This post looks at if it’s possible to have a coherent strategy for the emancipatory transformation of a complex social system, 5 anti-capitalist strategies and revolutionary strategy.
What does ‘emancipatory transformation of a complex social system’ mean? We currently live in a capitalist society or capitalist social system that is not equal, just, democratic or sustainable. Emancipatory means the struggle for political, economic or social rights or equality for disenfranchised groups or sections of society. So this post is focused on thinking about how we think about the route to ending the dominance of capitalism so we live in an alternative society that is equal, just, democratic and sustainable.
Revolutionary and anti-capitalist strategy is a huge topic that will take several posts to explore. This first post aims to start in the broadest way by considering if it’s possible to have a revolutionary and anti-capitalist strategy and reference a useful framework to help understand the different anti-capitalist strategic approaches.
Is it possible to have a coherent strategy for the emancipatory transformation of a complex social system?
In other words, is it possible to create a desirable social transformation (revolution) through deliberate, intentional action? Eric Olin Wright, sociologist and educator who specialised in egalitarian future alternatives to capitalism, explains that there are desirable objectives of social transformation that are not possible, either because they are not viable (won’t work) or because there is no way to get there. Wright describes how Frederick Hayek, the arch-conservative and key advocate of neoliberalism, believed that a social transformation strategy was a fantasy. This is due to the negative unintentional consequences of such a large social engineering project that would overwhelm the intended consequences. Concern for unintentional consequences is valid, and I agree with Wright when he says:
“It remains the case that capitalism is immensely destructive, obstructing the prospects for broad human flourishing. What we need is an understanding of anticapitalist strategies that avoids both the false optimism of wishful thinking and the disabling pessimism that emancipatory social transformation is beyond strategic reach.” 
Eric Olin Wright in “How to Be an Anti-capitalist in the 21st Century” describes five ‘strategic logics’: smashing capitalism, dismantling capitalism, taming capitalism, resisting capitalism, escaping capitalism. This framework is a useful starting point for thinking about anti-capitalist and revolutionary strategy. But it is simplistic and I explain where my thinking differs in the last section of this post.
This is the classic revolutionary strategy of seizing state power by force. I call this the vanguard Marxism.
Wright describes its rationale: The system is unreformable and all attempts to make life bearable will fail. Small reforms improve people’s lives when popular movements are strong but these gains are vulnerable to attack and reversible. It is an illusion that capitalism can become a benign social system so ordinary people can live meaningful happy lives. Capitalism needs to be destroyed and an alternative built. The progress of an emancipatory alternative society may be gradual but it requires a decisive rupture with the existing systems of power to get there.
Critiquing this theory, Wright asks how it’s possible for anti-capitalist forces to build enough power to destroy capitalism and replace it with an alternative. He explains that the power of the ruling classes blocks both reformist gains and revolutionary ruptures. He describes how those in the ‘smashing capitalism tradition’ argue that capitalism is a highly contradictory system that is prone to disruptions and crises, and sometimes these crises make capitalism vulnerable to a serious challenge. There is a further argument that these crises increase over time so in the long term capitalism is unsustainable and ‘destroys its own conditions of existence.’ The role of the revolutionary party is therefore to be ready for this situation and lead a mass movement to seize state power. The revolutionary party then works to ‘rapidly refashion the state itself to make it a suitable weapon of ruptual transformation,’ and also to repress the ruling class opposition and destroy their power structures to allow the new revolutionary state to build an alternative economic system.
Wright describes how this strategy was applied several times in the 20th century with some success, but never created a ‘democratic, egalitarian, emancipatory alternative to capitalism.’ This strategy gave people the hope and motivation to make great sacrifices in the pursuit of achieving such as a society, and material conditions were improved for a lot of people. Examples include Russia, China and Cuba. But, “it is one thing to burn down old institutions and social structures; it is quite another to build emancipatory new institutions from the ashes.”
He describes some of the reasons given for the failures of these revolutions: (1) history-specific unfavourable circumstances; (2) revolutions happened in economically backward societies surrounded by enemies; (3) strategic leadership errors; (4) leaders motivated by power and status rather than the well-being of the masses; (5) failure of these revolutions as being inherent to any attempt to radically rupture a social system – too many moving parts, too much complexity and too many unintended consequences.
This is a key point for me: “attempts at system-rupture will inevitably tend to unravel into such chaos that revolutionary elites, regardless of their motives, will be compelled to resort to pervasive violence and repression to sustain social order. Such violence, in turn, destroys the possibility for a genuinely democratic, participatory process of building a new society.” 
Wright is clear that he does not believe that ‘system-level ruptures’ work as a strategy for social emancipation.
Wright describes this as a transition to democratic socialism through state-directed reforms that gradually introduce socialism from above. He sees this strategy as having ‘revolutionary aspirations,’ because it seeks to replace capitalism with a different economic system: socialism. He explains that in this tradition there is no simple point of rupture when one system replaces the other. Instead, “there would be a gradual dismantling of capitalism and the building up of the alternative through the sustained action of the state.” 
Wright describes how this approach sees a period when capitalist and socialist relations will coexist, such as both private and state-run banks; private and state enterprises in transportation, utilities, health care and some heavy industry; capitalist labour markets and state employment; state-directed planning for investment decisions and private profit-driven investment.
