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August 05, 2011


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Chad Nelson

Hobart Smith & Williams?! I'm offended. Is HWS that unknown in the Communist community?

Question: Do any communists, new or old, have a coherent theory on the business cycle? Or do they just follow the Keynesian explanation?

Jodi Dean

Dumenil and Levy are some of my favorite Marxist economists. They have a new book on the recent crisis. For the most part, communists view capitalist as permanently in crisis; capital is a revolutionary force, one that relies on constant creation and destruction. Crises may be crises of over-production and over-accumulation, as well as crises that involve the money supply/value of money. Marx in Capital is quite vivid in his depiction of a major contradiction in capitalism: on the one hand, it seems to rely on and promise freedom--as in free trade; on the other, once in the market, everyone is at its mercy.

Robert Allen

The folks who introduced me to Marxism were the uber-disciplinary Socialist Worker's Party, who seem to match the ideal organization you are describing in some key ways. Ever since I've been looking for an organization like that, but which doesn't force its members into low wage cannery jobs and so forth. My early Reorganized Latter Day Saint upbringing made me suspicious of groups claiming to be the "one true church" if you will, however over the years I've learned alot from these dedicated "Orthodox" Marxists. I agree with your assessment of the Right's obsession with communism-almost every day, in conversations I mostly try to avoid, I encounter privileged white workers who have been steeped in anticommunist ideas from talk radio. They know absolutely nothing about really existing communists but can parrot anticommunist lies to a startling degree and depth.
It was no surprise to me that one of the forum attendees mentioned the timidity of the union officialdom in the Wisconsin fight; a Trotskyist would expect this. It is one of the things you learn along the way...

Fay Furness

Jodi, thanks for posting this talk. I'm inspired by your mention of a very tangible and detailed revolutionary model of upheaval in the U.S. And I'm looking forward to reading your book! You've presented solid arguments about the structure of the left, debunking the worship of democracy, anarchy and liberalism.

I'm afraid I couldn't follow (acoustically?) if you got an answer to the question of terminology: "dictatorship of the proletariat" vs. "sovereignty of the people." I find proletariat to be very loaded and think it only fitting to use if completely rehabilitated (is that possible with such a rich yet rigid word?). However "sovereignty of the people" is common language for democracy. I fear that using this over-used, almost pithy language is weakening. At least proletariat is powerful and clear.

Robert Allen

I forgot to tie a thread together in my last post: the Socialist Worker's Party, its ultra discipline has negatives but also has pluses, one big plus is "revolutionary continuity", meaning the ability to create a historical record of working class struggle which can be pointed to, through its bookstores and also its long running paper, the Militant, for the working class to have reference points, to show "there is nothing new under the bourgeois sun", so (theoretically at least) the working class doesn't have to re learn how to fight each battle. These people consider themselves "citizens of time". Partly right (as in effectiveness overall) or partly wrong, these folk are, by the way they've organized themselves, one hell of a resource.

Fay Furness

In a new AlterNet article called "Do We Need a Militant Movement to Save the Planet (and Ourselves)?" (http://www.alternet.org/story/151918/do_we_need_a_militant_movement_to_save_the_planet_%28and_ourselves%29?page=8) a new book, Deep Green Resistance, by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen is presented. In this article (page 8) Aric McBay describes upheaval as two-pronged and writes, "If you are talking about building democratic communities then that is something that people do above ground, by building networks, building coalitions. On the other hand if you are talking about disrupting or destroying systems that are killing the planet and people then that is something that is traditionally done by the underground wing of the movement, by clandestine groups. Especially now with the amount of surveillance in our every day lives, people who want to take direct action against systems of power have to do so secretly. That is the smaller part in terms of numbers, but an essential part of the strategy.”

A major problem I have with Jensen-style anarchy is the lack of large-scale organization. Your presentation of a communist horizon to steer towards could fill that gap. But in your description of communist revolution (one million followers and fifty hackers), you mention nothing about the (anarchist) tactic of clandestine direct action. Is the direct action and revolution of communism to be clandestine, too? If so is there really so much difference between anarchist and communist revolt? Are you taking into account this militant direct action of anarchism, or just dismissing "main-stream" community-building anarchism as being one of the three major faults in leftist organization? Does the difference between anarchist and communist revolution lie in organization? And how could a communist militant movement be organized - i.e. networked in larger groups - in light of current surveillance? Anarchism may lack organization and structure but (at least militant anarchism) focusses realistically (if not always effectively) on tactics. Is the communist movement - the communist horizon - also to focus on concrete tactics? Or are we still in the era of just awakening the often academic communist dialog?

Jodi Dean

Fay--thanks for the link. I haven't seen this. I am criticizing the "community building" side of anarchism, not the direct action side. I think you are right to suggest that there is not much difference here between clandestine tactics and anarchist tactics. My sense from street protests is that the anarchists are some of the bravest folks around, really pushing and radicalizing the situation. At any rate, I'm not criticizing them. And you are absolutely right about concrete tactics on this front--the more concrete, the more covert.

