Title: Colonisation
Subtitle: a glossary entry to accompany the U.K. green anarchist zine Return Fire, Volume 3
Author: Return Fire
Date: Winter 2015–2016
Source: Return Fire vol.3
Notes: PDFs of Return Fire (including the volume this was written to accompany) and related publications can be read, downloaded and printed by searching actforfree.nostate.net for “Return Fire”, or emailing returnfire@riseup.net













Imagine existing under occupation. Imagine life after the invasion of your home; the boots on the street, the suppression of differential ways of being, the erasure of potentials. Imagine you, the next generation, the one after, as compelled to abide by new strictures and disciplines, learning to call new and old phenomena by unfamiliar terms, both living in and understanding your bodies and surroundings in set and prescribed ways, contributing daily to a project not your own.

Is this what the term ‘colonisation’ evokes to you? For many of us, the initial connotations are the same: expropriation, persecution, enslavement, loss of culture and meaning, apartheid. For some, depending on one’s starting point, this picture will feel painfully present and fresh; an open sore not given respite to heal, a torment without end in sight, as the circumference of your life shrinks to fit your ghetto, house-hold, reservation, labour-camp or mental ward. For others, the impression would be like traces of a lingering nightmare – collective grief buried under daily survival; echoes of the kitchen-table laments of neglected elders or whispers of half-forgotten rebels. For others still, this will feel like the stuff of wide-screen dystopias or foreign dictatorships; figures from the past, maybe, without bearing on or relation to our ‘individually determined’ existence in The Free World.

The common usage is deceptively simple; one kind of culture invades and overwhelms another. The basis for this hostility towards the ‘other’, and the complex mindsets of differentiation and superiority within which it exists, is rooted in the settling of certain concepts and assumptions in the consciousness of its hosts. Often, however, discussion of the phenomena of colonisation stays hemmed into limited readings on the theme of race, or the moves of one specific culture on the stage of History, or even just to shrewd geopolitical calculations set apart from ideology. The truth is that contributions from such discussions continue to inform our perspectives on the matter, yet our use of the term conjures a logic far deeper and wider. We who are writing feel that opening out our understanding of this dynamic can equip us to better comprehend the indignities in all our lives, and the axes along which they intersect. This is why we wanted to dedicate this space to the topic.

Some of the descriptions to follow are straight from our own experiences, or those shared with us by others on a separate footing within the colonisation process, but some will be what has in one way or another been served to us as History (even in its antagonist version). Because this History is a slippery tool to wield, and more than a little implicated in the very process of worldview-shaping we’ll critique, we will at least be making more abundantly clear than usual which key sources we’ve worked from or what conversations we’re following in this line of inquiry.

How does a culture develop colonisation? Let’s start by disentangling the more general tendency from necessarily being equivalent to its better-known namesake, settler colonialism. While the human and more-than-human terrain of much of the world is, or, depending how far back you want to go, has been majorly recast by this dynamic (that is, by the arrival, invasion and entrenchment of a human culture from elsewhere), emphasis on this form alone misleads us. For example, as we’ll discuss later, the bulk of the settler populations who arrived in the last few centuries has long gone from much of Africa, southern Asia and the Middle East, yet these regions remain deeply tied into a relationship to other places so that we’d absolutely describe them as colonised; and not them alone. Other colonialisms persist in the sphere of the economic, the cultural, the affective, the psychological, the spiritual and more, as well as material/geographical.

If colonialism finds its source in an urge for domination tending towards expansion and assimilation more than solely self-aggrandisement, possibly it springs from anywhere that communities become subsumed into more abstract and depersonalised society. From such a great distance there must be many facets that are invisible to us, but when we look to the ancient monuments of the Egyptian pyramids, the ceremonial sites of Teotihuacan or the temple mounds and palaces of Mesopotamia, we envisage a great subordination of untold lives in the service of an occupying force: ideologically though not ethnically. During the construction of the Grand Canal, to bring food to the then-capital of China, Peking, and to armies in the north, about half of the five-and-a-half million workers (said to be guarded by 50,000 police) are thought to have died during the work. From these times and onward, we see signs of an immense suffering and exploitation across the world – doubtless also with countless moments of refusal, evasion and resistance – with numerous empires and chiefdoms raising themselves from the blood and toil of countless creatures (among them, humans) who have been torn from their previous lifeways to serve or to feed. In trying to understand what brings us to a point where such vast expropriation of living energies seem viable, we ask first what social organisational forms must first develop upon expansionist lines.


Which ways of subsistence necessitate expansionism, despite many other cultural differences their practitioners might have? One major subsistence strategy, one which has now been imposed across much of the available planet in the manner of settler colonialism, it seems to us does just that. That strategy is called agriculture. Agriculture entails aggressively “clearing” land to make a field, eradicating the undesired species that are present (because no land is just laying there bare and inanimate waiting for humans to control it), and tilling the soil to plant the desired annual crops. Non-agricultural peoples did and, where they exist today, still do cultivate their landbases in many more-or-less subtle ways – including ‘swidden’ (selective burning) interventions towards the more drastic end in many parts of the world, including apparently in post-Ice-Age Britain in order to encourage the growth of foliage for red deer. No species exists in a bubble, without interplay and effects, but rather exists in a mode which shifts through time, through sequential stages of adjustment, temporarly equilibrium, disturbance, and readjustment – just like all relationships shift with time. However, more appropriately than terming any and all cultivation as agriculture, it helps us to be more precise. Jason Godesky has addressed the matter at length. “Etymologically, “agriculture” comes from the Latin ager, meaning “a field”, and cultura, meaning “cultivation” in the strict sense of tillage of the soil. A literal reading of the English word yields: tillage of the soil of a field. Thus, agriculture is a fairly specific (though extremely common) kind of cultivation; to refer to a type of agriculture that does not involve tilling is certainly taking liberties with the term...”

The vital outlook, conceptually and practically, is that while, say, cultures based around gathering, scavenging, horticulture and hunting instead of agriculture inherently depend on the health of a landbase in wildness and diversity, and hence are highly adaptive and fluid, agriculture depends on controlling and destroying that diversity and habitat for a single species’ purposes. In order for that one species to be able to stock the plants and animals they want, the wild purpose of that initial community of life is trashed, and instead of a variety of plants and permanent ground-cover, a small number of crops make only part-time habitation of the space. In his ‘A Green History of the World’, Clive Ponting articulates the recurrent result. “The soil is exposed to the wind and rain to a far greater extent than before, particularly where fields are left bare for part of the year, leading to much higher rates of soil erosion than under natural ecosystems. Nutrient recycling processes are also disrupted and extra inputs in the form of manures or fertilizers are, therefore, required if soil fertility is to be maintained. The adoption of irrigation is even more disruptive since it creates an environment that is even more artificial than dry farming, which relies on rainfall. Adding large amounts of water to a poor soil may allow the farmer to grow his [sic] preferred crop but it can have catastrophic longer term effects. The extra water drains into the underlying water table and will, over differing lengths of time depending on local conditions, cause water levels to rise until the soil becomes waterlogged. The additional water also alters the mineral content of the soil: it increases the amount of salt, and may eventually, especially in hot areas with high evaporation rates, produce a thick layer of salt on the surface which makes agriculture impossible.” One way or another agriculture has consistently desertified regions, from the Huáng Hé basin[1] to the Scandinavian Viking’s creation of the now-iconic landscape of Iceland. Today, soil destruction has reached the point that the the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation estimates the world on average as having just sixty years left of growing crops.

Such a mode of subsistence seems not just to cause devastation, but to actually be predicated on devastation to create its necessary environment. “The crops that we cultivate for food (primarily wheat, corn and rice – most of the food in the world comes from one of those three species): these are all disaster crops. They have a place in biological succession: after a catastrophe [i.e. flood, fire, etc.] they are the ones to move in first. They set up their roots, sprout up quickly, they help maintain the soil from erosion and they provide a cover that other animals and plants can then move in and begin to restore that land that had been destroyed by whatever catastrophe[...] [Y]ou have new growth forests that give way to old growth forests, ultimately ending in large, mature ecosystems with great deals of biodiversity and enormous amounts of life per acre. The initial steps, the catastrophe plants, have the lowest biodiversity; they have the lowest amounts of life per acre. But they set the stage and prepare that land for further life. When we discovered that these plants provided food that was not terribly nutritious but packed a lot of energy into a small, easily-harvested container, we began to cultivate them using an agricultural method that made the environment more like something that they wanted. [I]t started usually in flood-plains where there were floods where these crops grew up regularly, but as agriculture expanded we had to introduce our own catastrophes.

The plough is a catastrophe machine. That’s what it does. It is meant to destroy living communities in order to introduce a catastrophe that otherwise would not be. […] The ecological devastation which has always been caused by agriculture continues to be caused, only on larger scales[...] Agriculture, at its base, is a system of creating catastrophe; and then opening the wound every year to make sure that it will never heal. [...] What divides agriculture and horticulture[2] is less a question of a particular technique or even the intensity of investment, but rather, the ecological effect of their strategies. Horticulturalists in the New World [sic] created the Amazon rainforest [by forest gardening] and the Great Plains [using swidden to encourage savannah]. By the same token, the first farmers laid waste to the cedar forest that once covered the Middle East and turned the Fertile Crescent [modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, southern Iraq and northern Egypt] into a wasteland. So here we have a workable definition: agriculture is cultivation by means of catastrophe[,] horticulture is cultivation by means of succession. [...] The farm is a unit of human food production. If some plant finds its way into it, it is a “weed”; if some animal, “vermin.” “Weeds” and “vermin” must at all costs be eradicated, because cultivation by means of catastrophe creates a situation of constant scarcity and deprivation. Historically, the world’s “famine centers” have always been its agricultural centers. By contrast, [horticulture] routinely creates rich habitat for other species, and even encourages it, in large part because, unlike agriculture, horticulture is not self-sufficient [but combines with gathering, hunting, etc.]” (Godesky).

Within the human societies practicing agriculture there have been great variance, yet a consistent accompaniment has been the breaking down of social conventions around sharing land (hence food, water, shelter, medicine, etc.) and introducing the idea of exclusive ownership over it, either by individuals or larger organisations, rather than responsibility to it. Here we can see the essence of a colonial urge; even without geographical expansion (at first), within a certain area the beings – plants, animals, soil, bodies of water, and whatever else – become the fodder for a culture that becomes less a relation than an occupation. Indeed, the root of the English word ‘colony’ comes from the Latin colonia – ‘a place for agriculture’.

As well as instituting a certain kind of monotonous toil, the environment agriculture attempts to enforce is one that is static and compartmentalised. Layla AbdelRahim describes how, because non-agrarian cultures “do not appropriate the purpose of being of other persons or species, they rely on constant movement and symbiotic relationships for subsistence, which means that moving living beings help to secure the improvisation and diversity of life. Agricultural societies, in contrast, rely on the interrelated concepts of “permanence,” “ownership” and “time.” [D]omestication instils monotony on life. It needs schedules, curbs imagination and eliminates playfulness and improvisation, because control presumes permanence, predictability and the elimination of the element of surprise. If life means movement through chaos and diversity for the simple pleasure of being, then, in more than one way, rooted in domestication, civilization is a place of stillness and death. Domestication and civilization thus constitute the process of colonization of space and its resources [as] bodies that would enable the colonization of other species and their spaces.” Importantly, the phenomena of ‘freezing in’ was also identified by the well-known opponent of the former French occupation of Algeria, Franz Fanon. “A world divided into compartments, a motionless, Manichaeistic[3] world, a world of statues: the statue of the general who carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge; a world which is sure of itself, which crushes with stones the backs flayed by whips: this is the colonial world. The native is a being hemmed in; apartheid is simply one form of the division into compartments of the colonial world.”

As a result of the previously-described erosive relationship from constant rupture and destruction of the soil community (exacerbated by erosion from the deforestation commonly accompanying the practice), agriculture must steadily begin to gain a foothold in parts of any one specific landbase that are increasingly less favourable for such cultivation. If we ask what kind of mindset needs to create an ‘other’ to be colonised, to us it would seem to be one that is hungry for some ‘resource’ or another. (Winona LaDuke related the root of colonisation to digestion and the colon; “Colonization is the process of being consumed.”) Hence, without feeling we’ve determined which ‘came first’ out of the material ‘need’ which springs from agrarian subsistence strategies or the ideologies which sanctified and prescribed the related worldviews, we see this is the corresponding mania for control which characterises the agricultural frontier. With clear-cutting of woods, draining and ‘reclamation’ of wetlands, hedging-in of arable land, diversion of water cycles and so on, came the destruction or forced-conversion of the people (of many species) dwelling within forests, steppes or hillsides: whether in Britain, Mesopotamia, Belize or Nepal.

Colonisation in this form almost universally seems to have been elevated to a moral imperative by the demagogues of these expansionist cultures, fostering new definitions of what it is to be human, as delineated by a separation from and opposition to ‘nature’, encouraging economic and military competition between themselves for ‘resources’, and strongly stigmatising those who didn’t think to subject themselves to such a self-mutilation – or who actively refused to. Records from the time that the domestication of maize was forming the basis of a vast agricultural system, that was consistently resisted on the fringes by the Chichimecas and others, quote the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina pronouncing that “we should erase that past Chichimeca history and construct another: the history of how we are the civilizing people of Mexico, and how we are the builders of the great Tenochtitlan.” This sentiment was and still is what lies behind the spiel of domesticators and ‘improvers’ (also we could say often ‘educators’ and ‘humanitarians’), of settlers and imperialists.

Previously, we have written that, characteristically, civilisation has sought the destruction and sedentary-necessitation of nomadic ways of life. But this needs some clarification. Despite popular stereotypes such as those common in the Western world, nomadic ways of life (such as those of the surviving gatherers and hunters of the Hazda in modern-day Tanzania) are usually a circuit of migration between known seasonal subsistence zones within a cherished bioregion, rather than the aimless or desperate wandering that the term can bring to mind. On the other hand, precisely that depiction of desperate searching and uprootedness could more accurately be described as the corollary to so many agrarian civilisations, which upon despoiling their own habitat reach for that in other bioregions. Hugh Brody argues that this is inherent to agriculture itself, and, looking at the mindset based on these colonising notions of ownership of land, delayed gratification and more in his ‘The Other Side of Eden’, ties together the religious mythos and contradictory reality of its strategy. He notes that the gaze of History has always “included great displacements of country people by the concerted efforts and interests of other agriculturalists. The enclosures and Highland clearances are two notorious examples from British history. The movement of Polish and Russian peasants off their lands are examples from Eastern Europe. These drastic processes gave rise to some of the most anguished laments about movement from country to town or from one nation to another, and they have made vivid contributions to the myth of the farm family. These processes have different sets of causes, including internal colonialism and ruthless national political measures. But the flow of emigrants I speak of here is intrinsic to agricultural life, one of its continuous and inevitable long-term consequences. […] Since the beginnings of agriculture, all over the world, on new-found lands, in the terra nullus of colonial frontiers, migrants have made their family farms. There they have many children, who also have many children. These children, in their turn, move on, pushing the frontier outwards until it reaches its limits. Then follows another wave of movement from the frontiers to new towns or to ever wilder regions.

Being willing to go to unknown and harsh places, in defiance of aboriginal resentment; taking part in colonial wars of conquest and “pacification”; accepting the relentless need to remake, with Herculean efforts, a land of forest or marsh or rocks or sand into a patchwork of pasture and fields; knowing little comfort and no respite from hard physical work; setting pleasure at the far end, the distant terminus, of a journey of hardship; making the endurance of this hardship a religious achievement – here are characteristics and abilities that have secured the family farm its place in almost every kind of climate and landscape. These are the qualities that define what [expansionist agrarian cultures] see as the signs and successes of civilisation.

This success is built on opposites. On the one hand, a passion to settle, on the other, a fierce restlessness; a need to find and have and hold an Eden, alongside a preparedness to go out and roam the world; an attachment to all that is meant by home, and an overriding commitment to a socioeconomic system, to some form of profit rather than to a place. The agricultural system is a form of settlement that depends upon, and gives rise to, the most pervasive form of nomadism. The urge to settle and a readiness to move on are not antagonists in the sociology of our era; they are, rather, the two characteristics that combine to give the era its geographical and cultural character. [I]n the history of agricultural cultures, the combination of settlement, large families and movement has resulted in a more or less relentless colonial frontier.”

And on that frontier, the war to extinguish or cast out alternative ways of human being and relating is a constant. A community which intends to go on symbiotically living the same bioregion for the next 5,000 years like the last will typically want to use very different strategies to one that that essentially sees the land as consumable fodder to be bent to a certain culture-centric will, and then discarded. The spread of agriculture and its civilisation seems to have recurrently been achieved at the tip of the spear before the barrel of the gun; the same means that have kept and do keep the ‘peace’ within agricultural societies. Agriculture hasn’t become dominant because it is most desired and certainly not most sustainable, but because it is expansionist and forces others surrounding to adopt the same strategy and bordering to stand a chance of not being driven from their habitat. Certainly, we don’t view agriculture as the root of all social domination – even some of its most ardent critics concede that “the walls of Jericho were built by gatherer hunters”, while some Maōri peoples “had complex kingdoms complete with slaves while lacking agriculture” (Kevin Tucker) – but while identifying potential starting points for cultures able to act colonially it seems impossible to overlook.

There are many other odious facets of agrarian approaches to the world, but one more worth touching on here in our articulation of agriculture as a root-stock, if you like, of colonialisms is the creation of large-scale food surplus. Once more has been built up than is needed for the individuals of a culture to subsist from their own unmediated activity, it is possible to support the specialists we know today as priests, soldiers, industrial workers, administrators and intellectuals. It is through these religious, military, (proto-)industrial, administrative and cultural forces that colonisation is achieved, and which colonised territories and bodies sustain. Colonised people who (even if they didn’t before) produce even the slightest surplus can then be taxed, the basis of empire. An example could be how the Roman empire turned northern Africa into grain-producing ‘bread-basket’ zones for Italy in general and Rome in particular (before those soils were completely degraded), pre-empting the following European states’ policies from the 16th century to the present capitalist-run world system. The same occupation was (and is) experienced by countless animal bodies, absorbed into the social order of rape, domestication, production, consumption, expansion and war.

