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CULTURE AS A WAY TO KNOW THE WORLD

[This essay excerpt was written by Jimmie Durham of the Cherokee nation.  Durham was a member of the American Indian Movement and founder of the International Indian Treaty Council that lobbied the United Nations in favour of decolonization of indigenous peoples worldwide. He is also a sculptor and poet.  The entire essay can be read here.]

CULTURE AS A WAY TO KNOW THE WORLD (Jimmie Durham, 1974)

“. . . The white left in particular has a tendency to take the words and concepts of revolutionary leaders from around the world instead of participating in the hammering-out of a true understanding of what is going on here, and how to use it.

That is especially true when we consider questions of culture in the U.S, either white culture or some other.

For example, a group of white leftists decides to hold a conference. They know, in an abstract way, that they have been robbed of their culture and that culture is important in revolution. Therefore they set aside one or two evenings during the conference as “cultural evenings.” Songs are sung and poems are read, but these “cultural activities” are not integrated into the conference itself, instead they are isolated as special events. More important, and more to the point, no one really sees and analyzes the ways in which the conference itself is a cultural event. . . . The reason people do not see the conference itself and its interactions as a cultural event in itself is because they have been robbed of their culture.

At the first level, the culture of the society is “Western.” That is, most structures of social action are like those of any other Western country, and are clearly unlike those of American Indians, Lapps, Masai, or even societies that have become “Westernized” in many aspects, such as the black population in the U.S.

But at the second level, the people at that conference are culturally part of a society that has taken the Western tool of “specialization” and changed it to what Paulo Freire has called “specialism” in his study of mass society. (The concept of mass society is not associated with the emergence of the masses in a historical process.) Freire describes this phenomenon in Cultural Action for Freedom:

“Mass society appears in highly technological, complex societies. In order to function, these societies require specialities, which become ‘specialisms,’ and rationality, which degenerates into myth-making irrationalism.”

“Distinct from specialities, specialists narrow the area of knowledge in such a way that the so-called ‘specialists’ become generally incapable of thinking. Because they have lost the vision of the whole of which their ‘speciality’ is only one dimension, they cannot even think correctly in the area of their specialization.

“In mass society, ways of thinking become as standardized as ways of dressing and tastes in food. People begin thinking and acting according to the prescriptions they receive daily from the communications media rather than in response to their dialectical relationships with the world. In mass societies, where everything is prefabricated and behavior is almost automatized, people are lost because they do not have to ‘risk themselves.’” . . .

Our societies, our culture, defines us, in large part, and our way of experiencing the world is through our culture. Politics, economics, science and technology, language, etc., are all cultural phenomena, and finally, of course, political phenomena. Many progressive people in this country, both whites and blacks, are not critically conscious of that process, and are a part of that mass society in one degree or another.

So, when white people look critically at the Indian Movement (as they should), it should be with a critical consciousness that they are looking through their own culture, which is a particularly alienating one and therefore difficult to see through.

As if the problems mentioned above were not enough of a barrier to communication and analysis, there are still two more blocks. The first is racism, which cannot really be separated from the cultural problems I’ve been talking about. Racism is used so effectively and insidiously as a tool of oppression that some people think that it is some absolute of human nature, or at least some absolute of white human nature. Most white progressives will freely admit that they carry some racist attitudes (whereas most Indians, also infected with racism, will not), but will not take the trouble to commit themselves to identifying and eliminating those attitudes, partly because that can be done only by the kind of praxis that U.S. culture makes so difficult. Those attitudes are especially obnoxious and destructive in white people who have the aggressiveness or self-confidence to be in leadership positions of one form or another.

Racism often takes the subtle forms of assuming Indian people to be just like white people, or totally different from white people, or other unspoken generalities, which further blind the people to the realities of Indian culture. It is also the primary cause of the most hateful piece of miscommunication now going on between Indians and white progressives: “political missionary-ism”. Particularly, by young white Marxists who have never been in real situations of struggle in a working-class movement, who in fact have seldom worked with anyone except fellow-students, and who come to us as though we were ignorant “lumpen proletariat” in need of being “taught”, not only Marxism, but the realities of our own struggle. . . .

The second block is the colonial tool that I call “romanticism.” The U.S. has used romanticism more effectively to keep Indians oppressed than it has ever been used on any other people. The basis of that romanticism is of course the concept of the “Noble Savage,” but the refinements over the years have worked their way into how every non-Indian thinks about us, and how we think about ourselves. In the U.S. there is a special vocabulary of English deliberately developed to maintain oppression of Indians. This vocabulary has connotations of “primitiveness,” backwardness, savagery, etc., and affects the ways every Indian and non-Indian in the U.S. thinks about Indians, whether or not people are conscious of them. This vocabulary has become so ingrained that the use of just one of the words conjures up the thought of Indians, and we have come to assume that these are “Indian” words, or at least direct translations from an Indian language into English.

