The ‘Fully Automated’ podcast features interviews with scholars and thinkers on a range of ongoing controversies within the left, including austerity, financialization, automation and, above all, the future of left strategy.
Episode 37: Class Collective (w/ Alex Shah)
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.
Ukraine, NOBS, and the End of the End of History (w/ George Hoare)
Hello listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 2 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.
Our guest for this episode is George Hoare, co-host of the Bungacast (neé Aufebunga Bunga) podcast, and co-author along with Alex Hochuli and Philip Cunliffe, of The End of the End of History (Zero Books, 2021).
In this episode, we begin with a discussion of Francis Fukuyama's concept of the end of history, and how many intellectuals misread it as a 'triumphalist' celebration of American victory in the Cold War. The better argument, according to Hoare et al., is that Fukuyama was talking not just about the birth of a new era of liberal freedom, but of the dawning of an epoch of gloom - one which would bring disappointments to many of its more enthusiastic advocates.
We also discuss the war in Ukraine. So far, in western media at least, accounts of the causes of this war seem to rest upon simplistic caricatures of Putin's flawed personality. Yet these accounts are contested, and a well-reasoned minority opinion suggests the deeper issue is NATO expansionism. Given that the West is typically used to getting its own way, to what extent is the Russian invasion of Ukraine a kind of reality check for neoliberal technocracy? While the invasion of Ukraine is illegal and monstrous, can it be understood as marking the return of politics?
As the interview progresses, we touch on numerous core concepts from the book, including the anti-political turn - also known as the "return of dissensus." This turn was perhaps nowhere more clearly on display that in the 2016 election of Donald Trump. For Hoare et al, this moment occasioned the breakout across the United States of what they term 'Neoliberal Order Breakdown Syndrome' (NOBS). However, argue the Bunga crew, it was not without its historic antecedents. And, in some ways, we can see the effects of NOBS already at play in the politics surrounding Silvio Berlusconi's rise to power in Italy, in the 1990s.
We also push back a little on Hoare in the interview, challenging some of the book's characterizations of the limits of left-populism. While it is undoubtedly true, as Hoare et al. contend, that left-populism is anti-political in the sense that it has no theory of adequate "authority," and that left-populist leaders like AOC and Bernie have failed thus far "to key into the agency of their own citizens," we put it to him that this may be more of a bug than a feature. After all, as Thomas Frank and others have argued in recent times, there is a long and venerable history of left populist success, in the United States.
Other topics addressed include the applicability of the book's arguments to the recent Canadian trucker rally against covid vaccination requirements, and contemporary debates around "techno-populism."
We hope you'll enjoy this discussion. If you want to find out more about Class Unity, here are some useful links:
Website: https://classunity.orgTwitter: https://twitter.com/ClassUnityDSAFacebook: https://www.
Race and Anti-Politics, with Christine Louis-Dit-Sully
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.
You Sexy Hacktivist MOOCer, with Sebastian Kaempf
We are back with another great episode of Fully Automated. In this episode, we step back a little bit from the grander political themes that we are usually preoccupied with, to do an episode on the pedagogical possibilities (and challenges) presented by contemporary technology.
When it comes to online teaching in the discipline of International Relations, there are very few that can claim to have the experience or insight of Dr. Sebastian Kaempf. Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland (Australia), Kaempf is a scholar of global media politics, focusing on the impact of changing media technologies on contemporary conflicts. He is also is the producer (with UQx and edX.com) and convenor of 'MediaWarX', one of UQ's Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and probably one of the largest political science MOOCs in the world.
For some, MOOCs seem to represent a sort of ultimate form of “democratized” education whereas, for others, they seem to herald the dawn of a new dystopian age. For Kaempf, now a longtime veteran of online teaching, its important to bring some nuance to this conversation. Pedagogy can make a difference. And, as you’ll hear in this conversation, Kaempf and his partners at UQ put a lot of thought and material resources into their approach, pushing the medium to the very edge of what it can accomplish.
Here then, Kaempf discusses the minutiae of how he and his colleagues actually built and delivered the course. On the one hand, they avoided the traditional lecture form in favor of what they call “spaced learning” — because research shows that human beings kind of struggle to concentrate that long. On the other, and in a break with the usual stereotype of dry pre-recorded lectures, a central theme of MediaWarX is the seriousness with which they approached the class as a kind of media production. So, for example, portions of the course are presented in a kind of ‘road movie’ or documentary style, blending diverse archival footage with on-site discussions from locations all around the world, and interviews with well-known academics and experts (including Glenn Greenwald!).
We’ll also hear Seb discuss the ethos of “Hacktivism” that he tries to bring to his online teaching. Thus, he uses discovery assignments to teach about everything from how search algorithms work, to how we are addicted to being online, to the power of big data and surveillance. In this way, the course develops a kind of “crowd sourced” content.
Finally, I ask Sebastian about Covid, and where and how it has changed the fate of MOOCs and online instruction in general. After 18 months of more or less totally online instruction, how does his experience of working with, and thinking about, MOOCs effect his perception of the future of online education in a post-pandemic world?
