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November 20, 2010


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Jodi, does "the left" even exist in the US? I cant tell you how often I hear self-fashioned "progressives" still say, "geez, kinda sucks we didnt get Hillary." The bottom line is, liberals are just stupid and weak. They just drink Kook-aid. Indeed the ethics of narcissism, the ethics of crowd control. That they would rally and hooray for Sanity, and not for something just slightly more demanding and confrontational is evidence enough. We lost. A long time ago.


meant to write, Kool-Aid.

Jodi Dean

I prefer kook-aid!!

Yes--the left exists!! (I have a long bit on this in the introduction to my book Democracy and other neoliberal fantasies).

Hillary is not on the left--she is a liberal (hawk--because of vote on Iraq).


both. inept and unwilling.


What does the left look like today? I know I have had these discussions with you in the past but I am ready to sign up and do my part. Where is the left? If there is no outside to neoliberalism, where do we go? Inept, unwilling, coopted, passive bloggers - all of which are true. So what? Where is the resistance? John Stewart is a tool, a very entertaining and clever tool, but a tool nontheless. As Chris Hedges says, the liberal class as it used to function is dead in the United States. So now what? We can no longer be satisfied with refusal, bartelby ethics or waiting for the multitude. The vast majority in the United States are dying, slowly, twisting in the wind, watching our pathetic futures vanish. There are many people among us, myself included, who would entertain something more radical if it actually presented itself.

And I have to say to those that offer platitudes - "We are the ones we have been waiting for" - this is now time for bullshit. it is all hands on deck, we the people are being liquidating. The eliminationists have won and we have a President who is actively aiding their efforts. Organize, fight, resist. I just don't see how as of yet.


Funny enough - in my tirade I meant to say "this is not time for bullshit." Perhaps I reveal too much.:) Tikkun Olam.

Jodi Dean

Alain--I don't know how. I'm trying to read and learn more in this area. Since I'm primarily a political theorist, my reading tends not to be terribly pragmatic and when it is pragmatic probably too focused on the university (which isn't completely stupid since universities have large concentrations of people, particularly young people with time and energy).

When I read your remarks, I start thinking of the how in a very specific, probably too specific way: so, how does 1 person who is outraged get hooked into something bigger, how do local, momentary, and widely distributed activities combine and thereby accumulate intensity and momentum, how does the combination achieve duration, how does the duration produce the change we want? There seem to be too many alternatives, none of which seem sufficiently substantial.

We have pretty good ideas about the problems and barriers, but how do we overcome them? I was wondering about a meeting that brought together a couple of organizational/systems engineers, military tacticians, ex-CIA operatives with expertise in destabilization, consultants with experience in national political campaigns, well-connected field organizers, well-networked activists, a couple of creative media and design people, and a couple of political theorists (I am in this group). Such a group could brain storm a plan for eliminating capitalism as we know it and moving toward communism.

Some folks writing on the left today would complain that anything coming out of such a group would be too top down. They would argue that any real change has to come from below. This might be true. But maybe not--maybe the 'plan' could contribute to the discussions and actions ongoing in lots of places, and the discussions would modify it, supplement it, extend it.

What might the plan include? Ideas for organizing and mobilizing the unemployed and underemployed. Ideas for a left network of "power centers": each power center would provide one hot meal a day to whomever needed it for whatever they could pay; it would coordinate capacity building, setting up skill exchanges so that folks would teach each other electrical, masonry, carpenter, plumbing, gardening, farming, hacking, and cooking skills; it would have daily exercise and physical training exercises; it would invite all who were interested to participate in training for political action, whether that involves elections, demonstrations, disobedience, or more. The network of "power centers" would provide the basic cadres and backbone of the movement.


Thank you for your thoughtful response. I realize my comments here lately sound like the news anchor from the movie Network (or Maybe a leftist Glen Beck). And I think you point to some very useful suggestions and I myself need to reach out to those organizing in my community (I know they in fact exist). My frustration is also fueled by the fact that the financial crisis is still looming in the background of everything else that is taking place. The foreclosure fraud points to the underlying insolvency of the major banks - it they were to in fact value their mortgage holdings at true market value, at least Citi and Bank of America would probably go under. I am just in shock that no one in leadership wants to confront this.

By the way, I just listened to your discussion on Pacifica radio and I thought it was terrific. You were very lucid and did a great job of outlining your thoughts about the trap of participatory media. This is the kind of thing that Intellectuals like yourself should do more of.

Thanks again and take care.


One more thought - I just saw the following quote from the scum bag Alan Simpson and was reminded of your view of antagonism:

"I can't wait for the blood bath in April," said Alan Simpson at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast roundtable with reporters this morning. "It won't matter whether two of us have signed this or 14 or 18. When debt limit time comes, they're going to look around and say, 'What in the hell do we do now? We've got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give 'em a piece of meat, real meat, off of this package.' And boy the bloodbath will be extraordinary."

One cannot imagine a politician on the "left" saying anything like this. They do not see politics as a battle of interests. Simpson knows he will not get everything he wants but he doesn't care - he knows that his proposals have helped shape an already rightwing choice - either austerity or austerity with a world financial collapse. Either way his side wins.

