Workers Vanguard No. 1038
24 January 2014
Racist State Assault on Native Protesters
The following article originally appeared in Spartacist Canada No. 179 (Winter 2013/2014), newspaper of our comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste.
Oka, Gustafsen Lake, Ipperwash, Burnt Church, Caledonia. And now Rexton. These are some of the battlefields—in just the last 25 years—on which Native people have defied the racist powers-that-be and in return have reaped a whirlwind of state violence. Rexton, New Brunswick became part of this brutal political geography on October 17, when more than 100 heavily-armed RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] officers broke up a Mi’kmaq blockade against seismic testing and the threat of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) by the SWN Resources oil and gas company.
After months of protests, on October 1 Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock addressed Native protesters blocking a highway near Rexton: “SWN has been evicted from our territory according to tradition and conviction that we still own the land, and the province of New Brunswick has been put on notice.” Even the federal government acknowledges that the Mi’kmaq never surrendered their rights to lands or resources. That acknowledgment, of course, is hardly worth the paper it’s written on. Two days later, on October 3, a provincial court issued an injunction on behalf of the company to force the Native protesters to remove their blockade.
They refused, and in the pre-dawn hours of October 17, the RCMP enforced the court’s ruling. Three nearby schools were placed on lockdown. Clad variously in camouflage, body armour and fire-retardant coveralls, the cops moved in wielding machine guns, pistols, tasers and attack dogs. They fired rubber bullets and rounds of tear gas and pointed their rifles at children and seniors. “Crown land belongs to the government, not to f--king Natives,” one shouted. Six cop cars were burned. The message left on one: “SWN owns RCMP.”
In all, 40 were arrested. Six Mi’kmaq Warriors were thrown into solitary confinement. One, Aaron Francis, was beaten while being taken to a cell in handcuffs; another, Jason Augustine, suffered a concussion after a beating by an RCMP cop. The men were denied even basic necessities such as toilet paper and telephone access. “None of us got to talk to our lawyers,” David Mazerolle said, “we were just constantly in that hole” (Censored News, 31 October). They face 37 charges including mischief, unlawful confinement, obstruction and assault. As of mid-November, four of the original six—Francis, Coady Stevens, Germaine Junior Breau and James Pictou—were still behind bars. We say: Free the Mi’kmaq Warriors! Drop the charges!
Across the country, angry protests erupted against the police violence in New Brunswick. Protesters shut down highways in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said what many thought: “This could easily happen in any First Nation community across Canada.... This display of brute force is completely ugly, outrageous and harkens back to the Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia conflicts” (UBCIC media release, 17 October).
Against such solidarity, the New Brunswick NDP [New Democratic Party] stood on the side of repressive “law and order.” The New Democrats demanded that Tory premier David Alward “order the end to all road blockades before starting meaningful consultations with First Nations communities.” The NDP insisted that Alward “defend the rule of law in our province, make sure our children can go to school and our goods get to market without any interference.” In or out of power, the NDP social democrats are always loyal to capitalist rule.
Government War Against Native Peoples
Acting on behalf of the resource and energy industry magnates and trampling on the indigenous population, the [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper Tories have been shredding even the mildest environmental regulations. Utter indifference to the damage this will wreak on Native communities helped spark the Idle No More protests last winter. At the same time, the Tories have been siccing their CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Services] spies and provocateurs on aboriginal activists and smearing them as would-be terrorists.
The government’s preoccupations are seen in an ominous report entitled “Canada and the First Nations—Cooperation or Conflict?” (May 2013) by a right-wing Tory-linked think tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Brooding about a possible Native “uprising,” the report warns: “Canadians and First Nations people must be convinced—before any confrontation begins—that the government, supported by its security establishment, will prevail. Aggressive Aboriginal leaders should assume that Canada’s security forces will always establish order.” To the extent that Native protests interfere even in a small way with the fabulous profits to be made in resource industries, the Canadian rulers will brook no opposition.
The state violence against the people of Elsipogtog has been augmented by threats of economic strangulation. In the lead-up to the October 17 attack, the Canada Revenue Agency demanded a payment of more than $2 million from the Elsipogtog First Nation. Shortly before the feds backed off from their racist extortion, SWN Resources launched a punitive lawsuit against 13 Native protesters.
