Pop the Left #10: From Henry Flynt to an Electric Ant

by Douglas Lain and Derick Varn on November 9, 2013


This month’s Pop the Left features a conversation about Henry Flynt’s lecture “An Autopsy of the Left.” The conversation, as is typical, wanders, and in the end Varn and I end up mentioning the difficulty of escaping from our current ideology.

Henry Flynt is a musician, a member of Fluxus, and the last Communist standing. I wrote to him and asked him onto the podcast, but this email met with scorn and ridicule, which was really too bad. If you know Henry Flynt please tell him that I did not mean to insult him when I called him a commie.

For your edification here is a definition of Fluxus as lifted from wikipedia:

Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning “flow, flux” (noun); “flowing, fluid” (adj.)[1]—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. They have been active in Neo-Dada noise music and visual art as well as literature, urban planning, architecture, and design. Fluxus is sometimes described as intermedia.

In this episode you’ll here a song inspired by the Philip K. Dick story “The Electric Ant” and a clip from “The Thirteenth Floor.” Here’s an essay I wrote for Tor.com about both the short story and the movie.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Art Cabrera November 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I almost feel like I have to listen to this episode again, but I also just got done listening to the Henry Flynt video, and a few thoughts crossed my mind:

1. Complexity: The talk was informative on the level of his bringing up that Marx and the Russian Marxists thought that society would get simpler, not more complex. Obviously, they didn’t see what was coming. The idea that “every cook can govern” seems now to be a quaint ideal that no one in their right mind now would foster. This reminds me of my mechanic father who has complained that cars may be more advanced since they are now run by computers, but that certain things cannot be fixed easily once they break down. And they do break down.

2. It seems to me that Flynt is taken aback by the “transhumanist” side of leftist scientistic optimism. I remember Trotsky as well saying at some point that for things to work, a “new socialist man” must be made / engineered. Aside from that, there must be total automation in order to reduce the significant menial tasks in daily life (cleaning the streets, taking out the garbage) in order for division of labor to be abolished. I share his gut pessimism that there will never be a complete opposition of the lower class doing menial jobs. Nor do I think (apropos of his discussion of the lack of study of Soviet planning) that this is just a series of engineering problems that capitalism is getting in the way of solving. That just seems kind of flippant on one level: things will get resolved by (capital “S”) Science, but don’t ask me for any details. Perhaps the fact that it is considered an “engineering” problem is the problem. Again, citing Flynt, how many millions of lives lost in China and Russia could be accepted by the left as “collateral damage”?

3. I was particularly intrigued by his idea that the atomic bomb means that there will always be a State. I say “intrigued” with a sense of foreboding. Lenin only posited the state so that it could gradually wither away, but how do you wither away a mechanism that is needed to control / manage the thousands of nuclear warheads and other weapons that are spread throughout the world that can destroy life on earth dozens of times over? I like to personally flirt with anarcho-primitivism, but the presence of cataclysmically destructive technologies makes any return to pre-industrial times a pipe dream. The idea that our technology mandates a State, and with it, hierarchy, class division, etc. should be a real existential challenge for the left.


Pavel November 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm

“I like to personally flirt with anarcho-primitivism, but the presence of cataclysmically destructive technologies makes any return to pre-industrial times a pipe dream. The idea that our technology mandates a State, and with it, hierarchy, class division, etc. should be a real existential challenge for the left.”

i think this is the question that much of the communist left has not — and refuses to — come to terms with. the notion that a society that is so massively dependent on technology could just let let supply chains collapse (or somehow coordinate them across anarchist/communist and capitalist segments!), its nuclear power plants turn to ruins, etc as it denies any division of labour or juridical and enforcement apparatus (state) seems like dishonest (because disavowed) primitivism, sometimes coated with a thick layer of hegelian word-magic.

collapse isn’t a strategy. negative critique isn’t politics. we need to get serious.


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