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Call for Zero Books to Cease Attacking Authors and Respect Contracts

December 15, 2021

We are a group of Zero Books authors and ex-employees moved by the recent acquisition of Zero’s parent company John Hunt Publishing, and the ensuing communication around that takeover from the new Zero staff and their colleagues at Repeater books, to publish the following statement:

The authors of this open letter have published with Zero Books under the tenure of Doug Lain and/or worked as staff alongside Doug Lain as well as making contributions to Zero’s media channels. While we 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), we would like to take the opportunity to address a number of inaccuracies in the dialogue around Lain’s tenure as well as over the nature of the takeover and to raise concerns over the management of the back catalog of Zero 2.0 books and communications about Zero 2.0 staff and writers.

Firstly we wish to address the maltreatment via potential slander, libel, trolling behavior, and neglect of publishing and promotional duties, in the hope that a troubling development of negative portrayals regarding Zero 2.0 authors and staff, including Doug Lain, can be forestalled. It is then also hoped that the respective imprints (Zero and Repeater), as well as Doug Lain’s new publishing company, can continue to provide leftist material in their bid to foster an incisive culture of left critique and action. Given the differing remits of the various imprints and Zero’s successive guises, a full range of left views can be addressed, leading to a multifarious debate that includes materialist and identitarian trends. Though for this to happen the existing back catalog of Zero 2.0 needs to be well treated, in line with contractual commitments to books published under Doug Lain.

It is here that our first concerns are raised as initial communications from Repeater itself and from some of its staff and writers indicated a disdain for the back catalog they claimed they had in fact acquired as well as for the work and values of Zero 2.0’s writers. This has accompanied a narrative that casts the takeover of John Hunt Publishing by Watkins Media as the specific purchase of Zero Books by Repeater Books. Such a claim has since been toned down incrementally to now consist of the Watkins’ owner having bought Zero’s owner and that same owner having been linked to the foundation of Repeater.

We understand the realities of capitalism and in no way blame Repeater for Watkins’ takeover of John Hunt Publishing, though we do question the ensuing narrative whereby the takeover of JHP by Watkins is cast as a crusade against the wrong sort of leftists (in the form of Zero 2.0) by a morally superior imprint. 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), 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. In taking this position privately to authors, semi-publicly in the JHP author system, and publicly on Twitter and YouTube, the new team of Zero Books not only divide the left but appear to want to renege on contractual commitments to sell and publicize Zero 2.0s output.

We take the position that speaking down the merits of Zero 2.0 is at odds with the obligations that the new staff of Zero know they have towards the Zero 2.0 catalog. As such we ask that overt and passive-aggressive criticism of Zero 2.0 is ceased by employees of Zero and on platforms dedicated to the promotion of Zero’s books. While the new Zero team are unable to control the colorful and mostly wholly inaccurate negative statements made by some Repeater authors and readers regarding Zero 2.0 and its authors, we do expect the new legal owners of our books to proceed in line with the contracts they have assumed responsibility of. This includes: obligations to sell those books; making books available so long as there are buyers or potential buyers; obligations to promote those books transparently at increments of 500 sales using the available Zero branded media channels; obligations to publish books that have been contracted and to promote and push those books adequately to potential buyers; obligations to promote those books transparently at increments of 500 sales using the available Zero branded media channels.

We would like to request that ongoing divisive attacks, which occur in tandem with personal attacks issued by at least one Repeater author (at points amounting to quite literal harassment) naming a number of Zero 2.0 authors, cease. We would like to point out that such attacks are met with increasing bemusement and exasperation from Zero 2.0 readers and from neutrals who fail to understand why the new Zero team and Repeater are behaving so aggressively to fellow leftists. While we appreciate the existence of multifarious divisions within the left, we are particularly dismayed at the branding of demonstrably left-wing Zero Books writers as ‘right wing’ or ‘right adjacent’ and point to the very real damage this does at a time when we face a genuine right-wing threat. We feel that while an alliance of trolls, writers, and staff of Repeater and Zero may see it as clever to try to disparage what they see as rival authors, history will not likely judge this moment kindly if the people responsible for the above described actions continue to divide the left against itself for their own gain. In fact, the most prominent among them are seen by all but their coterie as bullies.

As many onlookers have noted, it would have been usual to expect the incoming team of Zero Books to express a sense of enthusiasm and gratitude for the books they have acquired, many of which are among the leading leftist theoretical texts of the last 8 years. To instead disparage hundreds of authors collectively while inexplicably promoting some titles and not others and only under practical duress following the alarm caused by an initial tweet signaling disdain for the Zero 2.0 era, is an act of extreme bad faith. If it needs to be said, it is clear in any case that Watkins Media now owns not only Repeater with its socially democratic and idpol friendly output but also the catalog of Zero 2.0 with its largely socialist-leaning output and that it stands to benefit from the sales of both sets of authors it pits against one another. Whatever the intention, communication from the Zero team and Repeater have been frequently hostile towards notable writers, seeming to act potentially as a distraction from their work and livelihood.

In this light, an official statement (in the sense that it was made from the official Zero Books account) on YouTube to the effect that books deemed reactionary would be ‘pulped’ is just one in a line of troubling communications that appear aimed at sowing fear and upset among fellow leftists. Furthermore, such declarations court illegality, given Zero Books’ legal obligations to print and publish all of the back catalog so long as it is still selling. Of course, to be clear, we also don’t like ‘reactionary’ books, but who will decide which books are ‘reactionary’? Are the new Zero Books team casting themselves as judge and jury, and yet above the law? Clearly, this cannot be the case and we, therefore, ask that the aggressive and libelous communication style we have witnessed continually over the last two months will cease.

The sense of solidarity among Zero 2.0 writers is strong and we won’t be distracted. We seek as committed leftist authors to promote an awareness of leftist political values in order to realize a world run, ‘from each according to their ability to each according to their needs.’ Obstacles to this path are blocked by so many factors on an ongoing basis. We ask that our publisher does not continue to be one of these obstacles and that history can record a period of flourishing leftist publishing coming from varied imprints and not a period of internecine infighting that impedes leftist authors in the name of financial profit, self-aggrandizement, and financial gain. We do not expect Zero Books or Repeater to impede us in this vision. So far as this is now the case, it must stop.

Signed: Concerned Zero Books authors, in solidarity with all left authors and artists willing to work together.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Strangela Nagle permalink
    December 17, 2021 2:34 PM

    That’s my boys!

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