Our point in setting out this way in our analysis of colonialism is that certain socialised worldviews regarding our earthly surroundings of all kinds both facilitate and demand colonisation in certain forms. On this basis we see colonisation not solely a deployment of racist domination, but rather than as a cultural approach to the world – a world which, as we shall argue later, it is only the gaze of a specific colonial vantage point that makes us appear apart from. While colonialism does indeed hinge upon the “need to identify differences between ourselves and other creatures that confirm our assumed superiority” (David Kidner), the discourse around racial categories as we who are writing have been taught to understand them fail us here (and when don’t they?). Such categories are a relatively recent product of Western imperialism, and in fact became its increasing axis – of which, later in this exploration, we will try to trace the birth.

Clearly, the oppressive structures of civilisation are and have long been perpetrated by many far-flung social groups, but today we reckon with a world largely dominated by the continuing legacy wrought by European imperial colonists, who preside at the top of the industrial civilised pyramid. We will also speak in more detail about this distinct legacy of colonialism, not because we can for sure know it to be qualitatively the most intensive (although quantitatively its spread and influence seem unprecedented, and its innovative gifts to the world abominable), but because we can speak of the more tangible lived experiences of the nuances of thisparticular colonist culture from our place within it.

The major wave of European empire-building outside of the Eurasian landmass had taken hold by the 16th century, and the ideologies which informed it have colonised the outlooks of many across the globe, following the increasing ability of those empires to impose drastic changes on the rest of the world. Before this wave were the Romans as mentioned above (the latter of the colonial powers of antiquity, such as the African empires which birthed the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, etc.), while although Viking settlements were established across the north Atlantic their imperial ambitions for their settlement on the eastern seaboard of North America ran afoul of the sustained resistance of natives more ferocious than they’d encountered on their disastrous occupation of Greenland. The last ‘classic’ European war of conquest was Italy’s defeat and occupation of the long-lived empire of Ethiopia in 1935. However before any of this could be achieved, the populations within Europe had to first be divisioned, pacified, domesticated, and enlisted: colonised.

While agricultural colonialism didn’t originate in Europe, and empires in its north were slower to initiate themselves than some places elsewhere in the world, the combination of farming cultures spreading from the Middle East and the Roman Empire moving north from the Mediterranean (having defeated their own previous conquerors, the Etruscan civilisation) obliterated countless diverse and unsubmissive European indigenous peoples; cast too into oblivion by a History that remembers success in terms of aggressive ambition. (Today, after centuries more of imperial and religious then nation-state and industrialist aggression, the pre-Russian Nenets and pre-Scandinavian Sami tribals remain; not incidentally on lands mostly unsuitable for agriculture, although as well as the pressure of mining and energy extraction industries, global warming may additionally put their futures into uncertainty by increasing the scope of cultivation northwards.) The research of Clive Ponting asserts that once woodland “covered about 95 per cent of western and central Europe. By the end of the great period of medieval colonisation this had been reduced to about 20 per cent.” Farming cultures started to move into more marginal lands, with the monasteries already at the forefront of extensive forest clearance most remote from the population centres – the Christian heritage, with its latent malice, will play an increasingly important part in European colonisation from here on in, such as eliminating hundreds of prior cultures in the name of the Crusades even before reaching overseas. In the late 13th century, upon arrival to the new German settlements about to begin major grain production to export to western Europe via the Baltic Sea, the abbot of Fellarich declared “I believe that the forest which adjoins Fellarich covers the land to no purpose, and hold this to be an unbearable harm”. After agricultural colonialism reached the shores of the Atlantic, further expansion seemed impossible, and a timber crisis threatened the survival of European civilisation, while the soil “had been used over and over again for generations, and was beginning to die under the burden of agricultural production” (Godesky).

It was the invasion of the so-called ‘New World’, with its rich soils, sylvan and animal populations to exploit which may have pulled it back from the brink.

Eventually European expansion reached towards the Americas from the Western Empires, as well as to India, Southern Asia and Oceania, carved up Africa between different European factions in the 19th century, and (mainly via Britain and France) took dominion over the Middle East after the Second World War. In parallel, since the mid-16th century, Russia expanded from Moscow along the Volga river, drove out the nomads of the the grass steppes around the Black Sea with grain farmers, headed eastwards over the Urals and across Siberia – reaching the Pacific coast and, by the mid-18th century, settling parts of Alaska (managing to enslave some indigenous peoples they met to carry out furring operations for them, but halted by stern opposition from others).


One picture of the world at the dawn of this era is painted by Fredy Perlman in his imperative overview of the history of nationalism. “It has been convenient, for various good reasons, to forget that, until recent centuries, the dominant powers of Eurasia were not nation-states but empires. A Celestial Empire ruled by the Ming dynasty, an Islamic Empire ruled by the Ottoman dynasty and a Catholic Empire ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty vied with each other for possession of the known world. Of the three, the Catholics were not the first imperialists but the last. The Celestial Empire of the Mings ruled over most of eastern Asia and had dispatched vast commercial fleets overseas a century before sea-borne Catholics invaded Mexico. The celebrants of the Catholic feat forget that, between 1420 and 1430, Chinese imperial bureaucrat Cheng Ho commanded naval expeditions of 70,000 men and sailed, not only to nearby Malaya, Indonesia and Ceylon, but as far from home ports as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and Africa. The celebrants of Catholic conquistadores also belittle the imperial feats of the Ottomans, who conquered all but the westernmost provinces of the former Roman Empire, ruled over North Africa, Arabia, the Middle East and half of Europe, controlled the Mediterranean and hammered on the gates of Vienna. The imperial Catholics set out westward, beyond the boundaries of the known world, in order to escape from encirclement. [...] Would imperial Chinese or Turks have been less lethal had they “discovered America”? All three empires regarded aliens as less than human and therefore as legitimate prey. The Chinese considered others barbarians; the Muslims and Catholics considered others unbelievers. The term unbeliever is not as brutal as the term barbarian, since an unbeliever ceases to be legitimate prey [once] she or he is made over by the civilizer.”

Before European overlords began colonies overseas to ship ‘resouces’ back, the early wealth for the proto-capitalist order had to be “squeezed out of internal colonies, out of plundered peasants whose lands were enclosed and crops requisitioned, out of expelled Jews and Muslims whose possessions were expropriated” (Perlman), while Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker report that in England “[u]nder Edward VI (1547–1553) [vagabonds] had their chests branded with the letter V and were enslaved for two years...” Colonisation of the individual body – chattel slavery – was, like since the first settled societies, present in Europe long before the direct occupation of far-away lands. Enslaved Europeans were exported to the Near East, and “in the fourteenth century a major part of the trade of Venice for example consisted of the transport of Slavs and Greeks as slaves to Tuscany and Catalonia. From the twelfth century slaves provided the labour force for the sugar plantations on Cyprus and Sicily as they did in the later European colonies” (Ponting). The Africa-centred slave trade which virtually every European country was involved with began in earnest from the 1450 transport of 150,000 captives to the overseas territories claimed by Portugal. The European trade focused on west Africa (Arab slavers controlled that of the east), with African collaborators in charge of the first stages; indeed, with African states such as Dahomey and Asante rising to prominence from this role.

Important to partly contextualise the brutality within Western civilisation of the time is the bloody cycle of wars, plague, persecutions and quelled uprisings throughout European societies, but just as important for our purposes here is the imperialist Christian mindset which set out over that ocean – and its associations with what it found. “While the Indians[4] typically welcomed the Spanish colonists with a good deal of generosity and courtesy – at least until the murderous character of their mission became clear – Christian dogma experienced any form of otherness as a threat and a challenge; and so the terrorization of the native inhabitants of the Indies was matched by the equally brutal suppression of those traditions and practices which challenged Christian orthodoxy at home[...] the massacre of the Cathars[5] in the thirteenth century, through the long years of the Inquisition, and continuing in the torture and burnings of “witches” that persisted into the eighteenth century. Christianity had become a cornerstone of the new anthropocentric order that counterposed the natural to the “spiritual”[...] becoming a measure of humanity’s “ascent” from the “lower animals.” […] Indians and their culture represented that conjugation of the natural and the cultural which was so energetically being dissolved in Europe[...] [T]his embodiment of a taboo association was the principle sin that justified their violent extermination” (Kidner). This was a qualitative shift from Roman colonialism, for example, where so long as an occupied society coughed up their tax they were largely left to practice their own culture; no longer, with the arrival of the Christian state. Note that we’re not positing Christianity as the primary ideological engine for Western colonisation of indigenous lands (Hugh Brody reminds us that “in imperial systems that are not monotheist – as with Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent and Confucianism (or indeed Communism) in China – the domination of indigenous peoples, and especially hunter-gatherers, has had an absolutist character”), but it’s hard not to see its influence in almost all aspects of the culture, and even when not through the direct manouverings of the Church most of Western colonialism’s nefarious agents or dynamics have made use of it.

While the European colonial mindset has hugely informed by Christianity – and then, as we shall see, reductionist science – another major driver and justification was pressures of the European ‘home-front’. The same year as the conquest of Peru, a bitter peasant rebellion against serfdom was only just being crushed in central Europe (said to be one of the biggest mass movements in human history; yes, before Twitter...), and many rulers were in fear “that an international conspiracy was underway to overthrow their power” (Silvia Federici). Not all of the population was subdued by a long shot (Joseph Winogrond notes that “Celtic guerillas were officially disarmed by the English c.1600, coincidentally at the same time as the [attempted] disarming of the American Indians”), and those who relatively were still proved problematic for governance. We’ll use Britain as our main example of this. The “swarmes of idle persons” who had been expropriated from commonly-held lands during the enclosures and shunted into city slums and grinding poverty were actually viewed as a blessing in disguise by some of the main protagonists of overseas settlement. England was a later entry into the scramble for ‘New World’ colonies; but now, unlike Portugal, Spain, Holland or France, there was a huge and desperate population that could be deployed overseas. Cast off the land to force them to work (in cases, as with the violent clearances of people from the Scottish Highlands, so they could be replaced by sheep to provide Britain’s budding textile industry), former peasants and craftsfolk were proletarianised and became nothing but expendable labour power. Yet not all could be absorbed into the hellish factories, wage market, or military that was stationed in the new colonies. Dispossessed masses could, however, for the slightest transgression against the laws and property of the wealth-holders, be ‘transported’ and forced to work on overseas plantations – prisons without walls.

Thus, arguments that the “matter of sedition” threatened by the “rank multitude” might be “removed out of the City” were held in favour of colonising both Ireland (the first colony of the British Empire, model and precursor for much that was to come) , in 1594, and Virginia, in 1612. The private capitalist enterprise the Virginia Company mounted a support campaign throughout England which also cited the obligation of ‘good Protestants’ to help convert the ‘savages’ as well as to fight the Catholic enemies abroad, in the interests of English national glory, but their most persistent and resonant argument was the “public service” it would provide for domestic social tensions. After the first batches of convicts, homeless street children were the next to be rounded up and shipped to the farms and factories abroad. Even those who travelled voluntarily were effectively enslaved for seven years to pay for their ‘passage’ (liable to be extended for petty infringements of regulation), and very few in the early years lived this through. Many Irish rebels or intractible Catholics were shipped as slaves, and worked to death on the sugar plantations of Barbados and the like. Pauperised masses created by similar processes of privatising commonly-used land in other European countries undertaking the blight of industrialism were unwillingly dispatched to their colonies too. Later, after the mid-19th century there was a mass migration of poor Europeans to places like North America, Brazil or South Africa. ‘Transportation’ has also historically been a form of enforced political exile; as in the case of Scots shipped to the plantations after the Jacobite uprisings, or, later, banishments to the South Pacific ‘New Caledonia’ archipelago after the crushed insurrection of Parisian ‘communards’ from 1871, where it was hoped that the insurgents would reconcile themselves to Christian values and ‘civilise’ the indigenous Kanak. (This follows a repeated tactic of using defeated peoples for further conquest; such as the much earlier English utilisation of conscripted Welsh archers, who had wrecked high damages on their Anglo-Norman invaders, during the campaigns further north into Scotland under King Edward I: ‘the Hammer of the Celts’.)


Colonists have always faced a number of problems in their imperial ventures (famines, weather, challenging terrain, diseases in the tropics), not least the free beings who they arrived to dispossess and enslave. Europeans were no exception, and although great slaughters quickly diminished populations of many native species (including humans) the fight was – and is to this day – anything but one-sided. Contrary to the racialised myth of an uninterrupted march around the world by the ‘White Man’, sustained resistance in many times and places put paid to the imperialist’s designs (sometimes, by a few of those who would become known as ‘white’ themselves). Any account which didn’t recognise these indomitable spirits would feel lacking as well as boring to us. For example, nomadic tribes in the arid north of Mexico warred for decades with complete success against Spaniards and their enlistment of subjugated, Christianised indigenous allies – as they had against Mesoamerican civilisation before. Small bands of Apache warriors used deadly strikes, and forced the closure of multiple U.S. military forts and outposts across the south-west and tied up a quarter of the American army for decades. Numerous native cultures were martially on par with the colonists, and were only defeated by European-introduced diseases, divisions and double-dealing. Europeans often could not have won without adopting certain native techniques and skills, as throughout the centuries invaded peoples also adopted those of Europeans (for example the domestication of the horse), with all the problems we’d say they entail in methodology and worldview.

As well as such indigenous cultures defending their social and spiritual habitat and gathering, hunting and horticultural ways, rebellious slaves escaped and fought to maintain their new-found freedom. As a typical case, following the repeated defeat of Dutch military excursions to recapture the Saramaka (a ‘maroon’[6] group of plantation slaves living communally in the interior jungle of Suriname) and his return to Holland, an ex-governor waxed lyrical about the problems they faced:

“There you must fight blindly an invisible enemy
Who shoots you down like ducks in the swamps.
Even if an army of ten thousand men were gathered, with
The courage and strategy
of Caesar and Eugene,
They’d find their work cut out for them, destroying a Hydra’s growth
Which even Alcides [Hercules]
would try to avoid.”

While dissent from within the European establishment structures concerning slavery or the colonial project was very marginal, though not unheard of, a great many of the impoverished masses and lower troops deserted that project early on. Aside from ‘political’ or ‘ethical’ reasons, it’s not hard to see why those fresh from the misery, hardship and exploitation of agrarian civilisation opted out at this first opportunity. The research of Linebaugh and Rediker holds many illuminating quotes from the time. “The resistance that first appeared on Bermuda persisted in Virginia as colonists refused to work, mutinied, and often deserted to the Powhatan Indians. Here continued the “tempest of dissention: euery man ouervaluing his own worth, would be a Commander; euery man vnderprising an others value, denied to be commanded.” Here were the “license, sedition, and furie [which] are the fruits of a headie, daring, and vnruly multitude.” Soldiers, sailors, and Indians conspired to smuggle guns and tools from the Virginia Company’s stores and held “night marts” to sell the appropriated goods. Many of Virginia’s leaders had faced the same problems in Ireland, where English soldiers and settlers had deserted the plantations to join the Irish. As an anonymous observer wrote of the year 1609 in Virginia, “To eate many our men this starveing Tyme did Runn Away unto the Salvages [sic] whom we never heard of after.” Some desertions thus began with an urgent question in the native tongue: “Mowchick woyawgh tawgh noeragh kaquere mecher?” (“I am very hungry, what shall I eat?”). One in every seven settlers at Jamestown deserted during the winter of 1609–10. Henry Spelman, a youth who had lived among the Powhatans in order to learn their language, returned to the tribe in 1609 “by Reason that vitals [i.e., victuals] were scarse with us.” Yet hunger was not the only issue, for English colonists regularly fled to the Native Americans, “from the moment of settlement in 1607 until the all but total breakdown in relations between English and natives following the 1622 massacre.” Captain John Smith knew that the principal attraction for the deserters was the opportunity “to live idle among the savages.”

[The people to whom the colonists deserted] were a Tsenacommacah, or loose alliance, of thirty-odd smallish groups of Algonquians [inhabiting] a rich ecological zone made up of mixed forest and Chesapeake waterways, on which they exercised an economy of collecting and horticulture. They hunted (Virginia white-tailed deer, bear, wild turkey, goose, quail, duck); they fished (herring, shad, sturgeon); they captured eels and shellfish (crabs, clams, oysters, mussels); they gathered (fruits, berries, nuts); and they practiced tillage (maize, beans, squash). They were nourished upon a better all-around diet than the Europeans. [The Tsenacommacah] consisted of small-scale societies without ownership of land, without classes, without a state[...] They pursued little economic specialization and attempted little trade; they were self-sufficient. Their society was organized around matrilineal descent [individuals considered to belong to the same descent group as their mother, hence more woman-centered culture], and both men and women enjoyed sexual freedom outside marriage. There existed no political/military bureaucracy for their roughly fifteen hundred warriors. […] In search of food and a way of life that many apparently found congenial, a steady stream of English settlers opted to become “white Indians,” “red Englishmen,” or – since racial categories were as yet unformed – Anglo-Powhatans. […] In 1611, a few of those who “did Runne Away unto the Indyans” were retaken by a military expedition. Sir Thomas Dale “in A moste severe mannor caused [them] to be executed.” Of these, “Some he apointed to be hanged Some burned Some to be broken upon wheles, others to be staked and some to be shott to death.” These “extreme and crewell tortures he used and inflicted upon them” in order “to terrefy the rest for Attemptinge the Lyke.” When he caught a few others pilfering goods from the Virginia Company’s supplies, Dale “cawsed them to be bownd faste unto Trees and so sterved them to deathe.” Terror created boundaries.