These coordinated attacks by the energy company, all levels of government and the cops, courts and prison system should come as no surprise to any militant worker or leftist protester. They are yet another confirmation of the Marxist understanding of the state—at its core, bodies of armed men committed to ensuring that the economically dominant class also dominates all aspects of politics and, therefore, society as a whole.
Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx’s close collaborator, described the state as the outgrowth of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. In the modern epoch, a tiny capitalist ruling class monopolizes armed force in order to subjugate the working class and the poor. In 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote The State and Revolution, where he hammered home the lessons of Marx and Engels. Lenin clearly outlined the tasks of the working class: to lead all the oppressed in a social revolution to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers state. This alone will lay the basis for socialism, an egalitarian classless society representing the initial stage of communism.
Capitalist Barbarism and Native Oppression
On the Elsipogtog First Nation reserve, unemployment is 80 percent. An acute housing shortage means that up to five families live in some houses. On the poverty-stricken reserves or at the margins of the cities, aboriginal people everywhere endure poverty, illness and homelessness. Racist police repression falls more heavily on them than on any other sector of society.
This modern barbarism flows directly from the origins of Canadian capitalist society, which was founded on the destruction of the pre-existing aboriginal societies, initially by the French and, later, the English colonialists. The expropriation of these peoples through fraud and military conquest, along with the devastating impact of disease following European contact, foreclosed the possibility of independent development of indigenous nations.
Over much of the last century, a state policy of forced assimilation led to the abduction of Native children from their parents and their internment in church-run residential schools. New research has just revealed a grisly program of “experiments” in the 1940s and 1950s on already hungry people in Native communities, including children in residential schools. In the name of “science” they were deprived of sufficient food, vitamins and dental care.
Socialism is the sole means to ensure the massive outlay of resources necessary to redress the inequalities long suffered by Native peoples. Based on a working-class overthrow of capitalism through the seizure of the banks, energy companies and factories, the advent of a socialist society would mark the end of production for private profit; only then will human need take priority. Yet, in order to transform society, the working class must also transform itself. It must become a unified force that wields its social power both in its own interests and on behalf of all the oppressed.
An impulse in that direction was demonstrated by a section of the labour movement in 2006. Steelworkers (USW) Local 1005, which then represented 2,500 workers in Hamilton, sent several contingents to reinforce Native protesters who had been attacked by cops in Caledonia, a small community in Southern Ontario. The USW flag, along with that of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, was prominently displayed at the Caledonia occupation site.
Such acts of solidarity remain few and far between because the bureaucratic misleaders of the unions are wedded to the illusion that workers and their bosses share a common “national interest.” This outlook spells only defeat for working-class struggles. During the 1999 Burnt Church crisis, leaders of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union in New Brunswick organized a fleet of 150 boats crewed by white fishermen to destroy Native lobster pots in Miramichi Bay. In the aftermath, three Native men were brutally assaulted; one was hospitalized after he was struck on the head with a baseball bat.
Such orgies of racist violence are the logical outcome of the divide-and-rule stratagems of the capitalist rulers and their lieutenants atop the unions. And who benefits? Only the bosses. It is the same capitalist class that shreds the lives and livelihoods of workers and ensures the continued poverty and misery of aboriginal peoples.
Expropriate the Capitalist Class!
The New Brunswick government has signed a million hectares [3,861 square miles] of the province over to SWN Resources for seismic testing for shale gas. If successful, the surveys will give way to hydraulic fracturing, whereby horizontal drilling and pressurized water mixed with chemicals and sand fracture the shale deep beneath the surface of the earth to extract natural gas.
Royalties and tax revenues from the New Brunswick shale gas industry could be as high as $7 billion, which gives a measure of the immense profits that the resource corporations hope to extract through grinding exploitation of the workers they may hire. And it is all but certain that the impoverished aboriginal people of Elsipogtog will not see a dime. This points powerfully and logically to the Marxist program of expropriating the capitalist class.
