Louis, I'm back, dancing Zorba the Greek!
davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au
Mon Oct 30 18:55:29 MST 1995
I hear that you have been trying to contact me with a view to me
contributing on Poulantzas's _Fascism and Dictatorship_ (this is the
relevant text, although there is a later text in French in a collection
edited by Maria Macciocchi from 1976 which someone with French language
ability may be able to comment on). As I suggested in a personal post to
you - which you subsequently made reference to with your rather dismissive
'Zorba the Greek' comment (rather inappropriate, I felt, for a person
organising a seminar on the racist phenomenon of fascism!!) - this seems to
be an important text on fascism (and on the response of the left to
fascism, I may add). Poulantzas makes the distinction first between the
normal form of the capitalist state and the 'exceptional forms'; he then
makes a distinction between fascist states, bonapartist states, and
military dictatorships. Considering that the '18th Brumaire' is one of the
core texts agreed on for discussion, I thought that Poulantzas's
contribution would provide a useful way of talking about that text and also
to get to the matter at hand, i.e. in what sense is the legacy of marxist
writings on fascism useful for understanding the present conjuncture(s).
The text itself has numerous flaws, as Bob Jessop (a sympathetic
commentator and student of Poulantzas) points out in his book _Nicos
Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and Political Strategy_, (St. Martin's Press,
New York, 1985). There have been attempts to apply Poulantzas's theory to
nazism and fascism in a more systematic way by historians apparently, see
the references in Jessop and also in Robert Paul Resch's _Althusser and the
Renewal of Marxist Social Theory_, Uni of California Press, Berkeley, 1992.
Poulantzas's distinction between the normal and exceptional forms does not
seem to be based in a eurocentric modernisation perspective but rather in
Althusser's distinction between 'condensation' and 'diplacement'. The
exceptional state arises in times of crisis, in a condensation of
contradictions; while the normal form uses displacement of contradiction to
maintain its hegemony. Something similar reappears later in Laclau and
Mouffe's work in their distinction between populist and democratic 'logics
of the social', however by that stage it is evacuated of any analysis of
contradiction within unity, due largely to a process of devaluing the
economic which begins with Laclau's earlier critique of _Fascism and
Dictorship_ (which Jon Beasley-Murray has commented on).
Poulantzas's book on fascism thus seems to tie into the debate so far,
justifying my intial suggestion to Louis. It also seems to be the
historical interface between marxism and post-marxism, something I know
Louis is interested in, and something that Ellen Meiksins Wood has
commented on, although I fail to see how her claims that Poulantzas's work
is implicitly 'anti-working class', or that Laclau's position is a
necessary result of Poulantzas's, or that the work of Barry Hindess and
Paul Hirst on modes of production is a neccessary development of Balibar's
early essay (it also provided us with the work of Meillassoux, Wolpe,
Lipietz, and others). Quite contrary interpretations of these texts are
possible as I well know, Barry Hindess is my thesis supervisor and we
obviously have different views on Althusser and Poulantzas ...
I remain perplexed, however, as to the relevance of the issue of fascism to
the current debates. On the one hand it seems very relevant - one need
only look at Le Pen and his cronies in France, or Dictator (as he prefers
to be called) Bal Thackerey's *Shiv Sena* in Maharashtra (west India).
These seem somehow obviously fascist. I guess there are similar movements
in the USA, which seems to be the geopolitical preoccupation of most
subscribers to the list ... we certainly have similar movements here in
Australia. However, all of these movements seem to work with a different
understanding of the stakes involved.
Firstly, their racism is different. It is not biological superiority that
they are concerned with directly, but rather the treat of cultural
difference. This difference, and the violence of their members in response
to threats to their lifestyle from immigrants, is explained in biological
terms however. 'No immigrants, no racism' seems to be their catch-cry.
This has thesis has been put forward by Etienne Balibar in his
contributions to Balibar and Wallerstein, _Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous
Identities_, Verso, London, 1991. Balibar argues that this change seems to
be tied in with the shift in forms of imperialism post-WWII - the 'Third
World within' thesis, celebrated by post-colonialists and feared by our
Secondly, the possibilities for success and the ways in which this might be
realised would be changed in the contemporary context of post-fordism etc.
If we are marxists then our analysis of *contemporary* fascism cannot be
made without reference to the 'New International Division of Labour',
post-fordism, etc, etc. Contemporary modes of communication must be looked
at too. Neo-fascists are on the 'Net' just like us. Louis, you have an
interest in this, don't you??
With these points considered, perhaps the appropriate thing for us to look
at is the change in racism and its articulations with nationalism, as a
basis for understanding contemporary movements (both those we
unproblematically label 'fascist' and those which seem to be importantly
different). My current work is not on Poulantzas's theory of fascism but
rather on his theory of the nation as spelt out in his last book _State,
Power, Socialism_ (NLB, London, 1978). I have been preparing a paper
comparing this to Ben Anderson's _Imagined Communities_ to be presented at
a workshop on 'Nationalism and National Identity' here at the ANU next
February. I am also looking at Balibar's work in detail for the thesis I
am writing. Hopefully I will be able to provide a report on Balibar's work
on racism and nationalism to the cyberseminar, and perhaps tie in my work
on Poulantzas's theory of nation (as opposed to his theories on fascism -
perhaps someone else could contribute a piece on _Facism and
Dictaorship_?). This would be more within my expertise.
Has anyone out there translated recent works by Balibar on racism and
political violence?? If so I'd be very interested to read them.
For those interested in Riech, Balibar has a piece on him in _Masses,
Classes, Ideas_ (Routledge, New York, 1994).
I hope that Louis thinks that reading Balibar is worthwhile. Together with
Macherey, he practically IS Marxism in the French academy at this moment,
and has always taken a tough anti-racist stance (being expelled from the
PCF in 1981 for his public opposition to their stance on immigration).
I believe that the seminar has been put on hold until March or February.
This will give me time to prepare something substantial.
I'll be back,
P.S. I'm really pissed off with comments about Althusser's and
Poulantzas's mental conditions. Madness often accompanies genius.
Sometimes it accompanies mediocrity. But in no way does it provide a
reliable criterion for assessing the quality of their works. It doesn't
surpise me that a 'critical theorist' (i.e. Marxist humanist - always the
first to run from ideas of class struggle) criticised Poulantzas and
Althusser on this point. It is any easy way to avoid engaging with their
criticisms of humanism and empiricism.
P.P.S. Everyone's forgotten that Michel Pecheux (another notable
Althusserian Marxist) suicided in 1983. Are Balibar and Macherey next? Is
it contained in anti-humanist ideas? I think not. Any committed marxist
in France could easily be driven to despair in France during its long
'political winter' (Pecheux's term) of the late 1970s - 1980s. Pysichal
suicide is perhaps preferable to the political-intellectual suicide that is
the 'new philosophy' of Bernard Henri-Levy and his mates.
Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA 0200.
e-mail: davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051
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