Tag Archives: Marxism

Colonialism and Anti-Colonialism in the Second International

Karl Marx’s own ambiguous and sometimes contradictory views on colonialism meant that the Second International would debate over the correct view on the matter. Donald Parkinson gives an overview of these debates, arguing that Communists today must unite around a clear anti-colonial and anti-imperialist program. 

Reactionary political cartoon. Reads: “Social-Democracy is against world politics; against colonies, against the army and navy!”

Reactionary political cartoon. Reads: “Social-Democracy is against world politics; against colonies, against the army and navy!”

By Donald Parkinson, Cosmonaut

Today, when Marxism seems to be under constant intellectual assault, we hear the claim that Marxism is a Eurocentric ideology, that it is a master narrative of the European world. It could be tempting to simply dismiss this claim on its face. After all, most Marxists today live in the non-European and non-white world, inspired by the role Marxism played in anti-colonial struggles. Yet we should always pay attention to our critics, regardless of how bad-faith they may be. They can help us understand our own blind spots and weaknesses and better understand ourselves. As a result, we should take the question of Eurocentrism seriously and engage in a critical self-reflection of our own ideas. A closer look at both the works of Marx and the history of Marxist politics tells us that there were indeed Eurocentric strains in Marx’s thought. Yet through its capacity to critically assess itself Marxism has, to varying degrees of success, overcome its Eurocentrism to develop a true universalism, against a false universalism that only serves to cover for a deeper European provincialism.

Marxism developed in Europe as a worldview designed to secure the emancipation of the world from class society. This is the source of internal tension within Marxism: on one end there is the universalist scope of Marxism, an ideology designed to unite all of humanity in a common struggle. On the other end, there is the source of Marxism in the continent of Europe, an ideology that was shaped by the specific processes of capitalist development that propelled Europe into an economic power standing above the rest of the world. It would be foolish to simply dismiss charges that Marxism contains Eurocentric elements that exist in tension with its universalism. There is no better example of these tensions in Marxism than the different views on colonialism within the movement.

Colonialism in the history of Marxist thought served as a challenge for Marxism to overcome its own Eurocentrism. Within the works of Marx one can find different approaches to colonialism that could be read as apologetic to colonial expansion or firmly opposed to it, supporting the struggles of colonized people against their dispossession. As a result, the followers of Marx who formed the mass parties that came to be known as the Second International did not have a single position on colonialism that they could take from Marx. There was instead a series of often contradictory positions on colonialism within his work that provided justifications both for supporting colonialism and opposing it. There was also a theoretical heritage within Marxism, economistic developmentalism, that would be used to justify colonialism in the name of socialism.

To better understand these tensions in Marxism, we should examine Marx’s views on colonialism and the first major debates on colonialism in the Second International. These debates are an important part of a greater historical narrative, in which Marxism developed as an ideology in Europe and became the siren song of countless anti-colonial revolts against European domination. Marxism was able to overcome its initial Eurocentrism, but not without a struggle internal to itself and its intellectuals. In better understanding the history of this intellectual struggle, we can better identify the theoretical errors that held Marxism back from becoming a truly universalist worldview, which could serve as a political creed for the emancipation of the world, not only Europe.

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Are You a Settler?

Settler-colonialism, Capitalism and Marxism on Turtle Island

By Brian Ward, New Politics

Everything in U.S. history is about the land. Who oversaw and cultivated it, fished its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity (“real estate”) broken into pieces, to be bought and sold on the market.

—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

The politics of solidarity on display during the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline have raised the issue of Indigenous liberation more and more sharply to people on the left. Activists have started to recognize that their struggles against ecological destruction, imperialism, and colonization are linked to the fight for Native self-determination that has gone on now for decades, even centuries. The recent struggles Standing Rock and Keystone XL stand in the tradition of organizations like Black Hills Alliance in the 1980s that brought together Natives and non-natives in the Black Hills in South Dakota to try to stop uranium mining.

A whole new generation of activists has learned the long history of the United States continually breaking treaties with the Indigenous Nations—stomping upon their self-determination any time the government and corporations demand access to Native lands to extract energy and raw materials. The climate justice movement is coming to an understanding that treaties must be upheld and extended, as demanded by Indigenous Nations, based on their traditional territories. We have an urgent need to bring the fight against Native oppression into all the economic and social struggles of today. And that means grasping, as clearly and firmly as possible, that the struggle for Native liberation means keeping the question of land rights central.

In this essay I will demonstrate how settler-colonialism was and is vital to the development and maintenance of capitalism by using historical examples. Understanding the history and ongoing process of Settler-colonialism adds to our understanding of capitalism, while ignoring it perpetuates the erasure from history of Native peoples and their resistance to that process. I will do my best to use actual Indigenous Nation names such as the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota (Oceti Sakowin) or Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) or the Dine (Navajo) but will also use the words “Indigenous,” “Native,” “Native American,” “American Indian,” and “Indian” when appropriate, such as in quotations. I will often lump the United States and Canada together because their experience with Indigenous people are very similar.

Among Indigenous people, the common name for the continent of North America—and the one I will use accordingly—is Turtle Island.