Wright describes the necessary preconditions for this strategy to be possible. “First, a stable electoral democracy, and second, a broad, mass-based socialist party capable of winning elections and staying in power for a sufficiently long time that these new state-run economic structures could be robustly institutionalized. Of course, there would be opposition and resistance, but the belief was that these state-organized socialist economic institutions would demonstrate their value and thus be able to sustain popular support.” 
This strategy had significant support in the 20th century and following World War II, when several governments looked to be implementing this “mixed economy” approach. An example is Sweden. It did not succeed and Wright put this down to the ‘dynamism of capitalism,’ and to the right-wing ideological offensive against socialist ideas in many countries, which, from the 1970s “pushed the expansion of nationalization in mixed economies off the agenda.” He describes the “military overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government in Chile in 1973, along with other setbacks to efforts at democratic socialism, further eroding any belief that democratic elections could offer a reformist path to dismantling capitalism.” By the end of the twentieth century, neoliberalism and privatisation dominated the mainstream political agenda instead of nationalisation, even by large political parties thought to be on the left, such as New Labour in the UK.
This tradition sees capitalism as a “source of systemic harms in society,” but does not look to replace it. It wants to reduce and remove those harms. This was the main strategic approach of social-democratic reformist parties since World War II.
Wright describes that although this tradition identities the harms of capitalism, its response is to work on “building counteracting institutions capable of significantly neutralizing these harms.” This tradition does understand that to achieve this, there will need to be political struggles to reduce the power and control of the capitalist class, and that the capitalists will claim that these redistributions will undermine capitalism’s dynamism and incentives. These arguments are self-serving justifications for the privilege and power of the capitalists.
Wright describes two types of reforms: (1) those that stabilise capitalism (such as banking regulation to reduce system-disrupting, speculative risk-taking), and (2) anti-capitalist reforms that introduce egalitarian, democratic and solidaristic values and principles into how capitalism operates. He explains that these anti-capitalist reforms will also likely stabilise capitalism, and that is what makes them partially possible, but also result in the system working in a “less purely capitalist way.”
Wright describes three types of state policies which change the way capitalism operates to reduce the harms and increases egalitarian, democratic and solidaristic values and principles. Mostly these policies benefit capitalists but some benefit ordinary people:
Reduce individual vulnerability to risks through publicly run and funded social insurance or a welfare state.
The provision of public goods – such as basic and higher education, vocational skills training, public transportation, cultural and recreational facilities, research and development – paid for by re-distributional taxation.
Use the State to develop a regulatory framework to reduce the most serious negative externalities caused by capitalist investors and companies, including regulation of pollution, product and workplace hazards, predatory market behaviour, and property and stock market volatility.
Wright states that during the “golden age of capitalism” in the 30 years after World War II, these policies were used to tame capitalism. Since the 1980s these gains have been rolled back under neoliberalism, leading to reduction of social insurance benefits, reduction in taxes and therefore social goods, deregulation of capitalist production and markets, and privatisation of many state services.
He describes the forces that have resulted in a reduction of the state’s ability to limit capitalism’s harms: “The globalization of capitalism has made it much easier for capitalist firms to move investment to places in the world with less regulation and cheaper labor. The threat of such movement of capital, along with a variety of technological and demographic changes, has fragmented and weakened the labor movement, making it less capable of resistance and political mobilizations. Combined with globalization, the financialization of capital has led to massive increases in wealth and income inequality, which in turn has increased the political leverage of opponents of the social democratic state. Instead of being tamed, capitalism has been unleashed.” 
Wright raises the question of whether the three decades of the golden age were perhaps a historical anomaly; “a brief period in which favourable structural conditions and robust popular power opened up the possibility for the relative egalitarian, social democratic model.” Before this period capitalism was rapacious, and it has become rapacious again under neoliberalism. He suggests that capitalism is not tamable. I certainly don’t think it is.
Wright concludes the section on taming capitalism with a thoughtful paragraph on how the limits of a state’s ability to raise taxes, regulate capitalism and redistribute wealth are based on people’s belief that globalisation imposes powerful constraints. But, he argues, it’s the willingness of voters to be taxed more that is the main factor, not if the capitalists move their capital to avoid taxation. The willingness of the electorate to be taxed depends on the general level of collective solidarity. He maintains that the “limits of possibility are always in part created by beliefs in those limits.” He explains that neoliberalism is an ideology backed by powerful political and economic forces and it is possible to break through the limits set by neoliberalism if there is collective will to do so. He argues that social democratic politics have become less effective and need rethinking, and that the political obstacles to their success are significant, but that it is still possible for the harm of capitalism to be reduced by state action.
Wright explains that ‘resisting capitalism’ could be a broad term for anti-capitalist struggles. Here, he is using it in a narrower sense to identify struggles to end capitalism from outside the state and parliamentary politics, and also that do not want to gain state power. This strategy is different from the previous three that were all aiming to gain and use state power.
