When it comes to the genocide of Native Americans, the people of the United States seem to face an existential crisis. The cultural clashes and recent diversification of rhetoric around this issue illustrates how deeply confused the people of the United States truly are about their identity and their history.
Ethnic Cleansing, Cultural Genocide and Mass Murder
Long before the creation of the United States, or the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, massacres of Native people by settlers had already begun. Incident such as the Gnadenhutten massacre of 1782, or the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, cannot be described “accidental” or as outliers.
The forced removal of Native Americans ordered by US President Andrew Jackson in 1838 and carried out against the wishes of the US Supreme Court resulted in at least 10,000 deaths. It is hard to honestly describe the “Trail of Tears” as anything but ethnic cleansing.
The Native American Schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs conducted a cultural genocide. Children were forcibly removed from their parents and taken to government run facilities in which they were not permitted to speak their own language, and indoctrinated with Christianity. Native American religion was illegal in many parts of the United States until the passage of the Federal American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.
In 2004, the British white supremacist leader John Tyndall told a group of sympathizers in Louisiana: “I’ve always been greatly interested in America. No one with the least knowledge of history, the history and development of your country could possibly believe in the current madness of racial equality. Here is a great continent of boundless wealth, but it was just a wilderness before the coming of the white man. It was the white man and white women who tamed it, build it and created a civilization here.”
Defending Crimes Against Humanity
In 2004 John Tyndall, and former US Congressman David Duke, who sat in the audience as Tyndall spoke, were on the political fringe. These statements glorifying the crimes against Native Americans and justifying them had been marginalized to only the extreme right-wing. In 1980s, 90s, and the early years of the 21st Century, mainstream conservatives and Republicans spoke of the genocide of Native Americans as a horrific reality from America’s past, and crime that should be atoned for.
However, this was not always the case. Until the mid-1970s, arguments attempting to justify the slaughter of indigenous people were commonplace among conservatives. Ayn Rand, the free market philosopher and novelist who is held up by Congressman Paul Ryan as his main inspiration was unafraid to make such statements.
The book “Ayn Rand Answers” which compiled materials from Rand’s various interviews throughout her life quotes her saying the following about Native Americans:
“Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. And you’re a racist if you object, because it means you believe that certain men are entitled to something because of their race. You believe that if someone is born in a magnificent country and doesn’t know what to do with it, he still has a property right to it. He does not. Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights–they didn’t have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal “cultures”–they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using.”
During the 1970s, the mass protests of the American Indian Movement, and the efforts of New Left activists to spread awareness about US history, changed the terms of national debate. It no longer became acceptable to defend what had taken place, and US media, educational institutions, and political leaders openly admitted that horrendous, indefensible crimes had been committed.
A New Wave of Denial
However, in the age of Trump, the terms of discourse have shifted once again.
Highly popular conservative commentator Dinesh Dsouza denies that such well documented incidents took place. On July 3rd, 2014, appearing on FOX news, Dsouza declared: “We shouldn’t flagellate ourselves for things we didn’t do…The main reason for that was not because of warfare or systematic killing, it’s because …diseases, …did not have any immunities, so they perished in large numbers.”
According to Dsouza, mass killing, forced deportation, cultural genocide are all figments of a “radical leftist” imagination. The mass death of Native people was merely the result of unintentional spreading of disease.
Dsouza’s words could be easily dissected by any scholar of American history. Unlike those who attempt to deny the Nazi holocaust, D’souza doesn’t even bother to try and debunk the many documented massacres. D’souza simply bluffs and says something that a certain audience badly wants to hear.
More recently, “PragerU” the widely advertised and promoted youtube channel of conservative commentator Dennis Prager, posted an odd video on November 20th, 2018. An individual identified as Will Witt walked around California State University in an outfit intended to mock Native American clothing. Witt then portrayed himself as a victim when students shouted at him and criticized his behavior.
The video does not deny the genocide, but seems to hint that somehow Witt is being victimized. The fact that anyone might take offense at such a costume is portrayed as some scandalous example of left-wing extremism.
