Interview with Ward Churchill
November 7, 2009
Interviewed by Andy Lewis and Liza Menno-Bloom
A—Has anarcho-primitivism contributed anything to indigenous resistance movements over the past decade or so?
WC—Well, after you get past the term, which is a little off-putting, it’s not as bad as anarcho-syndicalism, but that aside, I don’t see that its played any particular role in terms of indigenous resistance per say. It has, on the other hand, created the basis for a lot of resonance with indigenous ideas that has translated into concrete action. So, that dynamic is very healthy. It doesn’t make anarcho-primitivists indigenous. Anarcho-primitivists envision an alternative reality but it doesn’t mean you’re there yet. Only a fool would attempt to actualize that alternate reality absent the context for actualization. John Zerzan uses a computer for example. And whether you’re an anarcho-primitivist or not, the geographical space of North America is an issue for anyone living in that space. And there’s no getting around the fact that you’re either a settler or indigenous. So how you deal with that reality is important. There are constructive exchanges based upon the root of the word primitive, meaning first, first peoples, first nations. And I think that’s the anarchist notion that’s embrace under this mantle in a way. So I’d say right now, anarcho-primitivism is instructive but not decisive, at least not yet. The parameters drawn around anarcho-primitivism are pretty narrow at this point. You have people who subscribe in one way or another to that outlook and I know a number of them. But the number of people who understand and subscribe to it is very small compared with something like union organizing, for example, which has been eclipsed for a long time in the US.
One of the things with indigenous people and being first is you get a tradition that’s being maintained. With anarcho-primitivism, you have the attempt to synthesize an attachment to various traditions and to explain what those attachments mean.
A—Do you think anarchist ideas have gained much traction over the past decade and where do you see radical political orientations going in the future?
WC—I don’t know, we can go into Adorno and Marcusse and the nature of this synthetic reality which passes as culture. It’s almost like Andy Warhol in a way, anarchism caught as a term and a fashion statement. So maybe there are a lot, maybe even a preponderance of people out there who would identify as anti-authoritarian. Within that broad framework there’s a much smaller group of people who actually came to grips with what anarchism means and are serious in thought and action. Over the past few decades there seem to be quite a few people who have adopted the term anarchist as a viable option to a whole range of unpalatable options. They didn’t want to be communists, didn’t want to be socialists. They didn’t want to be, didn’t want to be, didn’t want to be. Well, that’s the first thing, by process of elimination they ended up anarchists and often in a serious way. But some people don’t know it takes more than a pair of black Levi’s, more than Doc Martin boots. Some of the people who adapted the fashion were and are serious, but it’s difficult to decipher. So the answer is yes, anarchism has played an increasingly significant role over the past 10-20 years. But I couldn’t say just how significant in terms of staying power. Fashions pass. I don’t call myself an anarchist. I am indigenist in orientation and I think anarchism is as close as you can get coming out of the Western paradigm. I think there’s a basis for working together on a whole lot of issues, so I see anarchism as very constructive, but that doesn’t mean I am one. I see black militancy as being very constructive, always have, doesn’t make me black. My closest relationships personally, politically, and otherwise are with black activists, I’m not one. We can be in solidarity. We can have commonality. We can struggle together as human beings and more objectively on analytical grounds. Having said that, if I was going to pursue organizing within the white community, anarchism is the stance I would take.
I reject the notion of the legitimacy of the state as indigenous people always have. They can talk about proto-states all they want but they can’t come up with anything that’s analogous to the European statist model. Nothing like the dominance it took on after the Treaty of Westphalia. The non-statist model includes social organization, political organization, so forth…a “nation,” if you will. I don’t consider nationalism as inherently the enemy. A nation and a state are two different things. In other words, looking at indigenous societies may give anarchists some idea of what an anarchist society may look like.
Liza—Do you see Anarchists as being in a unique position to support indigenous struggles more than liberals or progressives may be?
WC—Sure, certainly. The rejection of the state as antithetical to indigenous tradition is one example. When I say that I don’t intend to universalize, I don’t know all indigenous traditions. But I know about a bunch of them and I can say I’ve never encountered an indigenous tradition that even conceptualized something like the state and that includes the so called Aztec Empire and so forth. They were radically out of step with the indigenous traditions of this hemisphere that I understand. But they were in no sense a state as it was formed and conceptualized in Europe. So, in my view, you see with the Aztecs, for example, a unique cultural mutation. I’m not even sure it’s an evolution. There are some ruptures, some disjunctures in there that are a radical departure from the indigenous traditions around them, but it’s very different from the state, which is a purely European concept.
Progressive is taken as an “enlightened,” preferred alternative within the political discourse of the opposition. It essentially means—more of the same! It’s the trajectory that’s defined the evolution of European political, social, and economic forms of organization and those are interlocked since at least 800 AD. So you take that trajectory if you’re a progressive and you work to help advance it, move it further along. That’s progress you’re talking about. I don’t see anything constructive in the notion of progressivism at all, quite to the contrary. I came up at a time, the late 60’s, when liberals/progressives were quite often the enemy. It wasn’t conservatives. When you look at what distinguishes liberals from conservatives, that is, when you get right down to it, they want the same thing. They’re working off the same assumptions. So I don’t see there’s a way to distinguish and it’s becoming very clear within mainstream political discourse. Blue dog democrats are further to the right than some republicans. That’s what happens when you work off the same basic set of principles. The paradigm articulated by those who espouse a belief in western liberalism is the box they’re working within. So it essentially becomes a question of which route do you want to take to attain the same result. Often times the liberal approach is much more insidious and cruel than conservatives because they have to keep up the charade that they aren’t that way. Liberalism is the enemy—that’s what we learned from the perspective of SDS.
Andy—You mentioned earlier that anarchism is the best political option for white people. What’s the best way for white people to support indigenous resistance?
WC—Stop being white. White is really a state of mind, it’s a social construct. It’s also a psychological disorder as far as I’m concerned. I despise Emma Goldman, who was a flaming eugenicist, racist. And I say that I despise her without in any way discounting the libratory content of her critique relating to class relations and gender relations. As an example of not being white, I’d ask, is David Gilbert really white? He’s phenotypically a white guy, but I don’t know too many people of any ____ group who would lay it on the line like he did. And he’s consistent with it after thirty years in maximum security. He’s absolutely clear in his principles, probably even more so today than the day he went in.
So how do we define white? Melanin in skin? David Duke and the Klan like that definition, but it’s horse shit. Do we define white as class privilege? David Gilbert’s serving the majority of his life in maximum security without renouncing his upper middle class upbringing, so that doesn’t hold up. There is a correlation between white skin and privilege. Clearly his actions were a form of repudiating that privilege. But that doesn’t change a thing in terms of the underlying stereotypes and archetypes. We need a different analytical lens to look at these things which ultimately goes to an understanding of self. So my first statement is really intended seriously. What can you do? Stop being white.