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Dakota Access Pipeline and anti-Saudi 9/11 lawsuit bill both reveal limitations of class struggle in the United Snakes

September 30, 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux nation addressed the UN Human Rights Council a couple weeks ago.(1) The U.S. settler state including local police is still repressing resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) as of today. The pipeline project is opposed by First Nations throughout North America. In terms of the numbers of people and organizations involved, it is one of the largest struggles in decades against oppression of First Nations. In eir short statement in Geneva, Dave Archambault did not emphasize climate change or oil addiction. Nor did ey say the word “race” or “color” or suggest intersection with the economic conditions and demands of low-income petty-bourgeois Amerikans of amorphous nationality. Eir statement dealt directly with national oppression of eir nation.

The labor aristocracy and race

U.$. workers who don’t care about other nations’ rights or care more about their own jobs are pro-DAPL. That is obvious. Some amerikans could care less about Sioux burial grounds, some which have already been desecrated for the pipeline, because they want more money to buy electronic gadgets for their children who will grow up to put them in rest homes or contemplate literal digital immortality and putting their own heads in cryogenic freezers in order to live forever. Many amerikans don’t care about the sacred except to consider their lifestyle choices inviolable. Respect for the sacred and respect for sovereignty don’t matter to many amerikans even on “the left” – who have problems with religion and nationalism of various kinds – so it has been expedient to have an environmental or racial theme. Interestingly, “defend the sacred” could appeal more to the religious: those in Christian churches as well as those in Wiccan churches.

This writer is happy to say the white labor aristocracy support for the DAPL has been discussed more than such a thing might have been discussed twenty years ago. Some found it remarkable when the AFL-CIO, which has a long history of collaborating with the imperialists against oppressed nations, supported DAPL. Some were surprised that the AFL-CIO didn’t oppose it. AFL-CIO also supported the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama ended up rejecting last year.

The question arises what can one add of any importance. Well, the trade unions’ supporting the oil companies involved is shameless, but it cannot be called a selling-out of the trade union rank and file because in that context we are talking about mutual benefit from oppressing other nations. It would be misleading also to say it is selling out First Nations workers. Saying that Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Yankton Sioux and Sac and Fox workers are oppressed as part of an American or global working class including Euro-Amerikan workers both obscures global inequality and obscures national differences between Euro-Amerika and the Standing Rock Sioux nation, the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation, the Ihanktonwan Oyate, and the Meskwaki Nation.

Yet, various people seem to have negative things to say about the u.$. white working class these days. Even some imperialists, who have a natural, class contempt for workers in general despite uniting with them in the united $tates in the exploitation and repression of non-amerikans, have no problem acknowledging First Nations’ distinct nationhood. But in various ways, national struggle of oppressed nations inside and outside u.$. borders/North America is undermined. With regard to Palestine, the Oslo I Accord was signed in Washington and is arguably similar in some aspects to treaties established with First Nations under unfavorable circumstances, but the united $tates is an obstacle to achieving the two-state solution even under those terms. That is a real parallel people thinking about Palestinian-Sioux “intersectionality” should be considering now, rather than how the Palestinians and the Sioux are both supposedly in need of approaches and ideas associated with Martin Luther King Jr.

Dave Archambault supported nonviolence, true, but so did Mahatma Gandhi for example, whose birthday is in a few days. Whatever disagreements one might have with Gandhi or nonviolence, Gandhi was a nationalist who supported independence for India. It’s not that Gandhi’s nonviolence, boycott and visit to Lancashire were about supporting integration with the English.

The First Nations will get the land back and full self-determination one way or another. First Nations’ sovereignty doesn’t require success in integration at all. As radical as it is sometimes made to sound, integration – as an ideology, as a political tendency, and as a realized social arrangement to some extent – is used by imperialism as a way to preserve itself, as are postmodernism and other approaches focusing on individuals. Bananas, coconuts, oreos – white on the inside – who long to be accepted by whites as their clones and unite themselves with u.$. imperialism through integrationism will suffer the same fate as Euro-Amerikans regardless of their identities: defeat. Since the forces for revolution in the land called “the United States” and “Canada” will not mainly consist of the people there at any point – contrary to much opportunist pandering – it will not be an overly difficult matter for the oppressed to figure out how to redraw territorial boundaries there after majorities of people not belonging to any First Nation or Mexico persist in pursuing integration. Coconuts and oreos who don’t want their own land and sovereignty may not get any and may end up living in others’ states. Though there are important differences within nationalism, recognition of nationhood is of critical importance for the internal semi-colonies of the united $tates.(2)

With some unions having made statements against the Dakota Access Pipeline, some are laboring under the delusion that large swaths of the amerikan so-called labor movement – which has proved to be part of the problem in various contexts – can, as “labor,” still play a special role in supporting oppressed nations in their struggles rather than getting in the way or undermining them. Others emphasize race or non-whiteness, but in a way that favors illusions about progress in amerika without development of oppressed nations’ nationalism.

