Revolution and Islamism: 2 Essays

Iran’s Revolution: Religion and Revolution in a Post-Secular Register

Looking back at the Iranian Revolution from the present, two events stand as critical indicators of the importance of this revolution; first, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001; and second, the collapse of the Soviet Union and similar Communist regimes after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The fall of the Communist Bloc ended the Cold War which had pitted Western Democracies against what were deemed totalitarian states adhering to a Marxist-Leninist ideology. The Cold War had fueled a decades-long campaign of militarization on both sides of the divide and it is generally agreed that the fall of the U.S.S.R. was directly connected to its expenditures during the invasion of Afghanistan in which the US fought a covert operation against the Soviets and their Afghani counterparts. Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the “principal architect” of the 9/11 attacks were both directly involved with the Mujahideen opposition to the Afghanistan regime.

If Afghanistan was the death knell of Soviet military might and economic stability, 9/11 forever identified in the popular consciousness a new mortal enemy of Western Democracy, Islamist militancy. Although 9/11 dramatically ratcheted up Western reaction to Islamism, the Iranian Revolution and, specifically, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, laid the groundwork for the contemporary stand-off between Islamism and the West. Both the Cold War and the War on Terror propelled massive military efforts. While much of the political focus has since shifted to the campaigns of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is in important ways the latest permutation of a formula of Islamist politics that encompasses Iran, the Taliban, and other Islamist efforts. Before Iran, Marxist ideology had operated as critical organizing force in nations that were fighting against the influence of Western political and economic systems. After 9/11, Islamism has putatively taken on the role of global champion of the oppressed and downtrodden. Such developments defy modern narratives of the inevitable march of secular progress. Before the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall a decade later, very few analysts could have predicted that Soviet Communism would utterly fall apart and Islamism would rise in its stead.

The Iranian Revolution crystallized a political direction for Islamist movements that prior to the crisis of the Shah’s regime followed more religious and cultural pathways towards their goals of reviving Islam. In fact, many analysts expected that the new regime that would replace the Shah would be more or less secular and pluralist. The utter defeat of all other elements of the opposition by the theocratic Khomeini forces surprised and continues to confound analysts of modern politics. The ideological sources of the Iranian Revolution did include Marxists and secular liberals, but the dominant voices were strongly Islamic, even if they also embodied left-wing stances. One notable left-wing influence on the Revolution was Ali Shariati, whose writings and lectures reveal a somewhat sophisticated grasp of Marxism and Western culture. Shariati was opposed to theocracy and proposed a populist view of Islam infused with a Marxist perception of class struggle. The Capitalist West was not the pinnacle of progress, but the exploiter of the masses and “Red Shi’ism” was the antidote to both the “Black Shi’ism” of the religious establishment in Iran and the capitalist domination of economic power.

Of course, the role of liberator of the oppressed is not genuinely fulfilled by most Islamism. Shariati’s Marx-infused Islamic theology clearly sides with the economically disadvantaged, while the deceptive co-optation of Red Shi’ism by Khomeini during the Revolution and its subsequent suppression afterwards was a betrayal, not a fulfillment of Shariati’s vision. This is abundantly clear when it comes to the Khomeini regime’s strictures on women. Shariati denounced customs that he argued did not flow from the inspiration at the core of Islam, but from provincial accretions that led to veiling women and denying them the right to equal education with males. But Shariati also did not easily welcome Western customs either. Shariati rhetorically attacked both the “stupefying culture of indecent Western modernism” and “conservative, anti-human, anti-Islamic ethnic traditions” of his own nation. This sort of strong rhetoric is both bracing, yet also carries its own potential pitfalls.

