Volume 28 Issue 3/4 July–October 2016
Special Issue: Marxism And Spirituality
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
—Karl Marx, introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right
We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong … Therefore, I do not put my faith in any new institution, but in the individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly, and act rightly, thus becoming the channels of moral truth. Our moral ideals do not work with chisels and hammers. Like trees, they spread their roots in the soil and their branches in the sky, without consulting any architect for their plans.
—Rabindranath Tagore, Creative Unity
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
—Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, “Only Breath”
Marxism has conventionally found itself on the side of “materialism.” There has also been a hyperseparation, as against the overdetermination of “matter” and “spirit,” in much of Marxian thought and praxis. One of the aims of this special issue of Rethinking Marxism is to explore why and how this separation happened and how Marxism historically found itself to be heavily tilted toward materialism while the mutual constitutivity of matter and spirit was relegated to the background. One can ask in this context whether Karl Marx is responsible for this tilt and this hyperseparation, or is it later Marxism that made this tilt and hyperseparation deeply entrenched? When and why and how did Marxism come to be marked by such a defensive response to all talk of spirit, spirituality, religion? Among other things, this special issue uncovers some of the historical and textual background of this tilt and hyperseparation. While much of modern European science does mark, at least at the outset and on the surface, a hyperseparation with regard to questions of spirit, spirituality, and religion, how did this disavowal of anything spiritual or religious creep into Marxism? Was it there in Marx's thought? Was it always there in Marxism? Is Marxism constituted by this disavowal? Is Marx's work premised on a simple rejection of religion as the “opium of the people”? Is religion simply “false consciousness”? Is religion a mere instrument of manipulation in the hands of the ruling classes? Or is Marx's relation with religion much more sophisticated and complex, as shown in the two lines preceding the oft-quoted infamous line, that religion is the “opium of the people.”
One of the more influential philosophers of postwar Europe, Michel Foucault, in his capacity as the genealogist of Western thinking has tried to show how, in spite of their avowed disavowal of questions of spirituality or religion, many of the modern secular sciences have secret spiritual, religious, or even theological moorings. In fact, religion and secularism may not be opposite poles; they may be two sides of the same coin. We bring some of Foucault's insights regarding philosophy and spirituality to bear on Marxism in this special issue. Is much of Marxism also, somewhat secretly, tied to spirituality in spite of its disavowal of anything spiritual and its equally aggressive and narrow materialism? What does the invocation of the “spectre” or the “ghost” (so reminiscent at times of the Holy Spirit) in Marx’s writings gesture toward? Does this unsettle or problematize the rather stark demarcation between matter and spirit in much of Marxism? Is there also in Marxism's turn to the “commune” and to communitarianism (as against individualism)—read by Jean-Luc Nancy as a kind of creative “being-in-common” grounded in principles of fairness, justice, and equality—a turn toward the rather deeper tenets of the spiritual being, a being that foregrounds the interconnectedness and interdependence of all species? Even in its apparent scientism, is there then in Marxism a “secret spirituality,” all the more because many faith-based orders share with Marxism similar or apposite principles?
In some ways this special issue explores and tries to put to dialogue two significant movements: that of the praxis of Marxism and that of “practical philosophy.” In the praxis of Marxism, activist scholars have indeed set up interesting connections between spirituality, religion, and liberation from exploitation-oppression. How should contemporary Marxism respond to such movements in both praxis and in the conceptualizations of ethics? As Marxism traveled eastward, it encountered first Islam and then pagan practices and Buddhism; as well, it encountered animistic and spiritual orders in Africa and perhaps Latin America. Marxism's troubled relation to societies and cultures with deep roots in “faith-based orders” is a history we need to face. Nonetheless, in this encounter we should not rest our analyses on easy and unproblematic divisions between a Europe that is safely secular and a non-Europe that is religious and spiritual. Perhaps Marxism came face-to-face with theology in Europe more than in the rest of the world. This special issue explores the troubled history of Marxism's relation with theology, religion, and spirituality in both Europe and the non-European world.
Why does a dialogue between Marxism and spirituality matter for Marxism? For one, almost all the essays in this issue are troubled by distrust in the question of the self in Marxism and suggest in the process a need to seek new ground for its connection with social and political transformation. The interrogation of self and of self-transformation unlocks a trail of questions that opens in turn the question of Marxian praxis, allowing us to address a host of hitherto uncomfortable moments within Marxism, moments that have been inerasable blots on its history. Here we are referring to the inflexion point at which Marxism—a supposed theory of emancipation—becomes a system of oppression and violence.
The history of Marxism draws attention to the seminal importance of this issue, and Marxism, if it is to remain relevant in the twenty-first century, cannot avoid interrogating it. In this context we draw attention to Marxism's relationship with largely religious or spiritual cultures, including those in other nationalities and communities that did not or do not fit its Western model of development. What happens when the other of capital—the proletariat—faces its other? This other has emerged as Marxism's other, and history shows that Marxism has not found a way to deal with this outside. For example, what happened when the Soviet Union, armed with Marxism (as the self-proclaimed defender of proletariat rule), faced the others that appeared unfamiliar and strange to it? What happened when China and Tibet came face to face—one armed with Marxism and the other (dis)armed with spirituality, nonviolence, and faith-based practices? At the moment of its encounter with the other, why does Marxism become oppressive and violent? Why does it lack self-reflection?