Who decided that the word “chief,” which has the connotation of meaning the head of a land or tribe, is the correct translation of theconcept of the Creek Indian word “Enhomvta”? Did white people decide that was the correct word by studying the Creek political system? No. They decided because they wanted to show the Creek nation as a “primitive” body of people and “chief” carried this connotation. At first, colonists called Indian leaders “kings,” as in the example of King Phillip of the Wampanoag “tribe.”

Compare the two following sentences describing the same event and the reasons for a colonial vocabulary may be clearer:

1. Today Archbishop Tatanka Iotanka, Minister of Interior Affairs of the present government of the nation of Lakota and the most respected religious leader of the Lakota people, was assassinated by paid agents of the United States government.

2. Today Chief Sitting Bull, a medicine man of the Sioux Indian tribe, was killed by another Indian.

Of course, I am not suggesting that the word “archbishop” would describe Sitting Bull’s position correctly or adequately, but I am saying that it describes the Lakota concept for his position just as well as the English phrase “medicine man” in the English of non-Indian people.

The romantic colonial vocabulary serves to dehumanize us, and make our affairs and political systems seem not quite as serious or advanced as those of other people. The English vocabulary used to describe us is designed to prove that we are inferior.

Here is a list of English words used in the romantic vocabulary with parallel English words in normal vocabulary. . . .

Tribe—Nation

Band—State or province

Medicine Man—Doctor, minister, psychiatrist, etc.

Chief—President, prime minister, secretary general

War chief—General

Warrior, brave—Soldier

Squaw—Woman

Band of warriors—Army, regiment

Great council—Cabinet, parliament, central committee

Pow wow—Festival

Great Spirit—God, Allah, etc.

Some words refer to concepts specific to the way Indians are spoken about: “full-bloods,” “1/4, 1/16, 1/64 Indian,“ “mixed breed,” etc. This is a kind of racism that is not used against any other people. And even when white society as a whole has used words like “mulatto,” white progressives have not. But today they do speak of “full-blood” Indians and so on. It is no excuse to say that many Indian people themselves use those terms—many blacks in the South also used words like “mulatto,” “yallah,” etc., at one time and some still do now. . . .

As we in our struggle break out of isolation, we also break that language barrier, usually before the non-Indians know what has happened. Today we have learned what “tribes” really means so we refuse that definition. Non-Indians, including progressive whites, still use it. Tomorrow we will no longer speak of “full-bloods”; whites may still use that racist terminology. Those who are truly committed to liberation, however, will use the advantage of their outside position to begin an understanding of what we mean by certain words and phrases, such as “traditional,” and so work in solidarity with us in the process of coming back into the world. Those whose unconscious racism makes them decide that our specialized language makes us simple-minded or romantic, or Noble Primitives will continue to enhance their own self-image by “helping” us stupid Indians.

It is not an easy situation, nor is it completely one-sided. To add to the confusion there are many young Indians today who have been brought up in cities, sometimes in white foster homes, who have been denied their own culture and the education of their people. Romantic white society gives them their concepts of what “Indianness” is. Because these young people are so alienated, they are in many ways more oppressed than the rest of us, and so their zeal and desperation makes them our “revolutionary vanguard” in many ways. They are the people most articulate and willing to talk to non-Indians. They are also more visible than the “traditionals” on the reservations.

Because they are often in leadership positions and because what they say about our culture and politics fits the romantic stereotype, non-Indians sometimes take everything they say whole-cloth, and then either write off Indians as mystics or embrace Indians as fellow-mystics according to where they, the non-Indians, are politically.

All I have written so far should serve as a backdrop and framework for the main purpose of this paper.

The Founding Fathers of the United States equated capitalism with civilization. They had to, given their mentality; to them civilization meant their society, which was a capitalist society. Therefore, from the earliest times the wars against Indians were not only to take over land but also to squash the threatening example of Indian communism. Jefferson was not the only man of his time to advocate imposing a capitalist and possessive society on Indians as a way to civilize them. The “bad example” was a real threat; the reason the Eastern Indian nations from Florida to New York State and from the Atlantic to Ohio and Louisiana are today so racially mixed is because indentured servants, landless poor whites and escaped black slaves chose our societies over the white societies that oppressed them.