Frank Herbert, author of the science fiction series “Dune,” coined an epigraph for his novel’s exploration of a futuristic quasi-Islamic messianic figure. “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way.” Although Western observers are easily critical of Islamism’s theocratic politics, they often forget that most European nations had and some still do have state-sanctioned religions and tax-supported clergy. The United States turned from this European model, but prior to the War for Independence many of the colonies had established churches. Marx’s famous invective, “religion is the opium of the masses” was aimed directly at the European religious establishment. Though Marx believed that atheism would spread and become the philosophy of the revolutionary proletariat, the 20th century saw a remarkable resurgence of religion and its incursions into politics. In fact, a superficial reading of history will reveal that for most human societies, religion was identical with politics and ethics, as well as the guardian of sacred cultural narratives and performer of their rituals. Divorcing religion from politics is a new modern experiment and many feel that it is too bound up with a Western modernism that also imposes capitalist alienation and opportunistic political incursions. Even Christianity has had its moments of revolutionary reinterpretation, such as the Liberation Theology that undergirded the resistance to U.S. client regimes in Central and South America. The role religion has played in revolution is not a simple matter of reaction, though there is more than enough reaction to horrify most sensitive observers. Religion goes back very deep into human history, perhaps to the dawn of the species. As Atheist Communism has faded from the vanguard of human aspiration and radical Islamism challenges Western secular power quixotically, one cannot predict what new forms and configurations religion, politics, and revolution may take in the future.

But, we can ask whether religion can function as a new anti-capitalist and potentially revolutionary opposition? For Marx, opposition to capitalism that would achieve socialism could only occur within fully integrated capitalist nations and he identified the working-classes as the collective subject of the revolution. Islamist opposition to the West is often ambivalent about capitalism. Shariati stood in close relation to an anti-Western stream of Marxism that took its cues from Frantz Fanon among others. On the other side of the world from Iran, Latin American Liberation Theologians had notable successes in Brazil and Nicaragua, though as with the Taliban of Afghanistan, Western (mostly US) military power decisively defeated most of these movements. Presuming that the historical trend continues where Western power defeats Islamism, one could expect a future transition in these nations from Islamism towards some new oppositional strategy. Perhaps, a second coming of Marxism? If so, we can be fairly certain this new Marxism will not be the same as that which triumphed in the Bolshevik Revolution for a short time.

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Revolutionary Subjects?: Marxism vs. Islamism

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or the Levant) emerged in direct descent from “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” which has clear connections with the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization created by Osama bin Laden, in that its Jordanian founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was involved in anti-Soviet and Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, as was bin Laden. The US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime left a space for extremist mobilization that took in elements of Hussein’s military and Kurdish fighters. Iran reportedly aided al-Zarqawi’s entrance into Iraqi Kurdistan territory, which raises interesting questions about the future of Shia Islamism’s relation to this ferociously Sunni movement. As ISIS consolidated its influence in Syria and Iraq, it declared itself to have achieved the revolutionary goal of creating a worldwide caliphate that would unite all Islamic societies against apostates and non-Muslim enemies. This declaration has forced the worldwide networks of Sunni Islamist militants to take sides for or against al-Baghdadi’s rule.

This destabilization of previous state boundaries in an already contested region dramatically ups the ante that various Islamist forces have been playing out for decades. As noted in my earlier essay on the Iranian Revolution, the emergence of Islamism as the successor of Communism in the role of the primary enemy of Western Democracy poses a vexing problem for the analyst of revolution. Whereas Soviet Communism and its satellite states deployed a recognizable – if often rejected – logic of modern progress through capitalism beyond to socialism, Islamism typically harkens to pre-modern models for its political ideals. No self-respecting Marxist would ever accept Islamism as their successor, but Marxists do need to ask why their revolution has been so globally defeated and why a “Worldwide Caliphate” has begun to ape the political postures of the Communist International?

Marx opposed religion to science and an industry was forged of “scientific socialism” which tried to unify into a single neo-Hegelian “aufhebung” the theory and praxis of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism. Against everyone’s expectations, including Marx himself, that revolutionary praxis didn’t reach its zenith via the secularized working class in Germany, Britain, or the USA, but rather the religiously traditional capitalist backwater of Russia. Trotsky famously analyzed the reasons for this historical anomaly in terms of “combined and uneven development” in which a rapacious capitalism could actually exploit the still mostly feudal populace of Russia with greater impunity than in more developed and democratic nations, triggering the Bolshevik Revolution, which was actually only commandeered by the Bolsheviks, not unlike how Khomeini used and discarded the “Red Shi’ism” of the followers of Ali Shariati in the Iranian Revolution. Mao Zedong took Trotsky’s revision of Marxism even further when he made the Chinese agrarian peasantry the foundational class of his quasi-Leninist revolution in China. Counter to Marx’s own expectation, no anti-capitalist revolution has ever occurred in a core capitalist nation. The international opposition to capitalism that was once identified by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao as crucial for the success of a worldwide Communist revolution has devolved in every corner of the globe – with some lingering exceptions – into new forms of nationalism, religious fanaticism, and other decidedly anti-modernist non-Marxist forms, most visibly of all to the USA, Islamism itself.

