Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred
Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. 
Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion – or the edited selections of his editors and guardians. Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding. Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement that religion is the opium of the people – which I purposely left out in the opening quotation – in isolation, we may be lead to believe that Marx felt that at best religion – and thus the ‘sacred’ – is a narcotic, which while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of humiliation and despair. Religion is an opiate in that it not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also – ambivalently – suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation. In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner of many of the most radical criticisms of religion and ‘negative’ theology in last century – Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bataille. Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ‘ideology’ – despite, perhaps, his own generation’s scientistic blindness to the regulative status of all ideas.
The kinship which is shared by each of these thinkers is a disdain for mere religion in favour of the ‘sacred’. Religion simultaneously constructs a ‘picture’ (Bild) for contemplation (Anschauung) and an organization that cultivates our captivity to that ‘picture’ (Wittgenstein). The sacred, on the contrary, intimates ‘love’ (Badiou), ‘binding commitment’ (Heidegger), an engaged and affirmative eruption of liberation amidst finite existence. Religion constructs its eternal church as an everlasting perpetuation of the ‘picture’, of an idol – a captivating grammar of existence – while the sacred exults in this moment of lived existence, in the haeccitas of Duns Scotus. If religion is a ‘rational’ and ‘systematic’ orchestration of feeling and phenomena, the sacred is an attempt to seek access to a phenomenon beyond the array of objectification towards traces of the numen. Indeed, for Otto, one need only begin amidst this singular event.
In light of this preliminary distinction between religion and the sacred, it will be the task of Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred to excavate and disclose in the writings and historical activism of Marx an affirmative sense of the sacred which is alterior to his inherently negative conception of religion. With Marx’s empathy in his ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, we can glimpse a sense of the sacred dissociated from a religious leviathan that merely serves to perpetuate suffering – we can begin to glimpse a sacred that exists as a radical commitment to liberation. In this way, I will contend that Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology of oppression and sedation in no way forecloses on a possible relationship between his work and Twentieth and Twenty-First Century attempts to articulate a sense of the sacred in the world. There emerges in these latter attempts the possibility of an openness which discloses a topos for an encounter with a sense of a sacred not mediated by ‘ideology’ (or positive theology).
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As I have not worried to be born, I do not worry to die.
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)
Ceri Evans (1965-2002) died in the same month, in August, as the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by the Fascist regime in 1936. In one of the tributes to Ceri Evans after his death, Terry Conway tells of a gift of a book of Lorca’s poetry which she had received from Dr Evans. Terry Conway makes this comparison of Lorca and Evans:
Here too was someone who had a passionate relationship with the place he was from, but was also a confirmed internationalist. Here too was someone for whom political ideas were not just found in theory, but in song, in dream, in all the small things of everyday life. (Whispers of a Forgotten Nation, p. 7)
In her elegant brevity, Conway captures both the spirit of Ceri Evans and his dialectical method in relation to the national and international movements for social justice and freedom. Evans lived the slogan ‘Think globally, Act locally.’ He fought simultaneously for historical justice in his native Wales, and, in the context of his perspective as an international socialist, for the eventual realisation of a global democratic socialist community, in which nations would enjoy equality, mutual aid and peaceful cooperation. Indeed, for Evans, the national question was inseparable from the struggle for international socialism.
Ceri Evans was a unique and creative thinker, at once a philosopher and activist (and with the mind of an engineer). He was a revolutionary socialist who wished to learn from the revolutionaries of the past, such as Lenin and Trotsky, but never merely to turn these ‘Great Men’ into dogmatic idols. He repeats this mantra over and over again in his theoretical and practical writings – that there is much to learn from these revolutionaries of the past and present, who have more experience and knowledge with respect to the building and enactment of revolutionary transformation. Yet, Ceri Evans had a mind of his own and assertively set forth his criticisms of these ‘Great Men’. In this way, he has enduring relevance as an original thinker and practical example for the understanding and practise of Welsh politics, and revolutionary politics as such.
This collection contains nearly thirty essays, discussion documents, presentations and other pieces from between 1990-2002, arguably one of the most important periods in the history of Welsh politics. These writings range from purely philosophical pieces, such as ‘Dialectics’, explorations of political philosophy, as in ‘Ten Draft Points on the National Question,’ to extremely concrete analyses and discussion documents of current political struggles in which he was continuously immersed, as with his writings on the Welsh language, the Welsh Assembly, Europe, Ireland, Israel, and the national struggles in Eastern Europe. In an uncanny manner, reading these essays resembles the experience of opening up a ‘time capsule’, one left as a legacy for those of us who would continue the struggle in the future. The ‘time capsule’ is open, and the documents it contains are a gift from the past.
To read the rest of this Introduction and to go to the writings of Dr D. Ceri Evans themselves, please visit Introduction – Whispers of a Forgotten Nation: The Writings of Dr D. Ceri Evans.
Translated by Emrah Saracoglu
To read the essay in other languages, please visit The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry
The Unstitute is proud to present the essay ‘The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry’ by Dr James Luchte – available in English for the first time. It has been included in the permanent archive ‘[dis]Corporate Bodies’.
The essay artfully argues against the scholastic traditions of Western academia, the creation of the modern ‘theoretical man’ and the philosophical ‘spectator’, and explores the challenging alternatives presented in Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’.
Read the full essay here: [dis]Corporate Bodies 2 – The Wreckage of Stars
Go to: The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry on this site.
Chapter 1: The British Wasteland: The Toxic Coalition and the Vultures of the Right
On the Toxicity of the Coalition Government and the Cynicism of UKIP and the Tory Right
The British Wasteland: The Meaning of Cameron
As we can barely remember the debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, it appears that the odd man out has now obtained legitimacy, stature, plausibility. With our senses still awash with the anti-climactic failure of the Scots to take a bloodless independence that was so nicely gift-wrapped for them, all we can now remember is that Nick Clegg was dreadful and failed to convey the very absurdity of UKIP policy on obvious grounds. The very fact that Nick Clegg stood on the same stage as Nigel Farage was a mistake and revealed his lack of political judgment. Why were not the other two parties represented, as an all UK debate? Or, was it, perhaps, merely a job interview for the junior partner of the next Coalition?
Clegg’s follow up criticism of Farage over Ukraine was a pathetic sideshow to the illegal Western involvement in a coup d’etat, in which fascists have now formally entered into the cabinet of a soon-to-be European government for the first time since WWII. But, we all pretend that that did not happen and condemn Russia instead. Farage was ironically correct on this issue that the Coalition government has ‘blood on its hands’ over Ukraine, and UKIP has never been as strong as it is today. It is now conceivable to imagine a Coalition Government in which they would be a part, such as a Conservative-UKIP alliance.
To read the rest of the article, please visit The British Wasteland