Thoughts on the Maoist Movement, the Rhetoric of Self-Determination and the Politics of Decolonization

Over the past few days word of an apparently emergent split (or at least significant internecine conflict) within the ranks of the Parti communiste révolutionnaire–Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP) has come to light. Evidently, the cells in the francophone settler colonial sub-bloc have seized control of the central Party website, forcing the Central Committee to set up a parallel wordpress blog. Both sides have issued statements, though for the most part details have not yet been forthcoming.

These recent events were precipitated in the most immediate sense by an instance of intra-party violence at a recent book launch event in Occupied Hochlega for JMP’s new Continuity and Rupture. However, as both the CC and francophone cells attest, it is a culmination of a line struggle that began in earnest during the PCR-RCP 4th Congress, which took place last May. This was at the same time as my own writing attempting to detail my personal thoughts on the necessity and place of indigenous decolonial struggle, and the subsequent response from several sectors of the settlerist left-wing movement.

While the intra-PCR-RCP line struggle apparently revolved primarily around issues regarding proletarian feminism, trans liberation, sex work, and the party’s orientation towards unions, as well as questions of mass line and mass work, brief mentions have been made suggesting that questions raised around the party’s current position regarding the national question. Given that it has been, apparently, the stance of the francophone cells to make themselves unmovable on the question of updating or altering the basic programme of the party this raises serious concern, or probably more correctly curiosity with me. In particular this because the programme of the PCR-RCP is perhaps the only one of note in so-called “Canada” that has long correctly identified and rejected the idea of francophone/québécois nationalism as utterly reactionary. This is a position has long set the PCR-RCP apart from the broad anti-capitalist movement in this country. Further, the PCR-RCP’s politics currently position themselves as giving at least nominal support for Indigenous decolonization (though significantly lacking in crucial details). Thus I am, and surely other Indigenous activists in kanada are, wondering what exactly the content of this particular aspect of the line struggle has entailed.

Though we will have to wait for further details to emerge (and both sides have promised that more documents will be forthcoming), in the mean time I have found myself returning to an earlier piece of writing which took the form of a polemic aimed principally at the PCR-RCP. In light of all that is going on, and in hopes of perhaps pushing at least some PCR-RCP comrades towards being able to more correctly align themselves with genuine Indigenous centred anticolonial-decolonial politics and ethics, and the goals of the Indigenous Liberation Movement, I have decided to touch up and repost this original polemic below.

The Rhetoric of “Self-Determination” vs the Practice of Decolonization

Recently my writings regarding the subject Indigenous lead and oriented decolonization in Turtle Island, and the subsequent responses that I penned against various white “left” reactions to them, directed at the ideas from self-professing revolutionaries within both the northern and southern blocs of settler colonial empire, as well as a number of discussions that I have had with various comrades (Indigenous and non-Indigenous; anarchist, Marxist and “other”) I have found my thoughts returning to a subject I have dwelled on before over the course of my more than a decade now of interacting in various ways with the north amerikan anti-capitalist movement. This particular topic is the way in which the broad settler “left” on this continent, though in particular Marxists of a Leninist bent of some sort, have long employed a rhetoric of a right to self-determination, not just as a substitute for actual dynamic engagement with the growing revolutionary Indigenous ethics and politics of anticolonial-decolonial action and thought, but actually, fundamentally, as an arrangement in opposition to it, and fundamentally premised on ideological moves to defend the futurity of the settler (in terms of both the settler state and the individual settler itself).

As a particular case study on this rhetoric, the featured image at the top of this article is typical of what I have come to regards as the rhetoric of self-determination from the various settlerist left formations on this continent. In this particular instance, this is a poster from the Parti communiste révolutionnaire–Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP), the largest and most advanced Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) formation in the northern bloc of settler colonialism. Programmatically the PCR-RCP advocates for the “right of self-determination” for First Nations, as well as, importantly, marks itself different from the rest of the kanadian left by openly disavowing as utterly reactionary question of francophone/quebecois self-determination. Most of the rest of the MLM in occupied Turtle Island follows suit behind the PCR-RCP, including the other MLM formation of note in kanada, Revolutionary Initiative, and the network of autonomous Maoist cells that have coalesced in a number of cities in the united states in the wake of the utter implosion of the cisheteropatriarchal New Communist Party-Liaison Committee.

