Russell Means was a prominent and divisive North American Indian activist, artist, writer (ironic given what he has to say about writing below) and actor who died in 2012. He first came to widespread prominence for his role in the Wounded Knee uprising in 1973. The speech below ‘For America to Live, Europe Must Die’ was given in 1980 and is broadly representative of his views. Visit the Wikipedia page here and follow links for more detailed information. The speech, apparently his best known, was given before several thousand people who had assembled from all over the world for the Black Hills International Survival Gathering, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
It was forwarded to me by Barry asking my opinion of it and my response was immediate. I was working in Alice Springs at the time and in two nights after work I fired back my comments, contained in the text of the speech. This was certainly a more convenient way for me to respond as I was able to use the framework of the speech without having to develop a separate framework that would have been required by an article. But it also kept the response more lively and in direct contact with what Means was saying; more concrete I guess. Means was clearly a very intelligent and passionate activist and my argument with him, if I can put it that way, is over what road to take as we respond to the challenges thrown up by capitalism and modernity’s melting dialectic more generally. His being divisive is not the problem (we could actually do with more). What divisiveness is over is another matter entirely. Nearly forty years down the track the issues raised by him remain current.
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(Thanks to Tom Griffiths for this article).
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Russell Means’ article is in plain font. Tom’s responses are in italics.
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The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.
An inauspicious opening salvo that sets the scene pretty nicely for what follows, not least his romanticisation of traditional culture (here tribal) and his confusion about the abstract and the concrete.
So what you read here is not what I’ve written. It’s what I’ve said and someone else has written down. I will allow this because it seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not. They have already demonstrated through their history that they cannot hear, cannot see; they can only read (of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only prove the rule). I’m more concerned with American Indian people, students and others, who have begun to be absorbed into the white world through universities and other institutions. But even then it’s a marginal sort of concern. It’s very possible to grow into a red face with a white mind; and if that’s a person’s individual choice, so be it, but I have no use for them. This is part of the process of cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples’ today. My concern is with those American Indians who choose to resist this genocide, but who may be confused as to how to proceed.
Well, learning how to write and learning how to use writing as a tool/weapon is a good place to start. It’s not the writing; people have been historically keen to learn and ruling classes, until modernity had matured a little, equally keen to deny them that opportunity. Whose side are you on? His reference to cultural genocide is plainly wrong if we understand by culture something that is living and it being a user’s guide to finding one’s way through the maze of social existence. If we see it as something fixed and eternal then his claim has validity, although then the idea of a requiem might be more appropriate. His view differs radically from American Indian voices I became aware of when visiting Toronto recently. In the Toronto Museum was an extraordinary exhibit of three traditional Indian figures, ‘residents’ of the museum for over a century, transformed by the addition of a power drill, a camera tripod and an ipod. Beneath it was this explanation:
‘We do not want to be depicted in the way we were when we were first discovered in our homeland in North America. We do not want museums to continue to present us as something from the past. We believe we are very, very much here now and we are going to be very important in the future’.
(You notice I use the term American Indian rather than Native American or Native indigenous people or Amerindian when referring to my people. There has been some controversy about such terms, and frankly, at this point, I find it absurd. Primarily it seems that American Indian is being rejected as European in origin–which is true. But all the above terms are European in origin; the only non-European way is to speak of Lakota–or, more precisely, of Oglala, Brule, etc.–and of the Dineh, the Miccousukee, and all the rest of the several hundred correct tribal names).
I don’t have a problem with this paragraph. The term he favours – American Indian and the terms he rejects all have the benefit of drawing multiple tribal backgrounds into a unity. In this it is much like nationality. Within this unity however there is difference, or diversity and I don’t have an issue with that being acknowledged.
(There is also some confusion about the word Indian, a mistaken belief that it refers somehow to the country, India. When Columbus washed up on the beach in the Caribbean, he was not looking for a country called India. Europeans were calling that country Hindustan in 1492. Look it up on the old maps. Columbus called the tribal people he met “Indio,” from the Italian in dio, meaning “in God.”)
I know I’m being picky, but he argues against himself here – he, we, know this because we can not only read the maps, but the historical record.
It takes a strong effort on the part of each American Indian not to become Europeanized. The strength for this effort can only come from the traditional ways, the traditional values that our elders retain. It must come from the hoop, the four directions, the relations: it cannot come from the pages of a book or a thousand books. No European can ever teach a Lakota to be Lakota, a Hopi to be Hopi. A master’s degree in “Indian Studies” or in “education” or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.
