29 July 2009

The cult of No-God

The British Marxist tradition in which I received my political training has historically had a sneering attitude to religious belief (which goes along with the cultural philistinism which Ben Watson complained of, where all art is judged by its utility as agitprop and agreement with the Marxist worldview). I am reminded of Rick from The Young Ones: "There's no ghosts, there's no God! There's a perfectly rational explanation for any phenomenon you might encounter!"

And then the British SWP found itself on the same side of the barricades as the British Muslim community, when liberal secularists decided that the Church of England wasn't as tempting a target as immigrant women in hijab to indulge in a little Voltaire or Galileo-before-the-Inquisition roleplay. I don't need to argue on this blog that Western secularism is increasingly used to rally support around an imperialist and racist project - and that, behind the Enlightenment verbiage, the content is "worship of consumer goods and lifestylism". It is the enemy of what Chaos Marxism stands for.

Anyway, good to see that the British SWP has come from this to having a serious debate on religion in their theoretical journal, based on the principle that you have to interpret all religious belief (like everything else) not by the words or concepts it uses, but by "its fruits" as the Prophet Jesus would have said - its actual social contents. John Molyneux is responded to by Roland Boer. Comments?

Seriously, the more serious arguments against the cold sterility of the "unreconstructed" Marxist tradition, the better. Read the comments on this post in a Marxist blog from a slightly different tradition, and decide whether you really think the self-declared defenders of fundamentalist secularism are on our side or not. I've pointed out in the past the same sterility in a traditional Marxist attitude to psychotherapy - that apparently it's cheating and copping out to try to be happy under capitalism, and the only real fulfilment possible to anyone is hard political work in a Leninist cadre party.

Fundamentalist materialism not only leaves no room for religion, but art, culture and psychotherapy are all devalued, or relegated to some irrelevant realm called "the personal". It splits the life and consciousness of the revolutionary cadre into (a) regimented political activism; (b) "leisure time" which is based on personal preferences and worldview which have nothing to do with column (a). That is precisely the same split which you find in everyday life, between the world of the office and the world of the hedonistic consumer. This is a travesty of the Marxist world view, which like the Sufi and Buddhist worldviews, is essentially non-dualistic.

A real revolutionary political practice must include Greater as well as Lesser Jihad - if you're not changing yourself and your immediate environment, you're not changing the world. At best you're just jerking off - at worst, you're well on the way to becoming the pigs who overthrow the farmer just to wear his old clothes. Fundamentalist materialism is non-dialectical, in that it does not understand that the spiritual world is real because it is based on the material world and there is no real distinction. To simply assume that once we've got the politics and economics right, human freedom will flower, is the same repulsive seed of determinism, mechanical materialism and "ends justify the means" from which Stalinism grew.

Nature abhors a vacuum in the spiritual half of the consciousness - "fundamentalist Marxism", much like liberal secularism, has an idealist undertone which often blossoms into some pretty nasty crypto-religious worship of idols and corresponding cult behaviour. When you have state power, you end up worshipping at Lenin's tomb, or Mao's, or Kim Il Sung's - short of that, you just bully and act like an asshole to "heretics" in your own movement. And then you wonder why you're irrelevant.


  1. I think the religious or transcendent drive is as hard-wired into us as the sex drive, and trying to suppress or uproot the religious instinct is as doomed to failure as trying to suppress human sexuality. It will continue to manifest, probably unconsciously, and in a twisted form (i.e. "communist" personality cults).

    Rather than trying to suppress any aspect of our human nature, we should strive to allow the creative and constructive expression of all aspects. Fundamentalist religion is extremely nasty, but rather than trying to destroy that part of ourselves, we can redirect it toward higher and more productive ends...

  2. Love this post. Discovered your blog recently and have much enjoyed/admired it. For me it resonates as an extension of what one of my favorite so-called "Western" Marxists, Ernst Bloch, was up to in his project. Have you read much Bloch? (I did a quick search of your site and he didn't come up, but apologies if I missed something).

    In solidarity,

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Edmond. Bloch has been on my "to read" list for ages - for his thoughts on liberation theology, if nothing else - and you may be responsible for pushing him up a few notches.

  4. Hey man , love the blog, keep it alive.