- The Communist Horizon by Jodi Dean
(London: Verso, 2011), 250 pp.
Dean’s goal in this marvelous book is not simply “to explore,” as many others have done recently, “the ways the communist horizon manifests itself to us today” but also to examine how that manifestation is taking place “as the force of an absence.” The book is divided into six chapters (“Our Soviets,” “Present Force,” “Sovereignty of the People,” “Common and Commons,” “Desire,” and “Occupation and the Party”). While the first two chapters outline the meaning that the Soviet Union’s dissolution has for us, and the third and fourth argue why it is necessary to substitute the term proletariat for “people like the rest of us,” the last two discuss why the party is still a necessary prelude to “communism [serving] as the name for a revolutionary universal egalitarianism.” If the author, an American, is convinced that communism’s “absence” is a good thing, which we must all treasure rather than mourn, it is less because the Soviet expression of communism failed than because it can now reemerge as a direct alterative to contemporary neoliberal capitalism. She thus immediately, in her first chapter, lists the fundamental elements of communism today: “National healthcare. Environmentalism. Feminism. Public education. Collective bargaining. Progressive taxation. Paid vacation days. Gun control. The movement around Occupy Wall Street.” To these, she adds that “bicycles are a ‘gateway drug’ to communism” and that “Web 2.0 is communist because it holds out ‘the seductive promise of individual self- realization’ that Karl Marx evoked in The German Ideology.”
The most important feature of this list is the reference to the Occupy movement, in which Dean is involved not only through her blog but also as a promoter and organizer of events. Dean is convinced that this new movement, while not a consequence of communism, belongs to its horizon and as such “demonstrates why something like a party is needed insofar as a party is an explicit assertion [End Page 330] of collectivity, a structure of accountability, an acknowledgment of differential capacities, and a vehicle for solidarity.” Dean sides with Žižek and Vattimo here against Negri’s and Badiou’s distrust of the party and state. Yet, while she agrees that these two institutions must return, she argues that on their revival they will be lighter, weakened by loss of the metaphysical structures that contributed to the Soviet Union’s failure. Although the author confronts nearly all of the major players (Buck- Mors and Ranciere, as well as Žižek, Badiou, and Negri) in the discourse about communism in the twenty-first century, neither Derrida nor Vattimo is mentioned, despite their explicit anticipation of the opportunity presented by communism’s “absence.” Apart from this omission, Dean’s book is not only an important contribution to this debate but also a point of departure for philosophical, political, and even practical contributions to the movement that she supports.
Santiago Zabala, Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies Professor at Pompeu Fabra University, is the author of The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology after Metaphysics; The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy: A Study of Ernst Tugendhat; and (with Gianni Vattimo) Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx. He has edited several books by or on Vattimo and one, The Future of Religion, cowritten by Vattimo and Richard Rorty. Only Art Can Save Us: The Emergency of Aesthetics is forthcoming.