This tradition aims to reduce the harms of capitalism by influencing the behaviour of capitalists and political elites through protest and campaigning: “We may not be able to transform capitalism, but we can defend ourselves from its harms by causing trouble, protesting and raising the cost to elites of their actions.” (p50) He lists some examples: “environmentalists protesting toxic dumps and environmentally destructive developments; consumer movements that organize boycotts of predatory corporations; activist lawyers who defend the rights of immigrants, the poor, and sexual minorities. It is also the basic strategic logic of unions that organize strikes for better pay and working conditions.” 
Wright sees resisting capitalism as the most common response to the harms caused by the capitalist system. It is based on civil society and the solidarities that exist in workplaces and the community. Different identities play a part in this approach including class, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexuality. Its most organised forms are social movements and trade unions. Even when unions are weak, workers can resist exploitation by withholding their maximum effort and diligence.
Wright explains that this may not have been developed into a systematic anti-capitalist ideology, but it does have a ‘coherent logic’, which is: Capitalism is too powerful to end. It is unrealistic that collective mass movements will form to dismantle or tame capitalism. The ruling class are too strong to remove and they always co-opt opposition and defend their privileges. Also, social systems are too large and complex to control. The best we can do is insulate ourselves from the worst harms. We may not be able to change the world but can escape the circuits of domination and build a micro-alternative to live better lives.
Wright lists some examples of groups attempting to escape capitalism: migration of poor farmers to the western frontier in the 19th century; utopian self-sufficiency communities in the 19th century; worker cooperatives that are managed collectively based on principles of democracy, solidarity, equality, working to avoid alienation and exploitation of capitalist firms; the hippies of the 1960s; religious communities such as the Amish. He also cites the family unit as a “non-competitive social space of reciprocity and caring in which one can find refuge from the heartless, competitive world of capitalism.”
Wright explains that escaping capitalism involves avoiding political engagement. For some, this is the ‘individualistic lifestyle strategy’, which can be contradictory if this lifestyle is funded by wealth that was gained from capitalist activities.
Intentional communities are a good example of a desire to escape capitalism, as well as being a model for more collective, egalitarian and democratic ways of living. In addition, worker cooperatives are an attempt to escape the oppressive nature of capitalist workplaces, and are a model of how an alternative economy to capitalism could operate so as to challenge the current capitalist economic system.
When I use the word ‘revolution’, I mean it in a broad way for the ending of capitalism and the creation of an alternative society – radical transformational system change. In the summary above of Wright’s description of the different anti-capitalist strategies, he labels ‘smashing capitalism’ and ‘dismantling capitalism’ as revolutionary. And I would agree.
The anti-capitalist strategy that Wright advocates is a combination of dismantling capitalism, taming capitalism, resisting capitalism and escaping capitalism. He calls it ‘eroding capitalism’ and I’ll describe this in more detail in a future post (reference). I agree with him on this and that we need both revolutionary and reformist approaches.
My understanding of Wright’s perspective is that he believed that we could end capitalism without a rupture. I don’t agree with this. I think we will need to fight for reforms to rebuild the power of the left but at some point, there will need to be a rupture, so that we would go from a mixed economy with socialist and capitalist institutions to one with only socialist/anarchist/communist ones and the end of private property. But at this dark point in history that we currently live, this is hard to imagine.
I don’t support the ‘smashing capitalism’ (vanguard Marxist) strategy for a few reasons. The main one is because although it has shown itself in history to be effective at ending capitalism, there are no examples of it creating egalitarian and democratic societies. In each case, it has involved a militant minority taking power and dominating the majority, and this can only result in repression. I have asked different people that advocate different versions of this strategy (Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Stalinists), how to use this strategy and not end up with things turning repressive and sometimes totalitarian, but I have not got a clear answer. If you do have an answer, I’d love to hear from you.
There is a lot that needs to be unpacked for the ‘dismantling capitalism’ strategy. Wright states it would be a transition to democratic socialism through state-directed reforms that gradually introduce socialism from above and that it would require a broad, mass-based socialist party. Democratic socialism is a broad term which ranges in meaning between political parties led from the top like the Corbyn leadership, and those parties formed from grassroots movements such as Podemos in Spain. I’m not saying that Podemos is the exact model to follow but we can learn from this experiment and municipalist citizen platforms such as Barcelona en Comú. We have seen from the 20th century that big changes happen when the grassroots of labour unions become militant and make radical demands of union leaders and political parties. Social movements campaigning on specific issues have also made gains and reforms have been implemented.
Two revolutionary strategies do not easily fit into Wright’s framework. The first is the council communism tradition of left communism. This Marxist strategy is based on the worker councils or soviets that formed in Russia during the 1917 Russian Revolution. It has elements of smashing capitalism, especially regarding the belief that there would need to be a clear rupture to end capitalism, but that this will be done from the bottom or grassroots, where different workplaces and community institutions are self-organised and working together in a federated governance structure. This worker control approach is anti-state and anti-parliamentary politics meaning that this tradition has elements of Wright’s ‘resisting capitalism’ strategy. Although this tradition does not seek state power, it does see ordinary people creating a federated system of self-government that would replace the state, so has elements of smashing capitalism and resisting capitalism.
