In the last decade we have seen an upsurge of struggle in the land back movement, an Indigenous-led continental movement in the so-called United States and Canada that clashes against five centuries of settler colonialism. This development has found expression in the defense of land and water in 2016 at Standing Rock against the fossil fuel Dakota Access pipeline and in Anishinaabe territory in Northern Minnesota and Michigan against Enbridge’s Line 3 and Line 5. We’ve also seen uprisings among the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island, and the Wiyot people in California’s Duluwat Island to reclaim their stolen lands, among the Haudenosaunee people from the Six Nations of the Grand River to shut down settler encroachment on unceded territory. The Indigenous nations of British Columbia have mobilized to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and mobilized in the massive and ongoing “shut down Canada” blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en people against the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their territory.
This upsurge is part and parcel of the fight against the economic and political crisis of a capitalist system in decay. The contamination of the waters and the land, the centuries-old dispossession of Indigenous nations, the brutality perpetrated by the police and military forces against land defenders and water protectors, are all inherent to the pursuit of profit underlying the capitalist order and the oppression of colonized peoples under the yoke of imperialism.
Recently, we have witnessed the commodification of “LAND BACK” through nonprofit marketing campaigns. We have seen the rejection of land back and its connection to Indigenous and Black national liberation by “patriotic socialists” in the imperial core. Within Indigenous communities and among anti-communists, we have also witnessed the rejection of the science of Marxism-Leninism as the pathway to land back. In this momentous struggle for liberation, for the future of humanity and for the survival of the Earth, the fight for land back must be founded on and retain an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist orientation.
Land Back Strikes at Capitalism and US Imperialism
The struggles in defense of the land, rivers and lakes, and for the return of the land to Indigenous stewardship have come face to face against monopoly capitalist interests that profit from resource extraction and commercialization. They have come face to face with the repressive apparatus of the state, in the form of the police and military forces.
Land back calls for the return of the land to Indigenous stewardship. But what does this really mean?
In essence it means the end of for-profit capitalist exploitation of the land and its resources, and the dismantling of imperialist subjugation of nations and peoples. The Indigenous conception of land views land as relative, one that we are necessarily responsible to, just as we are to any other relative. Indigenous kinship understands that land is not an object to be possessed, or exploited for profit. Land is not private property. This concept of land is in alignment with the Marxist conception of land held in the commons. Marxism identifies that property ownership excludes human access to the commons and continues the dispossession of people from their obligation to relationship with the land. The settler U.S. enforces this exclusion and dispossession; thus, land back necessitates the dissolution of the United States.
This movement, and this conception is not unique to North America. It has found expression in several other countries in the Americas, wherever Indigenous people live and strive to steward the land and protect it from the depredations of monopoly capital: in the Amazon jungle against the destruction of the forests by agribusiness and cattle ranchers, in Bolivia for the recovery of natural resources from multinational mining corporations, in Ecuador for the protection of the rainforest against oil drilling.
While land back as a movement is inherently at odds with capitalism and imperialism, certain monopoly capitalists have found it advantageous to extend their financial support to Indigenous organizations advocating for LAND BACK. Thus, for example, Jeff Bezos, the billionaire CEO of Amazon, gave South Dakota-based NDN Collective $12 million in 2020.
This is advantageous to people like Bezos because they can present themselves as supporters of Indigenous people, and even against the fossil fuel industry, while continuing to profit from it, promoting harmful capitalist methods and white savior approaches to deal with ecosystems and natural habitats, and signaling that monopoly capital and imperialism are not in contradiction with land back. The point is that entities such as Amazon, with its “climate pledge fund”, and other monopoly capitalists, such as Bill Gates or Tesla’s Elon Musk, who promote and invest in non-fossil fuel technologies still continue to profit from capitalist exploitation that necessarily ends up hurting colonized peoples. Thus, Elon Musk, commenting on the U.S. supported fascist coup d’etat against Indigenous Bolivian president Evo Morales in 2019, tweeted: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” This coup allowed Tesla access to the large Bolivian lithium deposits used in lithium ion batteries.
We are faced with a worldwide struggle against imperialism and its economic base, monopoly capitalism. In this momentous struggle for liberation, for the future of humanity and for the survival of the Earth, the fight for land back must be founded on and retain an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist orientation. It cannot and must not be held captive by a capitalist regime. Although this economic and political order may change its stripes, may abandon one means of exploitation or oppression or its reliance on one source of profits, it will always retain its exploitative character because it is driven by profit making and the commodification of peoples and social relations.
