The Religious Content of Communism

Written by Jonathan Moss

Raising_of_the_Cross_Peter_Paul_Rubens_Louvre

Contrary to the myth of “scientific socialism”, communism is an essentially religious movement. This is not meant in the sense that communists are religious, or that communism follows a religion, though obviously there are dialectical parallels with Christianity, which will be explored in this essay, and dissolved. This is also not meant to suggest that communism replaces religion in the communists life, though once again this can be true. No, what this means is that communism is itself a religion, and the completion of communism is a religious act. This is why the statement “communism is the real movement that abolishes the present state of things” is not nihilistic, as I have seen it crudely described as, rather this statement is a statement of the divine, analogous to how death in Christianity leads to heaven. Or hell.

This is not to deny that communism is traditionally seen as an atheistic movement. Certainly Marx, in which communism finds its materialist basis, posited it as an atheistic movement, saying “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo”, meaning of course that the critique of religion is senseless without the critique and sublation of capitalism into communism, that religion serves a numbing roll as the “opium” of the people who are alienated by capitalism. This helps us to see how communism itself can be understood as a religion, if christianity is a passive one with a revolutionary past then communism is an active one with a revolutionary future. This statement is a tad undialectical of course, as Christianity is still capable of revolution, as shown by liberation theology, and communism has a revolutionary past as well, and one of failure. So, the truth content of the statement is muddled, but it is catchy.  

Christianity is founded on an idealist basis. God created the universe and the universe cannot exist without him. This is in contrast to the materialist basis fo Marxism. However, Marxism has never been materialist in the way the term it has been traditionally understood, it says nothing on what the universe is made out of, that is not our concern. Instead, the materialism of Marxism is used to dialectically explore the workings of history, and has since been applied to other things, including, in an attempt to render Marxism positivist, nature, as done by Friedrich Engels. This materialism owes far more to idealism than anything positivistic, and, outside of particularly dogmatic orthodox marxists, most will admit that Marxian Materialism does exist in a dialectic with idealism, otherwise it is unlikely Marx would have said anything like: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”. So, it is in this dialectic in which communism can be further understood religiously, in which it meets with Christianity as a materialistic version of it, sharing to make the utopia of Christianity a reality, and root the morality of Christianity in a fluid and fractured human nature, rather than one which suggests anything like original sin. The abstraction of heaven is made concrete in history, for it the the in economic laws and the agency of the proletariat in history that will result in communism.

Christianity is dogmatic, and Marxism, with its dialectical basis, is not. Whilst of course many Marxists have became dogmatic, Marxism is itself simply dialectical materialism, it is exploratory and enquiring. I can’t put it better than Georg Lukacs, who said: “orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders.” So, Marxism has no ten commandments, and it has no God. Marx of course has been shown to have got things wrong, and Engels, though important and his legacy secure, did Marxism a disservice in his positivism.

To go back to a previous train of thought, just like materialism and idealism have to fundamentally be understood as a dialectic so can christianity and atheism be understood likewise. Indeed a pure atheism negates too much, it is a destructive positivism. Christianity is built on the the most probably false premise of a God, but this does not mean that the faith of Christianity cannot be seen as inspiring, and Jesus Christ as an admirable figure. The extent to which religion will be needed during communism- if indeed communism is reached- is debatable, but right now it serves something of a positive force and as Marx pointed out cannot be abolished until the conditions that make it necessary are. Atheism negates the central truth of Christianity, but this truth is sublated in Christian morality and Christ himself, in turn negating the bourgeoisie scientism of atheism, and while marxism and christianity are generally in contradiction, their positive elements continue to mediate and negate each other in the promise of communism, and until communism is completed this process will go on.

