Anti-Fascism & Decolonization in the Settler-Colonial Context

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By José Ramón

Introduction

When leftists discuss the dangers of fascism and the necessity of anti-fascism, it is often done so in a Euro-centric context, by which I mean it is done through comparisons to events, theories, and methods in or from Europe. “This is like the nazis/Mussolini/Hitler, etc.” It is unfortunately not common knowledge that the fascists of Europe based their programs on the policies of the United States in regard to the Indigenous peoples of the land it occupies and those forcefully taken from Africa by the colonizers. Beyond this fact, it is important for anti-fascists currently occupying stolen land to understand exactly what anti-fascism means in the U.S./settler-colonial context and adapt methods of resistance accordingly.

It is another unfortunate reality that many do not understand what settler-colonialism and fascism mean, so I will begin by offering some working definitions of these terms as well as the context and some examples that could guide our resistance to fascism based on Indigenous land theft and slavery of Africans.

What Is Fascism?

Fascism is typically identified by massive centralization of state power and a right-wing nationalism motivated by a nostalgia for some imagined “better” or “purer” time. Often supported by various other oppressive ideologies (sexism, racism, etc.), it seeks to standardize and enforce national identity including ideas of family, gender, spirituality, language, and more. You will also be told of megalomaniacal leaders who will often enforce a cult of personality – most often Hitler and Mussolini. Mass incarceration, torture, and/or executions are another common feature. “Fascism is capitalism in decay,” is a common statement. While such definitions are popular and the criteria easily recognizable signs of fascism, I argue that they are inaccurate or inadequate, and that a society can be fascist long before any of this criteria is met.

Popular definitions tend to leave out some key features, without which fascism really cannot arise. Firstly, the most reactionary sectors of the masses. These sectors of the masses that support fascism tend to be, in our context, white, men, and/or have moderate to low income. They act as a mass base, without which fascism would not have popular support and would be much more difficult to advance. Another feature often omitted from popular definitions is the appropriation of land. While it may be implied, it is such an important factor in the establishment of fascism that to not explicitly call it out prevents us from identifying and fighting it sooner. In addition, the element of the reactionary mass base is often overlooked in favor of a definition that focuses on the concentration of state power. Ignoring this mass base opens anti-fascist struggle up to unexpected challenges and dangers for which many are woefully unprepared.

The U.S. Has Always Been and Always Will Be Fascist

The settlers’ centuries of occupation and genocide went largely without the outwardly visible and “obvious” signs of fascism (in the strict sense) for many years. But ask Black, Brown, or Indigenous people involved in the struggle for liberation, and many will tell you we’ve existed under fascism since European invasion, that the whole illusion of “democracy” with stolen land and slavery has always been a show, and that even if we all played by their rules we would never be recognized as equals by any meaningful measure, nor does our victory depend on their “recognition”. Fascism truly begins with separating a people(s) from the land. Land, as understood by many Indigenous peoples, includes the people as well as animals, soil, plants, mountains, rivers, and everything that is interconnected and interdependent. European conceptions of land were largely based in economics of accumulation, privation, and exploitation, and considered human beings to be separate from and above the rest of nature. For Indigenous peoples, belonging to the land is like belonging to a family, not a relationship of ownership, but of love and connection. Indigenous systems do not separate people from nature.

The first thing settlers sought upon their invasion was exclusive rights to land and subsequently the resources on and in them. They also immediately sought to create a class of exploitable laborers the likes of which had not existed in Indigenous societies. Slavery, feudalism, and other systems outside of capitalism are obviously not capitalism, but fascism can still exist within and as a result of these systems, and even in opposition to capitalism, which is why linking it with capitalism exclusively is not so useful. It limits where we look for fascism, and allows the enemy more room to adapt their policy to maintain that popular support I’ve mentioned already. It’s all connected to that reactionary mass class base, in more ways than the typical definition really illuminates for us, and can exist both in support of and in rejection of the existing political or economic systems.

As Enāēmaehkiw Keshena describes in “Fascism & Anti-Fascism: A Decolonial Perspective”, settler-colonialism provides the conditions for fascism in it’s own context, and it turns the violence in on itself. “What, if anything, can fascism mean to those of us trapped within the belly of a violent settler colonial beast?” It is exactly what colonized peoples have lived under since the invasions began: U.S. society has always checked the boxes for the reactionary ideologies supporting it, the land theft, the revised history and terra nullius, the “good ol days” rhetoric, the white supremacist and chauvinistic mass base and myriad systems and acts of violence backed by the state…the fact that there is now a clown in the oval office actively trying to get that cult of personality solidified makes little difference to colonized peoples who have lived under settler-colonial fascism for hundreds of years.