Beginning in the 1890s we have been “red-baited” and branded as “commies” in Congress (see the Congressional record) and in the executive boards of churches. That was a very strong weapon in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the Oklahoma area any Indian “traditional” who was also an organizer was called a communist or even a “Wobbly.”

So we have always defined our struggle not only as a struggle for land but also as a struggle to retain our cultural values. Those values are “communistic” values. Our societies were and are “communistic” societies. The U.S. government has always understood that very well. It has not branded us all these years as communists because we tried to form labor unions or because we hung out with the IWW or the Communist Party but because the U.S. government correctly identified our political system. It did not make that a public issue because that would have been dangerous, and because it has been far more efficient to say that we are savages and primitives.

Marx used our societies as examples of what he meant by communism on two different occasions in his writings. He said that we are “Primitive Communists.” The word “primitive” means “first,” but people who have skimmed through Marx often decide, because of theconnotations of the word “primitive” which come from political manipulation, that Marx meant that we were backward or “childlike” communists. Marx was, nonetheless, very Eurocentric, and he assumed that European history was the main body of humanity’s history.

We do not need Marx’s words to teach us how to live our lives in our own society. We do not need to go through an industrial revolution so that we can come out as communists on the other side.

We do need Marxism-Leninism as a method and system for knowing the human world as it is today and for knowing how most effectively to fight our oppressor. We do need to join forces with world Marxism-Leninism, because that is the liberation movement for the world. But we will not come into that world community as a “primitive” younger brother.

Our struggle has always been not only to maintain our own lands and culture, but to fight the political system of capitalism itself. That is evident in all the speeches and addresses given by our leaders throughout U.S./Indian history. The struggle to maintain culture is in itself a revolutionary struggle. It is a dynamic and positive struggle, not a passive holding action. We speak of our traditions, and because the romanticism of non-Indians always speaks of us in the past tense (What did the Cherokees eat?, instead of What do the Cherokees eat?), it is assumed that we are speaking of things that we used to do, such as “roaming the Plains” or making arrowheads. The traditions that we mean are not the exterior manifestations that are easily identified as “Indian,” not the “artifacts” and objects of our culture, but what we call our “vision”—the value system that makes our culture. In short, we mean our political system (but remember we have been taught a special vocabulary), not our well-made arrowheads. . . .

Taking new ideas that are useful is a very Cherokee activity. It is a very Lakota activity, or Mohawk activity. We took glass beads, horses, wool blankets, wheat flour for fry-bread, etc., very early, and immediately made them identifiably “Indian” things. We are able to do that because of our cultural integrity and because our societies are dynamic and able to take in new ideas. . . .

Another of our valued traditions is to take weapons from the enemy. Thus, in the 1920’s some “benign” branch of the B.I.A. decided that if properly controlled it would be a good thing if Indians sitting on barren reservations in Oklahoma were appeased and distracted by letting them hold a dance or two in the summer months. They reasoned that this would also give white people a chance to see “real Indians” doing “real Indian stuff.” The B.I.A. decided that it would be easier and less dangerous if these affairs were inter-tribal. In those days the different Indian nations which had been forced into Oklahoma did not have much contact with each other, and were relative strangers to each other. Therefore the B.I.A. decided that small groups from each tribe would find it harder to communicate or plan an “uprising” than one nation of people, or two neighboring nations. The B.I.A. named these events “pow wows,” after the word “P’houwah” which means “elder” or “medicine man” (the white trappers a century earlier made the mistaken translation).

To be able to sing together and dance together the Indians invented new dances and songs that did not require words in any one national language. The A.I.M. “song” is a pow wow song, but it should not be thought of as a contrivance because of that. It is a very real, valid and heartening cultural experience for us. The words are the “chant” part—the chorus—common to most Indian singing.

We were not degraded and made to feel like tourist attractions by these pow wows. We used them to create unity among us. We used the English our oppressor taught us as the most available common language. In that language we exchanged information and ideas. Now the pow wows are “our thing.” We hold them all over the country all summer long, and Indians from Maine meet with Indians from New Mexico to hear a political speech from an Indian from South Dakota. This century, pow wows have been our main tool towards forming ourselves into one confederation of people and reorganizing our struggle. What was meant to alienate us we used, in ourtraditional way, to strengthen our will.

