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Rethinking Marxism

A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society

ISSN: 0893-5696 (Print) 1475-8059 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrmx20

Red, Black, and Green
Jodi Dean
To cite this article: Jodi Dean (2015) Red, Black, and Green, Rethinking Marxism, 27:3, 396-404,
DOI: 10.1080/08935696.2015.1042694
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2015.1042694

Published online: 16 Jul 2015.

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Rethinking Marxism. Podemos in Spain. Division. 27. Politics. but the micropolitics of selftransformation and DIY takes the place of building and occupying institutions with duration. Struggle In “The Party and Communist Solidarity. left politics in the United States. flexibility.doi. and the efforts of Die Linke in Germany and Left Unity in the UK indicate that the party remains a viable form for thinking and acting politically.1042694 Red. communists need to think and act in terms of building and exercising political power. and pluralization (and arguably less than this. the rise of Podemos in Spain. 3. UK. Indeed. and Green Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 Jodi Dean This essay responds to the commentaries on the talks Stephen Healy and I delivered during the 2013 Rethinking Marxism International Conference. Syriza in Greece.org/10. Key Words: Communism. Fortunately. Fortunately. In this vein. The party doesn’t prefigure this world but shows the gap between the world we have and the world we can desire. It’s time to take up the challenge of actively constructing a political collectivity with the will and mass to fight for an egalitarian world.1080/08935696. participation. 396–404. participation. The success of Syriza in Greece. urging decentralization. Wary of “totalizing visions” (Helepololei). and innovation. No. with one foot in the tradition of the Greek Communist movement and its other foot in the novel forms of radicalism that have © 2015 Association for Economic and Social Analysis . some on the left have abandoned social change entirely. a synthesis party. and EU has mirrored neoliberal economics. insofar as liberals at least recognize the role of law and the state). Rather than persisting in an understanding of left politics that is little more than a liberal emphasis on individual choice. here and now. as well as to Healy’s own talk. we are seeing left political advances as ever more segments come together in a struggle for political power.2015. and other efforts indicate that the party remains a viable form for thinking and acting politically. and pluralization. Stathis Kouvelakis describes Syriza as “a hybrid party. communists need to think and act in terms of building and exercising political power. For too long.” I urge communists to take up again the political form of the party. http://dx. they cede society and the state to a capitalist class that acts as a global political class intent on extending its reach into and strengthening its hold over our lives and futures. Communist Party. Rather than persisting in an understanding of left politics that is little more than a liberal emphasis on individual choice. these achievements attest to the vitality of the party form as a site of political experimentation. 2015 Vol. Black. Even the neoliberal push to privatize is reflected in left politics: not only do we hear ad infinitum that the personal is political. we are seeing left political advances as ever more segments on the left come together in a struggle for political power.

14). Capitalist states have capacities to act on behalf of the system as a whole—capacities anchored in an array of institutions. most likely. massive purchasing. devise and extend the policy infrastructure of global trade. create and preserve property and markets. rationalities. feudalism. whether by protecting capitalists from themselves through taxes and regulatory oversight. the party is a flexible organization of political struggle. should the Left respond? Through scattershot initiatives that leave the basic structures intact while hoping for some kind of magical convergence? Or through organized action that connects multiple efforts into common struggle? I emphasize the party because the party pushes communists to strategize: what does winning look like. . under capitalism the differentiation between state and economy points to different relations to capital accumulation. States are deeply involved in economic life: they issue and maintain currencies.2 More than an economic system for the production and circulation of value. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (2012. Jan Rehmann (2013). laws. That state and economy are differentiated does not mean that they are separate from one another. say. as if states themselves were not economic actors with. Whatever poses a threat to capital and the state can expect to encounter absorption or repression or. capitalism refers to a form of society (Marx 2008. Far removed from the rigid. How. both. And no assortment of disconnected enterprises—no matter how communal—converges automatically into communism. 3) provide a clear explication of this obvious although frequently overlooked point. then. with the state focused generally on the terms and conditions of accumulation and the economy focused on the circulatory processes of accumulation itself. and investing power. and what does it take to win? A defining characteristic of capitalism is the differentiation between state and economy. and so on. employing. Smith in Theory & Event 16 (4). and policies. States secure and reproduce capitalism. See also the debate between Gavin Walker and Jason E. or governmentalities (to use Foucault’s term) are irreducible to economic considerations. and Peter Thomas (2013) offer varying but related theses regarding this creative dimension of the party. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (2012. Political logics. they are constrained by their dependence on capital accumulation. Rather. At the same time. unitary fantasy to which some in this symposium remain fearfully attached (see Miller 2015). No class simply relinquishes power. The party returns as a question when the Left realizes that neither resistance nor prefiguration nor multiplication is sufficient for breaking the hold of capitalist state power and producing a new emancipatory egalitarian social arrangement. 2.Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 CRAFTING COMMUNISM 397 emerged in this new period” (Budgen and Kouvelakis 2015). protecting capitalists from the people through aggressive policing and surveillance. 4) speak of the “relative autonomy” of capitalist states. The differentiation between state and economy also does not imply complete independence. or protecting people from capitalists in those increasingly frequent emergency responses that have taken the place of planning and social welfare. 1. for example. capitalist society relies on the differentiation of the economic system from the political system. Mimmo Porcaro (2012).1 An insight they share concerns the party’s reemergence in the context of the limits of movements and how movements themselves reformat the party. In contrast with.

