Category Archives: Podcast

Episode 11 (Part 2): ‘”Situationism” and the 50th Anniversary of May ’68,’ with Charlie Umland and Jim Calder

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!

Episode 11 (Part I): ‘Situationism’, with Charlie Umland and Jim Calder

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

Episode 10: Sclofsky & Funk on ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science’

This episode continues a short series of podcasts on the place ofMarxism in International Relations. Last episode, we had Bryant Sculos, of Florida International University discussing his piece “Marx in Miami: Reflections on Teaching and the Confrontation with Ideology,” co-authored with Sean Walsh, of Capital University. If you haven’t listed to that episode yet, check it out. We got into some great discussion about various techniques and exercises that allow us to use Marx in the classroom, and create space in students’ minds for thinking about the historically-situated nature of human consciousness. And I think what we took away from the conversation was this idea, simply, that while perhaps its not our role to ensure that our students buy into Marxism as a political program, there’s nevertheless a really worthwhile payoff if instructors are willing to take the time to model for students how Marxism can help us think historically about who we are. Where do our ideas come from? What is subjectivity? Marx offers a range of useful thoughts on all these subjects.

Now, as a follow-up to last week’s episode, THIS WEEK we are joined by Sebastian Sclofsky and Kevin Funk, who have a piece in the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science: The Neglect and Misreading of Marx in International Relations and Comparative Politics’ (free version can be found here). If last week’s episode was about the opportunities that Marxism offers, this week’s episode is about the rather weak state of Marxism in political science, these days.

Sebastián Sclofsky is a PhD Candidate in the Political Science Department & Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida. His research focuses on the politics of criminal justice and urban policing — Looking primarily at South Los Angeles and São Paulo, he examines how negative encounters with the police shape residents’ racial identities, local space, and sense of second-class citizenship.

Kevin Funk is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Law and director of International Studies at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. And his main research focus right now is on the globalizing discourses of transnational corporations, and the emergence of micro-level zones of global-urban capital, like the “Sanhattan” neighborhood, in Santiago, Chile.

Episode 9: Bryant Sculos, on “Marx in Miami”

Welcome to another episode of Fully Automated! This week we are starting a short series of podcasts on the place of Marxism in In- ternational Relations. Next episode, we’ll be joined by Sebastian Sclofsky and Kevin Funk, who are going to be discussing a piece they have in the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, ‘The Specter That Haunts Political Science: The Neglect and Misreading of Marx in International Relations and Comparative Politics’. So, look out for that episode, coming in about a week’s time. Its a great interview, and I am really looking forward to posting it for you.

Meanwhile, on this episode, we are joined by Bryant Sculos, an adjunct professor at Florida International University (FIU), to discuss an 2015 piece he co-authored with Sean Walsh, of Capital University, entitled “Marx in Miami: Reflections on Teaching and the Confrontation with Ideology,” which appeared in the journal Class, Race and Corporate Power. In this interview we talk about the particular challenges of teaching Marxism in a city like Miami, with its high population of Cuban immigrants. You’ll hear Bryant discuss some of the unique challenges he encounters in the classroom, and some of the pedagogical approaches that he and his co-author have developed, as they seek to overcome them. Marx, of course, was one of the great thinkers of the historical situatedness of human consciousness. And, regardless of your take on his wider political program, the value of his approach to questions of human nature and political power, cannot be gainsaid.

Towards the end of the interview, we’ll also ask Bryant about his recent run-in with the far-right media, who’ve picked up on a recent piece of his, on the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, which Bryant argues is exemplary of toxic capitalist masculinity … we’ll ask him why he refused to go on television and defend the piece.

Episode 8: Colin Coulter on Ireland, Austerity’s “Model Pupil”?

Coulter & Nagle, Eds.

On today’s episode, we are joined by Colin Coulter, of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Colin is a Lecturer in Sociology, and he has an article out recently in Critical Sociology, co-authored with Francisco Arqueros-Fernández and Angela Nagle, entitled Austerity’s Model Pupil: The Ideological Uses of Ireland during the Eurozone Crisis.

As some listeners may know, I have myself been working on a book about the role of culture in Irish austerity. And I’ve always found Colin to be a really great writer on this subject. He has a real knack for seamlessly blending together both analysis of the material dynamics of the Irish financial crisis, with a critique of the role of culture as force sustaining the legitimacy of austerity as the necessary solution. This cultural project is one being carried out by government institutions, to be sure, but also by a number of other cultural agencies that exist within Irish society, as they seek to orient Irish people better to understand their responsibility in causing the crisis.

But Colin also has an analysis of how certain strains within the Irish academic left have perhaps enabled this process — namely by overlooking questions to do with the production of capitalist culture. Colin explains the role of capitalist culture in Ireland in a really accessible manner, so its great to have him on the show. I think you’ll really enjoy the interview.

You can find a copy of Colin’s article on my Dropbox. Remember, if you like what you hear, please leave us a positive review on iTunes. As ever, if you have any feedback, you can reach us on Twitter @occupyirtheory. Enjoy the show!