The second revolutionary strategy that does not fit into Wright’s framework is anarcho-syndicalism, which has similarities to council communism. It aims to end capitalism, wage slavery and private property. A new society would be built without hierarchy, based on direct-democracy, workers’ self-management and an alternative co-operative economic system. This alternative society would replace the state with a federated structure of self-run workplaces and community institutions.
In future posts, I want to analyze how the left organises itself into social and political movements, by ideology and how groups operate in practice. Then look at the strategies these traditions follow. I also plan to summarise the different radical and revolutionary strategies that thinkers and writers on the left have proposed. After this I will start to explore the situation we find ourselves in and relate this to “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt (read a summary here) and his three-part framework for developing a good strategy. There is:
diagnosis, what is going on here;
guiding policy – outlines an overall approach for overcoming the obstacles highlighted by the diagnosis;
coherent action – this needs to be consistent and coordinated, and also requires making painful choices about what can be achieved with limited resources.
In response to the completion of the contested Line 3 pipeline, which is now reportedly operational, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are kicking off the “People vs. Fossil Fuels’’ mobilization, an Indigenous-led five-day action of civil disobedience at the White House to demand President Biden declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a “just renewable energy revolution.” “This pipeline doesn’t respect treaty rights,” says Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist and founder of Honor the Earth, a platform to raise awareness of and money for Indigenous struggles for environmental justice. “They’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior. It’s so tragic that, on the one hand, the Biden administration is like, ’We’re going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.’” LaDuke faces criminal charges linked to her protest of pipelines in three different counties.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we continue to talk about Indigenous action to save our Earth. This week, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are expected to participate in a historic five-day massive action of civil disobedience at the White House to continue to pressure President Biden to declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a, quote, “just renewable energy revolution.”
The “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization, led by the Indigenous Environmental Network, 350.org, Sunrise Movement, the Center for Biological Diversity and others, comes as Canadian pipeline company Enbridge has completed the construction of its contested Line 3 crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The pipeline is reportedly now operational, violating the treaty rights of local Indigenous communities. Line 3 is set to carry over half a million barrels of tar sands oil every day from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, threatening sacred wild rice watersheds in Minnesota, local waters and lands, and doubling Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Indigenous leaders and land and water defenders, who have been resisting Line 3 for years, often putting their own bodies on the line, vowed to continue the fight against the pipeline. Last week, a small group of water protectors confronted Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at a fundraising event, where advocates say plates cost $1,000 a person, demanding her to take action against Line 3.
WATER PROTECTOR: We’re asking you to call on President Biden to stop Line 3. It has a higher carbon footprint than the entire state of Minnesota. And this climate crisis — I mean, you saw Hurricane Ida. You saw how many people died. And we just really need you to call on him and ask him to stop it.
AIDE: Excuse us.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Yes, I know about the concern.
WATER PROTECTOR: Because you have so much power. You have so much power.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: I’ve brought those concerns to him. Thank you.
WATER PROTECTOR: And as a young person, the climate crisis is a thing that really concerns me, and stopping Line 3. We can’t have climate justice without you stopping Line 3 and asking President Biden.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
WATER PROTECTOR: I know that you don’t have a vote, and I know that you can’t vote in the Senate to stop Line 3. But President Biden has that power. And you have the power.
AMY GOODMAN: “You have the power.” More than 900 water protectors have been arrested over their resistance to Line 3, with some protesters facing felony charges as they were brutalized by police. Some water protectors also reported being denied medical care and being placed in solitary confinement after their arrests. Well, The Guardian newspaper revealed last week that Enbridge paid Minnesota police $2.4 million in reimbursements, all costs tied to the arrests and surveillance of hundreds of water protectors, including officer training, wages, overtime, meals, hotels and equipment for the local police, paid for by an international corporation.
For more, we’re joined in Ponsford, Minnesota, by Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist, who’s been organizing for years to block Enbridge Line 3. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, is executive director of Honor the Earth. Her piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is headlined “Line 3 opponents can savor this defeat.” Her latest book, To Be a Water Protector.
Winona, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, if you can talk about these latest revelations of this Canadian company paying the local police to arrest you all, and also what it means that Enbridge says Line 3 is operational?
WINONA LADUKE: [inaudible] Enbridge’s Line 3 is operational will say that they’ve been hurrying really fast because the federal court has yet to rule on whether Enbridge has any ability to move forward. There’s no federal environmental impact statement on this project, which is why we want Joe Biden to stop it. I mean, they stole 5 billion gallons of water, fracked 28 rivers out, and then they have this broken aquifer losing 100,000 gallons a day of water. They have no idea how to fix this stuff, since January. You know, it’s really horrible up here. So, you know, Enbridge has been trying to rush to get this online before the court will rule against them, because, generally, courts have not ruled in favor of pipelines. That’s the status that we have seen, you know, in the federal court ruling on the DAPL, where the federal court ordered them to close down. This is the same company. Enbridge was 28% of DAPL. And when the federal court ordered them to close down the pipe, they said no. When the state of Michigan ordered them to close down a pipe this last May, they said no. So they’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior.
It’s so tragic that, you know, on one hand, the Biden administration is like, “We are going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.” Same thing, you know, Klobuchar and Smith, the two Minnesota senators, shameful their lack of courage, not only for Indigenous people but for the planet, you know?
