J. Sakai is a controversial figure among Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, and the left in general. His more famous (or infamous) work, the book Settlers (published in 1983 by Morningstar Press of Chicago), gave him some positive attention among leftists, especially Maoists. While Settlers continues to have a cult-following among Maoist-Third-Worldists and sparked a debate among Marxists on its theoretical merit, the actual figure of J. Sakai, and the sources of his ideas, remain shrouded in anonymity and mystery. Virtually all of Sakai’s fans believe he is at least a real person, but seeing as so few facts are known about him, many of his detractors and critics doubt even this. Since there is a lack of information on J. Sakai’s biography, it’s unlikely that anyone can truly discover his identity (assuming he is real, that is). This does not mean there is nothing we can do, however. Whether or not J. Sakai is a real individual, he isn’t a solitary figure who lives in a vacuum. He has connections with various individuals and groups and belongs to a variety of social circles.
He seems to be connected with two main groups: Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM), and a loose network of anarchists. The connection with MIM makes sense (Sakai is known to be a “Maoist Third-Worldist”), but his connection with a network of Anarchists is a bit strange. This isn’t to say that Maoists and Anarchists can’t work together or collaborate , but Sakai’s connection with them is just a little too close to pass the smell test. Stranger still, despite J. Sakai’s deep influence on MIM’s theory, he never openly and officially worked with MIM. He did, however, openly and officially work with anarchists.
For instance, J. Sakai officially belongs to the Anarchist organization Kersplebedeb Publishing. While some may object that Kersplebedeb is not strictly an anarchist organization, I’ll show later that Kersplebedeb’s owner and founder is a self-described anarchist who works with anarchist organizations like AK Press, manages an anarchist bookstore, and interacts with anarchists. On top of this, a majority of interviews with J. Sakai are done by associated anarchists. Why is it that on one hand J. Sakai belongs to a predominantly Anarchist organization and a majority of interviews with J. Sakai are done by anarchists, and on the other hand he doesn’t openly join any Maoist organization, the most obvious one being MIM, and is not ever interviewed by Maoists?
In this essay, I will explore J. Sakai’s connections in detail, beginning with his strange connection to MIM, then move towards MIM’s connection with the founder of Kersplebedeb, before discussing Sakai’s connection with a network of anarchists. In the last section, I’ll make some overall remarks.
MIM & J. SAKAI
The relationship between J. Sakai and MIM seems remote at first glance. MIM was founded by Harry Park, a Korean-American Harvard academic, in 1983 - the same year “Settlers” was published. At first, this may seem coincidental. After all, countless events occur in the same year. However, on October 1, 1991, years after its founding, one of MIM’s articles, published in its founding document: What is the Maoist Internationalist Movement, cites J. Sakai’s Settlers as deeply influential on the organization’s analysis and theory. The title of the piece is “Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?” It more or less sums up the basic points of J. Sakai’s Settlers. The author, who goes by the moniker “MC12”, gives a main argument virtually identical to that of J. Sakai’s:
“MIM holds that, at the present, the majority of white workers in this country-skilled workers, trade unionists, paper-pushers, etc., do not represent a revolutionary class. They do not create surplus value as much as reapportion the surplus which results from super-exploitation of the Third World and oppressed internal nations.” (page 8)
Towards the end of the article, MC12 acknowledges that:
“MIM's class analysis relies heavily on the piercing historical work of J. Sakai in Settlers: the Mythology of the White Proletariat, (Morningstar Press, I 983).” (my emphasis) (page 9).
Notice a couple very important things about MC12’s statement. First, MC12 emphasizes that MIM’s class analysis “relies heavily on [J. Sakai’s Settlers]”. They don’t merely draw from Settlers or list it as one influence among many. No, it relies heavily on it. This tells us that the role of J. Sakai’s Settlers is indispensable in MIM’s analysis. Second, MC12 describes Settlers as a piercing historical work. Not a good work or a decent work, but a piercing historical work. This indicates (pretty blatantly) that MIM places J. Sakai’s Settlers on a pedestal, above other historical works that maybe aren’t so piercing (such as the historical materialist analysis inherent in Marxism, maybe?). Third, MC12 doesn’t say it’s their class analysis that relies heavily on J. Sakai’s Settlers, but rather MIM’s analysis draws heavily from J. Sakai’s Settlers. The entire organization MIM, rather than a single individual like MC12, relies heavily on J. Sakai’s Settlers for class analysis. Overall, J. Sakai’s work Settlers isn’t just influential among members of MIM, but seems essential to MIM’s theoretical outlook.
MIM doesn’t just brag that it draws heavily from J. Sakai’s Settlers, but it actually uses Sakai’s theory in one of its theory journals. (MIM Theory 1: A White Proletariat?) If one skims through MIM Theory 1: A White Proletariat? It is obvious that MIM does in fact draw heavily from Settlers. MIM published another theory journal, titled MIM Theory 10: Labor Aristocracy where it not only mentions J. Sakai, but uses his theory to explain the white working class as being part of a “labor aristocracy”, a Marxist Leninist term both Sakai and MIM seem to use to give their theory a little more legitimacy, by referring to terminology used by Lenin and other prominent Marxist theorists of that era. (Though, what they mean by ‘Labor Aristocracy’ and what Lenin meant are two radically different things.) Given all of this, it seems safe to state plainly that MIM’s theory is heavily influenced by J. Sakai’s Settlers.
