522

It seems like the role of communists/anarchists in these instances should be to show how this stuff is a consequence of capitalism and to draw parallels with similar situations elsewhere - I mean, the ideal outcome would be helping to bridge the struggles of e.g. poor white people in Appalachia fighting coal companies, with the struggles of e.g. poor indigenous people in British Columbia fighting a pipeline. But I don't see that at all. In fact, I think people attempting to put forward this perspective would be on the receiving end of a massive barrage of abuse and accusations of racism. Safer to do things like declare your solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en Nation and pressure the government to recognize the authority of hereditary chiefs........

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spacious
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Sep 29 2019 12:04
birdtiem wrote:
communist politics entails a kind of cosmopolitanism that is antithetical to the impulse to retreat into some sort of romanticized cultural identity that looks to the past

Hi birdtiem, I have to disagree with how you assume that identical terms cover identical contents between different social forms, e.g. 'nation', 'property', 'culture'. What you think looks like pandering to "weird blood and soil nationalism" might be a necessary break with the extermination and expropriation that has been going on, or with seeing capitalist modernization as a necessary pre-ordained stage of history that characterized much of 20th century marxism.

The word nation may be an imposition of an English word/concept. The word 'property' is a name for any mode of appropriation or mode of use (of land, waters, etc.). Modern, private, alienable property is very different from the mode of appropriation typical of Indigenous societies. I think the different contents of terms (i.e. actual qualitative social relations that make up social forms) are more important than the fact that a single word is used to refer to them.

Social forms matter, and many modes of life and perspectives that have their origins in older societies are perfectly capable of being part of a future communist society or contributing important lessons to existing struggles, if not in their original form. In any case I think it helps a lot to start from that assumption.
You might want to spend more time to study the history of relations between "modern society" and earlier social forms (from early modern colonial plunder, forced labour to the global ecocidal capitalism we have now), likewise to learn more about the social relations prevalent in different types of societies that pre-existed class societies and capitalism, and how their mutual impact has affected them. Study how the conflict between class societies and indigenous societies has occurred, and how such identical concepts can have different contents.

Apart from the views of many communists and anarchists with Indigenous backgrounds who have no problem reconciling their cultural origins with anti-capitalism, a good starting point may be this text: https://libcom.org/library/karl-marx-iroquois-franklin-rosemont

Another good author (especially on the transformations undergone by Indigenous societies in contact with colonial power etc.) who has an explicit communist orientation is the anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock, in her book Myths of Male Dominance, and in the intro she wrote to Engels's Origins of the family, private property and the state, which is here.

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AnythingForProximity
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Sep 29 2019 21:32
birdtiem wrote:
The tendency I notice is that the N. American 'left' (to use the word in the broad and imprecise sense where it also includes anarchist communists etc), including those small pockets who are opposed to national liberation struggles (and national struggles in general) and who normally have a principled position against 'the nationalism of the oppressed', seem unable or unwilling to extend this political logic to indigenous groups and instead actively pander to all kinds of weird blood and soil cultural nationalism, worshiping 'the ancestors', the politics of  'national sovereignty', claims about 'the real owners of the land' (meanwhile, I thought the aim was a world where the entire concept of 'ownership' of land is a nonsense...). I noticed this a lot with respect to protests around the DAPL and Trans Mountain pipeline projects in particular.

It's depressing to hear that these things actually have some relevance beyond the microcosm of leftist Twitter, but yeah, this is spot on – "Blut und Boden but woke" is very much a thing. The typical attempt at defending this reactionary nonsense from a communist critique has already been exemplified in this thread by spacious: the relationship of indigenous people to land does not take the social form of property, therefore there is no contradiction between the communist project of the abolition of property and the seemingly ethnonationalist slogans. Honestly, this argument mostly suffers from the fact that the people who make it frequently can't stop themselves from getting all possessive about "our land" in the very same sentence in which they reject the European concept of exclusive possession of land, which is funny but not that surprising. Since the social relationship that is extant and dominant in contemporary US and Canadian societies is private property, and not the indigenous traditions that they are referring to, it is not unexpected that their ideology should be informed by the former rather than latter – whether they realize it or not.

