As police budgets are increased by hundreds of millions of dollars, the Canadian state still deems that the cost of searching the Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of murdered Indigenous women remains too high. But they are willing to expend money on policing those involved in the #SearchTheLandfill protests. The same state has also claimed that it would be too costly to pay for excavations at multiple residential schools so as to locate the many bodies of those murdered in these colonial concentration camps––allowing numerous reactionary “journalists” like the Kays and Rex Murphy to write genocide denial opinion columns––while providing the typical “thoughts and prayers” bullshit when politically expedient. Recently the anniversary of Colten Boushie’s execution passed, reminding everyone who cared about that case that Boushie’s murderer, Gerald Stanley, walks free because Canada’s repressive state apparatus was on his side from the beginning. These are not isolated cases; they’re a tiny sample of the avalanche of colonial violence that persists as part of the structure of Canada since its foundation. That is to say, Canada is a settler-colonial state. Or more specifically, since Canada is also a capitalist and imperialist state, it is what Tyler Shipley (among others) has called a settler capitalist state. Like the US, its more powerful and also predatory sibling to the south.
The point that Canada and the US are settler capitalist states should be a truism. Any honest look at their history confirms this fact; it is not that the early settlers and slavers bothered to hide this fact––they openly celebrated it. In fact, contemporary reactionaries (like the journalists mentioned above) tend to persist in this celebration of settler-colonialism; charlatans like Bruce Gilley even write books that falsify history so as to bring back the old doctrine that colonialism was good for human civilization–-that it spread light to the “savage” areas of the world. At the same time, however, these reactionaries deny that it did anything wrong aside from a few mistakes here and there, hence all the recent genocide denial finding its way into National Post columns. The reverse happens with liberals: they will admit to the horrors of settler-colonialism, since they do not like denying empirical facts (there was slavery, there was genocide), and wring their hands about it; at the same time they deny that Canada or the US are still colonial states. That isk, they treat settler-colonialism as an event that happened in the past––the problem is merely overcoming racism through multicultural reconciliation so that everyone becomes an equal citizen. The question they never ask, as many have pointed out, why does this reconciliation never come about, why does the state resist addressing/redressing the events mentioned in the paragraph above? Because of the underlying fact that these states remain settler-colonial states.
We should expect these attitudes from reactionaries and liberals, though, because they typify those political perspectives; they are not friends of any revolutionary movement seeking to break free from the current nightmare. What is more alarming, then, is when people who think of themselves as leftists, socialists, anarchists, communists––the so-called radical left––engage in similar denial. The weirdo MAGA communists are just reactionaries doing some weird communist cosplay, and are either deeply confused kids or feds, so their genocide denial perspective is easily dismissed. But then there are those leftists who take a variant of the liberal viewpoint regarding settler-colonialism as correct and try to make it an operating principle. A number of “left communist” organizations and individuals have, in the past, downplayed the importance of settler-colonialism as a structure that needs to be overcome, rejecting the necessity of anti-colonial struggle for some bland workerism. Some deny that places such as the US and Canada are settler states at all, or at least pretend this doesn’t matter. Recently, some supposed “Maoists” started repeating this shit:
First of all, it needs to be said that social media sites like Twitter tend to generate some real Dunning-Kruger “authorities”. The fact that this person could say that if you think the US is a settler state “you do not know what a settler state is” and then go on to provide their own personal definition of a settler state, label it scientific, and demonstrate no knowledge of having studied settler-colonialism is pretty typical behaviour. As someone who writes a lot about science and revolutionary theory, I really want to know why their definition is a “concrete analysis of a concrete situation.”
Secondly, this is just out of step with the revolutionary tradition they claim to be a part of. The Second Congress of the Third International did not define a “settler state” where the colonized did all of the labour for the colonizers. Later on they say that Israel is a settler-state because Palestinians do all the labour for the colonizers, which is also patently untrue particularly since settlers in the occupied territories are intent on preventing Palestinians from working and having them removed and murdered instead––does this mean that Israeli settlers in the West Bank are not settlers and thus the garrison force of a settler state?
Frantz Fanon, who wrote one of the first and most important concrete analyses of the concrete situation of settler-colonialism defined colonialism as a process in which the colonizers settle a land they have conquered in order to remove and replace the native inhabitants. Patrick Wolfe, a historical materialist scholar who is often cited in this area of research, writes “settler invasion typically combines a shifting balance of official and unofficial strategies, initially to seize Native territory and subsequently to consolidate its expropriation.” He also noted that settler-colonialism is not an event but an ongoing process, and that this process is defined by a racist regime of removing and replacing the Indigenous inhabitants. That is, the process of settler-colonialism is not defined by a colonizing class that profits from the labour of the colonized (which is a weird workerist way to try to understand the relationship of colonizer-colonized as some version of bourgeois-proletariat), but by usurpation.