Some people get the idea that “traditional” Indians want to go back to the “good old days.” Especially, they imagine that because of our grave concern over the environment we are escapists who want to reject technology and progress. That is another part of the romantic stereotype. We have, and have always had, technology. We accept all technology that contributes to the well-being of our people, whichmust include the well-bring of the Earth itself and all the life upon it; that acceptance is neither a new thing nor an “accommodation”: it is one of our traditions. . . .

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Something that few people realize is that our culture and our vision have not remained static during our five hundred years of oppression. Indian nations which were once large (the pre-Columbian population of what is now the U.S., not counting Alaska, was 20 to 35 million) are now comparatively small and are “inside” the illegal boundaries of a giant European settler regime. These nations have had to come together, and such factors make for important cultural changes. Before Columbus we were not “warring tribes” as the history books have it, but neither did we always have a clear and motivating concept of an international “brotherhood” of humanity. Many of us had a national chauvinism which was sometimes very destructive. Also, given that we are speaking of a large continent with many countries, naturally every one of those countries did not have a good political system. No one, of course, was or is perfect. Some nations in the Southeast had very ugly class systems; in other areas some nations had pretty strange “consumer societies.” However, those aberrations were distortions of real values in a political (cultural) vision (concept) underlying all Indian societies, just as the Aztec sacrifices were horrible distortions of a common Indian concept of “society cannot develop without sacrifice.”

Colonization and our struggle for liberation accelerated a process of unification and clarification that had already begun (witness the Iroquois Confederacy and its vision). That political process of welding together, and refining and improving a unified concept of society on the Earth, is a cultural process. It is a process that is going on right now.

But it is a process, of course, that is going on internally and is seldom seen or understood from the outside. Because it is a process in a struggle for liberation, inside the most oppressive colonization the world has ever seen, it is not a smooth, clear road towards an ideal. Remember that oppression is more than skin deep; it is not exterior to a person’s inner life. It gives us confusion, self-loathing, and a natural urge to escape, which in some people takes the form of a “mental” escape—into mysticism, alcoholism, suicide, reactionism. It does that to each of us to some degree at some time or another. Some of us, in our confusion, try to escape the oppression in ways that do not help our struggle but which are not often seen as escapism either by ourselves or by non-Indians.

Some of us, particularly Indians who have been cut off from their own roots (the “urban” Indians mentioned earlier), use guilt-trip tactics on non-Indian supporters. They can easily find valid reasons for verbally blasting white co-workers because those white people have racist attitudes which make such blasts easy and seemingly excusable. But the people who escape by doing that are taking an easy and “self-satisfying” role instead of really struggling with racism, and they also get locked into attitudes that can serve to maintain our isolation; and non-Indians who simply react to those attitudes, by acceptance or belligerence, hinder our struggle.

It is a universal truth that human beings do not exist outside of their culture, their society. A biologically human animal is not fully human without, for example, language which is a cultural/political phenomenon. To speak of an alienated society is to speak of people robbed of their culture, always so that some political system can exploit them. That is what makes culture so important to liberation, and that is why it can never be considered a separate piece of human activity . . . .

Those white people who would “teach” us Marxism should realize that we have come to understand these things because we struggle to break out of isolation. The fact that white people meet us and are in solidarity with our struggle is not because they came to us, but because our struggle to regain our place in the world is effective and successful. The more we struggle the more we learn of the things in the world that we need to know, because we have broken our isolation.

We have made and will continue to make mistakes, as individuals and as a people. We are using those mistakes to further our struggle and to learn more.

Progressive non-Indians in the United States cannot be either teachers or spectators in that process, but must stand with us in true solidarity, which means a commitment to clarity, Marxist criticism and analysis of actual situations. We are, by every criterion, colonizednations of people, whose culture is not Western. Blacks, Mexicans, Chicanos, and whites all have more in common with each other than any have with us.

Our culture and our political systems have many faults, and had many faults in pre-colonial times. We have never claimed to be perfect or to have the “secret of life”. We demand, though, an end to romanticism, paternalism, and racism. We must include in that a demand for an end to liberalism directed against us. We demand to be taken seriously as the people we are, by the world and especially by other peoples on this continent. We must demand criticism of ourselves.

AMERICAN INDIAN SPIRITUALISM

Our “spiritualism” is a controversial issue right now. Marx said that religion is the opium of the people. We agree that for many, religion is a drug that exploits people for the State. That is why we have fought Christianity so vehemently. But we say that our own “religion” is a force of liberation. . . .