Settler-colonialism, I argue, is close enough to European fascism (and, as stated earlier, supplied the practical and ideological bases for much of it) to be called a root of fascism (because, again, many systems can become fascist, not just one). For the purposes of this essay, settler-colonialism can be defined as a system of land-based genocide that seeks to replace Indigenous populations with settler ones. It’s basis is the appropriation of lands for such purposes, and it can include a range of settler-colonial violences from outright war and open genocide against Indigenous peoples, to the laws and labor/social standards enacted to maintain settler control and domination. It also tends to include a historical revisionism, usually centered on one of a few narratives. One is that the Indigenous peoples are in need of saving from their “backwardness”…false, as the backwardness of settler-colonial imperialist fascism has led us to multiple ongoing global catastrophes. Another is that Indigenous peoples did not exist on lands (or not past a certain point of history)…false, as we are still here today and we will not be erased. A third is that Indigenous peoples are or should be grateful for the “advancements brought by the settlers”…false, because Indigenous peoples existed for thousands of years with their lands in relative harmony, with the European invasion being preceded by what is sometimes termed a thousand year peace. In addition, everything that was here at the time of invasion was the result of the labor of thousands of years of Indigenous societies while everything that was built was also on the backs of Black and Indigenous lives – any “advancements” still rightly belong to colonized peoples and are the result of their labor, not colonialism. You may find more narratives, but this is the general tone of what you will hear. Keshena’s previously mentioned essay does an excellent job of fleshing out the theory and context behind all this, and so, I will not expend more words in this regard.

Identify Problems, Theorize Solutions, Test, and Improve

So, where might one begin in anti-fascist work in such a context? Well, at the roots of it all, in the U.S. context: settler-colonialism. In addition, nearly anyone who considers themselves anti-fascist will acknowledge the need for physical defense programs, but will also overlook the necessity of other survival and community defense programs, which we will get into in the sections ahead.

It should also be noted that no theory based in the experiences of settlers alone will be adequate in addressing these problems. Settlers do not live the lives that colonized peoples do, and their challenges do not stem from the same oppressions experienced by the rest of us. It should be assumed that anti-fascists in the U.S. will need to study and learn the histories of the Indigenous peoples whose land they occupy, and follow their direction in the struggle, which I will get into more in the upcoming section titled Decolonization. In general, it is good practice to read theory written by Black and Indigenous revolutionaries.

When you put theory to work, you’re going to encounter problems, due to mistakes in the theory or in your understanding and praxis. It is important to be willing and able to identify where your collective may be falling short. None are perfect, but far too many take an attitude toward self-criticism and improvement that lacks the urgency that is appropriate to anti-fascist work. We need to be committed and professional revolutionaries if we want to see the struggle through to victory. Pizza party struggle is not going to cut it.

Land v Resources

The land is unhealthy because of “human use”, according to some. While technically true, it washes over exactly who is doing the damage and continues the previously mentioned separation of humanity from the rest of creation. This position shows how humanity itself is limited to precisely the definitions set forth by those in power, and is implicit white supremacy/chauvinism. An anti-fascist theory must not reproduce this harmful idea within itself. Indigenous societies which existed in harmony as part of the land for thousands of years did not bespoil all the soil, water, and air. Were those thousands of years not human activity? The problems stem from who currently manages the land, not the fact that humans are doing so. The view of land as resource contributes to the continued colonial mindset…”it isn’t being used as effectively as it should,” was and continues to be a common argument positioned against Indigenous land management. “We need it for our [more important/superior] settler society!”

The land is not a resource, it is our home, it holds, sustains, and IS our family. If you cannot get down with this idea, then the best thing you can do is just leave. Most of the people reading this should be able to accept this concept. “We care for the land, and the land cares for us,” is a concept supported by science, as well, if that’s what you need to be convinced. If you’re already doing it, great, but you’re not done. You need to acknowledge whose land this really is, and that will vary depending on what stolen land you’re currently living on. Then you need to work to help these people(s) restore their rightful place as guardians and caretakers of the land of their ancestors, in ways that respect their Indigenous sovereignty, culture, and self-direction. That means that if you’re not a member of the group who belongs with the land, you can help, but you have no say, you’re not going to have real power in a system that is self-directed by the Indigneus people(s).