The “American project” manifests itself in constant economic, political and military aggression against other countries and nations and by hybrid wars (sanctions). Witness the devastation caused beyond the present U.S. borders by the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, the Vietnam War, the destruction of Libya, resulting in the murder of millions of people. Witness the overthrow of elected governments in Latin America, the support of genocidal and repressive regimes in Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Witness the sanctions against countries trying to free themselves from the yoke of U.S. imperialism such as Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba, and the destruction of the environment. The United States military is objectively the single biggest polluter on the planet. Through its wars of aggression, it has contributed to the destruction of the environment in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Persian Gulf. It consumes more liquid fuels and emits more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. In 2017, the U.S. military emitted more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. Support for the U.S. military means full on support for climate disaster. The struggle for land back is thus a struggle for the survival of the Earth and the end of U.S. imperialism.
It is important to name that this struggle does not take place in isolation but is part of the anti-imperialist struggles occurring throughout the world: The revolutionary resistance and the build up of anti-capitalist forces in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru; the construction of socialism in China, Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea, and the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people against the genocidal settler-colonial Zionist regime presently occupying Palestine. These revolutionary struggles all contribute and are part of the anti-imperialist and anti-monopoly-capitalist front. The multifaceted blows struck against U.S. imperialism and concomitantly against monopoly capitalism, constitute a common front of the bulk of humanity, the vast majority of the world, against imperialism and colonial subjugation. The unity in action of all these forces, this anti-imperialist internationalism, weakens U.S. imperialism and strengthens our worldwide revolutionary advance.
The Struggle for Black Liberation
Imperialist expansion and domination have characterized the whole history of the United States, from its settler-colonial genocidal beginnings against Indigenous nations, through the enslavement of African people, all the way up to the present. The massive land theft from Indigenous nations and the enslavement of Africans were impelled by the drive for capitalist accumulation.
This oppression presently manifests itself in the mass incarceration of Black and Indigenous peoples. Forty percent of all prisoners in the U.S. are Black, despite constituting only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In 2017, the U.S. was reported to possess twenty-five percent of the world’s incarcerated people, despite having only five percent of the world’s population. The carceral nature of the U.S. regime is a modified continuation of the slave system. Its present formulation has its roots in the Thirteenth Amendment of the “American” Constitution, which outlawed the formerly existing institution of slavery, while keeping it alive for incarcerated people.
The Black masses have constantly fought against this oppression and have launched powerful rebellions against it. The widespread uprisings that took place in the summer of 2020, after the police murder of George Floyd, brought calls for the abolition of the police to the mainstream; they put in evidence the power of mass upsurges, setting in motion broad masses of people against the repressive forces of the state. Black people have continuously rebelled against racist oppression and state terrorism throughout the history of U.S. settler colonialism. Between 1960 and the year 2000, there were more than 30 major rebellions, including those in Newark, Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1967 and in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Florida in the 1990s. During the Obama years, there were uprisings in Oakland (2009-2011), Ferguson (2014-2015), Baltimore (2015), Milwaukee (2016) and Charleston (2016).
Black liberation and the dismantling of the U.S. monopoly capitalist order are not two separate things. The whole history of the United States, from its founding up to the present, is based on the oppression and dispossession of Black and Indigenous people for the purpose of capitalist accumulation and the enrichment of a capitalist elite. This has not changed with the incorporation of an upper stratum of Black or Indigenous persons into the ruling circles. In fact, this has only served to cement the oppression by creating the illusion of change, while the police continue to kill, the masses continue to be impoverished, the military budgets continue to balloon year after year while social programs are cut back, and the U.S. continues to pursue imperialist aggression against our relatives in the Global South.
Indigenous and Black liberation are inextricably tied to one another and to land back; they both mean the end of the United States monopoly capitalist regime. Dreams of a benevolent capitalist order, or of going back to a pre-monopoly stage of capitalism are pure fantasy. Monopoly capitalism and imperialist domination and subjugation of colonized peoples follow from the logic of a social system rooted in profit making. It is the inevitable consequence of capitalism, pre-monopoly or not.
The return of the land, of the whole territories of the United States and Canada to Indigenous nations premised on the end of for-profit capitalist exploitation of the land and its resources, and the dismantling of imperialist subjugation of nations and peoples, is not only a historical demand of Indigenous peoples, but an urgent necessity. The liberation of Black people from monopoly capitalist tyranny is similarly served by the establishment of a separate Black republic organized along socialist lines. A separate Black republic has been a solution historically sought and advocated for by Black revolutionaries who realized that Black people need their own state protection from the racist U.S. capitalist regime.
