Four theses on the comrade

Sunday 26th January 2020 from 2.30 pm till 4.00 pm the reading group will meet in the Community Room, Toi Pōneke Arts Centre, 61/69 Abel Smith Street, Te Aro, Wellington.

“Comrades are those you can count on. You share enough of a common ideology, enough of a commitment to common principles and goals, to do more than one-off actions. Together you can fight the long fight.”

Jodi Dean (2019). Comrade: A essay on political belonging. London: Verso.

On the publication of her latest text Dean’s publisher writes the following:

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… She argues that if we are to be a left at all, we have to be comrades.


During this session we will discuss the article “Four theses on the comrade” published in e-flux by Jodi Dean. The session will be convened by Neil Ballantyne. Please use our facebook event to signal your intention to attend.


Dean, J. (2019). Comrade: an essay on political belonging. London: Verso.

Dean, J. (2019, November). We need comrades. Jacobin.


  1. Before discussing her four theses on the comrade Dean states that “Two opposed tendencies dominate contemporary left theory and activism: survivors and systems“. What does Dean refer to when she talks about systems and survivors and why does she distinguish this way of thinking from the idea of the comrade?
  2. In thesis one Dean argues that comrade denotes a relationship of a new type and that “when people say comrade, they change the world”. She also states that, for socialists and communists, the new type of relation implied by comrade as a term of address is utopian. What do these statements mean?
  3. In relation to thesis two, Dean states that “Comradeship requires a degree of alienation from the needs and demands of personal life to which friends must attend”, and that “Comradeship extends through intimate relations to stretch into relations with those we don’t know personally at all”. Why are these points important to Dean’s conception of comradeship? Do you agree with her analysis?
  4. In her discussion of thesis three Dean states that “…commonality arises not out of identity…not out of who one is, but out of what is being done—fighting, circulating, studying, traveling, enjoying the same things. Political comrades are on the same side.” Does this imply that forms of oppression arising from issues of identity (sexism, racism, Islamophobia and so on) are no longer important to her comrades?
  5. In thesis four Dean states that “…comradeship is a disciplining relation: expectations, and the responsibility to meet these expectations, constrain individual action and generate collective capacity.” During this discussion she refers to the party form and uses examples from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Does her characterisation of the term comrade simply rehabilitate the idea of blind obedience to a political vanguard? Or does it present a challenge to the formless horizontalism of the contemporary left movements?
  6. Finally, do you agree that Dean’s work on the term comrade successfully regenerates an important political signifier, or does the term comrade remain “a nostalgic gesture to past utopian hope”.