Michelism
from Fancyclopedia 2 ca. 1959
("MISH-el-ism") At the Third Eastern in October 1937, Don Wollheim read a speech written by John Michel1 which denounced the "Gernsback Delusion" and declared that stf had made idealists and dreamers of fans, since it is the best form of escape literature ever invented. Since we cannot escape from the world, science-fiction has failed in not facing the realities being fought out in Madrid and Shanghai [and later in other locations we'll leave you to fill in as events unprogress] and in the battles between reaction and progressive forces at home and abroad.

"THEREFORE: Be it moved that this, the Third Eastern Science Fiction Convention, shall place itself on record as opposing all forces leading to barbarism, the advancement of pseudo-sciences and militaristic ideologies [referring to the racist notions of Naziism], and shall further resolve that science-fiction should by nature stand for all forces working for a more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life."

Hot debate followed and the motion was defeated 12 to 8 (the 8 being the Futurians, voting en bloc).

To further the movement, soon named "Michelism," its advocates formed the Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction, which armed itself with slogans like "Save Humanity with Science and Sanity" and "Lift the Embargo on Loyalist Spain". (The former motto was not a reference to the Null-A text, but a call for education and intelligence.) They distributed radical pamphlets at the Newark Convention and thru FAPA, and published an issue or two of SCIENCE FICTION ADVANCE, which included articles on contemporary issues by writers from Jack Speer (for the conservatives) to Josef Stalin (for the…oh, you knew?)

A few American allies like Ackerman and Rothman rallied to the cause; intensive opposition came from moderating liberals like Speer, personal enemies such as Moskowitz, and rank and file fans who just didn't believe in mixing politics and stf. Such names as beard-and-bomb boys (from the antique American notion that all radicals were bomb-throwing anarchists), Bolos or Brooklyn Bolsheviki (from Moskowitz' definition of the movement; and the location of Michel, and later the Ivory Tower, in the borough of Brooklyn) were tagged on the Michelists.

At the time everybody tried his hand at defining Michelism. Moskowitz' was the shortest: "It is Communism." (At that time Soviet Communism was still called "Bolshevism", hence the nicknames cited above.) Lowndes said it was a state of mind which began with discontent at what science-fiction now is, proceeds thru the question, What is our purpose?, to the answer that we should not reject our dreams, but try to make them realities.

Wollheim, after some early pronunciamentos like: "MICHELISM is the belief that science-fiction fans should actively work for the realization of the scientific socialist world-state as the only genuine justification for their activities and existence…" finally described the Michelists' attitude 1938 thusly: "They understood that fans who were trying to realize science-fiction thru many channels and diverse methods in the general sociological field were on the correct road and should be aided and encouraged. Those who were socialists and those who were only mild Esperantists were both on the right track."

Proselytizing efforts in FAPA ended when the Quadrumvirs resigned, after a year, in a feeling of temporary defeat, but Doc Lowndes, and to a lesser extent the others, kept plugging at the line and modifying and adapting the program to changing conditions. With the Exclusion Act, and eventually the war against the Axis Powers, fan feeling toward the Michelists moderated somewhat. The movement was considered a thing of the past by 1942, tho new fen under such banners as the Intellectual Brotherhood of Pro-Scientists, Animalist Party, etc, carried on what might be called Michelism in Lowndes' definition.

Michelism in a sense was an overflow into fandom of the active opposition to Naziism that appeared in the democracies in the late 30s, and which manifested itself in seeking for policies of active resistance to totalitarian aggression — a search which led some into getting mixed up with Communism thru the total lack of a strong program on the part of the democratic powers. After the Michelist speech, sociological discussion came into fandom to stay, but it is impossible to assign relative weights to Michelism and other broader forces in this development. The Michelists themselves probably antagonized more people than they converted.