The most charitable interpretation is that despite their self-identification as "communists", many on the US left simply have no understanding of what communism means or entails. The goal of the communist movement is not to redress or undo the whole long and bloody history of expropriation; it is to build upon its results. That's the whole point of the Marxist claim that despite its violence and cruelty, the capitalist mode of production has been historically progressive: by forcibly expropriating small peasant proprietors and village communes, it concentrated and effectively socialized the previously scattered means of production, and in so doing laid the material foundation for a communist society of universal plenty. It is perfectly correct to say that modern, post-capitalist communism will represent a return to primitive communism at a higher level, as long as that last part is not omitted: at a higher level. Communism is not a utopian project to restore the allegedly idyllic past of a motley patchwork of village, tribal, and national communities; it aims to bring about a single, world-enveloping universal human community. If people want to claim that such universalism is an evil settler-colonial imposition of those two infamous Eurocentrists, Marx and Bakunin, they are of course welcome to do that, but they don't get to call themselves communists or anarchists. They might also be surprised to find out how many of their concepts that are supposedly totally incomprehensible to the European mind were already anticipated by 19th century German romantic nationalists.

spacious wrote:
What you think looks like pandering to "weird blood and soil nationalism" might be a necessary break with the extermination and expropriation that has been going on

Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism could be defended on exactly the same grounds.

spacious wrote:
or with seeing capitalist modernization as a necessary pre-ordained stage of history that characterized much of 20th century marxism

In North America, capitalist modernization is a fait accompli, so whether or not it should be seen as historically necessary is a purely academic debate with no real-life consequences – as opposed to, say, Russia in the 1880s, when Marx and Zasulich were discussing the prospect of the mir becoming the basis of communist society.

Black Badger
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Sep 29 2019 21:53

this site has quite valuable contributions that are clearly against european ideas of nationalism and nationhood
http://www.indigenousaction.org/links/

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Lucky Black Cat
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Sep 30 2019 04:19
birdtiem wrote:

It seems like the role of communists/anarchists in these instances should be to show how this stuff is a consequence of capitalism and to draw parallels with similar situations elsewhere - I mean, the ideal outcome would be helping to bridge the struggles of e.g. poor white people in Appalachia fighting coal companies, with the struggles of e.g. poor indigenous people in British Columbia fighting a pipeline. But I don't see that at all. In fact, I think people attempting to put forward this perspective would be on the receiving end of a massive barrage of abuse and accusations of racism. Safer to do things like declare your solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en Nation and pressure the government to recognize the authority of hereditary chiefs........

Trying to bridge connections of solidarity and pointing out the common root of the problem in capitalism all sounds right on to me. I really doubt anyone would consider this racist, why would they?

If you declared yourself opposed to indigenous nationhood, then yeah, you'd get called out for that. But that's an entirely different thing from saying, "Hey, you have a common cause with white Appalachian communities and a common enemy in capitalism."

Mike Harman
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Sep 30 2019 09:48
AnythingForProximity wrote:
That's the whole point of the Marxist claim that despite its violence and cruelty, the capitalist mode of production has been historically progressive: by forcibly expropriating small peasant proprietors and village communes, it concentrated and effectively socialized the previously scattered means of production, and in so doing laid the material foundation for a communist society of universal plenty.

As you point out yourself later in the comment, this might be a 'Marxist' claim but it was not Marx's if you actually take into account his entire work. Marx believed by the 1880s that capitalism had developed the productive forces enough and that Russia could avoid a massive expropriation of its peasantry, with the Mir providing the basis of a communist society in tandem with revolution in Western Europe. So at that point he did not see the development of capitalism in Russia as 'historically progressive' but in fact a diversion and danger for the communist movement, which was turning into an ideology of capitalist developmentalism rather than communism. This is still a problem today with Bastani/FALC et al

At that same time Marx was researching soil erosion and depletion, which is currently a massive threat to 'a communist society of universal plenty' as industrial, fossil fuel agriculture is destroying soil fertility and releasing carbon into the atmosphere all over the place.

There's an article here on the far right explicitly appropriating indigenous imagery and language https://www.hcn.org/issues/51.16/tribal-affairs-far-right-extremists-app... - however it's better to interrogate exactly how language is being used and why, instead of just immediately equating it to white nationalism. If those of us in the UK are concerned about the left giving succor to nationalist rhetoric there are plenty more examples like Paul Embery and Eddie Dempsey who are considerably closer to home. A proper understanding of indigenous politics (in the US and elsewhere) would be a better starting point than finding the worst possible examples on twitter and working from there. For example Russell Maroon Shoatz has done good work excavating the history of the Florida Seminoles (edit, here: https://libcom.org/history/real-resistance-slavery-north-america). An interesting, but not unique, thing about the Seminoles was they included both escaped slaves and native americans, which is a long way from 'blood and soil nationalism'.