It makes a difference, a very real one. This is not about whether united fronts in general are a good thing or not. Over-dependence on amerikan activists or too much hope connected to the Democratic Party could lead to failure to do more work with non-amerikan diplomats, for example. Diplomacy also involves united fronts because obviously most diplomats represent capitalists. False beliefs that united fronts can or should only include alleged communists, socialists, trade unionists, liberals, “people of color,” etc. – or people who are ideologically or socially similar in a real or perceived way – lead to dead ends.

There are those who would criticize Dave Archambault for even going to the United Nations, not so much because of the imperialist-dominated UN’s flaws but because they have problems with state-level diplomacy in general. So of course the Standing Rock Sioux Chairman must be defended relative to that. Even the Chairman’s interaction with amerikan diplomats in Switzerland – just that there was a meeting – has to be defended from the point of view of building for recognition of Sioux sovereignty globally. After Obama failed to deliver since eir inauguration from the viewpoint of many First Nations people who now have even less reason to prefer Democrats or Republicans, hopefully more will consider resistance to amerikans in the diplomatic sphere. Obama paused some of the construction of the pipeline, but may not be willing to do much more than that before November 8 for the sake of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Anti-capitalism, “intersectionality,” and united fronts

If capitalism didn’t exist, various questions involving private property wouldn’t come up. That is true. There would be no need to contemplate some anti-capitalist category to put various people in. “Dakota Access, LLC,” wouldn’t exist. Profit, money or career as a motive for dishonoring one’s own or disrespecting others’ ancestors, defiling and desecrating the sacred, and endangering water sources, wouldn’t exist. And other problems related to money, career etc. wouldn’t exist such as conflicts between even junior executives and senior executives in a company, and conflicts between oil and “green energy” companies. Those who are legally employed who have U.$. citizenship rights in the united $tates are privileged by global standards, though. They generally receive a petty-bourgeois income at least. U.$. workers, and those who own more assets and can go without working, jointly exploit people in other countries. In addition, even without capitalism as it is configured today, there could still be conflict between an oppressor nation and oppressed nations over land.

Those things complicate matters when thinking about seemingly-particularly heartless corporations, the extremely rich, Texans disdained by other AmeriKKKans who are just as privileged and chauvinist, the pipeline project’s negative impact on “the commons,” potential oil spills that may be costly even for whites, effects on agriculture including white settlers’ farming, maintaining relations between First Nations and amerikkkans and the u.$. government, and oil addiction involving oil-exporting oppressed nations. There are urgent reasons to seek broad unity against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but people should try to avoid doing things that undermine national liberation more generally. All should avoid saying things that reinforce settlers’ and other amerikans’ disregard even for their own treaties that they concluded with others who complied under duress, or amerikans’ sense of entitlement to stolen land, wealth, or power.

With the use of eminent domain to support the pipeline project, there are pitfalls, some obvious, in focusing on “private” and “public” aspects, because both private property and government supposedly separate from it are involved in oppression. Even if interests of companies and a relatively small number of individuals weren’t a factor, the public in different u.$. places already thinks various projects and activities on First Nations’ land are necessary regardless of First Nations’ concerns. More control of industry may not even eliminate projects exactly like the Dakota Access Pipeline. The idea of an amerikan labor movement against government-capitalist cooperation is problematic in various ways, some of which lead to worsening the fascism problem contrary to what one might expect with regard to state involvement in the imperialist economy. The labor aristocracy seeks more control of finance capital in order to wield and benefit from it more, and this leads to more unity/identity with finance capital and more repression.

Another potential issue involves how Western environmentalists and liberals tend to connect legitimate concerns to warmongering or chauvinist allegations against net-exporter or oil-exporting countries accused of humyn rights violations. Most of the united $tates’ imported oil comes from poor, oppressed or exploited-majority countries(3) – something that both DAPL supporters, and Western environmentalists and others with chauvinist tendencies worried about oil production/consumption in general, are responding to. Some ignorantly view Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries as just giant oil companies abusing humyn rights and particularly rights of females in need of Western salvation. None of this is to favor oil relative to other energy sources, but it is worrying in that context to hear both pro-DAPL people and some anti-DAPL people talking about ending dependence on foreign oil or dependence on oil in general.

