New Missive from the Cranks

A group of Zer0 Books authors and ex-employees have written yet another open letter. Not on Cosmonaut this time, but somewhere else.

The authors “wish to avoid the exacerbation of a mud-slinging match between readers and authors of Zero Books under Doug Lain’s tenure (to be called Zero 2.0 from herein)” but they also want to “address a number of inaccuracies”…

Anything specific? Not really. They mostly don’t like that various Repeater fans and authors have expressed the opinion that Zer0 2.0 was full of cranks. But they also claim that now the new team are obstructing the promotion of certain books.

After I challenged this on Twitter, a few people came out of the woodwork. From what I can see, there’s various unspecified grievances that have apparently been raised by others elsewhere, but it’s still not clear who the article is referring to.

For example, it could refer to Eliot Rosenstock, who was recently offered his book back after he decided to partner up with another publisher for his launch. Since he didn’t seem to want to be associated with Zer0 3.0, he was offered a break from his contract with no hard feelings. But despite his own behaviour — and that of the other publisher — leading Zer0 to believe this is what he wanted, he took offence to the generous suggestion and has since whined about it in a few places online.

It could also refer to Christine Louis Dit Sully, who has since made it very clear on Twitter that a video of hers has not gone live on the new YouTube channel. She thinks this is censorship. But according to Christine herself, the reason given for the video’s absence is that it is “old”.

What this means is that Christine’s book came out in May, long before the takeover, so I’m not sure why anyone would feel obligated to start a promotional campaign this late. (Six months is a long time in an annual publishing schedule.) It’s also unclear how this constitutes a break in her contract, since her book has been published by the previous team and therefore has already been fulfilled. “Promotion is important”, she says, and that’s true. But I don’t understand the suggestion that the publisher is obliged to put out her self-made content whenever she feels like it… So this also seems like a non-issue, or at least another self-inflicted one.

It’s also worth noting that these authors’ circumstances are very different to those experienced by former Zer0 1.0 authors who got caught up in Doug’s initial takeover. Like Adam Kotsko, who wrote on Twitter back in November:

It makes me very happy that Zer0 Books has been returned to the control of its founders and that the asshole interloper who has been running things for the last several years will interlope no more!

I still deeply resent that he left [Kotsko’s 2015 book] Creepiness to die, as the last title from the original team, especially after I was promised greater promotion as an established author. Ultimately he tried to placate me by setting up a podcast with a recent Zer0 author who was a total crank.

Originally tweeted by Adam Kotsko (@adamkotsko) on November 2, 2021.

Still, accusations of censorship are flying around. But again, no one is under any obligation to publish anything (or put up with anything) outside of contracted books. The continued whining will continue for some time regardless, no doubt. As someone astutely put it recently, “they need their points of conflict with the new management to maintain any hope of anyone paying them attention”. Hence three open and anonymous but vague letters in the last month.

But the attention many of us will be paying is to their political associations and positions. For example, if anyone is restricted from participation in the YouTube channel, that may be because Acid Horizon have had a “No Sp!ked” policy for a few years now (for various reasons). This was a position they held long before they took over the management of Zer0’s relaunched channel — Mike Watson was very angry about not being allowed on their podcast months ago for this very reason — and I don’t see why they would have to renege on those principles now. If the new management of the YouTube channel doesn’t want any culture war race baiting on there — of the kind that sounds a lot like the race report that the Conservative Party put out earlier this year — that’s their prerogative.

But the reality is that the reasons for these latest disagreements are far more mundane than all that, and mostly just continued hot air from a group of reactionaries who’ve likely lost the biggest platform they’ve ever had or will have. For that reason, they’ve even made attempts to buy it back, with the help of Platypus, for example. But considering Platypus’s similar hostility to the original Zer0 project and their similar insistence on being out-of-touch “Marxists”, this is all just more reason why we’re all glad to see the back of the lot of them.

[Update: Regarding Watson, he’s since challenged the narrative mentioned briefly above, and we can probably expect another open letter about it in the near future. Having previously browbeaten members of the Acid Horizon podcast, he rejects he wasn’t allowed on and instead choose not to appear, if only after they relented. This relenting came about after Watson left a series of angry voice notes and message tirades in an attempt to get his way. The new management have received a few as well, or so I’ve heard, but have little intention of kowtowing to his tantrums. At the end of the day, he’s just a bully who doesn’t like being told to shove off.]

The reason I’m writing yet another post on this is that the open letter also makes repeated veiled references to me, and though they call it harassment, at this point — and for the last month now at least — I’ve simply been exercising my right of reply. (Seriously, this is their third open letter now!)

To be clear, besides those things clearly cited and backed up above, a lot of this is just my opinion. Despite what these authors seem to think or repeatedly insinuate, I’m not a Repeater employee or a Zer0 employee. I occasionally do some proofreading as a freelancer. I’m an author. I’m a contributor. I’m a gobshite. I’m not a sanctioned Repeater or Zer0 spokesperson and the team have every right to tell me to pack it in. (No such request… as yet.) I’m simply exercising my own voice and sharing my own familiarity with the takeover, with Repeater and with Zer0. If I was on the payroll of either publisher, I’d likely join the current teams in their stoic silence. But I’m not.

(Again, only Tariq has made a formal public statement on any of this, and he’s likely the only person who will; this statement was only made because Doug’s been running his mouth about things on every second-rate podcast that will have him on — not to mention falsely claiming he’d been “fired” before the sale of Zer0 was even made public.)

I’ve repeatedly said my piece on all this, of course, and if you’ve read what I’ve had to say before, you’ll find nothing new below. Just the same receipts and the same hollow retorts from the other side. But these receipts warrant sharing, if only to emphasise just how full of it they are.

The new open letter begins as follows:

Firstly we wish to address the maltreatment via potential slander, libel, trolling behavior … in the hope that a troubling development of negative portrayals regarding Zero 2.0 authors and staff, including Doug Lain, can be forestalled.

Slander, libel and trolling seem to refer to me here. They could be referring to a general cohort of supporters who just don’t like Zer0 2.0, but it would be silly to think Repeater have any influence over them at all.

We also question the narrative peddled by Zero’s new team (linked closely to Repeater, such that the new manager of Zero is the wife of Repeater’s manager)…

The connections are go much wider than that, you conspiratorial weirdos. The entire Repeater team seems to have some sort of hand in running Zer0 at this point. And why wouldn’t they? They literally founded it.

… which has from the offset revolved around the notion that Zero’s acquisition marks a return to quality publishing and the closure of period of poor management, low-quality theorization, and nefarious political positions.

This is all the open letter amounts to. They reject being called reactionary and they reject the opinions of others that their work was low quality. (This isn’t true of everyone, of course — plenty of their authors, both previous and prospective, have continued to approach Zer0 with great books under Doug’s stewardship, albeit often based on the reputation of original team’s work and Mark Fisher in particular.) Ultimately, a lot of this is subjective, and clearly doesn’t warrant a whinging open letter or the nonsense legal insinuations like anyone could be sued for “libel” and “slander” for not liking books.

As for the rest of it, literally show us the lie:

  • Doug got burnt precisely because he was funding Zer0 with a Patreon account (probably due to poor book sales), and was beholden to some dodgy-looking managerial arrangement that made the transfer so messy, where no one (not even him) was on a contract. Granted, that points to poor management from JHP rather than Lain himself, but that’s precisely why the original team left and why they considered Lain a scab — against the original team’s expressed wishes, he entered another dodgy “marriage of convenience” that was, at that time, very convenient for him.
  • Beyond all the culture war rubbish, I’ve repeatedly pointed out how Watson’s reading of Mark Fisher as an Adornian pessimist is precisely the memed reduction he claims to denounce in his recent book. That’s my personal bugbear, because Mark Fisher’s work is something I can attest to with mountains of receipts — as can many of those who knew him. Watson instead puts forth the sort of narrative my own work has repeatedly disproven, rejecting a one-dimensional reading of his thought. But even if this was a subjective disagreement, Watson also has a tendency to get even the most basic points of biography wrong. On this issue alone, the low-quality theorization and research is egregious, but it doesn’t stop there. There are countless examples that others have taken issue with in the past, with books often being poorly edited and in desperate need of a proper proofread.
  • As for nefarious political positions, if this wasn’t already obvious from the litany of Sp!ked authors they’ve published — twelve at the last count, and yes, that’s including figures like Nina Power and James Heartfield who were affiliated with the original crew and were later bounced after they caught brain worms (but whom Lain continued to court, of course) — Zer0 2.0 editor Ashley Frawley has been on failed Fox News rip-off GB News not once but twice in the last week alone. How’s that advancing the left? Even the most asinine right-wing columnists think it’s nothing more than “a humourless echo chamber for Ukip supporters” at this point. Clearly, Frawley isn’t Jon Stewart entering the lion’s den; she’s another garden-variety reactionary joining their roster of crank hysterics. This is the sort of person that Zer0 2.0 has boosted and facilitated.

Out of everything they could have overplayed here, these are the three things that are surely indisputable at this point… Nevertheless, it’s still “the new team of Zero Books” who continue to “divide the left”.

What follows is a “request that ongoing divisive attacks, which occur in tandem with personal attacks issued by at least one Repeater author” — that’s me! — “(at points amounting to quite literal harassment) naming a number of Zero 2.0 authors, cease.” I will, of course, stop when the open letters, poor theorisation and inexplicable references to my work stop.

They say that it’s bemusing I — or anyone — would behave “so aggressively to fellow leftists”, but just as Sp!ked likes to insist it’s a Marxist publication, there’s little to suggest these authors are lefties beyond their own insistence of that fact. They argue that calling them “‘right wing’ or ‘right adjacent’” deflects attention from the “genuine right-wing threat” we face. But when your opinions are wholly in accordance with the right — in this country at least; admittedly, the insanity of US politics probably skews their view out of the Overton window a bit, but there are plenty of Americans who aren’t beleaguered by culture war blinkers — how are you any different to that threat? How does Doug Lain supporting TERFs or platforming far-right darling Frank Furedi or editorial staff jumping on GBeebies twice a week not make you (at the very least) a useful idiot for the right’s agenda?

Call it trolling all you want — the critiques are valid and well-accounted for.

Leave a Reply