Settler Colonies

French Jesuit Mission of St. Sauveur in Acadia:
corrupting the Wabanaki Nation with christianity

someone emailed me asking what the definition of a “settler-colony” was…

i gave a lame ass answer, but then figured i should post it here so that people can either agree with it or explain to me the places i’m wrong…

this is a paraphrase of what i answered, based on my sketchy memory of high school history class…

i went to high school in Quebec, and from memory we were taught that France was defeated in North America because its mode of colonization was insufficiently settler-oriented. By this what was meant was that instead of building new European-style societies in areas claimed by the French crown, the colonial policy relied heavily on planting flags around the continent and and saying “this belongs to us now.”

The strategy was to corrupt the Indigenous nations, to have them reorient their economies to serve as the labour behind the fur trade. The idea was also that these Indigenous nations would provide military support in the recurrent conflicts with the British crown. The idea was not to create a white North America, not even a French-speaking North America – both those goals came much later, and were never taken up by anyone’s ruling class, lip service aside – the real aim was to create a Roman Catholic North America serving the economic interests of the increasingly dysfunctional French monarchy.

A few white settlements on the banks of the St-Lawrence were supposed to be the base for mass conversion of francization of indigenous folks across North America. Cultural genocide yes, physical extermination only in exceptional circumstances.

The French were using methods that today we associate with neo-colonialism (fucking with your economy and culture to make you dependent) instead of what we often think of as classic colonialism. Which just goes to show the degree to which what we consider “classic” is really modeled on the British strategy which ended up fathering the United States… perhaps another example of tunnel vision on the u.s. experience?

The French model worked fine for them for centuries in places like the Maghreb, but couldn’t compete side by side with an aggressive anglo-capitalism based on settler colonies. which is why although a Quebecois nation exists in a corner of the continent, most of those places claimed by the French crown have been easily anglicized. Just think of all the American cities with French names…

Again according to my high skool history teacher, the reason the English won out was they utilized a different mode of colonization. The details – really only glossed over in skool – being that this model was based on displacing Indigenous peoples or physically exterminating them and setting up settlements of Europeans who might use Indigenous slave labour (or imported Africans) but whose communities were meant to replace, not incorporate, the previous inhabitants’ society.

So a colony would be any outpost of a foreign power (in the case of North America, these powers being England, France or Spain) which is meant to be permanent, whereas a settler colony would be a subset of colonies which are based on importing new populations to set up a new society replacing completely that which existed before, either through exterminating the previous inhabitants or else shoehorning them into the new society, generally as a proletarian layer whose labour is used to support the settler population.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.