So Enbridge is trying to get that oil out. In the meantime, it’s a disaster up here. I’m still up here monitoring the line and monitoring what’s going on, because it’s crazy. And just to say, they don’t have Indigenous Peoples’ Day apparently in Becker County, because have a court date today. So, you know, no break for Indigenous people. You could still go to court. You know, it’s just insane up here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does your activism change now that it’s supposedly operational, the pipeline? And what exactly does it mean? For people who aren’t familiar with Line 3, talk about its course, from Canada through the United States, and why you’re so concerned about this particular pipeline.
WINONA LADUKE: OK. Well, first of all, the pipeline is 915,000 barrels a day of oil. That’s a lot of oil that’s going to move through it, if they get their way. And that oil, like, this is the last tar sands pipeline. Now, how we know this is the last tar sands pipeline is that our alma mater — remember, Amy, when we were at Harvard trying to get them to divest in South Africa? No, but they just are divesting in fossil fuels. Everybody is fleeing the tar sands. And it’s an industry that’s at its end. Like, Canada needs to quit trying to breathe life into the tar sands and breathe life into boarding schools and residential schools. They need to just stop being the criminals that they are.
You know, so, forcing them — they’re four years behind schedule, if they get to oil. And in that four years behind schedule, the industry is falling apart. There’s no new investment in tar sands infrastructure. And it’s the dirtiest oil in the world. Then add to that the fact that the company can’t even get insurance for its pipeline. Like, I’m just trying to understand what kind of fiscal responsibility exists in the state of Minnesota, that Enbridge divulged a couple of weeks ago that they can’t get insurance for their pipeline. And so, you have an accident, it’s going to be just like Bhopal and Union Carbide. These guys are going to pack up and go back to Canada. You know, I mean, it is a really horrific situation. And, you know, the impact of it is so wrong. You know, I mean, it’s not only the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants, but right now our rivers are dry. They took 5 billion gallons of water from the north. Enbridge and the Walz administration are climate criminals.
And the Biden administration needs to stand up. You know, on one hand, I’m looking at Joe Biden, and I’m so grateful. Like, Bears Ears, that was the right thing to do, you know, to get back and to be the people that are supporting Indigenous people and Land Back. Let’s go, Joe. Let’s go. Let’s go, Joe. You know, 80 million acres of national parks stolen from Indian people, let’s start returning those, too, along with creating new national parks. We could just start returning land that was stolen. That would be a great step.
And then, actually, when you have Indigenous people in your administration, Joe, like Deb Haaland or maybe Jaime Pinkham at the Army Corps of Engineers, let them do their job, instead of having politics, oily politics, intervene. You know, I know that Deb Haaland does not support this pipeline. No sane person supports this pipeline. Only people who want to take oil money from Canadian multinationals support this pipeline. And I know that Jaime Pinkham, assistant in the Army Corps of Engineers, came up here, came up and visited, and saw what was going on and the disaster.
Our tribes have sued, you know, trying to stop this, sued in federal court. That federal court hearing is yet. And our tribes also have a tribal court hearing, where the federal courts have ordered Enbridge to come to our court, because we say that they’re climate criminals and they’re destroying the rights of wild rice. Actually, the state DNR has been ordered into tribal court.
You know, so, Joe, if you appoint Indian people, don’t just make them pretty Indian people that sit in your administration. Let them do their job. Indigenous thinking is what we need in the colonial administration. That’s when change happens.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Winona, in August, you met with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders to share the police violence suffered by water protectors protesting the Line 3 construction site. And now we are learning just how much money the Canadian corporation gave to the local police to do the arrests, to do the training, etc. What happened with the U.N. rapporteur?
WINONA LADUKE: The U.N. rapporteur has asked the United States a bunch of questions and is expecting a response on what exactly the United States is planning to do to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples, because this pipeline does not respect not only treaty rights, but, you know, when you get 900 people arrested and they’re brutalized with all kinds of — you know, I mean, it is torture. Some of what was done to these people is classified as it’s excessive force. So, the United Nations has called to task the United States on the Enbridge pipeline. And so, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s part of what we are saying, too, is it’s a time to account.
And I just want to say that this isn’t just like our problem, because the Enbridge model — like, first of all, Canadian multinationals kill people in Third World countries. That’s what they do. You know, that is known. Seventy-five percent of the world’s mining corporations are Canadian, and all through Latin America there’s human rights violations. This is no different. This is a Canadian multinational and Indigenous people. And two years ago, we told Attorney General from Minnesota Keith Ellison that this was going to be a problem. You know, we have had no action. And instead what we have is our rights continue to be violated. And, you know, I’ve got charges in three counties, more probably coming soon. I mean, this is like —
AMY GOODMAN: What do you face?
WINONA LADUKE: And this is a national problem, because the Minnesota model is being considered nationally, that corporations should finance your police. And that is — you know, in any way you look at it, that’s definitely a violation of the public trust, to have corporations financed by the police. And the Minnesota —
AMY GOODMAN: What charges do you face, Winona?