1. "Mutation or Death!" by John Michel, 1937
from Fancyclopedia 1 ca. 1944
At the Third Eastern Science-Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in October 1937, Wollheim read a speech written by Michel. The speech denounced the "Gernsback delusion" that science-fiction's purpose is to make scientists out of its readers. Instead, it has made idealists and dreamers of them, because it is the best form of escape literature yet invented. But we cannot escape from the world; science-fiction already stinks because is has failed to face the realities being fot out in Madrid and Shanghai, and in the battles between reaction and progressive forces at home and abroad. "THEREFORE: Be it moved that this, the Third Eastern Science Fiction Convention, shall place itself on record as opposing all forces leading to barbarism, the advancement of pseudo-sciences and militaristic ideologies, and shall further resolve that science fiction should by nature stand for all forces working for a more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life." Lengthy debate followed, more on the speech than on the resolution, and the motion was finally defeated, several attendees not voting, by a vote of 8 to 12, the 8 being "the visitors here today wearing the red delegate badges of the NYFA".

To further the movement, which they soon named "Michelism", its advocates formed the CPASF, which armed itself with slogans like "Save Humanity with Science & Sanity" and "Lift the Embargo on Loyalist Spain", distributed Leftist pamflets at the Newark Convention and thru the FAPA, and published an issue or two of the Science Fiction Advance, which included articles on all angles of the issues, by writers ranging from Josef Stalin to Jack Speer.

Altho opposition was slow in taking form, the Michelists gained little support outside their New York group, except in England, where their general ideas were received hospitably by the First Fandom. The only important American allies were Milton Rothman and Forrest Ackerman, and they were socialists. Opposition came from personal enemies such as Moskowitz, moderating liberals like Speer and Rothman, and the rank and file who didn't believe in mixing politics and stf.

The Quadrumvirs resigned after a year in a feeling of temporary defeat, but Doc Lowndes, and to a lessor extent the others, kept plugging at the line and modifying and adapting the program to changing conditions. At the Futurian Conference, it was voted to abandon the use of the name "Michelism". Not long afterwards, with the Communazi rapprochment and the outbreak of war, three of the Quadrumvirs, Lowndes, Wollheim, and Michel, announced that they had changed from internationalism to Technocracy. As they grow into the late twenties, the boys lost the proselyting urge, while new fans, under such banners as the Intellectual Brotherhood of Pro-Scientists, carried on what mite be called Michelism in Lowndes' sense. With the Exclusion Act, and eventually the war against the Axis, fan feelings toward the beard-and-bomb boys moderated somewhat, but Michelism was considered a thing of the past. After the Michelist speech, sociological discussions came into fandom to stay, but it is impossible to assign respective weights to Michelism and other broader forces. The Michelists probably antagonized more people than they converted.

Everybody has tried his hand at defining Michelism. Moskowitz's is probably the shortest: "It is simply Communism." Lowndes said it was a state of mind, which begins in discontent at which science-fiction now is, and proceeds thru the question, What is our purpose?, to the answer that we should not reject our dreams, but try to make them realities. Wollheim in late 1937 said: "MICHELISM is the belief that science-fiction fans should actively work for the realization of the scientific socialist world-state as the only genuine justification for their activities and existence. # MICHELISM believes that science-fiction is a force; a force acting through the medium of speculative and prophetic fiction upon the minds of idealist youth; that logical science-fiction inevitably points to the necessity for socialism, the advance of science, and the world-state; and that these aims, created by science-fictional idealizing, can best be reach through adherence to the program of the Communist International. # MICHELISM is the theory of science-fiction Action." But in mid-1938: "As months passed and they got deeper into their studies, they let down their iron outlook, realizing that theirs was the most advanced and extreme view and that most of the fans could hardly be expected to have gone to such a stage. They understood that fans who were trying to realize science-fiction through many channels and diverse methods in the general sociological field were on the correct road and should be aided and encouraged. Those who were socialists and those who were only mild Esperantists were both on the right track."

Whatever may have been the ontological essence of Michelism, in practice it was tied very close to Marxism and the Third International's party line. After Speer had answered in the right way all the tests that the Futurian Ambassadors put to him to determine whether he was a Michelist, Wollheim decided he was excluded because, for whatever reason, he supported the Fascist powers, who were anti-Science.