Night-Vision: Illuminating War & Class On The Neo-Colonial Terrain, review by MC5, MIM Theory December 1993

nightvisionAlthough MIM heard that this book had some connection to J. Sakai’s Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, MIM does not distribute Night-Vision: Illuminating War & Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain. All three books (Settlers, Night Vision, and Settlers sequel False Nationalism, False Internationalism) are essential background material for those preparing for armed struggle in the imperialist countries.

Instead of distributing Night-Vision generally, MIM recommends that its comrades and associates read this in a MIM-sponsored study group. In priorities, MIM study groups should go in the order the books came out. Settlers is most important, followed by False Nationalism False Internationalism , and now Night-Vision. To make this a reality for its prison comrades MIM proposes that the Vagabond Press donate as many copies of the book and corresponding postage as it would like, and we will see to it that it gets into the hands of prisoners already studying these questions.

Night-Vision is a hodge-podge of important information, mostly from the present, with some reference to older theorists – such as Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah. Night-Vision is also about connecting nation, class and gender.

Much of the book toward the beginning will seem old hat the MIM reader. The two essentially new propositions for Maoist readers derive from Arghiri Emmanuel and Maries Mies. Mies is the theorist who should be noted for distinguishing between unwaged and waged labor in the capitalist context and how gender is bound up with unwaged labor. ((See Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour , Zed Books: London, 1986.))

Arghiri Emmanuel stands out for noting the contradiction between settler populations and the imperialists. This contradiction is not the one between capital and labor usually thought of by the mother country “Left”. Instead, Emmanuel is talking about how imperialists lose use for their settlers in neo-colonial situations, when settlers no longer directly rule a society. Hence, in South Africa, capitalist imperialism can survive without having settler rule, but the settlers fight a vicious rearguard action to keep the imperialists in their old colonial mode. In many situations, the settlers are more of a problem to the oppressed than the imperialists themselves, according to Emmanuel.

Butch Lee and Red Rover emphasize that we are in a neo-colonial age and not a colonial age. This also includes “de-settlerization.” The settlers may protest, but the imperialists dispense with the privileges granted to the settlers in direct rule and move to establish an indigenous bourgeoisie in the oppressed nations.

The authors’ position opposing neocolonialism and the new elites created is not the same as J. Sakai’s original position or if it is, then it is a crude position held by them jointly.

As MIM said before in its critique of Sakai, Sakai treats all nationalist movements as equivalent and progressive — negating that some are bourgeois-led and some are proletarian-led. While it is indeed progressive for a national bourgeoisie to seize power from the colonial bourgeoisie, that is not something that should be equated with communist seizure of power. Sakai counters that outsiders should not be deciding which movements are communist, but MIM disagrees. Communists always have to make decisions based on concrete analysis, without which no action or consistency is possible. All people, including even individual Euro-Amerikan men, must decide what reality is and how to change it Lee and Rover improve on Sakai to some extent by pointing to the dangers of neocolonialism, but overall Night-Vision does not have the strengths that Settlers has. Settlers is dense history, heavily influenced by Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. It is also very detailed in attacking revisionism. While we can see that Sakai could be anarchist, the possibility is much more evident in the case of Lee and Rover.

Lee and Rover go a long distance, but in the end they take up idealism. Recently, MIM said this about Toni Morrison as well. Though they quote Toni Morrison, ((Butch Lee and Red Rover. Night-Vision: Illuminating War & Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain , 1993, p. 8.)) Lee and Rover are much more radical, in that they understand the limits of multiculturalism, seeing it as an expression of neocolonialism. ((Ibid., p. 54.))

By idealism, MIM means the willingness to publish a whole book for the public that concludes with no answers. In so doing it continues the sort of agnosticism of Sakai with regard to counting on the masses to rise up equally, whether under national bourgeois or proletarian leadership: “Everyone is looking for new political answers. Young movements are groping for strategies & programs. We are not even pretending to offer those answers, and it’s important to understand why. Because new answers come from the grassroots, from the strategies and understandings that always arise out of the struggles of the oppressed themselves. From the inventions, trials and errors of practice. Whether it’s the Black Panther Party or ACT-UP. The political answers we need are only going to come from new struggles, new social forces taking ever.” ((Ibid., p. vi.))

In which case, MIM wonders, why bother writing a book? The Redstockings wrote about women who seek to evade and analyze by asking questions of things for which there are already answers. This is what Lee and Rover have done, not quickly, but in the final decision.