If all hitherto existing history is the history of class struggle, what is the class character of religious struggle? The worldwide caliphate of al-Baghdadi is certainly not declaring any intentions to abolish class rule, and so, perhaps class struggle will yet erupt within the breast of Islamism itself. Back in the USA, internal political struggles over the relation of religion to politics have continued to fester as the Christian Right has tried to advance its own forms of theocracy or religious laws. The irony of American Christians paranoically trying to pass legislation banning sharia law for the tiny sliver of American Muslims who might desire such an alternative to secular courts, while at the same time these Christians are trying to ban abortion, same-sex marriage, and other offenses against their religious values is palpable. What has happened to the religion that was the sigh of the oppressed creature and a protest against real distress?

Looking at the conflict between the Western Democracies and the Islamist insurgents a realistic perspective would have to admit that Islamism’s global pretensions are doomed. Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State may be able to hold on to its new territory, but there seems to be little prospect of the worldwide caliphate as anything more than an illusion of grandeur. While the USA may not be the unstoppable force it once was, it still seems more than capable of containing the global pretensions of Islamism, despite the notable blunders of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Such a judgment no doubt sits quite comfortably with a Marxist perspective, yet there remains the persistent question of whether there is any revolutionary progress possible beyond Fukuyama’s “End of History” as simply the global extension of liberal capitalist democracy to every corner of the world?

Perhaps the rise and fall of the “Arab Spring” hints that things are not so simple as a displacement of class struggle by Islamic militancy. The uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and other nations shared many similarities with struggles for liberal democracy despite the fact that Islamism did sometimes win temporary victories, as in the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi to the Egyptian presidency, only to be forcibly deposed by the Egyptian Military after little over one year in office. The significance of Morsi’s ouster is that it seems to signal an explicit rejection of Islamism within the Egyptian populace. Several struggles continue, such as Syria, to reveal something of a triangulated conflict with the old Western-backed regimes of these nations challenged by both Islamists and advocates of democratization. Although the USA once did back repressive regimes such as those of Mubarak, Hussein, and others, the lesson that seems forced upon us by the rise of Islamism is that there may be no tolerable alternative to allowing Arab states to democratize and perhaps the revolutionary sequence proposed by Marxism of capitalism leading to socialism may yet see new life.

REBLOG: Notes On Emancipatory Identity and Agency (2012)

   We cannot substitute a mere collection of identities for the saturated generic identity of the working class. I think we have to find the political determination that integrates the identities, the principles of which are beyond identity. The great difficulty is to do that without something like the working class. Without something that was a connection between particularity and universality, because that’s what the working class was. The particularity of the working class was its location in a singular place; the working class was generic. The solution of the problem for Marxism was the human group which is not really an identity, which is beyond identity. 

   We have to do the same thing, but probably without that sort of solution. We cannot say that today this group is the generic group and that the emancipation of this group is also the emancipation of us all. – Alain Badiou, Interview with Diana George

Identities are nothing but ideological coherence maps of resemblances. – C. Derick Varn, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on The Formation of Identity:

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(This posting was written sometime in 2012 and posted on the now extinct “Symptomatic Redness” blog. I might approach it differently today, but the general thrust still rings true.)

The struggle for freedom and justice in our world is still necessary, despite centuries of modern democracy. Political domination and economic exploitation still hold sway over the vast majority of humanity, with their ecological degradation pushing the entire planet towards catastrophe. In such a situation, the question to be asked is still how can a revolutionary movement be constructed to avert the impending catastrophe? And, moreover, be able to transform the impasse of the present into a fulfillment of the authentic needs and desires of all beings?

