Friday, July 17, 2009

Judaeo-Christian tradition, American civil religion, Anti-Semitism, Jeremiah Wright

Note: The following commentary was written on 18 June 2008, in the heat of the presidential campaign and all its controversies. Since I wrote this, I have been more vehement in my opposition to the notion of a Judaeo-Christian tradition, which is not only a cover for the worst crimes generally, but is specifically a cover-up of the anti-Semitic heritage of the United States and western civilization as a whole. Among other things, it is important to look at the American civil religion, not only as it revved up during the Cold War, but how it was used, dishonestly, in my view, in the anti-Nazi propaganda of World War II. Posters of that period are quite revealing: a picture of the dagger of Nazism piercing the Holy Bible, a testimonial from Joe Lewis saying we will win because God is on our side, etc. All of this was a cover-up of the real nature of the fascist threat and the complicity of Allied powers including the USA in racism, anti-Semitism, and fascism, including direct ideological, commercial, and technological ties between American big business and the Nazis, not to mention the vile history of the "Christian" nations in fostering all three of these scourges against humanity.

The most widely recognized refutation of the myth appears to be:
Cohen, Arthur A. The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Harper & Row, New York, 1970.



The Spring 2008 issue of the AAH Examiner [newsletter of African Americans for Humanism] is exceptionally topical, or so it seems due to the two articles on the Obama/Wright issue. I can't argue with Gerry Dantone's "Almost Everyone Should Leave Church." Mel Reeves' "Sacred Cows, Black Jesus, and Civil Religion", however, struck me as an argument with a number of gaps in it. I haven't studied the concept of civil religion in detail, but my impressionistic take on it, which is based on the conditions under which I grew up, was somewhat jarred by Reeves' argument.

My notion of American civil religion is extremely minimalistic, hence while I see the concept justifying a general national mythology, I don't immediately see it as justifying any particular action or state of affairs in American history.

This is because, while the public schools I attended in Buffalo taught us American exceptionalism, and they indeed taught us about Manifest Destiny, they fostered a certain doublethink whereby America could be glorified without justifying its arguably criminal actions of the past. Popular culture was also quite minimalistic, judging by my memories of television. American civil religion, even among the most liberal sectors of the population, was affected by McCarthyism and the Cold War, i.e. America's war against "godless communism". But this, too, was promoted in my neck of the woods in the most minimalist of ways. Eisenhower (before my conscious life began) talked about the Judaeo-Christian tradition, a notion that gained some currency as a result of World War II. Eisenhower, after all, had liberated the Nazi death camps, and it would have been most tasteless to refer to America as a Christian nation; so, playing it safe, he invoked this newly-forged concoction of a Judaeo-Christian tradition. I didn't know much about Eisenhower, as my earliest memory of politics is the Kennedy-Nixon race (but not of the controversy surrounding JFK's Catholicism, which I could not have understood at that age). But my experience of television was consistent with a minimalist conception. A telling example is an episode of the very liberal TV series The Twilight Zone, in which Burgess Meredith is condemned to death by a totalitarian state declaring the state has decreed that God does not exist, and Meredith's character defiantly declares that there is a God, and tranquilly awaits execution while reading the Bible. This is the type of civic religion I was exposed to.

Also, both education and popular culture encouraged a doublethink about American history. On the one hand, American exceptionalism, and on the other, occasional admissions of America's past crimes. There were a couple of TV docudramas even in the early '60s, one about Harriet Tubman, and cowboys-and-Indians lore notwithstanding, the injustices against the Indians were no secret. All of this was in accord with the dominant liberalism of the time.

So the American civil religion, as I understood it, was:
(1) America is exceptional;
(2) America is underwritten by the Judaeo-Christian tradition;
(3) America is great because we can confess and correct our mistakes; hence at the end of the day, the system works.
Somewhere along the line, disillusioned by all the ruckus of the late '60s, I concluded that all this was a load of crap. I don't recall a specific turning point, but by 1973 I opted out of the American mythos.

Given my indoctrination in a minimalist version of the American mythos, it would not be immediately apparent to me that Jeremiah Wright opposes the American civic religion. A more obvious candidate would be Malcolm X, who even predates this black liberation theology bullshit of the late '60s. But somehow I never thought to think of Malcolm X in this way. So evidently I did not thoroughly research just what the concept of civic religion entails. Or perhaps I just assumed that a religious person is not the one to oppose a civil religion.

One thing I have been questioning though, is this notion of a "Judaeo-Christian tradition". Its history has been outlined in this article, which I've planned to review:
Silk, Mark. "Notes on the Judaeo-Christian Tradition in America," American Quarterly, 36 (1984): 65-85.

The notion has been advocated and refuted by Jews and Christians of various political and theological persuasions. Some, but not even a majority, of objections came from militant secularists, such as Sidney Hook in the 1940s. There are several bases for objections to this notion, some based on theology and religion, some on sociopolitical considerations. The objection that interests me most is that the token inclusion of Judaism in the tradition is actually a mask for Christian anti-Semitism. I don't recall a specific allegation that Jewish adherence to this notion is a form of Uncle-Tomism, but that would be the logical corollary. And I concur with both propositions. The political resuscitation of redneck America under the banner of Reagan awakened a visceral hostility against Christian America that had not been a conscious issue for me.

But put that aside for now, while I return to the concept of American civil religion. It seems that the concept involves these factors:
(1) the mythos of America undergirded by religious principles;
(2) the mythos of America as a social-political entity—its exceptionalism, essential goodness, soundness, etc.;
(3) the relation between (1) and (2);
(4) the justification of American actions and policies, past and present, on the basis of this mythos.

It must be the inclusion of (4) in Reeves' argument that threw me for a loop, and I guess when I think of civil religion I mostly think of (1); i.e. obligatory religiosity in America.

Now the argument that a liberation theology in general challenges the American civil religion depends on what the latter implies politically. In Reeves' schema, Christian abolitionists opposing slavery would also oppose the American civil religion. I never thought of it this way, and while I'm not in principle opposed to this line of thinking, I don't find it compelling. I see Frederick Douglass challenging all the components of the civil religion characterized by Reeves. But I also see this tradition of dissent as very American.

There are after all, radical versions of Americanism. I'm most familiar with the secular ones, I haven't thought much about religious variants. Earl Robinson's "Ballad for Americans" is what we would today call multicultural. Ralph Ellison's Americanism was non-religious. Whatever religious or mystical beliefs held by black cultural figures I can think of, mostly jazz musicians, their expressions of Americanism don't appear to be predicated on any non-secular basis.

Anyway, I can see there are some holes in my knowledge of the meaning of the concept of civil religion. I gave a quick scrute to some Wikipedia and other articles as a first step in ameliorating the situation:

Wikipedia articles:
Civil religion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_religion
American civil religion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_civil_religion
Judeo-Christian
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Christian

and:
Marty, Martin E. "A Judeo-Christian Looks at the Judeo-Christian Tradition", The Christian Century, October 5, 1986, pp. 858-860.
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=188

In the end, Reeves appears to justify Wright, which I find unacceptable. Replacing one mythology with another works for bourgeois nationalists, but in the end does not serve human emancipation. Reeves was derelict in this regard. I was not shocked by Wright, as I've heard all this before, and I don't think he's totally crazy, but he is an obscurantist and crackpot in his own right, like any other black nationalist jackleg preacher jackass I've encountered over the decades. So I see no reason to defend Wright, but only to oppose the double standard.

It doesn't even take much of a civic religion to keep white Americans as clueless as they are. Obama notwithstanding, if you look at political discourse among average American citizens including journalists, even if they are liberal (whatever that means nowadays), they all talk as if white people are the only real people inhabiting this nation. Other groups are occasionally recognized as other groups, but not as if they enter into the personal reality of white people discussing politics.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Black Freethought at 100

Responding to a perceived need, on 6 February I initiated a Black Freethought group on the social networking site Atheist Nexus.

On June 1, my group attained its 100th member. Today, one day later, we have 101.

This growth has proceeded in tandem with other breakthroughs in public black atheist, freethought, and humanist activity. However bleak everything else may be, this is one little positive piece of news.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cracker on the Cross?


I'm almost speechless, and I dare not comment. I discovered this image online today, but I have no idea who originated it or what that person intended to convey. For instance, I do not know whether the individual concerned is protesting or celebrating the crucifixion of the cracker. Perhaps deifying the cracker in his own image?

Of course the big question is, just what is the word "cracker" intended to convey here?

The First Annual Conference of Black Nontheists

A breakthrough event! The First Annual Conference of Black Nontheists, Friday, 7 August – Sunday, 9 August 2009, Atlanta, Georgia, is an initiative of The Gary C. Booker Mental Self-Defense Foundation. Gary Booker, whom I first encountered on my Black Freethought group, declares: "Mental Liberation is the final frontier of the civil rights movement."

These are the keynote topics up for discussion:
1. Why a secular solution to teen pregnancy in Black America is needed.

2. The role of the Black Church in the promotion of homophobia and AIDS hysteria

3. Where was God during slavery and segregation?

4. Misconceptions about Charles Darwin, Evolution and race

5. How Black stereotypes have become a 2nd religion

6. Why the Black church receives too much credit for the civil rights movement (and why this is harmful)

7. Is organized religion a sufficient tool for repairing Black male-female relationships?

Out of the Closet — Black Atheists

An important new article is making the rounds:
"‘Out of the Closet’ — Black Atheists" by Sikivu Hutchinson
in the L.A. Watts Times, 28 May 2009
at Afro-Netizen
at blackfemlens, 13 May 2009
at RichardDawkins.net
Hopefully this will lead to a publicity breakthrough. Wrath James White's blog, whose correct title is Godless and Black, is referenced in this article. There is also a passing reference to an article mentioning black atheists in The New York Times, but I've not seen it.

