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Home > 2022 > The Origin of Democracy, Socialism and Fascism | Sukumaran C.V.

Mainstream, VOL LX No 5, New Delhi, January 22, 2022

The Origin of Democracy, Socialism and Fascism | Sukumaran C.V.

Friday 21 January 2022, by Sukumaran C.V.

BOOK REVIEW

One of the most pernicious aspects of standard world-historical narratives is precisely that they dry everything up, reduce people to cardboard stereotypes, simplify the issues in ways that themselves undermine, possibly even destroy, our sense of human possibility....One problem with evolutionism is that it takes ways of life that developed in symbiotic relation with each other and reorganizes them into separate stages of human history. By the late nineteenth century, it was becoming clear that the original sequence as developed by Turgot and others—hunting, pastoralism, agriculture, then finally industrial civilization—didn’t really work. Yet at the same time, the publication of Darwin’s theories meant that evolutionism became entrenched as the only possible scientific approach to history—or at least the only one likely to be given credence in universities. ...Meanwhile, Marxists concentrated on forms of domination, and the move out of primitive communism towards slavery, feudalism and capitalism, to be followed by socialism (then communism). All these approaches were basically unworkable and eventually had to be thrown away as well.—David Graeber and David Wengrow.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, written by an anthropologist (David Graeber) and an archeologist (David Wengrow) is putting world history upside down. David Graeber, who passed away at the age of 59 in August 2021 before the book was published, was professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and David Wengrow is professor of comparative archeology, University College, London. As Robin D.G. Kelley says, "Graeber and Wengrow have effectively overturned everything about the history of the world."

The book proves that the ideas which created European Enlightenment and French Revolution (freedom, equality, fraternity) and then led Europeans into democracy came not from within Europe but from outside (from the Native Americans whom the European settlers were eliminating en masse). The authors unequivocally prove that the Europeans lived in such a wretched hierarchical social order that they were not capable of even to imagine the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and human fraternity. Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu have had nothing to do with those ideas.

The authors say in the second chapter titled "Wicked Liberty: The indigenous critique and the myth of progress": "....scandalised missionaries frequently reported that Native American women were considered to have full control over their own bodies, and that therefore unmarried women had sexual liberty and married women could divorce at will. This, for the Jesuits, was an outrage. Such sinful conduct, they believed, was just the extension of a more general principle of freedom, rooted in natural dispositions, which they saw as inherently pernicious. The ’wicked liberty of the savages’, one insisted, was the single greatest impediment to their ’submitting to the yoke of the law of God’. ..the theories of social evolution—now so familiar that we rarely dwell on their origins—first came to be articulated in Europe: as a direct response to the power of indigenous critique....It was largely the speakers of Iroquoian languages such as the Wendat, or the five Houdenosaunee nations to their south, who appear to have placed such weight on reasoned debate...This fact alone had major historical repercussions. Because it appears to have been exactly this form of debate—rational, sceptical, empirical, conversational in tone—which before long came to be identified with the European Enlightenment as well."

With their indepth knowledge in anthropology and archeology, the authors prove that theories of social evolution (the transition from "primitive communism" to feudalism to industrial civilisation or capitalism) were created by the Europeans as a response to the Native American way of living— their unbridled individual freedom, their lack of private ownership of land and their caring for, and sharing with, each and every individual of the community—and tell us that the findings of anthropology and archeology reveal that the meta-narrative of social evolutionary history is nothing but European imagination to counter the real egalitarian structure of Native American societies.

"In order to understand how the indigenous critique—that consistent moral and intellectual assault on European society, widely voiced by Native American observers from the seventeenth century onwards—evolved, and its full impact on European thinking," the authors quote from the Memoirs of the French man Lahontan: "They (the Native Americans) think it unaccountable that one man should have more than another, and that the rich should have more respect than the poor. In short, they say, the name of savages, which we bestow upon them, would fit ourselves better, since there is nothing in our actions that bears an appearance of wisdom."