Marxism, which Badiou references above, proposed that the industrial proletariat of early industrial capitalism would coalesce over time under revolutionary leadership to finally emancipate humanity. This hopeful vision came to a disastrous impasse in the emergence of Stalinism and the Cold War. Its most visible success, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, is all but buried beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

However, perhaps credit must yet be given to Marx for thinking quite concretely about just how emancipation would progress and which social agents in particular would lead this forward motion of history. His anointing of the “industrial worker” was hardly an obvious choice in his era, but this idea has electrified millions over the past century and a half. There is a compelling logic to this choice, in that the workers still have their hands on the real wealth of the planet in a more direct manner than their capitalist employers. It is still quite conceivable that if only the workers of the world would become conscious of their strategic location within the economic engines of capitalism, and for even just a short time unite wholeheartedly with one another against the rule of capitalism, the shock to the system still seems a glorious possibility.

And yet, today we are easily skeptical of such a revolutionary moment occurring. Every revolution has degenerated back into a new system of domination and exploitation, as the weapons and sanctions of the ruling classes routinely recuperate all resistance. The faith that Marx had in revolutionary leadership now seems quite misplaced and his confidence in working-class militancy a naive wish.

Is there a new emancipatory subject to discovered/constructed, as Badiou proposes? Does his hope of finding the “political determination that integrates the identities” merit anything comparable to the faith of proletarian revolution? The explorations that I’ve been carrying out on my political philosophy blog, “Radical Progress” have addressed this question in an attempt to get past the impasse of the death of Marxism. That said, the main absence I see in the contemporary situation is the lack of unity and intersubjective solidarity within the working-class, or their possible successors to the mantle of revolutionary agency.

Badiou speaks of that which “integrates the identities” and this certainly connects to my conception of how identities work, they are not exhaustive concepts, but rather aspects of a variety of social determinations. Being a worker does not negate whether one is also a woman or a person of African descent, to name two of the most common alternative subject identities in current radical theories. We are all identified with multiple characteristics of the social orders within which we live and move and lose our being. The Marxian hope was never that the workers as workers would revolt against capital, but that they would come to know that they were fraternal humans who could reject the alienated existence in which they lived and, fight for something different.

And yet, today, despite an array of identity politics, most of us don’t seem to have any clue how to come together to fight for emancipation. When we do create an assembly, it dissolves into disorder as we each assert our individuality, perhaps for the first time, to the detriment of finding a way forward to a united goal. This is the tragedy of the Occupy Wall Street general assembly, that even as OWS felt as if it was the dawning of a magnetic and energizing movement, it predictably fell back into the clutches of egoic disconnection that frustrates yet again the possibility of uniting the radicals against the 1%.

It will likely offend many radicals to assert the fact, but the most successful attempt at the sort of intersubjective unification envisioned by Marx in history is religion. The Roman Catholic church alone claims millions of adherents, dwarfing virtually all other identity groups, including Marxism. In fact, to the degree that the historic function of religion was that it sanctioned the social order of its host society, it was perhaps a massive error for the Marxists to believe that they could unite humanity without religion’s practices. Apart from Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad, only Marx himself has ever commanded that sort of mass appeal. The slim chance that Marxism may yet return to its privileged position as the central ideology of the revolutionary left however seems unlikely, the world has truly changed in so many ways that we have to press beyond the conception of a proletarian revolution towards a new integration of identities.

In the face of global warming, ocean acidification, and mass species extinctions, perhaps the most integrative identity we can claim today is that of “earthling.” The late Murray Bookchin proposed that Marxism be replaced by an anarchist and communalist philosophy of “Social Ecology.” The logic behind this seems compelling until we consider the possibility that this identity of ecological beings is barely more tied to a radical vision than is “humanity” in general. A radical agency that emerges from within the struggle for emancipation cannot be identical with an identity that encompasses both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Perhaps we do not need a revolutionary subject as Marx and, apparently, Badiou believe. Perhaps, the revolutionary possibility isn’t predicated on a single antagonism such as economics or politics and the identities that they construct. While I do believe in creating a unified intersubjective organization that will take aim at the death-systems that threaten our very existence, the experience of Occupy Wall Street coming just a year before the 2012 presidential election has elevated my awareness that mass radical mobilizations do not behave in a linear manner. There is no single subject position that is privileged as the revolutionary agent. The complex character of society diffuses and coalesces human actions into unpredictable configurations.

