Native American Libertarian Socialism

The right-wing libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute published a piece of racist drivel titled “Native American Reservations: Socialist Archipelago.”

It is hard to even know where to begin in addressing the slander; it is so thoroughly inane as to be beyond correction, and perhaps even acknowledgement. With the time it would take to address the errors, whitewashing, and lies that fill each and every sentence, one might as well rewrite it.

Moreover, this article comes from the Mises Institute, an organization that defends Scrooge and amplifies the voices of racist, misogynist bigots. Hate group-monitoring NGO the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists the Mises Institute as an organization that “spread[s] bigotry” and “promotes a type of Darwinian view of society in which elites are seen as natural and any intervention by the government on behalf of social justice is destructive. The institute seems nostalgic for the days when, ‘because of selective mating, marriage, and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority [were] likely to be passed on within a few noble families.'”

The SPLC writes

A key player in the institute for years was the late Murray Rothbard, who worked with Rockwell closely and co-edited a journal with him. The institute’s Web site includes a cybershrine to Rothbard, a man who complained that the “Officially Oppressed” of American society (read, blacks, women and so on) were a “parasitic burden,” forcing their “hapless Oppressors” to provide “an endless flow of benefits.”

“The call of ‘equality,'” he wrote, “is a siren song that can only mean the destruction of all that we cherish as being human.” Rothbard blamed much of what he disliked on meddling women. In the mid-1800s, a “legion of Yankee women” who were “not fettered by the responsibilities” of household work “imposed” voting rights for women on the nation. Later, Jewish women, after raising funds from “top Jewish financiers,” agitated for child labor laws, Rothbard adds with evident disgust. The “dominant tradition” of all these activist women, he suggests, is lesbianism.

In lieu of addressing the Mises Institute’s right-wing propaganda in “Native American Reservations: ‘Socialist Archipelago,'” therefore, let us instead turn to a passage from the opening chapter, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” of American historian Howard Zinn’s magnum opus A People’s History of the United States.

In the passage, Zinn explains how Native Americans are some of the only real libertarians in history—that is to say libertarians in the original sense of the term, libertarian socialists.

As I have written elsewhere,

The political aberration that has come to be called “libertarianism” [exists] almost exclusively in the United States and the United Kingdom in the past few decades. In this conception, “libertarian” means “free” market fundamentalist. It argues that human freedom is directly proportional to the “freedom” of the market (i.e., the ability of the rich, that is to say, those who own capital, to do whatever they like, with few to no limitations, save those that “impede” on the rights of others to wield their property). According to this deranged, degenerated distortion of “freedom,” the freedom of one to use one’s property is all that matters. In this “libertarianism,” private property supersedes all.

The presumption is that, in such a society, all human interaction will be based on “voluntary association.” The so-called “non-aggression principle” will triumph. The inability of those without property (read: the vast preponderance of the population) to have any say in this “libertarian” society is never addressed. For, you see, those people aren’t important. They obviously haven’t worked hard enough. They get what they deserve. The children starving to death—the children facing the aggression of hunger, starvation, death—will fail to see the pertinence the “non-aggression principle” has to their lives, presumably simply because statism has turned them into “dependent leeches” though, unable to fully appreciate the “freedom” capitalism has brought them. Alas, such a circumstance would not come into being, right-“libertarians” insist. Rich people will save us!!! We must leave the aid to the charities. Only the heart-warming philanthropy of the heartless chief executives can set us free. The “voluntary” association of the starving corpse of a human being that must sell their own self to the owner of capital, of the land, of the factory, of the business (big or small), the dying individual that must “voluntarily” enter into wage slavery, lest they starve to death, will too fail to recognize their freedom. But it will be there; Rand, Paul, von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and Friedman assure it! They watch benevolently over us, in all of their utmost holiness.

This said, historically speaking, the term “libertarian,” has, for over 150 years, actually meant the exact antithesis of this psychopathy. The word originated in 1857. Anarchist communist Joseph coined it to refer to himself, in a letter to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in which he rebuked individual ownership of the means of production and of the product of labor (and supported the early feminist movement). From this point forward, until quite recently, libertarianism has been roughly synonymous with anarchist communism. In most of the world, in fact, “libertarianism” still carries its original meaning, that is to say, “left-libertarian,” or libertarian socialist.

Many indigenous peoples created societies that were remarkably libertarian, in this sense, many centuries before libertarianism was even created, as an idea.

The Iroquois, and other Native American peoples, had no centralized systems of authority; patriarchy essentially did not exist in their societies; they had egalitarian social structures; and, not only did private property not exist, it was considered a ridiculous idea.

In 1840, Pierre Joseph Proudhon declared “La propriété, c’est le vol” (Property is theft!”). Many centuries before, however, indigenous peoples in what is today referred to as the Americas were already well aware of this.

Zinn writes

In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote: “No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers.. . . Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common.”

Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal. That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives’ families. Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door.

Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women.

The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: “Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society.”

Childrenin Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.

All of this was in sharp contrast to European values as brought over by the first colonists, a society of rich and poor, controlled by priests, by governors, by male heads of families. For example, the pastor of the Pilgrim colony, John Robinson, thus advised his parishioners how to deal with their children: “And surely there is in all children … a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon.”

Gary Nash describes Iroquois culture:
No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails-the apparatus of authority in European societies-were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Through priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong…. He who stole another’s food or acted invalourously in war was “shamed” by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.

Not only the Iroquois but other Indian tribes behaved the same way. In 1635, Maryland Indians responded to the governor’s demand that if any of them killed an Englishman, the guilty one should be delivered up for punishment according to English law. The Indians said:

It is the manner amongst us Indians, that if any such accident happen, wee doe redeeme the life of a man that is so slaine, with a 100 armes length of Beades and since that you are heere strangers, and come into our Countrey, you should rather conform yourselves to the Customes of our Countrey, than impose yours upon us….

So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.

In their brutal genocide against the indigenous population, white European settlers and their American ancestors destroyed some of the freest and most egalitarian systems of social organization in human history: Native American libertarian socialism.