Thus did popular anticapitalist traditions – a world without work, private property, law, felony, treason, or magistrate – find their perfect antithesis in Thomas Dale’s Virginia, where drumbeats called settlers to labor and the Laws Divine, Moral, and Martial promised terror and death to any who dared to resist. Military men transformed Bermuda and Virginia from places of “liberty and the fullness of sensuality” to places of bondage, war, scarcity, and famine. By 1613 colonists on Bermuda were starving to death as their bodies, bent and blue, spent their vital forces laboring on fortifications that would make of the island a strategic military outpost in the early phase of English colonization. One unnamed man refused to give in to the new reality, preserving the older vision of Bermuda as he “hid himself in the Woods, and lived only on Wilkes [whelks] and land Crabs, fat and lusty many moneths.” ”

While the Church and much of European society by most accounts treated the human cultures they encountered with contempt (that is, once those cultures had taught the colonists what they needed to know to survive in unfamiliar lands), some radicals within Europe seem to have been directly inspired by them from the beginning. Irish-born Edward Despard, part of a failed clandestine effort in England and Ireland to raise a rebel army to overthrow the monarchy, spoke on his way to the gallows in 1803 of the indebtedness of his ideals to those who held the “highest ideas of freedom” – the Miskito of the Nicaraguan coast. Of course, elsewhere you could also see the early contours of the continuing Western tendency to exoticise other cultures in the process of (or having undergone) expropriation in a way that simply assimilates divergent culture aesthetically without challenging the wider operation of European society, rather than turning an inspiration into a weapon against the subjugation of both parties by the dominant civilising logic. Yet at the dawn of consolidating European imperialism, active collaboration across cultures often took aim at the common enemy. The trans-Atlantic trade, with (the regimentation of human beings on) sailing ships as the engines technologically-driving the development of early capitalism, also brought unexpected results. Both African slaves and Europeans ‘press-ganged’ (forced into naval service) absconded or mutinied, joining multi-racial pirate vessels often self-organised along egalitarian lines (across genders, classes and cultures) to wage vengeful war on the colonial merchants and navies before retreating to island- or ship-based sanctuaries with radically divergent social structures – often “a merry life and a short one”. It’s heartening whenever we see relationships and actions that cut across the lines demarcating colonial outlooks and divisions, and stories like these suggest that our contemporary struggles at their better moments find some resonance with those of days gone by.

The early colonial authorities punished desertion so severely because they were well aware of the explosive mixture of the various dispossessed and discontented by nascent ‘globalisation’ when categories and divisions began to appear more permeable, compared with the disciplinary power people were later to imbue them with. Compared to the more-or-less utopian imaginings radicals of today usually deploy, communal self-sufficiency rather than proletarian dependency was a living memory for those from lines of English peasants and African villages alike, and native American tribes showed a tangible example of living with those lands without states, money, churches or prisons. “Some who fled slavery recovered the commons in Roanoke, located in the Albemarle Sound. To the dismal swamp flew European and African American slaves (with and without indentures), felons, landless paupers, vagabonds, beggars, pirates, and rebels of all kinds, who beginning in the 1640s lived there under the protection of the Tuscarora Indians. They all fished, hunted, trapped, planted, traded, intermarried, and formed what their main chronicler, Hugo Leaming, has called a Mestizo culture. The members of the community included Nathaniel Batts, who was also known as Secotan, war chief [of the Tuscarora]; African-Americans Thomas Andover (pilot) and Francis Johnson (coastal wrecker); and John Culpeper, who had left Charleston, South Carolina, because “he was in danger of hanging for laying the design and indeavouring to sett the poore people to plunder the rich.” Culpeper had also taken part in Bacon’s Rebellion and yet another rising in New England before returning to Roanoke to lead armed mobs of former plantation workers, sailors, “Indians, Negros, and women” against the effort to establish proprietary government in 1677. The people of Roanoke, known for their “enthusiasm,” opposition to oaths, anticlericalism, emphasis on the “inner light,” and devotion to “liberty of conscience,” were antinomian and abolitionist, calling for an end to slavery as early as 1675. The very existence of the multiethnic maroon state was a threat to Virginia, whose governor worried that “hundreds of idle debtors, theeves, Negros, Indians, and English servants will fly” to the liberated zone and use it as a base for attacks on the plantation system. It would take years for the colonial authorities to tame Roanoke and to constitute North Carolina as an official colony, after which the struggle for the commons would shift to the seas, with sailors and pirates the new maroons” (Linebaugh & Rediker).


Nevertheless, eventually the havens were destroyed, discipline won out on the high seas, and for countless indigenous peoples the end result was genocide in the most comprehensive sense of the word. John Gray summarised the result of European arrival to what became the British colony of Tasmania, in 1772, in terms of the indigenous population. “By 1830 their numbers had been reduced from around five thousand to seventy-two. In the intervening years they had been used for slave labour and sexual pleasure, tortured and mutilated. They had been hunted like vermin and their skins had been sold for a government bounty. When the males were killed, female survivors were turned loose with the heads of their husbands tied around their necks. Males who were not killed were usually castrated. Children were clubbed to death. When the last indigenous Tasmanian male, William Lanner, died in 1869, his grave was opened by a member of the Royal Society of Tasmania, Dr George Stokell, who made a tobacco pouch from his skin. When the last ‘fullblood’ indigenous woman died a few years later, the genocide was complete.”

On the face of it there appear many similarities between Western imperial conquest and other forms of settler colonisation that persist into the present. Take the out-competition and displacement of the Ainu, the population of Japan before the currently-dominant culture there invaded the islands. “Their culture and story closely resemble that of some American Indian societies: They have a totem-orientated religion, in which bears, owls, and other animals are considered sacred; lineage is reckoned matrilineally; and their traditional economy is based on hunting, gathering, and fishing from stable villages. They lived in that manner for some 4,000 years before the invaders arrived in great numbers from Central Asia 2,000 years ago. By the seventeenth century, a series of bloody wars forced the Ainu to abandon all of Japan except Hokkaido in the North, where they were able to maintain their traditional life for several hundred more years, until the 1899 Law for the Protection of the Former Aborigines of Hokkaido. Like other laws with similarly friendly titles in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other places, it was anything but protective. [The law] outlawed traditional Ainu hunting, salmon fishing, and even the gathering of wood. It offered the Ainu individually allotted homesteads – another assault on communal land ownership – and demanded that the Ainu become farmers. If allotted land was not used for farming, it was confiscated” (Jerry Mander).

In the West Indies and parts of the continental Americas, Western expansion was more explicitly fueled by human slavery (until 1937, Californian law still stipulated that ‘Indians’ could be indentured and/or killed by any white, propertied citizen). “After the conquest of the Incas in Peru in the 1530s the native population fell to about a quarter of its pre-conquest level under the pressure of the forced extraction of food, slaughter of the flocks of llamas, new European diseases and labour exploitation by both the Spanish civil and religious powers. The natives were forced into two highly dangerous occupations. The first – cultivation of the coca plant – took place in the lowlands where the natives from the Andes found it very difficult to live. About half of the workers died during their spell at the plantations, most from ‘mal de los Andes’, a wart-like disease spread by an insect, that destroyed the nose, lips and throat. The second area where the Spaniards exploited native labour was in the silver mine at Potosi, 12,000 feet up in the Andes. It was discovered in 1545 and forced labour was introduced in 1550, after the Spanish found that African slaves could not live at this height. By the early seventeenth century about 60,000 Indian labourers were employed at any one time in wretched conditions. They were forced to stay underground for a week at a stretch without coming up to the surface. Not surprisingly such treatment, together with the miserly rations they received and the use of highly toxic mercury in processing the metals, produced a very high death rate” (Ponting). Even where they were not directly enslaved, indigenous lifeways were deliberately and systematically undermined – in North America, often by either starving them or forcing them to take up farming by damming rivers used as fisheries (which continues to this day) or the ruthless slaughter of bison; “a bison dead means an Indian dead” was the propaganda slogan in settler society. The first ‘reservations’ were established on that end of the continent by the 17th century to remove indigenous peoples from land coveted by the settlers, and all along the eastern seaboard their numbers were in steep decline. Like with other expansionist empires such as the Zulu under King Shaka, the Asante empire in what is now Ghana, and the Aztecs, under European colonisation the tribes most similar to the invaders in social structure, willing or able to adapt to the conditions that they imposed were the ones most likely to survive, and those that were not often were exterminated.

With the stigmatisation or outright criminalisation of native dress, custom, language and ritual, missionaries brought floggings and introduced jails for those who broke Christian laws. On top of casual slaughter by settlers and their authorities, or military conflicts and campaigns of extermination, the soaring death-rates were brought about by labour exploitation, denial of traditional diet and subsistence practices, disease (sometimes deliberately introduced by Europeans), or encouraged use of alcohol. Many died in other ways from the sheer rupture from land-based ways of existing and cosmologies that were the process of millenia in a certain bioregion, especially under the influence of missionaries (who wanted their souls, but also their bodies for work – such as the Jesuits in Brazil who organised slaving expeditions, branded their native captives and forced them to work in their sugar or cattle plantation ‘missions’).

Aside from these particular methods of subjugation, countless others make up the pantheon of colonialism, and took effect in force where Western powers conquered. Many kinds of process work towards the transformation and destruction of lifeways; the relations between colonist and colonised can be intimate and multifaceted – along with the economic and social conditions of utter disparity and racial classing, an intricate psychologial terrain develops. People can become attracted to, negotiate with, and develop dependence upon those attempting to change and expropriate them. Meanwhile, like in any oppressed population, despair and anger can be turned inwards toward self-destruction, or against one another. (Fanon wrote hauntingly of the psychological affects and traumas he saw playing out in and between other Algerians under French occupation, as one source to mention.) Especially in cases where Christianity had bound itself in some ways with native spiritualisms while simultaneously undermining them (as it was adept at from having already displaced various pagan traditions in Europe while usurping their festivals and such; while pagans were the first whose slavery was authorised by the Pope), many colonised people began to console themselves with a religion that only deepened their colonisation. For a whole complex of reasons many also collaborated with the arriving powers, or played politics via agreements with one or another rival colonial force (siding with Britain against France, the U.S.A. against Mexico, vice versa, etc., as well as tribal feuds) before themselves being over-run by their ‘allies’.

One way or another, the common result and goal of these colonial regimes is that, in a downward spiral of dispossession and demoralisation, people lose confidence in their own indigenous ways of subsisting, of raising children, of speaking, of thinking, of feeling the world.


A striking instance of the lengths deemed necessary to eliminate other ways of life can be found in the so-called ‘residential schools’ program. There, a church-and-state-run indoctrination via military discipline into Christian thought, law, industry, morality, dress and custom, enforced by wanton violence, neglect, starvation and torture including rampant sexual abuse, banning of native spirituality, names, clothing and speech subjected generations of children forced thousands of miles from their communities to the fundamental colonial commitment to the eradication of ‘otherness’. Sources assert the death-rate to be as high as forty percent. Echoes of the abuses and traumas repeat themselves through indigenous communities today. The U.S. Indian Commissioner, comparing the method to the long and costly ‘Indian Wars’, remarked in 1882: “It cost $1 million to kill an Indian in battle, but $1,200 for eight years of schooling.” Similarly-brutal ‘industrial schools’ were already in place in England and other places to domesticate a future workforce, European children of that time being considered “chattels of the patriarch” (Kim Anderson), but the intent of the residential school was to break an additional part of these indigenous youth, who were part of cultures in which children generally expressed a great deal of autonomy and freedom as well as receiving abundant love and engagement. Part of the purpose of this project as regarding language in particular is depicted in ‘The Other Side of Eden’. “Administrators in other parts of the British Empire – in India, for example, or in much of Africa – did not seek to eliminate languages they encountered. On the contrary, many British administrators took pride in their ability to speak Swahili or Hindustani. Yet in North America, Australia and some parts of southern Africa, no such use or endorsement of indigenous languages is to be found.

[…] What is the difference between a frontier where English is taught as an addition to existing languages and one where English is established and enforced as the only possible language? I suspect that the clearest answer points again towards the nature of the frontier between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists. In most of India and much of Africa, English-speaking imperialists were not the first conquerors. The spread of farmers through much of Asia and Africa occurred several millennia before the British Empire reached these places. The hunter-gatherers of much of the Old World had long been overwhelmed by farmers and herders.

In many regions, therefore, the British Empire dominated agriculturalists – large, sedentary populations whose mode of life was a version of their own, albeit one that the British were ready to stigmatise as “native,” “savage” and “backward.” In a profound sense, the imperialists and those they conquered spoke the same language. They shared ideas about the exclusive ownership of small parcels of land; they shaped and managed such land to grow domestic plants and support domestic animals; they built relatively durable and permanent villages; their societies were hierarchical. They could locate one another, fight coherent wars and negotiate deals that everyone understood.

In much of Africa, India and Southeast Asia, [European conquerors] captured and exported those people they wanted to sell as slaves, and they dispossessed those whose lands they coveted. But the overall project was the extraction of profit from existing populations and societies. In this scenario, pre-existing languages did not pose much of a threat. Indeed, a proliferation of languages meant a complex of societies, each to some extent pitted against the others. The principle of divide and rule invited colonial theorists to welcome diversity of language, rather than to seek its obliteration.

[H]unter-gatherers occupied large territories over which they moved with great freedom and ease. New settlers wanted this land, which, through their European eyes, appeared to be empty or, at best, randomly and minimally occupied. They found the hunters’ flexible use of land both bewildering and threatening. The Europeans were looking for a place to convert into home – at least for a while, for a generation or two. The hunters seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, making sudden appearances out of the forest or desert or outback or hills, opposing the occupation and transformation of their lands and causing trouble. […] A small family farm, isolated in wild country, is a vulnerable thing: a group of angry hunters could destroy a decade of hard work in a single quick attack. Any opposition to farming had to be checked, make impossible. […] To secure an uninhabited land, there must be no minds in the way, no rival words that imply enduring presence and deep claims to the place. [I]t was easy for newcomers to speak of open, unfarmed territory as “wilderness” – the wild déor place, realm of the wild deer, a symbol of land that is beyond human habitation, without human voices. In this “wilderness,” the voices of the hunting peoples were likened to the calls of the wolf or the hooting owls: resonant, beautiful, haunting, susceptible to much sentimental and nostalgic interpretation, but not quite human. If the wild hunter-gatherers could be made to speak a real language, they, like their lands, could be turned into something of use and value to the settlers.

Agricultural settlement and religious evangelism, the endeavours and theories of frontier, treat the sounds of wilderness much as they do the trees or grasslands – by cutting them down, uprooting them, ploughing them under, transforming them from “worthless” to “valuable.” Making them yield surplus. […] The residential school was part of a process of ethnocide. The plan that shaped these schools, and the attitudes that informed their daily regimens, emerged from the agriculturalists’ need to get rid of hunter-gatherers. These schools represent a dedicated and ruthless attempt to transform the personalities and circumstances of “native people” into... well, what? Farmworkers and industrial labourers? Domestic servants and housewives? All of these, and yet the project is easier to understand as a negative rather than as a positive undertaking. The intention was to stop people being who they were – to ensure that they could no longer live and think and occupy the land as hunter-gatherers. [C]ommunities relate histories, often within their own lifetimes, of extreme loss – of life as well as lands – of genocide and of environmental destruction. This is not the stuff of whimsical nostalgia, the implied image of Grandma and Grandpa in their rocking chairs, sitting on a verandah and yarning their regrets about the way the world is not what it was. To say that accounts of loss are nothing more than the drifting pseudo-memories of the elderly is tantamount to denial of the Holocaust. [I]n “the old days” and “long time ago” their people ate well, lived longer and took better care of one another.

[…] Hunter-gatherers who survive the attacks against them and their territories are given words for agriculture and words for God, words for local government and advisory committees. In recent times, at the outer edges of the administrative frontier, words for migrant labour and heavy-equipment operating. Words in a new kind of language. The old language must be discarded – or, like parklands within frontier development, it may become an island of folk culture, somewhere to be visited and enjoyed that must never be too noisy.”


The genocide of these programs is anything but a relic of the past. Bostwana takes a similar view of the so-called ‘Bushman’ population, whose “wandering, illiterate, primitive lives”, deemed a threat, justified their internment. The ‘residential school’ model persisted in Canada until 1996, then abolished in favour of the system of foster ‘care’ (starting with the ‘Sixties Swoop’ of social workers apprehending indigenous children en masse to warehouse long-term) which is denounced as similarly ethnocidal; and today confines more youth than residential schools did. Yet alongside the Christian value system, another distinct turn of Western culture fed from the colonial drive and in turn reinforced a cultural chauvinism if anything much more comprehensive. In the ‘Networks, Colonization & the Construction of Knowledge’ review, Alex Gorrion looks into the writings of Maōri author Linda Tuhiwai Smith; who “analyzes the capitalistic production of knowledge in Western society, arguing that the accumulation of knowledge-as-resource during the process of colonialism was in fact the motor for the development of Western science. The religion of the colonizers, although a deterritorialized spirituality, was inadequate for the globalization of the 16th century and onwards because it had no way for assimilating the histories and biologies of the rest of the world. The agrarian, temperate climate economics and regionalistic 5000 year history of the Bible could do no better than write off the rest of the world as the habitat of the devil, failing to provide the needed level of nuance and technical instructions for colonizing and governing diverse peoples and bioregions. [Western] Science thus arose primarily as a system for alienating knowledge into information, classifying it, making it separable from its context, transferrable, mechanical, repeatable.” The foundations laid by this ideology of science serve as a very strong and self-referential colonial tendency today. Western science, in this sense, is much more than the experimental methods or technical knowledge (as problematic as they are), but through scientific realism – the belief that such methods give us literal truths about the world rather than provisional and necessarily partial theories – affects the very self-image and worldview of almost everyone in this culture.