Spikymike
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Sep 30 2019 10:56

That some struggles labelled 'indigenous' express themselves in the capitalist language of 'property' and 'nations' etc is maybe an inevitable reflection of the fact that to the extent that any real elements of community remain among those involved these are far removed from the historical origins of such communities that have been degraded and been transformed by a century of destruction and/or incorporation through the evolution of modern global capitalism. Some struggles are clearly defensive of important material interests that communists would support even if critical of the language employed and particular forms of struggle. Of course 'indigenous communities' vary enormously across the globe, a few closer to their historical origins than others, and there can be no one approach that fits all.

birdtiem
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Sep 30 2019 12:25

It feels like a stupid thing to say, but I am fucking tired. Often beyond the point of being able to talk about things that feel like they matter to me.

It would be neat to hear perspectives from long-time users of this site like Joseph K and Serge Forward on this, but idk even whether these ppl still post here

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Juan Conatz
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Sep 30 2019 13:01

I don't know a lot about North American indigenous politics but I'd be really wary of comparing elements of their politics to European nationalism just because some English language words are the same or sound similar.

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Lucky Black Cat
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Oct 1 2019 01:44
birdtiem wrote:
It feels like a stupid thing to say, but I am fucking tired. Often beyond the point of being able to talk about things that feel like they matter to me.

It would be neat to hear perspectives from long-time users of this site like Joseph K and Serge Forward on this, but idk even whether these ppl still post here

I'm sorry you feel that way. I do think people have been raising some good points, though. For me, I know my post only addressed half your concerns, and didn't address the "nationalism" question, but I'm not educated enough about contemporary indigenous societies and politics, and have very little experience in indigenous solidarity movements, and very little exposure to the kinds of discussions you seem to be familiar with, so I feel unable to give a worthwhile comment.

(Edit: I also admit I didn't/haven't read the articles you linked to.... Maybe I shouldn't have commented without reading them, but I thought it was ok, because I just wanted to point out that if your goal is to build connections of solidarity between diverse communities impacted by the fossil fuel industry, you can do this without any resistance from within the left.)

If there are particular people you'd like to hear from, you can always send them a direct message using the "messages" tab. Or just click on the person's profile and you can send a message from there.

This lacks many of the benefits of a wider forum discussion, but you could also send them a message linking to this thread and asking if they'd be willing to post their comments.

sherbu-kteer
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Oct 1 2019 03:33

It's a bit of a tough question, in general I think it's best to take it on a case-by-case basis, and similar to what Juan says, not treat it the same as we do other forms of nationalism just because of some superficial similarities.

One of the wider problems for me is that the socialist, internationalist position is often a bit unclear when it comes to issues of culture, as opposed to issues of economics or of governance and social structures. For instance, is anti-nationalism opposition to the existence of nations altogether, or merely the particular political doctrines built out of them? If it's the former, how would issues of different languages, cultural heritage, etc be approached in a nationless world? If it's the latter, then how do we approach the issue of culture, language, etc without falling back on the political nationalist forms? So for instance, in a nationless world, would schools in Arnhem Land teach primarily in the local indigenous languages, or would it be all in English?

As spikymike says, "some struggles are clearly defensive of important material interests that communists would support even if critical of the language employed and particular forms of struggle", but there are also struggles that are not so clearly about "material interests" that are worthy of supporting. For instance, an important issue in Australia right now is the issue of the Djap Warrung sacred trees, where a roadbuilding project threatens the existence of some trees that are culturally and spiritually significant to the local indigenous people. I think the protests to stop their destruction should be encouraged, but it's difficult to give a specifically communist reason to justify that. Of course, you don't need a specifically communist reason to justify it; I'm trying to point out that with more 'cultural' issues, falling back on the usual Marxist approaches doesn't get you very far.

I feel similarly about the issue of land. I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging that the land you're on is the ancestral land of x group, and that they were removed from it in a genocidal manner, and taking action to promote wider acknowledgement of this (beyond merely token things). Of course, this could go into negative things like the 'pay the rent' campaign that pops up in Australia sometimes. But it's not inevitable, and I think a libertarian approach to indigenous issues in general can be worked out.

birdtiem
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Oct 1 2019 07:38

Oh, there's a drunk comment in this topic by me and I have no recollection of making it. Happy little accidents.