See also Hutchinson's article "The Moral Choice: Blacks, Homophobia and Proposition 8," 29 Oct 2008.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marx on religion

I've begun organizing quotations by Karl Marx on religion, accompanied by sources and web links, as well as a listing of the major English-language anthologies on the subject:

Karl Marx on Religion: Sources & Quotations

I will add to this compilation as I examine more quotes. I will probably add a listing of relevant writings by Friedrich Engels and possibly quotes as well. I will move on to organize the various quotations on this blog into pages on my web site. Also, I will begin to compile a working bibliography of important works by and about Marxists on religion and atheism.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Eddie Glaude Jr. & BlackPlanet.com

Eddie Glaude Jr. evidently found my previous post on him here, as he re-posted it, without comment, on his own blog on BlackPlanet.com. There were two initial responses by others. After I discovered Glaude's blog: I responded to one particularly irritating individual who calls herself Brilliantrose. This is my retort, written on 2 Jan 2009:
Clearly, Brilliantrose did not understand a word I wrote. Checking my original blog, I do not see any confusion between "ethic" and "ethnic"; hopefully Brilliantrose knows the difference. I chose to write "ethnic" instead of" racial" because "ethnic" suggests a cultural formation rather than a biological category, and hence speaks more directly to mindset.

Brilliantrose also mistakenly assumes that I have a high regard for the Ivy League, but my point is that whatever their origins, however humble they may be in some cases, black intellectuals who have made it to the level of professor at Ivy League institutions have enjoyed opportunities for expansion of their ideological perspective than average uneducated persons do, and so they have a choice whether to undergo the risky business of ruffling the feathers of their own alleged constituency or pander to popular ignorance, an ignorance which obviously pervades the middle class as it does the poor.

As for needing many voices, additional voices are useless unless they have something enlightening to say. One essential property of a modern democracy that black communities as well as fundamentalist rednecks have yet to learn is the precious principle of separation between church and state. Religious revelation has no place in public argument or policy. Eddie Glaude, as an allegedly progressive theocrat, is apparently too dense to understand this. He gets away with it by basing himself on ethnic provincialism, i.e. a narrowly tailored black religious rhetoric, peppered with scraps of philosophical concepts totally at odds with the irrational basis of religious belief. This just serves to retard the intellectual development of black America as surely as the black church has done.
And that's where it ended. I looked further into BlackPlanet.com and found it as disgraceful as I had been warned about.

I found two active groups of relevance. Freethinkers New Trinity is as full of crackpots as the rest of this site. Today's Atheists of America is much more reasonable, but still extremely limited. So, while a few people with intelligent thoughts emerge on this site, it is so hopelessly idiotic and oriented toward the lowest of low common denominators, no one should be caught dead on it. Glaude hasn't posted on it all year to date: if there is a reason for this, it's anybody's guess.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion (4): Edward J. Blum's theological conversion of Du Bois

Written 20-21 April 2009:

Check out the publisher's description of:

Blum, Edward J. W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. viii + 273 pp. Notes, index, acknowledgements. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8122-4010-3. http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14316.html

You should note something very fishy here.

Now the fact that Du Bois wrote sermons, poems, etc., and that he recognized the "spiritual" qualities of religious culture, does not make him a religious person whose secular thought should be re-spun in religious terms. And if you doubt that there's something dishonest about Blum's agenda, see this interview:

RD10Q: W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet
By Edward J. Blum
June 19, 2008 (Religion Dispatches)
http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/rdbook/307/rd10q:_w.e.b._...

Blum's agenda is overtly religious. I'm nauseated to read this interview. Furthermore, it is symptomatic of an intellectual degeneration permeating every area of thought. Important fields of study are being corrupted by either postmodernism or a theological turn. The very secularity of scholarship is under de facto assault by irrationalism.

The irrationalist colonization of academia proceeds apace. Du Bois is being converted from a secular to a religious thinker in the most disgusting fashion. Another example: a new book titled The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections, edited by Ed Blum and Jason R. Young.

See this blog puffing the book:

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Du Bois and Religion
by Phillip Luke Sinitiere
http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2009/02/du-bois-and-religion.html

Reportedly this volume has been praised by both James Cone, architect of black power theology, and Manning Marable, veteran Marxist scholar.

This blog is a document of a long-standing campaign to spiritualize intellectual history including Du Bois' intellectual achievements:

http://usreligion.blogspot.com/search/label/DuBois

I have unearthed some more positively sickening examples of Edward Blum's agenda for recasting Du Bois as a religious thinker, enlisting him in the service of theocratic progressives.

W.E.B. Du Bois and Religion
Revising perceptions of the influential African American thinker.
Reviewed by Kathryn Lofton | posted 12/15/2008
Books and Culture: A Christian Review
http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/columns/bookoftheweek/081215b.h...

Religion and the Sociological Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois
by Edward J. Blum
Sociation Today, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2005
http://www.ncsociology.org/sociationtoday/dubois/blum.htm

7-16-07, History News Network
What Barack Obama (and the Democratic Party) Can Learn About Religion from W. E. B. Du Bois
By Edward J. Blum
http://hnn.us/articles/40530.html

What Would Du Bois Say?: A Response to Hitchens and Dawkins
Penn Press Log, May 11, 2007
http://pennpress.typepad.com/pennpresslog/2007/05/what_would_du_b.html

I think I'm going to barf. Now here is an extensive review:

W. E. B. Du Bois: A Spiritual Prophet and Religious Sage?
Reviewed for H-Amstdy by Curtis J. Evans, University of Chicago Divinity School.
Review of: Edward J. Blum. W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-Amstdy@h-net.msu.edu (October 2007)
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-AmRel&a...

The reviewer acknowledges the extensive engagement with religious metaphor on the part of Du Bois but questions Blum's premises. Note:
"By paying attention to the performative aspects of Du Bois's autobiographies and writings, Blum is able to avoid traditional biographical questions such as whether or not Du Bois "believed" in God, the psychological and social bases of his belief or unbelief, and how his personal religion changed over time (pp. 15-16)."

"Although Blum successfully makes the point that most historians and biographers have been too eager to depict Du Bois as a dogmatic atheist or agnostic, I am not sure that Blum appreciates why Du Bois has been regarded as an atheist or agnostic. Blum's own analysis indicates the persistent criticisms of religion that Du Bois uttered throughout his long life. Although, he accounts for this by making a few remarks about Du Bois's normative or idealized conception of "true Christianity," I do not think this will persuade most specialists that this is the best way to understand Du Bois's animus against religion as it existed during his lifetime (not as "religion" may have been in some idealized ahistorical realm). At one point, Blum comes close to getting at a better description of Du Bois and his religious sentiments when he briefly notes that Du Bois regularly minimized the supernatural in his reimagining of religion and should therefore be seen as a religious modernist (p. 160). I have always felt that this is a much more fitting description of Du Bois in light of his constant criticisms of black churches for their alleged backwardness and puritanical prohibitions, and his scathing critiques of white churches for their failure to treat blacks fairly.[2] Du Bois's emphasis on ethics at the expense of traditional doctrines and theology places him firmly in the religious modernist or Protestant liberal camp. If Blum had set out to argue that Du Bois was a religious modernist rather than an atheist or agnostic, I think his book would have been richer and this approach would have taken the unnecessary edge off the book in its strong stance against those who reportedly have underappreciated Du Bois's religiosity."

"Attention to Du Bois's literary works, his "religious imagination," and religious sentiments and descriptions expressed by those at his funeral and admirers of his books, while important and enlightening, does not satisfactorily demonstrate that he was a religious prophet (not to mention the problem of gaining any consensus on this ambiguous and highly personal term). After all, religious language and rhetoric are enormously difficult to link to personal behavior and religious practice (as modern-day elections and campaigning clearly indicate)."
This brief critical review seems to me like it sums up the issue very well, and is enough to discredit Blum's agenda as a liberal theocrat.

Finally, here is Blum's autobiographical confession:

Interview with Edward Blum on Du Bois, Posted by Eric Redmond on May 12, 2007.
http://ericredmond.wordpress.com/2007/05/12/16/
Edward Blum: "I grew up in a small white middle-class suburb of New York City where I attended a Presbyterian Church. I was active in the youth group and went to college intending to become a minister. The Christianity of my youth was inspiring. We were taught to think deeply about the sacred; to care about our community and others; we were taught to share the good news. What I did not realize, though, was that we were also being taught, subtly, that the people of God were all white. With all white people in the church and with visual depictions of white angels and Jesus in mass culture, I think I went to college with a subconscious belief that white people and white souls mattered most to God. I would not have said that at the time, but I think it was there. In college – at the University of Michigan – and then in graduate school – at the University of Kentucky – my entire religious view was changed. I encountered women and men of just about every national background, every hue, every persuasion, and I found that they had so much to teach me about God, about community, about justice and injustice, about how the world really was. At that point, I began a new spiritual pilgrimage: to find the faith that had been shielded from me in white suburbia. And, since I was always interested in history, I did so through historical texts. I began with Frederick Douglass, reading his grand personal narratives of slavery and freedom; I moved on to the liberation theology of James Cone and J. Deotis Roberts; I then read white evangelicals like sociologist Michael Emerson who were searching for ways for true racial integration. Then I found Du Bois and my entire mental landscape was opened. He seemed to unlock the doors separating religion and American society. He showed the connections between what and how people practice their faiths and the implications on society. So, in many ways, I am a white man who practices a black-based Christianity; politically, I am a Democrat; I focus on community over individualism; I see the work of God in the marginalized of the nation and of the world."
White liberal guilt explains it all!

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion (2): The Negro Church

The Negro Church: Report of a Social Study Made under the Direction of Atlanta University; Together with the Proceedings of the Eighth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, Held at Atlanta University, May 26th, 1903. Edited by W.E.B. Du Bois, with [new] introduction by Phil Zuckerman, Sandra L. Barnes, and Daniel Cady. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2003. ISBN 0759103283, 9780759103283. 212 pp.

And see this review:

McCowin, David. Review of Bois, W. E. B. Du, ed., The Negro Church: Report of a Social Study Made under the Direction of Atlanta University; Together with the Proceedings of the Eighth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, Held at Atlanta University, May 26th, 1903. H-AmRel, H-Net Reviews. July, 2004.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=9611

Note these extracts from the review:
"The data collected regarding black preachers' conduct was a scathing indictment of church leadership. A typical response, from one of the "Intelligent Colored Laymen" surveyed in Georgia, answered the question "Are the ministers good?" as follows: "Out of ten, three are sexually immoral, one drinks, three are careless in money matters" (p. 64)."