Considering the fact MIM’s analysis and view of history draws heavily from J. Sakai’s Settlers, it seems reasonable to suspect that it’s more than just a coincidence that MIM was founded in the same year that Settlers was first published. They may not have come into existence in the same year, of course, but MIM had to be aware of J. Sakai’s work in order to cite it as its largest influence in its founding documents.
So what is the connection?
Unfortunately, we have very little direct data to go on here, only bits and pieces and hypotheses.
One plausible, even likely, hypothesis is that MIM unofficially published Settlers in 1983, using Morningstar Press as its front organization.
There is no solid proof to support this hypothesis, but there are four relevant facts we should take into consideration: First, MIM’s operation lies primarily in prisons. This fact is well established. Second, Morningstar Press is affiliated with Cooperative Distribution Service. One can find this information in the third edition of Sakai’s Settlers by turning to the second page after the cover. The name Cooperative Distribution Service should be right there at the bottom.
Side note: Cooperative Distribution Service has two addresses. The first address is in Chicago (5 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60602). Interestingly, this is not very far from the Chicago Sun Times (401 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60614) where the CIA wrote a letter to it (this happened in 1979, only 4 years before Settlers was published). The second address is even more interesting. Box 77452 National Capitol Station, Washington D.C., 20013. If my readers check the zip code 20013, they’ll see that it’s roughly adjacent to a large area where the White House and Capitol Hill are located, as well as the famous K street think tanks. So here’s a question one should ask one’s self: why is Cooperative Distribution Service’s second address in a zip code close to federal government buildings such as the White House, U.S. Capitol, FBI headquarters, and bourgeois think tanks? It seems very strange that Cooperative Distribution Service, which was responsible for distributing Settlers, has a second address close to the federal buildings. Is it possible that Cooperative Distribution Service is somehow connected to the U.S. Federal Government, in institutions like the CIA, State Department, or FBI? Or is it just another coincidence? This is a question that warrants further investigation.
Third, Cooperative Distribution Service helps publish and distribute works by prisoners. For instance, David Gilbert’s work Looking at the White Working Class Historically was published and distributed by Cooperative Distribution Service. For some who may not know David Gilbert, he is one of the members of the Weather Underground, an organization of rich ultra-left adventurists involved in a series of bombing attacks and bank robbery. As a result Gilbert was sentenced to prison for many years. While Gilbert was serving his time in prison, he wrote prolifically, including his book: Looking at the White Working Class Historically which was distributed by Cooperative Distribution Service. Interestingly, J. Sakai’s comments on Gilbert’s work was included at the end of this book. This indicates that J. Sakai and David Gilbert may know each other. In fact, both of them are official members of Kersplebedeb Publishing (check the “Authors” tab), lending more credence to the theory.
Fourth, related to the third, a prisoner’s organization called New Afrikan Prisoner’s Organization, whose journal “Vita Wa Watu (More Notes from a New Afrikan POW Journal)” was both published and distributed by Cooperative Distribution Service. When Cooperative Distribution Service distributed Sakai’s Settlers, the administration for it took place in Chicago. Apparently, this is the same city where Morningstar Press was located. Additionally, New Afrikan Prisoner’s Organization’s journal was also distributed by Cooperative Distribution Service, based in the same city.
So far, I’ve established that Cooperative Distribution Service distributed the works of David Gilbert, New Afrikan Prisoner’s Organization, and J Sakai. What the first two have in common is that they’re both in prison. Hence, Cooperative Distribution Service seems to have connections with people in prisons. Moreover, MIM’s operation lies primarily in prisons. If MIM’s operation lies primarily in prisons and Cooperative Distribution Service has connections with people in prisons and helped distribute works by J. Sakai and David Gilbert, there is at least some likelihood that MIM and Cooperative Distribution Service are connected. Furthermore, both MIM and Cooperative Distribution Service are connected with the writing of Sakai. MIM is heavily influenced by J. Sakai’s theory and Cooperative Distribution Service distributes copies of J. Sakai’s Settlers.
These facts and inferences put together seem to lend some credence (if not proof) to the hypothesis that Morningstar Press is a front organization of MIM. Morningstar Press relies heavily on Cooperative Distribution Service to distribute copies of Sakai’s Settlers. MIM heavily promotes Sakai’s Settlers, and tries to popularize its concepts. MIM is known to have distributed J. Sakai’s book, Settlers, in prison. So, both MIM and Cooperative Distribution Services run their operation that involves people in prisons. But this only supports the claim that MIM and Cooperative Distribution Service are indirectly connected. What would support my hypothesis?
One more fact to take into consideration is that Morningstar Press only published one book: Settlers; this includes the first edition, the second edition, and the third edition. Why would a publication company devote its whole existence to publishing a single book (including three editions)? Why hasn’t it published different books by different authors? It seems that one plausible candidate who would establish a publication company with a single-minded goal of publishing Settlers, including different editions of it, is MIM. There could be other plausible candidates, but none as plausible as MIM. This doesn’t prove my hypothesis, of course, but my argument shows that the hypothesis seems likely.
