Black Fascisms: African American Literature and Culture between the Wars

Article excerpt

Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature and Culture Between the Wars. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007). X, 232 pp., $19.50 paper.

In How Bigger Was Born, Richard Wright described the political choice available to young black men like Bigger Thomas as being between communism and fascism. A plethora of recent scholarship from critics like Barbara Foley, James Smethurst, and William Maxwell has articulated the complex relationship between black and red in the first half of the twentieth century. Mark Christian Thompson's Black Fascisms begins to explore the other half of Wright's binary, tracing the uses of fascist ideology in the work of Marcus Garvey, George S. Schuyler, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright.

Thompson consciously distances his subject from twentieth-century European fascism, arguing for the fascist leanings of black writers, as "a positive form of black political engagement" (21), a negation of Marxism within, rather than outside, the black radical tradition. The value of this approach is that we come to understand fascist tendencies as an organic feature of the evolution of blackness within Western racialized capitalism. Like Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism, Thompson takes a long view of black political development, which allows him to understand fascist tendencies in mid-century African American literature and culture as more than just a response to events in Germany and Italy. Taken together, Black Marxism and Black Fascisms provide a bracing corrective to the Cold War orthodoxy that describes African American politics as the struggle between liberal integration and conservative separatism.

Thompson helps to re-orient our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance and African American writing in the 1930s by putting Marcus Garvey (who proclaimed, "We were the first fascists") and what Tony Martin calls "Literary Garveyism" at the center of his study. …