In the late 1920s, while imprisoned under Benito Mussolini's fascist government in Italy, Antonio Gramsci compiled 32 notebooks containing roughly 3,000 pages of work, touching on everything from Italian politics and history to social, economic, and political theory and analysis. During this time, Gramsci coined the term "organic intellectual" to describe conscious members of the working class whom he felt must be developed in contradistinction to the traditional intellectual "clergy," composed of "men of letters, philosophers and professors" who were intimately tied to the dominant culture, and therefore compromised and limited in their own capacity. "All men (and women, we might add) are intellectuals," wrote Gramsci, "but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals." As a Marxist, it was no secret that Gramsci's ideas were centered on the need for revolutionary opposition to the oppressive social relations perpetuated by the capitalist structure - whether represented in the private sphere through property and labor exploitation, or the public sphere through state-backed repression. And while traditional intellectuals certainly played, and continue to play, an important role in this struggle, Gramsci saw the development of the organic intellectual as a crucial component in the ongoing battle for consciousness which exists within the daily lives of the mass of people. "There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded," explained Gramsci. "Everyone carries on some form of intellectual activity, participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought." The organic intellectual possesses the unique ability to touch those who exist within their own social grouping: the working class.
As a youth organizer for the NAACP and eventual leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), Fred Hampton was the embodiment of Gramsci's "organic intellectual." Born to working class parents, Hampton became a pre-law major in college and deployed his knowledge to combat police brutality and unfair law enforcement practices that targeted impoverished black youth in the greater Chicago area. Hampton's realization of the inherent connection between institutional racism and class politics led him to negotiate a "class-conscious, multi-racial alliance" between politicized organizations (the BPP and Students for a Democratic Society) and Chicago's major street gangs (Young Patriots, Young Lords, Blackstone Rangers, Brown Berets and Red Guard Party). As BPP's local leader, Hampton organized rallies, assisted with maintaining a local medical clinic, taught weekly political education classes, and operated a Free Breakfast Program for underprivileged children. As both an organic intellectual and de facto educator, Hampton's brilliant oratory skills were not used to place himself above the oppressed, but rather to immerse himself within the oppressed community of which he was a member. His words, and the linguistic style in which his analysis was advanced, were a shining example of the simultaneous process of education and dialogue that must take place with the oppressed. Ultimately, Hampton was the praxis to Gramsci's theory. By combining an effective class analysis with a stage-based social application that included "real world" solutions, he was the quintessential revolutionary. "That's what the Breakfast for Children Program is," explained Hampton. "A lot of people think it's simply charity, but what does it do? It takes people from a stage to a stage to another stage. Any program that's revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change." In addition to praxis, he and the BPP fortified and transcended the struggle against racial oppression by effectively tying it to the international class struggle, much like Dr. King was doing with a critical assessment of war and poverty. "We're not gonna fight fire with fire, we're gonna fight fire with water," cried Hampton. "We're not gonna fight racism with racism, we're gonna fight racism with (working class) solidarity!" His untimely and tragic murder at the hands of Chicago police would ultimately stifle the revolutionary momentum of the time. However, as Hampton once proclaimed, "You can kill the revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution!"
1. Why was the Hampton Institute created?
The Hampton Institute (HI) was founded with the purpose of giving a platform to everyday, working-class people to theorize, comment, analyze and discuss matters that exist outside the confines of their daily lives, yet greatly impact them on a daily basis. The organization was named after former Black Panther, Fred Hampton, and also cites inspiration from Italian Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, as well as educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire. In order to remain consistent with its working-class billing, the HI seeks out, as well as aims to develop, organic intellectuals within the working class; both in the US as well as internationally.
The Hampton Institute has roots almost a decade old. During his time in graduate school, HI founder, Colin Jenkins, became intensely politicized and "obsessed" with reading, learning and acquiring knowledge. During this time, he developed aspirations of writing. Eventually, this personal aspiration evolved into a desire to create a collective outlet for radical inquiry. As with such ambitions, this embryo was constantly overridden by the demands of life. Then, years later, he was ready to give it a go. The energy, and opening created by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement was the final push Colin needed. The fruit of his energy and initiative is the HI.