David Kidner posits that, during the European Enlightenment (the radical reorientation of European science, religion, philosophy and politics in 17th and 18th centuries, towards the fetishization of reductionist ‘Reason’), “there was a shift from emphasizing the contrast between Christian and non-Christian to that between ignorant and nonignorant, and from viewing myths as living or dead to an understanding of them as true or false. Henceforth, a particular form of selfhood, and a particular style of relation to a world defined complementarily, became the grain of sand around which crystallized the European sciences, whether their subject matter was the innermost recesses of the psyche or the most inaccessible lands and peoples; and it is this same crystalization that today objectifies what is “intelligent,” “reality oriented,” or “valid.” ” Framing itself as the bearer of truth, we can see a broader move in Western thought toward a thorough conceptual reworking of the world into something purely material and despiritualised, leading towards the reductionist techno-logic of our industrial age. This mentality was elaborated by Russell Means at Pine Ridge Reservation – site of the armed uprising with members of more than 75 different indigenous ‘American’ tribes, and 71-day seige by the colonial military, in 1973 – during the Black Hills International Survival Gathering. “Newton, for example, “revolutionized” physics and the so-called natural science 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 a code, an abstraction. 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 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. […] The European materialist tradition of despiritualizing the universe is very similar to the mental process which goes into dehumanizing another person. 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.

[T]he mental process works so that it become 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. 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.

Most important here, perhaps, is the fact that Europeans feel no sense of loss in 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. […] 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. Peoples 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 other culture.”

Another arm of this creation of the modern rationalist character has been the promotion of an abstract academic conception of knowledge, which denies realities which are not intellectual or discursive to the conscious mind. In this way and more, the Western subject is the target of a systematic impoverishment and stunting of outlook and experience, blinkered and blinded. Tracing this tendency back further, Alexander Dunlap speaks of the psycho-geographical terrain of colonisation and relates it to a Western gaze which developed during the Renaissance[7]. In this we can see the cultural body/mind disconnect affecting everything from colonial frontiers to the anatomical perspective in Western medicine (leading us to experience the body as an assemblage of parts instead of an integrated whole).

Linear perspective formally originates as a painting technique invented in Italy by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1425, and it discovered the benefits of gridding out and separating a larger picture into smaller pieces. This inspired the use of vanishing points, distancing points, horizontal and vertical line alignment as an artistic method for composition. Using geometric standards, this technique centres on grids and coordinates as a way to standardise and measure the world. Over time, linear vision created standards that enabled a standard of measurement, which began to normalise the ‘violence of reductive vision’ ([Robert] Romanyshyn, 1989), reducing the world to a quantifiable parts that created new and diffuse possibilities for control and management over the natural environment and people. Cartographer John Harley touching on this violence writes: ‘To catalogue the world is to appropriate it, so that all these technical processes represent acts of control over its image which extends beyond the professed uses of cartography. The world is disciplined. The world is normalized. We are prisoners in a spatial matrix.’ Used as a method of cartographic construction, linear perspective creates an imagined geography that begins the regimentation of space, the proliferation of enclosures – in practice and metaphor, as well as making people prisoners in the spatial matrix of geometry – structuring the terrain of political and economic investment as well as the imaginations, desires, and possibilities of people. Once the grid is applied to the land, people – human and non-human – are figuratively or literally placed into cells.

[...] This vision, possibly as an attempt to make sense of the world, began as the painter’s gaze and evolved into a scientific, anatomical, or later biopolitical gaze that renders people, animals, and landscapes into ‘the other’ to be managed, dehumanised, and subject to diagnosis and dissection. This gaze formalised the tame/wild dichotomy emblematic of fences and a disposition necessary for European territorial expansion overseas. [European] Colonisation in particular and the management of taxable subjects in general could not have taken place without the perspective and method of linear vision that created maps, grids, and contributed to a perspective of superiority that fuelled the conquest and colonisation of lands foreign and near. This was the processes known as progress, modernisation, and now development.

In the book, Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott demonstrates in detail the power and disaster inherent with the grid that came from an obsession with geometric perfection and order. When the state sees trees it views them ‘primarily through the fiscal lens’ of utilitarianism, making ‘nature’ synonymous with ‘natural resources’. Forest science, geometry, and state power working in combination became a force of reduction, discipline, and control that transformed beautifully diverse landscapes into agricultural plantations and forest colonies for the utilitarian management of resources for profit. Scott writes, ‘practical goals had encouraged mathematical utilitarianism, which seemed, in turn, to promote geometric perfection as the outward sign of the well-managed forest; in turn the rationally ordered arrangement of trees offered new possibilities for controlling nature’. A similar progression happened to people: countries had to be populated if they hoped to be rich and powerful and this began the biopolitical lens that viewed people as populations to be managed or as [Michel] Foucault called it ‘the political economy of population’ – a resource to be calculated and managed. This relationship of linear vision, the grid, and perfection of things represented by a notion of progress established the foundations for cities and the logic behind continual improvement through urban renewal and architectural design.

If it’s true that “[i]n the past as in the present, the push of Western invading cultures has been to organize life along entirely different lines [than practiced there before] – clock time, schedules, goals – in order to increase surplus production” (Mander), it’s just as true that this had to first be instilled in the people who became colonists. In the same way, tenacious past cultural tendencies within Europe (to do with our relation to the world; other animals, plants, trees, mountains, rivers, spiritual entities of the Earth, our own bodies, genders, etc.) – tendencies of which residual aspects were to be poignantly evoked by (other) indigenous lifeways later encountered overseas – needed stamping out. It was to cement such brutalisation that repression of indigenous cosmologies was elevated to a moral imperative (and perhaps what colonists like Colonel Seth Eastman intended upon pronouncing that “[the Indian] is yet ignorant of the greatest victory of which man is capable – the conquering of oneself”, or relatedly, as the General – and born-again Christian – Ephraím Rios Montt declared after taking power in Guatemala in 1982 and undertaking Vietnam-style village pacification programs to systematically destroy each aspect of indigenous culture; “all Indians are subversives”).

In order to carry out its corresponding (self-)mutilation, the torch-bearers of civilisation desperately need to believe that, in becoming civilised, they have gained something more than they have lost. The prospects of being successfully colonised with such ‘knowledge’ have often seemed shaky, having to in the first instance run up against a lived experience of increased drudgery and ill-health for the vast majority[8], and once this process of disenchantment and disassociation has gained a foothold it is a mindset that easily perceives itself as threatened by dissimilar approaches; especially those whose beliefs are still more grounded within a home in more-than-human cosmologies[9]. Looking at the history of Western civilisation specifically, the ancient philosopher Aristotle (revered by medieval scholars) asserted that people outside of Greek society had no laws – sadly, this was clearly not the case, as attested by the other ancient civilisations of that part of the world such as Egypt or indeed Greece’s rival empire Persia – and therefore, being closer to ‘nature’ than human society, would in fact benefit from becoming Greek slaves. This specific form of the hallucinatory culture-versus-nature dualism (a colonial drive that accompanies every step of civilisation) could be identified in the latter-day European imperialist rhetoric of ‘White Man’s Burden’, and the myopic humanism or utter cynicism of the modern advocates for ‘development’.

Far from something relegated to antiquity, the unrelenting hatred of ‘animality’, human and especially non-human, has proved to need continual reinforcement, as the horrors of the past resound through the ages to subtly yet implicitly reinscribe themselves in the psyche of the Western subject as well as the populations being colonised for ‘their’ purposes. Following the thoughts of David Kidner; “today we tend to think of conscious and unconscious, self and other, and particularly culture and nature, as opposites. Comfortably inhabiting a world where these dualisms are taken for granted, those of us who live in industrialized society tend to forget the brutality of its birth – the witch burnings, the Inquisition, the slaughter of animals – which originated in the need to extinguish those concepts, entities, and cultural forms that integrated the poles that were about to become dualistically separated. Barry Lopez, contrasting the integration of the type of world accepted in many tribal societies with the violent persecutions that characterized emerging modernity, recognizes the connection between this violence and the human (and largely masculine) attempt to achieve a distance between the emerging self and what became not-self: “In a hunter society, like that of the Cheyenne, traits that were universally admired – courage, hunting skill, endurance – placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man [sic] turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious. The wolf itself [sic] remained unchanged but man now speaks of his hated “animal” nature. By standing around a burning stake, jeering at and cursing an accused werewolf, a person demonstrates his [sic] allegiance to his human nature and increases his own sense of well-being.[10] The tragedy, and I think that is the proper word, is that the projection of such self-hatred was never satisfied. No amount of carnage, no pile of wolves in the village square, no number of human beings burned as werewolves, was enough to end it.”

Such violence is today [for many in the West] distanced from consciousness conceptually, geographically, and temporally. We forget the violence that still occurs in the modern world, at the unseen fringes [and] exported to places and situations that we prefer not to be aware of[...] but we also ignore the violence that is sedimented into such aspects of our lifestyles as the “objective” vision of science, or our own predominantly intellectual orientation, or the domestication of the landscape. This is the violence of imprisonment rather than of warfare, expressing itself in the permanent denial of potentialities, in the accepted suspension of vitality, rather than in the crushing of already flourishing life. It is an imprisonment that confines both the jailers and jailed, for the drastic simplification and ordering of the landscape is reflected in a complementary psychological and spiritual reduction. And if our detachment from the “nonhuman” world was achieved at such cost, what, we might wonder, is the character of the latent emotionality that might be released in their recombination?”


When we come to the refinement of ideologies around ‘race’ as part of Western colonialism, it is as yet another distinct form of this ‘separating off’ and dehumanising. The specific European doctrine of white supremacy (as to be elaborated by English biologists, and philosophers like John Locke and David Hume) rose to a level that, with the status of ‘science’ behind it, was ultimately more damning than the simple prejudice of the slave-trader. In many ways this can be seen as developing as a tool of counter-insurgency. As cited above, a great many incidents of insubordination and periods of insurrection or desertion characterised the early European settlements and plantations. What we now know as ‘race’ was not the criteria most in use as a metric of difference – culture was, or religion, whether one was Christian or Mohammedan (Islamic), etc. People from diverse cultures, climates and continents were thrown together to labour and often found common cause in rebellion. Meanwhile, to take Britain again as the example, a Civil War had briefly deposed the monarchy, and by the 1670’s the endless wars with indigenous tribes of North America were causing disputes within the English authorities. However not long before, according to Hilary McD. Beckles, the English parliament was of the feeling that “the Barbadians, and other West Indians, did not really need white labour any more – black slavery was fully established and proven to be very profitable.” Before this point, slavery in the European colonies had been confined to a number of years – after which a slave could theoretically become ‘free’. In 1682, legislation was passed which decreed that, while Europeans transported into servitude could become ‘free’ after four to five years (if they actually survived that long), and indigenous ‘American’ tribespeople after twelve, Africans were both to be enslaved for life and any children they bore also born into permanent slavery. After a revolution by slaves in Haiti defeated the armies of no less than three empires, racist rhetoric intensified throughout the shaken European societies. Linebaugh and Rediker link the time after British expeditions against Haiti in 1795–96, with the mounting casualties on the imperial side, with the formation of the new, ‘scientific’ dissemination of white supremacy in Britain and North America.

While the poison of anti-blackness was nothing new – considering for instance the attitudes of Arabic invaders in Africa around the 7th century – this was the first time that a spectre called ‘whiteness’ was introduced to cut across and unite an array of various ethnicities. To take one case, the people of Ireland had previously like Africans been considered to be a subhuman race of savages by the colonialist ideologies of the day. Although tragically evident in the centuries to follow, leading us to today, it was to take many decades for this spectre to widely take the most divisive form which we know it by. This is well illustrated by the 1740’s accounts of a multi-ethnic conspiracy (sailors, slaves, sex workers and more) to burn down first the military fort and then New York City itself; a plot which may only have failed because one over-enthusiastic cell of the conspirators began their assault some weeks ahead of time and gave the wider game away. In these accounts we see that, at least within the impoverished sections of society from which the conspirators came, ‘whiteness’ had most strongly implicated itself not as ‘race’ but as ‘class’ – that is, ‘the white people’ implied the rich people. Hence the ‘white’ David Johnson was recording as pledging “to burn the town, and kill as many white people as he could”.

The case also indicates the institutional boundary-policing that would give racial roles such a different character even a generation later. After the plot was exposed, the ruling class used a combination of terror and mercy by indicating the privileges on offer to ‘whites’ who complied with the new racial imaginings while simultaneously demonising the European-decended conspirators as the “disgrace of their complexion”, scandalising their involvement well over that of the other participants. “[F]our Euramericans were accordingly hanged; others were forced into military service in the West Indies, and still others banished from the province. Another six, however, were quietly and mercifully discharged by the court, almost without comment. […] This, too, was a message for and about “whites.” New York’s rulers thus divided and weakened the proletariat as they unified and strengthened a fictive community based on whiteness” (Linebaugh & Rediker).

Indeed, the logic that some were in fact whiter than others could still be seen centuries later. Introducing his ‘Savage Reds: Anarchism and Civilization, 1877–1920 U.S.’ proposition, Tariq Khan points out that “political and economic elites along with law enforcement officials spoke in terms of a war between “Civilization and Savagery” and, interestingly, they very explicitly used the white supremacist language of Indian-hating to justify violence against anarchists and militant labor [as the continuation of the “taming of the Wild West”], who were for the most part of European descent. Indeed, the term “savage reds” was used in mainstream discourse to refer both to anarchists resisting capitalism and Native Americans resisting US settler colonialism, and this was not mere coincidence. […] The ruling class in the United States viewed the anarchist movement as a serious threat from below [11] and employed counter-insurgency techniques developed in the “Indian Wars” to suppress anarchism and militant labor.”

The vicious purposes of colonisation as a tool for pacifying domestic populations in the ‘home country’ could hardly be more apparent than in the following passage, from 1909. “A right of the natives, which could only be realised at the expense of the development of the white race, does not exist. The idea is absurd that Bantus, Sudan negroes and Hottentots in Africa have the right to live and die as they please, even when by this, uncounted people among civilised nations of Europe were forced to remain tied to a miserable proletarian existence, instead of being able, by the full use of productive capacities of our colonial possessions to rise to a richer level of existence themselves and also to help construct the whole body of human and national welfare.” These were the words of the head of the German settlers’ commission (shortly after the systematic military, economic and cultural genocide of the Hereros by Germans in south-west Africa after they had risen up along with the Nama tribes against their proto-apartheid conditions). Divide-and-rule, the categorisation of ‘human’ and ‘subhuman’, and the hollowing-out of more earthly cosmologies to mould subjectivities more in line with the needs and assumptions of imperialist force, are the legacies that have accompanied the formation of modernity.


One more aspect in which European expansion fomented division, in this case along lines already burned into the colonists’ psyches in their blood-soaked near-history, was in the field of gender. Patriarchy being one of the primary and deepest disciplines of Western culture, theorists like Maria Mies have identified it as its own pernicious sphere of ‘internal’ colonisation that enabled the forms of social organisation leading to others. “Since the beginning of the modern nation-state (the fatherlands) women have been colonized. This means the modern nation-state necessarily controlled their sexuality, their fertility and their work capacity or labour power. Without this colonization neither capitalism nor the modern nation state could have been sustained. And it is this colonization that constitutes the foundation of what is now being called ‘civil society’.” Many of the same formulas previously deployed to implement a new understanding of the body and social roles based on the further polarisation of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were amended and recapitulated by the missionaries and conquistadors to better fit their newest victims, upon contact with cultures where gender could in some cases be regarded as something resulting from conscious choice or even from one’s own dreams.

María Lugones points out that “as Paula Gunn Allen and others have made clear, intersexed individuals were recognized in many tribal societies prior to colonization without assimilation to the sexual binary. It is important to consider the changes that colonization brought to understand the scope of the organization of sex and gender under colonialism and in Eurocentered global capitalism. [...] Allen argued that [many Native American tribes] recognized more than two genders, recognized “third” gendering and homosexuality positively, and understood gender in egalitarian terms rather than in the terms of subordination that Eurocentered capitalism imposed on them.” Clearly, this had subversive implications for the Western imperialists. Oyéronké Oyewùmí maintains that “[t]he imposition of the European state system, with its attendant legal and bureaucratic machinery, is the most enduring legacy of European colonial rule in Africa. One tradition that was exported to Africa during this period was the exclusion of women from the newly created colonial public sphere. [...] The very process by which females were categorized and reduced to “women”[,] [t]he emergence of women as an identifiable category, defined by their anatomy and subordinated to men in all situations, resulted, in part, from the imposition of a patriarchal colonial state. [In this aspect] colonization was a twofold process of racial inferiorization and gender subordination. The creation of “women” as a category was one of [its] very first accomplishments...”

This was used both as a means of conquest and a way of breaking down resistance thereafter. In terms of the former; consider the case, relayed to us by the Bædan journal, of “the interaction between colonizing French Jesuits and the indigenous Montagnais-Naskapi in 17th century Canada, as recounted by Eleanor Leacock[...] She describes how it became necessary for the Jesuits to ‘civilize’ the Montagnais-Naskapi in order to ensure they’d be disciplined trading partners. This endeavor started with the introduction of hierarchical gender roles. “As often happened when Europeans came in contact with native American populations, the French were impressed by Montagnais-Naskapi generosity, their sense of cooperation and indifference to status, but they were scandalized by their ‘lack of morals;’ they saw that the Naskapi had no conception of private property, of authority, of male superiority, and they even refused to punish their children. The Jesuits decided to change all that, setting out to teach the Indians the basic elements of civilization, convinced that this was necessary to turn them into reliable trade partners. In this spirit they first taught them that ‘man is the master,’ that ‘in France women do not rule their husbands,’ and that courting at night, divorce at either partner’s desire, and sexual freedom for both spouses, before or after marriage, had to be forbidden.”

