J. Sakai is one of North America’s most insightful and challenging radical intellectuals, best-known for his work Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat, which remains the essential anti-racist labor history of the united states. Sakai work is grounded in Mao’s politics, anti-imperialism, and in a lifetime of hands-on activism; he has consistently focused on the relationship between “race” and “class” in the american context, from a perspective dedicated to abolishing the united states, capitalism, and white supremacy.
Beyond Settlers, however, Sakai has authored a number of other works, on subjects ranging from movement security, to the nature of the lumpen/proletariat, to the rise of the far right, and much more. Several of these have been published in book-form by Kersplebedeb, others as zines, while others have only ever appeared on the Internet.
Here in this book, for the first time, is presented a selection of writings by Sakai spanning a 40 year period, from 1983 to 2022. This includes three articles initially written anonymously for the anti-imperialist journal S1, and an extensive interview that took place between 2020 and 2022, appearing here for the first time.
The Shape of Things to Come: Selected Writings & Interviews is a weapons cache planted for people fighting for liberation in a world that is constantly becoming more dangerous. It provides tools and methodologies, examples both positive and negative, histories and insights, to help us to collectively struggle against a system that “as its most bottomline autonomic reflex will rather arrange to kill us all than let us remake our lives communally.”
Guide to Contents
“Beginner’s Kata: Uncensored Stray Thoughts on Revolutionary Organization” (2018), previously published as a zine, explores what revolutionaries think about organization and what the actual experience of revolutionary organization has been, and the chasm between the two. “When we first took this path, when we joined our lives with the struggle, we were conscious of knowing so very little. One good reason we were so attracted to this revolutionary organization or that one. Not only to find rads we could run with, but to find mentors and a busy hive of experience we hoped to take cues from. What never occurred to us is that those organizations might know next to nothing, too.”
“Notes Toward an Understanding of Capitalist Crisis & Theory” (2009), previously published as a zine shortly following the 2008 financial meltdown, provides a brief overview of Marx’s views on capitalism’s crisis-prone nature and an exploration of whether these ideas are still useful to revolutionaries today. “It is reasonable to think that this general crisis is a turning point, an important stage in the protracted decline and fall of capitalism as a world system,” Sakai explains, reminding us that “What is an ‘emergency” is our need to orient ourselves in the crisis first of all. To seriously step up our political understanding, and thus our ability in the real world to help others make sense for themselves of a dramatically changing situation. A crisis for the capitalists is only great weather for us, because revolutionaries were made for crisis.”
“Aryan Politics & Fighting the W.T.O.” (2001), previously included in the book My Enemy’s Enemy, was written during the heyday of the “anti-globalization” movement. This text presciently identifies conservative and far-right tendencies amongst critics of global capitalism and shows how these were connected to the class complexion of the movement as a whole. This was the first in a series of texts Sakai authored calling attention to the rise of the far right both within the united states and internationally. It identified trends that were dismissed by most “progressives” at the time, but that would eventually help form the basis for the dramatic rise of the far right we have experienced over the past decade. “The anti-WTO protests in Seattle were a radicalizing experience for many, on a tactical level. But on a larger scale, the Left has unacknowledged strategic problems with this issue. To sum it up simply, we have the problem that we may be helping to fuel the explosive growth of the Right and neo-fascism. And we have to think of refocusing to fight the Far Right in the anti-WTO struggle—just as we need to on every other contested terrain.”
“The Green Nazi: An Investigation into Fascist Ecology” (2007), previously published as a zine, uses the fawning biography of leading Nazi Walther Darré by Dr Anna Bramwell as a window into the ways in which fascism employs concepts like “nature” to package what are in fact a racist class agenda. “R. Walther Darré and other Rightist Green politicians could be significant to new generations of neo-fascists, and not only because they give fascism a plausible claim to being the forefather of today’s ecology movement. Far from being a political innocent, Darré was if anything even more developed about his racial supremacy than Hitler, and was certainly more practical and strategic. ... His rural settler strategy is in tune with much of the white racist Far Right in the u.s. (no small coincidence, since like Adolf Hitler himself Darré used the u.s. white settler Western frontier as his genocidal model). It all pushes us to check out what words like ‘Green,’ ‘Nature,’ ‘ecology,’ and ‘peasant’ mean in our politics.”
“When Race Burns Class: Settlers Revisited” (2000), previously published as a zine, is an interview Sakai did with the Montreal-based group Solidarity. Answering basic questions about the book Settlers, and drawing on experiences from his own life as an organizer, Sakai lays out some of the basic aspects of the relationship between “race” and “class” and the nature of the white working class in america. “Some people think that ‘settler’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘white people,’ and that it’s all just about racism anyway. Racism as we know it and settlerism both had their origins in capitalist colonialism, and are related but quite distinct. Settler-colonial societies started as invasion and occupation forces for Western capitalism, social garrisons usually in the Third World, as Western capitalism expanded out of Europe into the Americas, Afrika, and Asia.”
“Stolen at Gunpoint” (2003) is an interview conducted by Ernesto Aguilar on June 17, 2003; it originally aired on the Latino-culture program Sexto Sol on KPFT radio in Houston, Texas, and was subsequently published as an appendix to the 2014 PM Press/Kersplebedeb edition of Settlers. Aguilar and Sakai discuss the Chicano movement in the 1960s, the 1968 Poor People’s Convention in Washington DC, and more broadly what desettlerization means in the united states today. “People think I’m talking about race alone, that everything in Amerika is determined by race, and that’s not really what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that race in Amerika has been used as an identifier for capitalism to form and control classes, that race is not just a metaphor for class, but an identifier of class in real terms.”