And what is wrong with an outsider? Tribalism and small community thinking generally do not trust outsiders. Small group paranoia aids survival when our dependence and domination by the external environment prevents or limits our ability to be open and to trust. If you want to live with your head stuck up a dark and malodorous hole…
I should be clear about something here, because there seems to be some confusion about it. When I speak of Europeans or mental Europeans, I’m not allowing for false distinctions. I’m not saying that on the one hand there are the by-products of a few thousand years of genocidal, reactionary, European intellectual development which is bad; and on the other hand there is some new revolutionary intellectual development which is good. I’m referring here to the so-called theories of Marxism and anarchism and “leftism” in general. I don’t believe these theories can be separated from the rest of the of the European intellectual tradition. It’s really just the same old song.
Yes and no. They emerge from the same song sheet but music is then developed and its constraints transcended. He is exposing his non dialectical way of thinking – he doesn’t need the word, although he is clearly familiar with it, he needs the idea of how and why things change internally.
The process began much earlier. Newton, for example, “revolutionized” physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John Locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these “thinkers” took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into code, an abstraction.
Good grief, as if how he talks about spirituality is not an abstraction! The ‘code’, the abstractions he accuses Descartes et al of making were no match for his whopper, a damn sight more useful and, dare I say it, closer to the concrete.
They picked up where Christianity ended: they “secularized” Christian religion, as the “scholars” like to say–and in doing so they made Europe more able and ready to act as an expansionist culture. Each of these intellectual revolutions served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence: one, two, three. Answer!
This is nonsense. He is suggesting, bluntly, that the “wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe” under medievalism, or the Dark Ages, or under slave owning societies, traditional players all of them according to his criteria (and mine too actually) was better than what we have and can realistically achieve or aspire to today. Reactionary is a polite description, nutty more to the point.
This is what has come to be termed “efficiency” in the European mind. Whatever is mechanical is perfect; whatever seems to work at the moment–that is, proves the mechanical model to be the right one–is considered correct, even when it is clearly untrue. This is why “truth” changes so fast in the European mind; the answers which result from such a process are only stopgaps, only temporary, and must be continuously discarded in favor of new stopgaps which support the mechanical models and keep them (the models) alive.
All that is solid old chap, all that is solid… He craves for the certainty of eternal truths and when we consider this in relation to social relations, including family relations, he is eulogising a trap, especially if you are female.
Hegel and Marx were heirs to the thinking of Newton, Descartes, Locke and Smith. Hegel finished the process of secularizing theology–and that is put in his own terms–he secularized the religious thinking through which Europe understood the universe. Then Marx put Hegel’s philosophy in terms of “materialism,” which is to say that Marx despiritualized Hegel’s work altogether. Again, this is in Marx’ own terms. And this is now seen as the future revolutionary potential of Europe. Europeans may see this as revolutionary, but American Indians see it simply as still more of that same old European conflict between being and gaining. The intellectual roots of a new Marxist form of European imperialism lie in Marx – and his followers’ – links to the tradition of Newton, Hegel and the others.
This “conflict” is a false antithesis. As he uses this purported contradiction “being” is seen as being static, rather than dynamic, a form of existential torpor. And his use of “gaining” is a ruse employed because it can be seen as having negative, materialist connotations. He uses it to dismiss the idea and promise of development – economic, social or personal. Replace “gaining” with “improvement”, also a word denoting growth, reread his ’contradiction’ and note the different vibe given off.
Being is a spiritual proposition. Gaining is a material act. Traditionally, American Indians have always attempted to be the best people they could. Part of that spiritual process was and is to give away wealth, to discard wealth in order not to gain. Material gain is an indicator of false status among traditional people, while it is “proof that the system works” to Europeans. Clearly, there are two completely opposing views at issue here, and Marxism is very far over to the other side from the American Indian view. But let’s look at a major implication of this; it is not merely an intellectual debate.
The European materialist tradition of despiritualizing the universe is very similar to the mental process which goes into dehumanizing another person.
The reality is actually in inverse proportion and the comparison he promotes is fraudulent. He is right of course that the materialist spirit has despiritualized, ie, demystified the universe. It does so by reeling in understanding from its hiding place beyond the clouds, where it was the property of the gods, onto the ground and hence within our grasp. Tribalism certainly encourages the dehumanization of ‘other’. Modernity does not. Since when is understanding the richness and possibilities present in “another person”, indeed, all of us, “dehumanizing”? As Berman observes in his tribute to Times Square the one nice thing about American imperialism is that it embraced everybody. “Despiritualizing the universe”, as he puts it, is making the universe and us in it, explicable. Seeking answers, pushing the limits and transcending, rather than being trapped inside boundaries, makes us active players, not spiritual zombies.