Hundreds of different social organizations existed on Turtle Island prior to the arrival of capitalist markets, but one common feature was that most Indigenous Nations treated the land as something held in common. The idea of nonhuman life being someone’s “private property” was almost literally unthinkable. Many Indigenous theorists now consider “modes of relationship” a more useful concept than “modes of production” when talking about what Winona LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, has called the co-evolution of Indigenous peoples and their environment and surroundings. Material conditions required Nations to develop relationships with human and nonhuman life in order to thrive. Indigenous people didn’t pursue a sustainable existence out of some mystical nobility but because reality demanded it.

Writing in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, Karl Marx said, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” From an Indigenous perspective, that expanding market transformed abundance into scarcity.

Exploitation, expropriation, and extraction of the land’s riches created wealth for those colonizing land and enforcing their claim to it by violence. Marx’s term for this process as it had occurred in Europe is usually called “primitive accumulation,” although it might be better translated as “primary” or “original” accumulation.

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Counter Columbus, Confront Colonialism, Capitalism & Climate Crisis

v28 n4 OCT-DEC 2015 frontBy Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the US Civil War and the triumph of incipient industrial capitalism over earlier, deeply-rooted mercantile and slave-based and land-based forms of capitalism. It set the stage for what is coming to be known as the “Anthropocene.” This is a period of bio-geological development in which human activity is shaping the atmospheric, oceanic and planetary ecological systems in ways that the pre-existing natural systems can no longer contain or accommodate. The consequences of the ensuing 15 decades of intensive exploitation of carbon-based energy resources for warfare, agribusiness, industrial production, and transportation are becoming increasingly undeniable.

We are facing a climatological catastrophe, global mass extinctions, and a possibly irreversible environmental transformation that will mark the end of the 10,000 year period, the Holocene, during which human civilization, based on agriculture, has developed. Global warming, ocean acidification, melting of polar ice, sea level rise, extreme weather events including super-storms, floods and droughts, may soon make the planet unrecognizable, and possibly uninhabitable for humans and thousands of other species whose physical evolution and life cycles cannot keep pace with these transformations.

It behooves us, if we have any hope of staving off such calamities, or of surviving them if and as they occur, to analyze the roots of the social, political and economic behaviors and practices that have brought them about. We must also understand and undo the reasons for the failures of previous efforts to transform human society.

To do so, we must look further back in time, first to the birth of capitalism as a particular form of class society and of exploitation of nature and of humanity within nature, further into the beginnings of history and class society, and then into the entirety of the geological and biological development of earth including the emergence of our species. Doing that in a page or so of this newspaper, 2000 words, is an ambitious goal, so bear with me if what follows is particularly dense. It is also, though I begin by quoting Marx, not going to be the typical “Marxist” presentation of what purports to be class analysis or dialectical and historical materialism, because that has proven insufficient.

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The Colonialism of the Present

An indigenous warrior stares down a member of the Canadian military during the 1990

An indigenous warrior stares down a member of the Canadian military during the 1990 “Oka Crisis.”

By , Jacobin Magazine

Scholar and activist Glen Coulthard on the connection between indigenous and anticapitalist struggles

In March 1990, armed warriors from Kanesatake — one of several Mohawk communities in Canada that constitutes the eastern-most nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — erected barricades to prevent the further extension of a private golf course into their land. When a police invasion four months later ended in the death of an officer, nearly three thousand Canadian soldiers descended. Mohawks from Kahnawake blockaded the Mercier Bridge into Montreal in solidarity. A seventy-eight day standoff ensued.

For the Canadian state, this indigenous revolt — known in colonial memory as “Oka Crisis” — was one of the largest and most expensive military operations in the last half century. “From the vantage point of the colonial state,” scholar and activist Glen Coulthard writes, “things were already out of control in Indian Country.” Indeed, the late 1980s witnessed frequent eruptions of indigenous militancy across Canada’s claimed territories in defense of land, culture, and nationhood.

For much of Canadian history — and that of the United States — resistance to settler colonialism was met with swift and brutal violence; “quieter” years brought programs of coercive, genocidal assimilation. But over the past decades, and especially in the aftermath of the confrontation near Oka, the field of battle seemingly softened.

Government committees formed to study the “problem.” Kinder words were spoken. Historical wrongs were acknowledged. Money was spent. And a new paradigm came to govern Canada’s “Aboriginal Affairs”: recognition and reconciliation.

Through commissions, courts, and councils, the Canadian state began acknowledging certain cultural rights, limited forms of political sovereignty, and some claims to land — but only so long as they didn’t interfere with the accumulation of capital or the extraction of resources. In 2008, Stephen Harper even issued an apology of sorts for the treatment of indigenous children in Canadian residential schools — but soon reminded his countrymen they had “no history of colonialism.”

Coulthard rejects such overtures. A member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and a professor at the University of British Columbia, Coulthard’s new book, Red Skins, White Masks, is an incendiary tract of anticolonial theory and a manifesto for renewed land-based action.

Expanding on Frantz Fanon’s inquiry into the damaging effects of colonial “misrecognition,” Coulthard calls for a “disciplined maintenance of resentment,” a “politicized anger” that refuses to demobilize in the face of unceasing colonial expropriation no matter what tone it takes.

Andrew Bard Epstein spoke to Coulthard last month about his book, his critical deployment of Marxist analysis to understand and combat Canadian settler colonialism, and the relationship between indigenous struggle and the non-native left — which remains far more advanced in Canada than in the United States.

Click here to read the interview from Jacobin Magazine