All of them follow essentially the same programmatic orientation towards Indigenous peoples and decolonization struggles as the PCR-RCP, even if the content of their individual programmes differs in terms of ultimately rather superficial ways (from the perspective of the Indigenous). Given that, and more importantly, given the growth that has been displayed by the Maoist movement in both of the regional blocs of settler colonialism, I would like to problematize how a vision of self-determination for our oppressed nations play out within their wider worldview, rooted in (what I understand as) their conceptions of settler colonialism, invasion and political economy? As Indigenous people, and more importantly, as Indigenous activists, scholars and warriors struggle to decolonize our lives and our homelands, we have to ask how does the vision of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist differ from our goal of the decolonization of north amerika? This is important in demarcating an answer to Mao’s old question, who are our friends, and who are our enemies? In particular this is important if there is to be any kind of meaningful solidarity work on the part of non-Indigenous revolutionary formations and the Indigenous Liberation Movement.

Digging into the meat of the issue, we can see that many, if not most Maoist and Marxist-Leninist formations on the left in north amerika, programmatically give significant space to support for the right of self-determination of those colonized peoples territorially engulfed by the body of settler empire—First Nations, non-Status Indians, Inuit-Iñupiat, Michif, Xicano, Genízaro, Boricua, Kānaka Maoli and Afrikans—as well as, quite often, in their other secondary materials. However, regarding, in particular, the struggles of First Nations, non-Status Indians and Michif—and versus the example of their support for the struggles of Afrikans, Xicanos and Boricua—the rhetoric of self-determination is constructed quite often in a relatively vague manner. This problem begins with their very understanding of the nature of north amerika.

Outright, a significant lack in their thought is the explicit recognition of the fact that settler invasion is not an event, but rather a structure, that continues to animate settler society, and which is prior to the conflict between the bourgeoisie and proletarian classes within capitalist society. This may seem like quibbling over rhetoric, but a recognition of the fact that the land wasn’t just stolen by settler invasion from sovereign Indigenous nations, but in fact remains stolen, and the settler population continues to act in its role the principle functionary of this, is actually significantly important. Principally this in part because this makes it significantly clearer that the solution is the return of land. Secondly, is raises the stakes of social and class investigation. As I have outlined elsewhere, the basic structure of settler colonialism and the central role of Indigenous genocide and land theft in creating the very possibility of the intra-Settler class conflict, much less animating it, and recognition of this must force one to thinker deeper about the nature and role of class conflict. Thirdly, and related to the second issue, this raises the question of the meaningfulness to the Indigenous Liberation Movement of western socialist thought on revolution (whether Marxist or anarchist). Indeed as I’ve argued elsewhere, I hold that while the Indigenous Liberation Movement is inherently anti-capitalist, there is nothing immediately within the register of demands of the proletarian socialist movement that speaks to the conditions of existence, and decolonial demands, of the Indigenous.

This profound misunderstanding of decolonization, in which is made into an adjunct of the proletarian struggle, and in that process transformed into a rhetoric of self-determination, in turn has lead, and continues to lead to, all manner of opportunistic, false internationalist and settlerist politics. Again, as I have said before, this tendency of treating the decolonization struggle (or more correctly, in this context, the right to self-determination) as a mere secondary aspect of a principle proletarian struggle leads inevitably to seeks to focus the attention of colonized peoples on supposedly more “concrete” or “universal” demands. These demands, which are supposedly the demands of the proletariat are inevitably the demands primarily of a class of people who exist in a parasitic relationship to Indigenous and other colonized peoples, and which do not speak directly to the life-or-death demands of our peoples. This in turn has the effect of depressing what is the central question of the Indigenous Liberation Movement: the question of land. More specifically the return of land, all of it, not just symbolically and without compensation for the colonizer.

Again, I have addressed elsewhere, but fundamentally I believe that this style of ostensibly revolutionary politics, including the style of their support for the national liberation & anti-colonialist movements of some of the internal colonies (understood quite often in quite dogmatic Marxist-Leninist terms)—specifically Afrikans, Xicanos and Boricua—is ultimately rooted in a vision of the socialist transformation of society that aims to protect settler futurity. In otherwords, this is a revolution in which the continued existence of settler colonialism, in a newly commoned/collectivized, will be preserved, if in a new form following the proletarian seizure of power. In terms of sheer geopolitics, this is because conceding New Afrika, Aztlán and Borikén—while also framing other national liberation questions in such a way as to depress the specific question of the return of the land—allows for an envisioning of proletarian socialist revolution in which, while having to surrender significant swaths of land, ultimately the vast majority of the territorial corpus of the settler empire is allowed to remain in colonizer/invader hands.