Religion, Hegel, and Marxism: Fragments of a Pantheist Approach

Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification.

Marx’s Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

[These comments originated in a discussion of Hegel on Facebook.]

My motives for possibly returning to a study of Hegel – which I dropped in the late 80s – are hopefully constructive, though they feel ambiguous. I am not convinced that I would learn anything helpful, and yet, Hegel often comes in at relevant points of discussion.

To take a very crucial example, when I try to discuss religion and socialism especially with Marxists, they often try to reformulate the points I raise into a “dialectical analysis” that results in atheism being the only logical conclusion of the historical evolution of humanity. I find that conclusion fails to grapple with the sources of religion that seem to go back into the earliest glimmers of culture. Human beings seem unable erase religious thinking, which I find true of even the most ardent atheists.

My theory is that our “religious orientation” is built into our relational drives, such as affection, aggression, curiosity, and creativity. Now, I am not talking about either supernaturalism nor theism proper. Those are specific forms that the religious orientation took in ancient societies, and I already see those forms being drastically abandoned in modern times. A post-theistic naturalistic religion is possible and has already begun to emerge within every religious tradition. Rather than discarding Jesus or Buddha, leading religious thinkers transcend the outdated myths surrounding each figure, while reinterpreting the crucial distinctive contributions each made to human culture. That may be called a dialectical process. Ken Wilber calls it “integral development.”

My personal view is that the process of reshaping human relationships into a global communion can be provisionally characterized as a differential convergence with unpredictable, but imaginable, outcomes.

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Question from 1st respondent: Please elaborate on how our “‘religious orientation’ is built into our relational drives… [as a] post-theistic naturalistic religion.”

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Human beings’ lives and mental stability depend on affectionate caregiving that we call parenting. We are helpless at birth and unable to feed or clean ourselves for many months of our early conscious lives. This predisposes us to desire affectionate nurture and to reciprocate it. Freud also points out that we come to resent our powerlessness and therefore develop an aggressive drive as well.

As we develop our relational circles beyond our core family, we extend the circle of affectionate caregiving (life-drive) and our circle of feared enemies (death drive). Religion is the projection of these drives onto the natural world as polytheists create invisible agents who created the world and evil gods who create our enemies and diseases. Monotheists simplified this scheme into one all-powerful life-drive agent Jehovah and a subordinate death-drive agent Satan.

A post-theistic evolution of religion will accept that these invisible supernatural agents are not actually non-physical deities, as science and atheism have discovered, but the projection of our life-drive onto the cosmos itself compels us to view it as a divine gift, both the source of life and death. Thus, pantheism, not atheism is the mature expression of the religious impulse.

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Comments and questions from 2d responder:

You seem to be confusing symbolic kinship with “religion”
And also there are a lot of stagist presumptions which are basically circular in this.
“Religion is the projection of these drives onto the natural world as polytheists create invisible agents who created the world and evil gods who create our enemies and diseases. “
Is that what religion is? Or is that an element of religion? (For example for what I mean by stagist assumptions that are circular).

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The core of religion, I maintain, is web of human desires that create our social relations. Theism is the projection of these desires onto the powerful natural forces that we could not control. Science has effectively depersonalized and disenchanted the natural world, yet our emotional make-up persists as an irrevocable part of our mental health or disease.

We cannot become rational Vulcans who entirely repress our emotions. Thus, the war between reason and emotion in matters of truth is adjudicated by science. However, science cannot decide which of a number of achievable ends is most desirable, as science has no grounds for determining what is of the highest possible value to humanity as a whole.

Capitalists believe that a world economy structured for the profit of the elite is the end of history, the rational organization of aggregate human interests. Socialism denies this and aims to transcend the class domination of this rational order. To do so, socialism must place the interests of the many over the interests of the few. This ethical decision is motivated by the elevation of the life drive over the death drive, as capitalists do the opposite.

