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When people say “comrade,” they change the world In the twentieth century, millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade.” Now, among the left, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies.” In Comrade, Jodi Dean insists that this shift exemplifies the key problem with the contemporary left: the substitution of political identity for a relationship of pol When people say “comrade,” they change the world In the twentieth century, millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade.” Now, among the left, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies.” In Comrade, Jodi Dean insists that this shift exemplifies the key problem with the contemporary left: the substitution of political identity for a relationship of political belonging that must be built, sustained, and defended. Dean offers a theory of the comrade. Comrades are equals on the same side of a political struggle. Voluntarily coming together in the struggle for justice, their relationship is characterized by discipline, joy, courage, and enthusiasm. Considering the egalitarianism of the comrade in light of differences of race and gender, Dean draws from an array of historical and literary examples such as Harry Haywood, C.L.R. James, Alexandra Kollontai, and Doris Lessing. She argues that if we are to be a left at all, we have to be comrades.


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When people say “comrade,” they change the world In the twentieth century, millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade.” Now, among the left, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies.” In Comrade, Jodi Dean insists that this shift exemplifies the key problem with the contemporary left: the substitution of political identity for a relationship of pol When people say “comrade,” they change the world In the twentieth century, millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade.” Now, among the left, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies.” In Comrade, Jodi Dean insists that this shift exemplifies the key problem with the contemporary left: the substitution of political identity for a relationship of political belonging that must be built, sustained, and defended. Dean offers a theory of the comrade. Comrades are equals on the same side of a political struggle. Voluntarily coming together in the struggle for justice, their relationship is characterized by discipline, joy, courage, and enthusiasm. Considering the egalitarianism of the comrade in light of differences of race and gender, Dean draws from an array of historical and literary examples such as Harry Haywood, C.L.R. James, Alexandra Kollontai, and Doris Lessing. She argues that if we are to be a left at all, we have to be comrades.

30 review for Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex Nuttle

    Jodi Dean has written a very thorough history and analysis of the word ‘Comrade’ that I enjoyed for the most part. One of the other goodreads reviewers called Dean a ‘tankie’ and if you know what that means then I’ll say that I disagree with that analysis, and if you don’t know what that means then don’t worry because it’s not important to what this book is truly about. In the current political climate of the western world and especially the United States, there is a tendency amongst left and lef Jodi Dean has written a very thorough history and analysis of the word ‘Comrade’ that I enjoyed for the most part. One of the other goodreads reviewers called Dean a ‘tankie’ and if you know what that means then I’ll say that I disagree with that analysis, and if you don’t know what that means then don’t worry because it’s not important to what this book is truly about. In the current political climate of the western world and especially the United States, there is a tendency amongst left and left adjacent activists to ask people to be allies in the struggle for social justice. However, allyship is something that is often largely performative and allies can often take steps in and out of the struggle as they see fit. In order to win the struggle for social justice we need to move beyond allyship. Comrade explains that to be a comrade means to take up others struggles as your own. Dean frequently uses the example of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s. The CPUSA had a commitment to ending white chauvinism (which was later walked back in the 1950s), which meant the CPUSA drew two sides, either you fight for those who do not look like you, or you stand with the oppressors. Comrade provides a necessary understanding of what it means to relate to one another in our current political moment especially as so many are bunkered down in liberal ideology. To be a comrade does not mean that people will always agree on every detail. To be a comrade means you are on the same side, and share a common political horizon that can only be achievable if everyone takes up each other struggles, regardless of their identity. The only problem that I have with this book is that Dean dedicates a majority (if not an entire) section to a philosophical exchange between Badiou and Zizek, which is most probably enlightening if you have an understanding of both philosophers and their interactions, but as someone who doesn’t understand those things, it felt like inaccessible academic jargon that I wish the left would move away from. Leftist academia is important, but leftist academia that only other academics understand is useless. If you do read this book and you’re not well versed in Badiou and Zizek, I recommend skimming this part to see if you can pull anything useful out of it, but I personally couldn’t.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    Highly recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julesreads

    Good essay using the term “comrade” as a jumping off point for exploring the fracturing of the now stalled left. If you believe in class consciousness—especially if you believe in exploitation as the key to our ails—this essay offers a valuable contemporary perspective. Plus the cover is fun. I read 3/4’s of an uncorrected proof, and I don’t feel like finishing it, so it gets no rating from me. UPDATE: I give it five stars now because Jodi Dean is awesome, I’m rediscovering.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Inês