Sebastian Kaempf can be found on Twitter @SebKaempf and his podcast, Higher Ed Heroes, can be found on all leading podcast apps. And his International Studies Perspectives article with Carrie Finn, discussed in the interview, can be located here:
Thanks for listening. Next episode,
Can’t Get Chairman Moe out of My Head
Hey everybody! Its your old pal, “Dr. Nick” here (Simpsons heads will get that reference pretty easily). This episode features the return of Chairman Moe, your favorite Fully Automated regular guests. Last we heard from them, they were interviewing Keir Milburn on his book Generation Left (see Episode 19). This episode sees them returning to Fully Automated, for a long chat on Adam Curtis’s recent documentary, Can’t Get You Out of My Head. Yes, true enough, this is hardly the first time you’ll have heard a discussion about this documentary in a podcast. But it is the first time you’ll have heard it discussed quite like this. Here, we adopt a unique take on Curtis, reading him through the lens of an eclectic group of texts drawn from our own readings, over the last year or so. These include, tho by no means exclusively, Gilles Dauvé's Crisis and Communization, Thomas Frank’s The People, No, and Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology.
Our goal, as one quick whip put it on Twitter, is to "figure out what in the hell Curtis's politics are in 2021." In the end, we conclude that Curtis is an important and necessary commentator, but that he comes to some unhelpful conclusions. This, we think, can be attributed to his tendency to ignore the lessons of materialism and blame idealism for the flaws of the left. For us, Marx, Frank, and Dauvé can each bring something unique to the task of patching up the missing parts of Curtis’s framework. Dauvé, despite his weird normative focus on localism and simplistic low-tech authenticity, provides perhaps the greatest insight into why only a materialist critique can work in our effort to assess the flaws of the contemporary left. Whereas, perhaps more controversially, Frank provides the antidote to Curtis’s occasional tendency to fall into anti-populist cynicism.
I want to thank Chairman Moe (who are, in real life, Columbus OH-based independent scholars Charlie Umland and Jim Calder) for sharing his valuable time with us, and also Darren Latanick for so patiently indulging the Chairman’s antics, and producing a great show for us.
We’ll be back quite soon, with an interview with Sebastian Kaempf on MOOCs in Higher Ed. And then we have a number of other guests lined up, between now and the end of the year. Thanks for listening!
The New Twenty Years' Crisis, with Philip Cunliffe, Shahar Hameiri, Patrick Porter, and Nicholas Kiersey
The episode features a roundtable on Philip Cunliffe’s latest book, The New Twenty Years' Crisis (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020). And, in a bit of a break with tradition, this episode also sees me jump out of the host’s seat, and invite Shahar Hameiri (University of Queensland) to take over the reins.
Joining me in the panel to discuss the book is the author, Philip Cunliffe (making his third appearance on the show), and Patrick Porter (University of Birmingham). Tara McCormack (University of Leicester) was also scheduled to join us but had to withdraw at the last minute, due to illness.
It was great to have Phil back on the show, to discuss this important book. The last time he was on, we talked about his previous book, Cosmopolitan Dystopia, which was a survey of human rights discourse on global politics since the end of the Cold War. The new book takes the theme of liberal war-making from that book, and attempts to read it through the lens of E. H. Carr’s classic 1939 text, The Twenty Years' Crisis.
On the eve of World War Two, Carr described the politics of his time as a kind of interregnum, or a time of passage between two regimes of world order. For Carr, the great tragedy of his time was that the normative commitments of the intellectuals of interbellum period — namely, to the power of public opinion, to sovereign self-determination, and to international law and institutions — were incongruent with the kinds of mass-mobilized politics that were rapidly sweeping away their world order, and undermining the very conditions of possibility for securing those commitments.
For Cunliffe, however, the lessons of Carr’s study of the 1919-1939 period must today be applied in a kind of inverted manner. For where it was mass politics that ultimately frustrated and undid the political project of the utopian idealists, we do not today live in such a massified moment. To the contrary, as scholars like Peter Mair have described, we live in a demassified moment, where the agendas of college-educated neoliberal Brahmins dominate, unchecked. Worse, as Cunliffe explores, these new elites are kind of anti-utopians. They detest the values of the interbellum period, deriding public opinion and breaching sovereign self-determination in the name of so-called responsibility.
Cunliffe explores this argument through a number of fascinating case studies, taking us from the salons of International Relations conventions, which have been overtaken by ‘critical’ theorists (a group of scholars whose methods are singularly symptomatic of the “imaginary” of our unipolar moment), to the hallways of Brussels, capital of that grandest of examples of “de-massified,” neoliberal democracy, the European Union. The overarching theme that emerges is one of a shocking lack of self-awareness on the part of our political and intellectual elites.
As you’ll hear, the panelists are on the whole friendly to Phil’s diagnosis, but they do push back on some of his normative suggestions. Despite these disagreements, however, I will say that I think this is one of the more important episodes we’ve done on this show. Diagnostically, Phil is one of the sharpest commentators around, on the contradictions of our postmodern moment. I want to thank Phil, Patrick, and Shahar for their time and effort in helping to make this conversation happen.
Nice podcast. Love your voice.
This is excellent. I listened on his webpage. Thoughtfully and well discussed. I recomend it to all. We need more thinking and reporting such as this.
I heard the plug for this on the Always Already Podcast and I am so glad I found it. This is fantastic.