The question of decolonization, together with the national question, is vitally important in the context of colonial states like Kanada. Decolonization has become a popular topic in activist, academic, and Indigenous communities alike. This paper will set out the line of Anti-Colonial Action – Ottawa on these questions in order to combat incorrect ideas within these communities, ideas which defang decolonization of its revolutionary teeth and offer instead only the empty promises of liberal idealism. NOTICE: This is document is also a work in progress, there will be additions and edits made to this document until we are completely happy with the work.
What is Colonization?
Modern colonization began in earnest with the birth of industrial capitalism in Europe. As the development of new machinery threw craft and manufacturing labourers out of work, not yet industrialized markets found they could not compete with European centres in the production of finished goods. This transformed these foreign markets into markets dominated by resource extraction for the benefit of white European capitalists, and flooded these foreign markets with settlers looking for work. Many of these settlers became agents of colonial governments or militarized state enterprises (such as the East India and Hudson’s Bay Companies), thereby ensuring the theft and export of raw materials from colonized nations and thus protecting the interests of the European bourgeoisie who required those cheap raw materials for their factories.
Outpaced by capitalist commodity production and faced with mass immigration, Indigenous populations were displaced by force. While their traditional economies were infected by capitalist exploitation, Indigenous social structures and forms of governance were destroyed through conquest and replaced with the European nation-state. Kanada and the United States of Amerika are but two examples. European colonization brought with it some of the most horrifying genocides of our times; in some cases up to 90% of Indigenous populations were killed. This is settler-colonialism.
The English and the French were the first two major colonial powers to arrive in Kanada, the French claiming Lower Kanada and the English Upper Kanada. Each set up their own version of a state that would exploit, murder and displace Indigenous populations through genocide. History
would show us that the English would ultimately win the right to colonize Kanada while the French would play a back seat roll. Although the French would come to be oppressed by the English themselves, this does nothing to change the fact that Quebec has no right to Indigenous land. Genocide, theft, and displacement do not grant this right.
Kanadian Settler Colonialism
It is still assumed by many Kanadians that since 1867 Kanada has been “post”colonial. And yet, we see today the same processes operating to extract resources for the benefit of white metropolitan centres in the south. Indigenous people have been displaced and forced into concentration camps that the Kanadian state calls “reserves,” normally located away from cities and normally in north, far away from hospitals, schools, employment and social services. The Kanadian state together with the capitalist class continues to plunder and exploit Indigenous land on and around these concentration camps for oil, uranium, diamonds and gold. Industrial waste and hydroelectric dams devastate ecosystems, leading to much higher rates of cancer and other rare illnesses within these isolated Indigenous communities. Food insecurity runs rampant. Indigenous peoples are denied the ability to develop our own land and resources to serve our people and bring them out of poverty.
Kanadian colonization also brought with it the destruction of Indigenous cultures and ways of life. One of the primary methods by which the Kanadian state accomplished this was through the residential school system. Begun in the 1870s, residential schooling continued until 1996. The goal of these schools was to kidnap Indigenous children from their communities, isolating them from their culture, their language and their people. The idea behind this system was “to kill the Indian in the child” by assimilating Indigenous children into white colonial-capitalism; this would provide a solution to Kanada’s “Indian problem.” In these schools students would learn and internalize the racism taught to them by white settlers. Residential schooling led to the deaths of over 4,000 Indigenous children, with many more sexually, physically and mentally abused by the hands of the Kanadian state and the Catholic Church. Although Kanadians have now recognized residential schooling as “cultural genocide” in order to obscure the extraordinary violence committed against Indigenous people, we must remember that forcibly removing children from one population to another fits the definition of genocide proper. The intergenerational trauma that resulted from this genocide can still be felt.
Today, the majority of Indigenous people live in extreme poverty and misery. In cities, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people disproportionately experience homelessness. Indigenous people also comprise a disproportionate percentage of the prison population in Kanada. Over the past 10 years the Indigenous population in prison has increased 46.4%, with visible minorities (Black, Asian and Hispanic) experiencing an increase of 75%. In the same period, white settler incarceration has decreased 3%. Although Black people account for less than 3% of the total population of Kanada, they make up 9.5% of federal inmates (an increase of 80% from 2003/2004). It is the same with Indigenous peoples: although only comprising around 4% of the population of Kanada (This does not take into account non status Indigenous people), Indigenous people represent 23% of federal inmates.