And who seems most expert at dehumanizing other people? And why? Soldiers who have seen a lot of combat learn to do this to the enemy before going back into combat. Murderers do it before going out to commit murder. Nazi SS guards did it to concentration camp inmates. Cops do it. Corporation leaders do it to the workers they send into uranium mines and steel mills. Politicians do it to everyone in sight. And what the process has in common for each group doing the dehumanizing is that it makes it all right to kill and otherwise destroy other people. One of the Christian commandments says, “Thou shalt not kill,” at least not humans, so the trick is to mentally convert the victims into non-humans. Then you can proclaim violation of your own commandment as a virtue.
If there is a trick here he is the one playing it, although I suspect the trick is being played on him too. When the Old Testament God was taking a breather from smoting this tribe and that he issued the Commandments to his select tribe. “Thou shalt not kill” was an instruction to not kill one’s own. As for the others, follow my example… Christianity deserves praise here because it broadened the Old Testament definition of human and tribe to include everyone. Jared Diamond speaks of precisely the same traditional dehumanizing of other tribes in the New Guinea Highlands (The World Until Yesterday)
In terms of the despiritualization of the universe, the mental process works so that it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet. Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are used to justify butchery in the dehumanization process. For example, a real-estate speculator may refer to “developing” a parcel of ground by opening a gravel quarry; development here means total, permanent destruction, with the earth itself removed.
I’ll let the hyperbole go through to the keeper, but what he is doing is humanizing the planet and dehumanizing us.
But European logic has gained a few tons of gravel with which more land can be “developed” through the construction of road beds. Ultimately, the whole universe is open–in the European view–to this sort of insanity.
Yes, openness is what it’s about. In one sense he is highlighting the contradiction between the politics of the ‘House’ (or tepee in his case) and the politics of the ‘Street’, closed versus open systems of intercourse. The philosophers he holds a grudge against haven’t despiritualized the world, they have demystified it. This is the high end of town version of what general human intercourse does and it enriches us – materially and spiritually, in the process. What’s not to like? And as for his ‘satisfaction’ being only measured ‘in terms of gaining material’ he not only articulates a lot of pre capitalist thinking, but greenie and pseudo thinking. Good grief, could there be a link? He employs a common sleight of hand here by focussing our attention on only the narrowest impacts and drivers behind capitalist accumulation – profit, exploitation and destruction – the former going only to the capitalist, the middle referring to ‘mother’ earth and humanity and the latter also to dear old mum and the human spirit. (He is reducing human spirit to a form of miserablism, no fun at all). Some of this is true – capitalists do exploit nature and human labour – but he dismisses altogether the accrued benefits of this through increased social wealth and the social, cultural and personal development that this enables. By only highlighting the destructive and venal aspects he opens a wide door for the sort of moral posturing that is rife these days among the pseudos and greenies. For him I suspect it is much more than posturing, more a reflection of a genuine existential crisis or funk. Whichever, we cannot excuse his solutions.
One of the problems he has, and it’s a biggie, is his essential inability to shift between what systems jargon calls different level thinking. A sociological or group perspective as opposed to an individual or personal perspective, what we ‘see’ or experience and the conclusions we draw when inhabiting each level is an example we would immediately recognize. Norbert Elias uses the example of the pilot and the swimmer to explain the tension (advantages/disadvantages) between different level thinking. The latter has the advantage of being above, seeing the overall picture, whether the swimmers are heading toward rough water or dangerous currents or not, whether their direction leads to safety or danger. The swimmer cannot see this, but what he/she can see and experience and what the pilot cannot is what is useful/possible in the immediate situation, what the affect of the currents/tidal pull is on a personal or small group level and what can be done about that in the immediate (or here and now). Revolutionaries, especially ones that have fealty to Marxism, need to be able to swim and fly at the same time. Russell was stuck on the ground, gazing skywards and as we now know, thanks to those wretched scientists and philosophers, the light from the sky reflects a distant past; this is why he is able to romanticize it.
Most important here, perhaps, is the fact that Europeans feel no sense of loss in all this. After all, their philosophers have despiritualized reality, so there is no satisfaction (for them) to be gained in simply observing the wonder of a mountain or a lake or a people in being. No, satisfaction is measured in terms of gaining material. So the mountain becomes gravel, and the lake becomes coolant for a factory, and the people are rounded up for processing through the indoctrination mills Europeans like to call schools.