How is it that Sakai is able to offer such a definitive history of settlerism in North America if we can only get answers from the masses without offering them ourselves? The answer is that like it or not, people who collect information, analyze and then make decisions on what is true and not true, are leaders. People who do not are not leaders, and might be passive — paralyzed by the march of history and an unwillingness to make decisions. Most people who are not leaders themselves have the sense to follow the leaders they have chosen. That is the lesson of the vanguard party this century.

While Sakai took many definitive stands and demonstrated the qualities of revolutionary leadership, Sakai left it open if there was any genuine vanguard party. Here we see Lee and Rover do the same, except more openly.

Another area in which Lee and Rover rise into idealism is on the necessity of picking principal contradictions. Lee and Rover see a happy unity in the women and children of the Third World. Hence they see no need for pitting gender struggle against the national struggle. One graphic that Lee and Rover include in their book goes as follows from a poster protesting the St. John’s rape case in New York in 1991: “We are sick to death of people who prioritize the fight against sexism over the fight against racism. We are sick to death of people who prioritize the fight against racism over the fight against sexism.”

MIM has come to believe that this is a mistaken position, again flowing from an unwillingness to make decisions — agnosticism, a form of idealism which is fatal for the oppressed. In material reality, there are situations when the oppressed must choose which struggle to prioritize. While work in solidarity with women and children workers of the Third World avoids this question, many practical questions, especially in North America, are rife with the problem of having to choose strategic sides. Many times fighting oppression will be very simple because the oppressed will be female and oppressed nationality. In other situations, life will be more complicated because there are cross-cutting oppressions. That is not to mention individual circumstances, where we will certainly have to stand against the Black women cops and bourgeois lawyers and side with white, male revolutionaries.

The authors mention, but do not discuss at length, the concept of Black men as “an endangered species.” ((Ibid., p. 10.)) The authors ridicule the concept for its exclusion of Black women. Similarly, the anarchist-feminist authors ridicule the idea that the Black family needs strengthening without offering any evidence to the contrary. ((Ibid., p. 186.))

On the other side, the authors appear unaware that the concept of Black men as “an endangered species” arose in many connections precisely to disprove the simple idea that picking the unemployed, oppressed nationality women as the principal vehicle for change was the best way to go (e.g. welfare). No, it was pointed out that the effort made by feminists to raise Black women ahead of Black men benefits whites. This controversy is common knowledge within the Black community. However, what is less common knowledge is that there is some evidence that Black men are indeed relatively more oppressed than Black women. In this connection, the mortality and imprisonment figures of Black men of all ages come to bear in connection to genocide.

On the other hand, in connection to the “family,” there is ample evidence that where the family is not intact, where the male may be missing, problems ranging from higher infant mortality to drug abuse are more rampant. These are not questions that should be dismissed quickly with a moralizing barb the way Lee and Rover do in one sentence. Revolutionary theory is not about picking the words that sound most righteous most quickly. While Lee and Rover avoided the ultraleft liberal tendency to tell such anecdotes precisely to glorify the individual and to eliminate any possibility for developing group consciousness, they nonetheless are somewhat guilty of a moralizing approach to theory as demonstrated in the case of Black gender relations.

If the oppressed are not united behind one strategy, based on one analysis, the oppressed will divide. Vanguard parties do their best to pick one analysis and corresponding strategy and then unite people behind it. That may be the most important reason that vanguard parties have served as the midwives of revolution this century while anarchism has led to no tangible results in the struggle against imperialism. Having the oppressed masses divided and going in different directions to meet the same problem is not something that they themselves can afford.

Unfortunately, there is nothing MIM can do to stop the gender aristocracy from lining up with someone like Anita Hill and making a big fuss to confuse the oppressed and saddle them with another loss in battle. What MIM can do is prepare the situation so that the next time, the oppressed “themselves will not be even slightly divided on the question. ((See MIM Theory 2/3, Chapter 3 for extensive treatment of the Hill/Thomas debate.))

Lee and Rover recognize the many divisions among the people who aren’t imperialists. They see splits in the working class and splits in the two genders and within the various nations. They say that neo-colonialism has unleashed chaos pure and simple, and that the imperialists are happy to have the various groups fight it out with the settlers and eaph other. For this reason, MIM itself would never publish and distribute such a destructive book that doesn’t explain how to line up and re-organize the pieces of a communist movement.