It must be said though, it is quite hard to believe in communism currently. Almost as hard as it is to believe in christianity. Certainly the communism of the 20th century, though not nearly as deserving as the scorn its had thrown at it by anti-communists, did ultimately end up in failure. Communism was not built, at the most a feeble socialism was created. This is entirely due to the failure of world revolution, which is integral to the success of communism, an internationalist movement. And now, in an age where capitalism is showing its failures at a rapid rate, and people still see social democracy as too left wing, the advent of communism seems unlikely. Simply put, the totality of capitalism has succeeded in its reification, in its rationalisation of everything. The administered world is a hard world to put up with, but it is one many people have accepted, scowling at the idea that anything else is possible, not realising the conditions that have created it, not realising that the world was once different and can be so again, thinking it is a natural world and not a created one. The concept of reification itself has religious parallels, for Christianity also points out that this world is not the world as it is. In response to this, nihilism does seem healthy, but a materialist nihilism. Life does not need to be meaningless, but capitalism has rendered it so. But, in an attempt to take something positive, to add idealism to the nihilism, some remnants of the Christian faith are preserved, its morality, the piety, and penance. This is what I have taken to calling Christian Nihilism, a dialectical joke whilst also being the most accurate description of any genuine religious view under capitalism.

Communism definitely remains the goal though, and if this goal is conceived religiously rather than “scientifically” the Kierkegaardian idea of the leap of faith can be introduced. This is not to say there aren’t concrete reasons to believe in the possibility of communism, the material basis is certainly there, and capitalism is degenerating to the point that it certainly will not continue within our century. But the proletariat has been made thoroughly jaded as to the possibility of communism, as elaborated in the last paragraph. However, to elaborate further, it can be said that one of the biggest achievements of capitalism has been to build itself on a revolution and subsequently convince people that revolution is futile. So, although the objective conditions for communism are there, the subjective conditions are not. One must take the leap of faith, believe that the objective conditions will eventually inspire the subjective realisation of the objective, to believe in spite of it all, that communism will prevail. This is a metaphysical view, but not one without a materialist basis, as demonstrated previously in the paragraph. It can once again be understood as the dialectic that unites idealism and materialism, as without this dialectic both are vulgar.

This is how communism can be understood religiously. I am of course not the first person to think of socialism in this way, a kindred spirit was found in Joseph Dietzgen in his essay “The Religion of Social-Democracy”. This essay was conceived before reading Dietzgen and his discovery made me rather downcast initially, however, the differences soon became clear. Like Marx, Dietzgen was not able to free himself from positivism, and this leads him to adopt a crude anti-religious viewpoint, wherein socialism is undialectically conceived as a replacement for religion, based on the astute observation that humans need a system. This is contrasted with this essay, which is an attempt to show that christianity and communism are essentially one and the same, in a dialectic of idealism and materialism. Nonetheless, Dietzgen’s essay is a masterpiece of socialist theory and the way my own work developed would not be possible without a close reading of it.

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From Enlightenment to Neoliberalism

Written by Jonathan Moss

Execution of Marie Antoinette on October 16

The Enlightenment brought many values to Western society, but for the sake of simplicity I will concentrate on the triad of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. These are of course abstract values and thus had dual appeal to Liberals and Radicals. In practice they became the slogan of the French Revolution which, combined with the Industrial Revolution, was a revolution of the bourgeoisie. This isn’t to say it wasn’t progressive, with capitalism easily being preferable to feudalism, and indeed being the next stop from it towards the road of socialism. So the slogan can be seen as twofold at this point, on one hand as abstract ideals and on the other as the justification for capitalism and liberalism, with the ideals providing this justification.

At this point these ideals became reified, though in a dialectical turn they still served as an abstract motto for humanistic marxists and anarchists as a goal still to be reached, with liberalism obviously failing to do so in a manner in which was anything more than superficial.

However this is where the reality of the capitalist mode of economy set in. As soon the progressive character of capitalism wore off and what remained was a dehumanising totality which was extremely oppressive to the proletariat it created. A new form of capitalism also emerged, one called neoliberalism, named after its so-called relationship to the classical liberalism of the enlightenment, in contrast to social liberalism which was seen as a socialist deviation of it. So, since Neoliberalism tacitly places itself as the heir to The Enlightenment, it seems fair to analyse it in relationship to the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