energy. and U. which allowed renewable energy providers to sell power back to the grid. currency value. 66–9) tells a story that illustrates the limits the global trade architecture imposes on local actors. co-ops. . the Canadian province of Ontario announced the Green Energy and Green Economy Act. hinders the identification of this system as the site of ongoing harm (exploitation. This is the setting. Its goal was to shift Ontario away from dependence on coal. Although there were various setbacks and complications. European Central Bank. depends on seizing. and Indigenous communities could all get into the renewable energy market” (67). 4. Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy (2004).4 The political system has been the instrument through which neoliberalism has dismantled the achievements of the welfare state. Naomi Klein (2014. trade agreements. Key determinants of our lives occur behind our backs—currency valuations. markets for agricultural products. energy concessions. It responds to capitalism’s inevitable crises. the buy local provisions were illegal. The intensified inequality of the last forty years of neoliberalism testifies to the impact of left political defeat. dismantling. property. decentralized.3 Neoliberalism’s subjection of all of society to its economic criteria of efficiency and competitiveness has been carried out as a political project. and Jacob S. Under globalized capitalism. The absence of a powerful Left enables the political Right (in part by shifting what had been the center). “The legislation created what is known as a feed-in tariff program. and networked form—gives capitalism its durability. Hacker and Paul Pierson (2011). Some of the most compelling versions of this story come from David Harvey (2005). as an egalitarian political and economic arrangement anchored in the sovereignty of the people and in production based on need. or redirecting this system. The structural adjustment policies and austerity measures imposed by the IMF. for my appeal to the Left to assemble itself into a party.S. A “melancholic loser’s slump. To insist on a politics focused on isolating and archiving singular micropractices abstracted from their global capitalist context obscures the workings of state and economy as a capitalist system. The World Bank agreed. monetary policies. In 2009. and injustice). an international policy architecture aimed at securing capital flow provides massive advantages to multinational banks and corporations. expropriation. then. That’s when Japan and the EU went to the World Bank with the complaint that the local materials and workforce requirement discriminated against equipment producers outside Ontario. transportation. The viability of communism.Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 398 DEAN The state—particularly in its contemporary extended. expanded the finance sector. and disperses political energies that 3. data harvesting. Treasury determine (although not fully or exclusively) the lives of billions of people.” as Ramsey (2015) terms it. This was to be achieved by a provision requiring that a certain percentage of materials and workforce come from Ontario. World Bank. installed competition in ever more domains. after several years the legislation seemed to have been largely successful. and the availability of potable water. and imposed austerity. keeping the system running even when its components break down. As Klein explains.” A key element of the plan was ensuring that “local municipalities. impacting basic social structures such as education and medical care.