WINONA LADUKE: I’ve got trespassing, obstruction. I think I’ve got some public safety, you know, causing public safety problems because cops could have been doing something else instead of monitoring people on the pipeline. A lot of trespassing charges — Aitkin, Hubbard, Wadena County. I’ve got charges in three counties so far.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, best of luck to you today in court, Winona LaDuke, longtime indigenous activist, executive director of Honor the Earth, speaking to us from northern Minnesota.
When we come back, we look at the Russian journalist who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Stay with us.
Shanai Matteson, a 39-year-old White settler, sat in the stuffy overflow room watching the packed Public Utility Commission meeting, along with more than a hundred others, in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 2018. Over several hours, she listened as dozens of people—Native elders, local landowners, and young people concerned about their futures—testified against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, urging the commission to deny the project a key permit. She listened, too, as Enbridge workers, bused in by the company, voiced their support for the pipeline.
Matteson remembers the collective dismay and anger in the room as the five-person board approved Enbridge’s permit request. She also remembers what happened next: Tania Aubid, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, stood up and told the commissioners that they had just declared war on the Ojibwe people.
Outside of the conference hall, organizers held a rally. Matteson listened as Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Nation and executive director of the nonprofit Honor the Earth, spoke alongside several youth interveners—teenagers who were suing to stop the pipeline in court. Listening to their words, Matteson was moved by their unwavering dedication―to the land, water, and climate, but also to upholding the treaty agreements, which were being violated by this pipeline project.
After the news conference, Matteson packed her two young children into the car. They drove for nearly three hours before reaching a part of the land where the Mississippi starts to widen into one of the nation’s most storied rivers. It was a place she knew well. Matteson’s family had lived in the area for five generations, ever since her great-great-grandfather, Amasa, settled a homestead and opened a small sawmill on 1855 Treaty land. She’d grown up in the nearby town of Palisade, Minnesota, population 150.
Here was where Enbridge planned to drill the Line 3 pipeline under the Mississippi.
Standing on the riverbank that night, Matteson made a pledge to do everything she could to uphold the treaties and to stop Line 3. “I remember that day, saying to myself ‘I am making a commitment to this fight,’ ” Matteson recalls.
Defending Treaty Rights: From the Salish Sea to Line 3
On July 25, a Lummi Nation-carved totem pole will pass through the Mississippi Headwaters, under which Enbridge plans to drill the Line 3 pipeline. It’s part of a 1,500-mile journey from the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest through numerous Indigenous sacred sites, including Bears Ears in the Southwest and Standing Rock in the Midwest, en route to Washington, D.C. The totem pole is intended to invite Native and non-Native people to connect with the idea of broken treaties and the ongoing efforts to honor them, especially when treaty rights come into conflict with extractive capitalism.
Putting a hand on the totem pole, as people are invited to do at each sacred site event stop, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe for the many stories, hopes, and prayers it carries—and to offer their own. The 24-foot pole, hauled on a trailer behind a pickup, bears images that tell stories of the present-day struggles faced by Indigenous communities—including the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the crisis of children held in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the work of language revitalization. One carving is a grandmother with seven tears, using culture to teach her granddaughter how to turn trauma into wisdom. The totem pole aims to serve as “a reminder of the promises that were made to the first peoples of this land and waters,” Lummi master carver Jewell James told The Washington Post.
These promises were made in the form of nation-to-nation treaty agreements, recognized in the U.S. Constitution as “the supreme law of the land.” For non-Native individuals residing in the U.S., treaty rights are still the legal mechanism giving people the right to live on ceded tribal land. Put another way, if settlers (like the two of us writing this piece) are not actively holding up their end of the deal, then they forfeit the right to be here.
In exchange, the U.S. government promised tribes services, such as health care, education, and housing—and in many cases, treaties reserved the right for Native people to hunt and fish within their traditional territory. Instead, the reality has been a history of genocidal massacres, forced displacement, brutal residential schools, the outlawing of language, religion, and culture, and broken treaty obligations. Only by confronting the context of the U.S.’s settler-colonial history can settlers begin to reckon with their personal identity as treaty people.
“Part of what’s so wonderful about the pole is how it invites people to learn about the treaty, and to learn about the true history of this country,” says Lummi tribal fisher and treaty advocate Ellie Kinley, co-founder of Sacred Sea, a Indigenous-led nonprofit whose mission is to defend Lummi sovereignty and treaty rights and promote Indigenous stewardship of the Salish Sea.
“Once you know the true history, you can learn from it, and become wise from it.”
“We Are All Treaty People”
On June 7, 2021, about 2,000 people attended Treaty People Gathering, a mass Line 3 protest in rural northern Minnesota. At one of two actions that happened that day, more than 1,000 people marched to a part of the Mississippi where the pipeline is slated to be drilled; at the other action, hundreds risked arrest (and more than 200 were arrested) shutting down an Enbridge work station for the day.
“We Are All Treaty People” was one of the gathering’s main rallying cries. They are words that Matteson has thought seriously about since that night at the Commission hearing.