The basis, then, of what is called our “spiritualism” is the concept of Mother Earth. That is no more nor less than a formalized realization that we are human beings, whose sustenance and creation comes from the earth. This is not counter to Marxism. From this basis, built into our culture is a critical consciousness that our methods of production coincide ecologically with what is being produced. For this reason, in our farming methods we developed an agricultural technology which has not yet been approached by Western civilization. (The same holds true of our hunting methods in most cases.) So we maintain a critical consciousness and form our political systems by making sure that that relationship and the critical consciousness of it continue. We do this through our “mythology,” our festivals and celebrations, even by our social family structure. We formalize it and ritualize it in a non-static way. The ramifications of this process are what is translated into English as our “religion” or “spiritualism.” . . .

In the system described above there is an overriding value that is also a main ingredient in our “spiritualism.” We apply the same critical consciousness that I have been speaking about to a concept of what I will call the “quality” of things: the quality of actions, changes, systems, so on. We don’t accept ideas of “development” or “economic growth” unless we can clearly see both the long-range and short-range benefits they will provide to human beings. Benefit to some abstract notion of “society” or even “the masses” is not within our framework of understanding. We might also call this value the “spirit of things.” . . .

In our “spiritual” system we have come to know that human beings, to be fully human, must be integrated into society. We’ve also found out that society is nothing without personalized human beings. Our culture denies the concept of “masses” because it carries a connotation of depersonalization. Our culture also denies the concept of an “individualistic” society. “Individual” carries a connotation of objectification of persons. A person is a person, not an “individual”. One ant in an ant hill is an “individual”. Human beings are persons, and that is not the same as “individuals”.

This is an extremely important point. A person in U.S. society who thinks of himself as, or wishes himself to be, an individual will always be trying to prove/achieve his individualness. He will try desperately to be “different” from others in his society (while making sure that his “difference” is socially acceptable to his peer-group). What he is doing is volunteering to participate in his own alienation, his own victimization. It seems to us that the concept of “masses” is just the other side of that same coin.

It is our “spiritualism” that allows us to know that we exist only as human persons, and that our only way to be human persons is through our society. “Our way of being human is to be Indian, and that is our only way.” But we have no culture, no society, if it is not a society of persons. Our communism depends upon persons and our personhood depends upon our communism. We will not compromise on this concept; and there is no friction between this concept and Marxism.

MAKING THOUGHTS MATCH ACTIONS

Image result for american indian movementThere are about a dozen American Indians in the U.S. today who say they are Marxist-Leninists. There are quite a few more who are in Marxist study groups. But the very large majority are, to differing degrees, verbally, “anti-communist” whilst their actions are communistic. But we need to be able to use the tools of Marxism-Leninism if we are to see effectively and fight our enemy. I do not believe that we have time to “let nature take its course,” or to have that kind of liberal “faith in the people” which means escaping one’s own responsibility for leadership and action.

Disorganization, lack of perspective and clarity, and everyone “doing their own thing” are American phenomena which are destructive to our struggle. Lack of strategic unity plays right into the hands of the enemy. A Marxist-Leninist analysis of the detailed realities of our situation, I believe, is the only way to combat such phenomena. The greatest weakness of the American Indian struggle is our inability to analyze properly the enemy’s make-up, weapons and tactics, and to figure out how to use them against him. That weakness, of course, is a direct result of, and is part of, our oppression, just as alcoholism is part of our oppression. So it cannot be singled out and dealt with through “special programs.”

Progressive people, Indian and non-Indian, who take our struggle as theirs must have a commitment to see the particulars and take responsibility to engage themselves and others in a battle that will further changes. I have spoken repeatedly in this paper about “real situations,” “details,“ and ”particular situations,” because I am addressing what I have perceived as a serious weakness in the white American left.

A real situation: American Indians as a whole are suspicious of the English language, especially when white people speak it. Rightly so, because we have been deceived by that language. We are also suspicious of non-Indians or even Indians educated and articulate in the white society, who come to us with new plans and new answers. All of the new plans and answers over the past 200 years have been disastrous to us. . . .

These suspicions are well-founded, but they are a sizeable object to be overcome. I repeat, it is not for our few Marxists to overcome them; it is for all of us together to join the struggle that is already effecting changes—the struggle of the Indian people as a whole. And yet, neither am I willing to say that we “play it cool” and so let the government continue its indoctrination unchallenged. I am not going to suggest facile “solutions” to this problem because it does not make sense for one person to come up with solutions. We should commit ourselves to work, Indians and other Third World people in the U.S., and everyone whose goal is liberation, not as one nebulous mass nor as divided groups which cannot communicate with each other. Now is the time when we must begin the process of coming together as the peoples we are. No one group of us can be the student or the teacher of revolution, only the struggle—in unity, clarity, and commitment—can teach.”