I think already, many of the responses have perfectly illustrated the problem I was discussing in my original post. I remember during the DAPL protests, people younger than me doing war whoops, dressed to the hilt in headdresses and traditional ceremonial attire. Which, OK, whatever. But then a dark-skinned native guy in jeans, a hoodie, and a beanie walked by and a white acquaintance who was w/ me leaned in and made some comment along the lines of "check out this Native trying to look like the white man", and I instantly died a little inside. This is the mentality though. People think Native Americans are absurd stereotypes, insulated from capitalism, whose cultures and traditions and forms of social organization have remained intact and substantively the same since precolonial times. There is no continuity between precolonial indigenous social formations and Native Americans in the USA in the 21st century.

Here, have a collection of excerpts from some articles

Quote:
"Today, 78% of Native Americans live off-reservation, and 72% live in urban or suburban environments"

Quote:
"An essential but misunderstood fact is that tribes are governments—sovereign governmental bodies that have jurisdiction over their lands. As governments, tribes create their own tax structures, pass laws, provide public safety, regulate business and industry, and perform other functions identical to those typically provided by a combination of the state, county, city, and town. Federal laws do apply to tribal land, so those who do business on reservations must comply with both tribal and federal law.".

Quote:
"Diane Kelly is the executive director for career services for the Cherokee Nation. When she started in this office 40 years ago, one of her main jobs was to protect tribal members against workplace discrimination.

"A lot of the people back then were working as temps, they weren't actually working on a full-time basis. They were working during seasonal-type work, and the ones that were maintained and kept were normally not the Indian people," she said.

Kelly says her work is now changing. Today, the tribe employs more than 11,000 people, not including contract work with Native-owned businesses. With federal support, Kelly helped established one of the largest tribal employment offices in the country.

"Anybody that wants a job today can get a job," Kelly said. "I'm serious. There are jobs everywhere."

Chief Bill John Baker made job growth a priority in part because of the legacy of centuries of oppression against Native peoples. He says were it not for the Cherokee Nation's economic success, many tribal members would have little to no employment opportunities.

"Anytime we put out a hiring call, we try to hire family first," he said.

The Cherokee Nation is hiring everyone from janitors to doctors, and the tribe is trying to remove employment barriers through scholarships and education and job training programs, Baker said.

"As long as we've got Cherokee citizens that are needing jobs, we're going to try and put those paychecks in the hands of tribal citizens," he said.

By circumventing a legacy of institutional discrimination, some tribes like the Cherokee Nation are not only providing jobs for their members, but they're also becoming major economic forces in their regions. The Cherokees report they now have an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion in Oklahoma."

ajjohnstone
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Oct 1 2019 08:20

Presently the situation in Bolivia with the indigenous leader Evo Morales and conflict with other indigenous peoples interests and being accused of being complicit in the corporate exploitation of the rainforests may be related topic to this thread. He is offering much the same defence as Bolsonaro that foreign NGOs are retarding Bolivia's economic development.

My brief article doesn't do justice to what is a complicated political situation

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2018/no-137...

An update here on SOYMB blog
https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2019/08/evo-murderer-evo-m...

sherbu-kteer
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Oct 1 2019 10:13
birdtiem wrote:
I think already, many of the responses have perfectly illustrated the problem I was discussing in my original post. I remember during the DAPL protests, people younger than me doing war whoops, dressed to the hilt in headdresses and traditional ceremonial attire. Which, OK, whatever. But then a dark-skinned native guy in jeans, a hoodie, and a beanie walked by and a white acquaintance who was w/ me leaned in and made some comment along the lines of "check out this Native trying to look like the white man", and I instantly died a little inside.

But who in the thread is saying anything like this? Or this:

birdtiem wrote:
This is the mentality though. People think Native Americans are absurd stereotypes, insulated from capitalism, whose cultures and traditions and forms of social organization have remained intact and substantively the same since precolonial times. There is no continuity between precolonial indigenous social formations and Native Americans in the USA in the 21st century.

I agree, there are people out there who think the 'true' indigenous person is a hunter-gatherer in body-paint, but I'm not sure your single encounter with an ass can be generalised beyond that. I would also just generally dispute your claim that there is no continuity between indigenous groups pre and post colonisation. You can point to genealogy, language continuity, spiritual beliefs... no, the societies aren't identical but I don't think anyone is claiming that.

Fleur
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Oct 1 2019 23:54

Good starting points.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - An Indigenous People's History of the United States.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - All the Real Indians Died Off, and 20 other myths about Native Americans.

Very accessible writing. Also explains why nation and land have different meanings than in western colonial parlance.