Historically speaking, John Brown advocated for Black people to take land in the south and set up a republic, especially since according to the constitution at the time Black people weren’t citizens. According to General William T. Sherman’s 1865 Special Field Order, it laid the foundation for providing land to build a Black/New African nation, but eventually Reconstruction as a whole collapsed after the Compromise of 1877. Fast forwarding to 1968, the New Afrikan independence movement was born, inspired by this history and the teachings of Marcus Garvey who coined the term “New Negro” and founded the organization the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association), which to date was the largest Pan African organization in history and operated as a provisional government; this movement was also supported by leaders like Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. The Republic of New Afrika is a socio-political movement and provisional government recognizing the fact that Black/New Afrikan people are a nation within a nation. The only path for Black liberation is through complete sovereignty of the Black/New Afrikan nation through territorial nationalism. With support of political parties and organization such as the New Afrikan Independence Party, August 3rd Collective, Malcolm X Grassroots Movements, The Jericho Movement, Rebuild Collective, Spear and Shield Collective, The New Afrikan People’s Organization, and the New Afrikan People’s Liberation Army (formerly the Black Liberation Army), this movement is spearheaded by the Provisional Government of New Afrika. The PG-RNA is a socialist government whose objective is to create the independent nation within southern states where the Black majority is present such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and the Black majority counties adjacent to this area in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. The PG-RNA demands $400 billion in reparations for the injustices suffered by Black/New Afrikans during the times of slavery and Jim Crow. They also demand a referendum of all Black/New Afrikans in order to decide what should be done with their citizenry, a citizenry that many of Black people never asked for and is in contradiction to Black liberation.
As pointed out by Chokwe Lumumba, of the New Afrikan People’s Organization,
Our claims bow to active native American claims, which predate our own, where such claims are made by native Nations in the territory or seeking return to it. Not only do We recognize the justice of such claims, but We pledge to struggle to fulfill them as We struggle to establish our own sovereign state. These struggles are against the same imperialist. They are not contradictory. Many Indigenous people have supported the New Afrikan Independence struggle. As recently as February 7, 1990, Vernon Bellecourt of the American Indian Movement, and the Chippewa Nation expressed (their) support for our movement and our objectives. What is clear is that New Afrikan Independence movement claims are not made against Indigenous nations but against the imperialists that occupy the land. Our claims are based on birthright, bloodshed, development, and long-time inhabitants of the territory, and on rights, which derive from long-time political and military alliances and joint work with Native Americans, not to mention extensive blood ties with our native brothers and sisters. In various treaties between native people and the U.S. government (including treaties in regards to ‘Freedmen’, such as with the Cherokee in 1866), our land rights are upheld by the native nations.
The creation of a separate Black socialist republic is a strategic step towards the liberation of Black people, towards the weakening of the United States imperialist order, and towards the liberation of Indigenous people.
The Workers’ Movement and the Struggle for Socialism
This year has seen a wave of strike activity among the working class in the so-called United States. These drives have run the gamut of U.S. industry: construction and agricultural machinery workers in Iowa and Illinois, oil workers in New York, cereal factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and nurses and other health workers in California, New York and Oregon.
Television and film production crews authorized a nationwide strike of more than 60,000 union members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSCE) earlier this year against long hours and dangerous working conditions on set. 10,000 workers at John Deere participated in the largest strike in private industry in recent memory. They demanded and won improved retirement benefits, higher wages and better working conditions, such as removing forced overtime. Alabama coal miners have been striking since April for better wages and health and time-off benefits. Nabisco workers and Kellogg workers were also among those striking. Nurses in various parts of the country have authorized strikes over understaffing and long hours. As of mid-October, there had been 178 industrial sites hit, with 12 documented strikes involving 1,000 or more workers this year.
These strike struggles paint a stark picture of the degree to which workers are being exploited in the so-called United States. Workers are being forced to work long hours, sometimes seven days a week, in dangerous working conditions while companies are raking in sky high levels of profit at their expense.
The U.S. and Canada are among the most technologically advanced countries in the world to such an extent that material production could bountifully satisfy the needs of the whole population, with much to spare, requiring a small number of hours per worker per week. Instead, trillions of dollars are wastefully spent to line the pockets of the very rich and to pursue wars of aggression and maintain 800 military bases abroad.
The U.S. population is continuously fed an ideological barrage that concocts a universe in which there is no alternative to the existing capitalist reality. The masses are indoctrinated to believe that life in the United States is the best of all possible worlds, and people in the U.S. enjoy plentiful freedom and democracy, instead of the actual totalitarian control exercised by the monopoly capitalist overlords.
The ideological front is an essential front of struggle to liberate the U.S. population and the world from U.S. domination. “American” exceptionalism plays a fundamental role upholding this capitalist/imperialist order. It attempts to instill in the citizenry the illusion that they live in the “best” possible society, to promote an amnesic mode of thinking where the never-ending crimes of the U.S. state are erased from public discourse or presented as sins of the past in an ever-progressing march towards a “more perfect union.”