In 2020, after two decades living and working in Minneapolis, Matteson moved her family back to Palisade. She quickly got involved with the Welcome Water Protector Center, a cultural camp supporting people standing with the Ojibwe opposing Line 3. She is now close friends with Tania Aubid, the founder of the camp and the Ojibwe woman who informed the PUC commissioners that Line 3 was an act of war upon her people. The women’s friendship has given them both the strength to do more. In early 2021, they embarked on a hunger strike together. To bring attention to the fight to stop the pipeline, Matteson went 21 days without food; Aubid went 38.
When asked why she moved with her two young children to the Welcome Water Protector Center, Matteson is clear that protecting the water and the climate were reasons, but so too was ensuring that her government upholds its side of the treaties.
“I’ve been reminded by so many Indigenous people that the treaties are not just a concern for Indigenous people,” she says, golden light falling between the trees at camp. “They were entered into by the U.S. government, and as citizens, we have a responsibility to ensure our government honors that law.”
Over the course of the 19th century, the Red Lake Nation, the White Earth Nation, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe signed treaties with the U.S. government—treaties that granted rights to U.S. citizens and reserved rights for tribal members. In recent years, tribal attorneys have argued that Line 3 would infringe upon those treaty-protected rights, including the right to cultivate and harvest wild rice―manoomin in the Ojibwe language―which is regarded as a sacred species and is a vital source of sustenance for local tribal members. “It’s a perpetuation of cultural genocide,” founder of Line 3 resistance group, Giniw Collective, Tara Houska told The Guardian, describing the impact Line 3 would have on manoomin.
It has been a long road for the tribal attorneys, a road made more complicated by the fact that some Native-owned construction companies and two other Ojibwe nations support the pipeline. Most recently, on June 14, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the tribes, finding that Enbridge had appropriately demonstrated that there was a need for the pipeline. There are, however, reasons to believe the Tribes’ case will fare better in a case at federal court, where it is to be heard in the coming months. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the favor of treaty rights in two high-profile cases.
But as the case makes its way slowly through the federal court system, the fight for treaty rights is playing out on its own timeline in the woods of rural Minnesota.
Before Line 3 was anywhere near the edge of the great Mississippi, Aubid and Winona LaDuke built a waaginogaaning, a traditional Ojibwe prayer lodge, on the banks of the river, in the exact spot where Line 3 was slated to be drilled under its waters. Earlier this year, in the depths of the Minnesota winter, Enbridge workers appeared on site, nailing “No Trespassing” signs to trees.
The workers informed Aubid and LaDuke that they were trespassing on Enbridge property.
“No, you’re trespassing,” Aubid replied.
When the workers returned with law enforcement, Aubid handed the police officer a copy of the 1855 Treaty Authority letter, informing them of her legal, treaty-protected right to practice her religion there. The police and the Enbridge workers left Aubid in her prayer lodge soon after, but nobody expected Enbridge to stay away for long.
They didn’t. In July 2021, Enbridge drilled under the river, despite Aubid, Matteson, LaDuke, and others wading into the river to try and stop them.
The prayer lodge still stands in the path of the pipeline, and dozens more people have joined the Welcome Water Protector Center as the fight against the pipeline is reaching a boiling point. Since December alone, nearly 600 people have been arrested for actions related to stopping the construction of Line 3 and tens of thousands more have marched, demanded that Biden intervene, and protested the banks funding the pipeline.
Aubid is clear on what she hopes will happen next. “We’d like more people to come here,” she says. “We’d like people to help us protect the lands, protect the waters, and to do what they can to uphold their side of the treaties.”
Later, as we walk beside the languorous waters of the Mississippi, Matteson reminds us of the importance of settlers upholding the treaties. “This isn’t history,” she says. “This is happening here. It is happening now.”
Cas Yikh of the Gidimt’en Clan are counting on supporters to go ALL OUT in a mobilization for the biggest battle yet to protect our sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa. We have remained steadfast in our fight for self-determination, and we are still unceded, undefeated, sovereign and victorious.
In January 2019, when Gidimt’en Checkpoint was raided by the RCMP, enforcing an injunction for Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline, your communities rose up in solidarity!
You organized rallies and marches. You published Solidarity Statements. You wrote your representatives. You put on fundraisers and donated to the Legal Fund. You pledged to stand by the Wet’suwet’en. The pressure worked to keep Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters safe as they navigated the colonial court system. All charges were dropped.
In January 2020, you answered the call to #SHUTDOWNCANADA! The world watched as the RCMP violently confronted unarmed Wet’suwet’en land defenders, on behalf of CGL, in an intense 6-day struggle for control over the territory, following industry’s eviction by Hereditary Chiefs.
This invasion ignited a storm of solidarity! The Wet’suwet’en were embraced in beautiful and powerful actions coast to coast and overseas. During February and March, thousands of people rose up in hundreds of demonstrations in solidarity with Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection against the fracked gas industry.
During a wave of international uprisings, Canada came under fire for its refusal to engage in meaningful Free, Prior and Informed Consent with Indigenous Nations across Turtle Island. Canada’s denial of responsibility and failure to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples resulted in the fight for #LANDBACK.
We are humbled by the power of our allies, friends and supporters. We have love, respect, and gratitude for those that stood their ground beside us on the yintah to defend Wedzin Kwa. We vow to reciprocate the solidarity from everyone that followed, all our allies/relatives and supporters that put their feet in the street defending Indigenous sovereignty.