According to its founder, "The original team was gathered through roughly three years of networking, mostly on social media. It allowed me to meet a diverse group of intelligent, inquisitive and passionate folks - the very folks who are now the Hampton Institute." Although the ranks of the HI's leadership have seen some changes since its initial inception, there has remained a dedicated and diverse group of scholars, activists, radicals, and other heterodox thinkers at the core of the HI.
2. The Hampton Institute is a "radical working-class think-tank." What does that mean?
First and foremost, as a think tank, the HI seeks to generate ideas and cultivate dialogue. It wants to do this in a way that relates to the interests of the public-at-large by providing working-class analyses which run contrary to the talking heads of corporate-dominated media. It wants to help contribute to the shaping of a new paradigm of collective and critical thinking - one that is based on foundational issues of class, race, gender and privilege. There is an ongoing battle for consciousness - particularly that which deals with our position in a class-based world - and the other side (1% of the global population) is winning.
During the age of neoliberalism, private corporate interests have gained complete control of governments around the world, especially among the established European powers, the United States chief among them. The result: A global economic system that has enriched a handful of people while leaving most behind. We have working-class folks killing other working-class folks, whether here in the U.S. or abroad, at a pace and frequency previously untouched. Racism and bigotry still rule the day, and corporate propaganda has us blaming the victims of this global structure while pointing the accusatory finger at the most vulnerable of our class - the poor and impoverished.
The HI is "radical" in the sense that it seeks to promote revolutionary consciousness within the working class. It seeks to help develop the working class into a self-conscious class-for-itself capable of fundamentally changing the nature of society. It is "radical" in that it is unabashedly anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist, and opposed to a society based on privilege and exclusion. The HI is "working class" in that it seeks out organic intellectuals among the working classes, but also aims to aid in sparking a revival of working-class intellectualism. The HI is a "think-tank" in that it produces knowledge. Not being bought and paid for by elite interests, the HI's work maintains independence and credibility with and for the working classes.
Traditional think tanks are composed mainly of privileged members of the elite class possessing degrees from elite universities, usually sporting a hefty resume or C.V. chalk-full of internships with elite national and international firms, NGOs, or other organizations, and post-doctoral or other such educational programs attended at other elite universities, et cetera. Traditional think tanks are also typically in the pocket of one or the other of the two main capitalist political parties in the US, or in the pocket of one or more "special interest" groups of elites. They produce "reports" and the like for money. In this sense, they are intellectual prostitutes.
The HI is the opposite of the traditional think tank. The HI is not aligned with or beholden to any political party, or other interest groups of the elite. The HI focuses exclusively on the working class, its contemporary social, political, or economic realities, its history, its culture, its struggles, its diversity, and its future. The HI is internationalist in that it sees the struggles of working-class people anywhere as important to working-class people everywhere. In today's political climate, the working class is considered just another "special interest," and some would certainly try to label HI as partisan, or biased, on this account. Within the context of contemporary politics, the HI is proudly biased in favor of the working-class majority.
3. How is the Hampton Institute structured?
The HI is organized along egalitarian, democratic, non-hierarchical, de-centralized, and consensual lines. The department chairpersons both curate and write for their departments. The current department chairs and the HI Advisory Board are considered the active leadership. They make decisions about the HI among themselves democratically, seeking consensus, but relying on majority-rules voting when necessary or appropriate.
4. Do the Department Chairs at the Hampton Institute get paid?
At present, the work of the HI is conducted on an all volunteer basis. None of the leadership of the HI receives any pecuniary remuneration for the contribution their time and energy make to the HI. The HI aims to, and is actively pursuing the means to, turn the Department Chairs into paid positions, a lack a sufficient revenue stream prevents this. HI would like to offer its chairs some remuneration so as to make their work with HI easier.
In traditional think tanks, the employees are usually well-paid. This is a function of the deep pocketed interest groups of various sections of the capitalist class showering these "Centers," "Institutes" and such, with money so that they will produce exactly the kinds of pro-capitalist "studies" and "reports" that "prove" exactly what the capitalists want to be proven. These places are typically staffed with ideological partisans of the ruling class, advancing worn-out or hair-brained economic philosophies more appropriate to the second decade of the 19th century than the 21st century.
