For part three of our series on Fascism and the Far-Right, we looked at the relationship between fascism and colonialism. We spoke with Christian Davis about Germany’s colonial genocide in Namibia and the ways that this tragedy acted as a precursor to the Holocaust. We then talked with Rowland Keshena Robinson about how to understand fascism in a settler colony like the US and what the threat of fascism means for Indigenous people today.
Listen to earlier parts of the series:
- Episode 42: Fascism and the Far-Right Part 1, which features an interview with with Gord Hill about the history of Anti-Fascist movements and the connections between Fascism and Colonialism. It also features a conversation with Shira Klein about how to understand the widespread Jewish support for Fascism that existed in interwar Italy.
- Episode 44: Fascism and the Far-Right Part 2, which features an interview with Diana Garvin about her research into Italian fascism’s attacks on women’s autonomy, as well as the inspiring ways that women resisted the fascist regime. It also features a conversation with Matthew Lyons about his work documenting far-right groups in the US and the ways misogyny has grown within them.
Episode 45 – Fascism and Colonialism: Show notes
- Treyf Patreon
- Quotes on Fascism as ‘Colonialism Turned Inward’
- Christian Davis
- Rowland Keshena Robinson
- Maehkōn Ahpēhtesewen *we incorrectly referred to this blog by a previous name
- ‘Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Germans of Jewish Descent in Imperial Germany’ by Christian Davis
- The Herero and Nama Genocide
- ‘From Africa to Auschwitz: How German South West Africa Incubated Ideas and Methods Adopted and Developed by the Nazis in Eastern Europe,’ by Benjamin Madley
- ‘Colonialism and the Holocaust: Continuities, Causations, and Complexities,’ by Thomas Kuhne
- Germany’s Nuremberg Laws
- ‘Stephen Miller: the White Nationalist at the Heart of Trump’s White House,’ the Guardian
- Over 40,000 Africans Die in British Concentration Camps by 1902
- Belgium Kills Over 10 million People in the Congo by 1908
- The 1919 Treaty of Versailles
ROWLAND “ENAEMAEHKIW” KESHENA ROBINSON
- ‘Fascism & Anti-Fascism: A Decolonial Perspective,’ by Rowland “Ena͞emaehkiw” Keshena Robinson
- ‘When Race Burns Class: Settlers Revisited (An Interview with J. Sakai),’ Kersplebedeb
- ‘Election of Obama Provokes Rise in US Hate Crimes,’ Reuters
- ‘Blood Quantum and Tribal Disenrollment: The New Wave of Genocide,’ Native News Online
- The Indian Act
- ‘Native children in Care Surpass Residential School Era,’ CTV News
- Canada’s Residential School System
- Indigenous Women in Canada Are Still Being Sterilized Without Their Consent,’ Vice News
- ‘Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law,’ by James Whitman
- ‘Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America,’ by Kathleen Belew
- Hitler Describing the Success of Canada’s Genocide
- ‘Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars: Comparing Genocide and Conquest,’ by Edward Westermann
- ‘The American West and the Nazi East: A Comparative and Interpretive Perspective,’ by Carroll Peter Kakel
- The Nanny
- Fran Drescher tweet
- Fran Drescher participates in ‘Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gala
- Jalil Muntaqim
- Safiya Bukhari
- ‘We Are our Own Liberators,’ by Jalil Muntaqim
- ‘Escaping the Prism… Fade to Black,’ by Jalil Muntaqim
- ‘Commutation Campaign to Governor Cuomo for Jalil Muntaqim,’ Jericho Movement
Sam: I’m Sam.
David: I’m David.
Sam: And this is Treyf.
David: Welcome back to Treyf! The only Jewish podcast to be at the vanguard of the war on Christmas for five years straight.
Sam: I think that might be a little generous, but I am excited about this time of year.
David: Yeah, the war on Christmas has officially begun. I think this is our year.
Sam: (laughter) I appreciate your optimism, David. Do you have any plans for this War on Christmas?
David: Not that we should talk about here.
Sam: Very good security culture, David.
Sam: (laughter) Okay but there is something that we can talk about on the show, and it is extending a tremendous thank you to people who have supported our funding drive. You’re helping us make the podcast and supporting all the work that goes into the podcast. So thank you so much for doing that.
David: Yeah, we made a page for people to support the show who want to, about two years ago now, and we shared it online this week for the first time I think since we started it. And just seconding, a huge thanks to everybody who’s been supporting the show!
Sam: And on that note, if you know any rich leftists who want to support our program and can support our program, it would be great to just get a lump sum, no strings attached. That would be wonderful.
David: (laughter) Oh, what an opportunity.
Sam: And to be honest, David, it feels like in the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten to know our listeners a little bit better than we have in the past.
David: What do you mean?
Sam: Well, there is a strong bonding that is happening now around seltzer, carbonated water.
David: All those e-mails you got about seltzer?
David: Sam mentioned a seltzer that he was using and we got, I think, 20 emails of people who wanted to know?
Sam: It was wild. I think it’s amazing how the Jewish left and seltzer are so intertwined. But leaving the seltzer to the side, what do we do on this podcast?
David: So we do a lot of things. But I think the main one is that we talk about radical politics.
Sam: And for the last couple of months, we’ve been following a certain trajectory, have we not?
David: Yes. So this episode is part of our series of episodes exploring the histories and unfortunate present realities of fascism and far-right movements.
Sam: And on this episode, we’re going to look at how colonialism relates to fascism.
