Settler-Colonialism is an Inevitable Incubator for Fascism

Rainer Shea
It’s ironic that U.S. patriots are the most insistent in claiming that China is headed for collapse. Not only is this narrative totally detached from China’s increasingly prosperous actual conditions, but it’s ignorant to just how long Chinese civilization has been here. This is in contrast to the makeshift settler colony that was branded the “United States” less than two-and-a-half centuries ago. China has been building itself for 5000 years. From the perspective of a civilization that old, ours is a miserably failing civilization. One whose lack of sustainability has been proven more than ever with the globally unparalleled official U.S. Covid death toll of over 900,000, which is itself an underestimation.

Our civilization is failing because by the definition of ancient civilizations like China, or the thousands-year-old indigenous civilizations that the U.S. exists upon, we aren’t really a civilization. “America” is an amalgamation of cultures that was cobbled together to create the illusion of legitimacy for a colonial occupation, lacking in shared cultural identity and history. Like the other settler states, the U.S. has no history, only a criminal record. It’s this profound lack of national cohesion, and consequential lack of stability, that makes the U.S. so vulnerable to the kind of political nightmare which Germany underwent during its imperial decline. Except when we undergo the same, our settler-colonial nature will make fascism take hold even more pervasively.

In Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire wrote:

“What am I driving at? At this idea: that no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization — and therefore force — is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, call for its Hitler, I mean its punishment.”

When a society is so sick that it’s incapable of facing this sickness, of confronting the crimes that created it, it’s not going to learn from history. And when a society can’t learn from history, it’s going to replicate history’s worst chapters.

This fundamental deficiency in American knowledge and moral integrity has already caused the country to commit growing atrocities in reaction to its economic and geopolitical decline. When much of the public, and our government officials as a collective, see the colonial genocides as either trivial or nonexistent, the immigration enforcement system’s abuses against indigenous migrants make perfect sense. De facto GOP leader Donald Trump claimed that “our ancestors tamed a continent,” and said on behalf of the country’s patriotic settlers that “we are not going to apologize for America.” In a political culture like this, it’s no wonder why ICE has been enabled to subject detainees to widespread medical, physical, and sexual abuse, or that border patrol officers have been able to use whip-like horse reins to intimidate Haitian migrants.

The settlers who turn a blind eye to these atrocities don’t care to learn that global warming and U.S. intervention are behind the migrant crisis; they’re only concerned for what they see as their own interests, and have therefore reacted to the post-2008 economic crisis by voting for Trump and by eagerly preparing to vote for him in 2024.

As Biden shows the bipartisan nature of this current colonial genocide by refusing to abolish ICE, expanding the ICE camps, granting ICE wider authority to detain people for “national security” purposes, and increasing deportations and migrant prosecutions, the U.S. continues towards a Hitlerian scenario. The scenario that Césaire assessed is made possible by the complicity of both the reactionaries, and the liberals who don’t take action when fascism begins hurting the most vulnerable:

People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind — it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.

Part of this corruption is the widespread sense that these initial victims of the fascist purge are disposable. Which as Césaire writes is an extension of what colonialism does all on its own: “colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism.” Sound familiar? Statements like “put the panic back in Hispanic” are the logical conclusion of statements like “we are not going to apologize for America.” Ethnic cleansing is what the United States was built on, making it effortless to rationalize for those most concerned with “defending America.” And even for settler-colonial leaders that aren’t outward bigots, violence against the victims of colonialism and imperialism is reliably treated as instrumental in the functioning of the United States, because it is; the country only exists due to an ongoing colonial occupation.

It’s this inescapable baggage behind being patriotic for a settler-colonial country that makes the U.S., and all other settler-colonial countries, inescapably susceptible to fascism. Whereas a modern German can at least be patriotic while not necessarily endorsing oppression, an “American,” “Israeli,” or “Australian” can’t support the continuation of their countries without by definition endorsing colonialism. And because the cultural hegemony within these countries stamps out awareness that these countries could be abolished, and that the land they’re built on could be returned to the occupied nations, fascism can effortlessly ooze into them. The reactionaries can be easily riled up towards hate by stirring up their sense of patriotism, while the left is paralyzed due to its acceptance of the ubiquitous narrative about colonial occupation being unquestionable.

Without the consciousness to challenge colonialism, you can’t combat the fascists, because the central goal of the fascists in a settler-colonial country is to preserve colonialism.

In these conditions of built-in societal ignorance, where we’re raised to not even view settler-colonialism as real or to consider its existence unless prompted, fascism’s rise during times of decline is utterly insidious. The abuse of migrants, the militarization of police to deadly effect for nonwhites, the destruction of nonwhite wealth by neoliberal shock policies, are all treated as inevitable. And it’s unsurprising that the U.S. and Australia, both settler states, have created some of the world’s most infamous migrant concentration camps so far during the climate refugee crisis. Instrumental to patriotism for these countries is the belief that certain people are disposable. The environmental catastrophe, the pandemic, the global depression, and U.S. imperial decline have merely expanded the proportions of human life that the settler states see as requiring extermination.

Without the abolition of the settler-colonial states, without the building of socialism in the nations that are currently occupied by settler-colonialism, fascism won’t be stopped. The first waves of U.S. colonial genocide—which Hitler’s mass murders were explicitly modeled after—will be repeated in the form of militia terror campaigns, deliberate neglect of the colonized communities most vulnerable to our century’s crises, expanding violence by an increasingly militarized police state, and concentration camps that grow in their size and in who they imprison. As Césaire concluded:

“At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.”