    I was prepared to love this book instantaneously, being called Comrade and edited by Verso Books. The premise was promising: in the 20th century we had comrades, now we have allies; don't we need a political belonging that only comradeship brings? Instead, I found the book very tiresome, always repeating itself, sometimes the same sentence with the words placed in another order, it felt like. It's clear that apart from the Soviet examples, which were somewhat enlightening, the author was set on I was prepared to love this book instantaneously, being called Comrade and edited by Verso Books. The premise was promising: in the 20th century we had comrades, now we have allies; don't we need a political belonging that only comradeship brings? Instead, I found the book very tiresome, always repeating itself, sometimes the same sentence with the words placed in another order, it felt like. It's clear that apart from the Soviet examples, which were somewhat enlightening, the author was set on justifying endlessly the actions of the CPUSA which, honestly, I don't care about that much. Where is the political analysis of the bigger picture? It seems like it's just about semantics after all. Maybe I was too demanding. So I give it 3 stars for the premise.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Isabel

    i loved this soooo much. a good analysis of what it means to be a comrade. anyone can be a comrade, but not everyone is a comrade. loved that she stresses one of the components of comradeship is engaging in collective and organizational struggle with others, not just believing in communism. very heartwarming parts that made me assess myself as a comrade & assess who i call comrade from now on

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Bell

    Had to set this aside for other reading, not because it wasn’t amazing. It was. I wish every person who is working for collective liberation would read this. I have so many thoughts I hope to share on my blog in the coming months.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Liu

    I wasn’t a big fan of the philosophy bits (mostly drawing on Badiou, Zizek, and Lacan) but I liked the historical references & the critique of liberal identity politics.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vassiki Chauhan