But each new piece of that “progress” ups the ante out in the real world. Take fuel for the industrial machine as an example. Little more than two centuries ago, nearly everyone used wood–a replenishable, natural item–as fuel for the very human needs of cooking and staying warm. Along came the Industrial Revolution and coal became the dominant fuel, as production became the social imperative for Europe. Pollution began to become a problem in the cities, and the earth was ripped open to provide coal whereas wood had always simply been gathered or harvested at no great expense to the environment. Later, oil became the major fuel, as the technology of production was perfected through a series of scientific “revolutions.” Pollution increased dramatically, and nobody yet knows what the environmental costs of pumping all that oil out of the ground will really be in the long run. Now there’s an “energy crisis,” and uranium is becoming the dominant fuel.
While not confined to this paragraph I detect a lot of envy here (envy is a primitive emotion and seeks to destroy what it cannot have). He is in good company of course, it is pretty rampant in pseudo circles. I think it is a displacement of feelings of disappointment and failure many of us have felt but only a few of us have owned and taken responsibility for. I do not mean that we have ‘caused’ the malaise, although we have certainly been part of it. The malaise is ours, that is the left’s, and not the systems (its problems, contradictions remain, requiring a synthesizing resolution). Rather than spitting the dummy and pointing our collective finger only at the perfidious 1% we need to shake off our dependence on those we make theoretical gods (avoiding responsibility) and understand that we have some work to do.
Above I said that envy seeks to destroy what it cannot have. Jealousy at least aspires to possession. Rather than acknowledging his confusion and existential angst he rationalizes it by blaming the system totally and romanticizing the past. It saves him from thinking his predicament through. This is a pity because he was obviously an intelligent man.
Capitalists, at least, can be relied upon to develop uranium as fuel only at the rate which they can show a good profit. That’s their ethic, and maybe they will buy some time. Marxists, on the other hand, can be relied upon to develop uranium fuel as rapidly as possible simply because it’s the most “efficient” production fuel available. That’s their ethic, and I fail to see where it’s preferable. Like I said, Marxism is right smack in the middle of European tradition. It’s the same old song.
Yep, it’s part of the European song sheet, but with an improved score.
There’s a rule of thumb which can be applied here. You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society. You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.
Happy to pick up the gauntlet. We defy anyone to venerate the old ways once they become familiar with what traditional life was actually like, still is in some places, for individuals – women particularly – by reading memoirs by people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Phoolan Devi among others or anthropological accounts by people like Jared Diamond. What they will see – if they so wish – are accounts by or about people who have emerged from traditional settings or settings in the earlier stages of transition where, so to speak, the plane has barely left the tarmac.
The destruction he cites was real but it was first and foremost ideological, the destruction of those venerable ideas, as Marx put it, that proclaimed and enforced the belief that nothing different was either possible or permissible.
So now we, as American Indian people, are asked to believe that a “new” European revolutionary doctrine such as Marxism will reverse the negative effects of European history on us. European power relations are to be adjusted once again, and that’s supposed to make things better for all of us. But what does this really mean?
Right now, today, we who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation are living in what white society has designated a “National Sacrifice Area.” What this means is that we have a lot of uranium deposits here, and white culture (not us) needs this uranium as energy production material. The cheapest, most efficient way for industry to extract and deal with the processing of this uranium is to dump the waste by-products right here at the digging sites. Right here where we live. This waste is radioactive and will make the entire region uninhabitable forever. This is considered by the industry, and by the white society that created this industry, to be an “acceptable” price to pay for energy resource development.
Note the sleight of hand – not capitalists or their proverbial lackeys, not bourgeois governments, but ALL of us. He turns a good point about dumping into an attack on all people of European background. It’s so slack it doesn’t even qualify as racist (which he was not in any case).
Along the way they also plan to drain the water table under this part of South Dakota as part of the industrial process, so the region becomes doubly uninhabitable. The same sort of thing is happening down in the land of the Navajo and Hopi, up in the land of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow, and elsewhere. Thirty percent of the coal in the West and half of the uranium deposits in the United States have been found to lie under reservation land, so there is no way this can be called a minor issue.
Correct on this one.
We are resisting being turned into a National Sacrifice Area. We are resisting being turned into a national sacrifice people. The costs of this industrial process are not acceptable to us. It is genocide to dig uranium here and drain the water table–no more, no less.
Now let’s suppose that in our resistance to extermination we begin to seek allies (we have). Let’s suppose further that we were to take revolutionary Marxism at its word: that it intends nothing less than the complete overthrow of the European capitalists order which has presented this threat to our very existence. This would seem to be a natural alliance for American Indian people to enter into. After all, as the Marxists say, it is the capitalists who set us up to be a national sacrifice. This is true as far as it goes.
But, as I’ve tried to point out, this “truth” is very deceptive. Revolutionary Marxism is committed to even further perpetuation and perfection of the very industrial process which is destroying us all. It offers only to “redistribute” the results–the money, maybe–of this industrialization to a wider section of the population.