"Du Bois criticized preachers' tendencies to stress preparation for the next life at the expense of the resolution of this life's problems."

"Was Du Bois, then, truly interested in the faith of a people or only the potential for political and social change between the races? In closing, he claimed the former "religious and moral qualities are independent of the eventualities of the race problem; no matter what destiny awaits the race, Religion is necessary either as a solvent or as a salve" (p. 208). However, Du Bois, who by 1903 had abandoned the religious beliefs which characterized his early years, in fact, had little patience for theology and tended to distrust any evidence dealing specifically with faith."

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion (3): Phil Zuckerman & sociology of religion

Du Bois on Religion, edited by Phil Zuckerman. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2000.
ISBN 0742504212, 9780742504219
209 pages

You can find excerpts from this book on google books.
"Phil Zuckerman here gathers together Du Bois's writings on religion, and makes a compelling case for Du Bois to be recognized among the leading sociologists of religion. Du Bois on Religion includes selections from his well-known works such as The Souls of Black Folks to poems, prayers, stories and speeches less widely available. Brief, helpful introductions preface each of the twenty-six selections. Also, a general introduction traces Du Bois's move from church-attending Christian to relentless critic of religion and evaluates Du Bois's contributions to the study of religion. Du Bois on Religion is an important text for sociologists or for anyone interested in the history of race and religion in the United States."
On the surface it's terrific that such an anthology exists. But what is Zuckerman's agenda? Let's look at a couple of reviews.

Newman, Mark. Review: Phil Zuckerman, editor. Du Bois on Religion, Journal of Southern Religion, vol. 7 (2004).

Note that Newman questions Zuckerman's selection process.

Pierce, Yolanda. Review of Zuckerman, Phil, ed., Du Bois on Religion. H-AmRel, H-Net Reviews.
July, 2001. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5301

Pierce notes the contradictory attitudes to religion revealed in Du Bois' corpus. Pierce also criticizes the lack of cohesiveness and support for Zuckerman's selection of material.

To learn more about what Zuckerman is up to, see this article:

Zuckerman, Phil. "The Sociology of Religion of W.E.B. Du Bois," Sociology of Religion, Summer, 2002.

Zuckerman is impressed by Du Bois's primary research and his empirical backing of his claims. He covers the variety of Du Bois's reaction to religion and churches, black and white. Here is the conclusion:
W.E.B. Du Bois's work on religion has, for too long, been ignored. His exclusion from the canon has had significant consequences for the development of the sociology of religion, especially here in the United States. His numerous analyses of black religious sacred group enthusiasm and dramatic emotional ritual (as in the "rock Daniel rock" excerpt quoted earlier) preceded and anticipated Durkheim's theories of "collective effervescence." His exploration of the role of the black church as a safe haven for African Americans in a world of racist segregation/persecution greatly embellishes Freud's understanding of religion as a source of comfort and Weber's focus on theodicy; specifically, religion does not only serve as some sort of "cosmic" or existential balm in the face of life's deep mysteries or questions, but religious institutions can also serve as immediate, everyday, this-worldly sources of communal comfort in the face of everyday oppression.

In sum, what Du Bois wrote on religion was insightful, relevant, and specifically sociological in nature. He should be regarded as the first American sociologist of religion. He employed standard sociological research methods to a degree unparalleled by the canonized classical sociologists of religion. He focused specifically on the important phenomenon of black American religious life, providing landmark contributions in that area. And most importantly, Du Bois stressed the ways in which religious institutions can be recognized as social, communal centers which provide this-worldly rewards and comforts. He implicitly argued that religious involvement need not solely be explained as a quest for cosmic communion or psychological compensation, but as an avenue for communal refuge and social bonding. [ . . . . ]
Note also footnote 2:
It is crucial to highlight that Du Bois died an agnostic, but not an atheist, per se. In 1948, a priest wrote to Du Bois asking him whether or not he believed in God. Du Bois replied: "Answering your letter of October 3, may I say: If by `a believer in God,' you mean a belief in a person of vast power who consciously rules the universe for the good of mankind, I answer No; I cannot disprove this assumption, but I certainly see no proof to sustain such a belief, neither in History not in my personal experience. If on the other hand you mean by 'God' a vague Force which, in some umcomprehensible [sic] way, dominates all life and change, then I answer, Yes; I recognize such Force, and if you wish to call it God, I do not object." (Aptheker 1978:223).
That Du Bois contributed specifically to sociology of religion is not at issue. The question here is, is Zuckerman's agenda strictly an acknowledgment of Du Bois as sociologist, or is it the rehabilitation of Du Bois as a religious thinker? You be the judge.

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion (1): Autobiography

Let's begin at the end:

The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International Publishers, 1968), pp. 285-286.

Google books provides excerpts from this work. If you click on the title, you will get the search results on the keyword 'religion'. If you click on the page numbers, you will find a brief account of
Du Bois' engagement with religion. Or see my web page:

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion

Another excerpt of Du Bois's views constitutes the chapter "On Christianity" in African-American Humanism: An Anthology, edited by Norm R. Allen, Jr. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991; pp. 116-118). This is a commentary on white and black churches, taken from:

Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 1887-1961 by W. E. B. Du Bois, edited by Herbert Aptheker. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.

The web site Daylight Atheism features a summary, quotes, and discussion of The Contributions of Freethinkers: W.E.B. Du Bois.

An abridged version of the autobiographical quote cited above can also be found with a capsule biography as the Freethought of the Day for 23 February.

Here is an invaluable resource for Du Bois studies online:

The W. E. B. Du Bois Global Resource Collection and Directory
http://www.duboisweb.org

Du Bois pronounced himself on this subject in several writings. While usually taken as a secular thinker, Du Bois in recent years has become the victim of theology, reappropriated as a religious thinker. More on this to come.

Monday, April 27, 2009

René Girard: Violence and the Sacred

I never got around to completing my review of:

Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred, translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

Note also that there is a newer book continuing these thematics with contemporary political references:

Jeurgensmeyer, Mark, ed. Violence and the Sacred in the Modern World. London; Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1992. Publisher's description:
This book explores the relationship between symbolic violence and real acts of religious violence with reference to some of the most volatile religious and political conflicts in today's world. These involve the Hizbollah movement in Lebanon, the Sikhs in India, militant Jewish groups in Israel and Muslim movements from the Middle East to Indonesia. The contributors also respond to theoretical issues articulated by René Girard in his well-known book, Violence and the Sacred.
Here are some notes I wrote on Girard's book over the past few years.

* * * * *

Written 14 Jan 2006:

The article on Kant, Bataille, and Sacrifice [by David York] is just idiotic. This shows where francophilia will get you. BTW, Bataille was a member of the College of Sociology in the 1930s; there's an anthology of their writings translated into English. This group had a preoccupation with occult phenomena, ritual, the sacred, etc. Really creepy and in my opinion smacks of crypto-fascism.

If we're going to read French blowhards, I would prefer to engage René Girard's Violence and the Sacred. I've been intrigued by the title for years but have still not read it. There's an interview with Girard you can find online:


In our time, the ideology of sacrifice is the ideology of fascism and reached its apogee with Hitler.

If we are going to apprise irrationalist philosophy in relation to sacrifice and the violence and ignorance that underlies its ideology, we could also examine the major irrationalist philosophers of the modern age, e.g. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Kierkegaard wrote a notorious analysis of
Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, justifying this horrible barbarism. Note also Girard's treatment of Nietzsche.

Written 2 Nov 2007:

I've been keeping up with the new atheist books published this year, but the books that have most penetrated my thinking this year are not new.

The Mind of the Bible-Believer (Edmund G. Cohen)

Primitive Man as Philosopher (Paul Radin)

Violence and the Sacred (René Girard)

[. . . .] I first read Radin over 30 years ago and over the summer I felt the need to re-read it. Radin's goal 80 years ago was to dispel popular and anthropological biases about the cognitive abilities and orientation of "primitive man" to to prove the obvious: the capacity for individual thought, reflection, and criticism. Re-reading it though forced me into an anthropological mode I got out of decades ago. I have not yet finished Girard, having bogged down in his detailed analysis of the Greek classics which I really don't need.

. . . . .

You can't get a complete picture of where Girard is coming from from Violence and the Sacred alone. His colors are fully revealed in his other books. This book is about sacrifice as the origin and motive force of all religion, and sacrifice as a socially controlled deflection from the constant threat of an uncontrolled and uncontrollable escalating cycle of violence feared by humanity from its primitive ancestors onward. He begins with the belief systems and practices of "primitive" cultures and ancient civilizations. He spends several chapters on the ancient Greeks, convinced that critics have entirely misinterpreted the classics.

From all this you would not guess his views on Judaism and Christianity, or the fact that he is a Catholic and that he believes Christianity to be fundamentally different from all other religions, because it introduces a fundamental change into the nature of sacrifice.

You will get a fair summary of Girard's views and criticisms of them in Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rene_Girard

Here you will already get an indication of how despicable Girard is, though there is much to be learned from this one book, and for all I know, from his others.

There are many links from this article alone, but somehow I got hooked up with this interview with René Girard by Markus Müller (Anthropoetics II, no. 1, June 1996):

http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/anthropoetics/AP0201/interv.htm


There is an undertone of vileness in this piece as elsewhere that needs to be elucidated. Some bullet points:

(1) An anti-secular, anti-modern sensibility is at work;

(2) There is a reveling in the debased, violent, essence of man posited here--just the sort of mentality Catholicism thrives upon;

(3) There is no need to conceal the dirty secrets of human motivation; they merely confirm Girard's anti-humanist world-view;

(4) The reading of history is entirely metaphysical and psychological, even biomorphic--there is no real history here, only a mythic history;

(5) and it is combined with typical French intellectual conceits--Nietzcheanism, representation, mimesis--in the most obnoxious manner;

(6) concluding by reasoning about myth alone, that Christianity is fundamentally a mutation of the primordial mythical sacrificial logic rather than its (hypocritical) continuation.

