LUMPENPROLETARIAT Political Science Professor Jodi Dean (b. 1962) (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) 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). She also blogs at ICite.com.
On this week’s holiday edition of free speech radio’s Behind The News, host Doug Henwood graced us with an encore broadcast of a 2013 interview he conducted with Dr. Jodi Dean, in which she discussed her book The Communist Horizon, crowd psychology, the political party form, the squandering of opportunity by the Occupy Movement for building an emancipatory people’s party in the United States, and other relevant topics.  This is a timely re-broadcast in the aftermath of the electoral college’s antidemocratic coronation of Donald Trump, even though he lost the popular vote. Listen (and/or download) here. 
[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Behind The News.]
BEHIND THE NEWS—[24 NOV 2016] [PEDRO REYES: “—or online at kpfa.org. Stay tuned for Behind The News.”] [Behind The News ‘world/classical’ instrumental theme music]
DOUG HENWOOD: “Hello, and welcome to Behind the News. My name is Doug Henwood. Just one guest today: Jodi Dean. Jodi Dean, a professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, New York has been on this show many times. Though, it’s been more than a year, since her last appearance, which is way too long. I find her one of the best thinkers on politics around, bringing, among many other things, a sense of the importance of organisation, as opposed to the love of structural-lessness and spontenaity, which is so popular these days and of the centrality of the psychological mechanisms to politics. Yet, despite the complexity of the material, Jodi writes and talks with admirable clarity.
“She was on this show back in October 2013 to discuss her book The Communist Horizon, also from Verso. In that book, she was trying to reclaim the idea of communism, a word and concept, which has been dragged through the mud by, both, its friends and enemies. In her latest book, Crowds and Party, published earlier this year by Verso, Jodi undertakes two related texts—an analysis of crowds, demonstrations, spectacles, occupations and politics, which we always have with us, and the need for a revolutionary party, which we don’t.
“Today, and for the last several decades, many on the left celebrate the crowd as politics, in itself—the beautiful moment, as she calls it—that doesn’t lay the groundwork for a better future, but, basically, is that future. There are no better examples of this phenomenon than those who claimed during Occupy Wall Street that the gathering itself was the better future and not merely an embryonic event, that could lead the way to a seriously transformative organisation. (c. 2:08)
“Jodi isn’t shy about calling that organisation a party, a rather unfashionable term.
“She is eloquent in analysing the reasons for the unfashionability of the party. We’re supposed to resist the form as sclerotic and oppressive by its very nature, imposing among many other things a uniformity on an endlessly variegated humanity. (c. 2:27)
“Now, we’re all about multiplicities, movements of movements and so on. This strikes me, to steal Karl Kraus‘ comment on psychoanalysis—which, by the way, I don’t agree with—as the disease for which it purports to be the cure. This kind of thinking emphasises difference at the expense of solidarity and guarantees ineffectuality. That ineffectuality might be welcome to those, who fear power. But there can be no better world without engaging with, and taking power, as daunting and risky as that may sound. Power may corrupt, as Lord Acton said, but powerlessness is no bargain, either. (c. 3:01)
“As I say in the interview, I shied away from bringing up the psychoanalytic aspects of Jodi’s argument because I was afraid it might not work well on the radio. But those aspects are quite important and one of the many reasons you should buy and read this book—that and her extended critique of the individualism, that pervades our society and our minds, myself included. I’m not so sure how well I work with others.
“That’s another angle on the importance of the party organisation. Not only is it essential to politics, it’s also a way to get us out of our solipsistic little heads, myself included. I spend a lot of time in my own head, in my personal bubble.
“Enough from me; here’s Jodi Dean, author of Crowds and Party from Verso. [broadcast cuts to archival audio]
“Welcome, Jodi. You open the book with an anecdote about an event during Occupy Wall Street. (c. 3:47) [snip] (c. 6:54)
“And, then, the collective energy and the collective capacity dissipated. Right? We had a capacity, at the beginning, actually, to take the park. And, then, once each person started deciding for herself what was best for her, our capacity disintegrated. And we no longer had it.
“And, so, of course, it became like: Well, there were exams at NYU next week. And people were really busy and hadn’t planned. So, maybe they needed to do something else. And, so, it was like put off for another time. And everybody ended up going home.
“And, so, my concern in the book is to try to capture the combination of collective capacity, that we all had together and to try to reclaim that and push it forward against the individualising tendencies, that hurt the movement that night, and, that have hurt the left now for the last 20 or 30 years. [snip] (c. 7:46)
DOUG HENWOOD: What you write about—you talk about here really captures the frustration many of us felt about Occupy, that it was very skeptical about agendas, about structures, about turning this very exhilarating moment into something more permanent and, potentially, more transformative.
“And, as you point out later in the book, this is a lot of readings of the Paris Commune fall into this kind of interpretation that the Commune was, itself, not a way-station to a more permanent better society, but just the revolutionary life, in itself. Isn’t this what you’re getting at?” (c. 8:22)
DR. JODI DEAN: “Yeah. [snip] (c. 8:45) And there’s been a shift away from thinking organizationally and strategically, in terms of taking power, in terms of a struggle for power.
“And that has been pushed away, in favour of an approach, that looks at personal transformation, small-group transformation, immediacy, making our immediate relations better. And this making our immediate relations, whether or not they’re self-relations or small-group relations, making those better has been the form of political struggle.
“I think it’s a form, that is, ultimately, politically damaging, bereft, and the left response to, and incorporation into, neoliberalism, or late capitalism. Right?
“It’s not a real form of political struggle. It’s only a kind of minor individuated resistance.
“So, I think that this is the problem, that we’ve encountered in the last 20 or 30 years on the left. But it presents itself as somehow in advance. Well, the problem is power. No. I would say the problem is our lack of power [chuckles], not power per se. Right? Anybody, who turns away from power, will not have it. So, that’s the problem on the left.” (c. 9:59)
[snip] (c. 59:59)
Learn more at BEHIND THE NEWS.
[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]
 Catapulting social movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, towards building a revolutionary political party is a topic, which many of us have emphasised for years, including in real time and in an interview for Media Roots with Alexa O’Brien, from US Day of Rage, one of the four groups, which started the Occupy Movement.
 Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving: Behind The News, this one-hour broadcast hosted by host Doug Henwood, Thursday, 24 NOV 2016, 12:00 PST.
Also see related Lumpenproletariat articles, such as:
- Reclaiming Communism With Political Science Professor Jodi Dean; 2 JUN 2015.
[26 NOV 2016]
[Last modified at 23:39 PST on 27 NOV 2016]