Hello listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 3 of Transmissions, a new podcast I’ve been involved with lately. Transmissions is the official podcast of the Class Unity Caucus of the DSA, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode.
On May Day, Steph K and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Alex Shah, Co-Founder and Staff Writer with the Toronto-based Class Collective magazine. Class Collective describes itself as “an annual literary magazine that illuminates the class struggle(s) hidden in the shadows of our culture.”
We start the conversation by inviting Shah to reflect on Class Collective’s own recent interview with Class Unity, called “On the Left’s Middle Class Problem.” What exactly is the left’s middle class problem and why is it such an important topic? Focusing specifically on the sometimes thorny question of class politics versus “identity” politics, we were curious to hear what theoretical waypoints Shah might be able to offer to help us orient our own approach.
Staying with the middle class problem, we ask whether the Canadian experience can offer any unique lessons for those interested in workplace organizing, here in the US. What kind of reactions does Shah encounter when he talks to fellow leftists in Canada about Class Collective’s perspective on identity politics? Whereas Class Unity members often discuss the “iron triangle” thesis (namely, the role of middle class institutions such as academia, the media, and NGOs) as a way of addressing the power and function of the urban, college-educated middle class in the US, to what extent is this framework applicable in Canada? And if it is, to what extent does the Canadian left recognize it as a problem?
Changing register, we then discuss Class Collective’s literary sensitivity. With the amount of poetry and prose on offer throughout its pages, the Editors clearly hold literature in high regard. For some, this disposition might suggest too much of an affinity for a kind of kind of middle-class or bourgeois-decadent perspective. Yet, while such scorn is regretfully common on the left, it is often too hasty as, from Dickens to Wilde to Brecht, the left has always had its own literature. We ask Shah for his views about left poetry, working-class poetry, and whether or how he sees any necessary linkages between the two – and whether he has any favorite leftist poets that he would recommend.
Moving to the end of the interview, we discuss Class Collective’s recent engagement with Midwestern Marx, on Building a Socialist America. One of the interesting tensions explored in this intervention is the tension on the left between, on the one hand, a kind of pro-State Department reflex on the part of many leftists, who refuse to critique “the US imperialist cold war against China and Russia” and, on the other, a kind of radical “death to America ‘ultra’” position which reduces America to white settler colonialism and adventurism, and all of contemporary geopolitics to a struggle against US imperialism. As a way out of this impasse, Midwestern Marx argues for a renewed attention to dialectics. We ask Alex to discuss this further, and its applicability today, especially in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Finally, we address Shah’s own essay in Class Collective’s January edition, called “Why Death Anxiety is on the Rise.” In this piece, Shah discusses “Liberalism’s fetishization of the present” as a fundamental aspect of globalization’s “brutal flattening and homogenization of the world.” Shah cites Mark Fisher, who argued that political order erodes our past and future, obliging us to dwell in an eternal present, and condemning the working class to what he termed “hedonic depression.” What, for Shah, might we be looking out for, if we want to observe some of the symptoms of this anxiety in ourselves? And what, if anything, can ordinary members of the working class do to attend to this anxiety in themselves?