A symptom of the death of historical Marxism?

It seems as though I am part of this symptom, according to the insightful analysis of one Ross Wolfe:

This is of a piece with broader attempts by some Marxists to accommodate reactionary anti-capitalist movements that take their inspiration from religion, whether this takes the form of apologia for “fanaticism” (Alberto Toscano’sFanaticism),[48] “fundamentalism” (Domenico Losurdo’s “What is Fundamentalism?”),[49] or “theology” (Roland Boer’s trilogy On Marxism and Theology).[50]  These efforts to twist Marxism into a worldview that is somehow compatible with religious politics ought to be read as a symptom of the death of historical Marxism and the apparent absence of any alternative.

O ye of little faith …


8 thoughts on “A symptom of the death of historical Marxism?

  1. Thanks for the mention. Perhaps I should have been more careful about my generalization regarding the Left’s propensity to accomodate religious political tendencies, however. I think “reactionary anti-imperialism” might have been more precise, but only if one does not consider anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism to be coextensive.

    1. Ross, thanks for replying. The problem here is a somewhat common position among some on the left that religion is by definition reactionary/conservative. There’s a long tradition of leading Marxists who identify the revolutionary/communist dimensions of religions like Christianity and Judaism – beginning with Engels and including more today such as Paul Le Blanc. One of the reasons, as I have explored in what is a five-book series, is a deep political ambivalence, especially in Christianity. Much of it sides easily with reaction, to be sure, but other crucial elements inspire revolutionary movements. And that has much to do with the conflictual conditions of its initial construction.

      1. In some ways I wonder if the persistence of religion is not itself symptomatic of the failure of the Left to fulfill its historical mandate to remove those conditions that give rise to religion in the first place. Basically, I agree with Trotsky’s position on the matter: “Marxism is irreconcilably opposed to religion.” But the only way to talk responsibly about the ultimate abolition of religious belief — or the emancipation of humanity from ideological mystifications (superstitions, chimeras, phantasms) in general — is to take the Left to task for its continued incapacity to render religion superfluous once and for all. God died well over a century ago, yet His shadow lives on (perhaps even more perniciously than His corpse). It’s up to us to murder the last vestiges of divine illusion from the minds of men.

        Still, I’m not sure this can be accomplished through alliances with groups and individuals whose politics are informed by religious ideology. Certainly past religious movements have had revolutionary consequences in the past, but the emancipatory potential of religious politics belongs to the past.

      2. This was exactly the problem they faced after the Russian revolution. Two ways were developed for dealing with the secondary issue of religion (it’s worth noting that Marx, Engels, or Lenin ever insisted on atheism as a prerequisite for membership of the International or party): revolution that removes the alienating conditions that produce religion, and education. However, after the revolution religion persists. How do you respond? One popular move was to argue that the conditions have not yet been removed entirely. The other was to step up education. The first option is a never-ending process, for as long as religion persists, some alienating condition persists. The second was more or less successful. However, a third option also opened up, especially via Lunacharsky as Commissar for Enlightenment: realise and work with the the revolutionary strains of religion. The whole educational system of the USSR was constructed on his idea of ‘God-building’, and Lenin knew perfectly well what he was on about. Much more here, but its in my ‘Lenin, Religion, and Theology’ book due out in May.

      3. Interesting. I’m quite familiar with Lunacharsky, Gorky, and Bogdanov’s notion of god-building, but I’ll be interested in checking out your argument. I’ve always thought of this notion as a kind of neo-Feuerbachian attempt to create a religion of humanity, within the framework of an explicitly Marxist/Bolshevik revolutionary program.

      4. God-building is subtler than that (Bogdanov was never much of a player). Not so much a religion of humanity, it saw revolution as a process of building-up human beings to the ideal forms represented by the gods. And over against Feuerbach’s projections, Lunacharsky astutely saw the internal tensions within religion. He is pretty much a precursor of Ernst Bloch (who never mentions him), seeking to bring the ‘warm stream’ back into the coldly scientific Second International Marxism.

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