10 June 2009

Atheism, egoism, capitalism

All three of above evolved at the same time, and contain the same socio-economic content - the revolt against feudal authority, of king, priest, and (crucially) the whole network of social obligations which is the very basis of feudalism. And this meant a revolt against horizontal obligations to the local community, as well as vertical obligations to one's lord on earth and Lord in heaven. From this point the basis of all social relationships becomes, as Ayn Rand put it, "men must trade value for value" - value here of course meaning exchange value, "use value" being dismissed as some kind of mediaeval fanciful notion, like phlogiston and the King's touch curing scrofula. The individual, the bourgeois subject is now the only real reality from which everything else is extrapolated.

(It's of course no coincidence that the one exception to this is the nuclear family - kind of the "dirty secret" of capitalism, as the unpaid labour of housewives and mothers in the marriage or de-facto-marriage relationship is probably the last remaining vestige of feudal traditions of fealty and fiefdom. And of course Ayn Rand had absolutely nothing to say about the raising of children, which is kind of a gaping flaw in the Objectivist worldview. But anyway...)

If you believe in "God", as traditionally defined, it is impossible to argue that humans do not have some kind of obligation to God. Of course, the first step away from traditional religion was not atheism as we know it, but the Deism of Thomas Jefferson and the French Jacobins - that there is a fundamental order to the Universe, called God for convenience, but that "God made Nature and then Nature made everything else" (to quote Zora Neale Hurston), and therefore no feudal-style relation of vassalage applied for humanity, and we can do what we like. After a hundred years or so, science had advanced enough that "Science" replaced "Nature's God" in the radical bourgeois imagination, and thus atheism replaced deism.

But, you may argue, wasn't the 19th century famous for the most saccharine forms of official religious piety? Well, of course it was, and that was the retreat from radical liberal ideology - because radical liberal ideology couldn't justify slavery or imperialism. But religion could - if you replaced the divine right of kings with the divine right of Western Civilisation, and the ruling class which embodied Western Civilisation. It's also very handy for keeping the plebs in line, in the traditional "opium of the masses" sense - as long as we remember that the ruling class were high on exactly the same opium, which kept the essential contradiction between professed values and actual actions suppressed.

Religion was the opiate of the masses because the bourgeoisie had no direct way to influence the peasantry, the poor or the nascent working class. The local priest or minister or preacher was the main channel through which ruling class ideology filtered to the masses. In the Catholic countries, of course, there was a long drawn-out struggle against the Church hierarchy, with its hung-over feudalist values - which, crucially, involved not only the absolute authority of the Pope, but those pesky feudal mutual social obligations, which is where that whole tradition of Catholic Centre / Christian Democratic politics comes from (and, in the Anglophone countries, the phenomenon of One Nation Toryism / Red Toryism). So "social conservatism" competed for the hearts and minds of the masses with bourgeois liberalism, and in many countries it was a pretty good struggle for a hundred years or so.

That's all over now, because the mass media and mass psychology evolved, and now the forces of bourgeois liberalism have an "in" to the home of virtually every worker, peasant and poor person in the world. Now there is simply no need for God to keep the proles in line, because "Western Civilisation", "Democracy", "Freedom" and "Liberty" have become substitute Gods impressed firmly into the mass psyche. Bourgeois conservatism - in the sense of a single organic "body politic", and obligations for the wealthy to protect as well as discipline the underlings - is dead. Everyone believes in the idol Free Trade now. And in the absence of an actual mass working class movement (i.e. in most of the world at the moment), the competition to bourgeois liberalism comes from one of two middle-class ideologies - social liberalism (the ideology of the Hollywood actors, tenured academics and computer programmers, which has more or less taken the place formerly held by Catholic Centrism and social-conservatism), and reactionary mass movements up to and including actual fascism.

None of these have any real need for God in their memetic arsenal. Reaction in the United States usually drapes itself in the Cross, and in Saudi Arabia in the name of the Prophet, but (for example) in the Netherlands you've got reactionary secularism/atheism, which declares Muslims the new homo sacer who cannot be tolerated because they don't tolerate the same groups the idol Western Civilisation declares should be tolerated. (Save a gay, beat a towelhead.)