Jimmie Durham, “American Indian Culture: Traditionalism and Spiritualism in a Revolutionary Struggle,” in A Certain Lack of Coherence: Writings on Art and Cultural Politics, ed. Jean Fisher (London: Kala Press, 1993).

DISCUSSION

With the Indigenous population on the rise in Canada, it becomes ever clearer that a key question for the Canadian “left” as it exists today is how to relate to the indigenous struggle and its associated process of “nativisation” and cultural revival. The pressing question is how does the left decolonize itself and its practice? In some ways, the anarchist left leads the charge here ahead of the Marxists, yet traditional anarchist organization and theory is not sufficient for addressing subjects such as the nation question for native peoples, descending into a kind of liberal performative “privilege” politics without being able to articulate how indigenous people will take ownership over their stolen lands and culture in a material way. Durham here proposes something akin to indigenizing political practice, no doubt a contentious and sensitive process.

A related problem is the question of the non-native, working-class population. How does this large demographic, and traditional base of the left, become indigenized? We know that in spite of genocidal policies, there is a growing status-native population in Canada and an even larger “non-status” population. Is this purely a question of land ownership and statehood? What role does acculturation need to play in working-class organization?

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USA

No Country for Poor Men: The Globalization Project and its Consequences

“Debt… is a cleverly managed reconquering of Africa.”Thomas Sankara

In the 1980s, on the tail-end of growing south-south unity and economic development, the world was plunged into an international debt crisis which threatened the sustainability of the capitalist world-system. The political decisions enacted to adjust the global economy ushered in neo-liberalism and globalization as we know them today. Thus, it is generally accepted debt was of central importance to the advent of neoliberalism. However, with the crises of debts reaching a seemingly terminal stage in various sections of the Global North and South every few years, it is clear that debt also constitutes a key element in the maintenance of neoliberalism and globalization as well. We can also understand the advent of globalization-via-debt crises as a response to the limits of the post-World War Development Project, in that the Development Project’s benefits to the Global South was not sustainable under capitalism and that it facilitated the instabilities which would create the conditions for Globalization.

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The project of neo-liberalism was ultimately a political one, relying on the extension of debt relations as a form of global governance imposed on the global south. This is captured in the phrase “debt regime” – the restructuring of debt by the IMF allowed western financiers to establish new economic and social “regimes” throughout the Global South based on the convictions of neoliberalism and free market practices.[1]

Poverty Governance = Imperialism

Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are thoroughly undemocratic, unrepresentative and unaccountable, just as they maintain an ideological affiliation to free market policy, unresponsive and thus resistant to change. The IMF functions like a corporation, with votes being allotted to countries based on “quotas” – determined by both the country’s economic size and the financial contributions of the country to IMF programs. Thus, the decision-making power of the IMF inevitably tends to favor already-developed Global North countries (McMichael, 2016), who accumulated their wealth initially through colonization.

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This must be considered when discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of globalization/neoliberalism. While Globalization is generally associated with increasing interconnectivity and interdependency (and this is at least nominally true), Globalization is more accurately the consolidation of international neoliberalism. Rather than being a foundation of innovation, as its pundits often claim, neoliberal policy is about the maintenance of a fragile economic system, where imperialist powers come together under this aegis, “globalization”, to ensure their own economic security, an arrangement preempted by Karl Kautsky under the auspices of “super-imperialism”[2]. While I do not accept all of the implications of a theory of super-imperialism (and there are certainly rivalries within the imperialist bloc), there is no denying the increasing integration of different imperialisms, for example the US-EU-Japan triad or the US-Canada-UK New Victorian network.

In practice, this ruling through a debt regime has meant the direct assault on the sovereignty and self-determination of colonized peoples. We have noted the undemocratic structure of the IMF and the history of inequality which facilitates its current structure. These unequal, authoritative powers were used as an unprecedented infiltration of the internal politics and economies of the Global South, with debt crises as the catalyst. Countries like Mexico, dependent on loans from banks based in the Global North to facilitate the development project, were ready to default on their loans, prompting a quick solution from the IMF before large blocs of defaulters could undermine the capitalist world-economy. The IMF instituted a program where existing loans would be extended, and new loans provided directly by the IMF to pay off these debts. However, this repayment plan was conditional; subject countries would have to agree to submit to a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which involved a swift privatization of numerous essential development and social programs. This greatly weakened the power of the postcolonial state to act as an anti-imperialist force and opened key markets to western domination (McMichael, 2016).