Episode 7: David Bailey on Protest Movements and Parties of the Left

David Bailey

Our guest for this episode is David Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Political Science and International Studies, at University of Birmingham. David is joining us to talk about his forthcoming book with Rowman & Littlefield, Protest Movements and Parties of the Left.

As we’ve been arguing on this show for the last few weeks, there is no doubt at this stage that the left is ‘back’. Arriving admittedly a decade or two later than Latin America’s “Pink Tide”, the left has made electoral gains recently, both in Europe, and in the US. Yet it is also clear that the left is not used to having this kind of potential. To the contrary, suffering through its long period of post-Cold War defeat, it has been content to engage in a lot of internal squabbling, and become comfortable avoiding the tough question of how it might engage ordinary people with its ideas. David Bailey’s book is a very interesting intervention, in this sense. Without necessarily taking a side in the debates he examines (to what extent should the left embrace the state? Should we pursue reform, or revolution?), he surveys the history of some of the more prominent moments and modes of leftist protest and struggle. What is interesting, however, is he choses to do this in an optimistic way. Refusing the left’s traditional mournful stance on its history, and deliberately trying to focus on the things the movements got right, Bailey is out to capture the spark of revolutionary disruption in each of his case studies, where the impossible was somehow, suddenly, made possible.

I got to see an advance copy of the book recently, and more than anything I was kind of pleasantly surprised by his open-minded stance on left strategy, finding those sparks of disruption everywhere, from the early days of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, to the anarchist movements of the Spanish Civil War, and even in post-war parliamentary reformism. The civil rights movements get a look in here, and there are chapters on the New Left, the history of feminism, and the rise of environmentalism. And those interested in more recent history will find the last chapters quite interesting I think, looking at the Occupy movement and, more interestingly, the influence of ‘Left Populist’ struggles Latin America on the rise of what Bailey calls ’left pragmatism’ in Europe and North America, embodied of course in parties like Syriza and Podemos, but even more recently in figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Episode 6: TYT’s Michael Tracey on Free Speech after Charlottesville, Left Iconoclasm, and the Fetonte Scandal in the DSA

Michael Tracey

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.

Episode 5: Douglas Lain of Zero Squared, on the Alt-Left, Angela Nagle, and #DSACon17

We have a very special guest for this episode. Douglas Lain, of Zero Books. In the interview, we discuss a range of topics, but I think the focus of the interview is on how capitalist narcissism is playing out in leftist online culture.

Specifically we address:

  1. How podcasting has enabled a new debate among the left, concerning the priority of identity;
  2. The rise of the Alt-Left, and whether or how the term functions to smear those seeking to re-assert the priority of revolutionary values in leftist discourse;
  3. We also address the critical reception of Angela Nagle’s sensational new book, Kill All Normies, published by Zero Books … a book that is ostensibly about the emergence of the Alt-Right, but in this conversation, Doug and I focus mostly on the other main aspect of the book, which is Nagle’s explanation of the rise of “call out culture” on the left.
  4. Finally, with the #DSACon17 (the 2017 Democratic Socialists of America convention) starting this week, I ask Doug if he has any advice for delegates to the convention.

Episode 3: Book Club – Peter Frase’s ‘Four Futures’

Four Futures

This episode is the first in an occasional ‘book club’ series of podcasts we will be doing, in an around the topic of fully automated luxury communism. This episode’s book is Four Futures, by Peter Frase (which is part of the Jacobin series, from Verso Books).

My guests on the show are Laura Horn and Phil Davis. Laura is a political economist working at the University of Roskilde, just outside of Copenhagen in Denmark. While her own research has mainly focused on dimensions of capitalist restructuring in the European Union, she has a strong political and personal interest in the nexus between political economy and science fiction. Four Futures is one of the texts she uses in her course ‘Repoliticising Capitalism: Contradictions, critique and alternatives’.

Phil Davis is a molecular biologist working in the Biodefense sector in the Washington DC area. He’s currently working towards a master’s degree in Bioinformatics from University of Maryland University College. Four Futures sits at the intersection of his enthusiasm for both left-wing politics and futurology. His hobbies also include music.

If you have any questions or comments, please send us a tweet @occupyirtheory

Fully Automated Episode 2: Biopolitical Imperialism, with Mark G.E. Kelly

Our guest this week is Mark G. E. Kelly, an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. He is the author of The Political Philosophy of Michel Foucault (2009), as well as of Biopolitical Imperialism (from Zer0 books, in 2015) and he is also working on a book called ‘For Foucault: Against Normative Political Theory’ (SUNY, expected 2018).

Kelly has weighed in a number of recent ‘Foucault’ controversies, including the question of whether Foucault was a neoliberal. In this interview, we get into that debate. But I think for most listeners, the interesting stuff will be towards the end, where Kelly talks about Biopolitical Imperialism, and addresses the conflict in Syria.

The podcast was recorded on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. In the interview, you’ll hear Kelly comment on Donald Trump’s pivot a few days previous, on Syria. Two days after the recording, on April 7, the US military launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield. The attack was carried out in response to a chemical weapons incident in Idlib province, perpetrated allegedly by Syrian state forces. It would be hard to imagine a stronger confirmation of Kelly’s arguments about Biopolitical Imperialism.