This having been said, there is much to be gained from reading Violence and the Sacred. As a Catholic necrophile, Girard feels no need to conceal the debased violent nature of humanity; he claims that in religion there is no concealment of this at all--it's all right there in the open. There is a dampening of consciousness as to the real nature of sacrifice; indeed, reason is sacrificed in the act of sacrifice. But what seems rationally absurd makes perfect anthropological sense.

From these basic ideas Girard proceeds in endless detail, devoting a huge slice of the book to an analysis of Greek tragedy as an illustration of his ideas and a correction in his eyes of the fundamentally mistaken presuppositions of literary critics and classicists as to the nature of what it's all about.

For my interests, it's way too much detail, and my eyes tend to glaze over, but it is instructive in those moments in which I maintain focus. My interest is in the generalizations Girard articulates from time to time. These are the passages I have noted, and at some point I will type up short quotes which distill all this material into the general principles to be gleaned from it.

* * * * *

This year I've begun a survey of Marxist literature on religion. The Marxist understanding of ideology (esp. as a modern phenomenon) improves upon mainstream atheism, which, except for the appropriation of Darwinism (which excised teleology and natural theology from serious consideration), doesn't seem to have advanced beyond the 18th century. Yet I have my suspicion that the Marxist tradition (I'm excepting anthropology here) is not entirely satisfactory in its treatment of religion. In these excerpts I express my doubts:

Written 7 March 2008:


Last year I read two older books that had an impact on me, The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund G. Cohen and Violence and the Sacred by René Girard. Even religious people today, ignorant and superstitious though they be, still live in a modern world predicated on assumptions quite different from the superstition-saturated environment that forms almost the entire history of the human race, and I think that this goes much deeper than the mechanisms referenced by Feuerbach and Marx, who were after all products of a liberal religious intellectual environment.

Written 13 June 2008:

I think, though, that this Marxian take, which probably follows in the footsteps of Feuerbach and atheized Christianity, erroneously persists in viewing popular religion solely as consolation, and not for what much of it is, a reproduction and intensification of the violence of nature and society which not just the ruling classes but the masses inflict on one another. As disgusting as René Girard's Catholicism is, he has emphasized the intrinsic link between violence and the sacred.

Written 13 July 2008:

I recently got a copy of a Alexander Saxton's Religion and the Human Prospect [. . .] Saxton suggests that Marxists missed the boat on religion for failure to differentiate it from modern ideologies. This is an interesting line I will pursue. After reading Edmund Cohen's The Mind of the Bible-Believer (Prometheus) and René Girard's Violence and the Sacred last year, I concluded that there's a depth of savagery that we moderns tend to forget because we are so acclimated to a technological society in which the world around us is automatically interpreted naturalistically, however bad our religious superstitions are.

Written 30 Dec 2008:

Furthermore, an exclusive class-against-class perspective ignores the multitude of functions and values that religion serves, including interpersonal control within classes, and the continuity of religion which predates not only the current but all manifestations of class society, and is ultimately rooted in primitive magical thinking. The notion of religion as merely the sigh of the oppressed creature and the heart of a heartless world is a limited notion rooted in the trajectory of liberalizing Protestantism. Religion is also rooted in magical thinking intertwined with fear, manipulation, cruelty, and viciousness. The picture of religion one gets from, say, Edmund G. Cohen's The Mind of the Bible-Believer or Rene Girard's Violence and the Sacred is quite less benign than the Feuerbachian picture.

Written 29 March 2009:

Instead, I offer up Edmund G. Cohen's The Mind of the Bible-Believer as an entry point into the demented Christian mentality. And more generally, I suggest René Girard's Violence and the Sacred as an an additional antidote to the whitewashing of religious superstition by religious liberals (among whom I would count religious radicals, who are duplicitous in exactly the same fashion and from the same class standpoint).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roland Boer: Marxist Criticism of the Bible

Boer, Roland. Marxist Criticism of the Bible. London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2003. xii, 265 pp.
ISBN: 0826463274
0826463282 (pbk.)

Extracts provided by Google books:
http://books.google.com/books?id=U--6nb7kKAsC

Contents:
Introduction: why Marxist theory?
Louis Althusser: the difficult birth of Israel in Genesis
Antonio Gramsci: the emergence of the 'prince' in Exodus
Terry Eagleton: the class struggles of Ruth
Henri Lefebvre: the production of space in 1 Samuel
Georg Lukacs: the contradictory world of Kings
Ernst Bloch: anti-Yahwism in Ezekiel
Theodor Adorno: the logic of divine justice in Isaiah
Fredric Jameson: the contradictions of form in the Psalms
Walter Benjamin: the impossible apocalyptic of Daniel
Conclusion: on the question of mode of production.

* * * *

In his introduction, Boer comments on the state of Bible studies and the role of theory within it. Apparently every fashionable theoretical conceit (my language, not Boer's) a la postmodernism is being trotted out these days, with the exception of Marxism, which remains marginalized. It becomes evident that Biblical hermeneutics should be considered a subset of literary criticism, and Marxist approaches merit greater attention.

Marxist studies of the Bible singled out are:

Norman Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh (1999)

Richard Horsley (on the New Testament), ed., Semeia 83/84: The Social World of the Hebrew Bible

Mark Sneed on class (1999)

Simkins on the mode of production (1999)

Gale Yee, Marxist-feminist interpretations of Bible, e.g. Genesis (1999).

The bibliography is not part of the Google preview, so this is the best I can do.

Marxist methods address a number of theoretical problems listed by Boer. Boer then summarizes the chapters to come.

* * * *

Boer reserves his highest praise for Adorno. Yay! Just as Adorno finds untenable paradox in Kierkegaard, Boer finds paradox in the attempt to link divine and social justice,a combination that does not compute. Adorno's technique of immanent critique and the teasing out of truth content which constitute dialectical criticism can serve the necessary cause of demythologization. Boer enumerates the various advantages of dialectical criticism. Adorno is relentless in turning Kierkegaard on his head, and in combating Benjamin's attempts to fuse metaphysics and historical materialism (pure theology would better serve the cause of Marxism!). Boer devotes some detail in analyzing Adorno's critique of Kierkegaard. Adorno finds ideological regression in the very theological premises of Kierkegaard's hermeneutics. Adorno links sacrifice to paradox, where Kierkegaard becomes undone. Sacrifice becomes demonic, and the logical conclusion of belief is nonbelief. Boer takes the example of Isaiah to deploy his interpretive method.

* * * *

There are also extracts from the chapters on Frederic Jameson and Walter Benjamin.

* * * *

It seems to me that there are important lessons to be drawn here, whether or not Boer intends the same lessons as I. Though his bottom-line subjective intentions are not clear to me, these are my priorities that I think Boer's work objectively addresses:

(1) The undermining of the legitimacy of liberation theology along with all other theology.

Marx dispensed with the entire future of liberation theology in advance, in the act of dispensing with Bauer and Feuerbach. Not that Marx preempted the need for further hermeneutical work and criticism on our species' symbolic productions, but that historical materialism is the inversion of myth and a permanent supersession of same. Liberation theology, death-of-God theology, process theology--all of this crap remains entrapped within the self-enclosed world of ideology just as surely as Bauer and Feuerbach were so entrapped. As poetical constructions they may be as good or bad as any other, but as truth claims they are all rotten to the core.

Marxist criticism did of course advance. Its most sophisticated stage is embodied in the work of Adorno and the early Horkheimer, committed to the decoding of idealism into materialism, and betrayed by the both of them in their unfortunately over-influential Dialectic of Enlightenment.

(2) The correction of lapses and misguided presumptions of Marxist tradition on the nature of religion, which, as far as I can tell, takes off from and remains largely guided by its relation to Christianity, not religion in general as it often seems to pretend. Furthermore, the notion of religion--Christianity, for all intents and purposes--as alienated compensation for man's thwarted best instincts is a highly limited view of its underlying violence and barbarism.

(3) A reversal of the decline of critical theory into narcissistic petty-bourgeois academic hack-work and absorption into the current climate of cultural decay and obscurantism, exemplified by postmodernism, and--to the point here--the appalling absorption of the work of the Frankfurt School into theology, a reactionary reversal of its original programme.

Secularism, Utopia & the Discernment of Myth

Boer, Roland. "Secularism, Utopia and the Discernment of Myth," Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 7 (Fall 2005).
http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/secular/boer.htm

Roland Boer has written a number of books and articles on Marxism and religion, and has a blog, too. More on all that later. For the moment, this article . . .

Boer seeks a way to characterize properly the free-lance sensibilities of contemporary "spiritual experience". Four issues to address are: secularism, post-structuralism, utopian possibilities of religion, and the discernment of myths (after Ernst Bloch). I'm guessing that he really meant to write post-secularism rather than post-structuralism.

Post-secularism is manifested by the pervasive practice of asserting that one is spiritual, not religious. In the utopian realm, Boer seeks a shared language of spiritual experiences that do not erase differences. Secularism and post-secularism are inseparable and dialectically related. Contrary to the settled conception of secularization now, the concept was much contested in the 19th century prior to the interventions of Max Weber and Karl Lowith. Considering alternatives to the latter two, Boer begins with Walter Benjamin (The Origin of German Tragic Drama). Boer's description of Benjamin's notion of secularization is unintelligible to me, but it has something to do with the fall of theological/historical time into spatialization and taxonomy, termed "natural history". Benjamin's work reveals that religion has been (tacitly?) equated with Christianity, and secularization effectively equals the negation of Christianity. Religion is often assumed to pertain to the supermundane, supernatural realm, though it has taken on a broader meaning as well. Boer is unclear here, but he mentions anthropological studies and studies of religions outside of Christianity (and Judaism). All the analytical tools brought to bear on non-western non-Christian belief systems are actually secular translations of the categories of Christian religion.

Boer sees something pernicious in this, apparently, but his next move is to shifts to a discussion of Adorno's critiques of Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Key here is that . . .