“American” exceptionalism operates under a colonial logic. Within this logic, different degrees of humanity are assigned to different categories of people. Thus, a large part of the world’s population, often defined in relation to skin color or country of origin, are considered deserving of death, misery, dispossession, and permanent slavery and war. This colonialist classification of humanity into different levels, this ideological separation into most deserving and least deserving, has everything to do with the geopolitical and economic interests of the ruling elites in the imperialist core. Certain people, the rich and powerful, the colonizer populations, are, according to this logic, deserving of human treatment, others are not.
And yet the dominant narrative promoted by the state and the dominant media outlets, imbued with “American” exceptionalism, is mostly quiet about the structural nature of imperialist subjugation of people. The incorporation of small numbers of Black and Indigenous persons into the ruling circles is promoted as part of a project of democratization, as a gradual process of forward evolution in “American democracy” and towards “equality.” According to this narrative, it is only the KKK and “the South,” “the proud boys”, and those burning crosses, who represent white supremacy—not the state-sanctioned oppression and exploitation of the greater part of humanity, both within and outside the United States, of those condemned to premature death, misery and destitution for the benefit of the wealthy and the elite.
“American” exceptionalism means the erasure of the systemic nature of police murders and mass incarceration. It means erasing the predictably patterned actions of the U.S. government and its military in the world at large. Wars, assassinations, the destruction of countries, the genocide against other peoples are “understood” as necessary for the defense of “freedom and democracy,” and to save the world from the “forces of evil.” It entails the promotion of white saviorism and a colonialist mentality as a world view.
This is not the reality of freedom and democracy; it is the reality of enslavement to the lords of monopoly capital. The liberation of the U.S. working class can only be realized once they understand that their future lies together with the liberation of the Indigenous and Black people of this country and of the masses oppressed by U.S. imperialism in the Global South. Once these forces, the vast majority of the world’s population, become organized to counter monopoly capitalism and U.S. imperialism, they will be unstoppable.
Liberation for the working class in the imperial core requires consciousness and organization. It requires building defense organizations against monopoly capital, through and in the midst of struggles such as the strike movement already taking place. It means instilling in the working class the understanding that following the monopoly capitalist parties, Democrats or Republicans, is a dead end road that only leads to more of the same.
Only through the liberation of Black and Indigenous people will the working class as a whole be able to free itself from the clutches of monopoly capitalist misery. This task requires the organization of an advanced core of revolutionaries, guided by the most advanced revolutionary theory, a Communist Party, to guide the class to surmount the obstacles thrown in its path by the capitalist overlords. The working class in the United States and Canada should be won over to the side of revolution and internationalist unity with the oppressed masses in the U.S. and the Global South.
The Police Protect Private Property, Not Our Homelands, and Not the People
With the militarization of the police, the construction of more prisons and the expansion of police budgets, we have only seen an increase in police violence and incarceration of colonized people. Prisons have now become so large, they drive the economies of entire towns, so much so that the absence of this carceral order threatens the livelihoods of those communities who survive from the custodianship of prisons and jails. The prison industry is an adversarial system of so-called “justice” that does not heal people or communities. Instead of addressing the social and economic conditions that create poverty, police and prisons criminalize, dehumanize, and disappear people trying to survive manufactured scarcity with the means available to them. When compared with the rest of the world, the U.S. clearly prioritizes incarceration over social programs. As mentioned before, despite making up just about 5% of the world’s total population, the people incarcerated by the U.S. prison system represent nearly a quarter of the world’s total prison population. While the U.S. spends $908 billion per year on policing, incarceration, and its military, there are countless people struggling to maintain housing, education, and health care—infrastructure that would prevent the presence of crime and violence.
Mass incarceration and the widespread scourge of police murders of Black and Indigenous people evince that the role of this state institution is not the protection of people; the ultimate role of the police in a capitalist country is to protect private property and the wealthy. In wealthy neighborhoods and areas populated with businesses, police are often seen as service providers, and work hand in hand with businesses to protect them from the inconveniences made to them by people who are poor, unsheltered, and protesting their exploitation; because we illustrate the insatiable and destructive nature of capitalism, they seek to rid themselves, and the land they occupy, of us. In racialized communities and communities that suffer from deep rooted poverty, police are quick to approach people with intimidation and violence; here their role as occupying armies is glaringly clear. Deputy gangs run rampant in departments and militia membership still exists widely among police and military circles. Many of these groups accept and embrace their work as a continuation of the legacy of policing: to terrorize subjugated peoples, primarily Black, Indigenous, women, femme, queer, and trans people, and to eradicate any attempt at resistance toward liberation. The violence inherent in policing is not due to the ideas and feelings of individual police officers within departments, nor can it be resolved by the supposed benevolence of individuals who decide to work for them. The procurement and distribution of military equipment to police is not a fluke, nor is it simply the reallocation of excess military consumption of an imperial power for whom the economic industry of choice is theft and violence. The militarization of the U.S. police is vividly apparent when we consider it’s relationship with its imperialist companion, the settler colonial state of Israel. Not only does the settler United States fully fund the Israeli occupation of Palestine, at $10.4 million per day, the U.S. and Israel also share in military and police training.