David: Yeah, we wanted to explore an aspect of fascism that a lot of people write about as ‘colonialism turned inward,’ where essentially the society that’s carrying out colonialism around the world has that violence filter back into the host society.
Sam: Yeah. And so we chatted with two academics who cover kind of different facets of this phenomenon. The first was Christian Davis, who is a professor and wrote a book called Colonialism, Anti-Semitism and Germans of Jewish Descent in Imperial Germany.
David: Yeah. We talked with Christian about Germany’s colonial invasion of Africa, and specifically its genocide in Namibia, and the ways that this contributed to the rise of the Nazis and eventually the Holocaust.
Sam: And for our second interview, we chatted with Rowland Keshena Robinson, who’s also known as Ena͞emaehkiw. He he runs the Onkwehonwe Rising blog (*we incorrectly referred to this blog by a previous name, the correct name of the blog is Maehkōn Ahpēhtesewen ) and he’s the author of the essay Fascism and Anti-Fascism: A Decolonial Perspective.
David: We wanted to talk to Rowland to get a better idea of how to understand fascism here, where settler colonialism and genocide is so much part of the fabric of this society. And also what the threat of growing far-right politics means for Indigenous people.
Sam: And so to jump straight into these interviews, this is your episode of Treyf for the second of Kislev 5780.
Christian Davis: All right. Well, my name is Christian Davis and I teach modern European and world history at James Madison University in Virginia. I’ve been teaching at JMU for about nine years. And I’m very much interested in issues of anti-semitism, race relations, racial prejudice and also colonialism.
David: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. We wanted to talk to you about your book but before we get to the book, this is just such a specific area of study and I was curious how you first came into it.
Christian Davis: Well, it really dates back to my days as a graduate student when I was at Rutgers University. I became quite interested in the question of the origins of anti-semitism and racial prejudice in modern Europe. And also, I became interested in the stories of European colonial expansion, the creation of racial states abroad in German Africa and other parts of the world. And the question that I asked myself was whether or not these two historical developments were interrelated. And so that became the basis of the study, which then I expanded in later years into the book.
Sam: And before we go any further here, can you give our listeners a sense, maybe a short sense, of the story of German colonialism in Africa? Because I think it’s one that maybe takes a back seat to French, British or even Portuguese and Spanish (colonialism).
Christian Davis: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. In fact, I think probably a lot of people don’t even know that Germany did have a very large colonial empire and it was one of the major colonizing powers during the the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So Germany, in fact, acquired and governed what became the fourth largest colonial empire in the world, only behind the British, the French and Dutch. But one of the reasons why most people are probably not aware that Germany was such a large power is because their empire only lasted from about 1884 to 1919, when Germany was stripped of its overseas colonial possessions as a result of losing the First World War. But Germany did, for a short period of time, about 34 years, acquire a large colonial empire. And it was an empire that was actually quite diverse. The Germans acquired a small territory on the coast of China. They came to control part of New Guinea and Samoa and islands in the South Pacific, near Australia. But the overwhelming bulk of the German overseas empire was actually located in Africa, in four large African colonies, which at the time were known as German East Africa, German Southwest Africa, Togo and Cameroon. And this colonial empire altogether encompassed a landmass that was actually much larger than the territory of Germany back in Europe. In fact, the largest of the German African colonies, German East Africa, was itself larger than Germany back in Europe. And it governed millions of non-Germans, Africans in particular.
David: And all this invasion and conquest had a large human cost, on the part of the Indigenous populations, including the Herero and Nama Genocide that the Germans carried out in 1904, in Namibia. You know, for listeners who haven’t heard of this before, can you maybe give people a bit of an understanding of what occurred?
Christian Davis: Sure. Sure. The Germans were extremely brutal colonial masters and you had a number of large uprisings really as a reaction to German brutality. And the most famous uprising, and the one which resulted in the first genocide of the 20th century, occurred in German Southwest Africa. German Southwest Africa was a very large colony. It had a significant Indigenous population, probably about two thousand people when the Germans arrived in the 1880s. The two major groups were the Herero and the Nama, and the German colonial authorities pursued the deliberate policy of impoverishing the Indigenous inhabitants. The policy was really designed to strip the Herero and the Nama both of their land and of their possessions and of their cattle in particular, in order to impoverish the people so that they would be dependent for their livelihoods upon selling their labour services to the German state and to the German white settlers in German Southwest Africa. And this had a really devastating effect upon the Herero people. And so by 1904, the Herero people were really facing an existential threat. And so they rose up against the Germans, against the settlers and the representatives of the German government in the colony. And Germany responded with terrific force. During this German campaign to suppress the Herero people, one German commander, General von Trotha, pursued a deliberate policy of annihilation, of genocide, directed not only against the Herero men who were doing the fighting, but also against Herero women and children. And as a result of this genocidal suppression of the Herero uprising, the Herero people were almost, not completely, but almost wiped out. We estimate that approximately 60 to 80 percent of the Herero population died as a result of this genocidal policy. And the Germans instituted what really can be seen as the first totalitarian state in 20th century world history. They instituted severe policies to ensure that the Herero and the Nama would never be able to rise up again. The German government seized the remaining land and cattle of the rebelling groups. Black Africans in the colony were forced to carry passes, and any white man had the ability to stop someone, demand their pass. Their passes had to show that they were employed. Herero and Nama were prohibited, after the collapse of the rebellion, from living together in groups of more than 10 families. The German plantation owners were liberated to use corporal punishment upon Herero and Nama labourers. So the result was devastating for the Indigenous peoples of German Southwest Africa.
