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Dean on Comradeship, Why Millennials Approve of Communism

“Comradeship is about our responsibility to each other — and it makes us better and stronger than we could ever be alone,” writes Professor of Political Science Jodi Dean in a new article in the leftist magazine Jacobin.

An expert in contemporary political theory, Dean is the author most recently of Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging, published in October. In that book, she offers a theory of the comrade as a mode of address, figure of belonging and carrier of expectations for action.

As she writes in the Jacobin article We Need Comrades, comradeship is the antidote to the misleading notion that “our problems can be solved by imagination, big ideas, and creativity.”

“Going beyond a sense of politics as a matter of individual conviction, comrade points to the expectations of solidarity needed in order to build a shared political capacity,” Dean writes. Or as she puts it elsewhere: “Big ideas are nothing without cadre to fight for them.”

This sentiment is rising among millennials in the U.S., as a recent YouGov poll shows more than a third of that demographic approve of communism, with rising numbers for socialism as well. As Dean told the Independent this month, the poll’s findings reflect the economic, environmental and political anxieties of many 23-to-38-year-olds in the country.

“Millennials are the first generation of US Americans to have life prospects worse than their parents,” Dean told the British news outlet. “The astronomical student debt load means that many young people put off the major purchases and life events linked to adulthood in the US — buying a car or a house, getting married…At the same time, in highly populated cities like San Francisco, LA, Seattle, and NYC, rents are out of control. And we don’t have national healthcare…So paying for the basics of everyday life has become impossible. And we are told repeatedly that social security is in crisis and won’t survive. As one young person told me: ‘My retirement program is socialism’.”

The article reports that millennial approval of communism “rose by 8 percent in the past year to 36 percent, the survey of 2,100 adults found, while appreciation for capitalism dropped by the same margin.”

“Capitalism is clearly and undeniably failing. It’s directly responsible for the climate catastrophe and everybody knows it,” Dean says. “Second, the US right calls everything it doesn’t like ‘communist.’ They call Clinton and Obama ‘communists.’ With ‘communist’ as the go-to name for anything that isn’t right wing, its acceptability increases. If you don’t like the right, you’re a communist.”

Read the full article.

Dean, who held the Donald R. Harter ’39 Professorship of the Humanities and Social Sciences from 2013 to 2018, is the author or editor of 13 books, including Blog TheoryThe Communist HorizonDemocracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies, and Crowds and Party.

A recipient of the Colleges’ 1998 faculty award for scholarship, Dean has been invited to present her work at conferences, museums, and universities around the world and published articles in renowned scholarly journals and periodicals. She was a 2013-14 fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University and has also held the Erasmus Professorship in Philosophy at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In June 2020, she will be a visiting fellow at Birkbeck Law School in London.

In October, Dean discussed her work as a guest on HWS President Joyce P. Jacobsen’s Pulteney Street Podcast.

Dean, who holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Columbia University and B.A. from Princeton, joined the HWS faculty in 1993. Against the backdrop of political theory, her courses engage students in everything from climate change to feminism. In addition to her teaching duties, Dean has served as director of the Fisher Center for the Study of Gender and Justice since 2012.