The language of theology, appropriated by Heidegger and existentialism, has the distinct ideological role of producing patterns of subordination to an absolute authority, which became fascism rather than God and the Church. The theological language of existentialism - which drew its sacredness from the cult of authenticity rather than Christianity – becomes, for Adorno, an ideological schema particularly suited to fascism, for which it functioned not so much as an explicit statement, but as a “refuge,” a mystification that gave voice to an ostensible salvation from alienation that functioned as a virulent justification of oppression, the “smoldering evil” (Adorno 1965, 9) of fascism.
Boer equates this view to a critique of idolatry one can find in Adorno's writings. Proceeding further . . .
Secularization then becomes a process riven with contradictions, one whose rejection of Christianity relies on Christianity, and this, I would suggest, is one of the main reasons for the fact that secularization never quite seemed to succeed . . .
Boer's overall argument doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Mini-arguments here and there do, but the overall structure of the argument doesn't cohere. Here is one piece, though, that is exceptionally lucid, and socially accurate:
The flowering of the myriad forms of religious expression and experience for which the secularization hypothesis could not account is instead described in terms of spirituality, the properly post-secular religion. I don’t want to trace the Christian history of the term “spirituality,” but one of its features is that it relies upon the widespread knowledge of a whole range of religious practices that would not have been possible without the study of religions in the first place, without the endless cataloguing and study of religions from the most ancient, such as Sumeria and Babylon or pre-historic humans, to the most contemporary forms, such as the well-known Heaven’s Gate group that committed suicide, all shod with Nike shoes, when the comet Hale-Bopp appeared on earth’s horizon. Apparently emptied of doctrines to which one must adhere, or of institutions that carefully guard salvation, or of specific groups bound by language and ethnic identity, spirituality enables one to recover lost or repressed practices, such as Wicca or Yoruba sacrifice, but to pick and choose elements that seem to suit individual lifestyles or predilections. It allows one to designate the vitality of indigenous religions (which are no longer religion but spirituality), as a lost source of connectedness with the land, with nature, or other human beings. Unfortunately, however, spirituality’s private piety and devotion comes at the expense of any collective agenda. It also relies on both liberal pluralism and tolerance, as well as the profound reification of social and cultural life that is everywhere around us. You can practice your own particular spirituality in your small corner, as long you don’t bother me, we say. Like secularization, spirituality itself depends upon its own contradiction: both rely upon the religion they reject.
This is a dead-on description of all the upper middle class New Agers I've met in recent years.

Boer next shifts to a discussion of Utopia, taking off from the thought of Ernst Bloch. Again, there's a passage I can't make any sense out of:
What is often forgotten is that the hermeneutics of suspicion and recovery in political approaches such as feminism, post-colonial criticism and liberation theology owe a debt to Bloch. It seems to me that the effort to locate a shared language of “spiritual experience,” one that is sensitive to variations of social, political and cultural difference, relies upon a utopian project in the best sense(s) of the term.
One of Bloch's central insights was not only to discern utopian impulses, but to note that when they include yearning for a lost golden age, their regression has already set in. Utopianism should be future oriented.

The problem with seeking a shared language, as utopian hermeneutics does, is that religions embody mutually exclusive world views. And there is no unmediated experience. Attempts to transcend difference betray origins, as is the case with Rudolph Otto.

Once again, Boer's logic eludes me, but his next move is to seek a unifying principle in myth.
Even more than religion per se, the Enlightenment target of secularization was myth, a term that had acquired an unwieldy cluster of associations: untruth, confusion, fuzzy thinking, the ideology of oppression, and so on. Myth found itself driven from town to town, expelled by the enlightened burghers, only to retreat to the forests and deserts, the realm of Nature, where a few wayward individuals might have some use for it. Faced with the use of myth by the Nazis and other sundry fascists, with their notions of blood and soil and the Blond Beast, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno saw only the negative aspects of the term. For Benjamin, the ultimate form of myth was capitalism, as he traced in The Arcades Project (1999), and so he sought a way beyond myth, a waking from the dream, that made use of biblical motifs. Unfortunately, he remained trapped within the myth of the Bible itself. For Adorno (1999), myth was the antithesis of utopia. Myth was the realm of the unitary principle, the abolition of non-identity that is characteristic of a world dominated by men. For both Adorno and Benjamin, utopia meant the end of myth.
Boer prefers Bloch:
For Bloch, myth is neither pure false consciousness that needs to be unmasked, nor a positive force without qualification. Like ideologies, all myths, no matter how repressive, have an emancipatory-utopian dimension that cannot be separated from deception and illusion. Thus, in the very process of manipulation and domination, myth also has a moment of utopian residue, an element that opens up other possibilities at the very point of failure. Bloch is particularly interested in biblical myth, for the subversive elements in the myths that interest him are enabled by ideologies both repetitious and repressive.
Further down . . .
At his best, Bloch’s discernment of myth is an extraordinary approach, for it enables us to interpret the myths of any religion or spirituality as neither completely reprehensible nor utterly beneficial. That is to say, it is precisely through and because of the myths of dominance and despotism that those of cunning and non-conformism can exist. It is not merely that we cannot understand the latter without the former, but that the former enables the latter.
Two examples from the Bible are given, the first concerning Eden, the second, death.
In the end, then, the value of religions like Christianity is that they have tapped into this utopian desire for something beyond death. Their mistake for Bloch is that they want to say something definite about death. But that something is hardly definite: it is mythology, and for that we need a discerning eye that can see both the liberating and repressive features of those myths.
I find Boer's conclusion most unsatisfactory and downright irritating:
If we follow through the dialectical relationship between secularism and post-secularism - a contradictory logic in which secularism turns out to rely on the Christianity it everywhere denies, a logic that appears starkly in a post-secularism that cannot be thought without secularism - then myth turns out to be the most urgent religious or spiritual question for us. Rather than the problem-ridden term “spirituality”, I have argued that Bloch’s hermeneutics of the discernment of myth provides not only a productive method, but also an approach to the utopian desire that lies behind any effort to find a shared “religious” or “spiritual” language. Such a language needs to be both critical and appreciative, for myths work in an extremely cunning fashion. It is a process that enables on the one hand the identification of those myths, or even elements within a myth, that are oppressive, misogynist, racist, that serve a ruling elite, and on the other, those which are subversive, liberating and properly socialist or even democratic ­ in other words, utopian.
I have a number of objections here, beginning with another instance of a chronic lack of logical clarity. How does Jewish secularism rely on Christianity? Or Indian, or Japanese? Suppose one rejects post-secular ideologies: New Age spirituality, etc.? Then how is myth the most urgent spiritual question, other than to neutralize it? Why should there be a spiritual language at all, shared or not? Why should anything subversive, liberating, or socialist be seen in mythical expressions in the 21st century? There's not an atom of it that is progressive in any way. Myth can only be productively scavenged retrospectively, by those not under its grip. Myth in any form is not adequate to the comprehension of contemporary society. Considering the problem more widely, popular symbology simply can't encapsulate the truth content of the state of our society at this time. Indeed, after the waning of the various countercultures of the 1950s-70s, I see nothing left for popular mythology to do. The good intentions of the past need to be salvaged as well as criticized for their naivete. (I've addressed this with respect to the individual mysticisms of avant-garde jazz musicians.) What myth is alive today needs to be killed off and dissected. In any case, Boer should be more clear and specific about what he's after.

Rosa Luxemburg on socialism & Christianity

The two texts of primary interest are:

An anti-clerical policy of Socialism (1903)
http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1903/01/01.htm

Socialism and the Churches (1905)
http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1905/misc/socialism-churc...

Note this very interesting essay by a prolific scholar of Marxism and religious studies:

Roland Boer, "Socialism, Christianity, and Rosa Luxemborg", Cultural Logic, 2007.
http://clogic.eserver.org/2007/Boer.pdf

Boer finds that there has been too attention paid to the more sensational aspects of leading socialist figures' biographies and often not enough on their actual ideas. Such is the case with the martyred heroine Rosa Luxemburg. One biographer termed her linkage of early Christianity and communism a piece of historical sophistry. Boer is interested in a careful if skeptical examination, focusing on two major concerns:

(1) the political myth of an early Christian communism;
(2) the argument for freedom of conscience with respect to religious matters in the socialist movement.

Luxemburg's interventions were hardly merely historically and theoretically motivated. She had to convince Catholic Polish workers and peasants to ally themselves with the Social Democratic movement. The Catholic Church presented a formidable obstacle to socialism, and the triangulation of the Church in its competition and partial alliances with the bourgeoisie and the lower classes was a difficult one to negotiate. This accounts for the contradictions of Luxemburg's position. Sometimes she takes a straightforward anti-clerical position, but as her main enemy is the bourgeoisie, she at times argues that the clergy should take the side of the workers, but this is really to show the workers whose side they should be on were they true to their professed vocation. Boer finds her moralizing arguments questionable. Jeremiads against greed and selfishness in the abstract do not draw attention specifically to the character of social institutions, and concede too much to the theological language of sin and the metaphysical dichotomy of good and evil.

The preponderant balance of this article is devoted to analyzing Luxemburg's imaginative reconstruction of the early church and its similarity to the social democratic movement. Boer begins with a close reading of statements about the rich and the poor attributed to Jesus in the gospels themselves in comparison to the socialist perspective, looking for as close a match as feasible. The upshot, though, is that the fusion of the two perspectives carries over into the supernatural realm of eternal salvation and damnation, thus establishing a myth.

As for the church, the scenario is that the church of the exploited becomes a church of the exploiters. In reconstructing how this came to be, Luxemburg puts all of the Marxist method at her disposal to analyze the class structure and nature of production and distribution that characterized Roman and thus early Christian society. The transition in the church is attributed to the factor of size; at some point the partial sharing of wealth breaks down with the absenting of the wealthy from the poor communities and the growth of an intermediary clergy. The ascent of Christianity to a state religion sealed the deal, and the church has adapted to the rule of private property ever since. Luxemburg's characterizations of Rome (as driven by corruption) and of the medieval church are overly simplified. Yet this is an imaginative rewriting of history for popular consumption that evokes some admiration.

Curiously, Luxemburg repudiates anti-clericalism as a foundational position for socialism, as anti-clericalism historically is a tool of the bourgeoisie (especially in France). Furthermore, the bourgeoisie is inconsistent, for it never carries out a full-blown program of secularization. It may split the Church for tactical positioning, but will favor some church factions over others, empowering both itself and the church in the end. The bourgeoisie will also seek partial alliances with the working class (against feudalism) in the same manner and with the same objective of consolidating its own power. We end up with a contradiction between anti-clericalism and anti-anti-clericalism in Luxemburg's position, for the reasons described.