Against Police Reform:
There is no safety to be found in the institution of policing, nor in the expansion of their departments or budgets; every well-intentioned reform, by default, legitimizes an occupying army on occupied land. The uprisings of the 1960s brought about the first phase of police reforms; the continued development of policing reforms masquerading as scientific strategies such as “broken window policing”, and “problem-oriented policing” are only expansions of the power of police and a focused targeting of peoples already deeply criminalized by imperialism. The failures of these programs seem to only encourage further funding and staffing to an increasingly growing source of community violence. Reforms of police, in the face of an economic and legal system that works to protect them from responsibility for their acts of heinous violence against the vulnerable, are completely moot and ineffective.
On Tribal Police:
We should also reject the idea that tribal police or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police are somehow separate from or exempt from the inherently classist function of policing and it’s intent on maintaining settler occupation on stolen land. It was in recent memory that Dick Wilson declared his militia on the Oglala Lakota Nation to protect “lives and property”. It’s no surprise that his militia worked closely with the FBI, even going so far as being provided military grade ammunition and weapons, looking the other way when goons committed murders against American Indian Movement members, and refusing to recommend charges against anyone caught committing crime to stymie Indigenous resistance to the U.S. empire. Duane Brewer, one member of Wilson’s goons who later testified to the heinous tactics and collaboration with the U.S. state, went on to become a BIA police officer. Even tribal governments and their officials can become reactionary forces that trade the peoples livelihood for the preservation of systems of private property and capital.
With regard to Oglala Lakota territory more recently, a 2019 report to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee outlines the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure needs. The document describes a lack of infrastructure to address severe poverty, health care, housing, and school facility needs; it also names the need to address high crime rates. It does not correlate the social and economic needs with the presence of crime, and instead it suggests a 60% increase in the amount of police officers needed to adequately cover the entire reservation, a $12 million increase in federal law enforcement funding, and renovation needs for the already $56 million detention facility. On housing and job opportunity needs there is no proposal for funding, no explanation of what is currently being invested, and no description of established projects working to address these needs. This indicates a troubling misconception that policing resolves deep rooted social and economic needs, and a significant prioritization of policing over positively transforming the material conditions of the community. Of course, the U.S. has strategically, historically and continually, made it so that the economies of Indigenous communities face immense disadvantages. Despite this, a revolutionary understands the opportunity that tribal governments carry to reject the systems of the settler U.S. and to instead exert our right to self-determination through the abolition of property, capital, and policing, and the development of socialist policies and infrastructure. To be akicita means to embrace the duty to protect the people, the water, and the land; we cannot confuse protection to mean policing.
Land Back Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
As we contend to clarify what the movement for land back means and what it requires, it is essential that we understand capitalism as entirely contradictory to it. It is helpful to consider the nonprofit organization, NDN Collective’s current conception of their LAND BACK Campaign to make sense of this contradiction. Recently, the non-profit received $12 million as a recipient of the Bezos Earth Fund. In their announcement of the grant award, the organization wrote,
We have a responsibility to call upon global corporations and those who hold power and wealth to invest in climate solutions, Indigenous self-determination, and Black reparations, and at the same time, we must also utilize the resources we have to act with swift, innovative strategies to protect our planet and all life. To do this work, we at NDN Collective are leaning deeply into the work of dismantling white supremacy in philanthropy, moving resources from colonial, capitalistic, and white-led institutions to Indigenous and POC-led institutions. We approach this work from a culture of abundance, knowing that there are enough resources in the world to meet the needs of all people. We just need to shift power, and distribute those resources more purposefully.
The nonprofit industry is convinced that philanthropy, dependent on corporations and foundations, is a viable method of bringing about the immeasurable scope of social change needed to remedy poverty and violence in our communities; only socialist revolution can do this.