Jodi Dean

I've sensed that we've kinda switched places over the last year--but that seems to me to be a good thing, a strengthening combination of rage and, maybe, hope. I share your assessment of the looming financial crisis. I hope that rather than being caught unawares, leftists might be in a better position to use the next one. Glad you liked the interview. The guy who did it was so generous and nice and smart. He has an incredible gift at making his guests look good.

Re Alan Simpson--Democrats can't talk like he does. Leftists have to do it more and more and louder and louder (well, maybe not exactly, not blood and meat for their own sake, but rather persistence and unrelenting determination).


jodi, you have some very interesting ideas about the plan--to shift toward communism and organizing people. i have seen attempts that sound like the one you describe above, offering DIY workshops to people on a wide basis of skill development, political understanding, even philosophy and analysis, community gardens, alternative sources of energy and how to develop and use them on an individual basis. i have known people who have confiscated land and built something of what might be referred to as compounds without the money or religious fundamentalism that usually accompanies this sort of setup--most of these situations are usually integrated into a kind of back to the land movement, which is not uncommon in oregon where i am from.

my question to you is, how do you make this kind of localism viral? in the sense of universal? because i think that is what it will take. does the Left exist, sure i think it does. are we/they organized and most importantly capable of collective action. i would say no, i do not think so. there was a very good discussion of this very issue last week on An Und Fur Sich ( i see you have them in yr blog roll). but i very much agree with some of the folks writing there that the Left must be universalized and that the response must also be universal. i think localism is very limited. how do we move to something on a grand scale because i do not think we can win without this. of course that is infinitely complicated. i feel the situation is growing more desperate by the day. thanks again.


Jodi my sense is that you may be right, at least to a certain extent. My desperation largely comes from a sense of my own family's vulnerability. If I loose my job, we would lose our health insurance and soon after that lose our house. As you know, I have always been supportive of your theoretical efforts and am reluctant to dismiss theory as "out of touch." And so I am looking forward to where your work on communism goes from here. It may in fact become a live option for the United States in the not so distant future.

Jocelyn, I too have followed the discussion at AUFS recently and I share your view. Localism, however understood, seems too precarious without larger support or at least a larger movement. But at some point I lost interest in the personal nature of the discussion.

Jodi Dean

I agree that localism is too precarious without a larger movement--and I think of precarity in terms of absorption into a capitalist frame as well as in terms of problems of duration.

I also agree on desperation (both of you use this terrm or a variant of it). I wonder if this desperation is an alternation/intensification of where we've been. I think it is--perhaps because of disappointment in Obama, prolonged unemployment, right wing strength, the bankruptcy of mainstream alternatives etc. A couple of years ago, we talked on this blog about rage--both where was it and then how pathetically it was manifest. Desperation is different, I think.

Big scale is important--both in terms of turning out people in mass events and in terms of connecting dispersed events. Sometimes I wonder if we are desperate for someone to follow (hence the popularity of Obama) but no longer able to follow (hence the multiplicity of local and temporary initiatives.

Maybe what is happening is something like a viral universalism--the protests in England are intensifying (or so it seems). More leftists are talking about communism than they've been. These seems to me to be indicators (or moments capable of being refigured as indicators).

Jodi Dean

I looked at the discussion at AUFS. It's a shame that it got redirected away from the political question of local and larger. My thought is that localism has been the dominant left push for 20 years at least. Now locals need to be interconnected and coordinated. The question is how to do this or is this being done and are there ways to do this and spread out so that folks not locally involved now will be 'largerly' involved soon. I think this is a question of movement building. There is a pretty large literature on this--whether it focuses on resource mobilization, leadership, issue formation, footholds in legislative governmental bodies. The success of the Tea Party seems purely astro-turf: Fox, Koch Brothers, Dick Armey...


While I largely agree with your assessment I think that the corporate nature of the Tea Party is overstated. They are easily anywhere from 25% to 35% of the population and are mobilized to "take their country back." If they actually had leadership that allowed for exceptions to neoliberalism (corporatism with a human face perhaps) they could develop into a real right wing populist movement. American fascism is alive and well, especially if it becomes wedded to a "bring the troops home" platform. Demilitarism could be tied to a neofeudalistic economic program. When I listen to Ron Paul this is what I envision.

Thanks again - keep up the good fight.

Jodi Dean

Alain--I agree that my astroturf remarks are too one-sided and overlook the real discontent that has gotten channeled to the Tea Party. But, we also know that approximately 25 percent of people supported Bush all the way through; they've thought Obama was a Muslim, not born in America, etc. So, on this score, it doesn't seem like the Tea Party is getting new people or expanding the Republican base (that have been the backbone of the fascist threat since at least 2000--I don't know the numbers of strong Clinton haters, but there was a lot of stuff on survivalists and white supremacy groups etc in the 1990s, remember the conspiracy theory around Vince Foster...).

Bring the troops home could be good for us: support for vets is terrible; they are well-trained; unemployment is over 9 percent. Again, the key is channeling them to the left--to envisioning and fighting for a society that does not pay private contractors a fortune and neglect those who serve it; that provides full and complete medical benefits and support to everyone who serves and their families etc

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