Sam: Wow. I’ve read about this before, but it’s it’s still really intense to to hear you describe it that way.
David: Yeah. And it really shocked me to learn that the phrase, I think it’s pronounced, ‘Endlösung?’
Christian Davis: The Endlösung, yes.
David: Or The Final Solution, was actually first written in 1904. Not in reference to what the Nazis eventually called the Jewish Question, but what the Germans were calling the Native Question. And that same year was also the first time the Germans used concentration camps, in Africa. Can you maybe talk a bit about how these ideas developed?
Christian Davis: Yes. So some of the concepts that the National Socialists used and some of the ideas that motivated them did seem to have precedents in the German colonial period. So, for example, the use of concentration camps to house the Herero and the Nama people, of course, seems to foreshadow the use of concentration camps in 1930s and 1940s. The concentration camps in German Southwest Africa were not just places to hold the Herero and the Nama, but they were also sites of mass death. Conditions were so horrific in these camps that the death rate on average was about 40 percent. And some of the camps, like the notorious camp on Shark Island, off the coast of German Southwest Africa, about 70 percent of the people who were imprisoned in those camps, died of malnourishment and maltreatment. And the government were fully aware of this. So there is essentially foreshadowing in German Southwest Africa of some of the policies that the National Socialist carry out – the use of concentration camps as really a method to annihilate a population of people purposefully through malnourishment and maltreatment. But one of the criticisms that has been made of that idea is the reality that when you’re talking about the Holocaust, the German policies were motivated above all by a genocidal logic and that that was inherent to the project. And in fact, that is what the Holocaust was all about, it was all about the complete annihilation and removal of the Jewish population of Europe. Whereas genocides that took place in colonial contexts, they were not the purpose of European and German colonizing efforts. However, in the early 1900s, you did in fact have colonial propagandists, thinkers about colonialism, pro-colonial ideologues, talking about genocide. And the term that was used by these pro-colonialists in the early 20th century was the term Endkampf, which means Final War. Now, of course, the National Socialists had their own idea of an Endkampf – a racial struggle that would result in the annihilation of one race and the elevation of another. But this idea of Endkampf was discussed in German circles as early as 1904, where some German colonial thinkers and writers were speaking actively about a future final battle between blacks and whites.
Sam: Huh. So were there other parts of the Nazi’s ideology that that came from this period?
Christian Davis: So one of the terms that the National Socialists used quite a bit was this idea of Lebensraum, this idea of ‘living space’. This notion that the National Socialists and the Germans and the Aryan people needed to acquire more living space in Central Eastern and Eastern Europe in order to survive as a people, as a race. And this idea, this term, in fact, Lebensraum, which was so central to National Socialist ideology, it did have its origins in connection with German colonialism. While Germany was actively conquering and colonizing and moving into foreign territories abroad, it helped to provide a scientific justification for what the Germans were actually doing in places like Africa or expanding and conquering and settling, moving into new territories. And that same idea heavily influenced the National Socialists later on, it became part of the National Socialist imperialist ideology. But they applied it not in places like Africa, they applied it in places like Central Eastern Europe and Eastern Europe.
Sam: So in sub-Saharan Africa, in the German colonies, there are concentration camps, there’s a notion of the final solution, of living space, and this is almost 40 years before the Holocaust. Can you talk about some of the ways this colonial violence filtered back into Europe? How did it change German culture and politics? How did these ideas and these actions impact the national discourse?
Christian Davis: Well, in the main, I think the German experiences in Africa, but also in other colonial spaces, had the effect of mainstreaming certain ideas for the German public, in particular the idea of race. The idea that humanity is divided up into different groups defined by meaningful biological differences, that some groups are superior and other groups are inferior, and it’s biological differences that determine the places of different groups on a racial hierarchy. The idea of ‘race war,’ the idea of ‘living and dying races,’ all of these notions in the late 19th century and the early 20th century were controversial. But they became increasingly mainstreamed into the German public as the German colonies became interwoven in various ways into daily life, even among people who had no personal contact with the reality of German colonialism. As the colonies were being debated by German politicians, as they were being discussed in the German parliament, as they were being written about in German magazines and German newspapers, as German libraries were being filled with the memoirs of soldiers who fought in the Herero and Nama uprisings, in all of these various ways Germans became exposed to certain ideas that probably would have remained very much on the fringes of German society. And the mainstreaming of these ideas provides sort of the ideological backdrop for National Socialism and for certain National Socialist policies that come to fruition later on, beginning in the late 1930s.
Sam: So you wrote in the book that this also helped the rise of modern anti-semitism in Germany. How does this all relate to anti-semitism?
Christian Davis: So the Jews of Europe had experienced severe prejudice and discrimination for many hundreds of years. But until the 19th century, the Jews of Europe tended to be seen by their Christian neighbours and by the people around them, outside their community, as members of a religious group. But in the 19th century, you have the rise of a new pseudo-science of race, you have the rise of scientific racism. And these ideas about race, they started to be applied towards Jews by anti-semites. A number of the new anti-semitic political parties that formed in the late 19th century were openly racist. They espoused not religious anti-Semitism, but racial anti-semitism. They argued that the Jews in Germany, and Jews in general, represented a race apart from so-called Aryan Germans. And these anti-semitic political parties, almost all of them were extremely supportive of the idea of German colonialism. They believed that Germany would benefit economically but there was an additional reason and that had to do with their racist ideology. They saw a happy confirmation in what was going on in German Africa of their own belief in the existence of superior and inferior races, and the necessity to create legal systems and policies to codify the racial hierarchy in law. The creation of so-called Native Law policies prohibiting interracial marriages in the German colonies is something that German anti-semites were paying a lot of attention to back in Germany and argued that what was happening in the colonies should in fact be imposed in Germany vis-a-vis Jews.