To sum up: the new oppressive ideologies all worship "Western Civilisation" - and his mighty servants "Democracy", "Free Markets", "Individual Choice" and/or "The Nation" - as their central idols - with or without the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic God propped up beside them. The social liberals embrace atheism because the bourgeois liberals and reactionaries use religion as a weapon of social control. But then the bourgeois liberals and reactionaries declare themselves opposed to the religion of the Dark Scary Others. So all three main ideological forces support attacks on the religion of Those Guys Over There. And so the "centre-left" of modern capitalism becomes complicit in the imperial project - just as they did 70 years ago, when the French Communist Party argued for colonialism as a boon and gift to benighted savages.

Face facts, militant atheists. So many of you believe in idols which have taken more blood and human suffering than all the Gods ever invented - of which "Western Civilisation" and "Capitalist Accumulation" are the worst. So either be a consistent skeptic - "question everything", as Karl Marx and Aleister Crowley agree - or admit you've just declared a new religion.

The ideologies of our enemies have this in common - a belief in the idol "Western Civilisation" as the strongest god in the actually existing world (whether or not they believe in the Christian God as well); that the current levels of relative economic prosperity are proof of the divine favour of this bloodthirsty idol; and that the bonds of common humanity only extend to other believers in this idol. In this sense, what the memetic complex really can't handle is people who "don't share our values", i.e. worship some other god or idol - even the Christian God, in a way which does not identify the supreme being with "Western Civilisation".

Chaos Marxism does not share the values of Western Civilisation. We hold to the values of the next era of humanity, an era of internationalism, of unity in diversity, of both science and religion as liberators of the human spirit and not oppressors. We do not use the rights of women or queers as a stick to beat the religious with, and certainly not vice versa. We recognize that the choice is not between Jesus or Allah or "Science" - it is between the forces of empire, violence, compulsive accumulation and accelerating global destruction on one hand, and the forces of a new network of social responsibility between all humanity and the ecosystem we are part of on the other hand. We don't care what you believe, only what you do. A Jehovah's Witness or New Guinean animist who fights for justice is worth ten atheists who just eat chips and watch TV.

We reject all idols, or at least realise that no God or abstract concept can help you or harm you - except in that it is useful for you to invoke in yourself your real identity as a human being living on planet Earth, and bring to heel the ego which has evolved to make you a docile servant of "Western Civilisation". And as Marxists, we have faith (i.e. hope backed with evidence) that those who work in the bowels of the system have both the motive and means to overthrow that system, and build a new one based on solidarity, on individuality finding its true self in the bonds of community, on the overthrow of the almighty Ego.


  1. This is me bailing: so long, and thanks for all the fish.

    CM is hollow, and humanity won’t need to break loose from The Forces of a New Network of Social Responsibility between All Humanity and the Ecosystem of Which We Are a Part, as delightful as battles with these, the Local Community, Animists for Justice, those who believe we owe service for breathing, and persons who want to shelter every species of hatred and bigotry under an umbrella of ‘diversity’ would be. Black is not a colour of Rainbows.

  2. I'm sure I'd be more hurt by your cutting rejoinder if I could understand it. My guess is that you're offended that I think that people who have beliefs that conflict with those of white middle-class liberals have a part to play in the struggle, but seriously, CM has certainly no common ground with those who want to write off most of humanity as "part of the problem".

  3. Very well said. Atheism's allegiance to capitalism is certainly something that needs to be questioned. Much of the problem I have with the "New Atheists" isn't that they are atheist; it's that they are, at their worst militant apologists for the Imperialist Project (Hitchens and Harris in particular are guilty of this), and at their best are defenders of a certain kind of "respectable" (neo)liberal middle class conventionalism (Dawkins shades more toward this; there isn't a radical bone in his dessicated "rationalism"). If you insist on adopting "No God!" as a battle cry, then you must also understand it to mean "No State" and "No Self". Otherwise, you're nothing more than a poser peddling to a particular niche market.

    And if anything, MattR's departure just proves your point: post-Enlightenment bourgeois liberalism has its own gods as well as its own orthodoxy, and if you dare to question these idols they will shun you. Attachment to these idols means that he has completely and thoroughly missed your point, which as I understand it is basically a CM elaboration of the old slogan that the worker's struggle has no borders.

  4. I like you, because you agree with me. :)