If you have enough privilege to be able to just leave the land you’re occupying in the hands of Indigenous and/or Black people, that’d be great. If you can’t, as I’d imagine is the case for most readers, use the privilege you have to further the cause of Indigenous sovereignty, reparations, and returning lands. Even if you have no money, if you have lighter skin, police are much less likely to brutalize you the way they do everyone else – get in the way. You have access to places, people, and wealth that Indigenous people(s) may not. Identify your skills, any of them could be volunteered to whatever purposes the group(s) feels is appropriate (including none). Do whatever it takes to get the necessary resources directly into the proper hands. To be absolutely clear, this kind of action will not result in Indigenous liberation or decolonization, it only amounts to what it is used for by Indigenous peoples themselves. We keep us safe, we make us free, settlers can only offer us help. Only Indigenous peoples themselves can decolonize, it cannot be granted by any outside state, party, or individual.

Water Is Life & Food Resiliency

“What is happening in North Dakota and the efforts of the Oceti Sakowin and others is about many things; stopping the desecration of sacred, cultural and burial sites, honoring treaty rights, defending Ina Maka (Mother Earth) and protecting water. It is also about a clash of value systems, one that values material profit and greed and one that values its connection in understanding that we are but a part of creation instructed with certain responsibilities towards the health and welfare of all life and future generations.” ~ Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle- Lakota)

“Water is life,” is not only a battle cry for water protectors, but a truth for all life on the planet. Standing Rock was a glimpse of the kinds of struggles that have always existed on Indigenous lands, but have become more common and more necessary as the limits of the settler-fascist nightmare called the U.S. continue to be pushed. In addition to actions to disrupt pipelines and politicians, we need to be building actual working alternative systems to build up resilience. Access to clean water and nutritious food, like most things, is distributed according to intersections of status and exclusivity. Basic water filtration, however, is not a terribly complex process. There are plenty of readily available DIY designs online for personal and community use size setups, with varying tool requirements from none to needing power drills, etc. Anti-fascists should learn and utilize such designs and tools to be able to provide clean water outside of the toxic capitalist system. Providing such means and training to the most marginalized communities should be a priority, as well as providing protection when the law prevents people from capturing and filtering their own water. More on defense toward the end.

Community gardening, even out of pots in window sills, can be an effective way of building resilience. Not only does it begin to separate people from dependency on the capitalist system for production and distribution, but it reconnects them with the cycles of the land, water, weather, and other life systems. Focusing efforts within Black, Indigenous, or otherwise colonized or oppressed communities ensures that the survival skills, management of the land, and power is where it should be. These spaces are often used by revolutionary collectives to host community meetings, trainings, and more.

In dense cities, it can be difficult to find public space, land trusts, volunteered lawn space, and similar types of arrangements. In such cases, it may be best to go for multiple small-scale operations over a centralized community one. Many herbs and other food plants can be grown indoors or just outside a window, many from cuttings you might (hopefully not) normally just toss in the trash – celery, onions, avocado, pineapple, garlic, lettuce, and potatoes to name a few). Either way, whether you have communal plots or take a “from each, to each” approach, it connects people with each other in ways that serve more than one basic need.

In addition to all this, not everyone has the necessities or energy to cook (all or some of) their own meals. Community kitchens and free food and water could be available in every neighborhood with the right mindset, training, and access. It’s not just capitalism and fascism that get in the way of that. It’s also colonialism (why is the water dirty in the first place? Where did the capitalism come from?), white supremacy (who has the cleanest water in their taps, overall?), and settler-colonial genocide (displacing/erasing Indigenous peoples and sovereignty).

Transportation & Family Care

Not everyone can afford a car. Not everyone can afford the rideshare apps. Not everyone can afford nor even has access to (adequate) public transportation. As usual with capitalism, crises of overproduction have resulted in lots full of cars no one will ever be able to afford while new ones are bled from the land each year. If you have a vehicle, or even just access, you can pay that access forward by offering access to Black and Indigenous folks. This doesn’t have to mean giving them your car, though if you own more than one…why do you need that when some have none? Offer rides for appointments, offer rides to the grocery (or community garden and kitchen 😉 ), offer rides to school or work, whatever people need. Engage your community in struggle for adequate and free public transportation. If you have the wealth, provide that access yourself, or help fund actions being taken by Black and Indigenous communities.

Another need that goes unaddressed in many places is family care. Whether it is for children, seniors, or assistance for those with disabilities, just being there for your own or marginalized communities to offer care is another great step toward greater self-sufficiency and the ability to mount a sustained resistance. If people can’t get to the action, how are we making sure their voices are still heard? Have we taken steps to address lack of access for those who may need assistance for themselves or their families? Community-operated care centers and accessible events are going to be more essential as prices continue to skyrocket and families are kept at work to make ends meet.