    Challenging as fuck, but totally worth it!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    Jodi Dean's "Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging" is one of the first works to provide a long overdue analytical overview of a term used for more than a century. In the era of being an "ally," it couldn't come at a more pertinent time by someone who is undeniably percipient. When being an ally "[does not bridge] political identities or [articulates] a politics that moves beyond identity, allyship is a symptom of displacement of politics into the individualist self-help techniques and social Jodi Dean's "Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging" is one of the first works to provide a long overdue analytical overview of a term used for more than a century. In the era of being an "ally," it couldn't come at a more pertinent time by someone who is undeniably percipient. When being an ally "[does not bridge] political identities or [articulates] a politics that moves beyond identity, allyship is a symptom of displacement of politics into the individualist self-help techniques and social media moralism of communicative capitalism." We see moralist after moralist on Instagram posting about being a perfect ally to those vastly different from you. 'Shut up, listen, and reflect.' Allies are instructed to educate themselves - asking questions of those telling them to ask questions is an afront to the accuser. It quickly turns into a nonsensical individualist cycle of impractitude. "Learning is modeled as consuming information, not as discussion; coming to a common understanding; or studying the texts and documents of a political tradition. Educating oneself is disconnected from a collective critical practice, detached from political positions or [concrete] goals. Criteria according to which one might evaluate books, blogs, speakers, and videos are absent. It's up to the individual ally to figure it out on their own. In effect, there is punishment without discipline. The would-be ally can be scolded and shamed, even as the scolder is relieved of any responsibility to provide concrete guidance and training (let's be clear, just telling someone to 'Google it' is an empty gesture.)" It's as if political change will come through.. what, meditation and self-reflection? Allyship presupposes and rests irreconcilable differences. Rather than seeking to bridge a gap, it requires the gap to definitively exist. It is focused on the *individual.* Allyship, is irrevocably, neoliberal and capitalist to its core. As Dean writes, "the term ally appears more to designate a limit, suggesting that you will never be one of us, than it does to enable solidarity." Even on a more selfish psychological level, portraying someone as a comrade, including them into a relationship of solidarity vs. otherness (as in 'allyship') is incredibly powerful - pushing someone to be your 'ally' rests on their goodwill and selflessness. An 'ally' can quickly opt out if they feel it is of no benefit to them. Their is no utopian vision for a grander narrative. However, in a Party where others are your comrades, everyone has something to gain - there is a push to a better future for all. The working class (white, black, man, woman) all have something to gain from the dismantling of white supremacy and patriarchy - even white men. Portraying the majority as 'allies' who need to shut up and sit down will quickly exclude a large portion of society that one does not want to have on the opposing side. If for no other reason than this, allyship as a construct is not useful. But there are many other reasons, as Dean explicates. Thus, Dean presents the classic "comrade" as an alternative to allyship. Whereas ally is individual and can be worked on in the comfort of your own home, to be a comrade presumes existing in a collective. It is active and engaged. There is no, "I am a comrade," in the way that there is "I am an ally." Rather, there is "You are my comrade, they are my comrade, we are comrades." Comrade functions in a community. Dean spends the second chapter examining how 'comrade' is often associated with white heterosexual men. She works to dismantle that notion, expounding on the rich and robust history of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) to show that far earlier than the American Church, earlier than the Civil Rights Movement, earlier than most social movements in the USA, the Communist Party was radically inclusive - it practiced a level of social inclusivity that was often mocked by the Jim Crow, racist, sexist zeitgeist of the day. People of all flavors could be found in the CPUSA walking hand-in-hand. Dean shows that comradeship at its core requires social equality, and that the CPUSA often did not stand for racism, sexism, and xenophobia, inevitably excommunicating members who practiced such things. Although, they left room for growth and change - excommunicating often for definite periods of time, permitting a re-admission upon acceptance of guilt and change on the part of the foul player. Of course, the CPUSA hasn't always made such strong stances against xenophobia, and this is the narrative that is usually portrayed in common propaganda and media in the US. Most of this, occurred however, during the McCarthy era Red Scare, wherein some of the propagators were potentially US plants trying to tear the CPUSA apart. Even if they weren't plants, the threat of death, imprisonment, and all sorts of other intense exclusion on the part of the greater US culture/society for anyone daring to speak the word 'communist' certainly affected the psychosocial health of the CPUSA. How quick Americans are to forget how central the CPUSA and social groups were to the country's development in the early and mid 20th century. Dean goes on in chapter three to provide four main theses on the the comrade: 1) Comrade names a relation characterized by sameness, equality, and solidarity. For communists, this sameness, equality, and solidarity is utopian, cutting through the determinations of capitalist society. 2) Anyone but not everyone can be a comrade. 3) The individual (as a locus of identity) is the Other of the comrade. 4) The relation between comrades is mediated by fidelity to a truth. Practices of comradeship materializes this fidelity, building its truth into the world. The fourth chapter, "You Are Not My Comrade," examines what happens when a comrade is excommunicated, resigns, drifts, or the greater utopian vision is lost. Dean's work is theoretical, historical, and practical all at the same time. It is incredibly accessible, aside from, perhaps, the random few pages where she explores nuances in Badiou and Zizek's philosophies in regard to comradeship. I was initially attracted to this work for two reasons: 1) I've quickly grown disillusioned with the cyclical thought of 'allyship' as a construct. There had to be a stronger alternative. Turns out - there is. 2) Dean's work on communicative capitalism. I dearly appreciate Dean pointing out the hypocrisy of capitalists who are quick to defend capitalism as a construct in all its nuance: "yeah, sure, capitalism only succeeded due to five centuries of global slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and climate degradation - but look at all it has given us! It's not all bad, and we shouldn't treat it in such black and white ways" Those same people immediately hear the words "socialism" and "communism" and point out all the flaws of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, without ever examining, in the same nuanced way, the good that came of those things, and the good that (may) come of it if tried differently. I can understand the revulsion of communism on the part of folks (especially after the Red Scare having made such a strong imprint on the psychosocial consciousness of the United States), but I will never be able to understand how people cannot see the absolute revulsion and oppression of capitalism at the same time. Unlike communism, which seeks something utopian and at least, at minimum, "looks good on paper," capitalism has never looked good on paper, and, as many historians are frequently pointing out, is literally the harbinger of racist/sexist philosophies and ideas. It is insidious at its core, there is no utopian communal vision. While reading this work I was constantly thinking of the idea of "disciple" in the Christian tradition. I feel as if I could easily switch the theme of this work to be such, provide similar examples and narratives and theoretical reference points and come out with a Leftist version of Christianity. An intellectual interest of mine lately has been the intersections of Christianity with the radical Left, and this book only spurred that curiosity on further. While the Left requires a utopian communal vision to operate, the Church requires an eschatological communal hope to operate. The two, at their best, seek radical social inclusion and community care, looking to dismantle systems of oppression. At their worst, they turn into fascist states and oppressive crusades. They have a lot more in common than either is willing to admit. Perhaps one day the radical Left and the Church can learn to be comrades. As Mark Fisher wrote, "We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital's work for it by condemning and abusing each other."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Richman

    The first 3/4 of the book is excellent. A history, etymology and philosophy of the word and persuasive argument to use it in place of brother, sibling or ally. The last chapter makes clear that the author’s conception of the comrade relationship is within a small democratic centralist sect. Still, social democrats and DSA types will find utility in the first three chapters and could use them as the base for their own formulation of what it means to “no longer be comrades.”