The Jesuits succeeded in convincing the newly appointed chiefs of the tribe to implement male authority over the women. Several Naskapi women fled such novel and offensive constraint, causing men (at the encouragement of the Jesuits) to chase after them and threaten to beat and/or imprison them for their disobedience. One Jesuit missionary’s journal proudly includes an account of the incident: “Such acts of justice cause no surprise in France, because it is usual there to proceed in that manner. But among these people[...] where everyone considers himself [sic] from birth as free as the wild animals that roam in their great forests[...] it is a marvel, or rather a miracle, to see a peremptory command obeyed, or any act of severity or justice performed.” ”

As for the latter, breaking down resistance post-conquest; as intended by the European witch-hunt genocide against perceived threats or actual deviants from the emerging form of updated patriarchy that birthed capitalism (and was exported to annihilate ‘witches’ overseas since at least the late 16th century), control over the reproduction of a conquered people was as important abroad as at home. “Almost all indigenous cultures,” according to Miles Olsen, “had effective, natural birth control practices that allowed them to decide when, or if, they would have children. This knowledge appears to be one of the first things colonizers seek to eradicate when assimilating traditional peoples.” A good illustration is contained in a report issued a few years ago about the commendable smashing of the 1791 statue of Saint Joseph at the globally-pilgrimaged Chapel of the Holy Cross Church, in the context of the area. “The padres [church ‘fathers’] [were concerned] about the continuing catastrophic decline in the number of babies born to their neophyte charges [in the Santa Cruz area of what became known as ‘California’]. Often, the Ohlone (and other subjugated peoples) would refuse to procreate, knowing that their children would be born into near-slavery. When a padre at Santa Cruz Mission named Ramon Olbés came to the conclusion that one particular married couple was behaving with excessive sexual inhibition, thereby depriving him of another child to enslave and another soul to offer up to Christ: “At this point the woman resisted the padre’s attempted forced inspection; for that impertinence she received fifty lashes, was “shackled, and locked in the nunnery.” He then gave her a wooden doll and ordered her to carry it with her, “like a recently born child,” wherever she went.” These anecdotes of genocide, torture, and resistance are only broad strokes on a large canvas. […] The first mission in Santa Cruz was built in 1791. Two years later, indigenous people from the Ano Nuevo area burned it down, presumably motivated by the kidnappings and forced relocations. […] 19 years later, in 1812, Father Andrés Quintana was beaten to death and his body disfigured by natives angry over his use of a metal-tipped whip in the punishment of mission laborers.” The breaking up of clan structures to be replaced, in fact if not in theory, by the atomised nuclear family model may have been another cardinal goal of the colonists, but with hostility like this it was not achieved easily.

Picking up momentum as it rolled forward, the Western powers brought more horrific traits into the world, and of these, new approaches to warfare are strongly significant. “It is only in Europe, with the rise of the practice and theory of ‘total war’ that much of European expansionist history can be understood. […] While The Art of War [5th century B.C. Chinese military treatise] and A Book of Five Rings [Japanese text of the 17th century] concern the techniques of the battlefield, they did not relate war to a particularly functionalist worldview. War was not an application of imperialist power as much as the practice of a certain class of citizenry amongst themselves. Military strategy was as connected to the spiritual understanding of being a warrior as it was to placing men in power. […] As opposed to the general outlines of relationships between military and civic leaders given in the ancient texts, [modern military strategists] were specific. Total war is military conflict in which the contenders are willing to make any sacrifice in lives and other resources to obtain a complete victory. […] The formation of the differentiation between total and limited war gave texture to the behavior of the Europeans that colonized the New World, Africa, and institutionalized the Crusades” (Aragorn).

Advances in the fields of military or social control have often ‘returned’ to be deployed against the population ‘at home’, in what has been called the ‘boomerang effect. Alexander Dunlap follows other thinkers in locating this as early as “Charles V’s conquest of the West Indies. This was justified by the purported ‘right to colonization’ established by William the Conqueror’s invasion of Saxony. The boomerang effect is a process of developing, justifying, and legitimizing repressive techniques, traditionally through colonial invasion, which spin back to be applied in home countries. [D]istinctions between war/peace, civilised/savage wars, and the generalised civilised/savage dichotomy justified without remorse the campaigns of utilitarian rule, extermination, and the construction of concentration camps (Herero peoples, South Africa) during German colonialism. [T]he United States Indian Removal Policy proved a practical model and inspiration for Hitler’s programme of internal extermination of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and all other opponents. In [Patricia] Owen’s words, ‘totalitarianism, total war, and the Holocaust – brought the horrors of imperialism home to roost’. This separation emblematic of walls and fences also enabled boomerang effects – intentionally or not – to reflect the processes of external and internal colonisation as they developed as two sides of the same coin to maintain political order in their respective contexts. [...] This technique of separation, categorisation, and organisation, characteristic of linear vision, remains a fundamental technique of war.

[T]echniques used against native peoples in colonies were the same techniques used in Europe during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century when ideas of peace and development (progress) supported constant invasion and conquest of people during Empire, continual peasant revolts against enclosures, the Luddite[12] rejection of industrialism, the swing riots[13], and the chronic problem of insurrection in cities, which required new architecture, urban renewal, and an expansion of military and police powers.”


So it is that, to understand the composure of the modern world, we must understand colonialism as a central dynamic within it, and the story of Europe as an elaboration of that. Neither capitalism nor its corollary, modern European science, could have ascended between the 16th and 19th centuries without the labour and wealth robbed from the European colonies, as diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, timber and fur. Europe as we know it, its culture, history and power, is literally the creation of the colonised world. With its growing ability to control an increasing share of the world’s ‘resources’, after many generations of agriculture’s recurrent famines the European food situation was revolutionised after about 1850. Food could now be imported from the rest of the world, as could fertilizer for domestic crops (such as guano from Peru, dug by thousands of Chinese indentured labourers who were brought in to replace the Hawaiians who previously had died during the toil).

Also attributable to European colonisation was the shift in power from absolute sovereigns to include their jealous “money-lenders, spice-vendors, military suppliers and colony-plunderers”, as Fredy Perlman put it. “Later known as the bourgeoisie or the middle class, these people had become rich and powerful since the days of the first westward-bound fleets. A portion of their wealth had come from the plundered colonies, as payment for the services they had sold to the Emperor; this sum of wealth would later be called a primitive accumulation of capital. Another portion of their wealth had come from the plunder of their own local countrymen [sic] and neighbors by a method later known as capitalism; the method was not altogether new, but it became very widespread after the middle classes got their hands on the New World’s silver and gold.” In the period after about 1500, European power gradually began to create the modern world economy by forcing integration of different regions into a single system. (Before the expansion of Europe and the intensification of industrial output we can’t see any major differences in wealth between the main agricultural societies in different parts of the world, minus obvious internal inequality – prior to being forced onto the world market.) In what became the ‘third world’, this meant being forced, by a mixture of political control, economic pressure, investment and market forces, into diverting from food self-sufficiency into providing resources for the European or North American factories or luxury markets (monocrops of sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas), therefore becoming dependent on imports to feed their populations – as well as a becoming a dumping ground for surplus goods from European manufacturing. To this day most ‘third world’ countries are net exporters of food, despite the right-wing begrudgement of Western ‘aid’ programs we hear in the Global North.

By the 20th century, nation-states were replacing previous forms of imperial governance. “The first world war had left two vast empires in a quandary. The Celestial Empire of China, the oldest continuous state in the world, and the Empire of the Tsars, a much more recent operation, hovered shakily between the prospect of turning themselves into nation-states and the prospect of decomposing into smaller units, like their Ottoman and Hapsburg counterparts had done[...] When bourgeoisies with different languages and religions, such as Turks and Armenians, claimed the same territory, the weaker were treated like so-called American Indians; they were exterminated. National Sovereignty and Genocide were – and still are – corollaries” (Perlman). During the last decades of the nineteenth century, Western colonial theorists justified the continued expansion of the slowing colonisation of the rest of the world in terms of the needs of the new industrial system and by ‘demand’ of a Darwinian struggle between nations and races (taking literally the biologist Charles Darwin’s subtitle to his influencial ‘The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ which put evolutionary theory into the limelight; ‘Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’). Once again, Western science was the faithful ally to the oppressor. While the European powers, Japan (which modeled itself on European colonial empires) and the U.S. vied for supremacy, even some (usually non-Russian) Marxists within what was to become the U.S.S.R. considered the Soviet Regime a renewed version of Russian imperialism; for those who believe that the Left has not been another major architect of colonisation in places.

Yet after the end of the Second World War, the feasibility was in question of many of the colonies still held by European nations and not already instead granted independence (as had the Latin American countries since the 1820s). Militant anti-occupation movements were in full swing (for instance in India), and the tenability of the traditional methods of colonial exploitation seemed unstable. In 1961, during the height of the war for Algerian independence from France, Jean-Paul Sartre reflected on this (with the archaic sexism sadly still in vogue). “Violence in the colonies does not only have for its aim the keeping of these enslaved men at arm’s length; it seeks to dehumanize them. […] Sheer physical fatigue will stupefy them. Starved and ill, if they have any spirit left, fear will finish the job; guns are levelled at the peasant; civilians come to take over his land and force him by dint of flogging to till the land for them. If he shows fight, the soldiers fire and he’s a dead man; if he gives in, he degrades himself and he is no longer a man at all; shame and fear will split up his character and make his inmost self fall to pieces. The business is conducted with flying colours and by experts: the ‘psychological services’ weren’t established yesterday; nor was brain-washing. And yet, in spite of all these efforts, their ends are nowhere achieved: neither in the Congo, where Negroes’ hands were cut off, nor in Angola, where until very recently malcontents’ lips were pierced in order to shut them with padlocks. I do not say that it is impossible to change a Man into an animal, I simply say that you won’t get there without weakening him considerably. Blows will never suffice; you have to push the starvation further, and that’s the trouble with slavery.

[…] The native cures himself of colonial neurosis by thrusting out the settler through force of arms. [When his rage boils over] he comes to know himself in that he himself creates his self. Far removed from his war, we consider it as a triumph of barbarism; but of its own volition it achieves, slowly but surely, the emancipation of the rebel, for bit by bit it destroys in him and around him the colonial gloom. Once begun, it is a war that gives no quarter. [T]o shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man...” Weakened by the World War II, and disturbed by these series of uprisings, European nation-states began shedding many of their imperial titles. However, the official ‘decolonisation’ of African and Asian regions during the ‘50s and ‘60s was, again as in Latin America before, independence in name alone; also, many were drawn into maneuvers as a proxy of one or another of the Cold War blocs, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In effect today is a neo-colonialism of ‘development’ financing and debt burdens, with the ideology of industrial progress universally applauded, with lands and ‘traditional’ remnants of cultures additionally commodified for the purposes of tourism in some cases.

What the independent nations did was prioritise the very same civilised approach to the land which had first colonised it, and them. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang state that, even today, so-called ‘anti-colonial’ rhetoric “often celebrates empowered postcolonial subjects who seize denied privileges from the metropole. This anti-to-post-colonial project doesn’t strive to undo colonialism but rather to remake it and subvert it. Seeking stolen resources is entangled with settler colonialism because those resources were nature/Native first, then enlisted into the service of settlement and thus almost impossible to reclaim without re-occupying Native land. Furthermore, the postcolonial pursuit of resources is fundamentally an anthropocentric model, as land, water, air, animals, and plants are never able to become postcolonial; they remain objects to be exploited by the empowered postcolonial subject”. The ‘native’ governments that replaced the colonial administrators as a rule have discouraged indigenous subsistence outside of the world economy as much as their predecessors, while securing the ongoing internal colonial revenues to the advantage of a small class or caste[14], and in some places adding new ones such as oil. Furthermore what Europeans left behind in the newly ‘decolonised’ nations was their creations in classes or racial prejudices they’d fostered between diverse colonised groups, having deliberately intensified divisions and stratifications. For example, almost every current African state and borderline was the creation of the rivalries of distant European powers – majorly contributing to serious internal strife. Meanwhile economic domination achieves similar results for the capitalist West as military power did in the past.

Currently, international coordination of border controls is one of the more blatant systems of apartheid, while as the ecological situation worsens and “what the colonial British called the “coloured empires” of India and China today compete directly with the traditional colonial West for natural resources. China is buying tremendous swathes of Africa and the United States creating military bases near every bastion of oil, whilst plans have started for massive solar panel farms in Northern Africa to ship electricity straight to Europe. Green capitalism is nothing but a strangely postmodern ‘green’ colonialism. [C]limate change is expected to lead to a sharp decline in food production as the world population grows to nearly nine billion. Follow the money: the large investments of green capitalism are to construct new border fortifications – the present day of equivalent of Hadrian’s Wall[15] – to stop the flow of climate refugees, whose numbers are sure to mount. We don’t need a climatologist to tell us which way the wind is blowing” (Introduction to the Apocalypse). Civilisation has always needed displacement of populations for extraction; where this is not agricultural this has often been mining, quarrying, and today, for the existence of industrialism, smelting, refining, transporting all over the globe etc. (also today for the so-called ‘renewable’ industrial technologies) – all of which wound the land, spreading the net wider and colonising more ‘resources’, human or not.

In North America, Australia, etc., where settler colonialism now desires a more benign image, subjugation of native populations increasingly takes a more bureaucratic/legalistic form than the direct police/military force still selectively deployed for actual native resistance, closer in form (if more audacious) to the management of other exploited populations – while still retaining its own specificity. That is, the aims are still the same; control over territory. Tom Leubben, once attorney for the Western Shoshone National Council, complained that if indigenous people in the U.S.A. manage to win a single case regarding dispossession from their lands, “the government just loads up its legal guns, adds a new, bigger crew of fresh lawyers, and comes back harder. It’s the legal equivalent of what the cavalry did a hundred years ago. […] The government has all the time in the world to achieve its goals. The Indians run out of money, they get tired of fighting, they get old, and finally, after ten to twenty years, somebody says, ‘The hell with it: let’s take what [pay-off] we can.’” Meanwhile, Dan Domberg stressed the collaborationist nature of the colonially-installed ‘indigenous self-government’ authorities in the United States (like the Band Councils, which were in some cases set up directly by missionaries; what has been called ‘colonisation with indigenous faces’). “When the U.S. succeeded in forcing the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) upon tribes, installing puppet governments, the ultimate U.S. aim was to make Indians a resource colony, like Africa was for Europe. Sometimes the issue is coal or uranium and sometimes it’s just open land for MX missiles and nuclear testing. The role of the Indian Claims Commission is to get at the lands of tribes who do not have puppet governments, or where traditional people are leading a fight to keep land and refuse money.”

One of the more tragic affects of the colonisations leading to today has been the rupture of variegated understandings of the world and how we might live within it, rendered obsolete by the dictates of capitalist civilisation. Such a brutalising process, having been so relentlessly carried out within Europe in centuries past, replayed itself first in settler colonialism and today in the economic neo-colonialism across the rest of the world (only largely without external territories that the nations of the Global South can hope to colonise in turn); a theme taken up elsewhere by David Kidner. “[If] industrialisation fragments the life-world in a fashion that affects all the allegedly separate domains of the life that result from this fragmentation, perhaps we can identify the effects of this process by exploring parts of the world that are in the “acute” stage of industrialization, and where the defensive gloss which industrialism assumes in its more advanced stages has yet to disguise the less acceptable evidence of its “progress.” […] One that can serve as an example is “Bom Jesus,” the Brazilian shanty-town described in Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ Death Without Weeping, and set in the northeast of the country in an area once covered by ancient forest and inhabited by Tabajara and Caetés Indians.

[In the 20th century], however, most of the lush forest has been cleared, the Indians are long gone, and the landscape is dominated by sugar plantations. This domestication of the once wild landscape is the setting for, and continuous with, the social and cultural changes that followed. Today, Scheper-Hughes reports, even the peasants’ subsistence gardens have disappeared under sugarcane, making them even more dependent on the inadequate wages paid by the sugar companies. The sugar workers are effectively serfs within a feudal system that is violently enforced, suffering chronic malnutrition and weakened by diseases once thought to be things of the past – typhoid, dengue, malaria, Chagas’ disease, TB, and many more. As Scheper-Hughes summarizes the situation, “[t]he history of the Nordestino [literally ‘north-easterner’; as an ethnic group, typically extremely poor, many being descendants of Portugal’s slaves, and discriminated against in the rest of Brazil] sugar plantation is a history of violence and destruction planted in the ruthless occupation of lands and bodies.”

If this Third World scenario seems a million miles from our own political experience, perhaps we should remember that life in early modern Europe was in many respects similar to that in the Brazilian nordestino today. Furthermore, such otherwise disparate parts of the world are today joined by their complementary roles in the global economic system, which ensure that the violence which is displaced from the affluent world surfaces elsewhere. Today, much of the overt brutality of industrialization in its acute stages has moved to the Third World, and as we buy our air-freighted vegetables from the supermarket we remain oblivious to the exported violence on which this commercial arrangement depends. Equally, our own European landscape has long since been “pacified,” its native large animals mostly exterminated, its brutal history covered up by the appearance of rural tranquility in farming communities. In areas such as modern Europe, then, the violence of industrialism is largely implicit within the organizational principles of taken-for-granted bureaucratic value systems which these imply...”