Bernie Sanders opposed DAPL, as did U.S. Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein who even earned an arrest warrant for protesting the project, a matter that was publicized even by the Voice of America organization that is openly an outlet for u.$. government propaganda.(4) Stein was arrested for protesting Keystone XL, too. However, both “socialist” Sanders and green Stein – in opposition to “elites,” “the 1%,” etc. – are involved in supporting the JASTA “9/11 lawsuit” legislation or making statements about Saudi Arabia that are tantamount to warmongering.

The anti-DAPL struggle isn’t just about the pipeline and its immediate effects, which are important. It is also about First Nations’ sovereignty in general. So while someone like Stein may still play a useful role in one context, it is necessary for First Nations to play the leading role in shaping messages in and around the struggle. Talking about climate change or oil addiction could be a way of dividing amerikans over the pipeline (better than trying to unite them on a large number of issues), but it is evident that Dakota Access and pro-DAPL people can take advantage of discussions emphasizing an environmental, energy-related or economic issue that amerikans may consider either less important than amerikans’ other priorities or more important than First Nations’ sovereignty.

The idea of “intersectionality” is often overrated in the First World context, where claims about intersectionality could become instances of the exercise of cultural, ideological or political hegemony as people from the First World influence others’ movements. Though First Nations also have interests in environmental issues, to overemphasize that environmental issues are linked to “tribal” sovereignty or humyn rights through DAPL – as a part of trying to model DAPL protests after Keystone XL protests – could contribute to actually undermining national sovereignty by changing the focus to what the oppressors in the First World may consider more important while ignoring what other oppressors in the First World think, or how they behave, that could be useful. Support may come from some without recognition of overlapping or interacting oppressions, identities, systems of oppression, etc. The practice of making claims about intersectionality, and muddling the original definition of intersectionality, to support alliances sometimes betrays an ironic reality. This is the reality: there is often little to base alliances on, in terms of a real convergence of enduring interests, with people in the First World who have various identities but are also highly globally privileged exploiters and oppressors.

People in the First World should support the Standing Rock Sioux whether they think they have anything in common with them or not, or whatever the interaction or relationship is. They should find reasons to support them, or oppose DAPL, that have nothing to do with “class” (usually pseudo-Marxism or pseudo-leftism) or even shared interests in the environment. It could be that amerikans have a greater carbon or ecological footprint per capita, for example, that both amerikans and many First Nations people inside u.$. borders are globally privileged in ecological terms, or that First Nations should be able to do whatever they want with their own land regardless of impact on white farmers for example. Emphasizing commonalities or underlying connections too much could lead to false ideology in various ways, withholding support from a movement later, or co-optation, spreading problems to a movement, or otherwise transforming a movement for the worse. For that matter, there is nothing wrong with supporting the anti-DAPL struggle without doing so on the basis of some grand ideology. Upholding the law, pertinent to preventing DAPL construction from continuing, isn’t supposed to be something controversial or particularly ideological despite selective amerikkkans’ problems with doing so. On the other hand, “defend the sacred” – which appeals to certain sensibilities that might favor the religious – is great in the u.$. context in that it doesn’t require the amerikan reader to think ey is some kind of economic victim, for example.

Provocatively but truthfully, First Nations should be able to do what they want with their land, water and hunting rights whether it contributes to climate change and deaths of wildlife, for example, or not – regardless of whether there is a long-run net benefit to the environment from First Nations’ having self-determination and sovereignty. On an obvious level, there is still a conflict between some First Nations and Western environmentalists over whale hunts. Though their fishing and hunting concerns don’t involve whales so much of course, the Standing Rock Sioux Chairman asked the UN Human Rights Council for help in protecting eir nation’s culture specifically. The culture of small oppressed nations like the Hunkpapa Lakota (Húŋkpapȟa) and other Sioux groups – which are small even when considered as forming a greater Sioux nation – must be preserved, period. If Westerners don’t like that, next time don’t decimate other nations’ populations. The common attitude among Westerners that CIA-backed coups, invasions, occupations and mass murder are sometimes better than doing things in just the usual neocolonial way shows that Westerners still have lessons to learn. Some lessons have to be painful for everyone involved before the oppressors will get it.

