Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 234–255 | Cite as

Radicalism restored? Communism and the end of left melancholia

  • Jonathan Dean


Since the onset of the 2008 economic crisis and the resurgence of various forms of transnational radical politics (the Arab Spring, Occupy and so on), several left-wing thinkers have argued that the era of left melancholia is now over. This article examines such claims, paying particular attention to the recent re-engagement with the idea of communism in contemporary critical theory. Foregrounding the recent work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek and (especially) Jodi Dean, I suggest that the attempt to re-invigorate and revitalise the academic left is welcome, but I question some of the political and theoretical investments that characterise this (re)turn to communism. In particular, I interrogate the new communists’ tendency to contrast a vision of a melancholic and deradicalised left beholden to feminism, anti-racism, single issue politics and identity politics with an alternative vision of an authentically radical left emboldened by the re-emergence of the idea of communism. Such a distinction is not only analytically problematic, but also reflects, and shores up, a range of inequalities and exclusions within academic left theory and practice. These elisions, hierarchies and exclusions, I argue, are testament to much of the academic left’s continued unease about, or even outright resistance to, feminism, anti-racism and queer politics. Overall, my intention is to trace some of the effects and consequences of the new communists’ claim that they offer a newly radicalised left theory and politics: in so doing, I offer a preliminary rethinking of how we narrate the contemporary history of radical left politics.


melancholia communism feminism intersectionality identity politics radicalism 



I thank the editors of Contemporary Political Theory and the two anonymous reviewers, all of whom offered detailed and generous engagements with earlier drafts of the article. Similarly, I am extremely grateful to Maria do Mar Pereira and Bice Maiguashca for their helpful feedback and comments. Earlier versions of the article were presented at the conference ‘Thinking the Political: the Work of Ernesto Laclau’, University of Brighton, April 2013, and at the Political Theory Research Group Seminar, University of Leeds, October 2013.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Dean
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Politics and International Studies, University of LeedsLeedsUK

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