Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Stalinism, the Occult and the Fetishism of the Sign - Wilberg on Wednesday

Despite the official declaration of materialist science as the only true Soviet religion, the so-called Stalinist ‘cult of personality’ that was launched in 1935-6 effectively imbued Stalin with singular ‘theurgical’ powers of omnipotence and omniscience. “Official rhetoric praised the magic and miracles wrought by the cadres (as opposed to the impersonal magic wrought by science and technology) and made it clear they owed their effectiveness to Stalin. Other people shared in his mana, a supernatural force that is concentrated in particular persons of object”, his portrait was a religious icon and the very utterance of his name regarded as a mantra for heroes of labour - even though such terms as mana and mantra were known only by ethnographers and occultists. Specially composed folklore specifically invested Stalin with magical powers…” and among esotericists “a legend circulated among them that Stalin knew something which no one else could ever discover and that he was an incarnation of Manu.” In contrast, failures in the 5-years plans were filmically portrayed as the work of saboteurs and wreckers - who in turn were presented as evil sorcerers or black magicians. As for censorship in the Soviet era, this was nothing uniquely ‘Stalinist’, nor merely an Orwellian activity of deletion or erasure, but an active and above all conscious use of specific sets of authorised and official phrases or ‘memes’. This is an activity comparable in principle to the occult elevation of the magical power of The Word - and the elevation of Semiotic theories of language and of Symbolist theories of art to a position almost above Marxism-Leninism. For now, the verbal signifier’ or artistic symbol achieved dominance over and displaced sensuously experienced reality. Such theoretical and theurgical understandings of Stalinism were not only recognised but given theological and philosophical praise and affirmation by thinkers such as Maxim Gorky - the founder of ‘Socialist Realism’ - and in his own way by Stalin himself. Hence his recognition of the significance of Semantics and Semiotics and his declaration that “ the sphere of action of language, which embraces all fields of man's activity, is far broader and more comprehensive than the sphere of action of the superstructure. More, it is practically unlimited…”

In the West however, the fetishism of the name or image, symbol or ‘signifier’ over experienced reality, serving purely capitalist purposes, has now created its own globalised ‘virtual’ reality - reflected in everything from commercial ‘logos’ to religious and political symbols, the images imprinted on coins and paper currencies, the barcode and pin number, digital ‘coding’, ‘user-friendly’ computer or smartphone ‘icons’ and ‘profile images’, ‘virtual’ imagery, the carefully selected media headline or photograph, and, last but not least, the unquestioned terms and jargonsof the sciences and of New Age ‘spirituality’ and pseudo-science. A fetishism of the sign can thus now be said to dominate over the fetishism of the commodity and the worship of money as analysed by Marx, money being itself a signifier and nothing of intrinsic value. But signs have now themselves become ‘money’ - in the form of new and fetishised currencies of human interaction, relationships and exchange - for example psycho-babble, New Age speak, and the multiple jargons of the sciences - now taken as more real than the experienced realities they claim to explain. Language is also constantly reshaped by technical developments in the means of production and ‘economic base’ - hence along the machine age came a mechanistic language that reduced the human being to a biological machine, the era of competition for oil as a principally ‘energy resource’ went along with the deliberate promotion of a ‘cult of energy’ (rather than ‘matter’) making it the highest scientific concept of reality - and allowing Californian-based New Age cults to use the new jargons or ‘energy’ to colonise, commercialise, corrupt and effectively marginalise the languages of both philosophy and of ethnic-national spiritual traditions. Similarly the language of the computer age not only sees but also actively seeks to reduce the human being to a technically controllable biological computer (the philosophy of so-called ‘trans-humanism’).

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