fascism and MMM; purity and ambivalence

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Fri Oct 20 01:43:55 MDT 1995

I very much support a list on fascism, and would be happy to arrange this 
(ie. do the technical stuff).  My suggestion would be that this should be 
a short-term seminar list, and that Louis should moderate it--by which I 
mean stir it up as much as anything else, given that the last seminar 
list we had (on Marxism and Spinoza) effectively fizzled for lack of support.

Does all this seem a good idea to y'all?

I think the NOI shares much with fascism, perhaps nowhere more than in 
its emphasis on purity, and that the Million Man March is integrally a 
part of this (semi)fascist endeavour in so far as it was continually 
presented as a movement of purification and "atonement."  If anything, 
the banning of women is merely a further sign or symptom of this general 
move, and the refusal to look at structural conditions, in favor of 
self-cleansing, is equally its result.  This is clearly disturbing, and 
neither the NOI nor the MMM itself deserve support.

But, somewhat in the spirit of (if from a different perspective than) 
Leo's post, I think it is proper not to be misled into a similar gesture 
of purity.  This is what worries me in some of the discussion surrounding 
the MMM.  While, as I say, the MMM more than deserves condemnation, this 
should not be in the name of a still purer politics, one that would, for 
example, condemn the march's supporters as filth or (symptomatically, I 
think) orangutans.

Likewise, the backlash to Ralph on the list (and I think I feel this 
generally whenever there are such calls for expulsion) also seemed to 
depend upon such a logic of cleanliness--that Ralph was somehow dirtying 
the list.

In contrast, I'd like to suggest (again, as Leo also remarked) a sense of 
contradiction, or what I'd term ambivalence that might be in 
order--though I mean this in a strong sense, not in terms of 

For example, and viewed as a classic fascist movement, the MMM operated 
on the principle of double articulation common also to other populisms, 
which entails a simultaneous mobilization and demobilization.  400,000 to 
a million black men were mobilized in a political collectivity: I don't 
believe this fact can be simply condemned.  That they were then 
demobilized by the various ways of a) uniting them under a hierarchy 
headed by Farrakhan as chosen prophet of the divinity or b) told to 
return as manly heads of a revivified patriarchal family or c) (from 
Jesse Jackson, this) asked to assimilate themselves as good citizens to 
the signing of their child's report cards and humbly meeting with 
teachers... it is this second moment (integral to the march, I'll agree) 
that has to be condemned.  But a proper ambivalence (an ambivalence also, 
I'd suggest, in the face of all fascisms and populisms) comes from the 
fact that the first moment of mobilization can and should not be so 
simply condemned.

One matter of note is the fact that purity is practically impossible to 
achieve, and reveals its contradictory basis continually.  The fascist 
dream of purity is precisely a dream--whose attempted realization 
requires violence, and more brutal violence the more determined is the 
attempt to manufacture this purity.  Clearly even the MMM revealed its 
fractures, the impossibilities of its dream--from the refusal of much of 
the crowd to accept much of its demobilization (particularly the priestly 
aspirations of Farrakhan) to the inclusion of women on the podium.

The task would seem not generalized condemnation in the name of a left 
self-cleansing (and who only knows that the left has its own drive to 
purity in its history of sectarianism), but rather an attempt to 
remobilize, to push existing mobilizations in the direction of openess 
and ambivalence.

I think ambivalence is a key category for any marxist criticism.  It 
seems to me that a marxist attitude towards capitalism, for example, has 
to be deeply ambivalent in the strong sense I'm hoping to suggest.  While 
capitalism is enormously destructive, for example, it is also destructive 
of former modes of exploitation and domination, even as it implants its 
own specific exploitative logic.  The task then is not condemnation on 
behalf of (say) some rural nostalgic utopia of purity, but rather one to 
open up these forces towards a different future.

And again, I think it is this effort towards openess--an ambivalence that 
is not uncertain, but which is not either the fixed inscription of a 
model--that should categorize this list also, rather than an attempt to 
cast out the heathen and those who we judge to be dirtying these waters.

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu

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