In any genuine evaluation of the past and present, Marxists need to face the violence inflicted by Marxism and Marxists, to face its sustained structure and the technology of oppression it gave shape to. The well-known argument that what happened was not Marxist or socialist or communist does not absolve those of us identifying with Marxism in any way we care to define. It does not absolve us because the fact remains that such oppressive structures and violence were created and made operational in the name of Marxism. Therefore, questions about the contexts in which Marxism has become violent and even dystopian need to be asked with courage and answered with honesty. Can there ever be a “social humanity” (as Marx suggested) without an emancipatory self wherein “free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”? Can an emancipatory self ever be produced in disconnect with some sort of spirituality? This special issue was partly driven by a desire to explore whether a rethought relation between spirituality and Marxism would help the latter to self-reflect on its possibility of becoming oppressive and to temper the violence and aggression that have become part of the history and practice of Marxism. The point is not to give up on Marxism's emancipatory project of shaping a social humanity but rather to produce it in connection with a self-reflective gaze that forces it to reflect on its “standpoint of human society.”
As mentioned before, almost all the essays, in various kinds of engagement between Marxism and spirituality, draw attention to the need for self-refection in Marxism and address the question of self and self-transformation as an essential condition for endogenizing the vexed problems of modes of oppression and violence that continue to persist in “socialist” systems and in communist subjects. As an extension, does spirituality offer us a mirror for addressing the self, for producing self-self dialogues, not with the purpose of demoting social and political transformation but rather to make way for a new kind of praxis that works through their mutual constitutivity? We suggest in this issue that the question of modes of oppression and violence is not incidental or a derivative of Marxism but is fundamental to what Marxism is.
Moreover, this issue is also an exploration of the troubled interface between Marxism and spirituality—not only to reimagine Marxism but to reimagine spirituality itself. Would a turn to (Marxist) materiality bring to spirituality a new hue, a new imagination? Would a turn to the materiality and political make spirituality more engaged in terms of human suffering and rescue it perhaps from individualist and “pop” versions circulated through gurus in the logic of global capital?
It needs to be said that in all the questions that have shaped this issue, understanding the complicated and many-layered relation of Marxism's relation to spirituality is not the only path that can be taken. The contemporary and historical place of oppression and violence in Marxism is not something that can be approached merely by exploring the troubled relation of Marxism to spirituality. None of the themes that this issue deals with are themes of religion, spirit, and spirituality only. So we have to admit from the start that the conversations that are had in this issue are not the only ones to be had. But we are convinced that they are among those conversations that are imperative to be had nonetheless.
This issue was born out of the conviction that any Marxism that feels the need to “rethink” itself has to be ready for conversations, for dialogues with systems of thinking that are different from it. It should be open to the idea of talking to the “other” and always be vigilant of its own potential for obliterating the other. Marxism should not fear its own change in the course of these conversations that will possibly also transform the other.
Vivek Dhareshwar, in an essay entitled “Marx, Foucault, and the Secularization of Western Culture,” explores the “secularization of Western culture” and the “disappearance of spiritual knowledge” in the Western tradition. The secularization argument is premised on a somewhat perplexing and intriguing claim of Marx in “On the Jewish Question,” that the truly religious/Christian state is not the state that professes or embraces Christianity but the one that is secular. The essay accesses the question of spirituality from the perspective of “experiential knowledge.” It argues that Marx's works (with what the author feels is “the partial exception of some early fragments”)—largely inspired by Enlightenment perspectives—does not leave much room for such knowledge. This foreclosure of experiential knowledge qua spirituality happens primarily because Marx conflates experiential knowledge qua spirituality with theoretical knowledge qua theology. This then leads to another mistake: science emerges as the common interlocutor for both experiential knowledge/spirituality and theoretical knowledge/theology. Dhareshwar argues that it is only in Foucault's late work—when he was largely focused on highlighting the difference between the Christian (and not just the Enlightenment) notion of truth and the Hellenic-Romanic notion of truth—that spirituality is opposed not to science but to theology: “The conflict was not between spirituality and science, but between spirituality and theology.” The essay then rewrites the spirituality/theology distinction in terms of “problematization” (which was the route spiritual movements used to seek access to truth) and “normativization” (defined by the author as the combination of theological rationality or truth seeking—whose secular embodiments are Descartes and Kant—and morality). Dhareshwar sees normativization as the unique contribution of Christianity; however, it is this substratum of normativization that provides the context for so-called secular knowledges, such as psychiatry, criminology, and the moral sciences, which are in effect secular theologies or theological secularisms. The author thus manages to demonstrate that secularization, usually thought of as that which contributes to the decline of theology, in effect and somewhat paradoxically strengthens the grip of theology on the modern and in the Enlightenment modern. What gets foreclosed in this secret pact between theology and secularism is the spiritual. The distinction between the theological and the secular is then an internal distinction, the very claim indeed made by Marx in “On the Jewish Question.” The essay argues that Marx is both hostage to/victim of and also free from this internal distinction: free from it because Marx does see the secret connection between Christian theology and capitalism; hostage to it because Marx mistakenly converts the spiritual/theology distinction to the idea/matter distinction and, at times, to the religion/secular distinction; victim of it because Marx misses out on the larger (Christian) narrative of normativization, which Foucault manages to see, and renders explicit only one subplot—that pertaining to “class”—and hence Marx sees the class politics of the proletariat as the only counterplot to (capitalist) alienation, reification, and fetishism. The essay argues that (Marxian) critique and (Foucauldian) genealogy perhaps need to be brought into dialogue to recover a disavowed spirituality in the secular-theological tradition on the one hand and a missed spirituality in the Marxian tradition on the other hand.