Yes and no. Yes to his first two sentences, no to his third. Marxists do not aim to level downwards, but upwards. We do not take wealth from the capitalists, but their capital. This is then used to create more socially beneficial wealth and the benefits of that are ‘passed around’.
It offers to take wealth from the capitalists and pass it around; but in order to do so, Marxism must maintain the industrial system. Once again, the power relations within European society will have to be altered, but once again the effects upon American Indian peoples here and non-Europeans elsewhere will remain the same. This is much the same as when power was redistributed from the church to private business during the so-called bourgeois revolution. European society changed a bit, at least superficially, but its conduct toward non-Europeans continued as before. You can see what the American Revolution of 1776 did for American Indians. It’s the same old song. song.
Revolutionary Marxism, like industrial society in other forms, seeks to “rationalize” all people in relation to industry–maximum industry, maximum production. It is a doctrine that despises the American Indian spiritual tradition, our cultures, our lifeways.
“Despise’ is too visceral, but I’ll let it pass. Do we ‘despise’ if we see it as a permanent resting place, a veritable burying ground for human aspiration and progress? Certainly. As something that can, like the rest of us, develop quantitatively and qualitatively? Certainly not; we respect the individuals and people too much to sacrifice them on a mythologized and idealized altar.
Marx himself called us “precapitalists” and “primitive.” Precapitalist simply means that, in his view, we would eventually discover capitalism and become capitalists; we have always been economically retarded in Marxist terms. The only manner in which American Indian people could participate in a Marxist revolution would be to join the industrial system, to become factory workers, or “proletarians,” as Marx called them. The man was very clear about the fact that his revolution could only occur through the struggle of the proletariat, that the existence of a massive industrial system is a precondition of a successful Marxist society.
He has this roughly right, but it is his failure to get dialectics, either intellectually or viscerally that sees him fantasize about the either/or – losing one, idealized and good permanent existential state to another bad and demonized existential state.
I think there’s a problem with language here. Christians, capitalists, Marxists. All of them have been revolutionary in their own minds, but none of them really means revolution. What they really mean is continuation. They do what they do in order that European culture can continue to exist and develop according to its needs.
He is onto something here. Much of what calls itself revolutionary – including things we have been involved with, has not really been able (has not desired?) to see past capitalism in either its economic or social relations. In this sense a % of what he is railing against are things we rail against too. And, paying respect to his reference to language, let’s toss in revisionism and mechanical materialism in their numerous manifestations.
So, in order for us to really join forces with Marxism, we American Indians would have to accept the national sacrifice of our homeland; we would have to commit cultural suicide and become industrialized and Europeanized.
Cultural suicide? This needs to be confronted. Cultures – any of them – that do not change to reflect the conditions and challenges of contemporary life – die. Their ‘permanence’ reflects a relationship between humans and their environment that is static, or nearly so. Cultures redeem themselves, if I can put it that way, by being adaptive and with only a little effort they can also maintain links with their past. But in this relationship between the past and the present we serve the present, not the past.
At this point, I’ve got to stop and ask myself whether I’m being too harsh. Marxism has something of a history. Does this history bear out my observations? I look to the process of industrialization in the Soviet Union since 1920 and I see that these Marxists have done what it took the English Industrial Revolution 300 years to do; and the Marxists did it in 60 years. I see that the territory of the USSR used to contain a number of tribal peoples and that they have been crushed to make way for the factories. The Soviets refer to this as “the National Question,” the question of whether the tribal peoples had the right to exist as peoples; and they decided the tribal peoples were an acceptable sacrifice to the industrial needs. I look to China and I see the same thing. I look to Vietnam and I see Marxists imposing an industrial order and rooting out the indigenous tribal mountain people.
As Marxists we can look at this and accept valid criticisms of the ‘how’, but not about the ‘whether’.
I hear the leading Soviet scientist saying that when uranium is exhausted, then alternatives will be found. I see the Vietnamese taking over a nuclear power plant abandoned by the U.S. military. Have they dismantled and destroyed it? No, they are using it. I see China exploding nuclear bombs, developing uranium reactors, and preparing a space program in order to colonize and exploit the planets the same as the Europeans colonized and exploited this hemisphere. It’s the same old song, but maybe with a faster tempo this time.
This is a dummy spit. His placing planets uninhabited by anything, except maybe microbes, on the same level as earth inhabited by real people and a bunch of near and not so near rellies gives the game away. He is lost (willingly it seems) in a fog of idealized abstractions. Has he any idea about the real circumstances and conditions of the peasants et al he so casually dismisses? It is the system – or his view of it – that he focuses on, not actual people.