Whereas once annihilation was often the clear program to suit European economic (and religious/psychological) purposes in many places – the thinking that caused the British commissioner of Kenya to write, in 1904, “I view with equanimity and a clear conscience [that] the Masai and many other tribes must go under” – now natives are targeted for ‘conversion’ to the acquisitive mentality of the industrialist paradigm and urged into ‘development’, to embrace the role of producer/consumer within a larger economic system. Simultaneously they are now also colonised for the very knowledge that missionaries and explorers, once adequately established, generally dismissed. (Witness the outpouring of homilies to the native wisdom of rain-forest medicinal plants, for example, that scientists might then reductively utilise on an industrial pharmacological scale; profiting only the corporations, and side-by-side with indifference to the threatened extinction, for the needs of the same industrial system, of the people who have lived in relationship with those plants for millennia.) Likewise, as Fredy Perlman emphasised, “capital is not always ‘material’; it can also be cultural or ‘spiritual’. The ways, myths, poetry and music of the people are liquidated as a matter of course; some of the music and costumes of the former “folk culture” subsequently reappear, processed and packaged, as elements of the national spectacle, as decorations for the national accumulation drives; the ways and myths become raw materials for processing by one or several of the “human sciences.” ”

Meanwhile in the West, capitalist civilisation deepens its pervasive colonisation and shaping of its citizens. Since at least the 1920’s, capitalism increasingly felt the need to expand its insinuation beyond the strict sphere of production; and since has been in a constant cycle of cultural innovation and renovation of every facet of life it has found a way into, from education to sports, urbanism, media spectacle, food, social space, and more. “Capitalism is to colonise the totality of our social life precisely to the extent it is able to capitalise any other form of life. One step of this colonisation was depriving the multitude of their traditional form of life in order to put them to work in factories. Yet somehow, after work, workers rejoiced and, shedding their work-day clothes, became human again: playing music in the bar, dreaming in the park, laying in each other’s arms. In order to extract perpetually more profit, there became ever-longer hours and evermore perfected assembly lines, with a global division of labour that undermines traditional factory organizing. However, eventually a limit is reached in classical capitalism. To continue the production of endless commodities, capitalism must colonise all of human time and culture. A new and terrible prison of the imagination is imposed upon people via the perfect image of the commodity, transmitted electrically around the world via the mass media. These images of commodities direct our collective human activity, so that our relationships become commodities themselves, the sickening appearance of social capital. This global collection of disjointed images of commodities and super-stars then becomes the abstract unity that binds the fragmented humanity together, masking the very real divisions of power and wealth” (Introduction to the Apocalypse). Today, whether it’s in the ‘traditional’ workplace or elsewhere that we produce value for the bosses, we are all on the shopfloor of the social factory, continually mined for profitability in one form or another.

One of the most totalising and comprehensive affects of our colonisation is the firm impression carried by many within this culture that ‘our’ way of life is not only the best way of being in the world (even if we question our specific place upon its hierarchical pyramid, rather than the edifice itself); but that it is in fact the only way of being in and understanding the world. If other cosmologies are acknowledged at all, it is as relics of the past, now more or less competing to gain ‘our’ level of ‘development’. Even looked at from a dissenting angle, the blight of civilisation seems inescapable. While there are certainly places in the world where neither agricultural ordering of lifeforms or capitalist social relations characterise the space, there is nowhere that the wave of ecological destruction that has accompanied the expansion and industrialisation from Europe has not fouled to some degree. “Traces of heavy metals in peats, lake sediments and ice sheets show that by 1700 pollutants released by the metal industries of Britain and central Europe were reaching most parts of Scandinavia. […] Even cores from the Antarctic ice sheet, supposedly the last wilderness on earth and even more remote from the industrial centres of the northern hemisphere, show that lead levels have quadrupled [as of the 1990’s] since the eighteenth century” (Ponting).


While to us it seems clear that, to concur with Pierre Clastres, “imperialism and ethnocide are inherent to all States”, one of the reasons we find a strictly racialised definition of colonialism to be inaccurate is that it ignores the wider (illusory) colonial cleaving off from, and detached gaze upon, the rest of the living world. This seems self-defeating even for the alleged interests of such a humanist definition; because in terms of genocide, we must understand that war on the land is war on those humans indigenous with it. (Even the works of Fanon, hardly an ecologist, summarised that in Algeria there was “the decision to the letter not to occupy anything less than the sum of the land. The Algerians, the veiled women, the palm-trees and the camels make up the landscape, the natural background to the human presence of the French. [C]olonization is a success when all this indocile nature[...] obstinate and fundamentally rebellious[...] has finally been tamed. Railways across the bush, the draining of the swamps and a native population which is non-existent politically and economically are in fact one and the same thing.”)

At this point it is worth being clear what we have in mind when we say indigenous. While there is certainly a common relationship between familial ties and the acculturation of an individual to their world, we don’t see indigineity as an automatic product of bloodline; nor as simply the target of a coloniser, as automatically defined in a binary relationship. (Tuck and Yang assert that indigenous peoples “are those who have creation stories, not colonization stories, about how we/they came to be in a particular place – indeed how we/they came to be a place.) By that measure, any one of us could lay claim to being indigenous, all having ancestors (however distant) of tribal lifeways embedded in a landbase, and almost all probably coming from a line of people who at some point were invaded and occupied by an outside culture. Where we are now, to personally claim indigineity from this definition seems extremely disingenuous, and quite ridiculous. Rather, what we mean by indigenous is a certain cultural, economic and spiritual relation to land; specific land, not land as an abstract concept (as in the alienated nation-state sense), nor one ‘piece’ of land until it has had its ‘agricultural productivity’ exhausted and can be discarded for the next; but rather a commitment to the health and diversity of a multitude of beings and energies within a habitat called home.

This is the idea we get of a life deeply tied into a bioregion; the notion of a community beyond the anthropocentric, which does not stop at (imaginary) human boundaries[16]. We wake up in the morning, and we hear certain birds singing. We are struck by certain trees, mountains, oceans. We experience certain weather patterns. We interact with certain other animals. We are profoundly shaped by the ecology of that region in our culture; in our art, play, love, war, food, understanding of ‘self’ and ‘other’ or the relationships which blur the two. The land shelters, nourishes, engages and defines us. To find or co-create that spirit which animates a place such as we might call home; to know the terrain, what is edible or craftable, what is affected by what, and in what way – this is the challenge of becoming native to a place, to become part of that spirit rather than an invader upon it. Max Cafard was speaking to this when he asserted that, contrary to the nationalist understanding of ‘homeland’, the spirit of regional presence doesn’t take place in “Washington, Moscow, and other seats of power. Regional power does not sit; it flows everywhere. Through watersheds and bloodstreams. Through nervous systems and food chains. The regions are everywhere and nowhere. We are all illegals. We are natives and we are restless. We have no country; we live in the country. We are off the Inter-State. The Region is against the Regime – any Regime. Regions are anarchic.” And of course none of this is static (at least for too long), whatever a ‘traditionalist’ may tell you, but a constant dance and re-discovery of life.

This feels painfully far from what we who are writing deeply experience in the industrialised environment (urban or rural), or can find space in which to develop today, due to precisely the same civilisation that is eradicating surviving indigenous peoples and ways of being. Yet this relation is what we strive to nurture, embryonically; as the beginnings of a non-colonial approach to the world. And while it may be a greatly distant time that peoples of our personal family histories or even the landbases we inhabit were indigenous in that way, by this metric it is not inconceivable for that to be what we become.

This notion is important because, beyond any cultural essentialism or static notions of ‘race’ and boundaries, it brings into focus the relation between humans and the more-than-human, humans and their habitat. This is the relation which cannot bear scrutiny within civilised cultures, whatever rung of the hierarchical ladder or geographical location/flux we find ourselves within. Of course, whether we of the civilised West are in fact capable yet of establishing such a relationship, even in more favourable social-environmental conditions, even over the course of a few generations’ successive trial-and-error, is open to debate. The rationalist, civilising logic has worked us over on more levels that we can imagine, and it is truly a tragedy that, here, we do not have surviving members of peoples raised into such a culture with whom to learn and develop, let alone lands wild enough on which to establish a comparable practice unmolested. In this world we inhabit, the restrictions of private property, State expansion, the carnage wrought by ‘resource’ extraction and a changing climate profoundly complicate or prohibit attempts to exist on the fringes of now-global civilisation without seceding to its logic; as the remaining indigenous well know. But this is the path we chose to walk, and, we would like to believe, even reaching for the fragments (outside of any formula) seems an adventure worth undertaking, and one which others have pursued in many different fascinating directions.

Anyway, what would be the alternative: to resign to bounce around within the confines of ‘our’ civilised (in this case European) logic, and expect to create anything different than the nightmare defiling the Earth? Or to pronounce our intentions to destroy ‘everything’, as if a purist void of values and relationships were achievable from which to somehow create the engaged coexistence we crave? Neither feel appealing to us. But we can have no illusion – the chance to achieve such an elaboration of relationality can ultimately only result from the collapse of at least a proportion of civilised structures (physical as well as conceptual) in any one part of the world we had previously been industrially-hardened to, and a corresponding falling-away of ingrained habits and certainties which may indeed feel on some level like losing ‘everything’. (“Decolonisation,” according to Fanon, “is, obviously, a program of complete disorder.”) For us, all the more reason to push for that collapse/escape in whatever ways we could experience them, while searching for something – however ephemeral – to cherish and defend throughout.

All indigenous cultures, it should be clear, are far from the same, and we don’t claim all their lifeways to be ‘good’ or to appeal to us personally even within the definition we offered. Instead a vast diversity exists (matching the diversity of lands) of ways of maintaining social relations between individuals, clans, and neighbouring peoples. Some land-based cultures formed what seem easily identifiable, to we who are writing, as bureaucratic structures (like the Iroquois Confederacy stretching inland from the eastern seaboard of North America, which apparently inspired a large part of the text of the U.S. Constitution). Most seemingly did not. There are also many differences in how each particular culture was/is affected by colonialism. The terrible thing, from an anti-colonial perspective that is comfortable with the idea of radical decentralisation and thus very divergent spreads of diverse cultures (some of which inevitably seem antagonistic to another somewhere), is that the overwhelming of so many cosmologies corresponds to a flattening and reduction of possibilities for all our lives within the dominant culture. It is no exaggeration to describe the current ‘world war’ as one against the indigenous wherever they stand, by the forces of industrial ‘economic development’. Unlike in places like the U.S.A. or its modern overseas colonial holdings (like in Micronesia), with their refined and legalistic methods of continuing the expropriations, “in much of Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, and parts of Africa, South America, and Central America, the outside political and economic intrusions on native peoples are blatantly violent, as is the resistance to it” (Mander). In many of the 200-odd countries which claim sovereignty over the thousands of tribal groups, this battle is reported in the mass media as ‘civil wars’ or ‘ethnic conflicts’, rather than the attempts of tribal cultures to rid themselves of nation-state dominion.

Many may be familiar with outcry over the contemporary ecocide of the Amazon rain-forest and corresponding slaughters of its resident cultures (by police or loggers bullets, dams, or diseases deliberately introduced by governmental ‘Indian protection’ agents), where not much has changed since a Brazilian official spokesman asserted that “[w]hen we are certain that every corner of the Amazon is inhabited by genuine Brazilians and not by the Indians, only then will we be able to say that the Amazon is ours.” But less known is that the deforestation of Indonesia has now overtaken it as the fastest on Earth; and also in a vital zone for global biodiversity. As land is ‘cleared’ for palm oil plantations and for mines, thousands upon thousands of indigenous people have died fighting and many more forced to flee their ancestral bioregions, as populations from the sprawling cities are transplanted onto the newly ‘vacated’ lands. An Indonesia minister of transmigration had long since made their intentions clear: “The different ethnic groups of Indonesia will in the long run disappear[...] and then there will be one kind of man [sic].” A campaign of unrelenting persecution is pursued in their occupation of neighbouring West Papau against its indigenous peoples, who are discriminated against on sight – armed resistance fighters make guerrilla strikes from the highlands and jungle against the colonial advance, but again, out-gunned and out-numbered, are steadily losing ground. Comparing the situation to other occupations in the modern world, Julian Burger wrote that one could “with legitimacy to talk about genocide elsewhere – the Mayans in Guatemala, the Ache in Paraguay, the Chakma in Bangladesh – but even in the context of such violence the destruction of the West Papau people has few parallels[...] The invasion of the Americas and Australia are being reborn in West Papau.”


Our purpose hasn’t been to sanctify the particular groups of people facing this onslaught, past or present, and feel ourselves in a position to impose ourselves as their ‘advocates’, without having met them, related with them, understood them. Rather, this exploration has aimed to connect the threads in the dominant ideologies of the current stage of civilisation – both to identify where we might carry parts of it within us, where we are bound up in the same colonising snares, and to see where we might be able to subvert and undo the knots holding the armoured edifice together. To recap, these are the characteristics we are attributing to the colonial mindset, aside from the historical specifics in each case: colonialism is the drive to expand; not just via physical force, but, having predicated its project on perceived superiority based on difference, via the suppression of any structure that differs. Hence the ‘other’, seen as deviant, is annihilated, or is seen as a source – but only one to be assimilated to familiar structures of understanding. So the colonial mindset cannot so much allow itself to experience the discovery of something as new, but rather processes it into a reproduction, into something that in some way reinforces the assumptions of the colonialists’ specific worldview. It simplifies, reduces and homogenises its surrounding. Ultimately, it is a war for territory; the territory of the cultural and imaginative, certainly, but always also the land. This is true as much where we stand, upon bioregions long-since paved over and built-up, skewered with pylons and pierced with mines, as it is in the still-wild forests and mountains being invaded and reduced. The operation is ideological, but with a material basis: generating surplus production and a flattened world.

Using this approximation, we can see how we are in many ways colonised by the monolithic institutions of civilised life – the market, traditional and modern religions, the nation-state, law, class, materialism, gender, aspirations of endless ‘growth’, morality, racial categories, mass society and its ‘common good’, education, human separation and supremacy, scientific realism, techno-logic, totalitarian agriculture, and the conceptual tyranny of the industrial system. In giving life to these spectres, people violently enforce their image onto others in their world, while simultaneously preaching (to themselves also) that this is the good, the right, and the necessary. Fanon identified that settler colonialism in Algeria, by maintaining that its presence prevented a ‘return to barbarism’, “did not seek to be considered by the native as a gentle, loving mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather as a mother who unceasingly restrains her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit suicide and from giving rein to its evil instincts. The colonial mother protects her child from itself...” This statement should ring true in the ears of anti-authoritarians who are informed so often (and so a-historically) that we cannot get by without police, judges, jailers, bosses... and everything else that domesticates, controls and infantilises us, all the bizarre rituals of self-alienation we are coerced into performing. Whether or not he’d have named it as colonisation by his measure, in Western capitalist society Fanon indicated “[the educational system], the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary honesty of workers who are given a medal after fifty years of good and loyal service, and the affection which springs from harmonious relations and good behaviour – all these aesthetic expressions of respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably. In the capitalist countries a multitude of moral teachers, counsellors and ‘bewilderers’ separate the exploited from those in power.” This is how we are moulded into accepting the goals, opinions and perceptions that suit us to the advance of an ideology, which we will in turn enforce.

While perhaps more easily-identifiable in the time-tested motions of governance (schooling, intimidating, caging, promising, co-opting, competing, terrorising, etc.), colonial efforts underpin many more social dynamics than these alone. Gentrification, to take a buzzword-topic often (poorly) explored by radicals in the West at the moment, can be seen in the light of the onward motion of a society that is colonialist to its core. So it was that, taking the situation of North America as an example (sure to be familiar in some ways elsewhere), Alley Valkyrie identified that “the New World [sic] that once provided a remedy for the intertwined issues of land and scarcity in Europe is now the epicenter of an end-stage crisis that is a direct continuation of the same cycle that produced America in the first place.

The crisis is most often coded in the languages of development, policy, and economics, deliberately isolating it from its historical roots or patterns, but it is neither a new process nor one confined to the terrain of cities or the field of urban planning. While one was obviously a much more physically violent and bloody process, especially on American soil, overall there is little difference between the mechanisms of gentrification in America and those of colonization as a whole. The specific modes and methods of violence and oppression differ greatly, but both are processes sparked by the intertwining forces of scarcity, commodification, and speculative profit, the same processes that have been driving displacement and migration for centuries and that forced so many of our ancestors to leave their homelands for the New World.

In turn, several generations after the completion of the massive land grab that was America, the descendants of that massive wave of immigrants are now learning the hard way that the limits of the “American Dream” are congruent with and dependent on the physical limits of available, affordable and viable land. But unlike a century ago, this time there is no viable pull, no newly colonized landmass for the current crop of landless peasants to settle on and continue the cycle of oppression.” Many will be familiar with the characteristic way in which many aspects of the lifestyles innovated by, for example, inner-city poor or counter-cultural types become assimilated to the dominant capitalist mode of operation during gentrification, and their previous practitioners cleansed from the area in question, leaving only an sanitised aesthetic remnant; and in this we could identify a ‘resource’ being assimilated to dominant ways of understanding, and henceforth colonised as cultural capital. Again, both in the cause of the situation and the ideological drivers of the response, the current of colonisation flows strong.

We could take institutional psychology as another deep colonialism in the modern world; in many ways harking back to the illusory mind/body split proposed by the philosophy of René Descartes in Western culture, but also more fundamentally to a human/nature split. A creeping reduction of possibilities within the psyche has accompanied the advance in influence of these disciplines; forms of thought, expression and action not deemed ‘rational’ are invariably denigrated, and a conscious rationalism is imposed upon them. Tellingly, the arch-rationalist Sigmund Freud compared this cultural aspect of his psychoanalytical method to the damming, draining and thus ‘making docile’ of the Zuiderzee (a large shallow inlet of the North Sea) by the Dutch authorities, and asserted that he was “by temperament nothing but a conquistador.” An enormous loss of context and meaning is the price; not coincidentally for the industrial order which needs their suppression, it is precisely the unquantifiable, intuitive, visceral, spiritual aspects of ourselves which sense the deep connections between the myriad beings and presences which industrial civilisation must sweep aside. “[W]e are taught to keep “cool,” to think rather than feel, to despise intuition as “unscientific,” to argue logically rather than emotionally. Just as what we define as the “natural” world is both denied methodologically and destroyed in physical reality, so the forms of personhood that could and, at least within indigenous populations, often have resonated with and defined themselves through this natural world are themselves repressed and obliterated. Today, the psychologist and the industrialist are as closely allied in the transformation of the world as the conquistador and the missionary were in Colombus’ era” (Kidner).

