5 August 2004


I hear via the grapevine that Paul Piccone, the editor of the American journal Telos, died last month. I never met him and stopped reading Telos about 10 years ago, shortly after its 100th issue, by which time Piccone had embraced Alain de Benoist and the French new right. The reason I gave it up wasn't that I was disgusted or that I didn’t want to know what happened next in the Telos saga — though of course I was a little appalled, and the journal had lost a lot of its sparkle by then — but because it became impossible to buy it in Britain. It had never been very easy: I think the only place that stocked it was the late and much-lamented Compendium bookshop in Camden. I don’t even know if it’s still being published: I can’t find reference on the web to any issue after 1998.

But when I first came across Telos as a student in the 1970s, I became an instant addict. It was a left-wing academic journal wholly unlike the ones with which I was familiar – New Left Review, Capital and Class, Monthly Review and so on – in its refusal to entertain Leninist or structuralist Marxist bullshit and in its wholehearted commitment to translating contemporary left-wing thinkers from Europe and historical texts from the western Marxist tradition (properly so-called rather than the Leninoid confection put up by Perry Anderson and Robin Blackburn at NLR and Verso). OK, it also ran some excruciating stuff (particularly from its US contributors), and some of the translations were shonky. Over the years, Piccone managed to alienate rather a large number of editorial board members and contributors for no good reason. And from the mid-1980s some of its enthusiasms were distinctly weird. But from its foundation in 1968 until 1990, it did a lot more good than harm.

Every issue contained material that was unavailable elsewhere in English: it was through Telos, more than anything else, that I got to know Gyorgy Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Andre Gorz, the post-Socialisme ou Barbarie work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, Jean Baudrillard, Norberto Bobbio, the Italian workerists, Agnes Heller and the Budapest School, Victor Zaslavsky and a whole lot more besides. The journal also introduced me, directly or indirectly, to a whole string of American writers and thinkers – the New York intellectuals, Christopher Lasch, Russell Jacoby – that were off the radar at the time on the parochial British left.

As well as editing the journal, Piccone also wrote the best book on Gramsci in English, Italian Marxism. So, however unattractive his eventual destination, I think he deserves a modicum of respect.

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