The statement of the Soviet scientist is very interesting. Does he know what this alternative energy source will be? No, he simply has faith. Science will find a way. I hear revolutionary Marxists saying that the destruction of the environment, pollution, and radiation will all be controlled. And I see them act upon their words. Do they know how these things will be controlled? No, they simply have faith. Science will find a way. Industrialization is fine and necessary. How do they know this? Faith. Science will find a way. Faith of this sort has always been known in Europe as religion. Science has become the new European religion for both capitalists and Marxists; they are truly inseparable; they are part and parcel of the same culture. So, in both theory and practice, Marxism demands that non-European peoples give up their values, their traditions, their cultural existence altogether. We will all be industrialized science addicts in a Marxist society.
Well the track record gives a basis for this faith – a faith based in evidence I hasten to add – and the capitalists have shown a remarkable capacity to get on top of these ever emergent issues.
I do not believe that capitalism itself is really responsible for the situation in which American Indians have been declared a national sacrifice. No, it is the European tradition; European culture itself is responsible. Marxism is just the latest continuation of this tradition, not a solution to it. To ally with Marxism is to ally with the very same forces that declare us an acceptable cost.
This too gives the game away. While Marxism is certainly part of the European tradition his letting capitalism off the hook indicates that he is opposed to development full stop.
There is another way. There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony. A lopsided emphasis on humans by humans–the Europeans’ arrogance of acting as though they were beyond the nature of all related things–can only result in a total disharmony and a readjustment which cuts arrogant humans down to size, gives them a taste of that reality beyond their grasp or control and restores the harmony. There is no need for a revolutionary theory to bring this about; it’s beyond human control. The nature peoples of this planet know this and so they do not theorize about it. Theory is an abstract; our knowledge is real.
Assert away. The real knowledge he valorizes is real knowledge that fitted and that emerged (was won) from a particular past. He elevates it to an abstraction, an idealized one at that, cut adrift from real, contemporary life.
Distilled to its basic terms, European faith–including the new faith in science–equals a belief that man is God.
Sounds good to me, we made him after all. Making man a god (and knocking down the Gods in the process) is a progressive yearning and achievement. It is an inherent part of overcoming a near complete and passive dependency on nature. Modernity has given us the means to dispose of them and place ourselves centre stage. Along the way there has been pushback, a cultural drag that sees us make ‘gods’ of leaders and ‘makers and shakers’ (he cites some) and we transfer our dependency – or, at least, too much of it – onto them. Phil Court’s pithy description of this, made in the late 70’s – “Follow me and you need never think again” has been etched in my mind ever since.
Europe has always sought a Messiah, whether that be the man Jesus Christ or the man Karl Marx or the man Albert Einstein. American Indians know this to be totally absurd. Humans are the weakest of all creatures, so weak that other creatures are willing to give up their flesh that we may live. Humans are able to survive only through the exercise of rationality since they lack the abilities of other creatures to gain food through the use of fang and claw.
But rationality is a curse since it can cause humans to forget the natural order of things in ways other creatures do not. A wolf never forgets his or her place in the natural order. American Indians can. Europeans almost always do. We pray our thanks to the deer, our relations, for allowing us their flesh to eat; Europeans simply take the flesh for granted and consider the deer inferior.
There is a poetic beauty to this prose and its creative impulse should not be dismissed, but let us not confuse the beauty of words with science which has a beauty and majesty of its own.
After all, Europeans consider themselves godlike in their rationalism and science. God is the Supreme Being; all else must be inferior.
This is childish. Creatures do not willingly give us their flesh, nor do they see us as weak and pity us. The wolf and the deer are not capable of making rational choices. A wolf does not choose to accept the natural order. To do so it would need to, and be capable of, appreciating alternatives. Wile E Coyote our wolf is not. He does not get hold of ACME goodies as he unhatches his diabolical (and tragically flawed) plans to catch the Road Runner. He/she obeys instinct or dies (a fate that may await anyway). Russell is running with an animistic mysticism that belongs to the childhood of our social evolution. Such thinking may have provided succour in our earlier days but time, us with it, has moved on. And need I add that in the process of moving on we have used plenty of fang and claw. The prose he uses reflects an early grappling with trying to make sense of the world and our place in it. It helped with the overriding task of survival. There is no point at all in looking for higher level explanations unless we have the time and opportunity to do so. When we do not, spending time is a waste of time and may undermine our ability to survive.
All European tradition, Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things.