Though there is no evidence to directly prove my hypothesis, there is also no evidence to disprove it. Why? Because there is virtually no official public record on Morningstar Press’s existence as a publication company. So far, I’ve searched the database in Copyright.gov and the database from Illinois state government website with no luck. Due to a dearth of public record, it’s difficult to prove anything concretely. Nonetheless, I invite my readers to search for Morningstar Press in any database record of publication companies.
AUTHOR’S COMMENT: During the writing of this article, I was given some information that would seem to indicate that this part of my hypothesis is unlikely to be true. First, MIM has some disagreements with J. Sakai. Second, MIM wrote its own biography, stating quite explicitly that its over all theory came together around 1987. I’m aware of the first piece of evidence, but as long as the disagreement isn’t a major deviation from Settlers’s main thesis, then it’s still plausible that MIM published Settlers. Authors (including a collective group) can disagree with parts of what they wrote, but it’s rare to completely reject an entire book. The second piece of information does present a more serious challenge to my hypothesis. One could argue from this piece of evidence that if MIM didn’t form its coherent ideology until 1987, then it does seem unlikely that it’s the author of Settlers. Why would MIM author Settlers, but not choose to use Settlers as one of its main bases for its ideology until 1987? One possible response to this objection is that there is a faction of people within MIM who wrote Settlers and established Morningstar Press in order to publish it. They would continue to champion and fight for Settlers until MIM decided to formally adopt Settlers as a dominant part of its theoretical outlook. Hence, my hypothesis needs to be revised: a faction of MIM established Morningstar Press in order to publish Settlers and since its publication (1983) they pushed MIM to adopt Settlers as a major component of its theoretical outlook until they succeeded in 1987.
From MIM to Kersplebedeb
I argued previously that there is at least some connection between MIM and J. Sakai. However, whatever the relationship is between MIM and J. Sakai, it is by no means an exclusive and closed relationship. Both MIM and J. Sakai are connected with an anarchist who founded an anarchist publication company: Kersplebedeb Publishing. When Morningstar Press seemed to fade out of existence and into obscurity, Kersplebedeb Publishing published the fourth edition of J. Sakai’s Settlers. The fourth edition is distributed by Anarchist publication companies such as PM Press and AK Press. While PM Press isn’t officially anarchist, its founder, Ramsey, is an anarchist who also runs AK Press. And AK Press openly identifies with Anarchism. Furthermore, as I mentioned before but wish to mention again, Kersplebedeb formally included J. Sakai as its member. Kersplebedeb not only published the fourth edition of Settlers, but it also consistently publishes J. Sakai’s other works. Kersplebedeb sells J. Sakai’s works through its affiliated website leftwingbooks.net. The hyperlink leads to a webpage with a list of J. Sakai’s books published by Kersplebedeb Publishing.
So, now that J. Sakai’s connection with Kersplebedeb Publishing has been established, what does Kersplebedeb Publishing have to do with anything? Kersplebedeb’s owner’s name is Karl Levesque, a self-identified anarchist. Before Levesque founded Kersplebedeb, he joined an anarchist collective in Montreal in the mid 1980s. A letter from anarchist journal Anarchy: A Journal Desired Armed volume #36 writes:
“Levesque arrived in town in his mid-teens in the mid-eighties. He first worked at Cafe Commune, and only joined the bookshop later, when I was working at La Sociale, another anti-authoritarian bookshop.”
The anarchist collective usually works in various bookstores where they sell anarchist literature. However, the same letter claims to notice a sudden transformation in Levesque:
“Initially calling himself an anarchist, Levesque soon embraced the state, broke with an anarchist outlook and began supporting Leninists and various national liberation movements. I (and others) had some of the most convoluted conversations of our lives, as Levesque continued to call himself an anti-authoritarian despite his support for Leninists and the state.”
Given Levesque’s sudden transformation from an anarchist to a “Leninist,” at least according to the letter, it’s not surprising that in Cafe Commune, Levesque was caught in one of the anarchist bookstores selling and distributing MIM literature. The same letter from an anarchist journal, Anarchy: A Journal of Desired Arms volume #36, writes:
“The shit really hit the fan when Levesque ordered in a pile of MIM Notes, a Maoist/Stalinist journal, to give out in the free section. The issue in question contained a letter from an ex-Maoist and an editorial response saying Stalin was 70% correct! When bookshop members virulently objected to the arrival of the Stalinist paper and those of other organizations wishing to take power, Levesque threw a tantrum, went "on strike," and threatened to leave the project ("on strike for Stalin," someone quipped).” (my emphasis).