  11. 5 out of 5

    juno

    'As it gives form to the political relation between those on the same side, comrade promises alienation and fulfilment: liberation from the constraints of racist patriarchal capitalism and a new relation born of collective political work towards an emancipatory egalitarian future. Exceeding a sense of politics as individual conviction an choice, comrade points to expectations of individual choice, comrade points to expectations of solidarity as indispensable to political action.' 'The end of comr 'As it gives form to the political relation between those on the same side, comrade promises alienation and fulfilment: liberation from the constraints of racist patriarchal capitalism and a new relation born of collective political work towards an emancipatory egalitarian future. Exceeding a sense of politics as individual conviction an choice, comrade points to expectations of individual choice, comrade points to expectations of solidarity as indispensable to political action.' 'The end of comradeship is the end of the world: non-meaning, incoherence, madness and the pointless, disorienting insistence on the I.' This book has left me full of hope! Using engaging examples from the history of communist struggle across the world, Dean demonstrates how comradeship as a relation contains radical possibilities, shared expectations and solidarities.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    This book starts off really strong, putting “Comrade” into historical, current and potential future context. Towards the end Dean starts to get a little lost in the weeds and doesn’t quite stitch it together with her overall thesis as well as she thinks. The landing was as stuck as it could’ve been. Also, she while she does a great job of dispelling misinformation and revealing interesting truths about communism and being comrade, she doesn’t do so well addressing all the damage done over the la This book starts off really strong, putting “Comrade” into historical, current and potential future context. Towards the end Dean starts to get a little lost in the weeds and doesn’t quite stitch it together with her overall thesis as well as she thinks. The landing was as stuck as it could’ve been. Also, she while she does a great job of dispelling misinformation and revealing interesting truths about communism and being comrade, she doesn’t do so well addressing all the damage done over the last century by those who corrupted the name Communism for their murderous, authoritative means. She should’ve addressed more, since this is often the go to criticism of people who don’t quite get communism and socialism. Still, this is worth a read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    I'm completely torn on how to rate this, because I didn't enjoy it and I found it far too dense for my tastes (despite the appealingly brief page count...). However, it soundly fulfills its intended purpose, and will likely appeal to readers that understand it's essentially an academic essay and not a short non-fiction book. It gave me a few things to think about, and it kind of fleshes out the idea that identity politics are less important than class struggle and goals of overall equity. While I'm completely torn on how to rate this, because I didn't enjoy it and I found it far too dense for my tastes (despite the appealingly brief page count...). However, it soundly fulfills its intended purpose, and will likely appeal to readers that understand it's essentially an academic essay and not a short non-fiction book. It gave me a few things to think about, and it kind of fleshes out the idea that identity politics are less important than class struggle and goals of overall equity. While it's unfair to continually berate socialist and communist writers to acknowledge and decry the sins of the Soviets, I did feel like Dean tended to take it pretty easy on them.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    The first chapter is very powerful, and starts off as strong as one could hope. After that it meanders into fairly dry text giving off various definitions and reasons for the egalitarian usage of “comrade.” While I’m not in disagreement with the points being made, it just felt like something that could have easily been stated in 60 pages. That said, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the history of the CPUSA, which although does grow a bit tiresome at times, was a pleasant surprise that I enjo The first chapter is very powerful, and starts off as strong as one could hope. After that it meanders into fairly dry text giving off various definitions and reasons for the egalitarian usage of “comrade.” While I’m not in disagreement with the points being made, it just felt like something that could have easily been stated in 60 pages. That said, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the history of the CPUSA, which although does grow a bit tiresome at times, was a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed the inclusion of.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sohum

    kind of immersed in tankie language (and clearly Jodi Dean IS a tankie), but a few of the actual points might be worth thinking about-- -discipline as a kind of collective responsibility, in opposition to an individual's needing to know/do it all -communism as a perpetual possibility in history, not as an achievement to be won (obviously, derrida made the same point in Specters of Marx, and was much better in doing it) kind of immersed in tankie language (and clearly Jodi Dean IS a tankie), but a few of the actual points might be worth thinking about-- -discipline as a kind of collective responsibility, in opposition to an individual's needing to know/do it all -communism as a perpetual possibility in history, not as an achievement to be won (obviously, derrida made the same point in Specters of Marx, and was much better in doing it)

