Hello friends! Its beginning to look a lot of like Christmas, and what better way to mark the occasion than with another episode of Fully Automated! Today, we are very excited to bring you this episode with Christine Louis Dit Sully, author of the recent book, Transcending Racial Divisions: Will You Stand By Me? (Zero Books, 2021).
Christine Louis-Dit-Sully grew up in an immigrant family, in the 93rd arrondissement of Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis — an area of France known for its racial diversity, its poverty, and its complicated relationship with law enforcement. She spent nearly 20 years as an academic in the discipline of Biology. She then left the sciences, and turned to the study of politics, focusing specifically on issues of race, identity, social justice and the demand for ‘safe spaces’ in British and American universities. Today, she lives in the Black Forest region of Germany.
In the introduction to Transcending Racial Divisions, Louis-Dit-Sully writes that, for her, questions about race and racism are both a “political and a personal concern.” She goes on to discuss the common belief that the advance of social liberalism in the west has meant real progress for racial minorities. The problem with this myth, she notes, is that today we are much less likely to see members of racial groupings as distinct individuals, with their own unique identities. Instead, we have seen the rise of so-called identity politics, and a tendency to see individuals first and foremost as members of a race. Indeed, she notes, in her personal experience, she is seen once again today as a black woman, whose “opinions and beliefs are apparently determined by her race.”
Historically, racial thinking has been a hallmark of the right. However, worryingly, today it is also an increasingly common phenomena on the left. Now, some will say the left has good faith motivations in this turn. After all, given the history of racism, it is not entirely unfair to assume that the victims of racism might have something to say on the matter. Yet, she states, here we run into the problem of anti-politics. Because if we are ever to create real equality, we require the kind of power that can come only from a universalistic form of solidarity. However, the contemporary left’s embrace of standpoint epistemology — the belief that an idea can be understood only from the standpoint of a certain group identity — means that groups are seen as immutable, and immune to the passage of time. Whiteness, for example, is equated with original sin, and blackness equated with injury, and perpetual victimhood. If this is true, she says, then politics itself — that is, our very ability to imagine political change — is destroyed. Clearly then, if we are to discover a universalistic basis for solidarity, we must find new ways of understanding the world. And, for Louis-Dit-Sully, this means a return to Marx.
Hello friends! Its been a while. Sorry about that. Its been a busy semester, teaching an overload class, and wrapping up some publishing projects (here and here). But we are back, and we have a ton of new shows coming your way this summer! Coming up in the next weeks, we have another episode with our Columbus OH friends, “Chairman Moe’s Magic Contradiction” on Adam Curtis’s new documentary, ”Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” We also have panels coming up, on Clyde Barrow’s new book on the Lumpenproletariat, Phil Cunliffe’s The New Twenty Years’ Crisis, and an interview with Christine Louis-Dit-Sully.
For this 31st episode of Fully Automated, and to help us break the dry spell, our guest is none other than legendary podcast figure “KMO”! KMO is the host and producer of the C-Realm Podcast, a cartoonist and author of the book ‘Conversations on Collapse.’
On KMO’s bio, there’s a great quote from Doug Lain, creator of the Diet Soap podcast and now the Zero Books podcast (and previous guest of this show!):
KMO was once a winner in the capitalist game. He had high tech dreams and plenty of ambition, but somewhere along the line KMO dropped out, spent what he had, and started over in a simpler way. No longer rich and no longer so enamored with the technocratic fantasies of the prevailing order, he squeaks by in this world while seeking another. More than anything KMO is a broadcaster and interviewer who has a gentle and amiable way of challenging and inspiring interesting conversations with authors, artists, psychedelic gurus, sociologists, NASA scientists, economists, and more on his weekly podcast called the C-Realm.
Now, to be sure, KMO is not exactly what you might call a ‘typical guest’ for this podcast. Yet, as you’ll hear, he is a widely read reader on all things to do with the politics of technology, and science fiction.
I first met KMO a few weeks ago, in the Politics and Science Fiction room, on Clubhouse that I started earlier this year, with Giuseppe Porcaro, Jamie Chipperfield, Sarah Shoker, and Nicholas Barrett. It became clear we had some overlapping interests on the topics under discussion, so we stayed in touch and found out that we have a lot of mutual friends in the leftwing podcast universe.
KMO recently invited me on his show, the C-Realm, for a discussion of science fiction and the politics of technological change. And this episode of Fully Automated is kind of a Part 2 of that show, where KMO responds to my arguments.
In this episode, you’ll hear us discuss a wide range of topics: Clubhouse as a phenomena; recent remarks by the pop star Grimes on whether communists should be interested in Fully Automated Communism; the rise of PMC ideology, and why its so hard to discuss the topic of class on the left anymore; Thomas Frank’s recent claims about Wuhan lab leak theory, and its significance for the already tarnished reputation of mainstream media; and, finally, we chat about politics and science fiction — you’ll hear KMO talk about why and how science fiction is (and isn’t!) for him political!
For those interested, here are the links to the couple of items KMO mentioned in the show:
His written response to my views on FALC, as I expressed them during my appearance on C-Realm (see my brief rejoinder below).
Rejoinder: Reading KMO’s published remarks on Patreon, he offers what I find to be a rather wild and somewhat bad faith interpretation of my views on Walmart and FALC:
“You invoked WalMart as an example of a very complicated system of production and supply chain management and then suggested that it needn’t be labor-intensive. You could just set it up and let it run for long periods and just check in on it from time to time. That’s not how WalMart works. WalMart’s operations require constant attention and tweaking by an army of highly-specialized, highly-trained and very-highly compensated individuals. They use a lot of what could loosely be described as “artificial intelligence” but it also involves constant human toil.”
Frankly, I am at a bit of a loss as to how KMO comes to this interpretation. To be clear, in my discussion with him, I never said that WalMart isn’t labor intensive. That wasn’t the point at all. Indeed, I re-listened to what I said, and it is very clear that what we were discussing was what is referred to sometimes as the Socialist Calculation Debate. Hence my referencing cybernetics, Stafford Beer, and the Chilean Cybersyn system. My discussion of WalMart was very obviously a reference to Leigh Phillips & Michal Rozworski’s book, The People’s Republic of WalMart. This is an important pillar of any discussion of FALC, because it shows how we might begin to overcome narrow assumptions about the limits of socialist economics, and ‘leap frog’ the pace of technological development to hasten the day when full automation displaces labor, and finally explodes the capitalist value system. Of course, we could equally just sit around and wait for the scenario Marx outlines in the Grundrisse (in the famous ‘Fragment on Machines’) to happen all by itself. But the question of socialist strategy was something that preoccupied Marx too, quite apart from his quest to grasp capitalist political economy. Clearly our arrival at capitalism’s point of ultimate contradiction was not something Marx was content simply to sit around and wait for. And neither should we!
Final note: apologies, but the audio quality is a bit over-produced in this episode. I have been trying to up my game with Adobe Audition, and I think I added too much gain to my own track here. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch this the next time.
Greetings! Welcome to Part Two of Episode 26, where we continue our interview with Adam Proctor. As I noted last time, while this is a long interview, it was also a long overdue interview. There was so much good stuff to talk about, it seemed wasteful to try to cram it all into one episode.
In Part One, we spent some time looking back over the main themes and controversies of four years of DPS (freedom of speech issues, cancel culture, race essentialism, etc.). We also talked socialist strategy, and the application of work by Sam Ginden and Leo Pantich to the Grexit question.
In Part Two, we turn our gaze more to the present, and to future. We join the conversation mid-flow, debating the post-Bernie moment, and the question of whether or not we should swallow, as it is sometimes termed, “the black pill.” Here, I push Adam on his latest slogan. That is, a warning that we should eschew taking up residence in “the basement of the vampire’s castle.” This of course is a modification of Mark Fisher’s ‘Vampire Castle’ hypothesis. In a well-known 2013 essay, Exiting the Vampire Castle, Fisher noted how in Late Capitalism the left confronts obstacles emanating not only from its foes on the other side of the ideological equation, but also from its own tendency for self-destructive behavior. Part of the problem, he wrote, is that the hyper-individuation of social life under the neoliberal cultural project has been so successful that even the left has forgotten the importance of collective power for politics. Hence its paradoxical descent into culture war and performativity.
Addressing this critique, we discuss first the importance of Angela Nagle’s stance on sub-culture, and its tendency to compete for the accumulation of cultural capital, before then moving on to address what we might call “the black pill” question. The key, Adam notes, is to take measure of the goals you want the left to accomplish, and then envision what the left would have to look like, in order for these goals to be achieved.
Later in the episode, we look at the post-2008 de-linking of the financial economy from the productive economy, the threat of a return of austerity (did it ever go?) in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, and the question of what the left is, today. And we wrap up with a sympathetically critical discussion of the state of left media in general, and the “Patreon” model of left podcasting in particular.
Hey everyone! Welcome to Episode 26 of Fully Automated… or, at least, Episode 26, Part One!
This is a super long overdue episode with a guest I have wanted to have on the show for a long time: Adam Proctor, the host of Dead Pundit’s Society. Adam has been doing his show FULL TIME for the last four years, delivering not only on his commitment to evangelizing “socialism for ordinary ass’ed people” but to making an incredibly important (and often misunderstood) contribution to the critique of political economy.
In Part One of this episode, we discuss Adam’s background, and the story behind the Dead Pundit’s Society. DPS emerged as part of the 2016 leftist podcast wave. Some I suppose would associate Adam with the “dirtbag left,” and shows like Chapo Trap House. But the story is more complicated than that.
One of the interesting things about DPS is the niche it has always occupied, between audience accessibility and issues-driven programming, on the one hand, and a commitment to rigorous academic thought, on the other. There’s a certain public intellectual function to the show. So, in this episode, we discuss the role of the left intellectual. And the question of how to balance this sort of awkward relationship, of being neither an entertainer nor an academic, but something in between.
DPS covers a wide range of themes — everything from state theory through race essentialism. These are less controversial topics today, perhaps, but in 2016 Adam was taking huge risks by trying to mainstream them among an American left that was still largely committed to horizontalist or “occupy” style ideals. Four years into this project, it is clear that DPS has played a major role in articulating these ideas to a wider audience that one might have imagined possible, back in 2016.
In Part One, you’ll hear us address the early days of the show, and Adam’s notorious attempts to take on freedom of speech issues, cancel culture, and race essentialism. We also talk socialist strategy, and the application of work by Sam Ginden and Leo Pantich to the Grexit question. And as if these takes weren’t controversial enough, wait ’til you see what we get into in Part Two! (Coming later this week).
Today we are joined once again by Colin Coulter, of National University of Ireland, Maynooth. You might remember Colin from way back in Episode 8. That was like. 3 years ago! I didn’t even know I’d been doing this for three years!
But I wanted to ask Colin back on this week to talk about the recent election in Ireland. Because it turns out this wasn’t any old election in Ireland! In a stunning result, Sinn Fein, a party which probably more than any other symbolizes the troubled history that many Irish people would sooner forget, surged from the 23 seats it won in the 2016 election, to 37 seats. Now, considering that prior to 2016, Sinn Fein typically never had more than 4 or 5 seats, the momentum here is clear. But it is now the second largest party in the Dail, just one seat behind Fianna Fáil (38 seats). Yet Sinn Fein isn’t just a relic of Ireland’s Civil War history. While it is a party with a complicated and often contradictory set of ideological commitments, the 2020 election result (ironically!) suggests a major realignment of the Irish political spectrum, away from Civil War politics, and towards something much more like the traditional European left-right model.
Colin Coulter is going to talk us through it all in just a moment. Before we get to the interview tho, Colin asked me to mention that he has a new article he has out, with Francisco Arqueros-Fernández, called “The Distortions of the Irish ‘Recovery.’” You can find it in the Spring 2020 issue of the journal Critical Social Policy:
As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. If you like this episode, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts, or your preferred podcast provider. This is an occasional show. Its free. We never ask you for money. But we do want to spread the word.
Today, we are releasing Part 2 of our conversation with Jim Calder and Charlie Umland, on Situationism. In the last episode, we addressed some of the basic concepts and arguments of the Situationists, focusing largely on their critique of capitalist modernity. In today’s episode, we turn to question of strategy, and the way the approach of the Situationists to political engagement.
We think this is a timely episode — coming to you as it is, right in the middle of the 50th anniversary of the student revolt in Paris, of May 1968 — an event with which the situationists are often associated, sometimes even being seen as among the key standard-bearers of its intellectual values!
For those unfamiliar, the early weeks of May 1968 saw an major wave of student actions in Paris, protesting the closure and police invasions of University campuses at Nanterre and the Sorbonne. On Tuesday, May 14, the workers’ movements came out and joined the students, and a number of workplace occupations began, including at the Sud Aviation plant near Nantes, and at a Renault parts factory, near Rouen. By May 16, France was in the grip of a General Strike. The workers had occupied close to fifty factories, and hundreds of thousands workers were out on strike, across the country. By the end of the following week, ten million workers were on strike — a figure which amounted to about two-thirds of the entire French workforce.
And its no surprise of course, just as with the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution last October, that the 50th anniversary of May ’68 is a big topic of discussion among the left right now. May 68 is the theme of the latest issue of Jacobin, for example, and there’s a great piece on the Paris uprising in there by Jonah Birch, called “How Beautiful it Was’. Birch argues that, although de Gaulle was eventually able to restore order, and the movement eventually collapsed into infighting:
…even now, May ’68 remains a potent political symbol of the Left’s hopes for a mass movement to challenge capitalism. Nowhere else in the Western world over the past half century was such a threat to capitalism posed.
Listeners might was to check out Birch’s piece (I’ll add a link as soon as there is a web version available). Its a great primer for anyone who wants a bit more background on the May ’68 moment. He has a really interesting discussion the economic and social factors in France at the time, and the extent to which they might have served as triggers of the student uprising. But what’s interesting about Birch’s account is that it mentions the Situationists only once, and then only as a way of sort of flagging an incorrect way of remembering May ’68 — Birch cites the slogans and art terrorism of the situationists, as if by way of ascribing them a merely horizontalist politics, or a politics of everyday life.
Similarly, in the latest episode of the Aufhebunga Bunga podcast, Catherine Liu also discusses May ’68 as nothing more than the sensational arrival of a performative and campus-based politics of everyday life — a harbinger, if you will, of the paradoxically vanguardist politics of today’s campus left; and, ultimately, a politics that is highly compatible with neoliberal managerialism. Early in the episode, she says:
…when you have this very elite group of students who see themselves as extremely important and their colleagues in the media are also striking against these traditionalists, the gaullists, the rightwing, and the fascists, the transformation of everyday life gets elevated to the height of Hegelian world historical significance
Listeners should definitely check that full show. As Liu says, while its a good thing for ordinary people to become aware of their political agency, its bad when people don’t see that agency in connection to the material and social relations of their lives.
But I think what listeners might find interesting about this episode is that, while we try to proceed in a way that is sensitive to the important critiques of Birch and Liu, concerning the hazards of a politics of everyday life, we do try to maintain a little critical distance between what we see as two narratives: on the one hand, an important discussion of the failures of ’68, and its naive lionization of campus politics; on the other, an attempt to recover the oft-elided materialism of the Situationists.
Last we week, we argued that one of the reasons the Situationists could not be written off merely as postmodernists was because of their commitment to the concept of “separation”, or alienation, which was a problem not just in capitalism but in any system of production where workers would not have direct control over the rationalities and systems of production that govern their lives. And it is in this focus on the worker, we argued, that Situationism is still very much a Marxist project.
Our episode last week ended on the question of strategy, and the call of the situationists for a radical break with the order of separation. Today, in Part 2, you’ll hear Charlie, Jim, and myself, pursue this line of thinking further, as we look at the situationists as activists, and their views on the student uprising in May ’68. We’ll look at some of the tensions in situationist praxis at the time, on the one hand trying not to establish themselves as any kind of intellectual vanguard, but on the other, perhaps simply because of their own personalities, behaving sometimes in ways that suggested a rather more stalinist approach. And we’ll also look at their attitudes towards other events in 1968, too, such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Finally, at end the episode, for a bit of fun, we’ll talk about what, if anything, Guy Debord would have to say to Jordan Peterson(!).
As always, feel welcome to reach out on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions: we’re at @occupyirtheory
Thanks again to Darren Latanick for producing this episode!
Welcome to Episode 11, of Fully Automated, an Occupy IR Theory podcast! Today, we have Part One of our first ever two-part episode, on the topic of Situationism! Joining me for this episode are two friends of mine from Columbus, Ohio, Charlie Umland, and Jim Calder. They are pretty sharp, when it comes to this topic. And, over the course of this two-part episode, they’re gonna help us understand just who the situationists were, and who they weren’t.
Now, coincidentally, situationism has sort of been back on the radar, lately. In February 2017, the New York Times ran a piece by Robert Zaretsky, called ‘Trump and the ‘Society of the Spectacle’.’ In the piece, Zaretsky offers this very Situationist sounding line:
Like body snatchers, commodities and images have hijacked what we once naïvely called reality. The authentic nature of the products we make with our hands and the relationships we make with our words have been removed, replaced by their simulacra.”