Skills Sharing & Redistribution

Do you know how to do something useful that you could teach other people how to do? Are you an artist, a mechanic, an electrician, a programmer, etc.? Can you fix potholes, electronic devices, or household appliances? Could you provide that skill to your community for free or cheap while instructing people on how to do it themselves? Doing so solves both an immediate problem with your skilled expertise, while giving others greater preparation to solve it all on their own. This builds resiliency in a similar way as community gardens and food distribution. It makes people more self-sufficient and freed from dependency on the system while building a sense of community, which will be more and more important as inflation, unemployment, and stagnant wages continue to be problems.

Similarly, when we directly redistribute wealth, items, tools, and access to marginalized communities, we build resiliency primarily through connecting people and resources. Clothing, shoes, backpacks and other school supplies, hygiene products, books, art supplies, furniture, housewares/appliances, power tools, anything people might need. It should be undertaken, like, everything else listed in this article, with an attitude of mutual aid and solidarity, rather than charity or saviorism. Again, the change doesn’t happen with the redistribution, it happens with what people do with it. Working in conjunction, and with a good revolutionary ideology guiding people, such programs could result in an increasingly self-sufficient community as more people learn to use and fix more things and are able to fix for and teach others in turn.

Political Education

“To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous person who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”

― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Everyone, and I mean everyone, born into a society as reactionary as the U.S. is going to have a lifetime of unlearning to do. Colonialism forces a lot of things onto and into the minds of colonized peoples regarding themselves and their place in history, gender, spirituality, economy, etc., and colonizers benefit from every single one of these ideas. Nobody is born a revolutionary, and we need to allow people some room to grow, but we also need to safeguard our movements. What does this look like? Well, you need to take a look at your training and vetting processes…how do you know that people are who they say they are if you’ve never worked through their politics? If you haven’t ensured that they understand and agree with the collective’s reasons and tactics for the struggle? If you have no process, that’s dangerous, not only for your collective internally, but for the larger communities you intend to organize with. You do not want to be building power with people whose political interests present dangers to marginalized communities and your revolutionary collective, and we all know that bourgeois ideology imposes itself upon everything constantly. I hesitate to provide a prescription because everyone learns in different ways, so my advice is to have as many ways for people to learn as you can provide. It can be done in any number of creative ways, but it needs to be done. Vetting people isn’t terribly difficult. Search the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers people give you for any public records, social media accounts, etc. Work with people before giving them power within your collective to see how they respond in real-time to things that happen during the course of doing revolutionary work.

Prison Solidarity

As revolutionaries seeking the total liberation of all (colonized) peoples, the anti-fascist in the U.S. today must stand in solidarity with the struggle for prison abolition – and abolition of cops, ICE, settler borders, capitalism, and all class distinctions and oppressions. This can take many forms, from getting people out to helping family communicate or sending books. Odds are you know somebody or somebody you know knows somebody who is incarcerated. Reach out, ask them what’s needed, ask to ask the incarcerated family/friend or if your connection can do so. See if it’s even possible to arrange to send what you need to send, take steps to safeguard your donation from being immediately confiscated over some ridiculous rule they have in place. If you have the pull or the wealth, pay someone’s bail, offer rides home or basic necessities to people getting out, send letters, poetry, art to people inside who maybe don’t have anyone…

A lot can be done on this front. On the outside, we can help people not get arrested through some very basic things. Many DSA (I know, I know…) branches run brake light clinics, that while not wholly revolutionary, DO help people avoid encounters with police. I think this is good anti-fascist praxis in conjunction with a better political line. We need to stand up and disrupt business as usual when someone is killed by police in our communities, every time. We can also, with some organization and training, unarrest people in the process of being arrested at demonstrations, protests, etc., rather than play the same tired game with police where we each solidify our roles in the dance of arrests, bails, and legalities, which isn’t sustainable and it gets the state paid. We can organize buses to get family to visiting times who otherwise would not have been able to make it. Only incarcerated workers can bring about their own liberation, but those of us on the outside can still help according to our ability.

Community Defense

The most obvious part of anti-fascist program, but also too often oversimplified and lacking in any real movement. It’s not just about firearms and self-defense training, but understanding why. Political education is too often left out of defense training programs, and down the road of revolution, that will mean problems. A guerrilla fighter must be disciplined, and always follow a strict code of conduct. One I suggest is the rules for discipline presented in Kwame Nkrumah’s Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, but these can also be improved upon or added to for any specific situation. In addition, I suggest requiring any militant in your collective to continually be working on their political education. The training period involving a serious political education course and extensive training on their weapon of choice should be followed by a final examination and continued testing to ensure that anyone with a weapon knows exactly why they have it, how to use it, and is someone who we are confident will respect the process of command in a real-shit situation. The last thing you want is your platoon of 10 people with guns to be making individual decisions about what the plan is.