The implicit idea that First Nations’ struggles must be subordinated to the environmental priorities of Westerners before Westerners will support them is either outrageous or an example of why Westerners shouldn’t be relied on. Importantly, if capitalists end up offering a deal – one that would allow faster construction of the pipeline and even for it to be completed but with significantly more consideration for First Nations – and it satisfied the vast majority of both Sioux and other First Nations, there is only so much anyone could oppose it.(5) Demanding environmental reviews could be a useful tactic in the anti-DAPL struggle, but drilling for fossil fuel is already happening on some reservations, a distressing matter that First Nations debate internally. Investment in the Bakken oil fields connected to DAPL already involves First Nations contrary to the notion that First Nations people are some simple people economically clueless about oil but monolithically concerned about climate change. Although, if First Nations had more land and sovereignty and the deals involved with the oil production were bad ones this kind of thing might not happen: another reason to support First Nations’ sovereignty even if a negative impact on the environment appears to result. This writer says that not to suggest First Nations people should tolerate any maldevelopment or undesirable activity on their land, but to indicate a need to support First Nations leaders mediating their nations’ struggles, as a matter of supporting those nations’ sovereignty. Selectively respecting sovereignty does play a role in how neocolonialism oppresses First Nations through fracking, drilling, and extraction. But if more land and sovereignty were offered in exchange for an oil agreement, environmentalists’ selective respect for sovereignty could become a very concrete problem. This complicates notions of opposing DAPL from a purely environmental or supposedly anti-capitalist perspective, and this calls for creating and mobilizing fuller respect for sovereignty to achieve greater support for First Nations. However, for better or worse, victory against DAPL may be possible with or without a majority of amerikans supporting compliance with existing treaties and laws.

It is possible the pipeline project will be stopped without a majority of amerikans being mobilized or persuaded to support or oppose anything. Some amerikan elites understand the need maintain relations with First Nations, more than an amerikan majority does. So, going to Obama (not just because the u.$. president, whoever ey is, has the authority to stop some pipeline construction) looks bad in one way involving misplaced hope, but actually there may really be difficulty getting more ordinary amerikans to oppose DAPL. What mobilizing an amerikan majority or catering to the amerikan majority often looks like is the U.S. Congress’ overriding Obama’s veto of JASTA.(6) That is what amerikan majority-oriented struggle and anti-elite revolt looks like: passing crazy legislation based on a conspiracy theory involving Saudi oppression of amerikan so-called workers, with the underlying logic and dynamics not being much different from what was involved in the antisemitic conspiracy theories. That is what stirring up amerikkkan workers’ class sentiments against a minority of capitalists looks like. The amerikan people rises up to punish another Arab country because they got it wrong about Iraq. Ridiculously, some members of Congress made a show of regret after passing the bill before Obama vetoed it, as if they had neglected to study the bill plausibly or implausibly, and some are still putting on a show of having regret. Nice play, Democrats. It is possible Obama, who claims to be constrained in what ey can do even within the limits of eir power, actually supported the bill despite speaking against it publicly and vetoing it.

Obviously, this writer isn’t an Obama fan, but nobody should have any qualms about pointing out when the amerikan petty-bourgeoisie, including the amerikan so-called working class, is even more reactionary than various kinds of capitalists of various nations. Those following the writing here closely have no doubt noticed a willingness to say things, early on, about Saudi Arabia that some won’t say. There is a reason for it: to make a point.

Like the Dakota Access Pipeline, a huge chunk of which has already been completed, the piece of paper called “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” is an example of how elites and the u.$. so-called working class can sometimes conflict. Obama considered JASTA so consequential internationally as to veto the whole thing. The u.$. president used the curious excuse that amerikan interests unrelated to Saudi Arabia were at risk.

It’s hard to see how the Saudi rulers won with JASTA. They didn’t. They lost as some discerned they would. Had JASTA not passed and had the veto not been overridden, there would be more reason to worry that what this writer said was too risky. So it could be said this writer risked appearing to support amerikan alliances by being in a united front with Saudi rulers relative to some extremely reactionary people in the united $nakes, but both Obama and the Saudi rulers – those favoring the alliance with the dual citadel of imperialism and polytheism – lost and now the world can see what alliances with amerika are worth and the true nature of the amerikan people and their relationship with foreign policy. Now the amerikans will witness the full consequences of their 9/11 hysteria; at the same time, the necessity of opposing warmongering and chauvinism, even in the context of deteriorating amerikan alliances with Arab countries, is being proved. The world’s oppressed can try to benefit by taking advantage of diminished ties between Saudi Arabia and the united $tates, or they can go on favoring strong ties with the united $tates delusionally and continue giving that country and its leadership high favorability ratings.

Apparently not even some members of Congress care enough about international relations to pay attention to JASTA’s details by their own admission, but when they respond to the amerikan public’s pressure and anti-elite sentiment, the result is reactionary. At the same time, it seems possible various countries and people allowed JASTA to become law while criticizing either the legislation, amerikans, or both. Some of the games Obama plays, others can play, too. Like the Egyptians chasing the Israelites struggling to leave them for another land according to a story in Hebrew scripture, circumstances beyond anyone’s control could lead the amerikans to destruction with little resistance.