The argument for Christian communism is a myth, and while Boer shows skepticism for its veracity, he seems to admire its myth-making capacity, especially in the way that Luxemburg finds the early Church's situation analogous to the perspective of the social democratic movement. Apparently opinion has flipflopped as to whether the early church membership was predominantly poor. With close textual analysis Boer reveals the slip-ups in Luxemburg's argument. Neither Luxemburg nor Engels were the first or last to latch onto this political myth for their own social visions. The problem is, that by positing the original Christian community as a model, the degeneration of that mythical original community becomes mystified theologically as a fall, and the desire to enact a restoration, i.e. to look backward, is utterly reactionary.

Luxemburg, however, partially redeems herself by recognizing the distinction between production and consumption. A communism of consumption (merely distributing what has already been produced under the status quo mode of production) such as Christian communism had to be if it existed, is hardly a viable way to organize society, then, now, or in the future.

Finally, we come to the question of freedom of conscience (of belief and religious practice). Boer finds the notion suspect, because he dislikes the idea of the sacrosanct individual, and of liberalism in general. But he's finally willing to concede there's something in it after all, concluding that "only a fully collective program will enable the full realization of freedom of conscience."

All in all, Boer's analysis is quite illuminating. It is not crystal clear, however, exactly where he's coming from, his critique of political mythmaking notwithstanding. Some of the points he makes strike me as off in some way. Quoting Foucault, worries over essentialism, disdain toward liberal individualism (freedom of conscience) are eccentricities that call out for some suspicion.

It also seems that a punchline is missing. For one needs to ask: what is the state of a movement that requires mythmaking in the first place, and what are its prospects if the masses can only be won over on the basis of irrational appeals? And is the vision of Christianity in fact a savory one in the first place, or is it poison through and through, designed to appeal to self-deception, hypocrisy, and the logic of domination? And there's a more pointed question that Boer should have asked: was a Jewish intellectual like Rosa Luxemburg deluding herself that she could appeal to the better instincts of ignorant anti-Semitic Polish peasants by pandering to their religious mythology?

Roland Boer on Marxism & Religion (1)

I've recently discovered Roland Boer, who has written several books and articles on Marxism, politics, myth, and theology. He also has a blog:

Stalin's Moustache
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/

One blog entry to check out:

Marxism and Religion: A Brief Guide
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2009/02/marxism-and-religion-b...

See also:

Criticism of Religion
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2009/01/criticism-of-religion....

Boer has a 5-volume series on Marxism and religion, titled Criticism of Heaven and Earth: On Marxism and Theology. Here he mentions some figures he writes about:

Lucien Goldmann
Fredric Jameson
Rosa Luxemburg
Karl Kautsky
Julia Kristeva
Alain Badiou
Giorgio Agamben
Georg Lukacs
Raymond Williams

Other blog entries of interest:

Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2008/12/criticism-of-earth-on-...

Political Myth: On the Use and Abuse of a Biblical Theme
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2008/12/i-wrote-most-of-politi...

. . . to which I've added a comment.

Political Grace: The Revolutionary Theology of John Calvin
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2008/12/political-grace-revolu...

Choice Biblical Morsels from Marx and Co.
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2008/11/choice-biblical-morsel...

A Communist Confession of Faith (while we wait for further news on NT Wrong)
http://stalinsmoustache.blogspot.com/2008/11/communist-confession-o...

. . . with comment from me.

Of Boer's articles online, to date I've reported on:

"Secularism, Utopia and the Discernment of Myth"
http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/secular/boer.htm

"Socialism, Christianity, and Rosa Luxemborg"
http://clogic.eserver.org/2007/Boer.pdf

The next article up for review is:

"Terry Eagleton and the Vicissitudes of Christology," Cultural Logic, 2005.
http://clogic.eserver.org/2005/boer.html

. . . and there are more to be discussed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shaw on Ibsenism

The second edition of The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1913) by George Bernard Shaw can easily be found on Google books, e.g. via the link provided here.

However, this is not the most up-to-date edition, so I have provided the Preface to 3rd edition.

I have a few scattered memories from reading this book thirty years ago, most vividly, Shaw's derision of idealism. This cynical remark I remembered comes straight out of this preface.
"He might have thought the demolition of three monstrous idealist empires cheap at the cost of fifteen million idealists' lives."
The second chapter especially, on "Ideals and Idealists," is quite scathing about idealism, i.e. self-deceiving devotion to ideal values contradicted by reality in every instance, with respect to the institution of marriage. In a thought experiment Shaw postulates a community of 1000, out of which there will be 700 Philistines, 299 idealists (domestic failures), and one realist. The realist will be the object of opprobrium of all the rest. The following chapter, on "The Womanly Woman," could not be more scathing in its expose of the reality of gender relations and the social role allocated to women on contrast to the commonly accepted ideological obfuscation of same. Now Shaw is ready to embark on his explication of Ibsen's plays.

I suppose I remember this book as well as I do because I was impressed by Shaw's hard-hitting down-to-earth realism. While he never lost his edge in this respect, Shaw also diluted the realism of some of his plays with mystical nonsense about the "life force". Unless I'm forgetting something, you won't see that in his treatment of Ibsenism. Enjoy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Uppity Adam


Thank you for not littering your mind

Atheist symbols

Looking for a graphic symbol for atheism? First check out "Atheist symbols" at Religious*Tolerance.org.



American Atheists




Empty Set (with variations)




Invisible Pink Unicorn




F***k'in A!

On the page for other non-theistic belief systems--Ethical groups, philosophies, spiritual paths, etc.--you will find:

Unitarian Universalist Symbol

Unitarian-Universalism * * * Universism


And don't forget this venerable religion:



Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

And the symbol for humanism:


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jewish atheist graphics

A picture is worth a thousand words . . .

Symbol of Jewish atheism



Symbol of Christian charity



Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jean Meslier archive

The Marxists Internet Archive has several texts by atheist priest Jean Meslier (1678-1733) collected in a Jean Meslier Archive:

http://marxists.org/history/france/revolution/meslier/index.htm

The latest addition is the Conclusion (1728) to Memoire des Pensées et Sentiments in Oeuvres de Jean Meslier.

Note also a new print publication of the Marxists Internet Archive:

The Great Anger, Ultra-Revolutionary Writing in France from the Atheist Priest to the Bonnot Gang: A collection of texts and essays edited and translated by Mitchell Abidor. Published by Marxists Internet Archive Publications, 2009.

This is available from Erythrós Press and Media Store.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Zen Judaism

The Daodejing /Tao Te Ching was once one of my favorite books. Its minimalism is one aspect of its appeal; you don't really have to believe in anything to relate to it. Daoism is also an institutionalized religion, and as such is quite different from this text taken in abstraction. The other great classic of Daoism taken in abstraction is the Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi in the new transliteration). I was a big fan of this too long ago and far away. Ultimately, the world views inscribed therein have their limitations, but are pretty sophisticated for ancient feudal society.

There is also much that needs to be said about the ideology, politics, and duplicity of intellectual elites of both East and West who have reprocessed and imported the philosophies of India, China, and Japan into the modern West. One could discuss for example, the fascist and Nazi sympathies of Indian gurus, or the participation of Zen Buddhists in Japanese fascism. But more generally, there is the conservatism, smugness, and quietism of the comfortable and well-off that tries to convince us that the world is okey-dokey as is; we just need to change our attitude. People who have suffered, on the other hand, don't tend to see things this way.

* * *

The Tao does not speak.
The Tao does not blame.
The Tao does not take sides.
The Tao has no expectations.
The Tao demands nothing of others.
The Tao is not Jewish.

-- David M. Bader, Zen Judaism: For You, A Little Enlightenment

Trotsky on religion (6): the culture of fascism

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet; fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

SOURCE: From What Is National Socialism? by Leon Trotsky. Written in exile in Turkey, June 10, 1933. Translated from Russian and from German. Appeared in several versions in various journals, first being The Modern Thinker, October 1933. Last two paragraphs of entire essay added as postscript November 2, 1933.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Josh White's "Free & Equal Blues"

If you know your history, you've got giants to stand on and then you can stretch yourself to see farther than the smallness of your environment would have ever permitted you to do. Long before there were occultist Afrocentric crackpots compounding the already lethal mental pollution of the ideological atmosphere, there were clear and rational voices singing out for human dignity and equality. One of those voices was a pioneer of socially conscious folk and blues music, the magnificent Josh White.

Here's a brief biographical recap, courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_White

As I no longer own a turntable, I can't play my old Josh White LPs I collected in the '70s. I'll have to get some CDs, since I haven't yet reached the stage of iPod. Anyway, many years ago, reflecting on a landmark Josh White song, I attempted to transcribe it from the recording, which was not easy given the quality of my stereo, my album, and maybe even the recording itself. Actually, the song can be found in the Josh White Songbook, which is buried who-knows-where in my library. I was impressed by this song because of White's summoning of science to combat racial prejudice. Nowadays you can find almost anything on the Internet. Here's a magnificent essay on Josh White's work including song lyrics, from White biographer Elijah Wald:

"Josh White and the Protest Blues" by Elijah Wald
http://www.elijahwald.com/joshprotest.html

The title of the song is "Free and Equal Blues".

See also Wald's main page on White: Elijah Wald – Josh White: Society Blues.

Another blog that features this song is No Notes, and here is the entry:

Josh White’s "Free and Equal Blues"
http://nonotes.wordpress.com/2006/03/31/josh-whites-free-and-equal-...

See also Markin's American Left History blog:

Free And Equal Blues- The Work Of Josh White
http://markinbookreview.blogspot.com/2009/02/free-and-equal-blues-w...

And don't forget Josh White, Jr.: http://www.joshwhitejr.com/.

What the hell, while I'm at I might as well reproduce the lyrics. But remember, much of it is a talking blues. A few phrases are sung, but most is talking, some decades before rap and even before Oscar Brown Jr.

