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Jeremy Corbyn and Hugo Chávez

Interchange – Radicals and Reactionaries: Tony McKenna’s Political Angels and Demons


Today’s show, “Radicals and Reactionaries,” is a 90-minute special with journalist and novelist Tony McKenna.

Tony McKenna’s new book is Angels and Demons: A Radical Anthology of Political Lives, published by Zero Books.

In it he offers a series of essays about historical figures using a Marxist analysis, showing with each of the figures examined how the art, politics and creativity of their lives is infused by the rhythm and contradictions of the broader historical backdrop.

Here’s the list of the people he profiles…Where would they appear on your list of Angels and Demons, Radicals and Reactionaries? William Blake, Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Andrea Dworkin, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Hugo, Rembrandt, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Donald Trump (that one’s too easy, I know).

The truth is, as usual, more complex than these binary designations. And the key to understanding the ways of people in the world is to recognize that complexity. McKenna’s work uses the Marxist lens of historical materialism to give the proper scope to these political lives. What have they DONE in and to our world?

I’ll confess that it seems to me that the angels are often as demonic as those we might see more clearly as demons. Perhaps it’s best to say that certain qualities are in the ascendant in each figure that push them into the light or subsume them in darkness.

Today we’ll focus on only a handful of McKenna’s cast of players while also casting back into some highlights from his previous book, notably essays on Vincent Van Gogh and The Hunger Games which McKenna holds in high regard for revealing the realities of class hierarchies in its dystopia.

We begin with Victor Hugo’s good CEO, Jean Valjean…a kind of romantic superhero…surely an angel if there ever was one, but is a character in a novel our best model to try to emulate…perhaps you’ll recall we asked this question of John McCain’s love for Hemingway’s hero of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan?

Tony McKenna is a philosopher and journalist whose work has been featured on websites and in magazines and journals across the world. In addition to Angels and Demons, McKenna is the author of a previous collection of essays titled Art, Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective, as well as The Dictator, the Revolution, the Machine: A Political Account of Joseph Stalin, and the novel, The Dying Light. He joined us via Skype from his home in Kent, England.

Trump, Obama and the Nature of Fascism by Tony McKenna
Angels and Demons: one must subdue the other (review)
Art, Literature and Culture From a Marxist Perspective (review by Louis Proyect)
Thank you Hugo Chavez by Jeremy Corbyn

“Way Down in the Hole” Tom Waits
“And the Angels Swing” Stan Getz
“Friend of the Devil” performed by Counting Crows
“Trip Through Your Wires” U2
“Old Devil Moon” performed by The Miles Davis Quartet

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Production Assistance: Jim Thrasher
Executive Producer: Wes Martin

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