Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat Reviewed by MIM
by MC5, August 1990
MIM has distributed many copies of Settlers, as the text has profoundly contributed to the party’s line on the reactionary nature of the white nation, including the white nation working class, in North America. MIM does, however, have some criticisms of Settlers.
Sakai has a dim view of groups like MIM, since Sakai supports armed struggle now. After a simplistic reading of Mao’s work, Sakai even finds justification for this position in Mao’s writings. [The issue of launching armed struggle in the imperialist countries now is handled in MIM Theory 5, Chapter 5 “Armed Struggle Now: An Ultraleft Deviation.”]
Sakai’s political economy is derived from the Revolutionary Youth Movement I (RYM I). For a history of RYM I, MIM recommends SDS by Alan Adelson, or Weatherman, edited by Harold Jacobs. RYM I was a faction of SDS that took the strongest pro-nationalist line and favored immediate urban guerrilla warfare.
RYM II, which is where MIM has greater sympathies for the most part, was more cautious about armed struggle, opposed Trotskyism without cheerleading for every nationalist struggle and generally had a more analytical approach compared with the feel-good armed struggle crowd.
Sakai supports nationalist struggles and opposes white nation chauvinism. So even though Sakai does not explicitly identify him/herself as a descendant of RYM I, that is in fact where Sakai’s ideas come from. And Sakai’s work represents the best that this trend has to offer.
Most of what MIM has to criticize in Settlers has to do with the beginning and end of the book. The bulk of the book is a penetrating exposition of the relationship between nation and class as they exist concretely in the United States through history. For the most part, the analysis is clear enough for people outside Sakai’s political trend to understand.
Perhaps the biggest objection to Sakai’s history is his/her rendering of World War II as incorrectly handled by revolutionaries in the United States. The analysis starts with a quotation from imprisoned revolutionary George Jackson that says it was a mistake to side with U.S. imperialists against the Nazis, as Stalin advised revolutionaries abroad.
The problem with this section is that it does not attempt an assessment of the balance of forces at the time and whether the oppressed in the United States would have done better by opposing the U.S. war effort.
Nothing guaranteed that the imperialists would not gang up on the oppressed. Germany was occupying the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, which proved to be a powerhouse on the side of the oppressed. Why shouldn’t oppressed people side with the Soviet Union (via the United States) against Germany?
Furthermore, could both imperialists have been overthrown? One possibility is that a strong anti-war effort by the oppressed within the United States would have succeeded. Then the United States would have withdrawn or never entered the war. Roosevelt would have negotiated with Britain, Germany and Japan instead.
This would have cost the Soviet Union and more Jewish people their existence. For that matter, Germany would have likely have held on to Europe. Getting the United States into the war created some space for a number of groups to operate. If the imperialists negotiated away their differences, this may have meant more hardship for Third World peoples. (l)
Overall, though, the most important issue in the book is not World War II, but the national question. Sakai goes too far in equating the nationalism of the oppressed nations with proletarian internationalism. S/he cites the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe favorably while cheerleading for a particular faction of the PLO. On the back page, Sakai includes a picture of Ho Chi Minh and a quotation.
The rest of the book always cites nationalist leaders in a favorable light. At the same time, Sakai barrows heavily from Lenin and Mao and decries “revisionism” throughout the book. However, cheerleading for nationalist struggles and opposing revisionism are not the same thing.
Of course Sakai is correct that the chauvinist “left” has distorted Lenin’s work on oppressed nationalities. Straightening this out is a tremendous favor to the international proletariat.
But for Sakai to go on to claim Lenin and Mao as backers is incorrect. In particular, Mao’s Chinese Communist Party did not have any fraternal relations with any states except Albania. That means it regarded all the rest of the so-called communist world as hard-core revisionist or revisionist with the possibility of developing into genuine communist. How can one tell what is revisionist? Only Albania’s communist party and other parties not in state power supported the continued class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The rest did not see the Soviet Union as state-capitalist.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was not a Maoist group and did not enjoy fraternal relations with the CCP as a party. There were some out-of-power parties that did, such as the one in Indonesia that was massacred in the 1960s, but Sakai is not referring to these nationalist armed liberation struggles for the most part.
So Sakai makes the error of confusing support of national liberation struggles with support of particular organizations dedicated to revisionism. This is the most important error in Settlers. To blindly cheerlead for Ho Chi Minh (while failing to point out what the Vietnamese Communist Party thought about the Cultural Revolution and mass struggles) to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat is the error of overlooking revisionism in the name of internationalism.
Sakai is correct that we only demonstrate our internationalism by supporting nationalist liberation struggles of oppressed countries. Yet to really support that struggle it is necessary to support a non-revisionist party leading it, a Maoist party. By 1994 it’s clear that without a genuine communist party leading, countries such as Zimbabwe, China and Vietnam go back into capitalist dependency.
There are many contexts in which it is correct to support a nationalist struggle regardless of the organization involved, especially in the United States where imperialism is headquartered, internationalists are called on constantly to expose the maneuvers of the U.S. imperialists. U.S. intervention must be stopped everywhere and national struggles supported everywhere. That is not the same thing as supporting particular organizations.
Vietnam and Zimbabwe are especially bad cases of Sakai’s error. Here supposedly socialist construction is underway and the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe took incorrect lines in political economy and in regard to the all around dictatorship of the proletariat. They did not recognize Mao’s teachings on the necessity of continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and hence are nothing more than capitalist dependencies now.
See MIM Theory 6 “The Stalin Issue” for an analysis of Stalin, World War II and the United Front.
In 1999, J. Sakai agreed to be interviewed by Solidarity Publishing and Distribution, a prisoner-support project based here in Montreal. The text of this interview is available alongside Kuwasi Balagoon’s The Continuing Appeal of Anti-Imperialism in the pamphlet When Race Burns Class, published and distributed by Kersplebedeb. The text of the interview, along with Balagoon’s review, are both provided here, so you can read them online.
In 2004, J. Sakai was interviewed by Ernesto Aguilar for KPFT Pacifica Radio. It is available in audio here, and the transcript became the pamphlet, “Stolen At Gunpoint: Interview with J. Sakai On the Chicano-Mexicano National Question,” and is currently hosted at anti-imperialism.com. (A lightly edited version also appears in the newest edition of Settlers as an appendix.)
Here is a list of links to other texts, discussing and debating Settlers:
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More by J. Sakai
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More on Global Class Structure
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