The letter goes on to suggest that Levesque is not really an anarchist and anti-fascist, but is instead, a fascist, because his stances seem to align with so-called “authoritarian” left wing ideologies such as “Stalinism” and “Maoism.” This suggestion implies that MIM is a fascist organization as well, but that is beside the point. In response to the letter complaining about Levesque’s distribution of MIM literature, MIM writes a letter where it defends itself from this (implied) accusation, writing:
William [the anarchist] says that "the shit really hit the fan when Levesque ordered a pile of MIM Notes, a Maoist/Stalinist journal, to give out in the free section (of the Alternative Bookstore). The issue in question contained a letter from an ex-Maoist and an edited response saying that Stalin was 70% correct!" MIM takes the 70% figure from Mao's rating of Stalin. Among other aspects of the 70% we point to Stalin's defeat of Hitler despite the treacherous behavior of the so-called democratic countries, and the technological advances in the Soviet Union through 1953. We also recognize Stalin's mistake in declaring the class struggle over. But unlike William we point to Maoism as an advance over Stalinism. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a tremendous success while it lasted in mobilizing the Chinese masses to demolish class society. Even as we recognize Stalin's mistakes, where were the anarchists? Where is their superior historical alternative to Stalinism or Maoism for that matter? MIM does not know of any classless collective operating in Montreal at the time Stalin was defeating fascism in Europe. It seems reasonable to assume that the anarchists were doing then what they do today, criticizing concrete work for classless, stateless society from the sidelines, without offering any better alternative. Theory without practice never makes practical mistakes. But then again theoretical perfection without practice never won any battles against fascism.
By defending Levesque’s claim that Stalin was 70% correct, MIM defends its Maoist ideology from the criticism of an anarchist. The fact that MIM writes a letter defending Levesque indicates that MIM was probably aware that Levesque ordered and distributed its literature. The fact that MIM neither distanced itself from Levesque nor resorted to denial plausibility, but rather defended Levesque’s claim, suggests that MIM and Levesque were collaborating together at least in order to distribute MIM literature to anarchist bookstores. At the very least we can draw the conclusion that Levesque is affiliated in some way with MIM. This makes sense, as he cites J. Sakai’s book as one of the books that contributes to his overall political perspective.
Ever since the altercation took place between Levesque and the anarchists, many anarchists from the incident distrust Levesque. Despite his claim that he’s an “anarchist” or “anti-authoritarian,” many anarchists in this group conclude that Levesque is actually a Marxist-Leninist. They also document Lavesque openly supporting terrorism. The anarchist writes:
In the spring of 1989, a few months after he informed me he had become a marxist-leninist (he was a member of Alternatives at the time), I worked briefly at a telephone polling company with Karl Levesque, who is the author of the bookstore's letter attacking Anarchy. At work one day he told me bluntly that he supported the terrorist practice of lacing Chilean grapes on sale in California with cyanide (it was a news item at the time), in order to strengthen the anti-Pinochet grape boycott. He said that a few dead Americans were an acceptable price to pay for the success of a boycott that might topple the Pinochet dictatorship and thereby save several hundred Chilean lives. I am not falsifying or exaggerating his comments, and he was not joking. In effect Karl was defending the random mass murder of innocent civilians. Since then Karl has found an anti-fascist vocation for himself. (my emphasis)
According to the anarchist, Levesque not only condones terrorism, but openly supports it on grounds that it can help topple the Pinochet dictatorship and save several hundred Chilean lives. This is not only suspicious because it’s adventurism, (needless violence heavily criticized by Lenin), but because it is a tactic Federal agents are known to use against revolutionary organizations, in order to give the FBI and law enforcement a green light to crack down or increase repression.
There were also several subsequent conflicts after this initial one. For instance, a conflict between the anarchist bookstore in Montreal called Alternative Book (or in French: Librairie Alternatif) and the anarchist non-profit organization OSBL. It seems that Levesque was affiliated with OSBL, a Quebec anarchist non-profit organization that manages anarchist bookstores in Montreal. OSBL also goes by the acronym or name AEELI or Association des espèces d'espaces libres et imaginaires (Association of types of open and imaginary spaces) (this link confirms that both OSBL and AEELI are the same). AEELI holds an assembly that votes for the five people in the board of directors that manages an anarchist bookstore, but workers in the bookstore can’t manage it. They can’t directly contact the board of directors. Three people resigned from the board of directors, so only two were left. The article which discusses this incident mentions that:
“These [board of] directors are also supported by an important creditor who is a member of the OSBL [AEELI], Karl, as well as his ‘anonymous associate’ better known to some as ‘Mr. Big’”.
The sentence mentions Karl, an important creditor who is a member of AEELI. But how do we know that it’s Karl Levesque? It’s because the article later writes:
“Let's recall certain facts: No assembly (assembly in six years, all decisions taken by the two bosses [board of directors], Moishe Dolman and Aidan Girt; refusal to provide information to the members or to convoke assemblies after repeated requests. So a number of members took matters into their own hands and convoked their own assemblies. For the two bosses and their backers Karl Levesque and Dale Altrows, the alarms go off on July 20 when a meeting of a dozen anarchists from various groups as well as the excluded members of the OSBL [AEELI] and a delegation from the alternative bookshop collective agree to hold a decisional assembly on Tuesday August 5, 2003.” (my emphases)
The two bosses are the remaining members of the board of directors. They’re backed by Karl Levesque and Dale Altrows. If we go back to the previous quote, the article mentions that the board of directors were backed by an important creditor: Karl. Who else could the creditor Karl be than Karl Levesque? The article makes no explicit indication that there is another Karl. So it seems that this creditor who lends to the anarchist bookstore in order to subjugate it under the control of AEELI is none other than Karl Levesque. This seems quite contrary to the spirit of anarchism.