As Dhareshwar attempts the delinking of religion and spirituality in the evolution of secularism in the West, Stephen Healy turns to a search for contemporary relevance in what Foucault would call experiential practices of Catholicism; taking off from the philosophy and practice of poverty and austerity of Saint Francis and from the expansion of the way of life of Catholic monastic orders in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (most notably that of the Franciscans, who harbored an implicit critique of the Church as an earthly power), Healy's essay “Saint Francis in Climate-Changing Times: Forms of Life, the Highest Poverty, and Postcapitalist Politics” makes an interesting connection between “forms of life,” the “practice of highest poverty,” and postcapitalist politics in climate-changing times as context. Forms of everyday life attuned to the collective material practice of the highest poverty, however, do not mean, for Healy, renunciation and asceticism but something more radical: namely, asketic (à la Foucault) exercises of the self and a refusal to turn natural and human reality into an object to be used. The essay thus inaugurates a different “return” and a different relationship of Marxism with Christianity—one that aligns with contemporary postcapitalist explorations of the contained consumerism of the “developed” minority world, with cooperation and collectivity, including efforts to live with less, to care for what we hold in common, or to invest in an ecologically habitable future. Healy's essay deserves to be placed in the larger corpus of the Marxian return to Christianity, returns that are housed under such names as Derrida, Agamben, Žižek, Negri, and Badiou. Such returns counter the end-of-history condition and postideological cynicism and usher in the revolutionary movement/moment “to come” as against nonevental times. The Franciscan “form of life,” with the spiritual as its ground, helps Healy conceptualize the postcapitalist project of pursuing a different “mode of humanity” in which one might develop the capacity to survive in the Anthropocene. Healy sees the contemporary explosion of social movements—as with the eleventh- and twelfth-century explosion of monastic movements and critiques of the Church—as predicated upon experimental practices that redefine what is necessary for us to survive and how we care for things in common that we cannot own, including “simple living,” “downshifting,” and “cheapskating” (i.e., living cheaply), which is somewhat akin to the long tradition within Christianity (and within many other traditions) of voluntary simplicity. Cheapskating, however, is not a renunciation of ownership but a desire for a life where consumption is thoughtful and deliberate. In that sense, Healy offers in such postcapitalist praxis the glimpse of an evental everyday or an everyday event.
Just as Healy invites us to radically rethink the forms of life that have flourished under capitalist modernity, the next contribution, in a collaborative reflection, sets these forms in contrast with the indigenous forms of life that still exist, focusing on that element which is the source of life. In “First Medicine: Stories of Water and Now,” Kristi Leora Gansworth and Karen Werner collaboratively create a space in the two-row format of the Gusweñta, a Wampum belt created around 1613 by the people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Gusweñta records an agreement with the newly arrived Dutch settlers regarding respect and noninterference, two rows side by side. “First Medicine’s” two-row space is created through a richly textured set of contemplations on water. Gansworth, carrying the spirits of her ancestors, of all those who have gifted her with life, perceives water in very different ways to what nonindigenous cultures are used to: not a “thing” we should take as given; not as an object we take and use; not a “dump” we are free to contaminate. Rather, water in many indigenous cultures is a “being”: a being that inhabited this earth long before human being did; it is a source of life and not only the life of human beings. Werner is shaken by this call and starts her own set of reflections emanating from the suggestion: What if we think of “water as a living relative”?
Gansworth gives voice to the resilience of water while also recognizing the profound abuses of colonization. Prodded by Gansworth's call, Werner wonders at the ways in which Western (and settler) visions have approached water as something to be possessed, controlled, dominated, and used to our advantage. As she walks around Chaudière Island and Chaudière Falls, she ponders the destructive consequences of the notion of “development” that has evolved from Western modernity, in which there is no sense of “obligation” to the land and what it contains. As the authors reflect on the contrasting worldviews of the indigenous and settler communities, we are also drawn into the brutal history of dispossession and extermination and into the ongoing reality of primitive accumulation and proletarianization—violence inflicted by capital.
The space created by Gansworth and Werner becomes one in which the two authors also reflect on their subjectivities. Recognition of a history of being “chased” by total destruction—one Anishinaabe, the other Jewish, both descendants of survivors—makes this also common space, rendering Werner’s anxiety about the colonized/colonizer separation more porous. While one was born into the Western and therefore a settler world and the other into an indigenous world, the space they work in becomes one in which we gradually realize the possibilities of “talking,” of having a “conversation,” and of the potential of transforming reality. This transformation need not be something of the “future.” Some of the seeds of this transformation are already in place. The transformation has to be one of a radical alteration of colonized consciousness, one which no longer sees the earth and what is on it as something to be possessed, owned, controlled, and dominated but as a set of relations, bound with ties of reciprocity—earth as a living being, one that we need to care for.