Bob--you are absolutely right about the crucial hold of maintaining a tradition and archive of revolutionary knowledge. I've often wondered if papers like the Militant have a readership among workers, union people, etc. I read updates from the WSWS everyday and they have made a difference in my thinking about what is possible. Do you think the Militant and other papers have similar effects?

Fay--glad you liked the talk (really the introduction to a discussion more than an actual talk). You put the problem well--and it didn't get any resolution in the discussion (although one guy said 'aren't we here all members of the bourgeoisie?' and no one said anything; I thought a couple of things: one, Americans rarely identify as members of the working class; two, does it make sense to refer to folks who are carving together a living out of 2-4 different jobs bourgeois?; and, finally, maybe it makes most sense to think of proletarianization as a process rather than in terms of fixed class terms like proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Bob--I confess that I have never been a member of the SWP (although I've been trying to join the SEP and am not getting any where). Maybe this inexperience on my part is why I don't see even a strong Party as dictating thought and providing the one true search; I've thought of it as arguing together but being unified in struggle.


I would like to raise a question about POWER itself (and more generally: the place-holder of power, and the fetishization of this place).

Zizek often questions power as a fetish, but most applicable is Baudrillard's comment: "Power itself must be abolished-- and not solely because of a refusal to be dominated, which is at the heart of all traditional struggles-- but also, just as violently, in the refusal to dominate. Intelligence cannot, can never be in power because intelligence consists of this double refusal." The man who speaks at about 50 minutes who emphasizes an organization of accountability, as a check on power, makes this point. What it means to me is that 'organization' as such needs entirely to be re-thought. We must go so far as to refuse power as such.

The implications for this are far reaching for me. It seems the only HONEST way to "identify" with the Excluded: not to render a new kind of voice/power to the Excluded, but to inhabit the powerless place of the Excluded.

I have looked at another of your recent posts questioning the "lack of thinking" in activism. I think the implication that thought itself is "not action" stems from a desire for ultimate reconciliation (emancipation, liberation of free time, etc.), and the desire to have it NOW. Activist action seems to imply the elimination of the obstacle (i.e., if we just get out of Afghanistan, if only we'd tax the rich, if we only made things fairer, etc.). While I am sympathetic to these concerns, I find them ultimately "stupid": they are so many Lacanian 'passages a l'act.' The whole organization of the "party" is such a passage, in my eyes. The contrast to acting-out, is the act that changes the symbolic coordinates as such. In other words, it is not so much a matter of changing the world as we find it. It is a matter of changing the world that we find. Or even of finding a different world.

In all of this, I take very seriously Zizek's return to the point of the cogito. I've tried to develop the link between the NEED to correctly 'understand' the cogito and the POSSIBILITY for proletarian revolt in a recent blog-post of mine: http://wp.me/p1rAXN-4v. We might even say that the class struggle is something within each of us; we shed blood and strain our voice trying to change class relations 'outside,' without understanding that the 'split' is what we are. This 'split' being the 'obstacle' that cannot be eliminated; and the minute that it is eliminated, all productivity-transformation is halted. As Lacan says, the "wealth of the personality" is a mask that hides the blank and faceless character of the cogito. We ignore our "not." Without an ontology that can handle this "not," we are dealing with what "is" as we find it. Again, I think the point is to find the INCONSISTENCY in the current symbolic "system," and finding what is real THERE in the very inconsistency of the situation. Not to change the symbolic system (i.e., not to render through action more just, fair, and consistent measure and distribution), which essentially leaves it in tact. I am having some difficulty saying all this, but I think that until we shift the conversation AWAY from our compulsion to talk about 'big groups,' 'organizing,' 'activism,' etc., and TOWARD a re-consideration of what the SUBJECT as such IS-- i.e., away from personality-power, and toward the functional-structural nature of the I-- we will spend our time doing ultimately "stupid" things, trying to effectuate imaginary effects that capitalism (read: the symbolic structure) is simply glad to gobble up.

Not to effectuate a change that would come from "us" and our actions; but for the outside to change itself insofar as we withdraw or subtract ourselves from the coordinates it would like to convince us are "real." I don't think it is that we impose our change on the world, anymore than I am trying to impose some "thought" on the readers of this passage. There is a more material, more eo ipso "change." This is the change that we are exposed to, exposing (and espousing) the nakedness of the function that we are. In the nakedness of this function, there is something powerless, ineffectual, and necessarily so. And we are sharing "in" it-- outside.

You end your speech saying that "We can't think that each individual making their own choices is a political solution to the problem." But I would challenge you that cooperating in a group that then acts like a collective individual is the exact same thing. In this, I'm led to a somewhat odd point, that the key is to prevent ourselves from cooperating in groups. Especially "mass organization." I am in disagreement with both 'indviduality' and 'dialog' in their normal communicative sense. It is as if we are in the death throes of power-relations: we either want to consolidate it in the body politic (you say "Sovereign Body"), or we want to allow everyone their chance to exercise it. It is precisely here that we are not yet thinking; on the point of identity as such, whether an 'individual' or an 'organization.' Lacan says his psychoanalytic project is in line with Marx's political economy precisely along these lines.