To extend these debt regimes, the United States and most other powers quickly abandoned the gold standard and adopted a fiat currency. This integrated the extension of credit into the US economy, and forced the relaxation of financial regulations[3] creating the demand for increasing ‘offshore’ investments and market control in the Global South (McMichael, 2016).

The Earthquake Moves North

For their part, workers in the first world were submerged into the process of Globalization. During the post-World War “Development Project” period, workers in the Global North occupied a relatively privileged position in terms of security and reciprocity within capitalist production. However, the post-1980’s move away from industrial Fordism and towards a Global Division of Labor, as well as the need for new methods of financing increasingly complex debt schemes, led to a collapse of the Fordist social contract and the (admittedly inconsistent) implementation of neoliberalism in the Global North.[4]

While directly taxing American, Canadian, or European workers for international projects would have generated outrage, policymakers instead made workers in the Global North and Global South subsidize arrangements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through limited supplies of jobs and depressed wages, indirectly supporting the growth of transnational imperial capital and pitting workers in the Global North against more “competitive”, low-wage workers in the Global South (Workman, 2011). One way this was done was thorough the devaluing the US dollar, which was key to the initial repression of wages and increasing the US dollar’s liquidity and allowing it to remain an almost universal equivalent (Gill and Law, 1988).

Source: Bloomberg, “Free Trade Feud” at http://www.bloombergview.com/quicktake/free-trade

Conclusion

Because this two-pronged, lucrative opportunity for profit-making; the depression of wages for the domestic working class and the increasingly dispossessed Global South, there is little motivation to repair the increasing indebtedness this whole process bequeaths. In fact, what we witness is the normalization of debt crises as early as the late 90’s (Strange 1998), with similar decisions being made during crises of the late 2000’s (McMichael, 2016). With the exception of some resistance from both the left and right, what we see is an expansion of deficits and the subsidizing of privatization as capitalists demand more and more kickback for volatile schemes that threaten the security of workers and keep the colonized nations of the world in a global prison-house of finance.

The relentless drive for solvency and profitability has undermined sovereignty of the modern state and has led to increasing instability. The pursuit of more and more profit maximization by transnational, imperialist capitalist class has even undermined the stability of capitalism itself (Workman, 2011). What we call Globalization is more accurately Americanization and neoliberal imperialism.

IMF-Get-Out-now

References:

[1] McMichael, P. Development and Social Change (6th ed.). Sage Publishing, 2016.

[2] Strange, S. “The New World of Debt.” New Left Review.  I/230 July-August, 1998. Retrieved from: (https://newleftreview.org/I/230/susan-strange-the-new-world-of-debt)

[3] Gill, S. &  David Law. “Money, Finance, and Macroeconomic Relations” in The Global Political Economy p. 159-189. (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press), 1988

[4] Workman, T. “The Neo-Liberal Rollback in Historical Perspective” in Working in a Global Era p. 37-67. ed. Vivian Shalla. (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press), 2011.

 

Categories
USA

Syria to Standing Rock: Everywhere is a No-Fly Zone

“Every single Empire in its official discourse has said that it is not at all like the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there is always a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming word about benign or altruistic empires, is if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizartice” — Edward Said

I do not think any pundit or critic, even those committed to the causes of indigenous people, could have anticipated that the confrontation over the Dakota Access Pipeline would play such a prominent role in political discourse, especially in light of the blackout by major media. Yet, the people gathered at Standing Rock have overcome numerous obstacles to catapult their struggle to the limelight.

After numerous treaties, historical reviews, truth and reconciliation commissions, protests, policy consultations, and outbreaks of rebellion, Indigenous people in Turtle Island/ North America are still brutalized in spectacular fashion, and they are granted no recourse – even the most basic of treaty laws are ignored or “lost” not unlike how the United States, Canada, and other accomplices to NATO blatantly violate international law.

The Imperial Connection

Let me put it frankly and simply, America is an Empire and not, in any quantifiable sense, a  Democracy. While most everyday “Americans” experience the unfairness, aloofness, and ridiculousness of the American capitalist and imperialist system to some extent or another, none experience it more blatantly than the nationalities America has colonized. Within American borders there are the Dene, the Lakotah, the Irqouois, and hundreds of other nations I do not have the time to name. Beyond American borders, we can include in this Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and numerous other peoples dominated by US financial and military might by direct or indirect means.