While Healy and Gansworth and Werner look for sources of spirituality that affirm life in different modes of collectivity, the next essay delves into the long and complex history of the notion of collective power in Western thinking. In “What Kind of ‘Life Affirmation’? Disentangling the Conflation of Spinoza and Nietzsche,” Jan Rehmann explores Marxism's attempts to look for a spirituality that is embedded in everyday life and can be connected to transformative practices. He believes this tradition coexists with another one emanating from orthodox Marxism, founded on a strict separation between matter and spirit and science and religion. He does this by what he names a philosophical “detour” of subjecting the widespread conflation of Spinoza with Nietzsche, which he thinks is absolutely necessary to our current understanding of “life-affirming” spirituality. The problem here for Rehmann is our route to Spinoza: “one of the most democratic” philosophers goes through Nietzsche who, as one of the most “elitist and aristocratic” philosophers, distorted our knowledge of the former. Crucial to this distortion, argues the author, is the notion of power that Spinoza uses, which in a long and winding genealogy became associated with Nietzsche's “will to power,” which later on, via the work of Gilles Deleuze, led to a confusion of collective power from below with power as domination from above. By going through a layered analysis, Rehmann reveals this conflation, which has had serious implications in left thinking. He does this first by revealing the fundamental difference in the notions of power that Spinoza and Nietzsche use; in this usage, Rehmann argues, Nietzsche's reliance on a particular translation by Kuno Fischer—who translated Spinoza's concept of potentia as power in general—played a very important role as well. Rehmann then shows that, while the “middle Nietzsche” was indeed influenced by Spinoza, in his later works Nietzsche strongly opposed Spinoza's conatus with his notion of will to power. In the next layer of his analysis, Rehmann directs his attention to the work of Negri, an influential thinker in revitalizing the significance of Spinoza for the Left, and he argues that while Negri's posing of opposition between potentia and potestas is a simplification, his argument on the ontological priority of potentia is correct. In the final layer of his analysis, Rehmann argues that potentia agendi describes collective power geared to cooperation while Nietzsche's will to power “naturalizes” relations of domination and oppression, thus being fundamentally different from the former. Rehmann argues that leftist politics should not be based on resenting those at the top, as such sentiments can be co-opted into populist movements with potentially destructive results. Instead, he argues, a resilient Left should base its imaginary on notions of the “good life” developed by the people themselves. In building this imaginary, Spinoza's concepts of potentia, hilarity, and joy can be very valuable sources.
Among the new life forms we want to build, is there a place for charity, that notion that is central to all religions and that has been criticized heavily, especially by the Left? Through a detailed reading of charity, Cihan Tuğal's essay entitled “Faiths with a Heart and Heartless Religions: Devout Alternatives to the Merciless Rationalization of Charity” rehabilitates the concept of charity as a weapon for the poor and oppressed to be wielded, as a critique and as an act of social transformation, against the capitalist system. This overturns the conventional reading of Marxists who condemn charity as a way of managing, legitimating, and maintaining capitalism, of perpetrating and hiding the exploitation, dependence, and degradation of subordinate classes by the rich. This view is present in the thought of Marx, Engels, and Kautsky and has been reiterated more thoroughly in recent times by Žižek and Badiou who, Tuğal argues, fatally and quite misleadingly separate agape—the true nature of love—from charity and, following that, condemn charity as a concept of reaction. Tuğal’s essay undermines this one-dimensional rendition of charity by showing the Christian reading of caritas to be multidirectional: it can be traditional and conservative (philanthropic love based on the individual giving of the rich to the poor and on responsibility for the poor, thereby separating caritas from its social moorings and from questions of the structures of oppression and poverty); it can be liberal (challenging the idea that giving to the poor is undesirable and that the poor are undeserving); and it can be emancipatory (charitable love is where agape and caritas cannot be separated). To this end, the paper traces Lucien Goldmann's take on Pascal as capturing a reformulation of caritas within Christianity, after the rise of liberalism and political economy as a demotion of caritas and with the recent battle in the Catholic Church between the conservative and the more emancipatory strands. Particularly important for the latter is Pope Francis’s invocation of caritas to uphold the Christianity of the poor against the current world order, thereby shifting the focus once again from the individual to the social and collective. Tuğal finds a trace of this present antiliberal, anticonservative turn in the insights of liberation theology and particularly in those of Gustavo Gutiérrez, who instead of treating charitable love as opposed to structural transformation considers such love as an investment in it. Reading charity as political charity entails understanding the poor as an exploited and oppressed mass, which resituates charity as redistribution of wealth in favor of the poor and in opposition to the proprietor class and to institutions of inequality favoring the rich. As against holding onto state-sponsored top-down ideas of socialism, an argument is made in favor of social transformation in which the welding of processes of redistribution with processes of the heart—that is, charitable love—is considered a necessary supplement to class struggle, the self-organization of the oppressed, and state planning in the struggle against poverty and the subordination of the poor that the capitalist system upholds.