and treaties. We live in one world. especially given the traversal of state power by transnational corporations. all the way to human extinction. They range from the continued investment in extractive industries and fossil fuels constitutive of the carbon-combustion complex (see Oreskes and Conway 2014). It’s easier to catalog difference than it is to build up a Left strong enough to exercise power. to the dislocations accompanying mass migration in the wake of floods and droughts to the racist response of states outside what Christian Parenti (2011. the heating up of which threatens humans and other species. It’s also easier to go along with the dominant ideology of individualism. the stakes of contemporary politics are almost unimaginably high. As Ramsey rightly notes. than it is to put ourselves aside and focus on formulating a strategy for using collective power to occupy. No wonder the Left resorts to moralism and self-care instead. of how to win. the challenges of organizing politically across issues and identities are almost insurmountably daunting. Morrow and Brault supply a striking example of this effacement when they ask. such an insistence effaces the gap between politics and economics such that questions of strategy. Climate change forces us to acknowledge that we can’t build new worlds (Helepololei). if not to improve our everyday lives?” Communism. Those premised on fantasies of racial. and injustice replaced by economic determinations of immediate satisfaction. Forcing that change is the political challenge of our time. Not all communities. diminishes into yet another option for individual self-improvement. are displaced. Given the persistence of racialized violence and the operation of the state as an instrument for the maintenance not only of capitalist modes of production but also and concomitantly of racialized hierarchy. religious. More fundamentally. or country brings carbon emissions under control—while certainly a step in the right direction—may be irrelevant from the standpoint of overall warming. the abolition of exploitation. not every vision of community is compatible with every other. which previous generations rendered as the world-historical struggle of the prole‐ tariat. in treating economic practices as the primary locus of left politics. and redirect institutions at multiple levels. “What is communism for. reconfigure.CRAFTING COMMUNISM 399 Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 could be more effective if concentrated. and soon. Perhaps another country chose to expand its own drilling operations. Given anthropogenic climate change. . 1 Two ideas voiced in the present discussion impress the urgency of the need for a left party oriented toward communism: racism (Buck 2015) and the Anthropocene (Healy 2015). which enjoins us first and foremost to look after ourselves. 9) calls the “Tropic of Chaos” (the band around the “belt of economically and politically battered post-colonial states girding the planet’s mid-latitudes. state. That one city. trade. ethnic. Those premised on industries and practices that continue to contribute to planetary warming have to change significantly. economies. or ways of life are compatible. expropriation. Healy similarly substitutes economic alternatives for political antagonism.” where climate change is “beginning to hit hard”). Here again. Perhaps its carbon-emitting industries were shipped elsewhere.

Some ideas need to be chosen. Green points to climate justice. and corporate personhood and allies with anticapitalism and communism as well. it will only be possible as a combination of communism. Every time an . people’s. have turned the spotlight on the militarization of the police and the buildup of state forces for the defense of the wealthy and white against the proletarianized—poor. The heartbreaking reminder that “Black lives matter” calls for the abolition of structures of institutionalized power that continue to impoverish. in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown. they have appeared differently in the histories of emancipatory egalitarian struggle. These protests include marches and acts of civil disobedience. Protests in Ferguson. for example. bring together an array of political concerns around racial justice. It also marks the fact of the history of divisions within the Left that have stood in the way of our forging collective counterpower. In recent struggles. Left Unity in the UK uses red. Images from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and terms like “sacrifice zones” help articulate the two. systematized into a program. and the environment. black power. incarceration. Consciously reiterating the colors of the Black Liberation Flag. antiracism. austerity. and green in their logo to suggest a similar constellation. Those premised on reproducing structures of class hierarchy directly oppose those insisting on equality. movements are pushing the organizational convergence of communist. Missouri. and green” as a heuristic for the coalition of concerns necessary for such a party. the red. The colors don’t have a fixed meaning.Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 400 DEAN or linguistic purity directly oppose those premised on diversity. Black pays tribute to the IWW. cuts to public services. I invoke the heuristic here to double down against critics who prefer a thousand alternatives to the party form. Antiracism directs our attention to those most likely to be exploited and sacrificed in market-driven schemes to address climate change. black. A thousand alternatives (see Healy 2015) is no alternative. and climate activism. They should rather be understood as a kind of mutually supporting and inflecting scaffold. anarchists. and defended. If something like a party of the radical Left can stretch beyond Greece and Spain. and kill black people everywhere. A communism anchored in extractive industry is incompatible with the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. and movements against aggressive policing. climate. The three colors should not be read as three separate issues or groups. Similar buildups of police borders in the United States and abroad attempt to push back the many on the move in response to the “catastrophic convergence” of decades of violent expropriation and climate change (Parenti 2011). An equitable response to the changing climate. I use “red. and anticolonial struggles. and black. brown. black. red suggests a politics against debt. the ongoing protests in North Carolina. is incompatible with the continuation of capitalism. Here and now. Moral Mondays. It leaves the political system we have—the one that puts all its force behind the preservation of capitalist class interests—intact. and green heuristic positions itself within the histories of communist. if it can be imagined in North America. and the murder of African Americans. The demand for climate justice places the economic inequalities accompanying and constitutive of capitalist “development” at the center of global discussions of climate change. imprison. and race politics. an approach to climate change that exceeds capitalist emphases on carbon markets and green commodities to encompass the dismantling of the carbon-based economy and the global redistribution of wealth. black.