David: Then that did end up happening in Germany, with the creation of the Nuremberg laws under the Nazis. How closely did the Nuremberg laws resemble the racist legal structure the Germans used in Africa?
Christian Davis: Well, in some ways it was quite similar. The Third Reich in the 1930s stripped Jews of their citizenship rights and subjected them to rules and regulations and punishments that other Germans were exempt from. And the Third Reich, of course, also instituted a system of segregation. And this, in fact, closely resembled what happened in the German colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Non-White Indigenous colonial subjects in German Africa were denied the constitutional protections enjoyed by white German citizens. One of the facts that really leaps out is that in the German colonies, interracial marriage was prohibited in the early 1900s. And of course, interfaith marriages were prohibited by The National Socialists who operated according to the idea that Jews were in fact a race apart. But you also had the creation of something known as Native Law. So these were rules and regulations that were devised by German colonial officials on the ground, which subjected Indigenous colonial subjects to special rules and punishments that, of course, white German citizens were not subjected to. And you can actually see in the anti-semitic newspapers and magazines, anti-semitic writers and politicians and journalists talking about passage of so-called anti-miscegenation laws in a very admiring way and implying, sometimes quite explicitly, that the same sort of thing needed to happen at home in Germany, vis-a-vis Jews. So there were strong similarities.
David: I found it interesting reading the book because you wrote about how while German colonialism had this long term impact of strengthening German anti-Semitism, that in the short term it essentially offered Jews a way to assimilate more deeply into German society. How widespread would you say Jewish involvement in colonialism was at that time?
Christian Davis: Well, the answer is that we don’t actually know. And that study has not been done yet. But what we can say is that a number of Germans of Jewish descent were remarkably active and prominent in the history of German colonialism. The German colonies were only around for about 34 years, but for a fairly substantial part of that time, men of Jewish descent were in fact heading Germany’s colonial policies. There were some Jewish soldiers who were involved in the German suppression of the Herero uprising. And on top of this, there was a small Jewish community of settlers in German Southwest Africa. In addition, German Zionists in Germany were in fact quite interested in what was going on in the German colonies, and they were very aware of what was happening. And they wrote about and talked about German colonial expansion approvingly.
David: What exactly was the nature of their writing on that?
Christian Davis: Well, German Zionists were quite interested in the idea of colonization, of course. Zionists who argued that Jews needed to find a home outside of Europe were quite interested in seeing how Europeans during the age of imperialism were conquering and colonizing spaces abroad. And so some German Zionists were actually part of the German Colonial Society, which was the most important pro-colonial organization in Germany during the Kaiser Reich.
Sam: I want to talk just a bit more about this legacy of Jewish involvement in German colonialism and in genocide. Some people think that these actors deserve a special condemnation for their role, do you think that’s appropriate here?
Christian Davis: I think the answer really has to be no, because to answer yes means holding German Jews and Germans of Jewish descent to a different standard and to a higher standard than their non-Jewish German compatriots. In terms of an ability to perceive the inherent injustice of colonialism and also an ability to anticipate the future of Europe. And that, of course, wouldn’t be fair. So I think the answer is no. But there’s a caveat. And the caveat, of course, is that it’s disconcerting whenever you see a member of a persecuted minority group participate in or actually lead discriminatory and racist policies against other minorities. Think for example, and we’re going to bring Trump into this finally, you know he had to come up at some point, think of Steven Miller right, in the White House, the top adviser to Trump, who is probably more responsible than anyone else for crafting Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. Steve Miller is Jewish. He comes from a strong Jewish background. And seeing that is especially distressing.
David: Definitely. And I think that one of many factors that enables the Stephen Millers or the Jared Kushners of the world is (a collective) looking away from these histories. And looking back at this history, something I’ve been thinking through is, you know, the British had concentration camps in Africa too, and Belgium killed 10 million people in the Congo. So why why do you think those countries didn’t see similar regimes crop up to the Nazis or similar domestic atrocities to the Holocaust?
Christian Davis: Right. The most important difference between the German experiences of colonialism and the experiences of other European powers, Britain and France in particular, is the fact that the German colonial experience ended quite suddenly and quite abruptly. The Germans were stripped of their colonies all at once, quite suddenly in 1919 as a result of losing the First World War. And so the German pro-colonial public really had a sense of injustice as a result of this loss. And in the years immediately after the end of the First World War, France uses troops from French controlled Africa to occupy part of the Rhineland from 1919 to 1924. You have tens of thousands of Black troops under French command occupying an important part of Germany. And this was very significant because within a matter of just a few years, the Germans go from being White colonial masters, lording it over non-White colonial subjects in Africa and in other places, to having black African soldiers in the streets of German cities and towns representing an occupying power, giving commands, patrolling. Many Germans did, in fact, see this as a type of reverse colonization, which just added to the humiliation of the loss of the war and all the other stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles.
David: So bringing things more into the present moment, unfortunately we’re having to grapple quite a bit with an upsurge of anti-semitism and fascism today. And I’m wondering what the main lessons are that you hope people take from your work.