Free and Equal Blues

I went down to that St. James Infirmary, and I saw some plasma there,
I ups and asks the doctor man, "Say was the donor dark or fair?"
The doctor laughed a great big laugh, and he puffed it right in my face,
He said, "A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing has no race."
And that was news, yes that was news,
That was very, very, very special news.
'Cause ever since that day we’ve had those free and equal blues.
"You mean you heard that doc declare
That the plasma in that test tube there could be
White man, black man, yellow man, red?"
"That’s just what that doctor said."
The doc put down his doctor book and gave me a very scientific look
And he spoke out plain and clear and rational,
He said, "Metabolism is international."
(Chorus)
Then the doc rigged up his microscope with some Berlin blue blood,
And, by gosh, it was the same as Chun King, Quebechef, Chattanooga, Timbuktoo blood
Why, those men who think they’re noble
Don’t even know that the corpuscle is global
Trying to disunite us with their racial supremacy,
And flying in the face of old man chemistry,
Taking all the facts and trying to twist 'em,
But you can’t overthrow the circulatory system.
(Chorus)
So I stayed at that St. James Infirmary.
(I couldn’t leave that place, it was too interesting)
But I said to the doctor, "Give me some more of that scientific talk talk," and he did:
He said, "Melt yourself down into a crucible
Pour yourself out into a test tube and what have you got?
Thirty-five hundred cubic feet of gas,
The same for the upper and lower class."
Well, I let that pass . . .
"Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces"
"You mean that goes for princes, dukeses and countses?"
"Whatever you are, that’s what the amounts is:
Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces; iron, 57 grains."
Not enough to keep a man in chains.
"50 ounces of phosophorus, that’s whether you’re poor or prosperous."
"Say buddy, can you spare a match?"
"Sugar, 60 ordinary lumps, free and equal rations for all nations.
Then you take 20 teaspoons of sodium chloride (that’s salt), and you add 38 quarts of H2O (that’s water), mix two ounces of lime, a pinch of chloride of potash, a drop of magnesium, a bit of sulfur, and a soupÁon of hydrochloric acid, and you stir it all up, and what are you?"
"You’re a walking drugstore."
"It’s an international, metabolistic cartel."

And that was news, yes that was news,
So listen, you African and Indian and Mexican, Mongolian, Tyrolean and Tartar,
The doctor’s right behind the Atlantic Charter.
The doc’s behind the new brotherhood of man,
As prescribed at San Francisco and Yalta, Dumbarton Oaks, and at Potsdam:
Every man, everywhere is the same, when he’s got his skin off.
And that’s news, yes that’s news,
That’s the free and equal blues!

Ralph Ellison & black preachers

Many veterans of the black left of the 1940s were taken by surprise by the upsurge of civil rights activism in the mid-'50s.

Here's a hilarious example from Ralph Ellison. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the fore. Ellison was ambivalent. He was proud of the leadership shown by black ministers, but he was also rather cynical, referring to them as:
" . . .the old steady, mush-mouthed chicken hawk variety, real wrinkle headed bible pounders [who had just] caught some son of a bitch not only stealing the money, but sleeping with all their own private sisters!"
Nevertheless, Ellison was pleased with their success:
"I'm supposed to know Negroes, being one myself, but these moses [slang for black men--RD] are revealing just a little bit more of their complexity. Leader is a young cat [who is] not only a preacher but a lawyer too, probably also a[n] undertaker and an atomic scientist. And they're standing their ground in spite of threats, assassinations, economic reprisal, & destruction of property."
SOURCE: Rampersad, Arnold. Ralph Ellison: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), p. 324.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Trotsky on religion (5): philosophy, literature, family, morality, Britain, miscellany

Here is a diverse selection of other interesting material I have found.

From Trotsky's memoirs (scattered references):

My Life (1930)

On literature:

Leon Trotsky, "Tolstoy, Poet and Rebel" (Written on Tolstoy’s Eightieth Birthday, September 1908), translated by John G. Wright, Fourth International, Vol. 12, No. 3, May-June 1951.

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924),translated by Rose Strunsky.

In previous posts I cited chapters 1, 5, and 8. See also:

Chapter 2: The Literary “Fellow-Travellers” of the Revolution

On Nicolat Kliuev:

It is unclear whether he himself believes or does not believe. His God suddenly spits blood and the Virgin Mother gives herself to some Hungarian for a few yellow pieces. All this sounds like blasphemy, but to exclude God from the Kliuev household, to destroy the holy corner where the light of the lamp shines on silver and gilded frames – to such destruction he does not consent. Without the lamp, everything is unfulfilled.

On Boris Pilnyak:

To accept the workers’ Revolution in the name of a high ideal means not only to reject it, but to slander it. All the social illusions which mankind has raved about in religion, poetry, morals or philosophy, served only the purpose of deceiving and blinding the oppressed. The Socialist Revolution tears the cover off “illusions”, off “elevating”, as well as off humiliating deceptions and washes off reality’s make-up in blood. The Revolution is strong to the extent to which it is realistic, rational, strategic and mathematical. Can it be that the Revolution, the Same one which is now before us, the first since the earth began, needs the seasoning of romantic outbursts, as a cat ragout needs hare sauce? Leave that to the Bielys. Let them chew to the very end the Philistine cat ragout with Anthroposophic sauce.

On the rustic or peasant-singing writers:

Not so long ago Chukovsky urged Alexey Tolstoi to reconcile himself with revolutionary Russia or with Russia, regardless of the Revolution. And Chukovsky’s main argument was that Russia is the same as she always was, and that the Russian peasant will not exchange his ikons or his roaches for any historical gingerbread. Chukovsky evidently feels that in this phrase there is a very large sweep of the national spirit and an evidence of its ineradicability. The experiment of the brother-housekeeper in the monastery who passed out a roach in the bread for a raisin is extended by Chukovsky to all Russian culture. The roach as the “raisin” of the national spirit! What a low national inferiority this is in fact, and what a contempt for a living people! It would be well enough if Chukovsky himself believed in ikons. But no, he does not, for if he did he would not be mentioning them in the same breath with roaches, though in the village hut the roach hides willingly behind the ikon. But as Chukovsky has his roots entirely in the past, and as his past in its turn maintained itself on the moss-covered and superstitious peasant, Cbukovsky makes the old national roach that lives behind the ikon the reconciling principle between himself and the Revolution. What a shame and a disgrace! What a disgrace and a shame! These intellectuals studied their books (on the neck of that same peasant), they scribbled in magazines, they lived through various “eras”, they created “movements”, but when the Revolution came in earnest, they found refuge for the national spirit in the darkest corner of the peasant but where the roach lives.

* * *

In Blok the revolutionary tendency is expressed in the finished verse:
At Holy Russia let’s fire a shot.
At hutted Russia
Thick-rumped and solid,
Russia, the stolid,
Eh, eh, unhallowed, unblessed.
The Twelve
The break with the Seventeenth Century, with the Russia of the peasant hut, appears to the mystic Blok as a holy affair, even as a state for the conciliation with Christ. In this archaic form the thought is expressed that the break is not imposed from without, but is the result of national development and corresponds to the profoundest needs of the people. Without this break, the people would have rotted away.