We are the generations who have grown up rootless, ancestorless, and uncentred, untethered to any bioregional relationships. Side by side, our own lives must be divided into measurable units, and our skills or aspirations no longer left in the service of the kinship group, individual, or the community beyond the human, but must produce value for Capital and Empire. The parts of ourselves which are as much poets, dancers, dreamers and lovers as are intellectual beings are as endangered as the other species which these faculties of our selves have so often played off and intertwined with. Jon E. Graham reminds us that “[a]nalogy can connect body and mind, objective space and subjective space, and the animal, plant, and mineral realms in a way that logic cannot. […] The relationship between the disappearance of the great mammals like the blue whale and the great rebels of times past is the same insidious and pervasive decay as the depreciation and adulteration of language and the genetic modification of the foods we eat.” Similar concern led Annie Le Brun to claim that the ecological catastrophe of our era is rooted in “the growing impossibility to imagine the symbolic exchange that never stops occurring between ideas, beings, and things. […] In the natural rhythm of the returning seasons, children slip between their dreams each morning, still able to fold like a handkerchief the reality awaiting them. The very sky reflected in a mud puddle is close enough for them to touch. So why are there no longer any adolescents wild enough to instinctively refuse the sinister future that is being prepared for them? Why are there no longer any young people impassioned enough to stray beyond the restricted vistas that they are taught to mistake for life? Why are there no longer any individuals determined enough to oppose by all possible means the system of cretinization from which our era draws its consensual strength?”

To be clear, we’re not asserting all the affects of colonial outlooks to be equivalent in how they inscribe themselves on living bodies. (To say ‘we are all colonised’ is not to say that we do not, even indirectly, in some ways colonise others.) The genocide against non-industrial peoples whose social, economic, familial, ethical and spiritual structure is still intimate with a specific landbase, or has until recently been, is qualitatively different from the inherited dispossession of an inmate of the Western metropolis (and indeed one of the urban ‘middle classes’ in the global powerhouses of China and India as they rise; or, more accurately, return). What we are trying to do is work through some of the impetus that drives the acculturation of the latter and their hostility to the former; and in the process reveal that the indigenous under assault today are not the first human communities to face such treatment, but the last. Western culture, far from facing its own monstrosities, is instead globalising them via its reproduction and emulation/imposition. And the scars do not heal. While discussing the trauma and maladies induced in the Dineh peoples by their forced relocation by the U.S. government, Cisco Lassiter acknowledges that “[w]e, too, are now finding ourselves increasingly vulnerable to the kind of “psychopathology” experienced by Dineh relocatees: homelessness, disorientation, rootlessness, alienation, loneliness, depression, and despair. In a society driven by the pursuit of an ever-increasing material standard of living, often at the expense of home, rootedness, and membership in the biotic community, these forms of suffering are probably inevitable. Many of the common illnesses of contemporary society suggest experiences which parallel the relocation of Dinehs from their homeland.” Also, colonisation is in every case the imposition of a certain human-supremacist ordering onto a more-than-human world. Coupled with rationalism today it denies most phenomena of the world as subjects, as anything with which we might enter into meaningful relationship and be influenced by (or even constituted by) rather than simply act upon from a detached position as a separated entity. It denies communication beyond the human, and leaves us closed in upon ourselves. Once more we’ll return to David Kidner. “Alterity is not a psychological problem if the other is also part of the same shared cosmos; but in a fragmented cosmos in which the relation to the other has been lost, alterity is feared, so that native populations become “savages,” animals become machines or “organisms,” nature becomes an assortment of “things,” and feelings become the sometimes incomprehensible impediments to rationality. In each case, depending on its capabilities, the other becomes either a threat to be destroyed or a resource to be exploited.

[…] While colonizing structures are often abstract and relatively simple (as in the replacement of forest by monoculture) what is lost is often complex and usually unrecognized – at least by the colonizers. Uniformity and standardization, and thus the absence of micro-detail, are essential conditions for the existence of industrialism; and variation and particularities are the “brush” that must be cleared away for the industrial process to proceed smoothly, the diversity that constitutes unwanted deviation, like the unwanted “associations” that interfere with rational thought. Industrialism requires monocultures, not biodiversity – in materials, products, people; and it selects those particular characteristics out of many possible ones that are consistent with its structures, so that these structures will appear as the only possible ones. The price we pay for the products of industrialism thus includes a gross simplification of the most significant structures of our lives, and consequently, an enormous loss of meaning. In contrast, it may be significant [that] nonindustrial cultures typically abstain from complex abstract schemes, preferring to emphasize a thing’s individuality and uniqueness to a greater extent than we do. For example, Veronica Strang notes that Australian aboriginals, if working on a cattle ranch, “did not count horses as they were brought in, but could tell whether any were missing because they knew them all individually[...] meanwhile, the white stockmen would be trying to count the horses.” ”


While we can see the fighting spirit of many tribesfolk battling against assimilation, it is these aforementioned aspects of our own occupation which seem the most challenging to see a clear path to counter. Doubtless a major part of it would seem liable to be ridiculed by Western rationalist culture as too ‘spiritual’ (opening up an neglected aspect of ourselves, as repeatedly recommended by indigenous peoples to European-minded would-be-rebels): if anything this would be even more the case in the majority of Western(ised) ‘radical’ spaces. Meanwhile, people more recently colonised by capitalist or communist powers try a range of activities to counter their (de)socialisation, from establishing ancestral relationships with indigenous flora and fauna where they still exist, armed actions against occupying forces (military, police or industrial personnel), or reinvoking traditional ceremonies, as well as (less comfortably for us) engaging with colonial systems on their own terms through court cases or rights-based discourse to publicise their plight, or appeal for ‘reparations’. Opponents of the colonialist capitalist system attack institutions of that order (such as the recent molotov attack on a ‘New Zealand’ government minister’s Whakatane office, at a time of high tensions over signing of the neo-colonial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement trade deal) or highly-resonant symbols of ongoing genocides (such as the daylight smashing of the flagship store of Hudson’s Bay Company[17] during the media spectacle of the 2010 Winter Olympics on unceded Coast Salish territories), while every night in the ghettos of the urban world the children of forcibly-assimilated land-based folk gather with their friends to cast stones and bottles on the police or military occupiers.

Freda Huson, seeing Unist’ot’en territory decimated by industry and farming, declared that “my dad always told us that our best ammunition is just to reoccupy the lands”, and in areas like there people do just that – sometimes specifically to block proposed developments, to nourish a different way of relating to land, and usually receiving the direct or indirect aggression of settler authorities. Former Canadian Forces officer and lecturer Doug Bland caused some commotion with his report in recent years which identified the threat from the discontented indigenous population (48% of which are under 24 years old), concentrated in areas critically important to national resource industries. Additionally, Canada’s export-driven economy depends on sprawling, hard-to-defend key infrastructure like rail and electricity lines; “A small cohort of minimally trained ‘warriors’ could close these systems in a matter of hours.” (Alongside the necessity of higher security presence around infrastructure as well as on reserves, and ‘comprehensive resettlement’ of ‘remote’ communities, he advises recuperating struggles through offers of resource revenue-sharing, higher levels of ‘sovereignty’, addressing the soaring incarceration rate, etc.) Industrial development is on the rise in ever-more-northern parts of that continent, and native struggles are brewing apace.

Some elsewhere in the world turn to religious fundamentalisms and vindicate their oppression through slaughters and dogmatic ideologies, or form top-down Marxist militarist structures with the entailing bureaucracy and hierarchy. In many more areas the dispossessed just try to get by and survive alongside (although sometimes segregated from) the rest of the excluded classes, and like with them, many vie for a greater place at the table of the dominant culture as it is; a form of self-destruction in itself. Gord Hill, an anarchist of the Kwakwaka’wakw, sees that when indigenous peoples around him in occupied Canada cannot see colonialism as “the fundamental condition which oppresses them, many not only lack a will to resist, they can even lack a will to live (i.e., disproportionately high rates of suicide among Native peoples)”. Some (formerly) indigenous, especially in places where the imperialist distribution of commodities make it possible for them to at least nominally participate in the Western consumer classes, use the rhetoric of ‘decolonisation’ to set up their own capitalist-industrial enterprises on the land, perhaps couched in the language of ‘autonomy’.

Not infrequently, contemporary dissidents from the dominant colonial culture make attempts to connect with (or emulate) native cultures and activities. Often the results are disastrous. We mentioned earlier the Western tendency to exoticise, and engagement with these situations frequently stems from tokenistic, shallow or essentialist ideas. Starting from a footing within the colonial habit of forcibly relating different cosmologies to one’s own frame of reference (language, demands, issues, etc.), interactions easily break down in (mutual) incomprehension. During an anonymous online discussion, the point was made how, for many Westerners, “solidarity has to be justified by the (false) imputation of an ideological adherence of oppressed people and their defensive (sometimes armed) formations to the ideology of the ones offering said solidarity. What happens is that the un- or non-radical aspects of the oppressed group’s formations/projects get ignored or dismissed as irrelevant, while the one or two practices that resemble “direct democracy” or some other horizontal or grassroots form of decision making, perhaps even accompanied by some kind of cooperative and/or non-exploitative economy are labeled “anarchist” or “communist” despite the self-understanding of the people engaged in those projects (that’s called ideological colonialism by the way).” Perhaps this is part of what John Trudell (of Santee Dakota-Mexican heritage) spoke to upon interjecting that “[w]e want to be free of a value system that’s being imposed upon us. We do not want to participate in that value system. We do not want to change that value system. We want to remove it from our lives forever…”

We have hoped to analyse these sad stories of exploitation, slaughter and rape, so as to be clear that colonialism can mean many things but is in no case something to be intellectualised as a monolithic entity. Let’s follow Tuck and Yang in their contention that, in general, “theories of coloniality attend to two forms of colonialism[18]. External colonialism (also called exogenous or exploitation colonization) denotes the expropriation of fragments of Indigenous worlds, animals, plants and human beings, extracting them in order to transport them to – and build the wealth, the privilege, or feed the appetites of – the colonizers, who get marked as the first world. This includes so-thought ‘historic’ examples such as opium, spices, tea, sugar, and tobacco, the extraction of which continues to fuel colonial efforts. This form of colonialism also includes the feeding of contemporary appetites for diamonds, fish, water, oil, humans turned workers, genetic material, cadmium and other essential minerals for high tech devices. External colonialism often requires a subset of activities properly called military colonialism – the creation of war fronts/frontiers against enemies to be conquered, and the enlistment of foreign land, resources, and people into military operations. In external colonialism, all things Native become recast as ‘natural resources’ – bodies and earth for war, bodies and earth for chattel.

The other form of colonialism that is attended to by postcolonial theories and theories of coloniality is internal colonialism, the biopolitical and geopolitical management of people, land, flora and fauna within the “domestic” borders of the imperial nation. This involves the use of particularized modes of control – prisons, ghettos, minoritizing, schooling, policing – to ensure the ascendancy of a nation and [its] elite. These modes of control, imprisonment, and involuntary transport of the human beings across borders – ghettos, their policing, their economic divestiture, and their dislocatability – are at work to authorize the metropole and conscribe her [sic] periphery. Strategies of internal colonialism, such as segregation, divestment, surveillance, and criminalization, are both structural and interpersonal.

Our intention in this descriptive exercise is not be exhaustive, or even inarguable; instead, we wish to emphasize that (a) decolonization will take a different shape in each of these contexts – though they can overlap – and that (b) neither external nor internal colonialism adequately describe the form of colonialism which operates in the United States or other nation-states in which the colonizer comes to stay. Settler colonialism operates through internal/external colonial modes simultaneously because there is no spatial separation between metropole and colony. For example, in the United States, many Indigenous peoples have been forcibly removed from their homelands onto reservations, indentured, and abducted into state custody, signaling the form of colonization as simultaneously internal (via boarding schools and other biopolitical modes of control) and external (via uranium mining on Indigenous land in the US Southwest and oil extraction on Indigenous land in Alaska) with a frontier (the US military still nicknames all enemy territory “Indian Country”). The horizons of the settler colonial nation-state are total and require a mode of total appropriation of Indigenous life and land, rather than the selective expropriation of profit-producing fragments.”

Doubtless, our own form of decolonisation would unfold quite differently, as the inhabitants of lands from which tribal groups have been long-since eradicated or assimilated, than in the colonial states where (human) indigenous life perseveres. We’ve no interest to speak of what would be necessary or appropriate projects in another context; but alongside rigorous investigation and experimentation with varied forms of subversion, attack and exodus, we can study pre-existing or previous methods of anti-colonialism we might incorporate; bearing in mind the differing factors. In marginal zones, within or alongside the stages of colonisation, we could also trace the project of rejecting, obstructing or evading colonialist enforcements of being. James C. Scott suggests that nomadism or foraging have long been utilised as reactive strategies to counter and evade the coercive forces of agrarian states (using upland south-east Asia as his illustration), and this could also be seen for example in the way that sedentary agriculturalists adopted a gathering and hunting lifestyle in the hills and mountains of central Mexico in the early 16th century to combat the Spaniards. People like Samuel Veissiere are looking into ways that ‘emergency foraging’ manifests in today’s world “as a livelihood strategy (global south, slums, return to the hills, fourth world [those still living in indigineity], war and conflict, structural violence, etc)”. While some of these examples would be quite different to what might be somewhat stereotypically thought of as ‘foraging life’ by avid consumers of European anthropological accounts of the last century (and, truthfully, also quite different to where we ourselves ultimately wish to head), Veissiere’s criteria for ‘foraging’ ways of being still include very important tendencies for our purposes of seeking non-colonial lifeways; several of which he lists in contrasts to “the increasingly standardized systems of “modernity”.

1) An emphasis on autonomy, immediacy, and sharing at the level of social organization; autonomy being defined as relational – in contrast to the self-contained, self-interested ‘rational’ individual of modern societal constructs; relationality being forged through decentralized, established or emerging relationships among humans and non-humans in a non-finite, complex, and dynamic field of operation. 2) Knowledge derived and kept alive from (not just of) the environment (“natural” or not); collaborative knowledge established through the “fine-tuning” of these “relational contexts” between humans and the world.” (And so on.)

Perhaps this can at the very least complicate the orthodoxy we are fed which firmly states that there is ‘no going back’ from the adoption of agriculture and permanent settlement; whether foraging were to continue as the chosen strategy once the threat or emergency passed may depend on values developed within the field of relationships which that lifeway bestowed upon its practitioners, and the result of their engagement with a landbase. As for other potential angles to push from to widen out our abilities and perceptions, even here where industrial agriculture is so dominant there are scattered individuals attempting to kindle non- or less-industrial lifeways. As laughable as the outlook of permaculture practitioners often is to us (and how many of their ideas which don’t just rehabilitate a civilised approach to the world are un-cited and repackaged versions of indigenous horticulture, dressed up as self-congratulatory innovation), for those of us gravitating around a continent without surviving indigenous cosmologies to inspire us, it may be worth paying heed to what developments in that sphere might be appropriated towards de-civilisation. So that we might ‘tune in’ and adapt, might become truly native to our places, rather than importing the means to overcome them through (other) colonised bodies and energies.

Ourselves, we are inquisitive on all these topics, but most of all determined to live such experiments with our bodies. Models are not needed in order to cast out for means to counter and evade coercion, as our own place in the world is unique and stories of ‘success’ by our measure seem unknown. How can we break the many dependencies that afflict us, as highly-domesticated beings, and learn to rely on one another and an unmediated engagement with our bioregions rather than on the system? Along this line of flight, ‘tradition’ rears its head as both a source and an impediment. Ancient ways can certainly bestow the depth of multi-generational experience in some cases, but in others can excuse undesireable (by whoever in question on the receiving end) or static behaviours in a living world which is really always characterised by flow and change. Fanon, while a strong advocate for the necessity of culture in the anti-colonial struggles of his day (with quite a different end-goal to ours, it must be said), made an interesting distinction between culture and custom. “Culture has never been the translucidity of custom; it abhords all simplification. In its essence it is opposed to custom, for custom is always the deterioration of culture. The desire to attach onself to tradition or bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one’s own people. […] We must not therefore be content with delving into the past of a people in order to find coherent elements which will counteract colonialism’s attempts to falsify and harm.” Where this line is drawn for others cannot be our interest to say, but for those of us who are starting from scratch without any integral cultural background in the ways of relating we desire, Fanon’s counsel can serve as yet another hint at the futility of attempting to simply mimic wholesale what we think we know of cultures which came long before or exist in another place.

Indeed, it is hard enough for peoples who have sometimes lived through centuries of occupation and assimilation to even ascertain what things were like ‘back then’. Dominique, an anarchist of the Ojibwa, made the point in an interview that when “talking about decolonization, the problem is... where do you draw the line. What tools are you going to use to decide what things were like before, or who we were before as Ojibwa people. You have to use experts like ethnologists for information. Christian missionaries for indigenous hymn and bible translations. Looking backwards can be problematic for the colonized. Political optimists use the child to represent the future. Natives are often times expected to look back on a lost utopia. We’re supposed to already be dead.” How much harder, then, would it be for us in long-since pacified lands to reliably get any picture of tribal lifeways for these territories? Clearly, we will mainly be starting from scratch with whatever inspiration we can get.