We only need to look at the history of modern colonialism to understand that this is a fact, and one repeated from 1492 onwards. In the Conquest of the so-called New World, the conquered Indigenous peoples were initially used for their labour (in the mines, in cacao fields, etc.) but they were worked to death. The labour was designed to be exterminatory because the conquistadors saw them as replaceable. Galeano talks about this history in The Open Veins of Latin America, which was not a secret because he was largely referencing records written by the Spaniards, the Portuguese, and other European colonial representatives. In the case of the US, westward expansion was conceived as genocidal as the colonizers sought to wipe the Indigenous nations off the map and replace them as part of Manifest Destiny. Indeed, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz notes in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, early US settler society conceived of itself as a garrison surrounded by an enemy that needed to be extirpated. Canada did the same, as Tyler Shipley’s Canada In The World documents, even introducing residential schools after its initial genocides and expropriations––a system of concentration camps designed to “kill the savage to save the man.”
Which brings us to the notion of the “settler state”. Obviously it is weird to make up a definition of a settler state without talking about settler-colonialism, but one can imagine someone believing that a settler state is the state of affairs of the above processes that somehow terminates when those processes end and thus the state of affairs is something else––no longer colonial, no longer settler. After all the capitalist states that emerged following the long process of transition were no longer the feudal, semi-feudal, or transitional state forms preceding the full emergence of capitalism. (There is of course the fact that the state that presided over the early days of settler expansion did not prioritize a labour relationship where the colonized was conquered merely to work for the colonizer––it was always about replacement.) The only problem with this way of thinking is that, if settler-colonialism is a process that seeks the full replacement and removal of the colonized, then the only way for a settler state to cease being a settler state is to complete the genocide. The US and Canada would cease being settler states the moment that there were no longer colonized nations within their sovereignty, the moment that they effaced their history by the completion of genocide. But this is not the case because these nations resisted, and continued to resist, which is why colonialism is not a simple event relegated to the past but is an ongoing process.
Hence, Canada and the US remain settler states because there remains a colonized population that, through this remaining (which is one of resistance), has led to a development of the state form. A complex process of class struggle (class in the expansive sense) has resulted in innumerable state institutions designed to deal with the colonized population. The entire wings of the repressive and ideological apparatuses of the state have developed, in these states, to manage the heritage of colonialism. Anyone who has studied the legal institutions of these states knows that there is an entire body of laws functioning to manage colonial populations. There are “special bodies of armed men [and women],” to refer to Lenin’s most visceral definition of the state, instituted to deal with colonized people. So when you look at everything that defines the state of affairs of social formations such as Canada and the US, and you look at the state institutions and how their legal and formal structures are articulated, you cannot help but find laws and institutional structures devoted to colonial control. Indian Acts. Indian Agents. Band Councils. Anyone who thinks that these social formations are not settler states does not know what a state is, let alone what settler-colonialism is.
Let’s go further, because these states are not simply the result of an impasse between an unfolding colonial replacement and subaltern resistance. They are also settler capitalist states. While they do not function according to some facile imposition of the bourgeois-proletariat contradiction to the the colonial contradiction of conquest, the extortion of surplus value still functions. Glen Coulthard has demonstrated, in Red Skin White Masks, how primitive accumulation continues to function in settler states. Or back again to Tyler Shipley’s Canada In The World where the entire functioning of the Canadian capitalist state is reliant on its colonial roots and the state institutions it developed through those roots. Let’s be “scientific” then, let’s understand what a state means and how it functions and then maybe say shit about colonialism. Because, honestly, these kinds of dismissals drift in a void of non-concrete thought, where the Dunning-Kruger kids haven’t even thought about the terms they’re expressing. (“What is the state?” Go back to Lenin and think your way forward in the way that Lenin demanded.) At this point I’m sure they’ll double down, but I would hope they would be critical enough to think their way through these problematics and maybe understand what colonialism actually is.
Let’s go back to the labour equation, where the complaint that settler states can only function as such if the colonized are a chattel work force. Obviously this definition is bullshit because it has nothing to do with what settler-colonialism is, but there is a truth in this equation: the need for settlers to bring in cheap work force in the midst of their genocidal replacement of Indigenous inhabitants. And this import of a cheap workforce is the convention of slavery which is part of the settler-colonial process. When slavery goes away, when the settler states that used African slavery persist after abolition, does that mean that all of the structures of this convention, all of the ideological developments, simply vanish? By no means: we know they develop into Jim Crow and the racist structures that define the carceral settler state. They linger as part of the state’s institutions. To claim otherwise is a refusal to think the US and Canadian state formations.
So here we are at a point where Indigenous activists and their allies are demanding that we #SearchTheLandfills. At a point where the settler-colonial state’s institutions refuse this demand because it costs too much. This is a point where the legacy of a particular state formation functions according to colonial logic, which means it is still a “settler state” and any attempt to refuse to understand this state is a denial of science and thought in general.