In most regards, MIM finds Night-Vision very agreeable. Indeed, there is some high-level unity on questions right down to the details, unity that we don’t find in many places, including organizations like the League of Revolutionary Struggle and RCP, USA which call themselves Maoist. There is nothing in the book that couldn’t have been or hasn’t been discussed within MIM.

There are three main differences between MIM and the Lee and Rover types: 1) the question of the need for a vanguard party and democratic centralism 2) the weight of Mao Zedong and other proletarian leaders compared with that of various bourgeois nationalist leaders 3) the question of direct action and immediate armed struggle. We have discussed these elsewhere, so here we will go into the astonishing unity between MIM and the authors, given the other differences that exist.

For instance. Lee and Rover do not make the mistake of cheerleading for Anita Hill. ((Night Vision, pp. 2-3.)) While progressives generally united on the point that Clarence Thomas is a bootlicking comprador, many were fooled by Anita Hill’s individualist and reformist approach. We are happy to say that Lee and Rover were not swept up with the spontaneity of the situation that the bourgeois media and the Senate created.

Indeed, one thing that makes the Lee and Rover brand of ultraleftism so attractive is that it is not patently liberal. While many descendants of the, Weather Underground would build bombs one day or front for those who did, they would often go fight charity battles or make excuses for Democrats the next day. Court battles are a favorite place of the ultraleft liberals to get righteous, usually by taking one side in a hopelessly confused situation. An example that Lee and Rover avoid is the Mike Tyson/Desiree Washington conflict. ((Ibid., p. 179.)) Tyson got convicted for rape, but Lee and Rover don’t then sing the praise of the criminal justice system and conclude that this is the way to go, as so many ultraleftists who are unconsciously liberal do.

The conflict between Tyson and Washington is searched endlessly by the liberals for symbolic meaning. Somehow the lives of the world champion fighter and a Miss America got mistaken for something real by the ultraleft liberals. Lee and Rover also attack paternalism and the whole ideology of protection quite correctly. “Men are supposed to protect women, and adults are supposed to protect children. But nowhere in the world is this true. The supposed need to ‘protect’ is really the ideological justification for keeping you powerless so you can be abused and exploited.” (Ibid., p. 151.)

“Whenever anyone says that, how this group or that group is special and need protecting, that only means that they own you. That only means that you’re property. When they’re free, animals don’t need the SPCA. Check it out”(10)

This issue has been a big one in the feminist movement in the imperialist countries. Not surprisingly, given their line against paternalist protection. Lee and Rover also find that gender is not something strictly biological: “Gender can even drift away from sex, away from its physical moorings.” ((Ibid., p. 31.)) They go on to explain how in some situations, biological men have been made into women.

Above all, MIM shares with the authors a sense of the importance of understanding parasitism. As much as MIM, the authors realize that the white nation is subsidized by the Third World and not the other way around. ((Ibid., p. 166.))


The book destroys the existing answers without offering new ones. This is something that MIM is careful to do only within its party circles, and then only by accident. Even within party circles, those advocating the creation and use of new theoretical weapons are required to bring forth evidence and a possible practice to replace the old ones being discarded. It is important not to sow doubt and confusion for the sake of doubt and confusion the way the police would like.

MIM is not aware if this kind of anarchism by Lee and Rover can sustain itself. Most anarchists are really only civil libertarians with another name. Lee and Rover appear to be more of the genuine communist anarchists who are the only ones worthy of the name. This century, such anarchists have been increasingly outnumbered by bourgeois liberal rebels who call themselves anarchists. These bourgeois anarchists only make the genuine communist anarchists stand out more. In addition, the genuine communist anarchists deserve the respect of the Maoists because they do not falsely claim the mantles of Marx, Lenin and Mao the way revisionists do.

Lee and Rover are scientists, more or less influenced by Marxism-Leninism. They have made many, many advances by making analyses and then taking a stand. It appears that with regard to the need for a vanguard party and a summation of socialist experience, this group of people throws up its hands, right into the skies of agnosticism.

History has created this group of people, but in the long-run, we believe it will separate into two parts. One part will continue with its application of revolutionary science and work in the vanguard party. The other part will get lost in confusion over the conditions of neocolonialism, fall for pop sociology and fads in general, and then degenerate into parasitic anarchism or individualism.

K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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.