On Marietta Shaginyan:
Shaginyan’s benevolent and even “sympathetic” attitude toward the Revolution, as is now evident, has its source in the most unrevolutionary, Asiatic, passive, Christian and non-resistant point of view. Shaginyan’s recently published novel, Our Destiny, serves as an explanatory note to this point of view. Here all is psychology, and transcendental psychology at that, with roots that go off into religion. There is character “in general”, spirit and soul, destiny noumenal and destiny phenomenal, psychologic riddles throughout, and to make the piling up of all this seem not too monstrous, the novel takes place in a sanatorium for psychopathics. There is the very splendid professor, a most keen-minded psychiatrist, who is also the noblest husband and father, and a most unusual Christian; the wife is a little simpler, but her union with her husband in sublimation to Christ, is complete; the daughter tries to rebel, but later humiliates herself in the name of the Lord; a young psychiatrist, in whose name the story is told, is entirely in accord with this family. He is intelligent, soft and pious. There is a technician, with a Swedish name, who is unusually noble, good, wise in his simplicity, aU.forbearing and submissive to Cod. There is the priest Leonid, unusually keen, unusually pious, and, of course, according to his avocation submissive to God. And all about them are crazy and half-crazy people, by whom on the one hand is revealed the understanding and profundity of the professor, and, on the other hand, the necessity of obeying God, who did not succeed in building a world without crazy people. There is another young psychiatrist, who comes here as an atheist, and of course also submits to God. These heroes discuss among themselves whether the professor recognizes the devil, or whether he considers evil impersonal, and they are inclined to get along without the devil. On the cover is written, 1923, Moscow and Petrograd! What wonders in a sieve – truly!
Shaginyan’s keen-minded, good and pious heroes do not call forth sympathy, but complete indifference, which at moments passes into nausea. And this is so, in spite of the fact that a clever author is evident, for all the cheap language and all too provincial humor. There is falseness even in Dostoievsky’s pious and submissive figures, for one feels that they are strangers to the author. Be created them in large degree as an antithesis to himself, because Dostoievsky was passionate and bad-tempered in everything, even in his perfidious Christianity. But Shaginyan seems really to be good, though with a domestic goodness only. She has enclosed the abundance of her knowledge and her extraordinary psychological penetration in the framework of her domestic point of view. She herself recognizes it, and speaks of it openly. But the Revolution is not at all a domestic event. That is why Shaginyan’s fatalistic submission is so strikingly incongruous to the spirit and meaning of our times. And that is why her very wise and pious people, if you will forgive the word, stink of bigotry.
In her literary diary, Shaginyan speaks of the necessity of struggling for culture everywhere and always; if people blow their noses into their five fingers, teach them the use of the handkerchief. This is correct, and strikes a bold note, especially today when, for the first time, the real bulk of the people are beginning consciously to reconstruct culture. But the semi-illiterate proletarian who is unused to the handkerchief (having never owned one), who has done with the idiocy of divine commandments once and for all, and who is seeking a way for the building of correct human relationships, is infinitely more cultured than those educated reactionaries (of both sexes) who blow their noses philosophically into their mystic handkerchief, and who complicate this unaesthetic gesture by the most complex artistic tricks, and by stealthy and cowardly borrowings from science.
Shaginyan is anti-revolutionary in her very essence. It is her fatalistic Christianity, her household indifference to everything that is not of the household, that reconciles her to the Revolution. She has simply changed her seat from one car into another, carrying with her hand baggage and her philosophic artistic handwork. It may possibly seem to her that she has retained her individuality more surely this way. But not a single thread points upward from this individuality.
Chapter 4: Futurism
Futurism is against mysticism, against the passive deification of nature, against the aristocratic and every other kind of laziness, against dreaminess, and against lachrymosity – and stands for technique, for scientific organization, for the machine, for planfulness, for will power, for courage, for speed, for precision, and for the new man, who is armed with all these things. The connection of the aesthetics “revolt” with the moral and social revolt is direct; both enter entirely and fully into the life experience of the active, new, young and untamed section of the intelligentsia of the left, the creative Bohemia. Disgcust against the limitations and the vulgarity of the old life produces a new artistic style as a way of escape, and thus the disgust is liquidated. In different combinations, and on different historic bases, we have seen the disgust of the intelligentsia form more than one new style. But that was always the end of it.
Chapter 6: Proletarian Culture and Proletarian Art
All science, in greater or lesser degree, unquestionably reflects the tendencies of the ruling class. The more closely science attaches itself to the practical tasks of conquering nature (physics, chemistry, natural science In general), the greater is its non-class and human contribution. The more deeply science is connected with the social mechanism of exploitation (political economy), or the more abstractly it generalizes the entire experience of mankind (psychology, not in its experimental, physiological sense but in its so-called “philosophic sense"), the more does it obey the class egotism of the bourgeoisie and the less significant is its contribution to the general sum of human knowledge. In the domain of the experimental sciences, there exist different degrees of scientific integrity and objectivity, depending upon the scope of the generalizations made. As a general rule, the bourgeois tendencies have found a much freer place for themselves in the higher spheres of methodological philosophy, of Weltanschauung. It is therefore necessary to clear the structure of science from the bottom to the top, or, more correctly, from the top to the bottom, because one has to begin from the upper stories. But it would be naive to think that the proletariat must revamp critically all science inherited from the bourgeoisie, before applying it to Socialist reconstruction. This is just the same as saying with the Utopian moralists: before building a new society, the proletariat must rise to the heights of Communist ethics. As a matter of fact, the proletariat will reconstruct ethics as well as science radically, but he will do so after he will have constructed a new society, even though in the rough. But are we not traveling in a vicious circle? How is one to build a new society with the aid of the old science and the old morals? Here we must bring in a little dialectics, that very dialectics which we now put so uneconomically into lyric poetry and into our office bookkeeping and into our cabbage soup and into our porridge. In order to begin work, the proletarian vanguard needs certain points of departure, certain scientific methods which liberate the mind from the ideologic yoke of the bourgeoisie; it is mastering these; in part has already mastered them. It has tested its fundamental method in many battles, under various conditions. But this is a long way from proletarian science. A revolutionary class cannot stop its struggle, because the Party has not yet decided whether it should or should not accept the hypothesis of electrons and ions, the psycho-analytical theory of Freud, the new mathematical discoveries of relativity, etc. True, after it has conquered power, the proletariat will find a much greater opportunity for mastering science and for revising it. This is more easily said than done. The proletariat cannot postpone Socialist reconstruction until the time when its new scientists, many of whom are still running about in short trousers, will test and clean all the instruments and all the channels of knowledge. The proletariat rejects what is clearly unnecessary, false and reactionary, and in the various fields of its reconstruction makes use of the methods and conclusions of present-day science, taking them necessarily with the percentage of reactionary class-alloy which is contained in them. The practical result will justify itself generally and on the whole, because such a use when controlled by a Socialist goal will gradually manage and select the methods and conclusions of the theory. And by that time there will have grown up scientists who are educated under the new conditions. At any rate, the proletariat will have to carry its Socialist reconstruction to quite a high degree, that is, provide for real material security and for the satisfaction of society culturally before it will be able to carry out a general purification of science from top to bottom.

* * *
It is not accidental that the poetry of small circles falls into the flat romanticism of “Cosmism” when it tries to overcome its isolation. The idea here approximately is that one should feel the entire world as a unity and oneself as an active part of that unity, with the prospect of commanding in the future not only the earth, but the entire cosmos. All this, of course, is very splendid, and terribly big. We came from Kursk and from Kaluga, we have conquered all Russia recently, and now we are going on towards world revolution. But are we to stop at the boundaries of “planetism”! Let us put the proletarian hoop on the barrel of the universe at once. What can be simpler? This is familiar business: we’ll cover it all with our hat!
Cosmism seems, or may seem, extremely bold, vigorous, revolutionary and proletarian. But in reality, Cosmism contains the suggestion of very nearly deserting the complex and difficult problems of art on earth so as to escape into the interstellar spheres. In this way Cosmism turns out quite suddenly to be akin to mysticism. It is a very difficult task to put the starry kingdom into one’s own artistic world, and to do this in some sort of a conative way, not only in a contemplative, and to do this quite independently of how much one is acquainted with astronomy. Still, it is not an urgent task. And it seems that the poets are becoming Cosmists, not because the population of the Milky Way is knocking at their doors and demanding an answer, but because the problems of earth are lending themselves to artistic expression with so much difficulty that it makes them feel like jumping into another world. However, it takes more than calling oneself a Cosmist to catch stars from heaven, especially as there is so much more interstellar emptiness in the universe than there are stars. Let them beware lest this doubtful tendency to fill up the gaps in one’s point of view and in one’s artistic work with the thinness of interstellar spaces, lead some of the Cosmists to the most subtle of matters, namely, to the Holy Ghost in which there are quite enough poetic dead bodies already at rest.
On the British Labour Movement:

Leon Trotsky, Problems of the British Revolution (1926, essay collection).

H. N. Brailsford, Introduction to the English Edition of Where is Britain Going?

Russell, Bertrand. "Trotsky on Our Sins," The New Leader, 26th February 1926.

Dutt, R. Palme. "Trotsky and His English Critics," Labour Monthly, Vol. VIII, No. 4, April 1926.

On women & the family in the USSR:

Trotsky on women & the family (essay collection)

On Stalinist Anti-Semitism:

Leon Trotsky. "Thermidor and Anti-Semitism" (22 February 1937), The New International, Vol. VII, No. 4, May 1941.

On morality & natural right:

Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism (1920), Chapter 3: Democracy
If we look back to the historical sequence of world concepts, the theory of natural law will prove to be a paraphrase of Christian spiritualism freed from its crude mysticism. The Gospels proclaimed to the slave that he had just the same soul as the slave-owner, and in this way established the equality of all men before the heavenly tribunal. In reality, the slave remained a slave, and obedience became for him a religious duty. In the teaching of Christianity, the slave found an expression for his own ignorant protest against his degraded condition. Side by side with the protest was also the consolation. Christianity told him:– ”You have an immortal soul, although you resemble a pack-horse.” Here sounded the note of indignation. But the same Christianity said:– ”Although you are like a pack-horse, yet your immortal soul has in store for it an eternal reward.” Here is the voice of consolation. These two notes were found in historical Christianity in different proportions at different periods and amongst different classes. But as a whole, Christianity, like all other religions, became a method of deadening the consciousness of the oppressed masses.
Natural law, which developed into the theory of democracy, said to the worker: “all men are equal before the law, independently of their origin, their property, and their position; every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the people.” This ideal criterion revolutionized the consciousness of the masses in so far as it was a condemnation of absolutism, aristocratic privileges, and the property qualification. But the longer it went on, the more it sent the consciousness to sleep, legalizing poverty, slavery and degradation: for how could one revolt against slavery when every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the nation?
Leon Trotsky, "Their Morals and Ours," The New International, Vol. IV, No.6, June 1938, pp. 163-173.

Leon Trotsky, "Moralists and Sycophants Against Marxism: Peddlers of Indulgences and Their Socialist Allies, or the Cuckoo in a Strange Nest" (9 June 1939), New International, Vol. 5, No. 8, August 1939, New York, pp. 229-233.
These gentlemen have a system of their own, and they are not ashamed to defend it. They stand for absolute morality, and above all for the butcher Franco. It is the will of God. Behind them stands a Heavenly Sanitarian who gathers and cleans all the filth in their wake. It is hardly surprising that they should condemn as unworthy the morality of revolutionists who assume responsibility for themselves. But we are now interested not in professional peddlers of indulgences but in moralists who manage to do without God while seeking to put themselves in His stead.
* * * *
If Victor Serge’s attitude toward problems of theory were serious, he would have been embarrassed to come to the fore as an “innovator” and to pull us back to Bernstein, Struve and all the revisionists of the last century who tried to graft Kantianism onto Marxism, or in other words, to subordinate the class struggle of the proletariat to principles allegedly rising above it. As did Kant himself, they depicted the “categoric imperative” (the idea of duty) as an absolute norm of morality valid for everybody. In reality, it is a question of “duty” to bourgeois society. In their own fashion, Bernstein, Struve, Vorländer had a serious attitude to theory. They openly demanded a return to Kant. Victor Serge and his compeers do not feel the slightest responsibility towards scientific thought. They confine themselves to allusions, insinuations, at best, to literary generalizations ... However, if their ideas are plumbed to the bottom, it appears, that they have joined an old cause, long since discredited: to subdue Marxism by means of Kantianism; to paralyze the socialist revolution by means of “absolute” norms which represent in reality the philosophical generalizations of the interests of the bourgeoisie true enough, not the present-day but the defunct bourgeoisie of the era of free trade and democracy. The imperialist bourgeoisie observes these norms even less than did its liberal grandmother. But it views favorably the attempts of the petty-bourgeois preachers to introduce confusion, turbulence and vacillation into the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat. The chief aim not only of Hitler but also of the liberals and the democrats is to discredit Bolshevism at a time when its historical legitimacy threatens to become absolutely clear to the masses. Bolshevism, Marxism – there is the enemy!