Dear friends,

Jodi Dean’s Comrade presents a deeply flawed thesis. Prosaically, it offers no practical application, declines to consider how or why established mindsets would change, and neglects to explore the nature of power. It fails to convey why communists would be better at deciding what is true and correct in society, and it seems to undermine itself in saying that while anyone can be a comrade, not everyone can.

“Comrade,” the word, denies the diversity and emotionality inherent in human nature, rather conjuring images of being grey, dull, uninspired, impersonal, fearful, robotic.

More troubling is Dean’s historical revisionism and the failure to acknowledge the deep humanitarian and ecological costs of Soviet communism. Lenin and Stalin were comrades only in rhetoric; each was Machiavellian in obtaining power. Both also enjoyed a state-sanctioned cult of personality that should have been impossible were everyone truly a comrade.

Indeed, what is the justification for the NKVD, the gulag, the purges? Despite quoting Gorky and referencing the Moscow Trials, the charge that Gorky was killed by the NKVD is omitted.

Moreover, in celebrating the “enthusiastic voluntary work done on the Moscow-Kazan railway” by the subbotniks – that is, voluntary labour offered on subota, Saturday – Dean sets up a cover for worker exploitation. For, comrades are inherently inter-changeable and therefore disposable. What happens when they get tired, when their enthusiasm inevitably wears away? What about the invisible labour of the gulags, a version of which persists in Russia today?

Quoting Stalin to justify the idea of black nationhood, that “the liberation of oppressed nations…and achievement of socialism are interdependent” is credulous, considering Stalin pursued a pan-Slavic ideal, and mercilessly sought to destroy the individuality of the USSR’s constituent nations.

Yet, Dean quickly contradicts herself with a call to become classless and nation-less. Forgetting “birth, family, name, class” may in some ways be liberating but is nihilistic in others. Why not rather find ways to celebrate and empower human diversity, emphasizing our individual strengths?

Historians and writers including Jones, Muggeridge, Conquest, Snyder, Sebag Montefiore, and Amis have detailed the devastation and trauma of Bolshevik and Soviet rule, yet Dean gives only a passing mention to Stalin’s “purges, arrests, imprisonment, and executions.” There is no mention of the Holodomor, a famine-genocide engineered to break Ukrainian resistance to collectivization, nor the disastrous outcomes of the five-year plans she lauds, which, for instance, turned a formerly fertile area of Kazakhstan into a permanent dust bowl.

It is disingenuous and deeply ironic for Dean to conclude that “capitalism is incapable of addressing the climate change and the migrations and struggle over resources that will result with anything other than militarism, walls, and genocide.”

The word “Comrade” is a loaded and offensive term for survivors and descendants of the Soviet terrors, and Dean’s disregard for the dark side of Soviet communism is shocking.

The Bolsheviks were masters of propaganda. Given her selective approach to evidence, Dean’s thesis reads as exactly that.