I realize that my schema appears stagist, and in its oversimplified form of polytheism<monotheism<atheism<pantheism it is not complex enough to take in the whole of human religious development. Of course, I would argue that Hegel and many socialists make similar sequences out of history. Such as primitive communism<slave society<feudalism<capitalism<socialism<communism.

I am open to being schooled in proper Hegelian historical theory. Earlier, I offered the hypothesis that the future will be a “differential integration” of the diverse (religious and secular) cultures of humanity. As someone born and reared as a Christian, my intellectual development has taken the form of monotheist<nontheist<pantheist. However, I also retain a fascination with neo-paganism and Buddhism, which I have yet to integrate into my developmental analysis. Over time, I hope to continue working on the incompleteness of my approach.

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1st Responder: If religion is defeasible because it is a merely human the product of ‘relational drives’, then it would seem that, a forteriori, any notion of reality that emerges from amidst human relations to be projected upon the world must be defeasible. However, since this very naturalistic critique of religion is, in some sense, a product of human relations and is no less projected upon the world, then so must this naturalistic critique, which aims to defeat religion, defeat itself in the critical endeavor. Since this criticism is self-defeating it amounts to no criticism at all. How, to the contrary, might we imagine that we can we know that “the projection of these drives onto the natural world” in religion to be more than merely a projection, and, for this reason, not equally defeasible?

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I would not use the term “defeasible” but rather hold that religion is not fixed nor static, but dynamic and open to new truth. The split between nature and supernature was premised upon ignorance, not actual verifiable knowledge of nature.

One common form of dogmatic theology holds that only divine revelation is absolutely true. Human knowledge is viewed as hopelessly fallible, since it cannot penetrate to eternal truth. However, for those who hold to a more naturalistic worldview, science has been steadily increasing our knowledge of the world over time, and indeed, it has done so far more successfully than any previous model of truth-discovery.

However, science is inherently incomplete, since it relies on abstract intellectual knowledge, and has no basis for integrating all knowledge within a unified worldview that contains a great deal that is not abstractly factual, such as love and the arts. Religion in its pre-modern form tried to integrate all truth, arts, and ethics into one whole. We moderns accept that this task can never be completed in any single lifetime, but can only be advanced as each person contributes their distinct experience to the advancement of the whole.

It is possible that all our naturalistic knowledge might just be the dim perceptions of a brute animal. However, if that is one’s view of human knowledge then how do the dictates of revelation, which are themselves produced by talking apes, hope to claim to be a divine exception?

 

REBLOG: All Roads Lead to Communism, or None Do: Theses on Marxism & Intersectionality

[Reposting from Disloyal Opposition to Modernity here.]

(The following is my response to the “Exiting the Vampire Castle” controversy on The North Star webzine about tensions between Marxism, intersectionality, and left politics.)

1) Communism is the goal of ending human domination, exploitation, oppression, and repression in a world of abundance, justice, and harmony among all living beings. Therefore, the practical subject for revolutionary analyses are the social systems that perpetuate and extend systemic suffering for living beings. It is proposed based on careful study of social science and left-wing political theory that the basic categories of human social systems are eightfold:

Economics

Politics

Gender

Race/Culture

Ecology

Martial Systems (institutional use of coercion)

Sexuality

Religion/Irreligion

2) No single one of the above social systems is independent or dominant over all others.

3) Revolutionary analysis identifies institutional structures that perpetuate systemic suffering and propose political collective mobilizations to overturn these structures and replace them with emancipatory new systems and institutions.

4) Revolutionary analysis considers the objective collective systems to be the primary focus of activist mobilization and engagement. It is also engaged with collective cultural aspects of these institutional systems. It considers interpersonal and personal subjective behaviors and attitudes of subordinate importance, though not entirely unimportant.

5) By identifying eight interdependent social systems, an adequate revolutionary analysis cannot advance communist goals by minimizing the objective importance of any of the social systems. A “revolutionary” change in one or a few aspects of these social systems without attempting broad changes in all of them will leave the new institutions vulnerable to counter-revolutionary mobilization from one of the unrevolutionized social systems.

For example, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 did indeed radically change the political, religious, and economic character of Russia, but it at best merely reformed systems of cultural, gender, martial, ecological, and ethnic domination and oppression, which formed the basis for the counter-revolutions against communism from within Russia and the Soviet Union.

