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April 24, 2012


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i think it is hysterical that Reich doesn't get it - if you believe in public investment in those things you are outside the mainstream of right wing political thought. In fact he is to the far left of Obama. We have come a long way in 30 years. I am not a communist either, but the fact that liberals like Reich are so clueless is just another sign of their complete irrelevance.

Jodi Dean

Hey Alain--it's interesting, though because if your enemies say you are a communist than from that political perspective you basically are a communist. I'm tempted to make the analogy with race and the "one drop rule" where a person was black if they had one drop of black blood; so these days, a person committed to public investment (one drop) is a communist.

Welcome to the Party, comrade!


I think I disagree with you - I will paraphrase Arendt on collective guilt and the holocaust. If everyone to the left of Bill O'Reilly is a communist than no one is a communist. the word has become meaningless in our political discourse. And I say this with all due respect to you as a communist thinker.


Before I forget - I just watched Zizek and David Horowitz with Assange. It was not only entertaining but interesting how Horowitz also lumps all people to the left of his position as communists. He believes that Obama comes from a "communist upbringing." I really am coming to see that defining everyone who disagrees with you as a communist not only diffuses the specific criticism but also obfuscates any meaningful engagement with leftist ideas. It is a very effective strategy. And I suspect the left has no idea how to counteract it.

Jodi Dean

I know how to counteract it: occupy the word communist. That is, claim and use it. Don't be afraid of it but claim its power and emancipatory potential.


I wish I could agree with you. But I do not see the effectiveness of that as a strategy. At least not yet. But I look forward to your book - it perhaps is the beginning of a genuine leftist re-appropriation of communism as a living breathing alternative. Capitalism has failed but its carcass seems to have a long nasty shelf life. The King is dead - Long live the King!

Sheldon Baker

What I think about this exchange is that the right-wing discourse in this country is becoming so dogmatic that even a mild and gentle critique of capitalist institutions such as Reich's is seen as a threat, so they have to paint this gentle critique as equal to a ruthless marxist critique.

Jodi Dean

Sheldon--what's fascinating is that this is not new. Marx makes the same point in the 18th Brumaire: "Every demand of the simplest bourgeois financial reform, of the most ordinary liberalism, of the most profound republicanism, of the most shallow democracy is ... stigmatised as 'socialism.'"


But we have been through years of history since Marx wrote those words and the system has made countless accommodations and compromises - the New Deal, the welfare state, institutionalized unions, etc.. What marks the neoliberal era (as you well know) is a repudiation of all these compromises. that is why I think liberals like Reich have become irrelevant. They are mere window dressing to give the illusion of diversity of opinion. There is no alternative - Occupy is just the beginnings of an alternative - inspiring and creative but merely a beginning. Zizek's recent brief piece in the Guardian speaks to this.

Jodi Dean

Alain--but the 'accommodations and compromises' weren't just that; they were hard one concessions. So I think the interesting thing about the continuity with Marx is that it isn't the case that the right's use of 'communist' or 'socialist' to dis liberals is new; it's not. On the question of liberals as irrelevant--this is a weird thing to claim when the Republican party is in shambles. I'm not myself interested in liberals, but I 'mere window dressing to give illusion of diversity' seems too cynical to be convincing. Who is playing to whom? for whom is the illusion? I don't know if I've seen the Guardian piece you have in mind. I don't know what you mean when you say no alternative--do you mean within electoral politics? that's been true for a long time. But that's too narrow a place to look. On Occupy -- 'just the beginning' again, why the 'just' (it's of a piece with 'mere') they sound to be like symptoms of depression more than anything else.


A fair diagnosis doctor.:) I appreciate the exchange. And I agree with you that OWS is not a trivial thing. Clearly those in power see it as a threat or they wouldn't be coming down so hard to destroy it.

The Mathmos

+1 about reclaiming "communist". I do this all the time ;)

But it is also the case that mass-mediated politics is only rarely framed in properly defined terms and positions. What communism or conservatism or (to be extreme) terrorism mean at any given time is subject to gross distortion and confusion at the behest of entrenched interests. Surely, what was bracing about Occupy (and other mobilization efforts around the world) isn't their re-claiming or re-discovery of such and such political terms, but the way they deviated (sometimes completely) from the game(d)script of mass-mediated politics.

At first glance the last year seems to indicate that movements are more powerful when arrayed against specific groups or entities (the "1%" or "Mubarak") and clear of the poisoned waters of political terminology.

Robert Augmann

I share Alain's disbelief about Reich's cluelessness. Whether O'Reilly really believes Reich to be a communist is irrelevant. The term is employed politically, to set the framework for debate, and as a weapon to hit back against any minor momentum being achieved by those who want to roll-back some aspects of neoliberalism. O'Reilly might be "burying the national dialogue in doo-doo" but he's on air because is very succesful in framing political debate from the Right and defending its hegemony.

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