On Bhaskar's turn to God was Re: my column

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Sun Nov 26 15:25:33 MST 2000

On Mon, 27 Nov 2000 07:43:04 +1000 Gary MacLennan
<g.maclennan at qut.edu.au> writes:
> Jim wanted to know why he should not have been shocked by Bhaskar'
> turn to
> God. Well if he had been a member of the Bhaskar list he would have
> kno2wn
> that I spotted this trend about two years ago.  For me Bhaskar's
> "conversion" is simply a classic instance of the return of the
> repressed.  That of course is not to denigrate it in any way.
> But Jim has raised a wider question, what should the attitude of the
> "hard
> bitten rationalists" be to the resurgence of the spiritual, which is
> so
> evident in the new anti-capitalist movement.  I like to point out
> here
> Lou's example of the first American Marxist (name?) who doubled as a
> medium.

That was Victoria Woodhull, about whom Lou wrote a fine
post some time ago.

>Many of the early socialists and Marxists were interested
> in such
> matters.

True enough.  On the other hand Marx & Engels were
not inclined to take an entirely benign view of this.
Engels as you may recall devoted a chapter of his
*Dialectics of Nature* to a debunking of spiritualism
and belief in the occult, which as you point out was
in vogue among many socialists especially in the
UK and US.  Rightly or wrongly, they were of
the view that a scientific materialism provided the
best philosophical basis for Marxism and socialism.
Marx maneuvered to have Victoria Woodhull expelled
from the First International.

>It was I suspect the less than benign influence of Lenin
> with his
> obsessive attacks on religion that turned the Marxist movement away
> from a
> sympathetic look at those of us who seek transcendence on other than
> material levels.

As I said this is something that can be traced back to Marx
and Engels.  However, Lenin's attacks on religion were
also rooted in what was going on within Russian Marxism
in the period following the failed 1905 revolution.  Within,
the Bolshevik faction, itself, there emerged a group centering
around figures like Anatoli Lunacharski and the novelist
Maxim Gorki who became known as the "god-builders".
They though that one of the reasons why Marxism had
been unsuccessful in winning the loyalties of the Russian
proletariat and peasantry was that it was tooo cerebral and
so was lacking in emotional appeal for the masses.  They
proposed to to remedy this by creating a non-theistic
Marxist religion, which would freely make use of the language
and rituals of traditional religion.  In this the "god-builders''
reflected the influence of Niezsche (especially in terms
of his analysis of the indispensibility of myth) as well
as of August Comte (who had proposed a Religion of
Humanity to give his Positivism emotional appeal).

Outside of the Bolsheviks but still within Russian
Marxism there emerged a group known as the
"god-seekers" centering around Nicolai
Berdayev who sought to synthesize Marxism
with first with Kantianism on the grounds that
Marxism's determinism excluded a concern
with ethics and human free will.  He soon
took an interest in the thought of Nietzsche
as well as more mystical thinkers like
Jacob Boehme, Dostoevsky, and the Russian
Slavophiles.  Not too surprisingly Berdayev
and many of his followers eventually converted
to Russian Orthodoxy, and they eventually
turned against Marxism.

It was within this intellectual and political
context that Lenin waged his atttacks on religion.

> I argue here that what we need is a very broad movement if we are to
> wind
> back capitalism.  Within that context tolerance and acceptance is an
> absolute necessity.

No doubt, but it still behooves us to take a careful look
at our most basic philosophical premises.  I am not
at all convinced that the rejection of materialism (if not
the whole Enlightenment heritage) will not be anything
less than disastrous.

> Now if it helps Marxist can take refuge in the distinction between
> objective and subjective idealism.  Bhaskar is now an objective
> idealist in
> that he asserts the primacy of spirit over matter.

So much for the defense of Critical Realism then?

> He is not a
> subjective
> idealist like the post modernists in that he does not claim that the
> material world has no independent existence apart from humanity's
> cognitive
> activity.
> Bhaskar's objective idealism puts him in the company of the Vedic
> scholars,
> Plato and Hegel.  We should note here Lenin's remark about idealist.
>  think
> of it like this Jim.  Objective idealists may be a bit crazy but
> they are
> still family.

No doubt.  Lenin as I recall took some pains to keep some
of the Hegelian idealist philosophy professors in their
posts.  I even recall that one such philosopher who had
been imprisoned was relased at Lenin's express orders.

> It all depends whether they think the kingdom of god can be realised
> here
> on Earth.  If they support that then we have an alliance.  If they
> want pie
> in the sky when we die then we have nothing in common with them.

That of course is the crucial question.  If they indeed look forward
to the realization of the kingdom of God on this earth, then I say
fine, "whatever gets them thru the night" to paraphrase John Lennon.
However, in the case of an intellectual like Bhaskar I think one has
to fear that this may be the beginning of a retreat from revolutionary
prometheanism to some vague spirituality.  There have been, alas,
many such cases in the past and since as Lou pointed out (within
the context of the Brenner thread) we are living in a reactionary
political period which has been characterized by a retreat of many
formerly radical intellectuals from revolutionary politics, this is
an outcome that would not be unexpected.

Jim Farmelant
> warm regards
> Gary

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