Christian Davis: One is that the story of German Jews really needs to be fully integrated into the broader story of German history. Sometimes the story of German Jews and the history of German Jews is told separately from the broader story of German history. And I think that one of the things that my work shows is that these two things must be integrated. The second thing, the second lesson that I think comes out of my work, is the need to contextualize modern anti-semitism. The need to recognize that modern anti-semitism, in Central Europe and Germany in particular, the rise of anti-semitic political parties in the late 19th century, takes place in the context of colonial empire building and the creation of racial states abroad. Which means that anti-semitism is contextual. Far from being eternal and unchanging, anti-semitism is and always has been very much shaped by what’s going on around it. Those are, from my standpoint, some of the most important takeaways from the research that I’ve done on.
David: Well Christian, we both learned a lot reading the book. Thanks so much for coming on the show and talking to us about it.
Christian Davis: Well, I really enjoyed this conversation and I appreciate you letting me on.
Jonah Aline Daniel: Hello, this is Jonah Aline Daniel calling from the Narrow Bridge Candles chandlery on southern Pomo Land – North Sonoma County, California. Narrow Bridge Candles is a Jewish ritual candle making project in support of the full Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, and donating a portion of sales to movements and organizations supporting Palestinian self-determination and US-based struggles for Indigenous sovereignty and racial justice. Narrow Bridge Candles was spared from fire, California wildfires, this season and we’re working hard making beeswax, Hanukkah candles and filling winter ritual boxes. We also have new fabulous ceramic Judaica this year, made by David Roswell. We have a Havdalah ritual kit and gorgeous Chanukiahs. If you’re in Canada, I’d recommend placing your order today and we will get things out to you as fast as we can. If you’re in the US, you have a little more time but ordering as soon as possible is helpful. And you can place your orders on the Web site: narrowbridgecandles.org/Hanukkah, h a n u k k a h. Thanks so much.
Rowland Keshena Robinson: My name is Rowland Keshena Robinson, a lot of people who know me through my writings or through speaking events in southern Ontario over the years might know me by my other name, Ena͞emaehkiw, which is my Menominee name because I am a member of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin, we’re a native community in the United States. I’ve been involved in Left wing and decolonial politics of some variant or another since I was in high school. I currently live in the Gdoo-naaganinaa territory, sometimes that’s translated into English as the Dish With One Spoon territory. It’s the traditional territory of the Attawandaron people, the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot, and specifically I live in Kitchener-Waterloo as part of that territory.
David: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s great to be talking to you.
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Sam: So we wanted to talk to you about your essay, Fascism and Anti-Fascism: A Decolonial Perspective. Both of us read it a few years ago and really appreciated it. And in the last few months, we found ourselves talking about it a little bit more.
David: Yeah. We’ve sort of been exploring the part of fascism that is colonialism or imperialism overseas turn inward. And it just left us with a lot of questions about our context here. What do you think it means to talk about fascism here in a way that’s different from in Europe?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: You know, when you think of this idea of fascism as imperialist violence making its return to the motherland, you kind of drop these images of, you know, what the Germans did in Namibia and South West Africa. And that’s over there. And then the violence and the techniques of violence come home. But in a settler colony like the United States or Canada, the home is always already the site of the violence. It’s not so much that the violence is coming home, the violence has always been here. So America and Canada were born out of the frontier and out of genocidal violence. Germany, Britain, France, Italy, etc. were not. Of course, there were many colonial genocides, but you can speak hypothetically of England or Germany or Italy without the necessity of genocide or enslavement. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the top global capitalist powerhouses that they became because of colonialism and because of genocide. But you cannot separate the question of America and Canada from the question of genocide. So the way I sometimes think about it is it’s maybe not so much a return from violence that was visited on other people coming home, but violences that the settlers visited upon other people internally within their borders, like Indigenous people or Black people, is now being repurposed to dominate them through the emergence of various strands of far rightist thought. Maybe sometimes it’s at queer people, sometimes it’s at women, sometimes it’s at non-white people. I think that’s the difference. For the Germans, for the English, etc., they were off in the colony. Whereas in America it was next door. But also it’s a question of the basis of the society. The basis of American and Canadian society is genocide and is enslavement.
David: Something that you’ve spoken about that I found really interesting was the idea of fascism never quite having the same popular hold here in the way that it did in Europe. Can you talk a bit about that? Why do you think that is?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Well, my thinking on that largely kind of emerges from some stuff that J. Sakai wrote. He thought that fascism didn’t quite have the same sort of popular appeal in the United States. And I think we can simply extrapolate that to Canada as well. Because settlerism, the specific ideology of the settler, occupies a lot of psychic, social, cultural space that fascism wants to insert itself into. And settlerism, because of its association with settler colonialism ,tends to involve a lot of celebration of the violences of the conquest and of what people tend to call the frontier. So I think a lot of American culture is infused with that. The drive for territorial expansion, the drive for settlement, and with all of the horrific violences that the fascists have, this is already inscribed in the regime of settlerism. Because settlerism is itself already an ideology of violent, dispossessive, genocidal territorial expansion.