What’s interesting is that Karl Levesque and AEELI are also landlords renting out spaces to anarchists to run anarchist bookstores. AEELI writes a statement to anarchists who refused to pay their rent to AEELI. In the statement, the anarchist non-profit organization writes:
“The year 2008 confronted the AEELI* with tensions that could have had serious consequences. Tenants who leave without paying several months' rent and who refuse any recognition of prior debts or damage done to their premises, leaving the Association financially precarious and activists with the responsibility to deal with the consequences. Without wishing to enter here into all the details, this is what led to conflicts and has raised important ethical questions. It is because we experienced a lack of solidarity towards the Association, even an opposition against the actions of those who struggle for its survival, that we decided to do a brief historical overview of the new administration established in the spring of 2004. This enabled us to put into perspective the recent events, present in more detail our financial situation and defend our actions to elicit reflection or a wider debate.” (my emphasis).
So Karl Levesque is not only a business owner of Kersplebedeb, but he’s also a creditor, a landlord, and possibly manager of a book store, Librairie Alternatif based on a tweet by Cory Doctorow (there’s no solid evidence that Karl Levesque manages it, but based on the fact that Cory Doctorow’s tweets only mentions Karl Levesque and no other worker indicates that Levesque is probably a manager, it is quite possible that Levesque took over Alternative Bookstore on behalf of AEELII from the anarchists, who tried to retain control over it).
Taking stock: Karl Levesque, a self-described anarchist, who distributed MIM notes to an anarchist bookstore with the help of MIM, who holds J. Sakai’s work Settler in high regard, who rents out space to anarchists, who gives loans to anarchists, who owns a publication business (which makes him petty bourgeois), who (probably) manages a bookstore, and who at one point supports violent adventurism (which is more often than not welcomed and encouraged by the feds), is connected with both MIM and J. Sakai.
J. Sakai and Anarchists
So far, I have argued that: (1) MIM and J. Sakai are connected, (2) it’s plausible that Morningstar Press is MIM’s front organization that published Sakai’s Settlers, (3) MIM and Kersplebedeb are connected because the owner of Kersplebedeb distributed MIM’s literature in an anarchist bookstore, (4) J. Sakai and Kersplebedeb are connected because Kersplebedeb consistently publishes J. Sakai’s works (including Settlers) and officially made J. Sakai a member, (5) the owner of Kersplebedeb has a dubious past in the light of ideal leftist & anarchist standards. In this section, I’ll explore J. Sakai’s connections with anarchists other than Kersplebedeb.
In J. Sakai’s official biography which can be found in PM Press, Sakai writes that:
Eight years later what became re-titled as Settlers was finished. Even then, I didn't believe there was any audience for it, and planned to only photocopy fifty copies of my typed draft for internal education in the underground black liberation army coordinating committee.
Based on what Sakai wrote, it seems that Sakai was involved with the Black Liberation Army. Dan Berger, an academic, confirms that Sakai’s work was circulated among members of the Black Liberation Army. Berger writes in his article "Subjugated Knowledges: Activism, Scholarship, and Ethnic Studies Ways of Knowing" (the quote isn’t accessible, but a reddit user typed down the quote).
Sakai is the child of Japanese immigrants and a former autoworker. Butch Lee is a transfeminist who published the 1980s feminist zine Bottomfish Blues. Both were politicized through their involvement with the black freedom struggle, from the civil rights phase through its revolutionary nationalist incarnations that described itself as part of a black liberation movement. These books were written and circulated within a semi-clandestine network shaped by revolutionaries close to or part of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), the military offshoot of the Black Panther Party. Sakai and Lee have been key nodes in the circuits of intellectual discourse among imprisoned radicals, especially from the BLA.
Why is it relevant to show that Sakai was involved in the Black Liberation Army? It’s because there is a well known Black anarchist who was involved in the Black Liberation Army: Kuwasi Balagoon. Not only are both Sakai and Balagoon involved in the Black Liberation Army, but Balagoon is also familiar with Sakai’s work. It’s possible that Balagoon was among the first people to have read Sakai’s work, as he wrote a review on Sakai’s Settlers in the mid 1980s, but eventually he passed away from an AIDS-related illness on December 13, 1986. His review was published by Prison News Service #49 on January 1995. The title of his review is “The Continuing Appeal of Anti-Imperialism.” If you scroll down to image #17 (the entire journal is scanned), you’ll find Balagoon’s review where he praises Sakai’s work. There is an editor’s note, before the review begins, which explains the circumstances of Balagoon when he was writing the review. It writes:
“The following review of Settlers, the mythology of the white proletariat was written by Kuwasi Balagoon, an anarchist member of the Black Liberation Army. This article was written in the mid 1980s, a couple years before he ultimately died in prison. We are running it out of respect for Balagoon who sent it to the old Bulldozer magazine, but we were not publishing at the time, and because we believe Settlers is a crucially important work.”