Organizations such as the Proud Boys, started by Gavin Mcguiness, speak of celebrating “western civilization” in a defensive manner, angrily decrying those who speak of “western civilization” in negative terms.
Post-Modernism vs. Marxism
The question must be raised, why would anyone listen to Dsouza’s denial of historical facts? Why would anyone sympathize with a student in a mock Native American costume, and believe he is the victim when others object to his offensive outfit?
Now that decades have passed since the 1970s, a number of white Americans have begun to take criticism of the crimes against Native people as a personal attack. The widespread discussion of “white privilege” and “man-splaining” has created an atmosphere in which millions of Americans believe that acknowledging the actual history is somehow the equivalent of calling them bad people, and saying they to deserve to be less prosperous.
The narrative of the post-modern campus based, academic “oppression theory” leftists is that white Americans “have it to good” and should feel deep shame on behalf of their ethnic group. With such arguments abundant, those who feel the sting of such rebukes, hear Dsouza claim saying the deaths were unintentional and then sigh with relief. Dsouza gives them permission to say “see, I’m not a bad person after all.”
But a classical leftist interpretation of the crimes against indigenous people, as opposed to the post-modern and identity politics narrative pushed on the campuses, draws a different conclusion, and does not blame the working class for the crimes of the capitalist system.
Marx’s book Capital described the killing of Native Americans, along with the colonization of Africa, as “primitive accumulation.” Marx put it into the same category as the land-seizures and clearing of the commons that killed millions of white European peasants during the same historical epoch.
The seizing of the Americas from the Native people was carried out as the emerging class of merchants and capitalists was setting itself up to rule, replacing the decaying order of feudalism. Serfs and peasants were forced to become wage laborers, and sell themselves to survive. During this time period, thousands of Britons were executed for “vagabondage” i.e. the crime of being homeless. Millions of Scottish people were forced off of their lands during the clearing of the highlands.
Like the transatlantic slave trade, the seizing of Mexican territory, and the many wars waged by western governments, these crimes were not carried out for the benefit of average Americans who happen to be white. Most certainly the horrendous realities surrounding the origins of the United States of America were far, far worse for those who came to the US as African slaves, or those who were driven from their lands and exterminated. However, the brutal drive for profits by a small wealthy elite did not spare white working class from harm. The crimes of slavery and Native genocide were carried out and driven by the same wealthy monopolists who worked millions of white people to death in sweatshops or the building of the railroads for low pay in horrendous conditions.
The Global System of Imperialism
In fact, the very forces that have more recently de-industrialized the United States, driven wages down, and presided over the in-flow of opioids, built up their wealth through seizing US territory. The way US land was distributed was widely corrupt, with railroad “Robber Barons” and bankers bribing politicians and acquiring most of America’s vast wealth and natural resources for themselves. Those who own the huge multinational corporations and banks have no loyalty to the United States or its population, and have presided over the creation of a global financial system which has impoverished millions of Americans. The 1950s “American Dream” of a prosperous middle class has been largely eroded, as international monopolists play workers all across the world against each other in a “race to the bottom” with lower wages, less secure employment, and austerity.
In his book “Outline Political History of the Americas” the Marxist William Z. Foster described the slaughter of the indigenous people, not as a crime to be blamed on all whites, but as a crime of capitalism. The small group of bankers based in Wall Street and London who now rule the world, seized it through the horrendous process of colonialism, and now maintain a system of global monopolism, labelled by Vladimir Lenin as “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.” Exposing the founding crimes of this international economic order is not an attack on workers who happen to be white. On the contrary, it lays out how their anger and outrage is justified, and how they share a common foe with those around the world demanding self-determination and economic independence.
Opposing capitalism and fighting for the establishment of governments that represent the majority of working people, rather than merely the billionaire elite, is in the interest of all Americans, of all backgrounds.
It is the absence of this once common, class conscious understanding among the “American Left” that has laid the basis for so much confusion in recent politics.
Originally published in New Eastern Outlook