This is not then, in the end, the same kind of goal of the genuinely anticolonial, decolonial, dewesternizing and, ultimately, anticapitalist movements of Indigenous peoples. Indeed it is more akin to a socialist version of what some have half-jokingly refered to as the Amerikaner Free State. Radically this is a vision not for the total obliteration of settler power, but rather for the giving of a new dispensation, a new reconfiguration, of it. Thus, it is a vision that is fundamentally at odds with the Indigenous Liberation Movement. To draw from the thought of Osage liberation theologian George E. Tinker, after the Marxist (or anarchist) workers’ revolution “our land will still not be ours but would enter into the collective possession of a much larger colonizer proletariat who are also foreign to our land and who must be considered invaders” (American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty, p. 23-4).

Deep down Indigenous people quite often know this is the truth. Indeed, I would argue that these sorts of fundamental differences are why Indigenous peoples, First Nations in particular, have never made significant movement towards joining Marxist-Leninist, or now Marxist-Leninist-Maoist type organization, which is quite stark when compared to the histories of other people colonized within the body of the north amerikan settler bloc. Thus quieting of the question of the return of the land to Indigenous nations thus can come across as somewhat cynical. As if they think we are not going to notice, or that they hope we will not force the issue with the (nominally) proletarian movement. As one comrade with who I discussed this topic recently put it: “it’s like they’re thinking, ‘I hope they don’t want to self-determine *that* way.'”

To begin a to move towards to a conclusion of this piece, I want to link to this a final issue, which is the backwards framing of the question of when decolonization would happen. Those, such as the contemporary Maoist movement in the united states and kanada, who rely on a rhetoric of self-determination rather than a truly Indigenous informed ethics and politics of decolonization have historically treated the liberation of the territorially engulfed colonies as an afterthought in terms of temporal relationship to the revolution. In other words it is something to be dealt with following the seizure of power by the proletarian class (lead of course by its advanced vanguard representative). From this perspective, following the socialist workers’ revolution, we of the colonized nations, can choose, if we find ourselves so inclined, to separate from whatever Federal Socialist Workers’ Republic of North America they would have replace the northern and southern blocs of the current configuration of settler colonial capitalist power.

And this right here exposes perhaps the most important difference between the rhetoric of “self-determination” versus of the politics of decolonization. Fundamentally, the former position sees socialist revolution as something that can happen on this continent WITHOUT necessarily including the immediate territorial liberation of colonized nations as part of the fundamental set of demands. The “right of self-determination” will be granted to (some of) the internal colonies only after the revolution, and, again, we can act on it if we so choose (but really, who would want to separate and go their own savage way from the new and glorious Federal Socialist Workers’ Republic of North America, right?) The latter however holds that decolonization, that is the thoroughgoing doing away with of this imperial-colonial thing we call north amerika—which only exists by dint of genocide, enslavement, theft and colonization—as the fundamental precursor for the emergence of any kind of truly liberated society here on this continent. Thus, settler colonialism can very well, and indeed almost certainly would, continue to be the dominant order of the day following the line of organizations appealing to a rhetoric of self-determination, while enacting a project of genuine decolonization here on Maehkaenah-Menaehsaeh would utterly annihilate it.

Which brings me to a point regarding the default eurocentrism embedded simply in even making use a language constructed around a “right of self-determination.” I mean this in the sense that the way it is always worded—as a “right to self-determination”—implies that we, the Indigenous and the other colonized, are dependent on this right being granted to us, as a dispensation of privilege, by our entirely hypothetical colonizer working class allies following the socialist revolution. It frames it as something which will happen via the largess of the new (and inherently colonizer/invader dominated) Federal Socialist Workers’ Republic of North America. I have no interest in waiting for our “right” to be as we choose, to live as independent and free, and to be granted to us by a group of people who have, at every single level of their existence, come to be entirely dependent on colonialism. Indeed it goes even deeper than that. They are not just entirely dependent on colonialism: they exist entirely and wholly ONLY BECAUSE of colonialism. Decolonization then, even if only taken to be the bare minimum of what it means, thus presents a radical existential threat to this entity. To decolonize, really, following Fanon, is a project to destroy the(ir) world in a sense.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that day. Indeed the reactions from sectors of the left to my previous writings on the subject of decolonization have shown me that such a wait would be a very, very long one. So why would we wait for them? I propose that we must seize our freedom and take it for ourselves.

Additionally, for further discussion and reference regarding my thought decolonial theory and politics, please see the following articles: