Zero Squared #31: Dialectic of Defeat

Russell Jacoby’s Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism is the subject this week and C Derick Varn is the guest. Varn is a poet, teacher, theorist and a reader at Zero Books. This is the second time we’ve spoken about Jacoby’s book. We’re taking it one chapter at a time.

Russell Jacoby asks us to reexamine a loser of Marxism: the unorthodox Marxism of Western Europe. The author begins with a polemical attack on ‘conformist’ or orthodox Marxism, in which he includes structuralist schools. He argues that a cult of success and science drained this Marxism of its critical impulse and that the successes of the Russian and Chinese revolutions encouraged a mechanical and fruitless mimicry. He then turns to a Western alternative that neither succumbed to the spell of success nor obliterated the individual in the name of science. In the nineteenth century, this Western Marxism already diverged from Russian Marxism in its interpretation of Hegel and its evaluation of Engels’ orthodox Marxism. The author follows the evolution of this minority tradition and its opposition to authoritarian forms of political theory and practice.

In this episode you’ll here a list of moder political philosophers set to Life is a Rock by Reunion, Frederic Jameson set to music from the Manson Family Opera, an excerpt from an old episode of Diet Soap wherein I discuss Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit with my son Benjamin, and Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Partita #2.

Zero Squared Special: Left Forum Panel on Praxis

Theory, Practice and Praxis was the topic of the first Zero Books panel at the Left Forum last month and this week instead of an interview you’ll hear a recording of that panel. Thanks to Michael Steinberg and his crew/family for arriving with solid audio equipment and for putting up with the interruptions and heckling that came from the moderator. Thanks also to Chris Vitale for participating.

Here’s an Excerpt from the introduction:

There are many definitions of the word Praxis that get kicked around in Marxist circles and most of them are meaningless. Often enough the word is used to signify a half baked notion of a synthesis between theory and practice, touted as a solution for the problem of sterile or academic philosophy. The idea is that people put “theory” on a pedestal when really, as Marx argued, the aim shouldn’t be to merely interpret the world, but to change it. Praxis then is the realization of this necessity, it’s a word that is often spoken with the aim of elevating practice, a word deployed meant to bring the merely practical to the level of theory, when the true insight contained in the word is how utterly entwined theory and practice are from the start.

Michael Steinberg is the author of Enlightenment Interrupted and Chris Vitale is the author of Networkologies.

Zero Squared #13: Heavy Radicals

Aaron Leonard is the guest this week and we discuss his book Heavy Radicals which was published by Zero Books in February. With the subtile: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists, Aaron Leonard’s book covers Maoism in America from the 60s through to 1980.

Sarah Khan at the Washington Book Review praised the book.

“Heavy Radicals is an excellent addition to the literature on the history of revolutionary groups which played important roles in the 1960s and 1970s. It is the first comprehensive and complete history of … the Revolutionary Union. It is a well-researched book which fills the gap created by the absence of historical literature on an important period in the history of the United States.”

In this episode you’ll hear a clips from Bob Avakian, the American propaganda film “What is Communism,” the 1963 instrumental hit Pipeline by the Chantays, Mario Savio at Sproul Hall in 1964, Andrew Kliman, a String Quartet cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the aria “I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung” from John Adam’s opera Nixon in China as well as John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances.”

Diet Soap Podcast #224: Pop the Imperialism

Imperialism is the subject this week as C Derrick Varn and I bring back Pop the Left and discuss Lenin’s pamphlet “Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism.”This was to be a discussion of the notion of the labor aristocracy, but we decided to start slow and see if we could understand Imperialism first.

From Lenin’s pamphlet, here’s the definition:

[Imperialism features]

(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life
(2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy
(3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance
(4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves
(5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.

Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

I’d like to urge regular listeners to the Diet Soap podcast to find the paypal button at dietsoap.podomatic.com. Also, the podcast is also available via iTunes and I urge people who enjoy this show to consider leaving a review at iTunes in lieu of a donation