Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The missing link in the Oregon standoff

Yes Bundy, let the people claim back their land and resources
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired *

I was in Reno Nevada recently and took a ride up to Pyramid Lake. It’s a beautiful place.  This whole area was home to the Northern Paiute’s .  There’s a small museum there and I stopped in and talked awhile with the Native American man inside. He was also a veteran and served in Vietnam.  Around the museum and down towards the lake was a small village and a little further up a Tribal health care center.  The federal land that has been occupied by an armed group of private landowners in Oregon was also home to the Northern Paiutes.

Throughout the US, there are ongoing struggles between private landowners, in most cases a right wing, racist section of the rural petty bourgeois, and the federal government, over land, grazing rights and other issues.  The son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a backward racist himself, is leading the occupation of a federal building on a wildlife sanctuary outside Burns Oregon.** Bundy claims their action is in defense of the Hammonds, a ranching family who from reports I’ve read, have about 12,000 acres in the area and are in a dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management. 

The mass media and Internet is filled with competing arguments about what to do and who is right or wrong. The Hammonds as of this writing have rejected the armed group’s support. An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal explains it from the 1%’s view:
“The Hammonds’ problems trace to 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt set aside 89,000 acres around Malheur Lake as a bird refuge. The government has since been on a voracious land-and-water grab, coercing the area’s once-thriving ranchers to sell.”

Well, this is quite a distortion of history.  I get mad when the bourgeois historians leave out working class history. How inflamed must Native Americans feel when they read that crap. What is missing in this entire debate and it is an extensive debate, is the starting point and it certainly isn’t 1908 or the Hammonds.  The land in question, like the area around Pyramid Lake in Nevada was owned in common and home to Native American people, Paiute’s and other tribes, long before 1908. I do not intend to go in to a detailed account of the battles that took place either in Oregon or in Nevada between settlers backed by the might of the federal government and Native Americans, but suffice it to say that the people who lived on the land in what we call the United States, including Burns Oregon, were driven off it through an extensive genocidal campaign. They were driven in to Reservations, concentration camps, “Bantustans” “Gaza” like confines to use present day terms for such activity. They remain there today.

When Bundy and his mates talk of returning the land to the people, he is not talking about those who were originally driven off it long before 1908, he is also not talking about workers, white or otherwise. He is talking about mining interests, ranchers, the lumber business; he is talking about capitalists. The Wall Street Journal, representing the 1% while having nothing but contempt for these backward petty bourgeois, need them as a buffer zone, a barrier, a reliable ally in the 1%’s war against American workers. And as I wrote in an earlier commentary, despite all their talk of being anti-government, Bundy and his pals will willingly play the role of shock troops against workers resisting capital’s austerity agenda and assault on our standard of living. The recent strikes including the steelworkers refinery strike, they were nowhere to be found.  They will be the new Pinkertons.

For those of us that have seen the documentary, Food Inc. and the struggle between small, independent farmers and giant agricultural concerns like Monsanto, not all small farmers are bad or as backward as these folks, not that there’s many small farmers left.  According to the CIA’s World Factbook, excluding the unemployed, only 0.7% of the US population is employed in agriculture, or more accurately farming, forestry, and fishing. It is the giant agricultural concerns like Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont and others that decide how we produce food.

But how should workers and socialists approach this issue? It is complicated but it seems obvious that we start with the Native American people. And when I say “we”, I mean wage workers and our allies, middle class people, small community based businesses, socialists and other anti-capitalists, people who recognize we have to change the system if we are to survive. The Native American people have a long tradition with this land. They have agricultural expertise and ideas and traditions about collective government and also it is their land. They must be central to the reorganization of public land. The system of reservations must be ended and Native American people who want to return to their land to live and work on it given the opportunity to do so. The US government owns 640 million acres of property in the US according to the WSJ.  Native American people must have the option to return to this land, to work this land and live on it if they so choose. Any land owned by the huge agricultural concerns must be included. It is with the Native people that the small farmer can find common ground, can live a harmonious existence free from the clutches of the agricultural giants, they too can be offered land but special consideration must be given the people from whom it was stolen.

The small farmer and Native American people can be strong allies, can set limits on the size of farms allotting a certain amount of land to any who wish to farm it. The small farmer loves the land; they are not Dupont or Monsanto, like Native American people, they have a relationship with it that is not simply about dollars. Agriculture can be organized in a totally different way than it is now.

This is where we have to start and it’s a disgrace that the issue of Native Americans is hardly mentioned in this so-called land dispute..  One rancher in Texas in conflict with the government tells the Wall Street Journal; “This land was bought and paid for and people struggled to acquire it, so for them to just come in and swoop in and say it’s theirs is pretty devastating,”

Yes it is devastating, to “swoop in” and take people’s land and “say its theirs”.  I’m sure it’s even more devastating to watch your entire family, tribe or community be wiped out in the “swoop”.  This history has to be dealt with.

There is one important hurdle to solving this problem and that is the economic system in which we live, what we call the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism, its proponents and its institutions like the government and its agents, cannot and will not solve this problem. Capitalism cannot solve the crisis in the Middle East-----it caused this crisis. It cannot and will not end racism because racism is a powerful divide and rule tactic when it comes to weakening working class unity and crushing resistance to the violence of the market. If race or color cannot be used then religion will be as it was so successfully in Ireland where people were all the same color, and at all times gender oppression, turning men against women. Capitalism will never solve any of these crises of its own making.

This is the conclusion we must draw. We start where we can, we influence what we can, but we must keep the big picture in mind, we must understand that we are in a struggle that is not just local, or national, but international in nature. We have to change society. I am a socialist, not of the Bernie Sanders variety that says capitalism can be made nice, can be regulated, can be made human. It matters less what one calls oneself though. Movements of indigenous people throughout the world have taken capitalism head on, are pushing it back. I do not know if they all refer to themselves as socialist. It is not so much what we say but what we do.

These are some thoughts on the events in Oregon.

*Sean O’Torrain also contributed to this commentary

** Cliven Bundy’s take on black history.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Washington Post April 2014

No comments: