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March 17, 2015

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Robin Durnford

Hi Jodi,

I really like your article except my only concern is the sense-of-place stuff. Your arguments are really pushing me to think deeply about this, because you have articulated very well the problems that come with 'connection to place,' an idea which I have always taken for granted to be true--that people can become connected to place and have a sense of home and that when they lose it they can feel a sense of loss. I would like to see Klein herself debate you on this because I get what you are saying in theory and see all the problems with bloodlines etc that you are describing, but I wonder how convincing the argument against place really is.

Displacement is a huge and painful and traumatic issue. Being forced off one's land through violence or coercion can be devastating--see partitions far and wide across the world. But land claims are a huge issue in Canada and many First Nations groups in Canada were devastated because of issues of displacement. I'm just wondering if you think it racist or fascist to acknowledge this? I think you're right to point out that viewing indigenous peoples as 'closer to the land' is problematic and quite possibly racist; however, the word "indigenous" itself which you are using invokes that very connection to a particular land or region, and that seems like a different issue, because many colonized groups across the world self-identify in this way.

There is also the age-old problem within Marxism/Communism that it 'originated' as a European theory and practice, right? Should we replace the word 'indigenous' or, say, Cree with the word 'worker' then? I don't know. There may be some troubling erasures there that people smarter than myself might be able to address, but I just wanted to point out that you might be glossing over the reasons for some of Klein's tentativeness on these issues, especially as she is Canadian and these issues are alive in Canadian politics in a way that they are not in the US.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for the thoughtful article.


Jodi Dean

Robin,

Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them. I think you are right to point out the problem of displacement. That's a real concern, one that my post here doesn't allow room for. If I ever expand this, I would want to do it in a way that takes into account people that climate change (and other catastrophic disruptions) forces to migrate. What is the best way to account for their loss without at the same time buttressing those who would want to bar them from entering their 'land' using the same argument? I am deeply concerned about culturalist arguments that want to exclude immigrants as threats to their ways of life.

I agree with you that it is important to respect the claims and experiences of First Nations groups, to acknowledge their histories. I don't completely understand what you are getting at with my use of "indigenous" (although in the back of my head as I was writing was a term that I couldn't remember but that I understand as being a Dutch term for people who are originally Dutch people; it is used by the right in Holland to discriminate against the presence of formerly colonized people now residing in the Netherlands).

On Marxism/Communism: what does a story of origins do in your argument? I don't think that the originary place of a concept determines its meaning. Communism of course has an ancient history in agrarian communities. Marxism took modern forms in anti-colonial and people's liberation struggles. It has been alive and well, a motive force in third world struggles.

I appreciate your attentiveness to the way Klein's argument resonates in Canada. This is important. It also could be a limit to the possibility of her argument becoming a force in global movement.

Thanks again for your comment.

Mapinduzi21k

Great review, Jodi, including lots of stuff that no one has brought up at all in the others I've seen, especially the idea that the ecological crisis demands that we break the link between place and identity. I'll have to think this through and discuss it with others. It really flies in the face of the localist movement in the US and, as Robin says, with indigenous struggles in Canada and elsewhere. (See Greg Sharzer's No Local if you haven't!)

On Klein's failure to consider revolution and meaningful precedents for what is to be done, see also Jan Cox's and my review in Against the Current: https://www.solidarity-us.org/node/4339

Are you planning to publish this elsewhere? Is it all right with you if I post it on the System Change not Climate Change website? https://systemchangenotclimatechange.org/

Michael Gasser
System Change not Climate Change

Jodi Dean

Michael,

Thanks for your comment -- and for the links. I will definitely check them out. I would be delighted if you posted my review on the System Change Not Climate Change website.

best,

Jodi

Matt Huber

Hi Jodi,

I love this review. Thank you for the insights. I made some similar points (and some different ones) in my review for Antipode (see https://radicalantipode.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/book-review_huber-on-klein.pdf).

Also, hi - I'm a Geography Professor at Syracuse (your neighbor). I'm a big fan of your work (and assigned The Communist Horizon in a recent seminar). Would love if we cross paths at some point (let me know if you're ever in Syracuse and I'll do the same).

Matt

Rudy Gerson

I enjoyed reading your review. A class of mine on organizing was assigned the introduction of Klein's book and the debate stuck around the probability of abolishing capitalism. Your review laid out the stakes and the assumptions clearly. I especially liked your comments on immigration and indigeneity, and mobility.

My name's Rudy and I'm a past student of yours. Occupy Their Desire 2014. I hope you're doing well.

Chris Wiseman

Thanks for the stimulating and challenging review. I haven't read Klein's book yet, but the problem that I see with it as presented here is actually the very same problem that I see with your review—namely, that it doesn't sufficiently challenge the picture of human reason and human progress as a kind of mastery—mastery over others, over nature, and over the self—which is also a very seductive picture of human freedom or agency.

Communism: fine. Challenging the terms of the "political": fine. Vanguardism: maybe fine.

If we are to take the dual challenges of climate change and deepening inequality and exploitation seriously, however, and not just shrug it off as you suggest we might do at the end of your piece, we have to accept that it involves at least two things:

1. taking the problem of deep cultural diversity and pluralism seriously, which includes both de-centring our own provincial views of the world AND protecting and renewing traditions that sustain us as collectives—including as resistant political collectivities; and

2. learning to control our DEMANDS on the natural world and the localities we inhabit, and adapt *to them* (rather than adapting them to us), instead of trying to 'control' the natural resources themselves—democratically or otherwise.

On the first point: the problem with the critique of romanticized indigneity as "racist" or "fascist" is not just that it fails to take Klein's motivations into consideration, although it definitely does that. The problem is that it completely fails to provide a view of culture that allows for preservation—ANY preservation—let alone creative renewal—of the semantic and moral resources for understanding and changing our situation. It's also a very lazy argument that self-evidently comes from a view *outside* of cultures that have been subject to genocidal practices and policies for hundreds of years. From where in your vision of (what I gather is) a rootless, green, cosmopolitan communism would these cultures preserve their traditions, their languages and their practices? From what standpoint?

Beyond that, I think this view of communist revolution is at least as vague and question-begging as Naomi Klein's is made out to be. Not that I'm against communism, or even all forms of revolution. But part of the reason capitalism is such a seductive ideology is that it also feeds on discourses of the new, discourses of revolution, which are by now so worn out and hackneyed that to raise them at all is inviting on oneself unsustainable burdens of linguistic acrobatics to make them sound convincing. And, as the conclusion of your article indicates, you yourself don't seem to think that they are very convincing.

So what *are* we to do, as human beings, human beings who live in a finite world, in troubled and troubling relationships with others (human and non-human alike)? How are we to respond to conditions of deepening crisis, suffering, intolerance and inequality in our societies? How do we go on in such dark and dangerous times, when the future is somewhere we don't want to go, yet also something we can't seem to resist, somewhere we go compulsively, as though powerless to our fates? How can we articulate things such that our words and deeds re-open the future, where the future actually offers something genuinely new, where it begins to answer our real needs and problems, while remaining answerable to the very legitimate questions that have caused us to doubt our current path?

Needless to say, there isn't enough space here to give a complete answer. But I would suggest two things: first, that we need to displace the view of human agency as a will to power—be it "people power" or otherwise—with a view of agency as receptivity, as willingness to critically and self-critically cooperate and learn together (including from non-human others); and second, we need to replace the project of vanguardist revolution with something more like reciprocal elucidation, or what philosopher Nikolas Kompridis calls "reflective disclosure," a project where we disclose alternative possibilities for living better, more reflective ways of life, ways of life that don't generate as many new problems for us and for the planet, that are less self-undermining, and that generate fewer skeptical problems about the future like those produced by talk of communist revolution (and globalization, and progress in general). Naomi Klein's ideas may have something to contribute to that, and the ideas in this article may, too. But one thing that seems sure to me, is that any notion of an *intellectual* vanguard, where one person provides *the* template for criticism or change, is not what it will look like.

We have to listen to and learn from each other. Nobody—and definitely no critic—is in an epistemically superior position in this regard. The critic is at eye level with her addressees when it comes to the change she articulates, and the change she wants to see in the world, and has no privileged position when it comes to evaluating whether, in fact, that change actually answers our needs and our sense of ourselves as agents after the fact.

It's not that we don't need new collectivities, or that we can't call those collectivities by names that mean something to us (including communism)—rather, it's that we can't force other people to change, or to adopt our terms for change. That kind of politics just isn't on anymore. The way is barred. That's what it means to do things democratically, however it is that we conceive of the political. It will certainly take imagination and courage to find new forms of resistance and new forms that don't reproduce all the old assumptions about change being something that we *can* force on others, but if we decide that we want to take these problems seriously—and don't, in fact, just want to shrug them off—that's what we have to grapple with.

I don't think it's going to be easy. But as Kompridis writes*, is there anything more important today "than to once again take on the task of disclosing alternative possibilities, possibilities through which we might recapture the promise of the future— through which we might recapture the future as a promise?"

Personally, I don't think so.

*in Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future (MIT Press, 2006)

Chris Wiseman

I said that we need to "disclose alternative possibilities… that generate fewer skeptical problems"

I meant fewer skeptical worries, or anxieties.

Ryan Costello

Jodi,

I'm glad to see you formalize an answer to the question of the difference between fascism and populism (as posed to you at the 2011 conference on the Communist idea). On the topic of indigenous peoples, I agree with your disagreements with Klein. Not only are her comments racist (intent aside) but they also are the very logic used in "the erection of new walls" as Zizek calls it. My question for you is, given your recent engagement with Bruno Bosteels, what are your thoughts on "The Indigenous Question".

As you no doubt are aware, Bosteels is critical of Zizek and others who fail to address this question (although, Bosteels' dismissal of Zizek's condemnation of Morales was perhaps a bit unfair). Have you read any of Álvaro García Linera's writing? I know that Bosteels draws heavily on him in the final chapter of "The Actuality of Communism" (and "Plebian Power" was just published in English). Or do you have a different approach?

Thank You,

Ryan

P.S. It seems that much of your critique of Klein can be summarized in Mao's statement that "There are contradictions among the people". The former seems to offer an almost naive binary opposition between communities and businesses/corporations.

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