This is one of the most striking and intelligent articles I’ve ever read, encouraging a total reconfiguring of how to view capitalism and revolution. Russell Means was a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1960s and 70s, and remains one of the most outspoken Native Americans in the U.S.
You will be blown away by the clarity of this essay. This is Means’ most famous essay. It was published in Ward Churchill’s book “Marxism and Native Americans”, under the title “The Same Old Song”, and has appeared elsewhere under the names “Marxism is a European Tradition,” and “For America to Live, Europe Must Die.” Yet, it is actually not very available on the internet.
By republishing it, if perhaps many of us publish it, it will raise some much-needed debate on the nature of the revolutionary project today.
I have one thing I wish to point out regarding this essay, namely that by “European culture” Russell Means criticizes capitalism, and before it could commit genocide and ecocide on the rest of the planet, this social system had to be imposed upon Europe first.
“Marxism Is As Alien To My Culture
Europe Must Die”
“The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.
I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not. They have already demonstrated through their history that they cannot hear, cannot see; they can only read (of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only prove the rule).
I’m more concerned with American Indian people, students and others, who have begun to be absorbed into the white world through universities and other institutions.
But even then it’s a marginal sort of concern. It’s very possible to grow into a red face with a white mind; and if that’s a person’s individual choice, so be it, but I have no use for them.
This is part of the process of cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples’ today. My concern is with those American Indians who choose to resist this genocide, but who may be confused as to how to proceed.
No European can ever teach a Lakota to be Lakota, a Hopi to be Hopi. A master’s degree in “Indian Studies” or in “education” or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.
I’m referring here to the so-called theories of Marxism and anarchism and “leftism” in general. I don’t believe these theories can be separated from the rest of the of the European intellectual tradition. It’s really just the same old song.
Newton, for example, “revolutionized” physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation.
Descartes did the same thing with culture.
John Locke did it with politics.
Adam Smith did it with economics.
Each one of these “thinkers” took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into 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.
This is why “truth” changes so fast in the European mind; the answers which result from such a process are only stopgaps, only temporary, and must be continuously discarded in favor of new stopgaps which support the mechanical models and keep them (the models) alive.
Then Marx put Hegel’s philosophy in terms of “materialism,” which is to say that Marx despiritualized Hegel’s work altogether. Again, this is in Marx’ own terms. And this is now seen as the future revolutionary potential of Europe.
The intellectual roots of a new Marxist form of European imperialism lie in Marx' ~ and his followers’ ~ links to the tradition of Newton, Hegel and the others.
Traditionally, American Indians have always attempted to be the best people they could. Part of that spiritual process was and is to give away wealth, to discard wealth in order not to gain.
Material gain is an indicator of false status among traditional people, while it is “proof that the system works” to Europeans.
Clearly, there are two completely opposing views at issue here, and Marxism is very far over to the other side from the American Indian view. But let’s look at a major implication of this; it is not merely an intellectual debate.
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.
And what the process has in common for each group doing the dehumanizing is that it makes it all right to kill and otherwise destroy other people. One of the Christian commandments says, “Thou shalt not kill,” at least not humans, so the trick is to mentally convert the victims into nonhumans. Then you can proclaim violation of your own commandment as a virtue.
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 all 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.
Along came the Industrial Revolution and coal became the dominant fuel, as production became the social imperative for Europe. Pollution began to become a problem in the cities, and the earth was ripped open to provide coal whereas wood had always simply been gathered or harvested at no great expense to the environment.
No longer do the forests provide fuel for the family hearth; the fuel of Hell, snatched from the very bowels of the earth, has usurped its place. It burns everywhere, feeding countless furnaces, replacing horse-power on the roads and wind-power on the rivers and the seas which surround the empire.
Above the monster city a dense fog combines with the volume of smoke and soot issuing from thousands of chimneys to wrap London in a black cloud which allows only the dimmest light to penetrate and shrouds everything in a funeral veil.~ Flora Tristan (1803-44)Later, oil became the major fuel, as the technology of production was perfected through a series of scientific “revolutions.” Pollution increased dramatically, and nobody yet knows what the environmental costs of pumping all that oil out of the ground will really be in the long run. Now there’s an “energy crisis,” and uranium is becoming the dominant fuel.
