news & reviews

From Protest to Power – The Indypendent review of HHT


Steven Sherman reviews Hegemony How-To in the July issue of The Indydependent:

The central tension [Smucker] struggles with is that people become radical activists out of a desire to change the world, but often find the subculture of radicalism to be an attractive refuge from the unjust world. This undermines their capacity to connect with people outside their small subculture — but it is only by aligning themselves with substantial portions those outside people that they can actually hope to change the world.

Sherman agrees with the advice of Hegemony How-To, but concludes with an important question about the constraints and limitations an ascendent Left faces today, even if all of this advice were heeded:

Anarchistic emphasis on building “prefigurative” relations in the here and now developed out of a pessimism about the liberatory potential of attaining state power. The first few years in this period of renewed interest in the state-oriented approach haven’t exactly proven them wrong.

Read the full review at The Indydependent.

How to Not Be an Activist – Smucker’s talk at PDF

In his recent talk at the Personal Democracy Forum, Jonathan Smucker expanded upon a key theme in chapter one of Hegemony How-To: why and how to avoid the “activist” label. He goes on to discuss how Lancaster Stands Up has been integrating this approach into its organizing practice  since the November 2016 election – with remarkable results.

An International Perspective on Hegemony How-To – Berkeley Journal of Sociology review

Rebecca Tarlau writes a reflective review of Hegemony How-To for the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, discussing the book’s concepts through the lens of the organizing work of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST).

For example, while Smucker is highly critical of Occupy Wall Street’s “prefigurative politics,” Tarlau argues that prefigurative politics and strategic politics can be complementary, as demonstrated by the MST:

…prefigurative and strategic politics can feed off of one another. Every institutional space that the movement occupies and constructs—from autonomous movement schools, to public universities, to agricultural cooperatives—becomes a space for the prefiguration of the movement’s political and economic goals.

(To be clear, Smucker also advocates that elements of prefigurative politics can complement a strategic political intervention, for example, SNCC’s lunch counter sit-ins.)

Tarlau agree’s with Smucker’s goal of the left abandoning its purism in order to develop broad-based political power, but she reflects that “building this type of broad-based political alliance can produce a serious tension: how to grow a movement, without losing the ideals that began its struggle” – again lifting up the case of the MST as a challenging example of this tension.

Read the full review at the Berkeley Journal of Sociology.


Ten Veteran Organizers on the Key to Effective Activism | VICE

VICE restless youthJonathan Smucker was among ten grassroots organizers and advocates who contributed to a VICE Magazine featured forum on “effective activism.” The other nine contributors were Sister Simone Campbell, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, George Gresham, David S. Johnson, Rosalyn Koo, Srdja Popovic, Mark Rudd, Ned Ryun, and Linda Sarsour.

All of the short pieces are worth reading. Smucker’s piece, Take the Main Stage, builds upon a central theme in Hegemony How-To:

With insufficient organization and political power, activism too often contents itself with the futile exercise of “speaking truth to power.” The hard truth is, the powerful are not overly concerned about our truth. They are perfectly OK with us standing on the sidelines protesting them, holding a righteous flame in the wind, shouting our truth until we are blue in the face. What they really do notwant is for us to arm our moral protest with political power.

Read the whole VICE forum here.

New Republic’s Review: A Tough-Love Letter to the Left

Sam Adler-Bell has written the most in-depth review yet of Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals, published today at New Republic. Lucid, provocative, and beautifully written, Adler-Bell’s review is well worth the read, even if you’ve already read the book.

Here’s how it kicks off:

In its final months, Hillary Clinton’s campaign depicted the election in Manichaean terms: the forces of light against darkness, love against hate, the guardians of a virtuous public against a world-historical bully. In this story, we lost the election not because we did something wrong, but because we did something right in a world that’s wrong. We fought the forces of misogyny, xenophobia, and white supremacy, but they were too strong; they overwhelmed us. And how could they not? This is America after all.

The left—especially the activist left—makes this mistake all the time: imagining there is some meaningful consolation in losing righteously. In 1934, Bertolt Brecht wrote, “It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good, but because they were weak.”

You can read the full review at New Republic.

How to Resist, in 6 Books — In These Times Review

Kate Aronoff has written a combined review of six newly released books concerned with the strategies and tactics of contemporary social movements and resistance efforts. Published at In These Times, Aronoff reviews Hegemony How-To alongside Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman, Rules for Revolutionaries by Becky Bond and Zack Exley, No Shortcuts by Jane McAlevey, Twitter and Teargas by Zeynep Tufekci, and You’re More Powerful Than You Think by Eric Liu.

Check it out at In These Times.

The Establishment is not a viable option | New Internationalist

Jonathan Smucker has an article in the latest issue of New Internationalist. The special issue focuses on the global rise of populism, and Smucker describes the populist landscape in the United States that enabled Trump’s rise. He argues that to stop Trump, progressives have to “snatch the populist mantle from his grip.”

Trump’s shock electoral victory signals a profound change in the terrain of political struggle. Corporate-friendly centrism failed to defeat Trump and is a poor strategy for fighting him now. The choice today … is between a reactionary populism that punches down at the most vulnerable and a progressive people-powered populism that punches up.

Read the full article here.

The Nation Interview: How the Left Can Build Power

Astra Taylor recently convened a roundtable strategic dialogue for The Nation, interviewing Jonathan Smucker along with Direct Action author L.A. Kauffman and Durham, NC City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson. The discussion delved into how to build and wield political power in the wake of the 2016 election.

Here’s an excerpt (Smucker):

If we spend the next four years retreating into liberal enclaves, bonding with each other over how backward half the country is, we will keep losing. That’s as winning a strategy as Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” line.

Trump’s populism is junk populism, but when Democrats failed to speak to people’s pain and refused to name compelling enemies like Wall Street, they effectively conceded populism to Trump. We have to see that Trump also successfully tapped into legitimate resentment at the political establishment. Here in central Pennsylvania, a lot of people feel abandoned by the political establishment. There are real grievances—pain that people are experiencing, from unemployment to the opioid epidemic. Trump taps into that. The optics of an irreverent outsider taking out establishment favorites, one after another—a lot of people enjoyed watching that show. To contend with Trump’s junk reactionary populism, we need a bold progressive populism. But we have to do this in a new way.

Read the strategic discussion in its entirety at The Nation.

Terrence McNally interviews Jonathan Smucker about Hegemony How-To

Since the November 2016 election, Terrence McNally has come out of “podcast retirement” in order to give attention to the new political moment and the new resistance. McNally interviewed Jonathan Smucker about Hegemony How-To, discussing how core concepts from the book apply to our current situation. The two also discussed Smucker’s current organizing in Lancaster, PA, where unprecedented numbers have been turning out as part of a nascent effort called Lancaster Stands Up.

Listen to the interview here.