Monday, November 12, 2007

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.



  1. Settler colonies "worked" for the English in the sense that by the time of the Seven Years War the English colonies massively out-numbered the population of New France.

    The English also had access to a much more lucrative export in tobacco - one that also required settlers as it was farmed. The fur trade relied on (to my understanding at least) the continued popularity of certain hat styles among European men. Hats do not create a chemical dependency though. Still, one might imagine that if someone had figured out how to domesticate beavers and set up beaver farms then settlement might have increased.

    Additionally (and this may seem trivial but who knows) the English, Irish and Scottish who ended up in, say, Virginia found themselves in a much more pleasant climate than home while winter in much of New France was probably far more hellish than anything in France.

    In other words, I'm not sure how much this was a conscious decision versus an accident of where the French and the English concentrated their respective colonial efforts. In the end, France choose to give up North America during peace negotiations at the end of the Seven Years War. They picked the sugar-producing islands of the West Indies over what Voltaire famously called "a few acres of snow."

  2. I think that's actually a good definition

  3. Dan, it was intentional. Imperialism has always been guided by profit. There was little profit in getting people to settle in the cold barren land they had colonized. France would have to build a infrastructure for its colony, when it could make lots of profit off of just sending frontiersmen into the wild. Of course this gave England much more of a base.

    In the end though, imperialism would move on to a stage where they would abandon literal control of the country and try to maintain dominance and gain profit while building as little infrastructure as it could sorta like France was doing

  4. The book to read that explores many of the issues being raised is Anthony Hall's book "The American Empire and the Fourth World" 736 pages of pure intellectual pleasure
    An excellent book,a must read...
    a book that Naomi Klein says could "change the world," Anthony Hall shows that the globalization debate actually began in 1492.