Lessons of Native People's Idle No More

This comes to Kasama from the Canadian communist organization Revolutionary Initiative. The essay originally appeared under the title: "Idle No More: Lessons and Questions" -- in other words, this not so much a report on the powerful upsurge started among the First Nations in Canada, but a discussion of what such a movement means for revolutionary strategy.

In a recent piece I wrote, called “Mass Work and Proletarian Revolutionaries”- where I was trying to open a discussion on where to find the “advanced masses” in Canada based on the contradictions in Canadian society – there were some points raised on the question of Indigenous anti-colonial struggles that I think we should revisit. That whole excerpt is reproduced at the end of this article.

In the context of the rising Idle No More mass movement – an unprecedented convergence and upsurge of Indigenous struggles in “Canadian” history – I would like to review some of the main points I made in that passage to open up a discussion amongst our forces and amongst revolutionaries in general that is urgently in need of elaboration.  The points I bring out here reflect some of the discussions and thinking circulating within our organization on the question of the struggle of Indigenous Nations for self-determination and decolonization – thinking which has to rapidly catch up with the emergence of the Idle No More movement, and the grassroots militancy that has been released under its banner.  An earlier compilation of previous passages and excerpts of ours on Indigenous liberation can be found here.

In the context of Idle No More, there are three points in the excerpt below that I’d like to highlight and build upon for the important questions that they provoke at the current conjuncture:

Point 1: The anti-colonial movement – what is popularly called a movement for “decolonization” – is limited in its ability to defeat Canadian imperialism without revolutionary unity with the rest of the proletariat. “Any form of indigenous self-determination that keeps Canadian imperialism in tact will be nothing but neo-colonialism.”  This is not a critique of native militants, their initiative, and their anti-colonial work – since these mass struggles have proved to be the most militant and sustained for decades. Rather, if anything, it’s a call to proletarian revolutionaries “to effect a convergence between the anti-colonial movement in Canada with the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements”. It is not the place of the non-indigenous part of a united revolutionary movement to dictate what form the national liberation movement will take for any given nation of indigenous people. It’s the task of the proletarian revolutionary movement to assert the need to build a revolutionary united front with the Indigenous national liberation movement, struggling to unite the movements of the most oppressed and exploited settlers and immigrants with it.

Questions

 

  • In this very moment, where the question of Indigenous nationhood cannot be ignored, how do non-Indigenous revolutionaries provide support to the grassroots militancy rising under the banner of Idle No More? Is it limited to attending rallies, or even getting on the front lines of the blockades? That’s important, that’s something – but is that all we can be doing?
  • Are there more important ways we can intervene, ways that seize upon this unprecedented moment in Canadian history where Indigenous Nations have asserted themselves and are “in the spotlight” to push through, as intensely as possible, a deeper understanding amongst non-Indigenous exploited and oppressed peoples about the colonial character of this country?
  • Are there conditions of possibility to build a revolutionary united front like never before, to unite revolutionary anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists with revolutionary Indigenous peoples through a developing common program for a new society?
  • In essence, how to non-Indigenous peoples intervene in this moment?

 

Point 2: That there is an  antagonistic contradiction between Indigenous Nations as such and Canadian imperialism.  Right now, Canadian imperialism is a parasite upon dozens of Indigenous nations.  The two cannot co-exist indefinitely. One must do away with the other.  The Canadian state and the monopoly capitalists its serves must “plunder the lands and resources of native lands and exterminate native peoples as such” in order to advance capitalist accumulation).

Questions 

 

  • What are the conditions of possibility for “decolonization” of Canadian society? Can the Harper government concede anything that will satisfy the struggles of Indigenous people that have coalesced like never before?
  • What are the strategic options for the Canadian state and its imperialist bourgeoisie (especially the monopoly capitalists of the extractive industry and their associated partners in finance and industry)?

 

Loaded questions, perhaps.  But questions that require deeper elucidation and an extensive debate to prepare ourselves for the ideological struggles and battles ahead…

Point 3: That there there exists a bureaucrat capitalist / comprador class structure within Indigenous nations (institutionalized under the Indian Act, through the Band Councils and through the Assembly of First Nations, and via resource-sharing agreements that leave some rich and most poor). Zig Zag has touched upon these divisions in this recent piece, “Oily Chiefs, Idle No More, and the AFN.”  This comprador structure is not a matter of “corrupt chiefs” and the misspending of Federal dollars, but rather an appendage of the system of Canadian imperialism as a whole, a class that does the bidding of the colonial structure of Canada and gets rich off of it.