Image result for hands off syria

As this empire stretches itself further across the globe, it experiences crises and strangulation, prompting the need for more intense exploitation and violence at home to facilitate and legitimize the next expansion. The US has long been set on regime change in Syria, for example, but has experienced a number of setbacks in what they thought would otherwise be a swift victory. It is in this context that we see a rushed, desperate attempt to force “development” of the American “homeland” at the expense of the actual Indigenous population

The Hypocrisy of the No-Fly Zone

Image result for standing rock protests

Forte describes the logic of regime change discourse, used systematically to advocate for no-fly zones and invasions across the world, best embodied by the assault on Libya (Forte, 2013) but now equally applicable to Syria, which Hillary Clinton has slated for being the next No-fly Zone, without regard for how many Syrians it will lead to their demise.

1) Moral Dualism: We see this in the vilification and dehumanization of resisters and land defenders; the persistence of the “savage” image in mass media, the depiction of land defenders as inherently backwards (as if destroying the environment is not violently backwards!). Yet somehow US imperialism is benevolent.

2) Moral Narcissism: The hypocrisies of settler-colonialism and imperialism are on full display. While the US government rains drone strikes on the colonized world and sanctions the right of armed gangs of whites to lay claims to stolen land, peaceful protesters are seen as such as threat as to incur brutal violence and imprisonment.

3) Demonization: Again, the image of the “savage” or the “indian” or more recently the “security threat” rears its ugly head when Indigenous people break into the media cycle.

We have seen military tactics and deployments used to further internal colonialism in the United States before, most notably in the military’s role in the evacuation of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. The United States military blatantly discriminated against black evacuees, preferring whiter, wealthier victims to save, yet the despondency of black communities in New Orleans today is treated as a product of “natural disaster” (the hurricane) rather than the product of discriminatory responses to that crisis (Noel, 2013). Years from now, I wonder if the environmental destruction of the Standing Rock territory by the Dakota Access Pipeline will be recorded as the result of “natural” causes.

The pipeline resisters at standing rock have also been subject to a no-fly zone not unlike the one visited on Libya and perhaps soon on Syria. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has restricted flights, banned the use of drones within a radius of about four-and-a-half miles of Cannon Ball. Only aircraft affiliated with the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center are allowed within the restricted airspace. The flight restriction is scheduled to  last until November 5. This is a blackout in anticipation for an “invasion” of the protester camp.

For Canadians: We Are Not Innocent

It would be easy for Canadians to attribute the violence at Standing Rock to just another case in the gargantuan farce called an election that the United States insists is democratic and legitimate while its order collapses at focal points along its chain of authority. But Canada, like the United States, is a Settler-Colonial society, founded on the same genocide and conquest which gave rise to the Pax Americana Empire in the first place. Our own indigenous population is brutalized, policed, imprisoned, and dispossessed in much the same manner as the peoples at Standing Rock. We should note the courage and intensity of resistance required by the people of Standing Rock and their allies when our own pipelines are prepared to be laid.

Unlinked Citations

Forte, C. Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa. 

Noel, A. “America’s Own Backyard: Hurricane Katrina and Military Intervention” Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad. (New Imperialism, Vol. 3). Ed. Kyle McLoughlin & Maximilian C. Forte. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 2013.

Recommended: No Platform (Taryn Fivek) Coverage of Standing Rock

 

 

Categories
UNCATEGORIZED

Roland Chrisjohn – It’s Not Gonna Happen: The Indigenous Response to Capitalism in an Era of Unbridled Capitalism

An important intervention by Professor Roland Chrisjohn at St. Thomas University I found while browsing the STU Native Student Council archives. Chrisjohn has a long history of anti-colonial organizing dating back to the founding of the American Indian Movement (AIM). His academic works on the psychology of colonialism, a Marxist analysis of neo-colonialism in Canada, and a critique of “invented traditions” is also invaluable.

https://videopress.com/v/4uLnNHCW

Full recording of the lecture

 

About Roland Chrisjohn

Image result for roland chrisjohn

Roland Chrisjohn is  is a member of the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), a healer (“psychologist”), and the sole tenured professor at the Department of Native Studies at St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick where he focuses on a critical introduction to the history of colonization and its impact on the applied social sciences, particularly psychology and social work.

He is the author of The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada, which outlines the manner in which the Canadian state has intentionally misrepresented and obscured the history of residential schools. He frames the Residential School system in the wider context of settler-colonialism and the ongiong genocide of indigenous peoples.

Native Student Council

Dr. Roland Chrisjohn is a member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois). He gives his review of his lecture held during the 2011 STU Native Awareness Days in Fredericton, NB.

Press play to hear Roland’s lecture!

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