As the previous essays looked for the sources of spirituality in different traditions, the next argues that spirituality is an essential element of Marxism and not something external to it. Peter Thompson, in “Ernst Bloch and the Spirituality of Utopia,” delves into the intellectual world of one of the foremost figures in Marxism, Ernst Bloch, on the question of spirituality. He initiates a productive engagement of Bloch's insights with those of contemporary thinkers, especially Žižek. This leads to a process of rethinking Marxism as an open system that is a combined existence of spirituality and materiality, produced by making both the subject (Hegel) and object (Marx) open-ended. The central category is the “not yet” that in turn opens the space for an introduction of the necessity of contingent event in the movement of both subject and object, therefore making the transition nonteleological and yet necessary for Marxists to intervene in a certain way. The importance of class antagonism and unequal ownership is the material condition that keeps Marxists/Bloch interested in an open-ended historical process wherein that process itself embodies a spiritual event. Here, the dialectic of contingency plays a central role since it contains within it an anticipatory moment that enables us to both plan for the unforeseen and also to map out what we think this unknown known might possibly hold for us. This unknown known includes a fascism that mobilizes both religious categories from the past as well as a messianic Führer-fixated model of the future. But if this not-yet-ness is correlated with metaphysical materialism, then it is possible to unpack an alternative space into which anticipatory consciousness, liberated from both re-ligio and reductionist materialism, can be projected while at the same time rejecting neither religious development toward atheism nor materialist development toward complexity and the “multiversal.” This requires, however, a shift not just to rethinking Marxism but also to bringing spirituality back into Marxism by dredging a Christian route to atheism along the lines of Bloch and Žižek, who contend that, unlike any other religion, Christianity is based on an idea of God as the son of man rather than the son of God.
Following Thompson's analysis is a discussion of spirituality in the translation of the poetry of one of Marxism's seminal thinkers. “Walter Benjamin: Translation and Spirit in the Time of the Now” is Jared Randall's translations of three sonnets from the eponymous thinker’s much-neglected poetry in the context of the art of translation and of the specificity of materialist critique. These poems, recently translated in full, for Randall are not peripheral but rather central to understanding Benjamin's work, and he thus calls for a “new constellation,” a “bright star” of which is the context in which the poems were conceived. Randall argues that any mode of poetic expression is determined by a kind of spirituality, an impulse that derives from the poet's search for meaning—which, for the sonnets translated, could be explained by Benjamin's struggle to come to terms with the suicide of his close friend, the poet Heinle, and from a form that renders that impulse material. The task of the materialist critic, argues Randall, is to trace the materiality of poetic construction: in other words, some of the conditions of existence that comprise the overdetermined materiality of this literary form.
Randall then eloquently explains the evolution of his translations following a format inspired by Gilloch's analysis of the key components of Benjamin's thought, in the process revealing how the translator's own process of production unfolds. At the start of this process, he produces a “first reading,” a process that is both destructive and productive at once, in which the original is transposed to a different time and place. This is followed by a “moment of reconstruction” in which the translator makes a choice from an explosion of possible meanings of all the words and lines of the poem. The final phase of this process comprises Randall's close collaboration with a native German speaker, who could make sure that there were no serious gaps or misunderstandings in the work. Randall concludes that in all of this, his hope is to “salvage” what has been buried in the rubble that is collected in the “always-expected now of messianic time,” a source of spirituality, no doubt, within materialist critique.
Next, a concept central to the thinkers discussed by Healy and Dhareshwar, that of transcendence in the thought of Saint Francis and Foucault, becomes the topic of conversation between Antonio Negri and Judith Revel. Building on the two meanings of transcendence—“blind obedience to God, which Francis defends, and that which establishes the worldly power of the Church, which Francis hates”—and Foucault's concept of “spiritual exercises” (such exercises help to build oneself and build relationships with the other) culled in turn out of Greek Stoic philosophy, the dialogue “Transcendance, Spirituality, Practices, Immanence,” between Antonio Negri and Judith Revel, asks two sets of related questions. On the one hand it asks: can there be spirituality without transcendence? Or more specifically, can there be an “immanent spirituality” (or a spirituality with at least a “critique of transcendence”)? On the other hand it asks: “In the class struggle experienced in the shadow cone of Marxism,” is there a kind of “secret spirituality”? Would some experiences of communist militancy, such as the practice of the virtues of solidarity, of prophecy, or of poverty, gesture toward spiritual experience? In the process, the dialogue inaugurates an understanding of spirituality as something concerning “gestures, bodies, materiality of the world, intersubjective relations and the relationship with oneself.” The dialogue also refers to spirituality as to a “making” in the world, to an “immanent practice” (that does not preclude an appreciation and awareness of power), and not to some sort of “disembodied spiritual ether.” The setting up of a spiritual perspective that is not oblivious to the question of power stems from the need to find political forms radically different from the old transcendent models of metaphysics or, in political terms, of sovereignty. The dialogue between Negri and Revel thus brings to trialogue Marx, Spinoza, and Foucault in the form of a conversation and the marking of a not too overt connection among (1) a “political ontology of power” (which is different from and is opposed to a metaphysics of sovereignty), (2) a philosophy of immanence (as putting to question religious transcendence), and (3) spirituality as a set of practices as well as relationships, gestures, and structures (which is different from and is opposed to a “spirituality of acceptance as a renunciation of oneself and the world in the name of another life”).