  16. 5 out of 5

    emma

    What the hell does speculative-compositive mean? I take issue with books written for/about the working class that render themselves inaccessible. This isn't impossibly dense but considering that the main premise is an important one for millions of working class people - the loss of political belonging on the left that is encapsulated in the concept of "comrade" - then it could have benefited from being less like dry toast. What the hell does speculative-compositive mean? I take issue with books written for/about the working class that render themselves inaccessible. This isn't impossibly dense but considering that the main premise is an important one for millions of working class people - the loss of political belonging on the left that is encapsulated in the concept of "comrade" - then it could have benefited from being less like dry toast.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Frank Keizer

    Reclaiming the comrade as a political relation with a shared (communist) horizon is useful as an intervention, contra current modes of 'allyship' or the 'survivor', but the book seems a bit too hastily written. Loved the parts about Platonov and the destitution of the comrade relation, forged in ruins. Reclaiming the comrade as a political relation with a shared (communist) horizon is useful as an intervention, contra current modes of 'allyship' or the 'survivor', but the book seems a bit too hastily written. Loved the parts about Platonov and the destitution of the comrade relation, forged in ruins.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Reif

    Loved reencountering Dean's reading of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, which seems a fitting closing homage to Fisher, though I share the criticism that the final chapter somewhat belies the genericity so central to her earlier construction/case studies. Intrigued to check out Crowds and Party next. Loved reencountering Dean's reading of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, which seems a fitting closing homage to Fisher, though I share the criticism that the final chapter somewhat belies the genericity so central to her earlier construction/case studies. Intrigued to check out Crowds and Party next.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben S

    Interesting read. Repeats some of Dean's earlier work, but a good way to think about how to conceive who is and isn't a comrade. The discussion around the ending of comradeship, but with a road to return was worthwhile. Interesting read. Repeats some of Dean's earlier work, but a good way to think about how to conceive who is and isn't a comrade. The discussion around the ending of comradeship, but with a road to return was worthwhile.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Tas

    A thoughtful history of the word that can be at sometimes dense to newcomers to the theoretical readings. Dean does a great job of really laying how the word can and should be used in order to better forge towards a communist future.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Medrano

    A powerful and inspirational ideal of the comrade that all of those who side with leftist politics can aspire to be for each other and for their political ideals. Good if you like Slavoj Zizek's writings as it draws from similar philosophical inspirations as well as from Zizek himself. A powerful and inspirational ideal of the comrade that all of those who side with leftist politics can aspire to be for each other and for their political ideals. Good if you like Slavoj Zizek's writings as it draws from similar philosophical inspirations as well as from Zizek himself.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    Read this for my local DSA book club. Dean's theses on the comrade are great; however, the author's glossing over the CPUSA's popular front and Stalinist era was annoying and counterproductive to moving the theory of the comrade forward. A real mixed-bag. Read this for my local DSA book club. Dean's theses on the comrade are great; however, the author's glossing over the CPUSA's popular front and Stalinist era was annoying and counterproductive to moving the theory of the comrade forward. A real mixed-bag.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    The first essay alone is a productive provocation!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Role playing for spoiled brats who don't know what life is like in a Totalitarian regime. Role playing for spoiled brats who don't know what life is like in a Totalitarian regime.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Fisher

    Feels unfinished and often underdeveloped but I’m a pushover since I share Dean’s instincts in general. The touchingly archaic engagement with Badiou and Zizek still here I see ...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sølvi Goard

    Think I share some of the other reviewers concerns on the conclusions, but still very valuable and thoughtful.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amid

    Repetitive yet still highly enjoyable.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kai

    easy read, compelling, heartwarming at times. addressed some things i didn't expect, like expulsion, drift, etc. easy read, compelling, heartwarming at times. addressed some things i didn't expect, like expulsion, drift, etc.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Brown Gilbert

    Not as good as Blog Theory.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vi

    A comrade of mine described this book as "the first theoretical explanation of revolutionary optimism I've ever read", and I think that's a perfect description. A comrade of mine described this book as "the first theoretical explanation of revolutionary optimism I've ever read", and I think that's a perfect description.

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