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kpfa-free-speech-take-it-back-logo-121199LUMPENPROLETARIAT—Yesterday, on free speech radio, Against the Grain aired a notable interview from the KPFA archives.  (Listen here.)  Dedicated KPFA listeners may recall this memorable conversation “around an emancipatory egalitarian communist vision” with Political Science Professor Jodi Dean on Against the Grain last summer. [1]

Dr. Jodi Dean (b. 1962) (Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Political Science Department) is the author of various books, including The Communist Horizon (Verso, 2012), Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (Duke University Press, 2009), Žižek’s Politics (Routledge, 2006), Blog Theory (Polity, 2010), and Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy (Cornell University Press, 2002).  Dr. Dean blogs at ICite.com.



KPFA—[2 JUN 2015] Jodi Dean on why communism remains a powerful ideological force.

Learn more at KPFA.


AGAINST THE GRAIN—[24 JUN 2014; rebroadcast 2 JUN 2015] It’s a dead idea, or so we’re told, now discarded in the dustbin of history. But political theorist and media scholar Jodi Dean believes communism remains a powerful ideological force; she argues that the left should claim the term without apology. Dean also discusses the successes and limitations of Occupy Wall Street, and advocates revamping the party as an organizational form.

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.


[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Against the Grain.]

Anti-communist propaganda in a 1947 comic book published by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society warning of

Anti-communist propaganda in a 1947 comic book published by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society warning of “the dangers of a Communist takeover”.

AGAINST THE GRAIN—[2 JUNE 2015]  “Today on Against the Grain:  It’s a dead idea, or so we’re told.  Yes, it’s communism.  I’m Sasha Lilley.  Political theorist and media scholar Jodi Dean discusses why communism manages to remain such a powerful ideological force and why the left should claim the term without apology.  That’s after these news headlines.”

[SNIP]  [KPFA News Headlines (read by Gabriela Castelan)]

[This is a rush transcript. This transcript is currently under construction.]


SASHA LILLEY:  (c. 6:30) “From Pacifica Radio, this is Against the Grain.  I’m Sasha Lilley.

“The term communism conjures up various images—some of them bleak, some of them stirring, many of them scary.  It’s a word and a history, that the existing left often doesn’t want to touch.  But, according to Jodi Dean, that’s a mistake.  The emancipatory egalitarianism at the heart of communism should be embraced; and the ideological baggage the term carries needs to be seen as powerful and, even, useful.

“She makes that argument in The Communist Horizon, published by VersoDean teaches Political and Media Theory at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  And her many books include Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies [2] and Blog Theory.

“Jodi, I wonder if you could start by telling us how you define communism, since, clearly, it’s a term, which has meant many different things in different times and different places.”  (c. 7:30)

DR. JODI DEAN:  “You’re right to emphasise that it’s a contested term.  And, so, the definition, that I use isn’t one, that I think is set in stone or inadmissable from criticism or anything like that.  But, as a starting point, I think of communism, according to Marx‘s adage:  From each according to ability, to each according to need.  And what’s kind of neat about that definition of communism is that it’s actually not restricted to Marxism.  You see Plato using the same idea in his account of the guardian class in the book The Republic.  And you see in the early church, the early Christian church, the Apostles distributing items amongst each other along the same maxim.  From each according to ability, to each according to need.

“So, even though it’s contested, I think it’s a useful way to think about communism because it stretches across different ideological fields, different ways of thinking.”  (c. 8:38)


[snip]  (c. 52:56)

SASHA LILLEY:  “So, what lessons, in particular, would you hope that people come away from the Occupy Movement with?”

DR. JODI DEAN:  “The first and most important lesson is that we are stronger when we organise under a common name.  Right?  What made Occupy so amazing was that all over the country, and all over the world, people were using one name to show their solidarity with one another and their opposition to capitalism.  They were using one name.  That’s crucial.  I think that, by itself, lets us know that a politics fragmented into identity and specific issues is not where we’re trapped anymore, that we can organise together under a common name.