Questions:

 

  • What is the class composition of the various  Indigenous Nations across Canada? How do they vary by region? What is the class composition internal to Indigenous communities through the forces of colonialism?
  • What are the forces of compromise, capitulation, and neo-colonialism within Indigenous communities? What is their ideological expression at this particular moment?
  • What are the strata of Indigenous communities and nations that can only move forward through a revolutionary rupture with Canadian imperialism as a whole?
  • How long will this tenuous unity remain between these various strata of Indigenous nations under the banner of Idle No More? How will the Harper regime try to split these forces?

 

Here is the full excerpt from “Mass Work and Proletarian Revolutionaries”:

“Another section of the advanced masses in Canada are those who are opposed to the colonial character of the Canadian state and society. The vast majority of the indigenous peoples and nations who are struggling to defend their lands against Canadian imperialism and colonialism, who are being herded into Canadian prisons at genocidal proportions, who have been and are still being dispossessed and impoverished by Canadian colonialism, and who can identify their main enemy as the Canadian state and its colonial policies, are part of the advanced masses.

To be sure, there are some natives whose rewards outweigh any exploitation, dispossession or oppression they have experienced at the hands of Canadian colonialism. There are the big enemies of indigenous liberation, like the bureaucrat capitalists of the Indian Affairs bureaucracy who are handsomely compensated by the Canadian state and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for playing their part in the colonial bureaucracy, like former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine (who now advises the Royal Bank of Canada). The native comprador and bureaucrat capitalists rely on the likes of national liquidationists like former Kamloops Chief Manny Jules, who is the lead ideological proponent of the ‘Fee-Simple’ scheme that would amend the Indian Act to break up reserve system by commodifying and municipalizing its land base, thereby completely extinguishing the national rights of natives to their land and turning it over to the unbridled domination of monopoly capital.

There are also some non-Aboriginal people who are opposed to Canadian colonialism by virtue of knowing, having seen, or having studied the history and present state of Canadian colonialism. But many of these forces are driven more by white settler guilt than revolutionary solidarity and are hostile to the proletarian revolution. So they must be won over to support the full national liberation of indigenous people alongside a proletarian revolutionary and anti-imperialist project.

There are also some big native capitalists that benefit from Canada’s imperialist position in the international relations of production, such as the few billionaires of the Grand River Enterprises based out of Six Nations, who operate Canada’s third largest cigarette manufacturer with multinational operations.

However, by and large, the vast majority of indigenous people are nothing like these compradors and bureaucrat capitalists. The vast majority are being severely impoverished or dispossessed by Canadian colonialism along with all the genocidal colonial violence that is required to destroy a nation.

The very struggle of indigenous peoples to survive as peoples and nations comes into direct conflict with the interests of the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie to plunder the lands and resources of native lands and exterminate the native peoples as such. Canada’s big mining companies and banks by definition have no interest but to rape indigenous lands of their resources and in the process eliminate them as nations, as they have done for centuries. But the anti-colonial movement is limited in how far it can proceed without revolutionary unity with the rest of the proletariat. Any form of indigenous self-determination that keeps Canadian imperialism in tact will be nothing but neo-colonialism.

The task of the proletarian revolution must be to effect a convergence between the anti-colonial movement in Canada with the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements. It is not the place of the non-indigenous part of the movement to dictate what form the national liberation movement of indigenous people will take. Its the task of the proletarian revolutionary movement to assert the need to build a revolutionary united front with the Indian national liberation movement, struggling to unite the movements of the most oppressed and exploited settlers and immigrants with it. Since the indigenous liberation struggle is already an objectively present form, the greater challenge here is not the winning over the anti-colonial movement (which already exists) to the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement, but the development of the struggles of the poor, the workers, and the immigrants into a revolutionary unity with indigenous peoples against Canadian imperialism. It is also a greater challenge because indigenous people as such – or the Indian nation, if you will – must continue to be decimated and dispersed for Canadian imperialism to survive. Canadian imperialism is founded upon and continues to be driven by resource extraction of its internal colonies and also of semi-colonial across the world. It’s easier to buy off and corrupt sections of the proletariat in the imperialist centers and cities than it is to compromise with the land claims of indigenous people. Nonetheless, there can be no overthrow of Canada’s imperialist bourgeoisie if we do not starve it of the pillage it takes from the internal colonies and unconditionally support genuine national liberation for indigenous peoples.”

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