"Land Back" is not compatible with socialism
Why those arguing for Marxism-Leninism in America should be wary of "land back"
"Land back" has become a popular idea and slogan among the left wing in the United States and particularly among the left wing who identify as "socialist." "Land back" NGOs are gaining in popularity and funding, there are articles being written about it in mainstream outlets such as CNN, and university culture is championing adjacent concepts like "land recognition" -- but what relation does this idea actually bear to socialism?
I will argue that, while one could certainly support self-determination for natives on moral grounds, it would not have any relation to implementing socialism with American characteristics and indeed would likely be an interest hostile to socialist aims if you perform a basic analysis. "Land back" is fundamentally divisive, unpopular, backed by capital and fragments the American proletariat as well as the land they know as home. "Land back" is an attempt to put more of our most precious resource in private hands so that capital can extract some marginal profit.
But what exactly is "land back?" Consulting with a popular organization, we find the following response -
Here we find the first demand related to the land - "All public lands back into Indigenous hands." While still lacking in some specificity, we should examine the impact of the cession of these lands back to native tribes. Viewing a map of U.S. federal public lands, we can see this constitutes at least 20% of the total territory of our country. Several U.S. states, though not densely populated, would essentially be given over to private hands in this scenario.
This is one of two of the prevailing demands, with the other being the return of previously negotiated treaty boundaries when those treaties were unlawfully violated by the U.S. government. The example of South Dakota and the Sioux paints a picture of how impactful the return of treaty boundaries would have.
Here we find the original boundaries of the Fort Laramie treaty. The Sioux, under this scenario, control just about the entire western half of South Dakota.
Here we can find the current city of Rapid City and its metropolitan area within the Sioux's zone set up by the treaty, which can be considered "stolen land" and due to be returned to the Sioux.
If the demands of "land back" can be encapsulated by either of these ideas, it seems that so-called socialists who support it believe something like the following will occur:
American socialists will curry favor with relatively tiny groups of people by advocating for "land back";
After a long and protracted struggle, the proletariat seize power in the United States and become the ruling class;
The proletariat, after this struggle and with their newly gained power, will assent to these fringe demands and vote to give away huge swaths of U.S. land to about 2% of the population and forfeit rights to all of the natural resources therein;
If non-natives currently occupy the land being forfeited by the proletariat, they will either have to assent to tribe rule or be relocated by some method.
I'll leave it to the reader to decide if this kind of idea has any basis in objective reality or can be arrived at via dialectical thought. You may rightfully have some questions of the "land back" supporters such as these:
Why would the proletariat willingly give up land when land reform and redistribution is probably the thing they need most?
Are we applying the morality of the time or the morality of today to the question of "land back"?
At what point is history frozen to determine ownership? If natives "stole" land from other natives via warfare, how does that apply?
Are we re-examining all treaties and land sales of the time? If native tribes were coerced into signing, would they be entitled to a nullification of the treaty?
What happens to those occupying people if the natives reclaim land? Can they be evicted? Will they belong to a sovereign native state? How will non-natives be treated in this hypothetical ethnostate?
If you are skeptical of "land back"'s usefulness to the proletariat, you may wonder just the inverse- is it useful to the bourgeois class instead? Indeed, there is evidence that capital is at least in part fueling the push of these ideas with the expectation of a payout later.
Examining the "land back" organization's donation page, you will find references to the "NDN Collective", which is a non-profit organization that supports native issues.
Interestingly enough, the NDN collective just received 12 million dollars from the Jeff Bezos "Earth Fund" in late 20203 The tax filings for the NDN collective in 2019 and 2018 were approximately 12 million and 2.2 million respectively, so this represents a particularly large contribution for this non-profit.
Why would Jeff Bezos, one of the most powerful wealthy people alive, support a "land back" organization so generously? I don't think it's because this is a grand moral cause that he believes in; on the contrary, I believe Mr. Bezos sees the privatization of public lands as another profit center in the future. Ask yourself: if a native tribe in Alaska is given 5000 times more land than they need to subsist due to "land back", will they leave it unoccupied forever or will they sell that land off? In the case of Alaska, that land may hold large oil reserves and may be worth a large amount of money, incentivizing the tribe to sell - capital would benefit greatly in such a scenario.
Despite these issues, we may see "land back" on the rise for several years to come. Besides serving obvious purposes of culture war division and exploitation for the bourgeois, it also fulfills the needs of those with "white guilt" and those reactionaries who, in an undialectic way, fetishize the culture and lives of native populations and wish to "re-indigenize" the land by stripping it of modern technology.
So what is the essence of "land back" in 2021 since it appeases and serves only ultra-leftists and capitalist land speculators?
"Land back" is a twenty line long email signature created for a well compensated public university president who really wants you to know that, while they aren't going to give up the land their beautiful and spacious office sits on, they're really sorry about that whole native genocide thing. Just don’t ask them for a pay raise.