[C]apitalism will not topple “through … exhaustion.” It will not “stop running on its own.” It must be overthrown by a politically conscious, mass counter-force, and the primary issue for us concerns how such a force might develop...
—from “Financialization and Hegemony”
From the Communist Party of the 1950s, to autonomous European movements in 68 and the revolutionary armed liberation movements of the ’70s and ’80s, to the antifascist organizing of ARA in the ’90s, to cutting-edge analysis of the fallout of on-going capitalist crisis, right up to today, Don Hamerquist’s biography reads like a history of the post-war US radical left. But Hamerquist is not some political scenester, being blown by the winds of whatever latest fashion. Instead, he uses his decades of experience in collective struggle to analyze a world constantly in motion, always living his own advice to “look at what is new” – not a simple quest for novelty, but a prophylactic against getting mired in old left debates which are grounded in a world that no longer exists. Bridging gaps, sorting wheat from chaff, Hamerquist calls on those who (like him) still identify as Leninists to recognize the failures of the vanguard party and “actually existing socialism,” while also calling on anarchists, who share his commitment to a struggle outside of and against the state, to recognize the necessity of disciplined organization and a rejection of purity politics.
I think that it is a fundamental problem to look for a viable perspective for today in some segment of this tradition or in the positions taken by some set of historical figures as if it is something to discover. Instead, we have to realize that this perspective is not there to discover, it must be created out of the ingredients that exist—one of which is our collective history—through an effort of will and analysis.
—from “Thoughts About Organization”
In this book, a selection of Hamerquist’s writings from 2000 to 2022 – some of his contribution to this creative “effort of will and analysis” – have been collected together for the first time. Written as emails to comrades or for the websites of various collective, radical left projects, these essays touch on the anti-globalization movement, anti-fascism, revolutionary organization, Occupy, the 2008 financial crisis, changes in global capitalism, Ferguson, state repression, and more. Along with their specific content, Hamerquist’s work offers a model for conducting revolutionary analysis: always in conversation, humble without retreating disagreement, historically-informed without being stuck in the past, moving fluidly between the specific and the general, the global and the local, the theory and the practice.
With Introductions from both Hamerquist and Dave Ranney (with whom he has been in conversation since their days in the Sojourner Truth Organization together in the ’70s and ’80s) and editorial material designed to make Hamerquist’s wide-ranging references accessible to any reader, this book is an invaluable tool for anyone who want to make a contribution to the development of a left capable of committed and unrelenting struggle against the logic of capital, while also being “accessible to regular-assed people.”
We are living in the aftermath of an extended revolutionary process that had its debatable successes. But these were rapidly transformed into limits that are now obstacles to a more basic struggle against capital. To think seriously about revolutionary politics we must challenge some left presuppositions and develop new categories of strategic analysis that fit the qualitatively changed circumstances of the present period. However, while we cannot adequately deal with new political questions without a clearer understanding of the struggles of the past century, an understanding that avoids both nostalgia and meaningless recriminations, we are going to have to act, moving ahead with whatever intellectual, moral, and material resources are available to us, well before we have this adequately grounded understanding of our collective past.
—from “Barack, Badiou, and Bilal bin Hasan”
What People Are Saying
The foundations of our society are crumbling. In such times of great instability our actions may fundamentally affect history's trajectory -- toward the more beautiful or the more brutal. For those committed to the former, this book's arrival should be recognized as a significant event. This is not an academic, scholarly, or historical collection. This book is a weapon to be turned on the powerful for maximum impact. —from the Preface by Luis Brennan
This book will be valuable for today’s radical activists as well as for historians. The essays contained within demonstrate how the author has translated the current trajectory of capitalism and responses to it into timely adaptations and sometimes changes in his ideas on a whole range of topics, including: revolutionary organization, the nature of the capitalist state, capitalist institutions including government and trade unions, state repression and how to combat it, and the nature of fascism and prospects for organizing against it. —from the Introduction by Dave Ranney
Table of Contents
Editor’s Preface, by Luis Brennan
An Introduction to Hamerquist’s A Brilliant Red Thread, by Dave Ranney
The CP and Me
STO and After
Section I: Action
Thoughts about Organization (2000)
Revolutionary Organization: A Contribution to the Discussion (2007)
Am I for "Seizing" the State? (2009)
Thoughts on Naomi Klein (2010)
On the Relevance of Old Debates (2011)
Marx and Revolutionary Politics (2011)
IWW Base Building and Reformism (2009)
Email on Shop Floor Organizing (2010)
Comment on Strategy (2010)
Discussion with Comrade on Strategy and Struggle (2010)
Recent thoughts on Insurrectionism (2021)
Three Points on Anti-Globalization Protests (2000)
Madison & More (2011)
Email on the Historical Situation (2012)
Initial Thoughts on Longview (2012)
Email on Longview (2012)
Militancy After Occupy (2012)
Section II: Anti-Fascism
Third Position (2001)
Response to Bring the Ruckus on Fascism (2008)
Email to K on Fascism (2009)
Mistakes in Our Previous Approaches to Fascism (2015)
Section III: Lenin, Leninism, and Some Leftovers (2009)
Section IV: Anti-Repression
Three Tendencies on Repression (n.d.)
