Marx și religia

Un articol util pentru discuțiile despre religie de la noi. O perspectivă Marxistă n-ar strica.

Marx today

In the contemporary study of religion as a factor of social change and political mobilisation, Marx is treated as a marginal reference at best, a ‘dead dog’ at worst.[1] The global impasse, or even reversal, of a secularisation process that Marx appears to take for granted; the turbulent rise of explicitly religious forms of political subjectivity; the persistence or resurgence of religion both as a principle of political authority and a structuring presence in everyday life – these current trends seem to militate for the relegation of Marx to a historical moment (that of the European nineteenth-century), a political subject (the workers’ movement), and a notion of temporality (the one encompassed by notions of progress, development and revolution) which have been inexorably surpassed in a globalised scenario (whether we grasp this scenario through the differential lens of postcolonial critiques, the hegemonic and homogeneous prism of neoliberalism, or the bellicose culturalism of the infamous ‘clash of civilisations’). To compound this state of affairs, which could also be read in terms of a revenge of the sociology of religions against a Marxian ‘master narrative’ – and with all the apposite caveats regarding the discontinuities between Marx and historical Marxisms, practical and theoretical – we cannot ignore the significance of the religious question within the so-called ‘crisis of Marxism’ of the 1970s and onwards. When Michel Foucault, in his enduringly controversial reports on the Iranian revolution, stressed the irrelevance of Marx’s dictum on religion as the ‘opium of the people’ in accounting for the role of Islamic politics in the overthrow of the Shah,[2] he was expressing a commonly-held rejection of the supposed secular reductivism characteristic of Marxist theories of social change and prescriptions for revolutionary action. Alongside Iran, the complex entanglement of popular rebellions and religion in the Polish Solidarnosc movement and Latin American liberation theology[3] wrong-footed a theory of revolutionary praxis which took the ‘practical atheism’ of the proletariat as a sociological datum.[4] This situation has been exacerbated today in a context where the ebb of projects of human emancipation is accompanied by the pauperisation and brutalisation of a ‘surplus humanity’ living in a ‘planet of slums’, the catalyst for a twenty-first-century ‘reenchantment of a catastrophic modernity’[5] in which ‘populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism’.[6]

Can Marx’s thinking on religion survive the challenge posed by what appear to be the dramatic reversals in the secularizing tendencies and revolutionary opportunities which he identified in the European nineteenth-century? And can a Marxian social theory withstand its ‘expatriation’ into a political scenario in which explicitly Marxist actors, whether states or movements, are weak or inexistent?[7] The most economical response, though perhaps a facile one too, would be to indicate the continuing vitality of historical materialism in the study of the socio-political dynamics behind the current religious resurgence, whether in the context of rampant planetary urbanization (as in the writings of Mike Davis, quoted above), or through the analysis of the role of neo-liberalism and ‘accumulation by dispossession’ in fostering the conditions for religious militancy (as in the work of David Harvey, among others).[8] However, rather than merely engaging in a salutary restatement of the virtues of Marxism for a systemic and systematic understanding of the conditions for today’s refulgent religiosity, I want to take the aforementioned dismissals of Marx seriously and deal with what we might call the ‘subjective’ element of religious-political conviction, its mobilizing force, alongside the questions of the explanation of religious phenomena and the supposed secularization of capitalist societies. The aim then is to restore some of the richness of the problems raised by Marx, and even to treat his seeming anachronism as a resource rather than a defect in displacing some of the numerous commonplaces about religion, society and politics that have come to dominate our public and academic discourse. Whilst endowed with their own complex reality and efficacy, appearances – including that of the contemporary centrality of religion to political life – are rarely the whole story. As Marx puts it, in a mordant description of his method: ‘the philistine’s and vulgar economist’s way of looking at things stems from … the fact that it is only the direct form of manifestation of relations that is reflected in their brains and not their inner connection. Incidentally, if the latter were the case what need would there be of science?’[9]

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