It needs to be said that nonprofit organizations do not simply move resources from one institution to the next. Transferring any amount of charity money from a settler bourgeois billionaire who owns one of the most exploitative and damaging corporations in the world, to an Indigenous-led organization, does not absolve the money of the violence and death accrued in order to obtain it. Nonprofits are not exempt from accountability to the exploitation of working people or to the environmental harm caused by the corporations that fund them. The nonprofit industrial complex exists to pacify the working class and to validate and valorize the ruling class. Nonprofits and their programs are superficial and temporary non-solutions to gaping systemic wounds. They are used to insidiously convince the masses that resolution is slow coming but it is on its way. Additionally, measures to diversify philanthropy within the settler colonial empire are inherently counter-revolutionary because they distract from the root cause of our oppression, capitalist exploitation.
The contradiction between capitalism and land back becomes even more clear when we consider NDN Collective’s notion of land back as limited to the return of “public land” and the purchasing of private property in the development of their enterprise of landlordism. This year the nonprofit organization has purchased six different properties in the settlement of Rapid City, South Dakota, for a total of $2 million. The organization expresses that this acquisition of property is an example of the LAND BACK movement becoming reality. To them, land back entails returning publicly-owned lands to Indigenous people, and purchasing or “buying back” private property. This strategy still engages in the systems of settler colonialism, capital investment and notions of private property, which lead to the very conditions Indigenous people in South Dakota currently experience. Nearly 50% of all Indigenous people in the state of South Dakota live beneath the poverty line. While Indigenous people make up just nearly 9% of South Dakota’s population, they represent nearly 50% of people booked into jails. Furthermore, Indigenous people between the ages of 15 and 64 are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of white people in the state. A revolutionary land back is one that is not landlordism on the local population.
Considering these realities of the conditions for Indigenous people living under the occupation of the state of South Dakota, we have to commit ourselves to much more than the popularization of the words land back, or the purchasing of our homelands using funds from the ruling class. The social and economic issues that we endure are the fault of capitalist and imperialist exploitation of land and labor and thus can only be resolved as we weaken capitalist state power and collectively embrace and build alternatives. This will require an abandonment of capitalist insistence that the police, or charity from corporations, can resolve social issues created by capitalism. It will also require a dedication to establishing revolutionary organization guided by Indigenous stewardship and kinship, which in essence and in practice are inherently anti-capitalist. Afterall, it is precisely because Indigenous nations embody political possibilities beyond capitalism that the U.S. has tirelessly sought to eliminate us. Consequently, we are at an advantage in the struggle against U.S. imperialism because our ancestors gift us the clarity of what is possible. It is only through the development of liberatory, socialist and communist projects that we can realize an end to occupation and thus the attainment of land back. As long as capitalism prevails, poverty, racialized violence, and incarceration will continue their plague against our people. The struggle for land back has been in motion for as long as Indigenous people have resisted the U.S.’s encroachment on our homelands. It’s realization depends on the masses, not on the verbage or funding of nonprofits, corporations, or politicians.
Reconciliation with Settler-Colonialism is a Hoax
“Reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples can be seen as an attempted reform of the settler colonial state and a new strategy in its management of, and governance over, colonized Indigenous nations. The two neighboring settler colonial states of Canada and the US enact their diverging approaches to managing a resistant Indigenous population, due to a variety of factors.
Both states have faced the same centuries-old “Indian Problem” and have historically used similar or identical strategies based on the respective size of Indigenous and settler populations, in accordance to what was acceptable to the settler public. While militarily inferior or equal, first colonists mostly allied with or fought wars against Indigenous nations, the balance between treaty-making out of necessity and treaty-breaking without consequences began to tip toward the latter. A large, rapidly-growing and violent settler population brought the genocidal eras of elimination, removal and incarceration on reservations/reserves. In both states, Indigenous people were not only barred from participation in settler society but had our languages, cultures, political structures and life as distinct peoples made illegal. The reservation/reserve era as open-air prisons came about from a time of extreme settler hostility and hatred towards Indigenous peoples. This period brought in the advent of systematic kidnapping of Indigenous children and incarceration in boarding and residential schools. With Indigenous people widely removed from settler daily life, outright hostility faded into the assimilation era with boarding/residential schools as the key, holding the most precious members of each nation hostage. As the new settler states began to evolve from colonies to self-conscious nation states, assimilation of both new settlers and existing residents was crucial. Public support for “educating” and “civilizing” Indigenous people grew, and eventually the policies of allotment, enfranchisement and citizenship followed.
In the beginning of the 21st century, Indigenous people residing inside the borders of both states faced similar realities: widespread poverty, the destruction and co-option of 20th century armed resistance movements, small and shrinking land bases, and high rates of incarceration, racism, and violence, among other things. In Canada, there was no policy similar to ICWA that kept Indigenous children in their families, communities or nations and child removal was still frequent and widespread. What began to change, though, is the cycles of reform that Canada would attempt.