This writer wouldn’t suggest conspiring with the other side in a losing battle against an oil pipeline just to make a point. In the context of the Dakota Access Pipeline, though, there is a need to consider what is controversial or unpopular with different groups of people who aren’t in First Nations, and how to deal with a population that is mostly reactionary even among liberals. There is a need to consider the public opinion and material consequences of certain alliances or approaches to them: what the oppressed have to lose or gain.

It is possible to win a battle against one pipeline but do so in a way that makes future national sovereignty battles more complicated. That is one thing. If victory were to become likely in terms of stopping DAPL, or in terms what First Nations are immediately concerned about in their own land, that would be more reason to keep the emphasis on national sovereignty, rather than climate change or oil. With a win in sight, it would be less necessary to crowd First Nations’ sovereignty issues with other issues even if some are related. In 2014, less than a majority of u.$. adults thought there was solid evidence of global warming mostly due to humyn activity.(7) To raise the issue of climate change as a reason to oppose the DAPL project may help Democrats rile up “Solid Liberals” and the “Next Generation Left” against “Steadfast” and “Business” conservatives, but may risk alienating many who could oppose the project on other grounds and lead to defeat in the anti-DAPL struggle. Those who pretend not to understand this show they care more about advancing liberal ideologies and political platforms than supporting First Nations’ sovereignty. People either see that a majority of amerikans still have a problem with climate science, and take that into account in other struggles, or they don’t and just use DAPL as a way to differentiate from conservatives over climate change without regard for outcome.

In terms of a deal, a majority of Palestinian survey respondents in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – which have fossil fuel reserves, by the way – have indicated they would be willing to accept a certain peace deal if the State of Palestine got US$50 billion, about ten thousand per capita in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.(8) The Dakota Access Pipeline is nearly a $4 billion project. First Nations near the Mississippi River could be affected downstream, but if DAPL is that strategically important, there should be no reason why the companies and governments involved cannot cut a check for every Sioux nation. If there can’t be an agreement about the land and water in the short term, this writer suggests a $2 billion total plus an annuity that would satisfy every nation as long as the pipeline is in operation. Show respect. Stop attacking and suing protesters.

Such a settlement isn’t everything that the Sioux want and have a right to in terms of land and sovereignty, and it would involve wealth stolen from the Third World. But both the Sioux and Palestinians are nations, and this writer doesn’t want to hear about how more environmentalists are opposing Palestinian statehood because a free or partly neocolonial Palestine would be another oil-producing Arab country. There are already too many greens, liberals, pseudo-socialists, and so-called anti-racists and pseudo-feminists lazily or narcissistically talking about “intersectionality,” who have reactionary attitudes toward Arab and Muslim neocolonies exporting oil. ◊

• “U.S. Democrats, Greens keep things simmering with Saudi Arabia,” 2016 June.
• “Saudi Arabia: Obama deals with the consequences of Democrats’ warmongering,” 2016 April.
• “Dakota access pipeline dilemma: Another cruel example of “American values”,” 2016 September 15.
• “UN rights expert urges US to halt North Dakota pipeline construction,” 2016 September 23.

1. “Standing Rock Sioux testifies about DAPL before United Nations in Geneva,” 2016 September 21.
“Standing Rock Sioux Chairman takes #NODAPL to the United Nations,” 2016 September 20.
“Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe demands answers from North Dakota State leadership after attack on peaceful protesters,” 2016 September 4.
4. “Tribal protesters say Dakota pipeline is part of global problem,” 2016 September 9.
“Yankton Sioux Tribe sues US Army Corps, USFWS over Dakota Access,” 2016 September 9.
5. “Tribal service deals could help Dakota pipeline impasse: Whiting CEO,” 2016 September 28.
“Trump’s pro-oil agenda poses dilemma for North Dakota’s Indians,” 2016 May 27.
“New rules to address fracking on Indian lands,” 2013 May 23.
“Beckoning the Bakken: Will the oil boom reach Montana’s impoverished Fort Peck tribes?” 2013 May 26.
“Bakken oil fields offer tribal colleges challenges, opportunities,” 2013 July 19.
6. ““Rapid onset buyer’s remorse” at US Congress after passing JASTA,” 2016 September 29.
“Congress overrides Obama’s veto on Sept. 11 lawsuit bill,” 2016 September 28.
7. “Section 7: global warming, environment and energy,” 2014 June 26.
“Chapter 2: climate change and energy issues,” 2015 July 1.
8. “Decay in anti-Americanism is to blame for bad Iranian-Saudi relations and disorientation in anti-Israel struggle,” 2016 September.

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