And the arguments of Kandiaronk, chief of the Native American tribe Huron-Wendat, are quoted in detail from Lahontan’s Curious Dialogues with a Savage of Good Sense Who Has Travelled (1703): "I have spent six years reflecting on the state of European society and still can’t think of a single way they act that is not inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case, as long as you stick to your distinctions of ’mine’ and ’thine’. I affirm that what you call money is the devil of devils; the tyrant of the French, the source of all evils, the bane of souls and the slaughterhouse of the living. To imagine one can live in the country of money and preserve one’s soul is like imagining one could preserve one’s life at the bottom of a lake. Money is the father of luxury, lasciviousness, intrigues, trickery, lies, betrayal, insincerity,—of all the world’s worst behaviour."

After quoting the above words of Kandiaronk, the authors say: "For Europeans in 1703, this was heady stuff."

The European thinkers started to engage with the ideas of equality and freedom only to prove that in the evolutionary ladder of human history, the position of Europe was in a higher stage and inequality is inherent in such complex societies, but The Dawn of Everything proves that the human societies were far more complex even in prehistoric times and yet there was no inequalities. "In fact, many of the first farming communities were relatively free of ranks and hierarchies. And far from setting class differences in stone, a surprising number of the world’s earliest cities were organised on robustly egalitarian lines, with no need for authoritarian rulers, ambitious warrior-politicians, or even bossy administrators."

In the chapter "Wicked Liberty", the authors meticulously prove how devastative the impact of the indigenous critique of the ’civilisation’ Europe was/is proud of: "For European audiences, the indigenous critique would come as a shock to the system, revealing possibilities for human emancipation that, once disclosed, could hardly be ignored. Indeed, the ideas expressed in that critique came to be perceived as such a menace to the fabric of European society that an entire body of theory was called into being, specifically to refute them. Our standard historical meta-narrative about the ambivalent progress of human civilization, where freedoms are lost as societies grow bigger and more complex, was invented largely for the purpose of neutralizing the threat of indigenous critique."

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Ward Churchill, the Native American scholar and activist says in his book Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America: "Another myth is contained in the suggestion that indigenous governmental forms were less advanced than their European counterparts. However, the enlightened republicanism established by the United States during the late 1700s—usually considered a great advance over European norms—was lifted directly from the model of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy."

As I am specially interested in the tragic history of the Native Americans, I know they were culturally far more superior to the Europeans who eliminated them. Books like Since Predator Came: Notes from the Struggle for American Indian Liberation (Ward Churchill), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown), Disinherited: The Lost Birthright of the American Indian (Dale Van Every), An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz), American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (Russel Thornton), The Earth is Weeping (Peter Cozzens), The Warrior and the Prophet (Peter Cozzens), Empire of the Summer Moon (S.C. Gwynne), American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (David E. Stannard), Trail of Tears (Gloria Jahoda), Lost Tribes and Promised Lands: The Origins of American Racism (Dr. Ronald Sanders), From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886 (Edwin R. Sweeney), Where White Men Fear to Tread (Russel Means), The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir (Ernestine Hayes) prove beyond doubt the cultural superiority of the Native Americans (and how savagely and barbarously the European settlers and their nation called the U.S. have exterminated and dispossessed them). But I am indebted to The Dawn of Everything for the knowledge that every idea related to individual freedom and social equality with which Europe was really civilised came from the Native American people and their ways of living.

It is really ironic that the qualities for which the meta-narratives of world history have been praising Europeans have come or rather stolen from a people whom the European settlers have been eliminating for over four centuries since 1492 when Columbus landed in the Caribbean.

And it is quite shocking to see while the ideas that triggered democracy and socialism in Europe have had their origins in the Native American societies that were filled with the qualities of unbridled individual freedom, lack of private ownership on land, and the absence of patriarchal control over women; fascism, the idea diametrically opposed to democracy, is exclusively the contribution of the Europeans. As Russel Thornton says in the Preface of his book American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492, "The demographic effects of Columbus’s "discovery" were important in many ways. There was a marked shift in the world’s populations as Europeans migrated to the Western Hemisphere, where they experienced remarkable population growth. Euro-American people have much cause to celebrate Columbus’s arrival in his New World. Another demographic history exists, however. It is the history of the people Columbus met here: the descendants of the first humans to arrive on the land, the first to populate it, the first to prosper on it. For them 1492 marked a turning point in population history. The date, however, is not one to be celebrated. Far from it! In the centuries after Columbus these "Indians" suffered a demographic collapse. Numbers declined sharply; entire tribes, often quickly, were "wiped from the face of the earth."

