In the last few weeks the Zero Squared podcast has featured unusual guests, guests who were not always strictly of or from the left/Marxist tradition that Zero Books embraces. This was undertaken in an effort to discover what ideas current left intellectuals (we writers and thinkers of the left who so easily embraced Alexis Tsipras, Jeremy Corbyn and, now, Bernie Sanders) might have in common with our “comrades” on the right and what, if any, critiques from the right need to be taken to heart.
We might have skipped this process, however, and read Walter Benjamin instead.
“The conformism which has dwelt within social democracy from the very beginning rests not merely on its political tactics, but also on its economic conceptions. It is a fundamental cause of the later collapse. There is nothing which has corrupted the German working-class so much as the opinion that they were swimming with the tide. Technical developments counted to them as the course of the stream, which they thought they were swimming in.” -Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History
As we prepare for the second month of 2016 we might all turn to Walter Benjamin in order to understand the crisis in Europe and the US at once. Benjamin wrote that “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution” and suggested that every generation has a weak messianic power, the power to redeem past failures.
But as much as we are in accord with Benjamin on this notion of a messianic power, as much as we too realize the need to overcome our own contradictions and failures rather than merely blame the right for today's ills, we must also critique Benjamin, or at least critique some readings of him. For instance Benjamin wrote:
“[The Left] contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.”
Here Benjamin seems to replace the notion of redemption with the notion of resentment. And in so doing he leaves out the possibility of emancipation in the present, or a realization of that “weak messianic power.” And he leaves this out because this redemption itself has its own contradictions, its own problems.
At Zero Books we hope to tackle these problems, to think them through and bring our ideas to the world as books. To this end we’re calling for the following:
We would like to see proposals submitted for introductory books on neglected theorists or forgotten writings.
We're seeking proposals for introductions to Gilles Dauve, Shulamith Firestone, and Raya Dunayevskaya. We’d also like to receive proposals for books about both Bordiga’s critique of pedagogy and Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program.
We are also calling for novellas based on philosophical problems.
We want fictions that work out philosophical arguments in their plots. Some philosophical problems we’d like to see directly explored in fiction would be the problem of free will and the mind/body problem. Other philosophical topics we’d like to see addressed in fiction would be the notion of causation as critiqued by Hume, and the notion of Platonic forms as critiqued in the Platonic dialogue The Parmenides.