So after I posted this a couple days ago it was picked up by Anti-Fascist News, which linked to it along with the sole remark that it was “interesting.” This led some fans of Settlers to then launch a campaign against me personally, referring to me as “a sacrificial pig to be made an example of” (a Marrano, perhaps?) and applauding the fact that I’d been doxxed in the past as a “commie Jew” by Stormfront neo-Nazis. One person even threatened to send people to my door, all because I criticized a book she likes. Joshua Moufawad-Paul of the blog M-L-M Mayhem, whose meta-review I linked and whose name I unfortunately misspelled, also responded to the post.
Now the person who threatened to send people after me is demanding a retraction and an apology, followed by “monetary reparations will be made to the multiple Black and indigenous people who have had to defend their history from the devaluation of a White person for their labor.” You can’t make this shit up; it’s way too elaborate and deranged. Rather than engage with a small group of dedicated and obviously disturbed trolls, however, I’d prefer to substantiate some of the criticisms made in my opening tirade. Admittedly, most of this consisted in me summarizing engagements with Settlers undertaken by other Marxists, with very little in the way of original commentary. Hopefully this addendum will give some sense of what it is I object to in the book.
To provide just one example of Sakai’s shoddy historical research, he writes on page 53 of Settlers: “The pro-imperialist labor aristocracy — which in 1914 Lenin estimated at roughly 20% of the German working class — were the leaders of the German trade-unions, the ‘socialist’ party, etc.” Unsurprisingly, no mention is made of what text Lenin supposedly made this estimation in (much less a citation). I have scoured through all of Lenin’s writings and have yet to find anywhere he claims twenty percent of the German working class belonged to the “labor aristocracy.” Neither in 1914 nor in any other year.
Further, it’s very frustrating that Sakai nowhere explains what his criteria are for someone belonging to the “labor aristocracy.” Instead he just cites US Labor Bureau statistics, but then follows it by parenthetically claiming that “60% of this section is labor aristocracy.” As if that were a category the Labor Bureau would ever use. On the following page he just baldly asserts that “the settler labor aristocracy is considerably larger than its hard core, perhaps comprising as much as 50% of all male Euro-Amerikans.” Because Sakai provides no information for how he arrives at this figure, there is no way of assessing its accuracy.
The “labor aristocracy” thesis first advanced by Engels during the 1890s and then expanded upon by Lenin between 1905 and 1922 has already been challenged convincingly by writers such as Charles Post and organizations like the International Communist Current as first “a myth” and then “a sociological theory to divide the working class.” Even granting some anecdotal validity to the observation that there’s an elite stratum of skilled laborers — who, to use Lenin’s metaphor, “fight for the scraps that fall off the imperialist table” — there’s no empirical grounding of the thesis. Mostly it’s just a post-hoc rationalization of working class reformism and defeat.
Characteristically, moreover, Sakai neglects to mention that oppressed populations in the New World have just as often been at each other’s throats — e.g., the “Buffalo Soldiers,” all-black volunteer cavalry units which served with distinction in massacring Plains Indians for nearly a quarter-century. Several centuries earlier in what today is Mexico, the manumitted African slave Juan Garrido became a highly successful Spanish conquistador. He also helped conquer Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guadalupe, Dominica, and Florida. Or the Cherokee leader Stand Watie, a slave-driving plantation owner who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general. Watie was the last Southern general to stop fighting. Jews owned some of the ships in the Dutch and English transatlantic slave trade. Treacherous attitudes and behaviors toward other exploited and oppressed groups was hardly limited to the white working class.
Needless to say, as a side note, I do not in any way deny the horrors endured by black and indigenous people in Canada, the US, and elsewhere throughout the world. For a far better account of racism and white supremacy check out Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race (1994), Barbara and Karen Fields’ Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (2012), or Loren Goldner’s magisterial essay on “Race and the Enlightenment” from Race Traitor (1997). Or Adolph Reed’s “Black Particularity Reconsidered,” or CLR James’ classic The Black Jacobins.
J. Sakai’s 1983 screed Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat has been making the rounds again lately. Presumably because it offers a readymade explanation for why the so-called “white working class” voted for Trump en bloc, a premise which is itself debatable. Rhizzone.net, an online message board where shit-tier Maoist Third Worldists and other random nerds can meet and mingle, spearheaded the initiative to relaunch ReadSettlers.org amidst the 2016 US Presidential election. You can follow the #readsettlers hashtag on Twitter, and there’s even been a tumblr dedicated to the injunction.
Unfortunately, the “analysis” offered in Settlers is tendentious garbage. Few Marxists have had the patience, however, to read through the book in order to offer a point-by-point rebuttal. This isn’t so much due to its style, which famously flouts academic conventions and eschews accepted discursive norms. I’m all for shitting on MLA writing standards, to say nothing of the stilted jargon of adjuncts and professors. But if you’re going to make detailed statistical claims about the percentage of white colonists involved in various lines of work during the seventeenth century, I expect a footnote explaining the methodology used (how data was collected and sorted, what “class” means in this context, etc.). Continue reading