Rethinking Marx and Religion (by Alberto Toscano)

An interesting piece by Toscano on Marx and religion:

In the contemporary study of religion as a factor of social change and political mobilisation, Marx is treated as a marginal reference at best, a ‘dead dog’ at worst. The global impasse, or even reversal, of a secularisation process that Marx appears to take for granted; the turbulent rise of explicitly religious forms of political subjectivity; the persistence or resurgence of religion both as a principle of political authority and a structuring presence in everyday life – these current trends seem to militate for the relegation of Marx to a historical moment (that of the European nineteenth-century), a political subject (the workers’ movement), and a notion of temporality (the one encompassed by notions of progress, development and revolution) which have been inexorably surpassed in a globalised scenario (whether we grasp this scenario through the differential lens of postcolonial critiques, the hegemonic and homogeneous prism of neoliberalism, or the bellicose culturalism of the infamous ‘clash of civilisations’). To compound this state of affairs, which could also be read in terms of a revenge of the sociology of religions against a Marxian ‘master narrative’ – and with all the apposite caveats regarding the discontinuities between Marx and historical Marxisms, practical and theoretical – we cannot ignore the significance of the religious question within the so-called ‘crisis of Marxism’ of the 1970s and onwards.

When Michel Foucault, in his enduringly controversial reports on the Iranian revolution, stressed the irrelevance of Marx’s dictum on religion as the ‘opium of the people’ in accounting for the role of Islamic politics in the overthrow of the Shah, he was expressing a commonly-held rejection of the supposed secular reductivism characteristic of Marxist theories of social change and prescriptions for revolutionary action. Alongside Iran, the complex entanglement of popular rebellions and religion in the Polish Solidarnosc movement and Latin American liberation theology wrong-footed a theory of revolutionary praxis which took the ‘practical atheism’ of the proletariat as a sociological datum. This situation has been exacerbated today in a context where the ebb of projects of human emancipation is accompanied by the pauperisation and brutalisation of a ‘surplus humanity’ living in a ‘planet of slums’, the catalyst for a twenty-first-century ‘reenchantment of a catastrophic modernity’ in which ‘populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism’.


Toscano on Meillassoux

Infinite Thought has a paper by Toscano on Meillassoux, a good read:

Without dwelling on the under-determined and exceedingly allusive references to contemporary fanaticism which lend Meillassoux’s claims their charge of urgency, as well as on the rather dubious claims made about the relation between Christianity and Western reason, in the rest of this presentation I want to challenge the plausibility of Meillassoux’s Enlightenment reloaded, as I mentioned by a detour through Colletti’s Marxism and Hegel. I want to put forward two inter-related arguments. First, that attending to the distinction between Kant and Hegel as formulated by Colletti, allows us to cast doubt on the very possibility of a speculative materialism, and provides a qualified Marxian defence for weak Kantian correlationism as a component of a genuine materialist thinking. Second, and much more briefly, that Colletti’s related discussion of hypostasis and ‘real abstraction’ demonstrates the weakness of Meillassoux’s attempt to revitalise the Enlightenment attack on fanaticism. Behind these two claims lies the conviction that, despite its undeniable subtlety, Meillassoux’s attack on the idealist parameters of correlationism is ultimately idealist in form, a problem which also affects it attempt to ideologically intervene, through a recasting of the Enlightenment fight against fanaticism, in the contemporary ‘return to the religious’. 

Read the rest.