“Beyond McAntiwar: Notes on Finding Our Footing in the Collapsing Stage Set of the u.s. Empire” (2005), previously unpublished, is an examination of developments in the capitalist world-system and the crisis of imperialism, in the context of the Bush presidency (2001-2009) and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The Iraq wars don’t begin with oil, they begin in neo-colonial ‘Globalization.’ Iraq was invaded and Saddam’s local franchise was overthrown not for oil (and certainly not because of any threat that they posed to Saks Fifth Avenue). It was conquered just so that the Bush regime could do it. Not p.r. campaigns to justify a war—as radicals unthinkingly echo liberals in saying—but a war that is the p.r. campaign. As an advertisement to the Third World that the u.s. empire was still able to destroy any nation-state that opposed it...”
“Theory Mao Tossed to Us” (2017), previously published in the book The “Dangerous Class” and Revolutionary Theory: Thoughts On the Making pf the Lumpen/Proletariat, providing a quick overview of Mao’s approach to the lumpen/proletariat in the context of the Chinese Revolution. “Like a hand grenade of ideas thrown from the distance into our skirmishes, when Mao’s iconic writings from the 1920s–30s were finally translated and widely disseminated here in the 1950s–60s, revolutionary theory on the lumpen/proletariat underwent a major shift ... While appearing to follow the form of the Marx & Engels class analysis of the stormy petrel of the lumpen/proletariat, Mao’s theoretical take represented a big remodeling job. A sharper turn, in fact, than i personally could hold onto or understand back then.”
“Pseudo-Gangs” (1983), previously published in S1, provides an overview of repressive measures carried out by the British against the Land and Freedom Armies in Kenya. While specifically examining the work of Brigadier General Frank Kitson and his “pseudo-gangs,” Sakai calls attention to the broader range of methods employed by the imperialist powers to keep Kenya trapped within neocolonialism. “Imperialism’s advantage in the war was a matter of professional strategy and modern organization; with these imperialism regained the strategic initiative. While there have been several books written by British officers implying that ‘pseudo-gangs’ and Afrikan guerrillas ‘turning’ defeated the uprising, this is not true. ‘Pseudo-gangs’ were not primary in counterinsurgency, but only secondary. Their tactical importance in some situations can only be evaluated by first understanding the overall situation of counter-insurgency.”
“From South Afrika to Puerto Rico to Mississippi“ (1983), previously published in S1, is a quick snapshot exposing the work of one imperialist agent, Jay Mallin, the “Latin America/Terrorism Editor” of Soldier of Fortune magazine. “While Washington denies any relationship to the armed white right, to ‘extremist’ groups such as the Minutemen, to mercenaries and Soldier of Fortune magazine, S.O.F. editor Jay Mallin has been welcome everywhere within the U.S. military. And welcome on an official basis. He has written on terrorism for the Marine Corps. At Fort Bragg’s U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance (where the CIA and U.S. Special Forces give Latin Amerikan puppet soldiers counter-insurgency training), Mallin has been an invited lecturer. He has even taken part in seminars at the Pentagon.”
“What Happened to the Zimbabwe Revolution” (1984), previously published in S1, is a detailed examination of how the anticolonial revolution was neutralized in Zimbabwe by the CIA-backed promotion of a neocolonial clique around Robert Mugabe, and the important part played in this process by liberal u.s. figures like Andy Young, W. Anthony Lake, and the Carter Administration. This study exposes neocolonialism’s range of repressive tools and its multifaceted approach to keeping peoples exploited and oppressed within the capitalist world-system. “It was symbolic when the Mugabe regime made the guerrillas turn in their AK-47s and Kalashnikov rifles. The fighters were retrained by British imperialist instructors as regular army units, and rearmed with the NATO rifles used by the former settler army. People’s Courts and other ties with the masses were ended; the fighters regrouped in new bases. They now are a standard capitalist army, living as parasites (soldiers earn three or four times what plantation laborers earn) whether they like it or not. Their role now is to police their own people. Again, we recall that in 1977 Andy Young said that the task in Zimbabwe was ‘dismantling the guerrilla army and retraining it to be a police force.’ For imperialism. This is the final success of neo-colonial subversion of the armed struggle.”
“The Shape of Things to Come” is an extensive (over 100 pages!) new interview with Sakai, conducted between 2020 and 2022, and presented here in two parts. A wide range of topics are addressed, including but not limited to the Trump presidency and the rise of the white far right; the class and national composition of the George Floyd Uprising and Black Lives Matter; the gender politics of both the CPUSA-era Old Left and the 60s New Left; the role of national, class, and gender contradictions in the movement against the Vietnam War; the legacy of anti-war organizing within the u.s. military; the left’s historical confusion regarding the white working class; warlordism in Mexico; why “globalization vs nationalism” is an inadequate way to think about our current situation; the breakdown of nations and capitalism’s “creative destruction”; the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, specifically in terms of the end of capitalism; the nature of the interregnum, and considerably much more...