Review: Crowds and Party

Crowds and Party
Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A philosophical analysis of the state of modern left politics after the demise of strong parties of the left following the fall of the Soviet Union. This is a superb critique of the long term impact of the capitulation of the left during the early nineties, and should be essential reading for the Occupy generation.

Dean’s analysis is superb, grounded in Zizek, Badiou, and Lacan she unpicks the dissolution of progressive movements into decentralised individualism under the pressure of neoliberals – or what she calls “communicative” capitalism, a capitalism built on individuals connected by powerful and pervasive communication networks. Dean starts with the nature of individualism, it’s importance to modern capitalism. She analyses how the values of personalisation and decentralisation have also been taken on by the modern left with it’s focus on identity.

Dean moves on to the dynamics of crowds, how the crowd creates a rupture in society, the possibility of dramatic and systemic change. However this energy is impermanent, with a tendency to dissipate. It needs the organisation and discipline of a left party to hold that rupture open and take the opportunity available to deliver anything other than transient anger. She also discusses how “the people” and the party interact, using psycho-analytical principles to bring out the influence of leaders and the possibility of a tendency to bureaucratisation.

If there is a weakness it is that in the final section she does not offer a convincing programme for rebuilding or recreating strong parties of the left. If she has made the analytical and philosophical case demonstrating the need for such parties – and I believe she has – she does not then move on to explain how the existing “horizontal” movements can be turned into more comprehensive parties which do not then turn into the bureaucratic monoliths detached from “the people” that was the fate of the Soviet Union and other communist states in the twentieth century.

The book is also sometimes difficult reading, Dean is obviously influence by Zizek in style (without his cultural eclecticism). It is though well worth the effort, and a great philosophical companion to “Inventing the Future” on the need for an organised modern progressive left.

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