Churchill says in his Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America: "It is probable that more than quarter-million Native Americans perished as a direct result of U.S. extermination campaigns. By the turn of the [twentieth] century, only 237,196 native people were recorded by census as still being alive with the United States, perhaps 2 percent of the total indigenous population of the U.S. portion of North America at the point of first contact with Europeans. Correlating rather precisely with this genocidal reduction in the number of native inhabitants was an erosion of Native American land holdings to approximately 2.5 percent... Admiring its effectiveness, later, Adolf Hitler would explicitly anchor his concept of lebensraumpolitik ("politics of living space") directly upon U.S. practice against American Indians. The idea was to destroy the untermensch ("subhuman") populations—Slavs, Poles, Jews and Gypsies among them—of Eastern Europe, replacing them on the lands thus vacated with "superior" Germanic "settlers"... In Hitler’s Secret Book he made it even more clear that, "Neither Spain nor Britain should be models of German expansion, but the Nordics of North America, who had ruthlessly pushed aside an inferior race to win for themselves soil and territory for the future."" (Part 1, Chapter 2—Perversions of Justice).

As Churchill says in Since Predator Came, "...the proportion of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the 75 percent of European Jews usually said to have been exterminated by the Nazis. Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean Basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning....it is probable that more than 100 million native people were eliminated in the course of Europe’s ongoing "civilization" of the Western Hemisphere.” (Chapter 1— ‘Deconstructing the Columbus Myth’).

The real history of the U.S. is not the history of the Europeans who migrated to the "New World" which was not at all new but has been inhabited by the Native Americans from time immemorial. The real history of the U.S. is the frightening story of the centuries-long extermination of millions and millions of the indigenous people and robbing their lands and forests. As Churchill says, "The reality of colonial North America was that indigenous nations tended to be militarily superior to their would-be colonizers, or at least held the balance of military power between European states such as England and France. The matter was of such concern in London that, in 1763, King George III—specifically to retain the allegiance of the powerful Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Muscogee (Creek) Confederacies vis-a-vis England’s French rivals—issued a proclamation prohibiting acquisition of lands west of a line drawn along the Allegheny and Appalachian mountain chains. This, probably more than "taxation without representation," was a major contributing factor in sparking the extended decolonization struggle which resulted in the independence of the original 13 U.S. states. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Anthony Wayne, and numerous others among the "Founding Fathers" all had considerable speculative investments in westerly Indian lands at the time the 1763 edict was handed down. The rank and file soldiers who fought in their "revolutionary" army arguably did so not for abstract ideals of "freedom" and "equality," but because of promises made by their leaders that their services would be rewarded with grants of Indian land "in the West" after victory had been secured." (Since Predator Came, Chapter 6—The Earth is our Mother)

"The indigenous death toll during U.S. continental expansion was quite substantial... the native population of the State of California alone was reduced from approximately 300,000 in 1800 to less than 20,000 in 1890, chiefly because of the cruelties and wholesale massacre perpetrated by miners and the early settlers. In Texas, to take another example, a bounty was paid for the scalp of any Indian brought to a government office, no questions asked. Most Texas Indians [once the most diverse population in North America] were exterminated or brought to the brink of extinction by Euroamerican civilians who often had no more regard for the life of an Indian than they had for that of a dog, sometimes less." (Since Predator Came,  Chapter 3—A Survey of Native North America Since 1492)

In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says: “So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world....They paid careful attention to the development of personality, intensity of will, independence and flexibility, passion and potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature. John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the 1920s and 1930s in the American Southwest, said of their spirit: “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.” (Chapter 1—Columbus, the Indians and Human Progress)

The Europeans rejuvenated their unjust and heinously cruel social system by infusing into it the free spirit of the Native American societies, and eliminated the Native Americans and their culture of unbridled individual freedom and equality with the oppressive violence that is the only European contribution to the world. And the history of the world tells us that the ideas of equality, freedom, democracy and socialism originated in Europe and the Native Americans were savages!!

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