Jodi Dean: The Communist Horizon a first look…

“The general horizon of the era is communist.”

– Álvaro García Linera

Does communism condition the possibility of politics? García Linera seemed to think so. As Jodi Dean in her new book The Communist Horizon states it many on the “Left dismiss the communist horizon as a lost horizon” (Kindle Location 46).1 There are those she says who in seeking a way out of the old guard are sponsoring a new horizon of ‘post-capitalist’ thought that overturns the very critique that Marx instigated to begin with. As she states it these so to speak Leftists offer us not a critique but are in fact “rejecting the positive notion of “communism,” they opt for a term that suggests an empty relationality to the capitalist system they ostensibly deny, “post-capitalism.” For [these post-capitalist’] “the term “capitalist” is not a term of critique or opprobrium; it’s not part of a manifesto. The term is a cause of the political problems facing the contemporary Left. They argue that the discursive dominance of capitalism embeds the Left in paranoia, melancholia, and moralism” (KL 60-63). In such theorists as Zizek it becomes a return to Lenin: “The key ‘Leninist’ lesson today,” he writes, is that “politics without the organizational form of the Party is politics without politics.” (KL 100-101). But mostly it becomes a return to an emancipatory, egalitarian politics and that has been actively rethinking many of the concepts that form part of the communist legacy (KL 102-103).

Instead of such a – as she puts it, ‘generic post-capitalism’, one that offers not a true alternative but an actual alignment with the forces of capitalism, ones that circumvent anti-capitalist energies by promoting a brokered complicity with its nuanced fluidity within an idealized realm of open spaces of discussions and ethical decision making, Dean says:

“I take the opposite position. The dominance of capitalism, the capitalist system, is material. Rather than entrapping us in paranoid fantasy, an analysis that treats capitalism as a global system of appropriation, exploitation, and circulation that enriches the few as it dispossesses the many and that has to expend an enormous amount of energy in doing so can anger, incite, and galvanize” (KL 67-70).

What is the real problem for the left? “The problem of the Left hasn’t been our adherence to a Marxist critique of capitalism. It’s that we have lost sight of the communist horizon, a glimpse of which new political movements are starting to reveal”, as she states it (KL 74-76). What do these neo-liberals and reactionary conservatives fear? They fear the resurgence of Communism as an Idea,as once again offering a discourse against its own dark horizons. With such scholars as Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Morss, Costas Douzinas, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière, Alberto Toscano, and Slavoj Žižek. In these and other scholars Dean sees a new theory of communism arising. In Hardt and Negri it comes as a non-dialectical reconceptualization of labor, power, and the State, a new theory of communism from below(KL 96). From Badiou as an emphasis on the “communist invariants”— egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political volunteerism, and trust in the people…(KL 97-98).

“The power of the return of communism stands or falls on its capacity to inspire large-scale organized collective struggle toward a goal”, (KL 145-146). The Left has failed itself and it has “failed to defend a vision of a better world, an egalitarian world of common production by and for the collective people. Instead, it accommodated capital, succumbing to the lures of individualism, consumerism, competition, and privilege, and proceeding as if there really were no alternative to states that rule in the interests of markets” (KL 148-150). Living with failure is out, nostalgia for the good old days is out, we no longer have to “live in the wake of left failure, stuck in the repetitions of crises and spectacle. In light of the planetary climate disaster and the ever-intensifying global class war as states redistribute wealth to the rich in the name of austerity, the absence of a common goal is the absence of a future… The premise of communism is that collective determination of collective conditions is possible, if we want it” (KL 150-15).


Among many other things on my plate, I’ll be reading her work over the next few weeks and will review it at the completion. I only wanted to open up its energy and intensify its appeal. One can follow Jodi Dean on her blog: I Cite and her new book can be found here.

1. Dean, Jodi (2012-10-03). The Communist Horizon (Pocket Communism) Norton.

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