In the episode, Charlie, Jim and I get into some discussion of this piece. One of our big points is that perhaps Zaretsky’s take is kind of off the mark. For him, the Trump is the master of the image, in a time when the very form of image itself, has hijacked our reality. Focusing on the image as the problematic form this way, however, Zaretsky’s Situationists resonate somewhat too cynically. Indeed, it could be said they bear a familiar resemblance with the work of another famous French scholar, Jean Baudrillard. Now, Baudrillard doesn’t hail from Situationism. But he is a critic of contemporary capitalism, and he is particularly preoccupied with the rise of what he terms ’hyperreality’ — an economic era dominated by the logic of the image, wherein humans have been seduced into a state of passive consumption. For Baudrillard, where older modes of capitalism were predicated on production of actual goods, society today is a simulation; we are a consumer society, but what we consume is nothing more than signs, or symbols. In such a society, even political resistance has sort of dissipated into a kind of moral relativism; we no longer fight for any particular group’s “code” — instead we adopt a stance of ironic “fascination.”
This attitude of fascination, or what we might even call flanneurism, is exemplified in a scene in the recent Adam Curtis documentary, Hypernormalization. In this scene, we meet a young Patti Smith, giggling as she recounts the ironic prospect of poor people, watching movie trailers over and over, on a small screen outside of a cinema. Its as if she’s hypnotized herself, by the total surrender to passivity of the people watching the screen. She is overwhelmed by the cynicism of it all, and can only laugh.
But in the episode, we make the argument that this is perhaps precisely the wrong way to interpret the Spectacle. Situationism is much more than simply a critique of seduction; the theory of spectacle is NOT simply that we have been reduced to the status of a mass of consumers, or that we are simply distracted by the ongoing barrage of the media’s meaningless images. To the contrary, a key concept that has come up for us in our discussions is that of “separation” — which is something like the alienation experienced by everyday people, not just in capitalism, but also in other highly bureaucratized technical systems, like the Soviet Union, when rationalities of expertise work to delegitimize any demand they might make, for true collective participation in the productive systems that govern their lives. And, we argue, it is in this sense that Society of Spectacle is still very much a Marxist project. One need only consider how frequently the topic of the proletariat is discussed, and the various tasks to which it must attend, if it is to survive.
So, a little bit about our guests today. Both are from Ohio:
Charlie Umland is a cook. He likes to learn about art and philosophy and communism, and he is an unapologetic D&D fan.
Jim Calder works in public humanities, and supports the radical critique of everyday life, mostly through reading groups – and, he also loves smoking. Catch him on Twitter at @jamesdcalder
In the first part of the show, you’ll hear us outline some of the basic ground we want to cover: separation, the contrast with Baudrillard, the role of theory, the attitude of the situationists towards modernity, and the emancipatory potential of technology.
Next week we’ll be dropping Part 2 of this episode, which looks at Situationism in something more like an activist light. We’ll talk about the role of the Situationists in the context of the student uprising, in May ’68, their attitude towards the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, some of their scattered commentaries on war, and the question of what, if anything, Guy Debord would have to say about Jordan Peterson(!).
Special thanks this week to Darren Latanick, who produced the episode. As always, feel welcome to reach out on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions: we’re at @occupyirtheory
Our guest for this week’s episode is Michael Tracey, of The Young Turks — Tracey by his own account is a man of the left, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that, to read some of the commentaries that have been written about him online. He’s known primarily known for his iconoclastic views on what he calls “the Russia derangement,” something we addressed on this show all the way back in Episode One, with Tara McCormack.
I encountered Tracey in Chicago last weekend, at the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Convention. We set this interview up with a view primarily to talking about the Convention, and the state of the American left. In this episode, we do address those topics, including the controversy surrounding the election of Danny Fetonte to the DSA’s National Political Committee, or NPC. But with the tragic news of rightwing violence in Charlottesville, VA this morning (the interview was recorded early afternoon, on Sunday, August 13), it seemed proper to address the rise of fascism in the United States, too. In true form, Tracey has some views on that subject which might not be popular among left comrades — including a defence of the ACLU’s decision stand up for freedom of speech for Alt. Right activists. As you’ll hear in the show, however, he gives a good account of himself, and leaves us with much to think about.
Please enjoy the show. As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. You can follow Michael Tracey on Twitter @mtracey.