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Contemporary Political Theory

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

Radicalism restored? Communism and the end of left melancholia

  • Jonathan Dean
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

melancholia communism feminism intersectionality identity politics radicalism 

Notes

Acknowledgements

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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