Capitalists, at least, can be relied upon to develop uranium as fuel only at the rate which they can show a good profit. That’s their ethic, and maybe they will buy some time.
Marxists, on the other hand, can be relied upon to develop uranium fuel as rapidly as possible simply because it’s the most “efficient” production fuel available.
The Capitalists and Bankers of today are creating a Marxist society and have been doing so for centuries. Think about that as well.
That’s their ethic, and I fail to see where it’s preferable.
Like I said, Marxism is right smack in the middle of European tradition. It’s the same old song.
This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself.
So now we, as American Indian people, are asked to believe that a “new” European revolutionary doctrine such as Marxism will reverse the negative effects of European history on us. European power relations are to be adjusted once again, and that’s supposed to make things better for all of us. But what does this really mean?
The cheapest, most efficient way for industry to extract and deal with the processing of this uranium is to dump the waste by-products right here at the digging sites. Right here where we live.
Along the way they also plan to drain the water table under this part of South Dakota as part of the industrial process, so the region becomes doubly uninhabitable. The same sort of thing is happening down in the land of the Navajo and Hopi, up in the land of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow, and elsewhere.
Thirty percent of the coal in the West and half of the uranium deposits in the United States have been found to lie under reservation land, so there is no way this can be called a minor issue.
We are resisting being turned into a national sacrifice people.
The costs of this industrial process are not acceptable to us.
It is genocide to dig uranium here and drain the water table
~ no more, no less.
Let’s suppose further that we were to take revolutionary Marxism at its word: that it intends nothing less than the complete overthrow of the European capitalists order which has presented this threat to our very existence. This would seem to be a natural alliance for American Indian people to enter into.
It offers only to “redistribute” the results ~ the money, maybe ~ of this industrialization to a wider section of the population.
It offers to take wealth from the capitalists and pass it around; but in order to do so, Marxism must maintain the industrial system.
Once again, the power relations within European society will have to be altered, but once again the effects upon American Indian peoples here and non-Europeans elsewhere will remain the same.
This is much the same as when power was redistributed from the church to private business during the so-called bourgeois revolution. European society changed a bit, at least superficially, but its conduct toward non-Europeans continued as before. You can see what the American Revolution of 1776 did for American Indians. It’s the same old song.
It is a doctrine that despises the American Indian spiritual tradition, our cultures, our lifeways. Marx himself called us “precapitalists” and “primitive.” Precapitalist simply means that, in his view, we would eventually discover capitalism and become capitalists; we have always been economically retarded in Marxist terms.
The only manner in which American Indian people could participate in a Marxist revolution would be to join the industrial system, to become factory workers, or “proletarians,” as Marx called them.
Marx was very clear about the fact that his revolution could only occur through the struggle of the proletariat, that the existence of a massive industrial system is a precondition of a successful Marxist society.
Like germs, European culture goes through occasional convulsions, even divisions within itself, in order to go on living and growing. This isn’t a revolution we’re talking about, but a means to continue what already exists.
An amoeba is still an amoeba after it reproduces. But maybe comparing European culture to an amoeba isn’t really fair to the amoeba.
Maybe cancer cells are a more accurate comparison because European culture has historically destroyed everything around it; and it will eventually destroy itself.
I see that the territory of the USSR used to contain a number of tribal peoples and that they have been crushed to make way for the factories. The Soviets refer to this as “the National Question,” the question of whether the tribal peoples had the right to exist as peoples; and they decided the tribal peoples were an acceptable sacrifice to the industrial needs.
I look to China and I see the same thing.
I look to Vietnam and I see Marxists imposing an industrial order and rooting out the indigenous tribal mountain people.
I see the Vietnamese taking over a nuclear power plant abandoned by the U.S. military. Have they dismantled and destroyed it? No, they are using it.
I see China exploding nuclear bombs, developing uranium reactors, and preparing a space program in order to colonize and exploit the planets the same as the Europeans colonized and exploited this hemisphere.
It’s the same old song, but maybe with a faster tempo this time.
I hear revolutionary Marxists saying that the destruction of the environment, pollution, and radiation will all be controlled. And I see them act upon their words. Do they know how these things will be controlled? No, they simply have faith.
Science has become the new European religion for both capitalists and Marxists; they are truly inseparable; they are part and parcel of the same culture.