So, Balagoon wrote the work roughly somewhere between 1983 and 1986. Either way, Kuwasi Balagoon is one of the earliest readers of Sakai’s Settler. Since they both were involved in the Black Liberation Army and Balagoon was aware of Sakai’s work, there is some chance that he knew Sakai. What makes this significant for my purpose is that J. Sakai is connected with a very famous anarchist focused on black liberation. But it doesn’t end with Balagoon.
J. Sakai opens up to interviews in the year 2000. The earliest known interview with him was for a book he wrote called When Race Burns Class, first published by Solidarity Publishing and Distribution (though now it simply goes by Solidarity). It’s a socialist publication, but it seems to lean somewhat towards Anarchism. It has published works on Zapatistas, in particular a Commune in Chiapas, and the organizational structure of liberation communists. Ever since Sakai’s first interview, he has been consistently and solely interviewed by anarchists. The subsequent interview after When Race Burns Class is an interview titled At Gunpoint. The interview is the first and last audio interview where we allegedly get to listen to Sakai’s voice . The interview was done by Ernesto Aguilar. In this particular transcript, there is a description which states that:
In this interview conducted by Ernesto Aguilar, originally published at Anarchist People of Color, Sakai furthers his analysis in relation to Aztlan/occupied Mexico, and the colonization of the Chicano/Mexicano peoples here.
So, Sakai’s second interview was done by an anarchist. For further evidence that Ernesto is an anarchist, there is this interview with Ernesto where he discusses his organization Anarchist People of Color. Years later, on May 27, 2013, J. Sakai was interviewed by an Anarchist named Mandy Hiscock. The interview supposedly took place at a conference inside the building of QPIRG Concordia (a left wing activist community center) in the city Montreal. However, there is no evidence that the conference actually transpired. There is no public video footage, no audio record, no record of advertisements, no social media posts, no list of organizations invited or attending, nothing. There seems to be a record by QPIRG that a conference took place on May 2014, but it’s a completely different conference on “Learning from an Unimportant Minority”.
After J. Sakai’s interview with Mandy Hiscock, he was interviewed by Gabriel Kuhn, who is also an anarchist. Kuhn founded the Alpine Anarchist Production and wrote a book titled Anarchist Football Manual.
So far, J. Sakai was interviewed by three anarchists, but with caveats: When Race Burns Class since the publication company isn’t explicitly anarchist (though it isn’t quite Maoist either); Butch Lee isn’t explicitly an anarchist, but she isn’t a Maoist either. So far, virtually everyone who interviewed J. Sakai isn’t really a Marxist-Leninist or Maoist. Not only is J. Sakai constantly interviewed by people who aren’t either Marxist-Leninist or Maoist, but J. Sakai only seems to work with people who are either anarchist or anarchist-leaning. This would be suspicious to any Marxist-Leninists who are aware that the FBI has a history of using anarchism to denounce socialist states in order to divide the Left. Moreover, Marxist-Leninists consider anarchists to be susceptible to FBI’s manipulation given their rejection of dialectical and historical materialism.
Sakai wrote an essay for a collection called Confronting Fascism. The book was published by an anti-fascist organization that seems to attract anarchists and “anti-authoritarians”. The book includes essays by Don Hamerquist and Matt Salote, but neither Hamerquist nor Salote are Marxist-Leninists or Maoists. Hamerquest explicitly rejects the Marxist-Leninist theory of fascism. Perhaps not so surprisingly, J. Sakai follows suit and rejects the Marxist-Leninist theory of fascism. In Sakai’s essay Shocking Recognition, he cites Hamerquist’s view on fascism as an influence on his view of fascism. In his essay, which contains a section titled Big Business Did Not Run the Fascist State, Sakai writes:
“Much of the standard old left analysis of the Hitler regime as essentially acting for big business is based on a vulgar Marxism, and is a fundamental misreading of fascism’s character. This pseudo-materialist line of thinking says: the biggest German corporations got bigger and richer, so the big capitalists must have been running the show. How simple politics is to those bound and determined to be simple-minded. While Nazism could be thought a “tool” of the bourgeoisie in the sense that big business took advantage of it and supported it, it was out of their control – in other words, not a “tool” in the usual meaning of the word. Picture a type of power saw that you hoped would cut down the tree stump in your backyard, but that not only did that but also went off in its own directions and escaped your control.
There was a considerable consolidation of German industry under Nazism, particularly once the war was at its peak. Many small factories were ruthlessly taken from their owners by the Nazi state and given, in effect, to the largest corporations. The fascist interest was in greater ease of government supervision and in spreading the higher state of war production techniques of the advanced corporations.”