The continuous questioning of Western philosophical traditions finds a different angle in the following work. In “Reading Marx with Levinas,” Serap A. Kayatekin and Jack Amariglio set up an imaginary encounter between Emmanuel Levinas, arguably the most influential philosopher of ethics of the post–World War II era, and Karl Marx. A relentless critic of ontology within the Western philosophical traditions, Levinas argued that any ethics based on ontology erases the alterity of the “Other” by rendering it the “Same.” For him, every ethics based on ontology is thus fundamentally flawed since doing an act of “good” on the basis of the argument of the humanity of the other simultaneously defines what a human being is and therefore instantly what or who a human being is not. Against the background of the Holocaust, Levinas's life's work was to build an argument about the violence of ontology and an antihumanist ethics “otherwise than being,” a transcendence through infinite responsibility for the other, a decidedly nonreciprocal, noncontractarian view wherein I and only I am responsible for the other, and the responsibility of the other toward me is the other’s concern only. Drawing from the work of Judith Butler, Kayatekin and Amariglio argue that Levinas's troubling notion of “infinite responsibility” for one's persecutor can be explained by the idea of an impingement of the other on oneself by the fact that we are all part of a sociality. This is persecution precisely because we don't have a choice over this impingement. This argument, for Kayatekin and Amariglio, sets one of the important differences between Levinas and Marx, in that Levinas's ethics belongs to the preontological while Marx's analysis is that of a specific, that is capitalist, ontology, leading to the conclusion that the two thinkers thus theorize on different levels. Despite this difference in the levels of theorization, Kayatekin and Amariglio argue that the spirituality of these thinkers resides in their other-oriented thinking.
The authors then go through an extended discussion of the antihumanism embedded in Marx's Capital, after which they pose the difficult but necessary question: “Am I infinitely responsible for my exploiter?” Levinas has categorically rejected this possibility, which however remains an issue for Marxism. Kayatekin and Amariglio argue that the question of infinite responsibility, when applied in the context of class exploitation, presents us with the imperative about the conditions of class transformation. The authors conclude that a reconsideration of Levinas's work in the context of class exploitation will, on the one hand, render it more solid; on the other, Marxism with Levinas's question considered will be rendered more humane.
All the contributions to this issue contain references to forms of collectivity from which spirituality emerges. The artwork and the commentary on it provide us with such an approach, not only in terms of the sources of spirituality around us but also in terms of that which emerges in the process of looking for spirituality. As Foucault would have it, spirituality is the transformation experienced in the process of accessing the truth. In “Beastly Spirits: A Pack of Folks,” accompanied by Oxana Timofeeva's commentary, we are presented with a set of provocative images by Nikolay Oleynikov, from the art collective Chto Delat, that draw us into a world at once violent, frightening, riotous, and full of irony and tenderness. We see the violence in the bullets that are coming out of a woman's breasts, in a woman pregnant with soldiers who are shooting, in a jet fighter coming out of a man’s penis. All these images invite us to reflect on the connections between war and bodies, war and sexuality. Are women, in the eyes of states, merely producers of future soldiers? Are female bodies factories of those who, on order, will inflict violence? Does a man's “manliness” derive from his ability to be warrior-like? Is this the worth of a woman? Of a man? In all these images, of human beings depicted without heads, are we seeing a condemnation of states, national or transnational, for which the aching, pained bodies of their subjects, of their subject-ed citizens, are nothing other than producers of violence and murder? We are also provoked to think that we are perhaps the creators of our own “enemies,” that we are pregnant with violence.
With all these images, Oleynikov draws a different understanding of the world that turns upside down our common perceptions. The divisions between “us” and the “enemy” are constructions with deadly consequences. This theme is approached in imagery drawn from the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur. The person who guides Theseus out of the labyrinth is Ariadne, the daughter of his enemy. Theseus, after being led by Ariadne, slays the Minotaur, saves the Athenians from the labyrinth, and starts his trip back home, abandoning his savior, Ariadne, on the island of Naxos. As he approaches home, he forgets to put up the white sails, an indication that he has killed the Minotaur—a promise he had given his father, Aegeus. Aegeus, upon seeing the black sails, thinks that his son was killed in the fight and commits suicide, being unable to bear the pain.
With the imagery by Oleynikov of this timeless tale, we reflect once again on such divisions between “us” and “them,” between “I” and the “Other”; on “us” and the “enemy,” as in the love story between Theseus and Ariadne; and on the fatal consequences of war. We need to remember also that the Minotaur, the “monster” in this story, is the offspring of queen Pasiphae, and thus the creation of a human being's relation with a bull. We create our own monsters, our own enemies. Social change is also an internal personal transformation, as underlined by the fourteenth Dalai Lama at the end of this issue.
Timofeeva in her commentary brings a novel angle on the theme of transformation. For her, in this proliferation, human, animals, still others a mixture of both, hybrid figures—interpenetrate one another, each one telling stories. These figures are genderless, ageless; they do not have fixed subjectivities. In these chaotic scenes full of wonder, Timofeeva imagines the animals as representing the social unconscious. The fantastic turbulence portrayed in these sequences is, for the author, the outburst of a desire—more a political desire than a sexual one: a desire for outlets, for gates to come out of, for a constant state of “becoming”; a desire for “liberation,” a desire that brings about painful movements of change. In this chaos are formed comradeships and solidarity: a state or states in which “identity vanishes.” We become something other than ourselves; it is “otherwise than being,” a transcendence, in Levinas's words. This becoming, which embraces all beings, is the expression of the desire for communism. As in the novel Soul (the Dzhan, a nomadic people in the novel, take their name from their word for “soul, or dear life”) by the great Russian writer Andrey Platonov, all humans and even animals are burning with a desire for change that is transcendental and thus spiritual. Thus, Oleynikov and Timofeeva invite us to think about an Anthropocene spirituality, a suggestion also made by the Dalai Lama.