While the U.S. government and the U.S. public more broadly is able to essentially ignore the existence of Indigenous people, this is a more untenable position in Canada. In contrast to the U.S., the Canadian public has grown to expect more from their version of a liberal, capitalist, representative democracy. Canadians expect a larger state presence in their lives, due to policies like universal healthcare, and in the early 21st century they were often ranked among the happiest and most satisfied citizens with their government. Maybe most importantly, Indigenous peoples in Canada make up significantly more of the population in Canada (somewhere around 5 times that of the Indigenous population in the U.S.), and are less easy to ignore. The ongoing state-sponsored process of “reconciliation” in Canada gives an idea of what can happen when more, superficial, awareness of Indigenous issues is gained by the settler public.
In Canada, the 1990 “Oka Crisis” (or Siege of Kanehsatà:ke) pushed Indigenous rights and resistance into the forefront of Canadian public attention and discourse, and led to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1991-1996). This commission kicked off the next 30 years of the ongoing reform era in Canada. Like most institutional reforms, reconciliation in Canada has followed a seemingly interminable pattern. This begins with an incident that cannot be ignored, the subsequent call for an inquiry to research, which ultimately yields a report with recommendations to fix the issue. These include the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2009-2015) and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry (2019), and various provincial reports including the Ipperwash Inquiry (2004-2006) and the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (2010-2012). These five reports in 30 years have provided over 1,000 recommendations to the Canadian governments, institutions and populace.
However, as the Yellowhead Institute has reported in 2020, none of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation final report had been completed that year and at this pace (with insufficient resources, racist and paternalistic attitudes, and a vision of “public interest” that excludes Indigenous peoples), “reconciliation” would not be complete until 2074. It’s important to keep in mind that the end goal of Canadian state-sponsored reconciliation is not liberation for Indigenous peoples, or the rebuilding of our nations, or the return of our land: it is about getting Indigenous people to a bare minimum standard of equity with the rest of Canadians.
There have been many positive policy changes made by the Canadian state that should have improved the quality of life for Indigenous peoples and strengthened our nations. However, policies and implementation are very different things. The RCMP had no legal authority to raid Wet’suwet’en territory, as the Wet’suwet’en nation never extinguished their title. This was confirmed in the Delgamuukw decision, yet RCMP were prepared to use lethal force on protestors without consequence. Mi’kmaq fishers won the legal battle to practice their inherent and treaty fishing rights in 1999, but were never allowed by the Department of Fisheries to practice this. Haudenosaunee people have been shot at and arrested for stopping development on disputed land, which the federal and provincial governments both claim is the other’s responsibility to deal with while selling the land to developers. In the midst of so-called reconciliation and during the same time that mass unmarked graves of children are being uncovered at Canadian-run residential schools, the Canadian government is once again fighting against First Nations children and their families in court to avoid compensating them for the abuse suffered at the hands of the Canadian child “welfare” system. The empty promises of reconciliation are matched by the empty rulings of the Canadian legal system and the empty assurances of Canadian federal and provincial policy.
Regardless of the ongoing failure to meet the Truth and Reconciliation (and the many other) calls to action, most Indigenous people likely would not agree to the premise of reconciliation: that there was ever a good relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government of Canada; that the harm that was done is situated in the past; that simple policy changes could ever address the demands of Indigenous peoples; and that Indigenous futures on this land should be within the jurisdiction of the state of Canada at all. The push for reform has always come foremost from Indigenous peoples anyway, forcing the Canadian state to reluctantly change its course and make the smallest concessions it can get away with. There would be no reconciliation effort from the Canadian settler state without the long years of organizing and resistance from Indigenous peoples. The hard work of advocating for accountability and the bravery of those who gave their testimony is not for nothing, but like all attempts at reforming an institution that is violent at its core, this process only stands in the way of real justice and liberation for Indigenous peoples. Those Indigenous nationalists who have practiced resistance and refusal and worked against the Canadian state in the service of their own nations have created the space needed for our nations to survive under the genocidal pressure of the Canadian settler state. It is clear why Indigenous youth would declare that reconciliation is dead, or that it could not die because it never lived.
The Abolition of the United States and the World Struggle for Socialism
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by the police in Minneapolis, the call for the abolition of the police was taken up quite broadly among the masses. A very powerful movement, extending throughout the U.S. and beyond, called for the abolition of a state institution, the police, in the United States and beyond.
What in fact, may we ask, might be the path for the abolition of a militarized repressive institution such as the police in the U.S.?