The above argument is a significant deviation from a Marxist-Leninist theory of fascism which sees fascism as an open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary and chauvinistic elements of finance capital. This is the position of the third international or COMINTERN (or Communist International), one of the highest authorities for Marxist-Leninists around the world. Georgi Dimitrov, R. Palme Dutt, and Stalin, Stalin being the most respected Marxist-Leninist among them, more or less accepts the COMINTERN’s theoretical position on fascism. Why would a Maoist reject the position of the COMINTERN and Stalin on Fascism? Maoists tend to view Stalin as having no equal except Mao, so it’s very bizarre why Sakai would reject Stalin’s position without even addressing Stalin’s argument or way of viewing it. J. Sakai dismisses the position of the COMINTERN, Stalin, Dimitrov, and Dutt as “vulgar Marxism,” “pseudo-materialism,” and “a fundamental misreading of fascism’s character.” This is taking revisionism to an entirely new level. But the problem here isn’t just that Sakai is being a revisionist (which is odd since many Maoists pride themselves in being anti-revisionist), but he’s simply wrong. There’s overwhelming evidence that the fascist state ultimately served the interest of big corporations. When fascists like Hitler and Mussolini came into power, they subsequently privatized state-owned enterprises when the norm among western capitalist countries was to nationalize in order to survive the great depression. Wikipedia even acknowledges that:
“While other Western capitalist countries strove for increased state ownership of industry during the same period, Nazi Germany transferred public ownership and public services into the private sector. Fascist regimes have been described as being authoritarian or totalitarian capitalist.”
So why would a Maoist deny the position of Stalin and the COMINTERN while Wikipedia comes closest to technically agreeing with them? It’s very odd that someone who is known to be a Maoist would engage in blatant revisionism and reject the position of one of the greatest communists of all times. Sakai seems to show more respect for Hamerquist’s position, who is very much against Marxism-Leninism, than he does for Stalin’s position! What I’ve observed so far is that J. Sakai not only gets interviewed by anarchists and works with anarchists, but he even accepts some of their ideas at the expense of some core tenets of Marxism-Leninism.
J. Sakai’s connection is complex and eclectic. He’s connected with MIM, Kersplebedeb, Anarchists, and others who are neither Marxist-Leninists nor Maoists. Some might dismiss this observation by saying that in practice Marxist-Leninists and Maoists have to collaborate with leftists who are neither Marxist-Leninists or Maoists in order to accomplish anything. However, Sakai isn’t merely collaborating. Collaboration implies some boundaries and space between collaborating parties with their own defining interests, but Sakai seems too intimately close with anarchists and others who don’t belong to the Marxist-Leninist tradition. Sakai literally belongs to an anarchist led organization. He’s not even officially part of MIM, which practically holds his work Settlers as the sacred truth. On top of this, Sakai rejects one of the most important Marxist-Leninist theories: the COMINTERN’s theory on Fascism. What explains Sakai’s revisionism? It seems plausible to conclude that Sakai isn’t really a Marxist-Leninist (Maoist).
One of the most blatant clues that Sakai isn’t a serious Marxist-Leninist (or Maoist) is his misuse of the term proletariat. This is one of the most basic terms in Marxism, and one that needs to be understood in order to know anything at all about the Marxist outlook. But Sakai seems to have never seen how Marxism uses this word at all, as it exists in its contradiction, based in historical materialism. In the introduction to the first edition of his Settlers, he wrote:
“Originally the term ‘proletariat’ (a term which came from the Roman Empire and was certainly not invented by communists) referred to the lowest free class in a European society. (Already wrong. -S’O) Marx and Engels in the early 1800s in Europe used it to refer to the industrial workers – a small class in that period which was far more exploited, far more desperate and disorganized (wrong again- S’O), far more lashed by capitalism than the older, more stable peasant class. Today some socialists use the term ‘proletariat’ primarily to refer to workers in basic industry. That would be true for some nations in some periods. But it isn’t universal dogma or unchanging reality (there are no such things). In China, for example, Mao Zedong correctly saw that the role of the revolutionary proletariat would be taken by the migrant rural laborers (whom he recognized as the main part of the Chinese proletariat) (Wrong some more - S’O). In the Afrikan colony during the period of chattel slavery, the field workers on the plantations were the main element in the proletariat of that nation.” (And wrong even more - S’O)
A careful reader might notice that Sakai argues that the Chinese peasants and field workers in plantations during the period of chattel slavery are proletariat. While one could make the case that a section of Chinese farmers are rural proletariat insofar as they lack private property and depend on wage labor for subsistence, but it’s hard to see how one could see a plausible case for peasants or field workers in plantations. If one reads Sakai’s last sentence carefully, he writes “In the Afrikan colony during the period of chattel slavery, the field workers on the plantations were the main element in the proletariat of that nation.” The term “Afrikan Colony” for Sakai and Black Nationalists such as the New Afrikan Maoists refers to Black people in the Deep South because they see Black people as a colonized nation. This is why Sakai refers to Black people in the Deep South as the “Afrikan colony.” Furthermore, he specified the period of the Afrikan colony: chattel slavery. The field workers who work on plantations during this period are chattel slaves. But Sakai considers them to be a proletariat! Chattel slaves don’t depend on selling their labor power for wages for subsistence. So why would Sakai consider them to be a proletariat? Because Sakai actually defines the proletariat as such:
“For us the proletariat is the lowest, most oppressed and most exploited working class. It is a revolutionary class, a class in the epoch of imperialism whose interests are tied to socialism. We must recognize that imperialism has created, particularly in the oppressor nations, many wage workers who are in no way proletarian. A Euro-Amerikan “A” inspector at a tractor factory, who does no labor and little work of any kind, who takes home $20-25,000 per year to his white suburb, has the deeply ingrained consciousness of the middle classes and is in no way proletarian. Marx himself, we should recall, pointed out that a “class” that shows no class consciousness, that doesn’t exert itself for independent power, doesn’t exist as a class – no more than a sea without water can be said to be a sea (though persons may call it such).” (my emphasis)
Sakai’s definition is in bold and his definition is fundamentally mistaken. Why? Because Sakai defines the proletariat too generally, broadly, and even wrongly. He defines them as the most oppressed, most exploited, and the lowest class. He doesn’t define the proletariat specifically enough in terms of its social relation to the means of production. The proletariat developed as a class by: (1) lacking productive forces or any asset as a major source of income, (2) depending on the selling of its labor power for wages for subsistence, (3) creating or facilitating surplus value and its realization only to be expropriated by the bourgeoisie, and (4) its antagonism with the bourgeoisie, who is one side of the whole of the phenomenon of class antagonism. But Sakai wants to avoid the more specific, dialectical materialist definition of the proletariat in order to reach his desired conclusion that chattel slaves are proletariat. The Marxist definition of proletariat excludes chattel slaves because chattel slaves (unlike the proletariat) are literally commodities under the slave mode of production.