Editorial on Repression (2001)
On Some Historical Examples of Repression (2011)
Section V: Analysis
Whence Transnational (2022)
Email to K on the Iraq War (ca. 2005)
Barack, Badiou, and Bilal bin Hasan (2010)
Financialization and Hegemony (2012)
[C]apitalism will not topple “through ... exhaustion” It will not “stop running on its own.” It must be overthrown by a politically conscious mass counter force, and the primary issues for us concerns how such a force might develop ...
* * *
It will be necessary to take some risks and incur some losses in order to maintain a consistent anti-state posture. Frequently our position will only be a minority, perhaps at times a small and besieged one, but it is only from such refusing and rejecting minorities that an organized radical counter-power with social substance “outside” the state apparatus will be developed.
* * *
What are we when we aim to be “outside the state”? In the first place, we must be an organized force. There is no substantial and enduring political significance to being individual irreconcilables outside the state. The situation is not improved with those “revolutionary organizations” that are really accidental and temporary aggregates of such individuals. We need something different and more substantive than that. To take strategic advantage of the emergent weaknesses of capital we need an organized minority of irreconcilables with a common subversive project against class power – an “outside the state” resistance that can both organize itself and provide a pole of attraction for a range of political and social rebelliousness that is not yet developed, and which, as it develops, will manifest wide variations in self-organization, self-consciousness, and radicalization.
* * *
Rather than either flawed “vanguards” or “autonomous” radicals, we need solid and defined organization where critical participation in the development and implementation of political work and political discussion is expected and facilitated as the norm. We need an organized cadre – linked by political accountability and a discipline that is essentially self-discipline – that is organized to prioritize participatory equality over tactical efficiency.
* * *
If we are looking to create a revolutionary perspective, the problems and the possibilities must be found in the entirety of the tradition of which we are a part, however reluctantly.I think that it is a fundamental problem to look for a viable perspective for today in some segment of this tradition or in the positions taken by some set of historical figures as if it is something to discover.Instead, we have to realize that this perspective is not there to discover, it must be created out of the ingredients that exist—one of which is our collective history—through an effort of will and analysis.I place great stock in the conception of radical self-sufficiency, but we have a complicated set of tasks and it is certainly prudent to avoid wasting or discarding some important resources. I’m hopeful you can figure out what this means.
* * *
When this break happens, ideas and relationships which were previously impossible begin to be reasonable and practical and begin to provide a basis for live action. But this doesn’t happen in comfortable, incremental, irreversible steps forward, and it is seldom articulated clearly by those most deeply involved. The process can be clothed in objectless militance, and/or reflexively assume the form of demands for sectoral advantage or maintenance of privileges. But at the same time, it can also manifest new understandings of equality, of justice, of social cooperation, and of the universal legitimacy of resistance to oppression, the axiomatic elements of the idea of communism. The contradictions can be evident at any level, including within the same individual.
* * *
At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, serious radical movements must deal with the dilemmas of daily working-class life in a manner that begins to materialize actual alternatives to capitalism. In our corner of the left, this entails breaking down the various social barriers between radicals and the working class without adopting any condescending savior approach or any other variation of substitutionism—and while also avoiding classic reformism or a “serve the people” populism.
* * *
It is common on the left to envision a revolutionary, working-class movement being formed from a process of incremental changes. In a typical version, these changes consist of those forced improvements in sectoral material conditions that are commonly termed “victories,” although more sophisticated perspectives might use an alternative calculus based on incremental advances in popular consciousness that in turn are based on “lessons” that might conceivably be generalized from setbacks as well as “victories.” But whatever the degree of sophistication, in my opinion, all attempts to premise a revolutionary strategy on such approaches are hamstrung by the essential ambiguity of conceptions of victories and defeats, gains and losses, often defined within the framework of capitalist hegemony.