The constituency the HI serves is the working class. The same people, on whose backs the wealth of society is created, who then have that wealth stolen from them, merely as a matter of "business." Since theft from the working class is a sine qua non of capitalist society, this constituency does not possess the resources to establish and maintain a network of think tanks devoted exclusively to its interests.
5. Why does the Hampton Institute operate the way it does?
The HI editorial team operates according to a collective, non-hierarchical, consensus-based model of organization because this is the form of social organization and collective decision-making the HI team endeavors to create in society. The members of the HI understand the importance of creating and sustaining the kinds of social, intellectual relationships that are to form the basis of a new society. Since it is an open & inclusive, transparent, democratic, and egalitarian society that the members of the HI team desire, this is also the organizational culture that the HI team seeks to inculcate. The HI seeks to embody the inchoate forms of a radically new form of social organization, one no longer founded on the expropriation of the working class.
6. Where is the Hampton Institute? Can I visit the Institute?
The HI, since its founding, has been a "virtual organization" lacking a specific geographic location. In brief, there is no physical institute for one to visit. For now, the HI's main institutional incarnations are its website and its publishing arm, The Hampton Institute Press. The organization is maintained by the activity of its members, contributors, and readers. Because the HI's founder is based in the Albany NY, USA area, the HI has a P.O. box in Clifton Park NY, USA. The HI is a fast-growing organization, and as its needs grow so may its physical presence.
While you may not be able to visit an actual institute, if you are in geographical proximity to a member of the HI team, you can certainly attempt to arrange to meet with those members; this is of course subject to their schedule and availability. Requests to meet with a member of the HI team can be sent to those members directly. Our Contact page has all the information needed to reach out to a member of the HI team.
Inquiries regarding formal interviews and speaking engagements with, or conference participation by members of the HI team should be directed to the HI Speakers Bureau.
7. So, the Hampton Institute is only online?
While the HI does maintain a strong presence on the internet, via its website and social media, it is also very much engaged in, and seeks to be engaged in, the struggles of the working-class communities of which its members are part. The members of the HI editorial team, its contributors, and its readers are actively engaged in raising radical working-class consciousness in their home communities, in their nations, and in their world. The HI is dedicated to transforming the world around us through the organic development of working-class consciousness, as much by direct action as by theory & analysis. The HI seeks to provide a base from which activists, struggles, and movements can seek solidarity, be united, and in so-being, be multiplied in the cause of working-class emancipation.
In addition to the work the HI does on its website, it also sponsors many "real-world" projects and programs. The HI sponsors teach-ins, conference panels, book talks, public lectures and other informative presentations, and many other events engaging the public. The HI sponsors, or is open to sponsoring, events which highlight the struggles, in one form or another, and experience of working-class persons, both in the US as well as internationally, as well as their struggles for dignity, equality, and a decent life.
8. How can I be a part of the Hampton Institute, or contribute to its work?
If you want to be a part of the HI and its mission there are several ways to be involved;
If you have written work you want to share you can submit it to the HI for review and potential publication. If you really have a passion for writing, social justice, and the working-class you can become a contributor.
If you have a manuscript of a book you think the HI Press would be interested in, you can also submit that for review and potential publication.
If you are planning events, conferences, or meetings, consider bringing in a speaker from HI Speakers Bureau.
The HI offers several kinds of un-paid internship opportunities for those interested.
9. Can I make a monetary contribution to the Hampton Institute? If I did, where does that money go?
Monetary donations are always helpful, and give much support to the work of the HI. The contributions received by the HI go 100% to helping defray the costs on the HI's work. Unfortunately, being on the internet and operating a website is not a costless activity, nor is publishing the books that come out of the HI Press. Currently, the HI operates at a loss - that is it costs the members money to conduct the work of the HI. In order for the HI to take on more and bigger projects, it will require a base of resources, monetary resources chief among them. Thus, financial contributions are essential for the continued growth of the HI.
The easiest way to make a financial contribution to the HI is to use this link; scroll to the bottom and click on the yellow Paypal icon that says "Donate."
Your contribution to the HI goes into a bank account administered by the HI's founder, chief editor, and Social Economics Department Chair, Colin Jenkins.
Unfortunately, at present, these contributions are NOT tax deductible because the HI is not yet a legally registered not-for-profit organization.