So, in both theory and practice, Marxism demands that non-European peoples give up their values, their traditions, their cultural existence altogether.
We will all be industrialized science addicts in a Marxist society.
Marxism is just the latest continuation of this tradition, not a solution to it. To ally with Marxism is to ally with the very same forces that declare us an acceptable cost.
There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples.
It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony.
A lopsided emphasis on humans by humans ~ the Europeans’ arrogance of acting as though they were beyond the nature of all related things ~ can only result in a total disharmony and a readjustment which cuts arrogant humans down to size, gives them a taste of that reality beyond their grasp or control and restores the harmony.
There is no need for a revolutionary theory to bring this about; it’s beyond human control.
Distilled to its basic terms, European faith ~ including the new faith in science ~ equals a belief that man is God.
Europe has always sought a Messiah, whether that be the man Jesus Christ or the man Karl Marx or the man Albert Einstein.
American Indians know this to be totally absurd. Humans are the weakest of all creatures, so weak that other creatures are willing to give up their flesh that we may live.
Humans are able to survive only through the exercise of rationality since they lack the abilities of other creatures to gain food through the use of fang and claw.
since it can cause humans to forget
the natural order of things
in ways other creatures do not.
A wolf never forgets his or her place in the natural order.
American Indians can.
Europeans almost always do.
We pray our thanks to the deer, our relations,
for allowing us their flesh to eat;
Europeans simply take the flesh for granted
and consider the deer inferior.
After all, Europeans consider themselves godlike
in their rationalism and science.
God is the Supreme Being;
all else must be inferior.
Things come full circle,
It’s only a matter of time until what Europeans call “a major catastrophe of global proportions” will occur.
It is the role of American Indian peoples, the role of all natural beings, to survive.
A part of our survival is to resist. We resist not to overthrow a government or to take political power, but because it is natural to resist extermination, to survive. We don’t want power over white institutions; we want white institutions to disappear.
What I’m referring to is a mind-set,
The same is true for American Indians or for the members of any culture.
Other groups have similar terms: Blacks have their “oreos”; Hispanos have “Coconuts” and so on.
I’m not sure what term
Those who resist it, who struggle against it, are my allies, the allies of American Indian people. And I don’t give a damn what their skin color happens to be.
The same holds true for Chinese Communists, for Japanese capitalists or Bantu Catholics or Peter “MacDollar” down at the Navajo Reservation or Dickie Wilson up here at Pine Ridge.
Beyond this, I work with other traditional American Indian peoples, again because of a certain commonality in worldview and form of struggle.
Beyond that, I work with anyone who has experienced the colonial oppression of Europe and who resists its cultural and industrial totality.
Obviously, this includes genetic Caucasians who struggle to resist the dominant norms of European culture. The Irish and the Basques come immediately to mind, but there are many others.
I trust the community and the culturally based vision of all the races that naturally resist industrialization and human extinction.
Clearly, individual whites can share in this, given only that they have reached the awareness that continuation of the industrial imperatives of Europe is not a vision, but species suicide.
White is one of the sacred colors of the Lakota people ~ red, yellow, white and black. The four directions. The four seasons. The four periods of life and aging. The four races of humanity. Mix red, yellow, white and black together and you get brown, the color of the fifth race. This is a natural ordering of things. It therefore seems natural to me to work with all races, each with its own special meaning, identity and message.
In personalizing my observations on Europe they are personalizing European culture, identifying themselves with it. By defending themselves in this context, they are ultimately defending the death culture. This is a confusion which must be overcome, and it must be overcome in a hurry. None of us has energy to waste in such false struggles.
Beware of coming to believe the white world now offers solutions to the problems it confronts us with.
Beware, too, of allowing the words of native people to be twisted to the advantages of our enemies. Europe invented the practice of turning words around on themselves. You need only look to the treaties between American Indian peoples and various European governments to know that this is true. Draw your strength from who you are.
Marxism is as alien to my culture as capitalism and Christianity are. In fact, I can say I don’t think I’m trying to lead anyone toward anything. To some extent I tried to be a “leader,” in the sense that the white media like to use that term, when the American Indian Movement was a young organization.
This was a result of a confusion I no longer have. You cannot be everything to everyone. I do not propose to be used in such a fashion by my enemies.