So, in a dialectical hypocrisy, neoliberalism upholds enlightenment values whilst not believing them itself, like a functionalist who preaches Christianity for the masses whilst personally holding religious belief to be idiotic. This is best demonstrated with freedom and equality. Neoliberal ideologues argue that freedom and equality are in contradiction and freedom must be prioritised over equality. This produces another interesting hypocrisy where they argue that freedom will lead to equality. So freedom and equality are in opposition, but not really, we just prefer freedom, is what they seem to say. It is obvious that “freedom” in this case  means the freedom of the bourgeoisie, the freedom for the capitalist boss to do what he will, with the proletariat being nothing but a cog. But this is only a momentary injustice, as it is argued that since capitalism is based on competition any member of the working class can start their own business. So, according to this schema freedom does in fact lead to equality, the equality of business. Even ignoring the argument that the structure of capitalism requires a surplus of workers, the argument ignores the monopoly structure of capitalism, with any small business being started likely being trampled by big conglomerates. This is not what is assumed by the enlightenment slogan, where rather freedom and equality were seen as components of the same totality, if all humans are equal- and not just equal before the market- they will have the freedom to do what they want. This of course has communistic implications and thus cannot be supported.

Fraternity is forgotten altogether, replaced by an atomistic individuality culminating in Thatcher’s maxim “there is no such thing as society”. This slogan of course when examined completely negates the enlightenment, which although based on a certain level of individualism did not reach the frankly nihilisticThatcher, and of course had a communitarian current as best exemplified by the works of Rousseau, and a humanist one shared by most. The slogan represented no abstract ideal and was a thinly veiled justification for the harsh policies Thatcher and the conservative government carried out against the poor. This goes against the radical-democratic impulse of the enlightenment where people really were seen as equal and a public sphere where debate went on and the free press was pioneered. This isn’t to romanticise it, all of this was heavily bourgeoisie and quite exclusionary towards the proletariat and women. However it does help to illustrate that an attempt at fraternity was made, and this stands heavily in contrast with the individualism of neoliberalism. Perhaps it helps to use one example of how individualism didn’t go that far even amongst the individualist side of the enlightenment, with the economist Adam Smith advocating government intervention for businesses which were not fair towards the proletariat they hired. The idea of a social contract was also prevalent, showing that people were generally keen on a way to hold society together. So, it can perhaps be debated out of the triad fraternity is most neglected, and yet in another dialectical hypocrisy it is argued that focusing solely on the individual will ultimately make a happy society, ignoring the inequalities inherent to the system.

One can debate the extent to which the enlightenment lived up to its own principles, as the enlightenment was the making of white bourgeois males subject to the many prejudices of their class, race, and sex. That’s not to say there wasn’t a working class element and a feminist element to the enlightenment, but this base had little influence in the superstructure created by enlightenment. So the point of the essay is not to completely defend the enlightenment, there have been plenty of relevant critiques of it made, coming from philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, amongst others. If the Enlightenment project is to continue it will have to do so in a reformulated form based on these critiques, otherwise it will lose its radicalism, as it currently doing. This isn’t to postulate that neoliberalism is a legitimate heir to enlightenment, but that the dialectic of enlightenment could and did lead to neoliberalism. The Enlightenment, despite being presented as a monolithic in current liberal media against another monolith, postmodernism, with the former being completely good and the latter completely bad. Despite this The Enlightenment- like postmodernism- is not a monolith and its conservative elements did lead to neoliberalism. This does not negate the basic principles of the enlightenment as demonstrated with the triad of liberty, equality, fraternity are essentially correct and though abstract, are worth fighting for, even if it means fighting against the people who ostensibly hold these principles up. These abstractions can be mediated and made concrete through the completion of the socialist project.

One can argue that it is the abstractness of the principles which led to their downfall. They served as admirable goals to fight for in order to secure a better order, but once this order was established the enlightenment and its principles were rationalised. From noble principles they are transformed into a mundane and reified reality. In the process of rationalisation they are forgotten altogether, and so contemporary political liberalism is a liberalism without the liberalism. Instead a kind of careerism becomes the norm, politics is revealed as business, having an underlying philosophy is seen as extremist, against a false pragmatism which negates itself. But true to functionalism, for the sake of the people these values are still promoted in some forms, such as media. People after all still need something to believe in and in a post-secular age God will not do entirely. So like the liberalism without liberalism we have an enlightenment without enlightenment, the values put out on display when necessary and the french revolution taught as an important epoch of humanism and liberalism, but none of it truly believed. It is reified into an almost sort of false consciousness. The most important thing taught is that under our liberal democracies you can succeed and for this to happen you need to work for it.

