In conjunction with the Encounter Lecture Series, Thursday Sept. 27, Colorado College hosted Jodi Dean from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Her talk, inspired by the anniversary of the October Revolution, focused on the word “comrade” as a term of address, figure of political relation, and carrier of expectation for action. Dean’s passionate talk was not intended to push views of socialism, but rather to examine new ways to achieve equality within our society.
The talk was held in the Cornerstone screening room and featured various slides depicting how early movements for equality were heavily influenced by the Socialist Party, as it was one of the first groups to promise equal representation of its members. According to Dean, attachment to identity is pathological, and ally-ship is a disposition.
“Allyship is a symptom of displacing politics into the self-help techniques of communicative capitalism,” Dean said.
Her biggest issue with the term “ally” is that it has classist foundations: It was traditionally meant for privileged people who wanted to combat oppression.
“Comrade cuts through the determinations of capitalist society,” Dean said. “It is generic, egalitarian, and utopian.”
Can a change in labels have a political effect? According to Dean, it is possible. With comradeship, identity vanishes, and there is a “sameness that comes from being on the same side.” This genericity provides a way through the impasse of systems and survivors prominent on the contemporary left.
“Anyone, but not everyone can be a comrade,” Dean said.
The comrade is not kin, neighbor, citizen, or friend, and identity has nothing to do with it. It is not kin, as one is not born a comrade, and it is not a neighbor, as comradeship does not depend on proximity. It is also not a citizen, as comrade disrupts identificatory state logic, and it is not friend, as comrade is collective, not singular. If one thinks of themselves as an individual within identity politics, then “where’s the work done that will lead to political change?” This coincided with Dean’s third point, which was that the individual — as a locus of identity — is the “other” of the comrade.
Jenny Ross ’18 attended the Thursday night talk.
“Jodi Dean really shed light on a side of socialism I had never seen,” Ross said. “Never before had I heard about the strides in equality from this party. Her talk as a whole really made me reevaluate my language and understand the deeper meaning behind my word choice.”
The Encounter Lecture series of our school focuses on individuals whose work spans disciplinary boundaries and are not merely academic conversations, but are ways of being engaged in and by the world. According to CC, “By definition, an encounter does not leave the self intact, but pushes the self outside of its comfort zones. In our politically, bewildering times, an openness to the encounter can incite new ways of thinking and being together.”