6) There are important aspects of Marxism, feminism, anti-racism, radical democracy, pacifism, sex radicalism, progressive religion/irreligion, and environmentalism that must be applied to revolutionary analysis to better equip radicals to overturn the systems that dominate our world. Posing irreconcilable oppositions between feminism and Marxism or any of these important approaches to social criticism is to betray the revolutionary movement from the very start.

REBLOG: Killing the Capitalist God: Gospel Communism and the Death of God

[Reposting from Disloyal Opposition to Modernity originally here.]

It has long seemed quite strange to me that so many atheists find Nietzsche’s assertion of the death of God attractive. God doesn’t exist at all for atheists, his “death” can only be at most the death of the theism of some part of humanity.  Perhaps a historical point can be made about the passing of a specific era of religiosity in Europe at the time of Nietzsche.

Beginning in the 60s, Nietzsche’s ideas got re-deployed by theologians, no less, or rather, atheologians. Thomas J. J. Altizer declared the “Gospel of Christian Atheism” which asserted the historical death of God in the event of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus. Today, Slavoj Žižek has produced his own Lacanian spin on this mostly forgotten theological fad.

On the contrary, God (as theism) never died for a substantial portion of modern society. God was redesigned, certainly, by the course of Western history. God today has become the ultimate capitalist, a Heavenly Boss who punishes the lazy and hedonists with poverty and war. Working-class Christians in the US have been lavishly courted by the ruling class into a New Religious Right with showers of campaign donations promising to end the sinfulness of society by reactionary economic discipline.

 As a Pentecostal preacher’s kid, I somehow got deformed and alienated against the New Right. Jesus was always to me a hippie, a communist, a peacenik, and a rock star. I held the orthodox doctrines as long as I could, up to my mid-30s. I can still wax eloquent about the wonders of Trinitarian mysticism and the infinite glories of being resurrected in the New Jerusalem. While still a believer I argued obsessively that Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical who prophesied the destruction of the ruling class and the victory of perfect love over the earth. And, I could show how such a theology came straight out of the biblical texts themselves. Despite their putative belief in inerrancy, most Christians today don’t follow the teachings of Jesus on wealth, but rather those of John Calvin.

One of the most puzzling mysteries of the modern world is how followers of Jesus can be such willing propagandists for the inhuman system of capitalism and tyranny under which we slave daily. Why aren’t there Christian Socialist Clubs in every church? Jesus denounced wealth and possessions in no uncertain terms. How can anyone read the gospels with an open eye and not understand that the one they call Christ and Savior is the enemy of the system of commodity production and wage labor?

If we turn from the deformed condition of Christianity to the condition of “Actually Existing Socialists” we don’t find a pretty picture there either. Although most potential proletarians in our society today are Christians, often fervently so, card-carrying socialists are nearly all deeply hostile to Christianity. Today’s socialists take the New Atheists as their models for religious criticism, not the more nuanced approach taken by Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg. My favorite quote from Rosa’s classic Socialism and the Churches reads:

In conformity with the material position of the men belonging to this [Roman proletarian] class, the first Christians put forward the demand for property in common – communism. What could be more natural? The people lacked means of subsistence and were dying of poverty. A religion which defended the people demanded that the rich should share with the poor the riches which ought to belong to all and not to a handful of privileged people; a religion which preached the equality of all men would have great success.

My experience trying to discuss Christian Communism with left-wing atheists has been quite dispiriting over the years. The business class holds massive fund-raisers courting preachers and laypersons to their causes, but except for the largely defunct religious socialism commissions of DSA and the SPUSA, there is no effort to appeal to Christians on the basis of their most fervent passion, following Jesus.

Some have accused me of cynicism when I propose a religious left as a necessary element of a revitalized left politics in the US. Since I personally no longer hold an orthodox theology, they assume that I want socialists to lie to Christians when we invite them eagerly into our ranks. Not at all, what I want Socialists and Communists and Anarchists to do is listen respectfully to the faith of these working-class followers of Jesus. Ask them why they don’t take their own gospel teachings about poverty literally.