As I have said previously in this essay, such an idea of a democratic meritocracy is not the case. Due to the racism and sexism of the capitalist system, in conjunction of its monopoly form, most people do not succeed under it, and instead remain alienated under the means of production. However the bourgeoisie is able to pump out enough rags to riches stories in order to maintain its hegemony. The false enlightenment of neoliberalism is able to keep itself stable enough so that generally people have enough hope under it.

I’d argue though that recently this has changed, and such a change is evident based on our current political climate. Due to the amount of crises’ and the terrible state of the economy the neoliberals are no longer able to honestly promise success under enlightenment, and take a turn towards an honest but dangerous pessimism. Theoretically this should be something of a good thing, people realise the false illusions of the capitalist system and agitate for a system that can actually fulfil its promises. However, here the process of rationalisation comes in, people associate these sublimated principles with the enlightenment itself and so do not just turn against neoliberalism but the enlightenment as a whole, including its genuinely progressive values.

This has lead in turn to a resurgence in fascist ideology, as best demonstrated by the success of Donald Trump in America and the prevalence of fascist political parties in several European countries, along with the “alt-right” movement. All of these movements arose in opposition to the philosophy of neoliberalism, even as they promised people the same things neoliberalism did. Despite this fascism is an authoritarian, racist, exclusionary ideology2 thus going against at least the enlightenment progressive, egalitarian current. And whilst the promises of neoliberalism are promised, they are not promised on enlightenment values but are instead founded on the premise that western civilisation is degenerate, being attacked by feminists, communists, multiculturalists, and political correctness.

In order to fight fascism on an ideological level one of the things necessary to do is to bring the Enlightenment back in its radicalised form, to somehow unreify it, especially the slogan “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and thus separate it from neoliberal dogma. Hopefully this essay has opened possibilities of showing how this can be done and hence why, despite its problems, the project of Enlightenment is worth fighting for and Fascism seen as an anti-enlightenment ideology.

  1. No offence to nihilism, which as a philosophy is fairly interesting.
  2. As nationalism was something pioneered by the french revolution it can be argued to what extent fascism can actually trace its lineage back to enlightenment. However as we are going for a dialectic understanding of enlightenment we can say nationalism, like capitalism, was at this point genuinely progressive, and like capitalism served its purpose, thus becoming reactionary.

Communication under Capitalism

Written by Jonathan Moss

Brick-Lane-Clifton-Cafe

Karl Marx shows in the first volume of Capital that the proletariat is economically exploited via the bourgeoisie pocketing the surplus value produced. The proletariat is quite literally robbed.

It is important to mention this because while this is the prime way in which the proletariat is robbed, it is not the only way, and not the most visible way. Capitalism robs us artistically, socially, intellectually, it steals our time, being a totality dedicated to its own reproduction. One of the other forms of robbery is our communication, the way we converse. This is what this essay will be exploring. Unfortunately most of the essay cannot be empirically verified, being based more on the author’s observations and experiences. But I trust that it will ring true amongst most readers of it.

Conversation under this epoch of capitalism is, to use one of Marx’s older ideas, alienated. Whilst is is extremely unlikely there has been such a thing as pure communication, with language always serving a practical purpose, we can still posit an abstract ideal in which communication serves a form in which communication is a form of play, employing linguistic ambiguities, delighting in joke, conversing on philosophy and love, amongst other things. The central idea is that language should mean something beyond a practical purpose. This is of course pure idealism on my part, though the closest this ideal was fulfilled was under capitalism with the public sphere, as written about by Jurgen Habermas. This demonstrates that the abstract idea demonstrated in this paragraph has the chance of being mediated and made concrete, it is no utopia. And although the idea may be critiqued as being nostalgic for the public sphere which was of course bourgeois, this is to engage in a crude mischaracterization of socialism in which the working class are glorified and the middle class vilified, despite the historical and artistic achievements of the latter. So, to return to the first sentence after our small dialectical investigation, language is alienated both on an abstract and concrete level, providing we take the public sphere as our starting point. It is estranged as a mode of conversation and rendered mundane.