Marxists not only understand the basic definition of the proletariat, but accept it. Marxists understand that the proletariat is revolutionary not because it’s the most oppressed, but rather because it is ultimately in its objective class interests to seize the means of production for use rather than for profit. This objective class interest of the proletariat stems from its lack of ownership of productive forces and therefore being economically compelled to sell its labor power in exchange for a wage for the purpose of subsistence. This is a basic, foundational Marxist insight that any Marxist should understand, but somehow J. Sakai fails to understand it. Why does J. Sakai fail to understand this basic point of Marxism? Because he’s not a Marxist.
J. Sakai could respond by arguing that Marx would agree with him. He could cite one of Marx’s early works “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Rights” where Marx argues that the proletariat is the most revolutionary class in Germany because it is the most oppressed. Marx wrote:
“Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation?
Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.
The proletariat is beginning to appear in Germany as a result of the rising industrial movement. For, it is not the naturally arising poor but the artificially impoverished, not the human masses mechanically oppressed by the gravity of society, but the masses resulting from the drastic dissolution of society, mainly of the middle estate, that form the proletariat, although, as is easily understood, the naturally arising poor and the Christian-Germanic serfs gradually join its ranks.” (My emphases)
One could say from the above passage where Marx indicates (in particular words in bold) that the proletariat is a revolutionary class that can bring about emancipation because it is the most oppressed and most exploited class. But one must keep in mind that the passage is from an article that was published in 1844 before Marx discovered dialectical and historical materialism. When Marx wrote and published the article in 1844, he was largely still a Hegelian idealist. After Marx discovered dialectical and historical materialism, he developed a different understanding of the revolutionary agency of the proletariat. A proletariat is a revolutionary class because of its historic role in the process of negation of negation. Capitalism was built on the negation of feudalism by the bourgeoisie, but this negation created the proletariat as a propertyless wage worker to be exploited by the bourgeoisie. The proletariat in turn has the potential to negate a capitalist system due to its natural class antagonism with the bourgeoisie. It is the only class to do it precisely because it must seize the productive forces from the bourgeoisie to cease to be a propertyless wage laborer and become a propertied laborer. This understanding is in stark contrast to the early Marx’s view of the proletariat. Hence, Sakai’s understanding of the proletariat as being a revolutionary class due to being the most oppressed and most exploited class is actually based on the early Marx during his Hegelian idealism phase. His definition of the proletariat is not based on Marx whose understanding of the proletariat is informed by dialectical and historical materialism.
Overall, I don’t believe J. Sakai is a Marxist-Leninist. His poor understanding of Marxism, his suspiciously close connections with Anarchists, and his blatant revisionism make me doubt that he’s even a Maoist. But this is all assuming that J. Sakai exists as a person. I don’t actually know if J. Sakai is an actual individual or a pseudonym used by MIM until MIM allowed Kersplebedeb to take the pseudonym since the year 2000. I lean towards the view that J. Sakai is merely a pseudonym used by MIM until the year 2000. With all of the suspicious activity, I also suspect that MIM probably has connections with the Feds. MIM is probably used by the Feds as a propaganda machine to propagate Settlers in order to sow division among Marxist-Leninists. Because it very much does that, if nothing else. But these are just my hunches. What I do know is that J. Sakai is a very suspicious individual.
In my next paper, I’ll argue that J. Sakai’s connection runs deeper than MIM and Anarchism. Sakai’s ideas have influenced MIM and attracted the attention of anarchists, but where do they come from? Where does Sakai come from? I’ll argue that J. Sakai’s ideas ultimately come from the tradition of Revolutionary Youth Movement 1, a faction of the SDS that eventually became the Weather Underground.
Skept O'Mai: I'm a Marxist-Leninist & Anti-imperialist. You'll find me on Twitter engaging in dialectical, and by extension historical, materialist analysis in the form of threads.