There is no hope of ever overthrowing capitalism in the US unless we kill the Capitalist God who reigns in American Christianity. We can only kill that satanic inversion of the Father of Jesus if the Christians do that from their own convictions. I am proposing a mutual collaboration between the brilliant atheists in the socialist movement with the disheartened Christians who are daily coming to question the heresy of the Christian Right. We need each other.

We need each other not because Christians are potentially a massive pool of allies and activists, though they are indeed such. They are necessary for the revitalization of Communism as the universal vision of world emancipation. Every religion has its earthly paradise that it promises the faithful. These paradisiacal visions are the seedbed for the utopian mindset from which radical politics sprung. Communism comes from humanity’s total history, not from the mind of one philosopher named Karl in the mid-1800s! Reclaiming the communist teachings of Jesus and his early followers means reclaiming an essential part of communism’s historical development.

Communism’s axiom, from each according to ability, to each according to need is the economic corollary to the Golden Rule, do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Although many leftists like to praise the achievements of modernity and seem to forget all the blood, sweat, and toil of humanity before the onset of capitalism, in fact, communism springs quite logically from the nature of humanity and our highest values. Although Karl Marx did banish Hermann Kriege’s “Communism of Love” from his organization, it seems in the aftermath of Stalinism that Communism needs to restore its reputation as humanizing vision with affirmative principles of human mutuality. Who better to be a symbol of such a kinder, gentler communism than the Good Shepherd, Jesus of Nazareth?

REBLOG: Communism is the Truth that Fulfills All Truths: Why Christians and Atheists (& Muslims, Hindus, Etc) Will Someday Reach the Same Destination

[I’m in the process of consolidating all my blog posts under two pages, Radical Progress and Radical Righteous Love. Here is a blog I originally wrote for Disloyal Opposition to Modernity.]

from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher. – Alain Badiou

Reading this line from Badiou a few years ago pushed me over a hesitation to embrace the word “communism” in a full-throated sense. I wrote an essay not long after this point on Plato’s Republic where I explored how Plato connected the ability of his ideal city’s guardians to achieve justice to their having forsaken private property. In fact, re-reading Book V last night only confirmed for me what Badiou is saying, that Communism is the fulfillment of political rationality. If Plato’s philosophy of ideal justice requires communism in this sense, I hold that a profound truth has escaped the notice of many in our time, including advocates of Marxism. That truth is that communism does not belong to Marx and his successors, but to humanity as a whole.

Marxists often want to define just how communism will be brought into being. They have a theory of the proletariat revolution led by a Communist Party. The leadership of the Communist Party is composed of the advanced activists and theorists who correctly understand the necessary path to take towards Communism. Of course, history is littered with the failures of Communist governments. It isn’t adequate to slap a label on your philosophy and call it Communism. Communism does not belong to Marxists, but to humanity.

If communism is as old as Greek philosophy – actually older – then is it so surprising that it also makes an appearance in the most popular world religion, Christianity? The gospels are only comprehensible as a communist event with a vision of a classless society at their core. The Book of Acts presents the “Jerusalem Commune” where the followers of Jesus set up a system of wealth redistribution among the members of their new movement.

I am not arguing that Communists should become Christians, by no means. I am contending that Communists, whether atheist or Christian, have a common heritage that is older than Karl Marx. I am contending that Communism’s central axiom, “from each according to ability, from each according to need” is rooted in universal human relationships. Every healthy nuclear family operates as a commune. In “primitive communism” sharing was simple and direct exchange. It is the ruling classes throughout human history who have rejected this basic relational ethos and imposed class domination on the majority of all societies.

The rebirth of Communism in our times will not fall into the classic divides of the left of Marxist vs. Anarchist vs. Religious communists. In our post-secular world, communism is only possible with an inclusive alliance of Atheists, Christians, Muslims, and others.

Or, communism may fail to be achieved. Humanity may be forever trapped in an undesirable system of class domination. Many science fiction dystopias paint such a picture. I am an optimist, but I am not a fatalist. Humanity could fail to fulfill its own potential. That will be tragic, indeed. But, even such a failure does not prove that Communism was not the true fulfillment of humanity’s potential.