Quite so, that’s why we love it. As Gerrard Winstanley, the most radical voice of the English Revolution observed, “Freedom is the man who turns the world upside down, and he therefore maketh many enemies.”
Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That’s revolution. And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.
The spirituality so enamoured by him is, compared to the spirituality made possible by modernity, impoverished. It leaves us as dependent children. I much prefer to stand up with and join my fellows.
American Indians have been trying to explain this to Europeans for centuries. But, as I said earlier, Europeans have proven themselves unable to hear.
Oh we’ve heard all right and not just from American Indians. Many such voices were raised during medieval times across Europe resisting change and wanting to keep people ‘spiritually enriched’ and in their place. That’s why we’ve moved on.
The natural order will win out, and the offenders will die out, the way deer die when they offend the harmony by over-populating a given region. It’s only a matter of time until what Europeans call “a major catastrophe of global proportions” will occur. It is the role of American Indian peoples, the role of all natural beings, to survive. A part of our survival is to resist.
He is right here – at least much of the time. Survival is the name of the game and has been since year dot – ask the wolf. But where is abundance, thriving (and I’m thinking more culturally/spiritually than materially although they are connected)? Without these survival is also a trap that holds us tight and it has taken our forebears millennia of struggle, suffering and resilience to break free from its constraints.
We resist not to overthrow a government or to take political power, but because it is natural to resist extermination, to survive. We don’t want power over white institutions; we want white institutions to disappear. That’s revolution.
American Indians are still in touch with these realities–the prophecies, the traditions of our ancestors. We learn from the elders, from nature, from the powers. And when the catastrophe is over, we American Indian peoples will still be here to inhabit the hemisphere. I don’t care if it’s only a handful living high in the Andes. American Indian people will survive; harmony will be re-established. That’s revolution.
No, it’s nihilism.
At this point, perhaps I should be very clear about another matter, one which should already be clear as a result of what I’ve said. But confusion breeds easily these days, so I want to hammer home this point. When I use the term European, I’m not referring to a skin color or a particular genetic structure. What I’m referring to is a mind-set, a worldview that is a product of the development of European culture. People are not genetically encoded to hold this outlook; they are acculturated to hold it. The same is true for American Indians or for the members of any culture.
This is a good point and one our current ‘right on’ identity set could take notice of. Indeed he is miles ahead of them and I have a sneaking feeling he saw them coming.
It is possible for an American Indian to share European values, a European worldview. We have a term for these people; we call them “apples”–red on the outside (genetics) and white on the inside (their values). Other groups have similar terms: Blacks have their “oreos”; Hispanos have “Coconuts” and so on. And, as I said before, there are exceptions to the white norm: people who are white on the outside, but not white inside. I’m not sure what term should be applied to them other than “human beings.”
What I’m putting out here is not a racial proposition but a cultural proposition. Those who ultimately advocate and defend the realities of European culture and its industrialism are my enemies. Those who resist it, who struggle against it, are my allies, the allies of American Indian people. And I don’t give a damn what their skin color happens to be. Caucasian is the white term for the white race: European is an outlook I oppose.
In spite of the generally reactionary nature of the speech his discrimination here is well made.
The Vietnamese Communists are not exactly what you might consider genetic Caucasians, but they are now functioning as mental Europeans. The same holds true for Chinese Communists, for Japanese capitalists or Bantu Catholics or Peter “MacDollar” down at the Navajo Reservation or Dickie Wilson up here at Pine Ridge. There is no racism involved in this, just an acknowledgment of the mind and spirit that make up culture.
In Marxist terms I suppose I’m a “cultural nationalist.” I work first with my people, the traditional Lakota people, because we hold a common worldview and share an immediate struggle. Beyond this, I work with other traditional American Indian peoples, again because of a certain commonality in worldview and form of struggle. Beyond that, I work with anyone who has experienced the colonial oppression of Europe and who resists its cultural and industrial totality. Obviously, this includes genetic Caucasians who struggle to resist the dominant norms of European culture. The Irish and the Basques come immediately to mind, but there are many others.
His working at ground level (or should that be sea level?) is essentially correct. Where do correct ideas come from after all? It is his failure to link this with an abstract that springs from, and in turn speaks to, the present and future that leaves him stranded on the docks after the ship has well and truly sailed.
I work primarily with my own people, with my own community. Other people who hold non-European perspectives should do the same. I believe in the slogan, “Trust your brother’s vision,” although I’d like to add sisters into the bargain. I trust the community and the culturally based vision of all the races that naturally resist industrialization and human extinction. Clearly, individual whites can share in this, given only that they have reached the awareness that continuation of the industrial imperatives of Europe is not a vision, but species suicide. White is one of the sacred colors of the Lakota people–red, yellow, white and black. The four directions. The four seasons. The four periods of life and aging. The four races of humanity. Mix red, yellow, white and black together and you get brown, the color of the fifth race. This is a natural ordering of things. It therefore seems natural to me to work with all races, each with its own special meaning, identity and message.