Sam: So, Rowland, if that’s the case, why do you think or how do you understand the uptick of far-right groups and fascist groups in North America right now?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Right. Well, I think there’s a couple of factors that go into it. So we’ve had this movement towards neo-liberal globalized capitalism, which has disintegrated the industrial base, primary production has been shifted overseas, mostly to the global periphery. Labour is increasingly gig-ified, its non-unionized, it’s precarious, there’s a lot less stability and security. You know, less hope of actually being able to retire on anything. But under the Obama government, even then, before we’re even talking about Trump, there was already a huge growth of militia groups and other far-right organizations, because a lot of white Americans saw the election of a Black man undoing what America was. It was no longer polite to say that America was a white nation but that didn’t mean that a lot of white people didn’t still feel it that way. And so first you have Obama, and then you have the economic crisis, and the advance of civil and human rights. And I think all these different instances create a ground where white, cis(gender), het(erosexual) American and Canadian men feel like now they’re under attack. Their jobs are gone, so they want something that’s going to bring back what they think is rightfully theirs.
David: So they sort of see the settler project as having failed to some degree. And fascism is stepping in to take on that role?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Yeah. And to reassert the violence and to reassert the settler self. That’s the fascist program.
Sam: So a portion of your essay is titled, ‘What Does Fascism Mean to the Indigenous Person?’ And for folks who haven’t read your essay, and I highly encourage them to go do so, can you talk a little bit about what conclusions you came to at that point, and if your thinking has changed in the last few years since it came out?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Well, I can tell you that my thinking has not really altered all of that much. The conclusions that I drew were that because of the nature of the US and Canada as settler colonies, settler colonial liberal democracy is always already genocidal. Because the settler colony doesn’t just eliminate Indigenous people as a historical event in the past, but necessarily has to drive towards the elimination of Indigenous people today. It’s not necessarily, you know, open frontier homicide the way it was in the past. But you have regimes like the American regime of blood quantum eliminating Indigenous people as a distinct population. Canada has its own programs. For example, the Indian Act. The Canadian State takes Indigenous kids away still, practically as soon as they’re born sometimes. There’s more Indigenous children in care today in Canada than there ever were in the residential school system. And there are other systems that go on with Métis and Inuit people. Our territories and our sovereignties represent prior and alternative sovereignties to the settler sovereignty. And so we have to be eliminated. We have to be eliminated today. Our rights have to be circumscribed. So that’s what I mean when I say that colonial liberal democracy is genocide necessarily. It can’t be anything but that. The promise of fascism, though, is an acceleration of that program. Maybe fascism more openly returns to sterilization of Indigenous women, which Canada is still doing. But maybe it happens more openly, maybe it happens at a faster rate, maybe fascism kills people, maybe fascism herds people more onto reservations and reserves. So I think fascism is a potentiality for the rate of violence to increase, not just government programs of elimination, but actual physical violence inflicted on people with the purpose of exterminating them. So it ends up just becoming a choice between slow genocide or fast genocide. Neither one is preferable, but one of them is worse. And I think the atmosphere of things as they’ve changed since 2016 in the United States, and that necessarily bleeds north into Canada, has enabled an environment where violence is much more likely to actually happen. And so to really combat fascism, you have to openly assert both programmatically and in action Anti-Colonialism.
Sam: So you write about the fact that there are many segments on the left that have failed to make this connection. Can you talk about what you see as some of the failures of the left vis a vis anti-fascism?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Well, I think there’s been a historically broad tendency to ignore the colonial question. Or when they do pay attention to it, it’s generally sort of waved at with rhetorical gestures. For example, you can do a survey of left wing Canadian and American organizations’ programs for the revolution, trademark, where they will say things like, oh we support the self-determination of Indigenous people. But their programs never go any deeper than that. You know, in America, they’ll talk about supporting a right to self-determination up to and including independence for say, the Chicano nation in the American Southwest, or Hawaii or Puerto Rico, and explicitly state those territories with their peoples can separate if they want to. But are simultaneously unclear, with just some sort of vague support for self-determination, for indigenous peoples elsewhere on the continent because they can cede those distant areas or border areas and still maintain control of most of the continent. It gets really ridiculous in Canada, where a lot of groups in their programs, they’ll do the same thing where they have a vague support for Indigenous self-determination, but will simultaneously have an explicit support for the right of Quebec to separate. And that’s even more ridiculous up here in Canada, because Quebec itself is a settler colonial entity. It just happens to speak French and to lose out in the colonial war to Britain. Quebec only exists as a French speaking territory because they colonized, dispossessed, and eliminated the Mohawk and the Algonquin and the Cree and the Inuit and the Abenaki and the Mi’kmaq, and a whole host of other Indigenous nations. And decolonization from an Indigenous perspective, necessarily requires the undoing of settler colonial nation states, the US, Canada, and Quebec if we are to treat Quebec as something different. I don’t think that decolonization can have those states survive, and Marxists in particular tend to want to simply create a United Socialist States of America, or a Federal Workers Republic of Canada, or whatever they might want to call it. Maybe they want to merge the two of them together. But I think radically they can’t deal with the question of land return. So I think in general this has resulted in a leftist failure to understand settler colonialism. A lot of them will talk about settler colonialism as something that happened in the past and which has unfortunate legacies that live on to today. I think a lot of the Left, if I’m being really cynical, effectively just wants to give Indigenous people more control over the reservation and maybe make the reservation bigger. And I think a lot of the left really wants to just occlude that issue.
David: So you actually end your essay with an appeal to the left, specifically to white people. Why did you decide to end it that way?