One of the last questions asked of you is, "Well, what do you think? What is your vision?" Alas, we do want masters still! The initial question from the young man telling us to think for ourselves wasn't taken nearly seriously enough here. Why? Because it is easier to 'act out' and organize than to commit what Zizek/Lacan call 'symbolic suicide.' No one can guide us through what symbolic suicide will be or look like; but it is intelligent, and it implies a double refusal of power: refusal to be dominated, and the refusal to dominate. In a sense, it is a refusal to "be" as such (perhaps something like Nietzsche's "to will Nothingness itself"). To will to be the "not," as such. I think that if we pay more attention our anti-war rallies and our international organizations, we will see how, far from refusing power, we are still caught in the ugly circle of insisting upon it for ourselves. And it is not as if this "not" were something we would impose. It is something, constitutive of us as speaking/thinking subjects, that we are exposed to, and must attend to. I cannot help but think that the whole "game" rests on this point.

Injustice is grave and spreading. But the answer is not to give the victims of this injustice a their own power. And this includes the power of a revolutionary organization to effectuate change. What we'd need, instead, is the "production of empty signifiers," to use Laclau's phrase. This begins (at least) with the cogito, and it exposes us to the emptiness of our "personality," or rather, to the fact that we are the masterless cut of the signifer as such. For we were never engulfed in the symbolic situation as it was, and it could never determine us (nor our possibilities for action). We are in excess of it-- and to exceed it NOW is to "retroactively" change what was possible in the past: to make something possible ex post facto, and thus to do/say something impossible.

We do not catch up with the cut.

Tim Lavenz

Robert Allen

Do you think the Militant and other papers have similar effects?

Well from the SWP's standpoint, selling the paper is a way of getting out and pressing the flesh, in "meatspace" if you will- they pride themselves, again rightly or wrongly, on not being a group that emphasizes the internet or other passive means to relate to the working class (they sell at antiwar demos, plant gates, even door to door in working class and Latino neighborhoods) and secondly, the Bolsheviks had a paper and they consider themselves political descendants of the Bolsheviks, with some foundation to it ..alas, hawking papers isn't in my DNA, and their history of unfair expulsions leave me chagrined to say the least but I respect them for turning me on to the truth about how the world really is and the audacious idea that I can do something about it. (I must add I've even been snubbed by some of them for not joining the party, though that was long ago)...


is an interesting critical article on the SWP


Jodi, it's very exciting to see your talk and this discussion! I would like to urge you to explore the International Socialist Organization:


I am a new (post-Wisconsin) member of the ISO, which, I believe, is the largest revolutionary Marxist organization in the US: approximately 700 (very!) active members in approximately 80 branches nationwide. Our organization grew out of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK. The ISO is involved in organizing, propagandizing, and agitating in contemporary struggles (see our paper http://socialistworker.org , which just in the last 2 days has featured excellent articles on the UK riots, Verizon union retreat, NATO in Libya, and the failure of an electoral approach in Wisconsin) along the lines of Rosa Luxemburg:

“The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to the Social-Democracy an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.” – Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution (1900)

New members read Tony Cliff's "Building The Party," a book which may interest you:


Your can read more about our organizing principles and commitment to democratic centralism as means of maintaining solidarity and discipline as a party, while allowing for free debate within the party here:


Using my own branch (San Diego) as an example, I can tell you that we have a committed, thoughtful cadre, many of whom are rank-and-file union members. We are involved in on-the-ground struggles (right now we're preparing for an economic summit with the regional Labor Council and a potential strike by Southern California's 62,000 unionized grocery workers) and more theoretical work (local members are currently reading Lenin, Trotsky, Zizek, Richard "Lenin's Tomb" Seymour, Mark "K-Punk" Fisher, your own "Blog Theory," among other texts. Zizek has spoken at SWP events several times, for example:


I think the ISO would benefit greatly if you decided to become involved, and I would urge you to check out a local branch or contact the national office:


Since you are based at HWS, I believe your closest branch would be Rochester. I have included contact information below for the branch and information about their next public meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening, Thursday, August 25th.

I believe that the ISO sees the Communist Horizon and I hope you'll check us out.



City ISO Branch Meeting -- Miller Center

Thu, August 25, 7:00pm – 8:30pm
MC1 in Miller Center on 25 Gibbs Street

The Meek and the Militant

Marx famously said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” However, only the last part of that passage is ever quoted. Laws in Europe and here in the US have been passed banning religious practices, like a head covering worn by Muslim women, using a similar justification, that religion, or a particular religion (Islam), is inherently oppressive. Some leftists and atheists have cheered these moves as progressive and even Marxist. We argue, however, that Marx has been completely misinterpreted. Join us for a discussion on the role religion plays in the struggle today and how radicals today should approach ...

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