These are the realities of Kanadian settler colonialism and the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. We must remember these realities; we must remember how they happened, how they continue to happen. We must learn how settler colonialism functions. If we are serious about the struggle for decolonization and national liberation we must know the system inside and out, we must know it even better than the ones who created it. To strategize, to win, we need to know our enemy.
Decolonization and National Liberation
Before we move on to decolonization and what it actually means, we should first look at what it is not. There are several conceptions of decolonization that have recently gained traction within activist and academic communities that simply do not go far enough to be considered genuinely anti-colonial. One popular example is “Indigenizing the vote,” where liberal and social democratic forces in the Indigenous community call on young Native people to participate in provincial and federal elections. The “reasoning” behind this is as follows: if we vote the system will represent us and we will win concessions from above. The fundamental error in this is the inability (or unwillingness) to see the true nature of the colonial state. The liberal and reformist elements within the movement believe, or at least act as if they believe, that the state is a neutral party that can reconcile the contradictions between those who produce wealth and those who usurp it, the contractions between the colonized and the colonizer. The belief that we can join the colonial state, and work to decolonize “from the inside,” cannot be more misguided. The state is a tool of domination where the agents of the bourgeoisie cannot but defend at all costs the interests of white capitalists, where the colonizer maintains the oppression of the colonized. A superstructural phenomenon can only grow from the ground of a material base. Its function is determined by material relations dominated by the interests of white bourgeois capitalists; thus it does all it can to mystify the consciousness of the people in order to ensure the reproduction of the capital relation between the white bourgeoisie and the exploited Indigenous labourer. We cannot hope to alter the oppressive nature of the state if we do not alter this material base.
If we do not smash all bastions of colonialism, the base along with the superstructure that reproduces it, then we cannot decolonize. We cannot decolonize spaces, nor can we decolonize ourselves. Participating more in the state, having more representation, smudging, teaching Indigenous history in schools—on their own these concessions cannot lead to liberation. On the contrary, these concessions further entrench the colonial consciousness, leading people to the false belief that Kanada is “post-colonial,” that Indigenous people are no longer oppressed.
The fundamental truth that we must understand is that decolonization is struggle, that decolonization is revolution. Frantz Fanon is correct when he says “colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” Decolonization, as with all things, has a dual nature. First, it means destroying the colonial state and its reactionary settler culture; second, it means building a new revolutionary society, one which can bring about the end of oppression, class and social distinction. These processes, however, do not follow one after the other; rather, it is only through the first that we can achieve the second. It is only in combat, in the struggle against colonial-capitalism, that we can organize a society for ourselves which is truly anti-colonial and anti-capitalist.
Our fight for liberation against the colonial state and capitalism also is a fight against the agents of this state and that includes some sections of the indigenous population. This section of the indigenous population is the comprador class, a bureaucratic bourgeois class. This class is made up of groups like the Assembly of Fist Nations, band chiefs, their supporters and also indigenous business owners that do work and trade with the Kanadian state and the band councils. These sections of the Indigenous population interests are not aligned with the colonized people and thus not aligned with indigenous liberation.Their interests align with that of colonialism, capitalism and the state. With their support of the colonial state the colonizer grants them greater power and better standards of life than the majority of indigenous people, they are a section bought off by the state and sold out to colonial interests. The comprador are not a class that can be worked with, they are not a group that can help bring our liberation. They are a group standing in our way, one that needs to be struggled against and defeated wherever they may appear.
Our goal for decolonization also is not to go back to the way things were before colonization and before Europeans came. Old culture and old ways can be used for our liberation, reclaiming can help build our struggle for liberation or as a symbol of pride and red power but decolonization is more and we cannot ignore colonization. We must acknowledge that colonization and realize that it has left a mark and that this mark has forever changed the course of our people’s future and indigenous peoples. This new culture of resistance and revolution is just as important as maintaining our progressive culture before we had to resist. The fact that we have a national identity to each other is not something we should ever let go.
Colonialism won’t end unless we make it end, and that means we must rally all progressive and revolutionary forces to our side. This includes white workers who are willing to fight against their own colonial interests and help our cause. As Marx understood over a century ago, the ideology of racism produced by colonialism divides the masses and turns the white proletarian into a tool of his own oppression. We need their solidarity and we need their help. We need them to fight with us. That said, this is not our primary concern; this is the duty of all white revolutionaries. Our focus is on our own people. This is our fight, these are our conditions, and this will be our liberation. Organize! We have a world to win, comrades!