725). Here I agree with Carl Schmitt’s notorious characterization of the political in terms of the intensity of the divide between friend and enemy. homogeneous people as the precondition of a nonpartisan form of constituent power. I reject the presumption of a “unified. worry about the division that persists under communism is misplaced. however. Third. given that communism should involve the abolition of the value form. the question is whether that division is reducible to a struggle over the surplus. given the press of climate change. the locus of disagreement between me and Madra and Özselçuk is not whether there is division in communism—we all agree that there is. The party is a form for that connecting.” insisting instead that division goes “all the way down” (Bargu 2014. a universal and irreducible feature of our condition. I want to take up Ramsey’s call to associate the party with a “new and emancipatory division of labor” and to understand this division as the necessary effect of the party on its activists. though. See James Martel’s (2014) discussion of this element of my account in The Communist Horizon. then. I address division. First.CRAFTING COMMUNISM 401 activist reminds us that issues can’t be considered in isolation or every time a student repeats the mantra of intersectionality. He omits the key element of my rendition of “horizon”: namely. Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 2 In the rest of this response. Given the defeat of communism at the end of the 1980s. the work of division back upon us as we engage in collective struggle. . as solidary members of a fighting collective. It provides a location where we see and relate to ourselves as comrades. division (Dean 2012). This strikes me as far too narrow to encompass the antagonism that will persist under communism. I emphasize “occupying” division to mark the political aspect of the party form. the Left is instructing itself to make connections and formulate a politics capable of grasping complexity and of changing the world. it seems that a whole slew of other questions would force themselves on even those already committed to emancipatory egalitarian social arrangements: What should be done for those whose habitats become uninhabitable? Do occupants have exclusive claim to the land they occupy? Which resources may be claimed as commons and how far does this claim extend? More important. “surplus” will likely need to be rethought. that antagonism is fundamental. On the one hand. Second and consequently. is the perspective 5. Healy’s close engagement with the idea of the communist horizon is not close enough. and it also presumes in advance to know which antagonism will present itself as primary. The party is a political form that occupies and maintains the division that establishes where we are. In contrast to Schmitt. The perspective of the communist party. is the status of this disagreement. Division itself is common. What matters here and now is organizing against capitalism such that we are in a position where the answer to this debate will actually matter.5 The communist party maintains division as it keeps open the gap of collective desire for collectivity. This is what distinguishes the communist party from other parties (and what explains the deep sense of betrayal Communists have felt when their parties have failed). On the other.

