An interesting piece from a Canadian anarchist named Larry Gambone. It’s rare that you find anyone from the Left who recognizes that colonialism began not with the Age of Exploration but with the Roman conquest of the indigenous peoples of Eurasia. Early modern era colonialism was just the continuation of a process that began in antiquity. At some point, the world distribution of power may be such that every system acts as a constraint on all the others. The same way nukes have made WW2-style war cost-prohibitive.
By Larry Gambone
Changing names and removing statues is fine, but only scratches the surface of decolonization To authentically decolonize we must go much deeper, right to the structures that imposed and perpetuated colonization. What are these colonial structures imposed on the land? The two most important are the system of government, politics and political parties and the system of courts, laws and policing.
The System of Governance
The state is a colonial imposition. Prior to the European invasion, no states existed north of MesoAmerica. The Canadian governmental system is rooted in the British state. In the 18th Century, Britain was ruled by a land owning/trading oligarchy (less that 5% had the vote) divided into two parties, the Whigs and the Tories. Governments were formed through the competition of these two groups, the party getting the most seats, given power. This power was manifested through the state’s repressive apparatus (courts, police and army) which were used to force compliance from the population. Winning the competition to direct the state was all important, since it opened the country to all forms of pillage by the victors.
The Canadian state formed in the mid-19th Century, was over time, forced through popular pressure to enfranchise all adults. Nevertheless, the essential elements of competition, winner take all and the potential to oppress the populace remained. Due to the emphasis on competition and winning, it is very ineffective as a form of governance. There is little if any long term view, other than the next election and the system divides people rather than brings them together. True leadership, which entails both obedience to the desires of the populace and the ability to tell unpleasant truths, is not possible. “Leadership” takes the form of bossism (Do as I say, or else) and as such is not representative of the common will. Therefore they are not trusted.
The internal party structure is modeled on the state. You have competition for leadership and the winner expects obedience from the losers. Failure to comply means loss of position in the party or purging. The party leader is a boss. Naturally, there is conflict within every party. “Top-down” breeds a situation where the “iron law of oligarchy” runs rampant. This causes the party to become sterile, lack imagination, have no long term goals but power for its own sake. The entire political system becomes incapable of dealing with the problems of the day, leading to stagnation and increasing crises. (The present inability of the government to deal with the climate crisis being a prime example of this.)
Of course, society is class divided between the owners of the means of production and the great mass who work for them. Class conflict is inevitable. Due to the structure of govenment and internal party governance, inter-group conflict is much greater than what one would expect from class struggle alone. Progressive parties compete with each other and internal party organization tends to authoritarianism, just like the bourgeois parties. The progressive forces are thus divided and this makes social change more difficult than it ought to be.
The colonial system of courts, law and policing is based upon similar principles as that of government. Like the state, the courts are rooted in past forms of minority domination. The court served as a tool in keeping the majority of the population in line, and still largely serves that purpose. In a trial, lawyers compete and the one who has the best argument (or most convincing lies) wins the case. Winning is what matters and justice takes second place. (Just as “solving a case” is more important to the police than justice) Court procedures, and the language used, are totally foreign to everyone except lawyers and magistrates. Not all evidence is allowed to be examined and weighed. The reasons behind a defendant’s actions are usually deemed irrelevant. The court’s essential authoritarianism is revealed by the notion of punishment. Slaves and serfs were dominated through fear – and the punishments were horrific for that reason. While less brutal, the court system continues the practice of using fear. Justice is seen as the guilty party receiving a sufficiently harsh sentence. As in the past, the court system and its laws are essentially based upon suppression and revenge.
The law is bizarre. While there is a Natural Law that all societies share -one does not rob, assault, rape or kill one’s fellows, the colonial system is based on statute law. If the dominant group has the power, it can, and has always, made anything it wishes illegal. (Such as millennial-old hunting rights obliterated) Or it can legalize crimes committed by the dominant group. (Invader land theft) Behind this lies the idea that the dominator minority knows better what is good for the people than the people themselves. Such a legal system can only be corrupt, as wealthy minority interests are promoted and protected and any actions deemed even mildly threatening to the dominators are criminalized. (Examples include the “corporation as fictitious person” fraud, giving corporations the same rights as human beings, and the moves to criminalize protest. A good example of the latter being the Quebec Student movement’s 2012 success in mobilizing public support caused the Quebec Govt to make it illegal for more than three people to be together in the streets.)
Decolonizing Governance and the Courts
So what might a decolonized system look like? It would need to look at and borrow from alternatives, and these are to be found with Indigenous Peoples and ancient European (the Deep Past) customs. (*)
First off, we need a system that emphasizes cooperation rather than competition and a more consensual attitude. Competition must be left where it really matters – class struggle – and not be imported into the popular movements, and barring this caveat, into the system of governance. There needs to be a good amount of decentralization, but with attendant financing. Decisions ought to be made and executed at the level to which they are best suited. (The ancient subsidiary concept.) As an example, municipalities and Indigenous nations would have complete control over development, forests and resources. (**) As much as possible, there would be mass participation in decision making and democracy would be an on-going process, not something that you did for five minutes every four years. While political organizations ought to have coherence, party discipline would have to go, along with the authoritarian internal governance. Leaders would become like chiefs (coordinators and spokespeople) not petty dictators.
The goal must be to eliminate “winning”, competition and vengeance as justice. The goal should be the truth, and all evidence examined. No more punishment, but restitution, reconciliation, and where that is not possible, the anti-social person must be removed from society, not as punishment, but as protection for the populace. (***) The core of the law ought to be Natural Law and any statute laws imposed must be done by a social consensus to avoid the use of this power for the purposes of corruption, persecuting a minority, or imposing ones personal morality on the population.
(*)The Deep Past refers to the European peoples prior to their conquest by the Roman Empire and the cultural genocide of the Roman Church.
(**) There would have to be general environmental and human rights regulations that a community could not breach.
(***) Both Indigenous peoples and the pre-Christian Iceland Vikings had such concepts.