[lbo-talk] Re: decentralised genocides (Grant Lee)

Thiago Oppermann thiago_oppermann at bigpond.com
Sat Jun 7 03:25:57 PDT 2003

I don't know how much more of this the list can handle, but...

Grant wrote:

> I don't think it is a red herring. I refer you to Justin's comments on the
> pogroms. Obviously, any simultaneous occurrence of both state-sponsored and
> spontaneous racist killings does not mean that they were one and the same
> thing.

This is one problem. You think that genocide is a crime committed by a state. I think that's prejudicial against the victims of free enterprise genocides.

>> And the history of the Americas is full of tribes
>> and whole culture groups that were wiped out without anyone signing off on
>> them, without a masterplan. Call it "criminally negligent genocide" if you
>> like, but not calling it genocide is like saying that someone who
>> accidentally (half-deliberately) mixes arsenic in milk because he could
> not
>> care less is not a homicide.
> Obviously there _were_ instances of systematic, state-sponsored mass murder
> in modern settler colonies. I have never said otherwise. However, I don't
> believe we can apply the term genocide to very much of half a millenium of
> history in the Americas. My understanding is that --- as in Australia --- by
> far the biggest killers of indigenes in the Americas were newly-arrived
> diseases from Europe/Africa and associated famines, neither of which needed
> any assistance from swords, guns, arsenic or infected blankets, because the
> result would still have been a 90% death rate.

You obviously haven't read Bartolomeu de las Casas, and you must be unaware of the wars of extermination waged in Brazil until the 1920s. In the 1890s, about twenty thousand people, including most of the Kiriri people were wiped out when they got funny ideas of building a New Jerusalem in the middle of Sertão, as far away as they could get from the racist maniacs who ran the state. When my mother was growing up in Missões district ­ you might have seen the movie with Robert de Niro ­ amongst the ruins of the previous century's ethnocidal wars, they still had people killing Indians to clear their lands. That was the 1950s.

It's amazing. One of the things the PT really has going for it is that if you walk into the Museum of History of Rio Grande do Sul, the first thing you see is a history of the resistance of the Indians and other rabble against the state. That's a matter of pride. The message is really obvious. It means: see - we are the Indians now. They are our ancestors, our precedents. That might be all talk, but at least it is positive talk. Australians simply cannot even assimilate Aborigines into their national narrative, except as some kind of wildlife. (Australian coins each feature a different weird aussie critter - Kangaroo, Echidna, Platypus - except for one, which features a nameless Aboriginal-looking man.)

I also think you are being mislead by the fact of huge death rates. It is true that immunological shock was utterly devastating. I'd even agree that for the first few times this occurred you could forgive the Europeans for being filthy unwashed disease-bags. But the shock was not enough to push most societies over. They were wiped out as a combination of violence, bacteriological warfare (my friends who work in the Xingu tell me that this was still practiced in the 1940s), working people to death, and very importantly, dispossession etc... Some societies in the US managed to bounce back and adapt to the new conditions, the Cherokee for instance. Then they were jerked around by the US state until they were nearly wiped out. Not a genocide in your lexicon, I suppose, since the US just wanted them to disappear, but not kill them.

In the Australasian area we actually have an intricately detailed case study of immunological shock, the fate of the indentured labourers in Queensland. The maximal case against this being criminal is posed by Ralph Schlomowitz, who until recently was at the U. of Adelaide. He suggests that the workers in the plantations in fact had very good bargaining power versus their bosses and that the death rates were simply a consequence of immunological shock. Statistics which he presents show very clearly that when a new area was opened for recruiting, people from those areas would die three or four times faster than those from other areas, particularly if the opened area was not Malarial. He presents this as evidence of the system not being exploitative. I think that it would be entirely impossible for someone in one of these farms to miss the fact that opening a new area caused people there to suffer immensely and die. Yet the system persisted in opening ever new frontier areas, partly impelled by people in other areas having learned they were being ripped off and demanding better rates. In other words, there was a profit motive. It is pretty much brute luck that 90% of people weren't wiped out in one of these little excursions. It was just unbelievably reckless. And that, as I said, is the maximally rose-tinted case. So I cannot see your retort as anything but disingenuous.


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