“I think that the other thing we have learned—this is now kind of specific to what happened in New York after the [Occupy Wall Street] evictions—is that we have to have basic processes for organising people.  The Tech Ops Working Group produced a document soon after the eviction, that was saying: You know? We never had a good intake procedure. We never had good ways, when people came in after the first few weeks, of connecting their skills with working groups. We didn’t have a good list of people. We didn’t have names.  Right?

“I mean there wasn’t enough of an apparatus, that could channel people’s skills and energies into places, that would be productive.  So, I think we also learned that we need that.  And we really, really need that under conditions of extreme police repression, which is what Occupy is based all over the country.”  (c. 54:41)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Well, you are a scholar of social media.  And over the last four or five years, as there have been various kind of moments where protest bubbles up, seemingly, out of nowhere.  People have, including on the Left, have pointed to the power of social media.  This was particularly the case with the Arab Spring events in Egypt, also in Britain, a lot of the student protests, that happened.  There was a lot of talk that social media, Facebook, and other forms of media allowed people to come together in ways, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“What’s your take on that argument?  Is social media, sort of, a new force to be reckoned with?”  (c. 55:30)

DR. JODI DEAN:  “The argument that people couldn’t have come together without social media is so annoying.  It’s like:  Gee, I wonder how the Bolsheviks did it?  Or:  How did Mao do it?

“I mean it’s just blind to real history.  So, that has driven me crazy even before the Arab Spring, when the protests in Iran were called the Twitter Revolution.

“But I’ve also been thinking lately that maybe my, kind of, knee-jerk and dismissive annoyance is wrong and that there’s something more to it.  It’s just kind of misconstrued.  And the stuff that it might be—I’ll try this out and see what you think—that might be more to it is that we can understand the attention, that the mainstream media puts on social media as signalling what media theorists were looking for as kind of the revolt of the cognitariat, or the revolt of the knowledge class.

“In other words, contemporary proletarianisation has meant that people were displaced from a set work site, that they’re more likely to have to work from home, that their work is much more precarious.  And, so, people use—instead of being in an office—they use cellphones or laptops from a variety of different places.  We would expect, then, that the movement of a precarious workforce, connected by cellphones and laptops, would happen outside with people connected by cellphones and laptops.

“And, so, maybe, the point is not—like, maybe I’m just wrong to dismiss all of this, kind of, Facebook revolution stuff—but, say:  No, the thing to look at is this is the revolt of precarious workers under the conditions of communicative capitalism.  Right?  These are people using—These are people in their workplace.  The workplace just happens to be the city streets, the parks, these other public settings.

“So, I think that, maybe, that we can actually see something, that’s not just media politics, but an indication of how the new version of this new media economy—or, as I say, communicative capitalism—is generating the force that opposes it.”  (c. 57:53)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Jodi Dean thank you so much for your time.”

DR. JODI DEAN:  “Oh, thank you so much.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “I’ve been speaking with the author of The Communist Horizon, Jodi Dean.  The book is published by Verso Books.  Her other many books include Blog Theory and Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies.  She teaches political theory at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

“You are listening to Against the Grain.  My name is Sasha Lilley.  I’d like to thank Jim [inaudible] at Ithaca Community Radio.  Thank you for listening.  Please tune in again next time.”

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.

[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]


[1] Terrestrial radio transmission.

Also see:

  • Behind The News Presents Professor Jodi Dean On Reclaiming Communism and the Political Party Form; 24 NOV 2016.

I recall the day vividly, listening with headphones on the job working with outdoor machinery as a day labourer on Appletree Lane in Mountain View, California.  Also see:  http://www.againstthegrain.org/tag-directory/communism

[2]  Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (Duke University Press, 2009)


[2 JUN 2015]

[Last modified at 12:23 PST on 28 NOV 2016]