The ‘natural order of things’ for most of our species time has been clan and tribalism and very ‘in house’. This has engendered separatism, or perhaps more accurately, justified it. Trust and mutual reliance was ‘in house’ and outsiders, the ‘other’, were mistrusted or feared. This is what modernity has helped us overcome. It is ironic and a pity that this progressive aspect he holds is swamped and almost lost in a reactionary covering.
But there is a peculiar behavior among most Caucasians. As soon as I become critical of Europe and its impact on other cultures, they become defensive. They begin to defend themselves. But I’m not attacking them personally; I’m attacking Europe. In personalizing my observations on Europe they are personalizing European culture, identifying themselves with it.
Yes they are – and with good reason because key components of the individualizing synthesis have been hard wired.
By defending themselves in this context, they are ultimately defending the death culture. This is a confusion which must be overcome, and it must be overcome in a hurry. None of us has energy to waste in such false struggles.
Caucasians have a more positive vision to offer humanity than European culture. I believe this. But in order to attain this vision it is necessary for Caucasians to step outside European culture–alongside the rest of humanity–to see Europe for what it is and what it does.
Contradictions are not resolved (synthesised) by stepping outside of them. Or as Blake put it in Heaven and Hell “Without Contraries is no progression”. But the synthesising process here is a subjective one – we have to want to do it rather than having it done for us.
To cling to capitalism and Marxism and all other “isms” is simply to remain within European culture. There is no avoiding this basic fact. As a fact, this constitutes a choice. Understand that the choice is based on culture, not race.
Well, he is making a choice too, but I take his essentially correct point. We are choosing to move forward and just because ‘beyond here there be dragons’ is no reason to go backwards.
Understand that to choose European culture and industrialism is to choose to be my enemy. And understand that the choice is yours, not mine.
This leads me back to address those American Indians who are drifting through the universities, the city slums, and other European institutions. If you are there to resist the oppressor in accordance with your traditional ways, so be it. I don’t know how you manage to combine the two, but perhaps you will succeed. But retain your sense of reality. Beware of coming to believe the white world now offers solutions to the problems it confronts us with. Beware, too, of allowing the words of native people to be twisted to the advantages of our enemies. Europe invented the practice of turning words around on themselves. You need only look to the treaties between American Indian peoples and various European governments to know that this is true. Draw your strength from who you are.
This is a fair enough point and could be taken from any self help manual – which means it is easily transformed into the sententious. The problems presented by the treaties are not merely hedges in their maze, impassable barriers, but present opportunities too, not to be given, but to be fought for. Solutions and progress are to be found, in other words, on the arena. Going off in a high dudgeon is no solution.
A culture which regularly confuses revolt with resistance, has nothing helpful to teach you and nothing to offer you as a way of life. Europeans have long since lost all touch with reality, if ever they were in touch with who you are as American Indians.
This hints to me of a hostility to revolution and here I am meaning social rather than political revolution.
So, I suppose to conclude this, I should state clearly that leading anyone toward Marxism is the last thing on my mind. Marxism is as alien to my culture as capitalism and Christianity are. In fact, I can say I don’t think I’m trying to lead anyone toward anything. To some extent I tried to be a “leader,” in the sense that the white media like to use that term, when the American Indian Movement was a young organization. This was a result of a confusion I no longer have. You cannot be everything to everyone. I do not propose to be used in such a fashion by my enemies. I am not a leader. I am an Oglala Lakota patriot. That is all I want and all I need to be. And I am very comfortable with who I am.
I am not so sure that he was comfortable with who he was – or perhaps became. By all means dismiss Marxism; a lot of crap has been associated with it and he may well have been disillusioned with the crap as we are too. But the tone of his speech speaks of defeat, disillusion, even despair, leading to withdrawal and a full scale retreat. Whatever we may think of this, it is not where the future lies. For this we should direct our sights to the statement provided by those North American Indians behind the Ontario Museum exhibit.
I dont know anything about him but the opening paragraph suggests a well educated thoroughly European poseur earnestly expressing the conventional liberal/greenie virulently reactionary platitudes taught to graduates in the humanities. As Camille Paglia said of post-modern critical theory, they should be floated out to sea.
So clearly NOT an expression of Lakota culture, or any other pre-capitalist culture, so utterly post-modern, it reminds me of the forged letter from Chief Seattle.
But that had literary style…