Editors note: DGR recognizes that governments can not give rights, they can only take them away. They serve to legitimize the rich and powerful with the laws that they make. “The legal system protects corporations from the outage of injured citizens and ensures environmental destruction. ” –Will Falk
Knowing this we should still use every means possible to stop the exploitation and expose their hypocrisy.
“States must listen to communities’ demands to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and better regulate businesses with respect to the impacts of their operations.”
By JESSICA CORBETT
Frontline communities in Latin America and advocacy groups on Thursday announced a new global campaign that targets major polluters and aims “make the right to a healthy environment an internationally recognized human right” through court action.
Launched ahead of United Nations climate talks scheduled for next month, the campaign kicked off with a pair of lawsuits filed in Chile and Colombia by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and member organizations in each country.
“#SeeYouInCourt is not just a hashtag or a publicity campaign,” FIDH said in a statement. “It launches a series of actions to hold companies accountable for their harmful practices that prevent tens of thousands of communities around the world from living in a healthy, safe, and clean environment.”
A campaign video released Thursday calls out polluters for not only disregarding human rights and the environment but also pressuring governments “to conduct business at any cost.”
“Money isn’t everything: Nature is priceless and its destruction causes lasting, irreparable damage,” said Luis Misael Socarras Ipuana, a human rights defender and leader of the Wayuu communities of Guajira in Colombia. “Defending nature means denouncing the social, economic, and spiritual harm that companies have caused by destroying it, putting the survival of our people at risk.”
In Colombia, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR), an FIDH member, joined with communities impacted by the diversion of a waterway, the Arroyo Bruno, to expand the massive Cerrejón open-pit coal mine.
“The environmental and climate impacts of the diversion have endangered the lives of local Indigenous communities and destroyed the fragile tropical dry forest ecosystem,” explains FIDH’s webpage for the case. “All of this is taking place in the context of a water and climate crisis.”
In Chile, FIDH member Observatorio Ciudadano, the Terram Foundation, and members of the communities of Quintero and Puchuncaví, filed a constitutional protection action against the company AES Gener—recently renamed AES Andes—and the Chilean government for the impacts of coal-fired power plants.
José Aylwin, director of Observatorio Ciudadano, explained that they are taking on “the complacency of the state and the lack of even the most basic due diligence by the companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change with serious human rights impacts.”
The new lawsuits follow other coordinated legal actions against multinational polluters over the past year taken in the pursuit of justice and promoting the right to a healthy environment, noted FIDH’s statement.
“Protecting the planet and fighting the climate crisis are two of the greatest challenges of our time,” said FIDH president Alice Mogwe. “States must listen to communities’ demands to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and better regulate businesses with respect to the impacts of their operations.”
Editor’s note: The industrial civilization always prioritizes access to “resources” over rights of indigenous people. DGR believes that those in power break laws when it suits their interest. We stand in solidarity with indigenous struggles to protect their landbase.
Hundreds of tribal villagers from India’s Hasdeo Forest begin a rally and march tomorrow in protest at the government’s plans for a massive expansion of coal mining on their lands.
People from Adivasi (Indigenous) communities who live in the forest – which, at 170,000 hectares, is one of the largest intact areas of forest in the country – will rally on Gandhi’s birthday (October 2), then march 300km to the capital of Chhattisgarh state from October 4-13.
The Hasdeo Forest is the ancestral home of approximately 10,000 Adivasis belonging to the Gond, Oraon, Lohar, Kunwar and other peoples. It is also one of India’s richest and most biodiverse regions.
Indian Prime Minister Modi’s government is aggressively promoting a plan to open new coal mines in the area. The forest and its peoples would be destroyed if the mines go ahead.
Across India Modi intends to open 55 new coal mines and expand 193 existing ones, to increase coal production to 1 billion tonnes a year. Coalfields are being auctioned off to some of India’s biggest mining corporations, including Adani, Vedanta and Aditya Birla.
Much of the existing government plan is illegal, as mining in Adivasi land should not proceed without their consent. Across India Adivasis are deeply opposed to the mines, having seen first-hand how existing mines have destroyed forests and the communities that lived in them.
Adivasi people across India have been resisting mining for decades, including by blocking bulldozers and peacefully protesting. Many have been arrested, beaten and even murdered in response.
In a public declaration from the “Resistance Committee to Save Hasdeo Forest” (Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti) the Adivasis said:
The federal and the state government, instead of protecting the rights of us tribal and other traditional forest dwellers have joined hands with mining companies and have been working towards devastating our forest and land.”
“We are bound to resist and [march] to safeguard our water, forest, land and our livelihoods and culture that are dependent on them. We appeal to all citizens who love the Constitution and Democracy, all who are committed to safeguard the waters, forests, land and environment and all sentient citizens to join us in this gathering and the march.”
Survival International Director Caroline Pearce said today: “The extent of the coal mining now planned will not only destroy Indigenous homes, lands and livelihoods on an unimaginable scale, it also makes a mockery of Modi’s claim to be at the forefront of addressing the climate crisis. Supporting the Adivasi resistance to coal mining should be a global priority.”