Conversation under this epoch of capitalism is utilitarian and artless. This is of course a generalisation, it is still possible to converse meaningfully, but it is not encouraged and it is not the norm. In aggregate the purpose of conversation under capitalism is utilitarian, it is this that serves the totality of reproduction, with greater conversation skills creating greater critical thinking skills. This is largely the fault of the school system which, in strict accordance with the logic of capitalism, teaches nothing which doesn’t ultimately have the aim of attaining a job, and this is reflected in the way language is taught, which is as a tool and as nothing else. This prepares people in turn for alienated labour where it is important class consciousness is not attained and the proletariat’s mind remains reified. This produces a vicious dialectic in which the worker is taught enough communication skills to contribute to capitalism whilst not being taught enough to truly understand it, resulting in a situation where they are unlikely to rise above drone, and in this way keeping the bourgeoisie in charge in charge permanently. Communication as a mode of social antagonism is rendered null, and the proletariat is taught to think in the logic of capitalism, everything becomes a utility. In the end the school is nothing but a glorified PR branch.

It should be noted that this is not to suggest that the proletariat is stupid, merely that in understanding language a certain way a certain viewpoint is gained, this has no bearings on taste for art, and indeed in many cases the proletariat can speak in a manner more akin to the unalienated form suggested in the third paragraph, it is just not encouraged and is thus not as done.

In the social realm this results in what is termed “small talk” and it can be broadly suggested that small talk is the social language of capitalism. This puts social language in a dialectic with professional language in which though serving different purposes they are orientated in the same way, creating a contradiction in which language is not quite social and not quite official. It also becomes the language of unknowing dishonesty, as when someone is asked how they are they would be most unlikely to give a thorough answer reflecting the hidden intensity of the question, but instead reply with something like “good” or “fine”, and encourage further conversation, though it is often along the same lines. Amongst closer friends a larger answer may be given of course, but as language operates primarily on a casual level, with close friendships being rare, it serves as a non-question to invite non-answers and facilitate a non-conversation. This can be further termed the jargon of practicality, language fulfils a practical function as previously stated, but in being relegated to solely serve a practical function outside of the discussion of practical things the practicality of the language is negated and rendered quite false. This occurs in a world that has adopted the logic of utilitarianism and abandoned the sensuous and the sublime. This can be fought in small ways, people may meet over hobbies, and bond over those, subsequently developing closer ties. But as most hobbies reflect the mainstream and the mainstream is purposely vapid, as dictated by the culture industry, this is difficult to do as well.

This is why it can be shown that the argument that smartphones and social media are stunting conversation is based on a reified consciousness in which the real sources of stunted conversation are mystified and the thing of the smartphone is assigned blame, of course ignoring that the problems outlined thus far pre-date the smartphone. And indeed, just like it is possible to form genuine friendships under this totality, it is also possible to find genuine friendships through the smartphone and through social media. This is not to glorify social media or smartphones, it is merely to state a fact. Obviously communication over social media is subject to all the same problems as communication in the “real world”, but not because it is social media but because of the logic enforced by modern capitalism. Blaming social media for this is akin to blaming an unstable dog on the dog itself and not on the owner who is responsible for the mental state of the animal.

To make the final point of this essay,  conversation  under capitalism can be understood using a metaphor from Marxian economics, that of use value and exchange value. Communication has a meagre use value in that it conveys what is to be done under capitalism, and the exchange value arises out of the use value and shared practicality with the other workers to make the job, and as “anecdotes” in the social realm. This is a use value and exchange value rid of the dialectical contradiction of its economic formulation, with use value directly feeding into exchange value, and an existential longing must be needed to create that contradiction and get this exchange value away from the “use” of it.