The next two contributions in this issue engage the work of another seminal thinker in the history of Marxism, that of Antonio Gramsci, one of the first thinkers who attempted to comprehend in depth the phenomenon of religion and its relevance to understanding subalternity and social change. In “Subalterns, Religion, and the Philosophy of Praxis in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks,” Fabio Frosini offers an interpretation of how Gramsci’s understanding of religion relates to the conditions of subalternity. As Frosini explains, the capacity of subaltern classes to construct autonomous political institutions transformed with the formation of the modern state. The autonomous political institutions of subaltern classes in ancient and medieval states were replaced with so-called private organizations of civil society in the formation of the modern state, wherein subaltern classes confronted the hegemony of the dominant class. With the birth of mass society, the masses entered political life, yet religion ordered their way of thinking, resulting in a situation in which the masses were included in the state but neutralized. But as Frosini argues, Gramsci viewed religion as a conception of the world that formed thought and action by a search for coherence (or “good sense”). Thus, according to Frosini, to confront the hegemony of the modern state, subaltern classes require the formulation of a coherent unity of theory and practice in their religious ideas, which present the opportunity to translate into forms of self-organization and self-emancipation.
As Cosimo Zene argues in his essay “Inner Life, Politics, and the Secular: Is There a ‘Spirituality’ of Subalterns and Dalits? Notes on Gramsci and Ambedkar,” the formation of critical consciousness is one of the central elements in the struggle for the self-emancipation of subaltern groups and Dalits. Returning to the notion of the “inner life” in Gramsci's writings, Zene points out that dominant culture often denies inner life and spirituality to subalterns and Dalits. While religion tends to fall under the control of dominant groups—with structured laws, hierarchies, and sanctions—inner life and “secular spirituality,” as Zene argues, present opportunities to escape the grasp of hegemonic power. This notion in Gramsci's thought, as Zene shows, overlaps with the reclamation and recognition of Dalit spirituality in the work of B. R. Ambedkar. Both Gramsci and Ambedkar opposed the notion of some form of future religious salvation for subalterns and Dalits and in contrast advocated instead for their empowerment. Thus, rather than denying inner life and spirituality, Zene argues that critical consciousness and historical self-awareness are paramount to overcoming the subordination of subaltern groups and Dalits alike.
In the final essay of the volume, the ongoing reflections between spirituality and Marxism take on yet another historical and theoretical angle, engaging the philosophies of thinkers from the non-West. Focusing on the uneasy and between Marxism and spirituality, Anup Dhar and Anjan Chakrabarti, in their essay entitled “Marxism as Asketic, Spirituality as Phronetic: Rethinking Praxis,” try to rethink “praxis” by displacing and grounding Marxism in self-reflection and self-transformation (which it largely lacks) and rethink spirituality in the “material social” and in transformative social action (which it largely lacks). The essay moves beyond the paradigmatic “matter-spirit” binary and brings each arm of the binary and their interlocutors to overdetermination and contradiction; by building on the relationship of four unconventional notions of “truth” in the thought of Marx, Gandhi, Heidegger, and Foucault. Through a rereading of the “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx is shown to have shifted focus from the matter/object-spirit/subject binary to “human sensuous activity” or “practice,” from the (theological) “Word” to the (proletarian) “deed,” and from the “secular critique of religion” to the “critique of secularism.” Keeping the human in focus, Gandhi spiritualized religion in terms of how one lived religion and not in terms of “what” one believed. The experience of religion is thus shifted from “God is truth” to “truth is God,” wherein truth is a moral experience of self-transformation and action.
The key to moving Marxism beyond the binary of simple materialism and simple spiritualism is opened through a Derridean-Heideggerian reading of Geist: Geist not as “speculative idealism” but as uncanny supplement to the material social. Moving away from the cold reason of Enlightenment that sophia (the desire for ultimate and absolute knowledge of first principles) represents, Heidegger seeks truth in the “other reason” of phronesis. Phronesis is the concrete encounter of “being-related to the with-which,” such that truth lies not in ultimates but rather in the relation between actually existing beings, between self and other, as well as in action, in practice. Practical reason and an attention to our modes of being in the world foreground the inalienable relation between matter/social and spirit/individual, which both Marx and Gandhi had sought in their respective pursuit of truth.