Tactically, you should be having “what-if” meetings before any kind of event. Unfortunately, fascists like to disrupt anything and everything. Anytime fascists are present, you should assume that things could get violent at any time. It is important to not only understand combat but de-escalation and distraction. You should have someone to act as a police liaison officer at each event where police might show up or be there first. This isn’t to work with them, but to make sure they only talk to one person who controls what the police know. One of their strategies is to break people off and start asking questions, getting them to drop their guard. If you have an officer posted to specifically deflect thataway from your members (and the community), that’d be helpful in preventing some people from being arrested as well.

In addition, some states have very strict laws regulating what kinds of weapons you can have, and how they can be stored and used. It is good practice to at least be aware of the laws imposed over you so that you can prepare accordingly should a need arise. It is also always a good idea to have more than one option to use in the case of an emergency. If you ONLY have a lethal option, you are either less likely to use it or more likely to kill someone when you do. Either way, you’ll have serious shit to deal with afterwards. I carry a pepper spray that also has military grade tear gas and a UV paint that helps to identify whoever I might have to spray. Sometimes I carry a steel monkey fist, a steel ball wrapped tightly in rope on a keychain. Those spiked keychain dogs, cats, and various other shapes seem useful, as do pull-rope alarms, other forms of pepper deployment, electric weapons, and stick weapons. But in the case of a lethal situation, you’ll want a lethal weapon, which is why, if you can deal with firearms, I suggest you at least know how to use the specific one(s) you might use in an emergency situation.

Decolonization

Decolonization is the synthesis of settler-colonialism and its antithesis, the existence of Indigenous resistance. It is the solution that negates what needs to be negated and preserves what needs to be preserved. It replaces the false narrative of the settler with the continued real histories of Indigenous struggle. It replaces settler-colonial direction with Indigenous self-direction. In the past I have tried to put this in a way that does not sound so scary to settlers, but I now believe this has been a mistake of mine. It means putting all land and power into the hands of a small minority of the population for each distinct area, according to Indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands, and their specific group and collective agreements with other displaced colonized peoples. The former settler class will have no say, and if they retain any kind of participation, it will be at the discretion of each Indigenous group.

The commonly proposed assumption that this would lead to ethno-states is ridiculous and reductive at best, overtly racist at worst. Indigenous peoples always migrated, traded, and communicated with each other across these continents. Those with ethno-state concerns are likely the kind of people who would not assimilate well into an Indigenous self-directed land, no matter what. The assumption that Indigenous peoples want ethno-states is racist because it assumes that Indigenous peoples want the same things that colonizers want. It also plays into the white guilt complex, which assumes that, because of what they know they’ve done, there is an imminent and equally extreme vengeance exacted upon them. While it is likely that some groups may want all settlers off their land (as is their right), this does not make an ethno-state, and it is also likely some may want to work with you. As briefly stated before, you should know the true history of the land you occupy, and reach out to existing Indigenous communities to see what their struggles are, and if and how they might need your skills, wealth, labor, whatever you have to offer, or not. Anti-fascists shouldn’t take a response like, “We don’t really need or want your help,” to offense. The group may be doing fine, or they may just want to continue without your help as an outsider. It happens, and you should just wish them well.

Conclusion

This is hardly an exhaustive list. It is full of generalities, but specific enough to give the reader some idea, I hope, of what it means to be anti-fascist in an era of continually overt fascism, imposed over lands that have lived with it for hundreds of years. We cannot make long-term predictions for the struggle because ultimately it is not up to us on lands we still occupy, it is up to the people who belong with those lands.

Because of the settler-colonial context behind everything that happens on these lands so long as they are called the U.S. and/or remain colonized, as Enāēmaehkiw Keshena says,

“Finally, all of this applies to white people as well, many of whom I know are worried, as I said before, about the possible rise of fascism in the united states and canada. I say to you, my white friends, co-workers and comrades, that the best way for you to guarantee the defeat of fascism is to rise with us, in solidarity with us, and united with our goals for decolonization. Join us in fighting against the parasitic relationship all white people have enjoyed at our expense for 600 years. Work in solidarity to defeat u.s., canadian and european colonialism—in all corners of the world, from Africa, to the Caribbean, to Afghanistan, to Palestine, to Syria, to the South China Sea, to so-called “South America” to Turtle Island—and fascism, along with all the other most vile manifestations of capitalism, will surely fall with it.

A better world awaits all of us.”

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