Stalin, conflict, barbarism

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Sat Mar 11 14:52:16 MST 1995

On Sat, 11 Mar 1995, Kenny Mostern wrote:

> If I may say what seems to me the obvious, there has been a great deal of
> mass destruction and murder this century, so this paragraph hardly
> provides specific reasons for saying *anything* about marxism, except
> perhaps that marxism, like everything else, can be used to the ends of
> murderers.  I don't know about you, but I'm not surprised by this.

This is not surprising, I agree, but it should still be unsettling.  It
is unsettling in the same way that Auschwitz should be unsettling.  Or in
somewhat the same manner in which Benjamin famously says that "There is
no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of
barbarism."  Marxism is not, of course, invulnerable to this, and
Stalinism is perhaps the name for its particular barbarism.  We are
implicated in this century's various genocides.

Incidentally, I think many, if not most, of those associated with
poststructuralist and postmodern theory are well aware of and
consistently return to this problematic (especially with regard to
fascism).  I think here especially of Lyotard and Deleuze and Guattari.
In the transition to the US, however, this aspect of these theories tends
to have been lost--maybe because the US has not had to deal with the
after-effects of the second world war in the same ways as France, with
its collaborators as well as its resistors, has very publically had to.
The fuss about the Smithsonian exhibition of the Enola Gay shows the way
in which US public discourse continues to repress and prevent any sense
of what I am here calling unsettlement.

While this "unsettlement" should not of course be paralyzing, and should
not in itself preclude either marxist analysis or action for social change
(though these might be the conclusions of the most self-reflexive and
text-centered of those who work within "Theory"), it should, perhaps, as
Chris Burford suggests, make for a constitutive conflict within marxist
or, more generally, left discussion.  It one of the prime weaknesses of
the left that it has preferred to adopt the pedagogical tones of
self-righteousness, producing conflict as splintering and sectarianism,
rather than working through (without the necessary aim of resolving) such
important, and conflictual, unsettlement.

> Kenny Mostern

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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