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Well, I decided to end on that note because I know a lot of white people are also freaked out about fascism. And if they want to oppose it, if they want to genuinely get to the roots of fascism and to deal with it, then I think they should throw their lot in with anti-colonial, decolonial and abolitionist struggle. It’s sort of like a plea to, you know, if you actually really want to deal with this, then you should come on this ride with us. Generally we know that talking about abolishing whiteness does not mean white genocide or whatever sort of conspiracy theory. We understand that whiteness is a system of power that advantages certain people and we understand that that should go, we should understand that revolution, serious social change means that whiteness can’t persist. But in the failure to understand settler colonialism, there’s a failure to understand the settler as a social position. A similar thing, the need to abolish a structural position. But people think when we talk about abolishing the settler, that we mean that we’re going to come and start chopping people’s heads off or something. It activates all of these fears. So I sometimes say that it ends up becoming the horseshoe where the white right and the white left start to meet, in that you get all this left wing reaction from anarchists, from other people who believe that decolonization means the establishment of indigenous ethno-states, as if we’re going to ethnically cleanse the territory of white people or something. I think it was Malcolm X that referred to the white man’s guilt complex – they know what they’ve done to the world and they expect that to be visited back upon them. So I think that’s where a lot of it comes from psychologically. But you can’t talk about a future without settler colonialism and still have settlers, right? It’s part of the abolition of oppressive social conditions. So I think the left has to really deal with that.
Sam: That is an ideal place to end this conversation on, Rowland. I just want to thank you so much for chatting with us today.
Rowland Keshena Robinson: Okay, no problem. Thanks for having me on.
Sam: Light your Hanukkah candles, throw them at a Christmas tree.
David: (laughter) It’s time for Shkoyakh.
Sam: Welcome back to Shkoyakh, the segment where we give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to things that we like and or dislike.
David: That’s a pretty good description, although I feel like it misses the soul…
David: there’s something something missing, you know?
Sam: David, why don’t you talk about the essence underlying our Shkoyakh segment?
David: It’s sometimes kind of a nonsense segment but we’ll see how this goes today.
Sam: Okay so what Shkoyakh do you want to give today?
David: What I wanted to do is, because we’re already having this conversation on the episode about colonialism and about fascist movements…
David: There are two books I want to talk about, sort of giving each of the authors a Shkoyakh.
Sam: Okay David, I’m going to put my nerd glasses on and prepare for your book report.
David: Just let me know when you’re ready, just imagine me standing in front of the class.
Sam: (laughter) Okay, and go.
David: So the first book is called Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, it’s by someone named James Whitman.
Sam: In fact, we read this book together several months ago.
David: Yeah, we were hoping to interview James before this series, but he would not return our emails or our calls.
Sam: If you’re related to him, tell him to give us a shout.
David: Oh yeah, that’d be great. But the book is a really impressive piece of historical research. There’s just really thorough sourcing of all these primary documents.
Sam: David, that’s like top on your list of things you want in life.
David: (laughter) Just a really thoroughly researched book about fascism?
David: I was really blown away by it. They have transcripts of meetings where the Nazis are planning the Nuremberg laws and they’re talking about racist laws in the United States.
Sam: Yeah, it was pretty jarring. It’s a fairly short read as well. You could probably read it over the weekend depending on your reading habits. But David, there was so much to get out of the book. Was there anything that you took away as being really important that you want to share with folks?
David: I mean, the one story that really stuck with me and I didn’t know about before I read this book is that there was actually a trip, a delegation of Nazis who came to the United States to study the American approach to segregation and the racist legal system.
Sam: Yeah. There was even one part in the book where there’s a debate between different Nazi officials in the early 30s and several of them, who lost out later in the decade, but several of them are talking about how they can’t go as far as the American race laws had gone. They’re like, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is too intense for us. We need a more civilized approach.
David: Yeah. And I think it’s important to say that this was in a phase before the Final Solution was implemented.
Sam: 100 percent.
David: And a different time for the Nazi Party.
David: I think we talked about it in this episode, if we didn’t, it’s worth saying, that there’s quite a bit of writing about Hitler’s admiration for American and Canadian colonialism and genocide. But I think there’s far less of an understanding of how much the Nazis looked to America’s race law. So my first Shkoyakh goes to James Whitman’s book, Hitler’s American Model.
Sam: Okay so you’ve given one book report. Would you like to briefly deliver the second one?
David: Yeah, so my second Shkoyakh is to a book called Bring the War Home by Kathleen Belew. And the book covers a period of white power organizing, roughly starting with the Vietnam War and ending in the 90s. It was during this period that this movement shifted from defending and supporting the American government to actually arming themselves to overthrow it.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, this is the second book that we read together. But what was the takeaway that you want to share with this podcast audience?
David: Well, there’s a lot of them. But the main one I think that’s relevant for the conversation we’re having on this episode is that Kathleen Belew, who wrote the book, when she was looking back at the history of white power organizing, she noticed a trend where every time that soldiers would come home from wars abroad, there’d be a spike in white power organizing. And so in thinking through the ways that colonialism and imperialism overseas can filter back into the host society, this seemed actually like an important part of that.
Sam: I think that’s a great thesis to share with the class, David.
David: Well, thanks. I don’t know who is marking this book report, but I guess that’s the end.
Sam: (laughter) Okay, and there’s something I’d like to tack on here David, if if you will oblige me?
Sam: Does that make sense? Oblige me?
Sam: Okay. I think that given the focus on the far-right these days, we don’t always situate it in its historical context.
Sam: And the Belew book does a really, really, really good job of giving you the foundation upon which these movements are built. And I would highly suggest it. Folks, check it out.
David: I think that’s very well said.
Sam: Thank you, David.
David: So on that very academic note, what do you have for us today, Sam?