Inevitably, in this society of the spectacle, aspects of many different cultures will work their ways into our thoughts and practice (as they already unavoidably do in the modern world; no culture is static, all culture is dynamic, all cultural encounters are ‘appropriative’). The challenge for us is to channel that hybridisation in a way which does not diminish the self-determination of another; and not to shirk from the necessity of working so much out for ourselves, in communion with a more-than-human bioregion. In terms of ways that some peoples (admittedly less weighed-down with the colonialist assimilating baggage of many of our acculturations) use such exchange as a weapon against Western occupation, Klee Benally, an anarchist of the Dineh, recounts his experiences after some native tribal groups in so-called California had become “completely removed from their language, spiritual practice, and so forth – not necessarily their land base. And so there are a couple of tribes that we met, or indigenous nations that we met that are just traveling to other indigenous nations, and, through a process that they just sort of developed, basically sharing and learning from other neighboring tribes but [also] other tribes from other areas. And it was quite interesting cause they were just collecting to establish a culture[...] they were up front with other nations, people were sharing. And they’re doing [it] in a way that wasn’t just constructing something false necessarily, because they are doing [it] with a sense of... not necessarily restoring their connection but... restoring a connection to the land. I’m sure that from an anthropological perspective there is some kind of name for it or whatever. You know, that’s just what they are doing to heal.” Lupus Dragonowl suggests that the efforts of anarchists might be seen “as a form of ethnogenesis: the emergence of a subculture or counterculture which, if able to continue on its line of flight (or détournement), would become a different culture entirely”, citing Irish Travellers as a historical example.

Gord Hill echoed the need for vigilance as to the recuperable aspects of traditionalism too. “All people in the world were at one time indigenous tribal peoples – that’s just how everybody lived. And it was only with the establishment and the expansion of civilisations, which are always imperially based, that’s when you had colonisation going on in different parts of the world wherever you had large civilisations established. So everybody has a need to decolonise from this capitalist, industrial system. […] Anti-capitalist resistance itself is a form of decolonising, and the anarchist movement is a form of decolonising. And indigenous people participate in decolonisation when they are out on their traditional territories or they’re practicing some part of their traditional culture, but I think without that resistance aspect to it it’s easily coopted. Because if you look at how the system manages populations and culture, they can easily incorporate people’s culture into their system. So in our day-to-day life we can decolonise by practicing traditional culture, by not buying corporate products, or growing our own food, building our own communities and networks of support and healing – all those things are a form of decolonising but they don’t in-and-of-themselves lead to decolonisation or liberation.” Decolonisation, then, must mean not just the liberation of peoples with traditions, but a comprehensive re-understanding of one’s place in the world, the establishment of different ways of relating to all beings and presences in the bioregion, and, of course, the ejection/destruction of the colonial forces. It is, for us, a process of breaking our identity with and loyalty to this civilised culture, and remembering our entwinement with the land where we live; yet, more than an introspective self-therapy, it is simultaneously the move to attack the institutions which keep us and many others as colonised ‘resources’ of one type or another.

What we’re aspiring to here would, we are well aware, be firmly rejected by certain (often unofficial) boundary-policers – not only white-supremacists, settlers and others more clearly benefiting from colonial regimes, but nationalists (and even some ‘cultural revivalists’) of all sorts and disguises. There are those who claim decolonisation to be the exclusive property of those of certain bloodlines, as pertaining strictly to the human animal and not their interplay with the world, or as something limited to the creation of a new ‘self-determined’ State. Ironically, in these displays of racial categorisation and statism, we can see the continuation of the European project, not its dissolution. By halting the trajectory of analysis at this point, before the boundaries become muddied and cross-cultural insurrectional moments can emerge (as they have in the past, like mentioned above), a comprehensive assault on the broader structures of civilisation itself is repressed, and liberation remains a buzz-word inhabited by spectres of ‘independence’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘autonomy’. Some native politicians(-in-the-wings) assert that they can speak for all their culture or even all indigenous people, continuing the Western assimilationist political structures of representative democracy. According to Benally “part of the whole Zapatismo [hype around the mainly-indigenous ‘Zapatista’ uprising since 1994 in southern Mexico, often including uncritical support of some bureaucratic and media-savvy organisations within it] fed into that to some degree; they were very smart about using that to their tactical advantage...”

Obviously there are other articulations of decolonisation which don’t sit well with us; for instance the framing of it (often by European-thought radicals) as a personal project of self-revelation, outside of a more entwined relational context, and/or as something that can co-exist with the dominant power structures. In this way we’d concur with the author in the journal Modern Slavery who writes that decolonisation to them, as an anarchist, “calls for breaking every possible chain of control: ideological, political, military, economic, police, professional, educational, religious, media, mass-cultural, technological and, especially, the fail-safe control exerted by recuperative pseudo-radical oppositional institutions. These latter are the fall-back means of keeping people from ever aiming to destroy all of modern empire and civilization, by constituting new leaderships-in-waiting, ready to move in and restore statist and slave-labor relationships whenever they are weakened too much by otherwise uncontrollable social struggles.” Mel Bazil, of Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en heritage, stated while speaking of the relation of (other) anarchists to decolonisation that “our bodies, our spirits and our emotions are all impacted by a point in time where we were colonised as a people. Statism became the norm all over the world. [A]t some point colonisation removed us from our origin; our place of origin, our place that we call home. […] Civilisations keep wanting to expand. The economy is being forced to expand. [M]y viewpoint of anarchy, and anarchist communities, is that you’ve stepped away from that colonial construct. You deny colonial construct. And you don’t believe that anybody’s more qualified than you to live your own lives.” And yet how does one get from here to there? What would it mean to actually be ready to eject all these spectres from our lives, of nation, law, race, civilisation, supremacy?

It would seem foolish not to highlight the destructive aspect that our own anti-colonial struggle demands. Many forces will cross the path of anyone attempting to break from this conceptual and social prison, as they will for those attempting to breach borders, the walls of internment camps and ghettos. Our courage and determination will ultimately face this test, and the more practiced our martial force will be (in its many diverse dimensions) the more confident we would be to rise to the challenge. Again, personally we find the indigenous cultures which hold a martial element in high esteem – while not at the expense of other aspects of individual or community life – to be instructive, after our own years of trying to balance the varied urges for resistance, existence and connection. What we see as the best moments of our own anarchic legacy (obviously not limited to self-described anarchists!) are precisely the moments when ruptures occurred in the fields of the cultural, the conceptual and the social peace simultaneously.

Obviously in this essay we have have only described European colonialism and colonisation in general in the broadest strokes, but for now these are our thoughts. To close this exploration, we’ll end with some of the collected thoughts of Aragorn on bridging the gap between his native upbringing under occupation and the anarchist direction his life has taken, in an effort to ‘locate an indigenous anarchism’, what it would require, and how ill-equipped we are by European culture. “What is the experience that distinguishes nearly all of us and could, and should, rightfully be called the origin story of this civilization? This experience is genocide, the deliberate destruction of a multi-generational social body. Especially on this continent [North America], every social body has a story of systematic violence, amnesia, and denial that has shaped them into a form that can be called civilized. This is true of those who were captured, enslaved, and brought here to live in servitude for generations, those who escaped to here only to be assimilated within generations, those who fled from famine, or the majority of people who no longer remember their people’s creation story.

The spectacular genocides of the twentieth century have put a bad taste into the mouths of people (politicians) who otherwise totally agree with the strategies employed but who, politely, believe that they should be practiced over generations and with many of the trappings of consent. What is the difference between forced migrations and concentration camps other than the size of the body count? Or between a Native American boarding school and a reeducation camp, except for the use of charitable language around helping poor children? What is the difference between blood quantum laws[19] (contemporary, United States) and Genetic Health Courts (1933–45, Germany), other than which side of the historical moment we are on? What is the difference between Americanization and genocide?

For most of us, reaching back in time (behind the systematic removal of our memories of ourselves, our choices, and our terrains) can only be done through the mechanisms introduced by European Enlightenment thought. Discussing “home”, anarchy, or any sort of better world is done through literature, anthropology, or religious texts that, for all their positive traits, are also designs conceived of after our multicultural social forms have been destroyed. The ground that our memory is built upon is post-apocalyptic. The path from there to here is not only a story of horror; complicating matters is that it has now become invisible because we have been convinced that this story isn’t true, that it never happened. […] So for me the challenge to anarchists is, what does anarchism look like if it doesn’t use the word?

[…] We should start with what we have, which is not a lot. What we have, in this world, is the memory of a past obscured by history books, of a place clear-cut, planted upon, and paved over. We share this memory with our extended family, who we quarrel with, who we care for deeply, and who often believe in those things we do not have. What we do have is not enough to shape this world, but is usually enough to get us by.

If we were to shape this world (an opportunity we would surely reject if we were offered), we would begin with a great burning. We would likely begin in the cities where with all the wooden structures of power and underbrush of institutional assumption the fire would surely burn brightly and for a very long time. It would be hard on those species that lived in these places. It would be very hard to remember what living was like without relying on deadfall and fire departments. But we would remember. That remembering wouldn’t look like a skill-share or an extension class in the methods of survival, but an awareness that no matter how skilled we personally are (or perceive ourselves to be) we need our extended family.

We will need each other to make sure that the flames, if they were to come, clear the area that we will live in together. We will need to clear it of the fuel that would end up repeating the problems we are currently having. We will need to make sure that the seeds, nutrients and soil are scattered beyond our ability to control.

Once we get beyond the flames we will have to craft a life together. We will have to recall what social behavior looks and feels like. We will have to heal.

When we begin to examine what life could be like, now that all the excuses are gone, now that all the bullies are of human size and shape, we will have to keep in mind many things. We will have to always keep in mind the matter of scale. We will have to keep in mind the memory of the first people and the people who kept the memory of matches and where and when to burn through the past confusing age. For what it is worth we will have to establish a way to live that is both indigenous, which is to say of the land that we are actually on, and anarchist, which is to say without authoritarian constraint.

[…] An indigenous anarchism is an anarchism of place. This would seem impossible in a world that has taken upon itself the task of placing us nowhere. A world that places us nowhere universally. Even where we are born, live, and die is not our home. An anarchism of place could look like living in one area for all of your life. It could look like living only in areas that are heavily wooded, that are near life-sustaining bodies of water, or in dry places. It could look like traveling through these areas. It could look like traveling every year as conditions, or desire, dictated. It could look like many things from the outside, but it would be choice dictated by the subjective experience of those living in place and not the exigency of economic or political priorities. Location is the differentiation that is crushed by the mortar of urbanization and pestle of mass culture into the paste of modern alienation.”

The task is immense, but the challenge is clear. Towards the proliferation of indigenous anarchies...

[1] The river that birthed Chinese civilisation before topsoil loss clouded its waters, giving it the modern name the Yellow River, and contributing to enormous floods which in the last several centuries alone has claimed up to 11 million lives (and that’s just counting humans), earning its colloquial title China’s Sorrow.

[2] Another (though more vague) distinction sometimes made is that, etymologically, agriculture is the culture of the field (monoculture), whereas horticulture is the culture of the garden (polyculture).

[3] Manichaeism, or the followers of Iranian prophet Mani, posits a good/evil dichotomy through the cosmology of light and darkness. The reference is often used to describe dualistic worldviews. In this context, it is significant in that colonisation rests on such moralities on the conceptual level (‘civilised/savage’ etc.) as much as on military might.

[4] “Indian” in this context derives from from the Italian “in dio” or “in God” as the genocidal explorer Christopher Columbus termed the inhabitants of the Americas, and not a reference to or comparison with the Indian subcontinent, which at the time Europeans knew as Hindustan. The term is in any case rejected by many because it is European in origin; however, so is ‘Native American’ or ‘America’ itself – there is no indigenous word for the collected peoples of that continent. Appropriately, there are only names for specific tribes, subgroups of specific tribes, etc. While we ourselves don’t use the term Indian as a short-hand for the aggregate of many peoples due to it feeling loaded from our perspective, it’s worth noting that a great many indigenous of North America at least do describe themselves as Indian.

[5] Cathars were diverse Christian heretics – often with a focus on gender parity, and against taxation by the Catholic Church – against whom in the south of France a crusade was launched by the Pope in 1209; playing a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition. The term can be seen to encompass rebellious elements in the newly-urbanised areas of southern Europe, some only nominally connected to the religious tendency.

[6] ‘Maroon’ was a term used across the ‘New World’ for such escapees and their communities, derived from ‘cimarrón’ meaning ‘wild; fugitive; gone feral’ in Spanish.

[7] The Renaissance was a period in Europe, from the 14th to the 17th century, considered the bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history, with a renewed humanism from the ancient Western canon at its basis (its anthropocentric cleaving off from the world perhaps best encapsulated by words of the Greek philosopher Protagoras; “Man is the measure of all things”). The effects in worldview, art, architecture, politics, science and literature were significant. Contrary to its later portrayal as a new ‘Golden Age’ in European culture, those who were not of the class congratulating itself on their civility experienced a rise in poverty, warfare, religious and political persecution. Regarding the wave of European conquest during the period, Alexander Lee termed the indifference of the new ‘high culture’ “the most deadening artistic silence of all time.”

[8] Besides the obvious toll on wellbeing from labour and, increasingly, pollutants, nutrition is another field in which agricultural societies hardly excel. While good for controlling surplus and empire-building, grain-based diets are high in carbohydrate but a poor replacement for the diverse plants and animals which (mutually-)sustain other cultures. Jason Godesky reminds us how “with food for the lower classes of civilization, health really takes a back-burner to energy. [I]ndustrial England just literally pumped their working class full of sugar to keep them working. ‘Tea-time’ developed in the Industrial Revolution to give malnourished workers a mid-afternoon rush of heated sugar-water. It really brings home the horrific realization that agriculture makes sense primarily when we think of human beings not as people but as units of labor. Do you think that’s changed to a significant extent or do we see that same thing between today’s artificial sweeteners and coffee breaks and vending machines?”

[9] A culture which considers itself immune from the interrelation of being can only clash with those who consciously situate themselves within Earthly rhythms rather than opposed to them. In present times, such grounded cosmologies as well as the flux of species they are constituted through are gravely beleaguered. Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en in so-called ‘British Colombia’ recounts their plight. “We’ve only got very little left. Everythings been taken up by agriculture, by the municipalities and pretty much settlers have taken over all our lands already and now its settlers who are trying to come in and take what’s left. [W]e’re thinking of our children. [T]here will be no more clean water for them to drink, and all the fish will be gone, and every other animal. [...] Fish need the water, and bears eat the fish and everything is connected and rely on each other. And if we don’t sustain all of the earth including the animals if the animal die, we will be the next ones to die because we follow suit with the animals. Everything we do on this earth today, man [sic] has learned that from animals...” It is precisely this recognition which the colonial ideology could not tolerate.

[10] The last wolves in England were extirpated in 1700, between the last English and Scottish witch-executions.

[11] Indeed, the U.S. banned them from entering the country in the Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1901 (shortly after Polish anarchist migrant Leon Czolgosz assassinated the President), while a 1904 White-House-composed nursery tale recommended them to be “shot like rabid dogs, Mexicans, mountain lions, and such animals”. Hundreds of suspected anarchists and radicals were arrested and deported, peaking during the first ‘Red Scare’ round-ups of 1919–20.

[12] A movement at its height during 1811–1817 in (mostly northern) England, composed of textile artisans (and their accomplices) who violently opposed the machinery introduced during the Industrial Revolution that made it possible to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers. Many wool and cotton mills were destroyed, and in at least one case a mill owner was assassinated, while attacks spread to magistrates and food merchants. At a point more British soldiers were fighting the Luddites than were fighting the Napoleonic Wars (this was during their height on the Iberian Peninsula). Many (suspected) Luddites were executed or ‘transported’, and the English Parliament subsequently made “machine breaking” (i.e. industrial sabotage) a capital crime.

[13] Rioting and arson in 1830–1831 southern England, from Sussex to Kent, targeting landlords and landowners along with their new industrial threshing machinery which was replacing winter work. 600 rioters were imprisoned, 500 sentenced to transportation, 19 were executed and 9 were hanged.

[14] “When thinking about the continuum of colonisation, the consumption or usurpation of land and people by an external force, what is the difference between external and internal colonisation? [Paul] Virilio uses the term ‘endo-colonization’, meaning colonisation from ‘within’, writing, ‘the colony has always been the model of the political state[...] Decolonization is not a positive sign, it’s an endo-colonial sign. If you decolonize without, you’ll colonize all the more intensely within.’ In essence, if you adopt and accept the premise of the corporate organisation of the state, peace, and progress established by European powers during Renaissance and Enlightenment, then it becomes inevitable that decolonisation becomes the first step towards internal colonisation as a means to continue the trajectory of linear progress. Important is the process of progress – this process is what underlines the construction and practice of peace, development, politics, economy, and the ‘other’ – tame/wild, black/white, criminal/citizen, documented/ undocumented, and so on” (Dunlap).

[15] Also known as the Pict’s Wall (after the Pictish tribespeoples of Scotland who lived beyond the fortified edifice, which marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire), it reaches across the northernmost part of England, from sea to sea, and was constructed during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian at a time of rebellion in Roman Britain and its other colonies like Egypt, Judea, Libya and Mauritania.

[16] Consider for instance that what we think of as ‘our’ very bodies are really the interaction of ‘us’ with a multitude of other minute species which pass through us, live on or inside us; or that even aside from this, what are we but earth temporarily in human form, someday to feed back to the soil... which doesn’t diminish the seemingly unique experience of our subjectivity, however.

[17] The Hudson’s Bay Company was one of the first Chartered Companies (multi-national corporations created by European powers to colonise the world, often the spearheads of colonisation by sussing out regions under the guise of trade, carrying out reconnaissance and mapping), and the only one that has been in continuous operation to this date. It was appointed by the British crown as the colonial administrator of that Canadian territory on their behalf, in 1670, and invented the ‘Points Blanket’ to entice indigenous communities to enter into trade relationships with them. Their small-pox innoculated blankets were later given to the indigenous in the first recorded case of biological warfare.

[18] [footnote in original] – Colonialism is not just a symptom of capitalism. Socialist and communist empires have also been settler empires (e.g. Chinese colonialism in Tibet). “In other words,” writes Sandy Grande, “both Marxists and capitalists view land and natural resources as commodities to be exploited, in the first instance, by capitalists for personal gain, and in the second by Marxists for the good of all”.

[19] To ascertain ‘Indian’ heritage.