The turn to askesis in the later work of Foucault paves the way for the question of the utter neglect of self-transformation in Marxism, a problem practically amplified by Marxism's history of violence and state repression. Shifting the discussion from the matter-spirit binary, Foucault pits spirituality against philosophy. Truth, for Foucault, is not for knowledge but for the subject and can only be achieved through and in self-transformation, the labor of askesis. But why can't Marxism be asketic? To seek possible answers, one needs to first address the question of traces of fascism in ourselves—even among militant revolutionaries—which in turn calls for what the authors term an “anti-Oedipal Marxism.” The authors argue that when social and political transformations are undertaken without reflection on the anti-Oedipal imperative of ethical action, all kinds of dystopias, including violence, result. The essay asks: can there be an anti-Oedipal Marxism? The authors invoke Resnick and Wolff's turn from class as noun to class as process as providing one possibility implying that the struggle for social and political transformation (say, for ending class exploitation) need not be violent since it fundamentally involves a change in process and not the actual annihilation of people. By showing that the exploited in one site can be exploiter in another, this turn brings self-reflection right into the heart of Marxian practice and argues for the indispensability of asketic self-transformation in sociopolitical transformation. This opening is used to reread Gandhian praxis, wherein self-social-political transformation was historically attempted in interrelation with one another.
In the final contribution to this special issue, we present an interview carried out with the fourteenth Dalai Lama, one of the most prominent spiritual leaders who, on a number of occasions, has openly expressed sympathy with Marxism. Anup Dhar, Anjan Chakrabarti, and Serap Kayatekin's conversation/interview with the Dalai Lama explores on the one hand what it means to be “Marxist”—why the Dalai Lama would like to assert that he is a (true) Marxist—and on the other how to find/found a religion of earthly hope and worldly relief from suffering and not an otherworldly belief in the cessation of oppression-exploitation-humiliation. In the process, the Dalai Lama redefines both Marxism and religion. This redefinition sees Marxism as a philosophy and praxis of ending exploitation and achieving equality in this world and not as an exercise of paranoid statecraft; it sees religion as lived ethic among interdependent sentient beings. In the process, the Dalai Lama translates the conventions of religion into the spiritual experience and brings religion qua the spiritual closer to the Marxian political.
The conversation also explores the interface between what could be called the political consequences of a rethought spirituality and the spiritual consequences of a rethought Marxism. Dalai Lama in the process brings to contention a somewhat “atheist” and “this-worldly” spirituality, a reflexive Marxian materialism of attention to human suffering, and a Marxian praxis of equal distribution and social transformation not totally stripped of compassion, empathy, and love. He also distinguishes between two kinds of spirituality: one premised on belief and the other premised on concern for the other's well-being. He calls the second kind of spirituality secular spirituality, which includes even the nonbeliever. He sees such spiritual imagination as ground for the ethical construction of this-worldly happiness. He also raises two questions, one for Marxism and the other for religion: How would Marxism take form in a largely democratic country like India? Would its form be different from the form it took in largely feudal-monarchical Russia and China? With respect to religion, he sees religious organizational imagination as tied to the feudal spaces in which and from which the early religions originated. He is hence in search of a religious imagination and an imagination of religious organization that is in tune and in sync with a contemporary democratic ethos; religion hence will have to democratically take into consideration the nonbeliever or the atheist.
The conversation ends with a discussion on violence and the violent history of both Marxism and religion. The discussants agree on the fact that, while the oppressed suffers, it is the oppressor who gets dehumanized: the oppressor is the one losing human compassion, losing touch with love. And if Marxism or religion puts on the cloak of an oppressor or begins to take the standpoint of the oppressor, they lose touch with the spiritual.
One of the overlapping themes in this volume cohered around the matter of spirituality in relation to collective life forms. The hope in this particular collective effort is that an unconditional willingness to face the past—a common desire to talk with Marxists and non-Marxists alike, exposing ourselves to other ideas while accepting the possibility of the transformation of our ideas without fear—will make for a more humane Marxism that is more engaged with the reality that surrounds it and that is more relevant to a contemporary modernity that is tearing itself apart. It is in this somewhat dystopian terrain that Marxism and spirituality must bring one another closer together in order to imagine, propose, and construct a new social humanity in the making. In the creation of this social humanity, as Tagore suggests in the epigraph above, what we need is not a set of rational guidelines that will shape our morality but rather a way of being that grows and flourishes. In this mode of sociality, it matters not where we come from and who we are. As the great Rumi writes in his sublime poetry, it is the breath that all being takes. It is an existence that is “otherwise than being,” in the words of Levinas.
The co-editors of this special issue thank the editorial board of the journal for their support from the conception of this project. Special thanks are due to: Marcus Green for his help with the introduction, reviewing and finding contributors; Jared Randall for the copyediting, as well as advising on a number of issues; Ceren Özselçuk, for editing, advising and liaising with the authors; Yahya Madra for art-editing; and Kenan Erçel and Boone Shear for extending their help in finding contributors at the start. A number of our editorial board members have decided to step down at the end of their terms. We thank from the bottom of our hearts: Joe Childers, for his wisdom, cool-headed advice, and guidance; S. Charusheela, for her editorship, her collegiality, and conviviality; Erik Olsen, for always being there during emergency situations and for his willingness to help at all times; Suzanne Bergeron, for always keeping our spirits up and cheering us on; and Jesal Kapadia, for her terrific coeditorship of the arts section of the journal. Your selfless work has left its mark in the pages of the journal.
We also welcome three new members to our editorial board: Joel Wainwright, Anjan Chakrabarti, and Anup Dhar. Thank you for accepting to be part of this collective effort.