Members were reminded to talk to new recruits. This loss is the subject’s condition of possibility. filled its pages with articles on how to recruit and retain new members. the division constitutive of subjectivity. They worried that their meetings were too long. Although they can be and often are fetishized (positioned so as to obscure the loss or perfectly remedy it). It’s not that this something is or is not there. the unrealized makes itself felt. it maintains this perspective as a gap. 16–9). only disruptive. actions like choice or decision. Rather. a carrier. But this would ignore the persistence of the subject in the press of the unrealized. enabling it to be concentrated and directed in one way rather than another. it dissipates into the manifold of potentiality. some closure is effected. 6. 22). . that they didn’t start and finish on time. The CPUSA organizers writing in the magazine sensed the “enthusiasm and earnest desire of the workers” but blamed themselves for the fact that workers dropped out: “The recruit comes into the average unit of the Party and finds there a group of strangers speaking a jargon which he does not understand. with a carrier some potentiality is diminished. Nevertheless. Lacan associates the Freudian unconscious with a gap: a gap where something happens but remains unrealized (Lacan 1998. utterly disconnected from any body. In his seminar on the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. many district-level organizers— expressed excitement about gains in new members and dismay over the party’s failure to retain them. not to exceed two and a half hours.Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 402 DEAN of collectivity as it cuts through the individuality capitalist society demands. it doesn’t fill it in with substantial content. The party may do this via writers and commentators pressing a specific interpretation of the movement. guerrilla armies. In the early 1930s. loses his enthusiasm and finally drops out of the Party” (17). This persistence needs a body. For example. that the subject of politics is the collective people means that its actions cannot be reduced to those associated with individual agency. District organizers were advised to pick up members at their houses and bring them to meetings. No one pays much attention to him and he is therefore left very much to himself … enthusiasm cools. even leaders—situate themselves within this division. It may do this by having personnel in place that can turn a movement’s opening to legislative or policy advantage. states. a publication of the Communist Party USA. institution. Month after month the writers—many anonymous. or advance and thus without substance or content. State” (Dean 2014). some possibility is eliminated. he becomes discouraged. that they weren’t “snappy enough” (CPUSA 1931b. the fact of fetishization should not deflect from the prior condition of the gap and its occupation. Rather. The party is a political form for this press of the unrealized. Political forms—parties. the party presses forward the opening produced by movements. The communist party doesn’t know what this perspective is. creation. Without a carrier. Party. I develop this point in my essay “Commune. three hours at the absolute limit. the collective subject impresses itself through ruptures and breaks and the retroactive attribution of these breaks to the subject they express. Psychoanalysis helps explain the idea.6 The punctuality of the subject could suggest that it is only evental. They advised one another on the best design for a party meeting: no more than two hours. it exerts a pressure. the Party Organizer. Instead. At any rate. The history of communism in the United States supplies an example of the work of division. that it exists or doesn’t exist.

they are political producers creating collective power. meeting. even when party members are workers. Moreover. Without this collective body.” dispersed yet ubiquitous left dogmatism has turned the so-called obsolescence of the party form into the primary tenet of its catechism. For over thirty years. bound to the economic struggle. enhance and also hinder a sense of belonging at the same time. or group that will see. Every other mode of political association may be revised. discussing. getting to know them by name and their individual problems. They are not just economic producers trying to improve their everyday lives. rethought. The same desire that leads people to join the party separates them from their everyday practices of provisioning. They look at the world differently from how they did before. Other recommendations include better development of cadres and more effort at education. know. organizing. which indeed you are” (CPUSA 1931a). not a professor (CPUSA 1931b. 19).Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 07:02 07 October 2015 CRAFTING COMMUNISM 403 “Jargon” is a symptom of the problem. antagonistic relations escape from view. who will put the insights to work. Don’t appear too insistent at first” (1931a. Still others highlight a kind of transferential relation that can arise from “visiting the workers at least two or three times a week. One recommendation for overcoming this division is imagining oneself as a comrade. they see themselves and the world from the perspective opened up by the party. particularly when accompanied by instructions to do what one would normally do. wage cuts. except for the communist party. involves a reflexive turn toward the everyday as one looks at what one does from the party perspective. training—separate them from the workers. the ideas that enable them to see the world in terms other than capitalism’s. seeing. It’s time to put this nursery tale aside and take up the challenge of actively constructing a political collectivity with the will and mass to fight for an . Once they have become Communists. and acting remain individual. The very activities they pursue as Communists—reading. What makes them Communists. displaced by a multitude of possibilities. Healy speaks of envisioning possibilities and recognizing possibilities. leafleting. renewed. and have them call you by name and feel you are one of them” (Tate 1932. Organizers are advised to speak “not as a soap boxer or a seasoned Communist theorist” but rather to “be one of the workers. Yet they also have to continue to imagine themselves as the workers they are. to seeing from a different place. Who is envisioning and recognizing? My claim is that this “who” is the party: the unstated premise of left attention to previously overlooked practices or to the production of new knowledge is that there is some body. The organizer has to begin from the perspective of the worker and guide the worker to a shift in perspective. 18). 6–7). what separates them from capitalism’s constraints as it provides them with political capacity and conviction. knowledge. and act differently. the party has been extracted from the aspirations and accomplishments it enabled. It marks a division between workers and party members. inscribes a gap in the givenness of economic belonging. The language that members share. and hence the advice: “Little by little from the conditions in the shops go on to the speed up. association. and reimagined. unemployment and then to the need for organization. Even as dogma has been uniformly qualified with “party. “Jargon” means that the people and the party are not speaking the same language. Imagining oneself as a comrade.

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