We must understand that the purpose of the police is precisely the maintenance of the monopoly capitalist order under which it operates. The police serve to enforce the rule of the capitalist class and a political system that answers to the needs of that class. Similarly, the purpose of the military is to advance the geopolitical and economic interests of that same imperialist class ruling this country. The same goes for the other state institutions, such as the FBI and the CIA.
A historical analysis of the origins of the police in the United States shows they began as slave patrols, set up for the purpose of capturing persons escaping from slavery. The police were tied from the outset to serving the economic interests of a profit making class of slave owners. Over the course of history, the role of the police and other law enforcement agencies has taken different forms, but always serving to enforce the colonized status of oppressed nations. At present, as in the case of George Floyd, police murders and outright violence against these groups constitute a systemic feature of state operation.
Understanding the role of state institutions such as the police, the courts, and the military calls for historical analysis, and for an analysis of the relation of these institutions to the economic and political order under which they operate. The economic and political order in U.S. society is that of capitalism, an order based on profit and private property.
One cannot abolish the police or any of the other state institutions that prop up the capitalist/imperialist system without abolishing the state that created them. The United States was established and built as a capitalist, colonizing and imperialist society. These features cannot be reformed out of it. The liberation of Indigenous and Black people, and of the working class as a whole, cannot be achieved within such a system and such a country. Land back, meaning the return of the land—all of the territory occupied by this country, to the Indigenous people, cannot be achieved without abolishing the United States.
This analysis must necessarily identify the different social forces operating in society, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and the contradictions that exist between them, if it is to serve as a tool to make land back a reality. Spontaneous upsurges such as those that occurred last year after the murder of George Floyd, or the Black rebellions against police violence in Newark and Detroit in the 1960s, and more recently in Baltimore and Ferguson, the upsurge of struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016, and against Enbridge’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota, the present upsurge in the strike movement against intolerable working conditions throughout the United States, all express a need felt by the masses to counter capitalist, settler-colonialist and imperialist oppression. It may not always stem from an understanding of the systemic nature of these oppressions by the broad masses of people, but the experience people gain from these movements and from their encounters with the repressive apparatus of the state, are powerful teachers. Nevertheless, molding these experiences of the masses into sustained and conscious forces and organization against monopoly capitalism and imperialism, calls for a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary core to lead the masses to victory. Escaping the clutches of monopoly capitalism by retreating into idealized self-sustaining and isolated communities won’t do. Communist and communally organized societies existed among Indigenous peoples before the settler-colonial encroachment of the United States upon them. These communities were violently disrupted because the advance of a capitalist and imperialist United States could not countenance its coexistence with a society organized on a communal basis. Individualism, private property and profit-making had to be made the supreme guiding societal logic, and they were imposed through blood and fire.
Organizing the forces needed to overcome monopoly capitalism and imperialism will require a scientific and coordinated approach. These are the methods and the theoretical tools of Marxism-Leninism, a revolutionary scientific theory that has been repeatedly embraced, applied and shown to succeed in countering imperialism by the oppressed in the Global South to reclaim land and governance from colonial and imperialist regimes. It has guided and continues to guide successful revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Bolivia among other places. Marxism-Leninism is based on the study of concrete social conditions. It understands that social changes are the result of existing contradictions between material social forces with opposing interests, not due to the will of immaterial beings. It is a tool that serves to advance the interests of the oppressed and exploited classes and nations, and endows them with the analytical means to achieve their own liberation.
Our struggle for land back must be anti-colonial and anti-imperialist; and it can be. The people of Haiti, Vietnam, Guinea-Bissau, Cuba, and Palestine prove it to be possible. It would be cowardly and defeatist to restrict our vision of land back to unceded territory that violent settler states have deemed public; it would be deceitful to continue to cry “land back” and not struggle for it to become true.
The settler ruling class will not concede their occupation of Indigenous homelands without an unrelenting and organized struggle to bring about land back. This means uniting the colonized forces, Indigenous and Black, as well as the revolutionary elements in the working class, as a single powerful fist against the repressive institutions and their representatives in the imperialist core. It requires a relentless struggle on the ideological front to overcome the dominance of capitalist and imperialist ideology. It entails the organization of an advanced core of revolutionaries guided by the most advanced revolutionary theory, a Communist Party deeply rooted among the masses, to guide the working class and oppressed nations to surmount the obstacles thrown in its path by the capitalist overlords. This struggle requires uniting with the colonized peoples of the Global South, the vast majority of the world’s population, to weaken the United States by expelling it from the rest of the world, and contributing to the liberation of those countries by weakening the imperialist core through our struggles here in the belly of the beast.
Land back means the U.S. out of everywhere. Onward to socialist revolution and a world free from U.S. imperialism!