Sam: All right. I have a serious Shkoyakh, but I’m going to sandwich our two serious shkoyakhs with a more lighthearted one, if that’s okay with you.
David: Terrific news.
Sam: The first is to a 1990s situational comedy, The Nanny.
David: What brought this about?
Sam: So I’ve never seen it before.
David: Oh, really?
Sam: Yes. I’ve never seen it before.
David: That seems impossible.
Sam: I actually didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up.
David: Oh, that’s true.
Sam: Yeah. So I had a vague sense of who Fran Drescher and the nanny was. I probably hadn’t even seen a clip before. Like it was really the first time I had dived into it.
David: Oh wow.
Sam: David, it is phenomenal.
David: It is pretty good.
Sam: It holds up. I feel like it gave a portrait of 80s or early 90s Jewish life that I’m happy was kind of encapsulated on that program.
David: I mean, doesn’t it take place in an incredibly wealthy home?
Sam: Oh, yeah. But Fran Drescher’s character and her mom kind of are moving in and out of it and it’s showing this aspiration towards that upper-class life, but not being part of it. They’re from Queens. It’s a whole thing.
David: So do you know that Fran Drescher is essentially a socialist?
Sam: I did not know that at all.
David: Yeah. Here, hold on one second. Yeah, check out this tweet: Without an exploited working class capitalism can’t exist. We are all pawns of the ruling class.
Sam: Yo shout out, Fran Drescher.
David: The bad news is that she’s kind of a Zionist, too.
Sam: It happens.
David: So I guess, you know, none of your faves are perfect.
Sam: But yeah, I’m so happy to hear this, David. Fran seems great and I hope that season two through six or seven are as good as season one is.
David: Sam, I don’t want to break your heart so I won’t tell you anything.
Sam: Okay, great. All right so moving along to my second and more important Shkoyakh. I’d like to give an anti-Shkoyakh from the absolute bottom of my heart to the American prison system.
David: Oh, seconded.
Sam: Particularly to the prison system in New York State. So Jalil Muntaqim, a former Black Panther, who’s been inside for almost 50 years, was denied parole for the 12th time since the early 2000s. So he’ll have to wait another 12 months for another hearing.
David: Yeah. So, you know, on a previous episode of the show, we talked about Safiya Bukhari. Safiya co-founded the Jericho Movement with Jalil Muntaqim. But he’s been inside for yeah, like you were saying, almost 50 years.
Sam: Yeah. And he’s been experiencing harassment at all levels of government and he’s been treated tremendously unfairly, being forced to jump through hoops for his politics. And so I just want to urge people to show public support for Jalil! To particularly get in touch with Governor Cuomo’s office. We’re going to put some more information in the show notes, but tweet at him, write him, call his office. There’s a free Jalil web site, as well as the Jericho movement, which we’ll also put in the show notes. There’s action plans there. Please check out these websites, read more about his case and support him publicly.
David: Yeah, it would be great if anyone listening could help take action. Also, if you’re looking to learn more about Jalil, he’s written a number of books. We Are Our Own Liberators, and I think the newer one is Escaping the Prism. You can find them both on Kersplebedeb’s website, we’ll have links to that in the show notes too
Sam: So just to double down, read up about Jalil’s case if you need to, and please support his campaign to get out of jail.
David: So what did we learn from all this, Sam?
Sam: You give a decent book report.
David: That’s a very flattering review.
Sam: And that folks should watch the Nanny.
David: But more importantly..
Sam: Support Jalil. And abolish all prisons.
David: So that’s the end of our show for today.
Sam: Episode 45. I looked on Wikipedia and couldn’t find anything really interesting with the number 45 other than the fact that it’s a forty five rpm record.
David: A powerful argument against math.
Sam: (laughter) I couldn’t agree more David.
David: Thanks as usual for listening. If you are looking to order some Hanukkah candles that will also be contributing toward anti-colonial movements, this is the perfect time to order from Narrow Bridge Candles and we’ll have a link in the show notes.
Sam: And we’ll probably stop talking about this after this episode comes out..
David: Certainly stop talking about this after this episode comes out.
Sam: (laughter) We have the funding drive up at patreon dot com slash treyf podcast. If you can, give a little bit, that would be greatly appreciated. If you have any friends or relatives who are lefties and have tons of money, it’d be great if they could give us a chunk of change…
David: Or direct them towards social movements doing much more important work.
Sam: All right, David. But in this hypothetical scenario, I am envisioning that this kind of person would have enough money to give to important social movements and then a little bit to us.
David: Oh sorry, I wasn’t totally ‘in the scene.’
David: But anyway, yeah we’d really appreciate any support. Just listening to the show, letting us know what you think, and telling people about it is a huge way of supporting the project.
Sam: So thank you so much for listening, Long live the war on Christmas, and more episodes soon.
Sam: Treyf Podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman, a huge thanks to CKUT 90.3FM, where we record this podcast, under the shadow of the Giant Cross of Secularism, on occupied Kanien’kehá:ka territory.
David: Thanks as always to Saxsyndrome and Socalled for the music you heard in the episode, and to everybody who helps make Treyf podcast happen.
Sam: And as always, you can follow us on the social medias at TREYF, T-R-E-Y-F on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram.
David: Please send any comments, suggestions or hate mail to treyf podcast at gmail dot com.
Sam: More episodes soon.
David: The plural of social media is also social media.
Sam: I know, it’s a joke.
David: What’s the joke?
Sam: Calling it social medias.
David: That’s very funny.
Sam: You’re going to have to live with it, David.