Fracking is enormously unpopular in parts of Canada and the U.S. New Brunswick has seen numerous anti-fracking protests and tens of thousands of people have signed petitions against it. As Marxists we do not counsel the ruling class on the most effective way to run its economy. Accordingly, we take no position on fracking per se. Like most forms of resource extraction, fracking poses dangers and in the hands of the profit-driven capitalist class it will be carried out in the most destructive and short-sighted way possible.
But we do, vehemently, defend aboriginal peoples against the predatory resource companies and demand that they receive generous compensation for any deprivation of land or disruption of activity, based on completely consensual agreement. So long as the productive wealth of society remains in the hands of the capitalist class, technological progress comes at the expense of workers, the oppressed and pretty much everything on earth. It will take a workers revolution to uproot the system of capitalist exploitation for profit. A workers government will inaugurate a centrally planned economy under which the techniques of modern science will harness vast productive wealth in the service of human need.
This outlook is alien to the reformist left. In their statement “Solidarity with Elsipogtog Against Fracking,” the International Socialists (I.S.) declare: “Despite the possibility, and urgent need, of clean energy alternative [sic], fracking and tar sands are destroying the earth” (socialist.ca, 19 October). Nowhere does this article so much as mention capitalism, socialism or even the working class. The “ecosocialism” pushed by the I.S. offers no road forward for Native peoples.
So too the Fightback group. They call to “Support the New Brunswick Mi’kmaq Anti-Fracking Protests” (marxist.ca, 21 October), but this must be weighed against their support last spring to a strike by the notoriously racist prison guards in Alberta, where Native people comprise 40 percent of all prisoners. Starting from a perspective of unshakable loyalty to the pro-capitalist NDP, Fightback bemoans the New Democrats’ “law and order” attack on the Native protesters because it will “damage the NDP in New Brunswick and across Canada.” Far from an aberration, Fightback’s beloved NDP has a long record of backing state repression against Native protesters. In 1995, for example, an NDP government in B.C. [British Columbia] oversaw one of the most massive domestic RCMP/military operations in Canadian history against Native protesters at Gustafsen Lake.
Labour Must Champion All the Oppressed!
Mobilizing workers to fight for the rights of the besieged Native population is central to our struggle to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party. This perspective entails breaking workers from the social-democratic politics of the NDP and its left appendages. Such a party would be a tribune of the people, fighting all manifestations of capitalist barbarism and exposing the workings of the capitalist system for all to see. The Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste intervenes into social struggles with the understanding that because of its role in production the working class uniquely has the power and class interest to give leadership to all those who suffer under the capitalist order.
In cases where Native people have a land base, we call on the working class to defend such political autonomy as they have wrested from governments, including the right to govern their land and control its resources. Further, we demand the immediate abolition of the racist Indian Act and that the police, courts and state “welfare” agencies keep off the reserves and other Native land.
Native people need access to jobs at union wages and massive education, health and housing programs, including the provision of clean water and electricity. The capitalist rulers will never provide such necessities. A fighting labour movement would not only use its power to champion Native rights; it would take concrete steps such as aggressive union-run recruitment and training programs. Such programs would be a first step toward breaking the cycle of unemployment and social marginalization. Labour must also be mobilized against acts of racist state terror to make it clear that Native people do not stand alone in their struggles.
The struggles of workers and oppressed minorities will go forward together or fall back separately. That was demonstrated vividly over 100 years ago when Native people were integrated into the strategic longshore workforce in British Columbia. One of the earliest West Coast longshore unions north of the 49th parallel was organized by Native workers in 1906. The union united aboriginal, British, Hawaiian and black workers; its hall was on a reserve. Today, amid a rising tide of Native protest, the Trotskyist League fights to revive and carry forward that tradition with the program of workers revolution.
* * *
WV Update: Since the article reprinted above was first published, the racist state vendetta against the Native protesters in Rexton has continued. Three more people were recently arrested on trumped-up charges including mischief and intimidation. Among those originally jailed on October 17, Germain Breau was hit with an additional 15 charges and remains behind bars. Breau and Aaron Francis, who faces 16 charges, have pleaded not guilty and not yet been tried. James Pictou and Coady Stevens were released from jail, but only after pleading guilty and receiving probation, with Pictou also fined and under house arrest. Drop all the charges now!